Armpit Across Darkening Skies / Down The Trail Of Aching Hearts 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Some thirty-plus releases to Armpit’s name, and not one of them is titled See You In The Pit – this feels like a significant missed opportunity. This New Zealand band has been playing since the early ’90s and is apparently still functioning today, and as I’ve noted a certain strain of New Zealand worship running through the Swedish I Dischi Del Barone label’s tastes, I’m not surprised to see Armpit getting their due with a 7″ EP. This session was recorded back in 1993, and while I don’t have any other Armpit laying around to compare it to (although their 2012 CD-r As Drunk As I Can Be is tempting me), I have a nagging suspicion they haven’t drifted too far from their roots. I also bet they’re familiar with another New Zealand rock group called The Dead C, as Armpit’s severe looseness and grimy tones seem well informed of their fellow countrymen who effectively birthed this genre. Besides The Dead C, both tracks have me thinking of Fushitsusha at their least capable, Fully Glazed at their grumpiest or Reynols without the pomp and circumstance, and while I’d probably rather be listening to any of those other four artists instead, this Armpit is warm and inviting all the same.

Bartellow San & Ground San Amanogawa EP 12″ (SVS)
Seems like just about every white European techno producer is seeking inspiration from other cultures these days, but for the most part they’re doing so conscientiously and collaboratively, less Urban Outfitters-style cultural-pillaging cash grabs. It’s trendy, but I’m digging quite a bit of it, including this new EP that has German producer Bartellow working with Osaka’s DJ Ground. It’s not an appropriation so much as a mutual appreciation of styles, and these four cushy jams do right by me. Downtempo house rhythms are the base for traditional Japanese instrumentation and singing, and while that could come off like a coffee-shop Nonesuch Explorer remix, Ground and Bartellow stir it up into fine entertainment. Little treats like the manic vocals of “Holy Water” and the Herbie Hancock-esque keyboard-tickling of “Amanogawa” push these tunes from good to great, melding Japanese harmony with German efficiency. It only took a few spins and I’m hankering for vegan schnitzel dumplings… did I just accidentally invent a new Brooklyn food truck?

Bloodshot Bill Come Get Your Love Right Now LP (Goner)
File under “not my thing”: proudly-retro greaser rockabilly from Montreal’s Bloodshot Bill. I can still tell you about it though, right? Come Get Your Love Right Now is maybe his twentieth album or so, proudly presented in monaural sound (which is kinda funny considering how much of the audience for new music is probably listening on YouTube, Bandcamp or Spotify at this point), and it’s jam packed with songs, what feels like a full album’s worth on each side. Bloodshot Bill clearly has an extreme fondness for legends like Dick Dale, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, The Trashmen, Link Wray, all those usual suspects, and while I get chills watching old grainy footage of Bo Diddley doing his moves in front of an audience of howling teens, Come Get Your Love Right Now does not provoke the same effect. What I find most interesting about this is the unexpected sonic similarities to early Devendra Banhart that runs through many of these tunes, surely on accident: opener “Come Get Your Love” could’ve been off Banhart’s Young God Records debut, I swear. Similar reaching-falsetto vocals, similar scraggly old-timey recording, and I suppose similar charm (both of these men are nothing if not self-assured). If pomade and cowboy shirts and Las Vegas and flaming dice is your vibe, like really your vibe, I can’t imagine Bloodshot Bill will let you down, but I also can’t imagine why you are reading this webpage. You’re gonna hate the rest of the stuff on here!

Booji Boys Unknown Pleathers 7″ (Sewercide)
I’ll take away one point for the direct DEVO rip of a band name, and give ’em a dozen for the record title – go on, say the phrase “Unknown Pleathers” and see if you don’t giggle out loud. I hadn’t given this Halifax-based punk group much thought before, having mentally filed them away as one of the dozens of irreverent lo-fi punk bands on Drunken Sailor, and while they are very much one of those, the five tracks they offer here are a fun spin indeed. Their speedy dual-guitar attack is probably most direct on “New Personnel”, but they shuffle through the rest of their tunes with panache, writing songs akin to The Nosebleeds’ “Ain’t Been To No Music School” or Jay Reatard’s “Blood Vision” and recording them deep within the fuzzy mid-range muck that subsumes much of today’s underground Killed By Death-inspired punk. I wouldn’t mind hearing them with a cleaner sound, but it’s tricky to do that without sucking some of the fun out in the process, particularly if you’re working on what is surely a modest Sewercide Records budget. From the photos I’ve seen, they’re probably best enjoyed live anyway, so the next time I’m in Halifax I’ll flag down the first nerd I see in a mustache and spray-painted t-shirt and ask them where the Booji Boys are playing tonight.

Brutal Birthday Commotion 7″ (Total Punk)
Following their split 7″ with Tropical Trash, the (mostly?) Italian group Brutal Birthday are back at it care of the American gold standard, Total Punk. I’m still having trouble with the name (how exactly is a birthday brutal – bad presents, no party, lame piñata?), but that’s okay, it doesn’t seem like Brutal Birthday are worried about thinking too hard, so I’ll follow their lead. “Commotion” is two minutes of untuned chug, like a noise-rock Bone Awl without the black-metal imagery, or Mayyors at their most sluggish. “Notion” seems to pick two notes that weren’t played on “Commotion” and does basically the same thing, hammering nails through plywood just because they can while the vocalist rants and chokes. “Rinse” finishes things off and picks up the tempo for a short burst similar to the tail-end of The Germs’ classic “We Must Bleed”. Pretty sturdy music, on the punk end of the noise-rock spectrum, but nothing you haven’t heard before, or will hear again. The three tracks don’t even crack five minutes of playing time, so I’ve taken to listening on 33 instead of 45 in an effort to increase the record’s inherent musical value. It kinda works!

Carcass Identity Carcass Identity 12″ (Random Numbers)
The cosmic, swirling techno of Ernesto González’s Bear Bones, Lay Low project has served me well, so my interest was piqued upon learning about his new collaborative project Carcass Identity with Matthieu Levet (of Pizza Noise Mafia, whose name has very much not piqued my interest). Four sizeable tracks here of brooding, lively electronics, veering somewhere between bleary-eyed techno and more esoteric realms of play. Reminds me a bit of Morphosis, actually, in the way that basic time-signatures are maintained rhythmically while everything else flies off the handle, synths dripping like Dali’s clocks or bursting like Roman candles (or frequently both at the same time). “Essential Horror” does it particularly nicely, crawling through various mental tunnels with a persistent “boing” designating the time. “Material Splendor” runs against its own treadmill like Blawan remixing some experimental minimal-synth, and opener “Reflexion Ocean” flips tense chase-scene arpeggios into meditative stasis. Four quality puffs of psych-minded techno here from this Belgian duo and I’m hoping there’s already more on the way.

Jon Dale + Kynan Lawlor I’ve Got A Tiger In My Tank LP (Index Clean)
If you were buying DIY music in the ’00s, you’ve probably got a dusty stack of hand-assembled CD-rs tucked away in a shoebox (they can be the perfect fix for a wobbly table, too – just saying), and if you run a DIY label, you’ve probably felt the itch to memorialize on vinyl some of your favorite CD-rs that have since been forgotten to the sands of time. That seems to be what happened here with Melbourne’s Index Clean and I’ve Got A Tiger In My Tank, originally a CD-r released in 2003 on Kynan Lawlor’s label, now pressed to wax. Kind of a funny choice to inspire the reissue treatment, but I appreciate Index Clean’s chutzpah, as this record is a real blast of nothingness, the sound that falls in-between the sounds humans usually place value upon. The a-side plays out like XNoBBQX troubleshooting their guitar for fifteen minutes, and just when the loose jack starts to work, the side ends – that was apparently the track itself! The flip has four cuts, opening with some Demo Moe-level crash n’ bash improv, then some dimmed-lights guitar-strum, then a track of what seems to be Dale and Lawlor taking a brief nap while leaving their amps on, and then another thrashy slam to finish it out, like Harry Pussy without the use of their legs. If you wanted this, by all means, have at it!

Deafkids Metaprogramação LP (Neurot)
Wow, album of the month?? I never heard of Deafkids before (and to be honest, the name didn’t exactly draw me in), but this Brazilian trio is not only pushing forward heavy and noisy rock music into uncharted territory, they’re doing so in a wildly enjoyable way. When I say “pushing forward”, I don’t mean technical prog tendencies, or supplementing their melodies with a rented string quartet, I mean that they’re pressurizing what seems to be a loose base of crusty hardcore, noise-rock and doomy metal beyond its melting point. And it’s glorious when it explodes! I’m reminded of Una Bèstia Incontrolable at their frenzied peaks, the newest Daughters album in the way that both groups seamlessly merge electro-industrial blasts with live instrumentation, Laddio Bolocko aiming for a Profane Existence record deal, and maybe even a little Sepultura in the way that intricate poly-rhythmic percussion cascades over brutal metal riffs. It’s ugly, gnarly music, but with nods toward dub and psychedelia, as well as kids who wear Disrupt patches on their black-denim ass-flaps. It’s a new and refreshing combination of styles, but one that also makes total sense, at least in the way that Deafkids deliver it. Gonna be listening to Metaprogramação plenty more, in hopes that some of its genius rubs off on me.

DimeSack DimeSack Says God Says Fuck You LP (Blak Skul)
If you’re going to be one of these masked obnoxious garage-punk solo projects (of which there seems to be dozens more every week), you gotta at least make me chuckle, you know? Black Panties does it in their lyric sheets, Buck Biloxi (though not masked, to be fair) does it with that “knife in a deflated football” artwork, and Kansas City’s DimeSack does it with the hilariously clunky album title, reminiscent of Whatever Brains’s What Makes A Man Make What Makes A Man Start Fires?. As for DimeSack’s music, it’s extremely what you’d expect – thuggish drums, loud and crispy guitar, and out-of-control moaned vocals performing crude and schematic aggro-punk. He even yells the lyrics “I’m a deviant” repeatedly on “Criminal”, on the off chance you thought this weirdo in a Halloween-store old-person mask was a fine and upstanding citizen. It’s pretty far removed from Brainbombs, but I can’t help but think that the ripples they left in the scene some ten years ago are still being felt by DimeSack, however slight, particularly in the way that DimeSack wishes to provoke. Maybe closer to Francis Harold & The Holograms in execution, and the aforementioned Black Panties, and probably somewhere between those two as far as the level of enjoyment this vinyl debut has provided.

F-DORM Commune LP (Scrapes)
The Scrapes label is on my radar for releasing two great HOGG records, so I was curious to peep this new one from the label. F-DORM is a collaboration between Connor Camburn of Litüus and visual-artist Conor Ekstrom, and it’s not often you find a group of only people named Con(n)or! I thought the Litüus album I heard was decent if perhaps too minimal, but F-DORM hits the nail on the head, the nail being “bleak rhythmic electronics with subtle distorted vocals”. “Cell” seems to come from the Beau Wanzer school of dungeon-terror electro, whereas the following “Unconditional” is a tense pulse shift, not unlike early Raime played on 45 instead of 33. The rest of the album veers between those and other dreary electronic styles, dexterously swapping filthy drum machine patterns with turbulent drones, patience being a key part of F-DORM’s process. I’m a fan of the extremely manipulated vocals too, as they don’t show up on every track, leaving them to feel more like an accidental happening than anything premeditated or inherently musical. Foreboding electronic minimalism can be a fine line to walk – whereas Litüus left me wanting more, F-DORM have prescribed the perfect dosage of drain-circling electro-industrial insomnia.

Gil.Barte / Lost SoundBytes split 12″ (Brokntoys / Discos Del Quebranto)
After last year’s stunning debut EP, I set every Google alarm I could find for Gil.Barte, eager to sample more of his sludgy, reptilian techno sounds. Good luck then to see that he just released a split with Lost SoundBytes, a new name to me, but who cares – new Gil.Barte! Thankfully, his tracks here do not disappoint, as they are two unhurried and hypnotic drain-circlers of the finest order. “Guédé” sounds like a nocturnal float down the Nile circa 2099, after the Nile is dried up and paved with electronic concrete. Soothing yet skeevy. “Egareur” is even slower, and it sounds like Gil.Barte is gliding a small explorer ship through Godzilla’s respiratory system, all the way into his intestines, deftly avoiding waves of nuclear bile, pungent clouds of gas and mutated parasites. While we’re here, might as well check out Lost SoundBytes – wow, this is great too! It’s rudimentary and caustic downtempo electro, not too far from Gil.Barte’s basic sound. Lost SoundBytes peppers his tracks with samples of movie dialogue (mostly angry men) and whips his acid-laced drum machines into position not unlike Beau Wanzer’s De-Bons-en-Pierre project. Will have to keep this name in mind! Not that I can think of much else besides Gil.Barte these days.

Groinoids Lost LP (Limited Appeal)
Cool and unexpected find here from Limited Appeal: the lost Groinoids album! If you’re like me, you have a special place in your heart for the antagonistic offbeat weirdo bands that popped up at least once per compilation LP in the formative days of hardcore-punk, and that’s where I’d file The Groinoids. They offered sixty seconds of scum-punk on This Is Boston Not L.A. before reassembling into other fine Boston-based sludge rock units (Kilslug, Upsidedown Cross, etc.), and I had no idea they recorded a full-length in 1986. You probably didn’t either! Lost certainly sounds more 1986 than 1981 – the influence of metal is palpable, but Groinoids still keep it slow and slimy, with vocalist “Mongoloid” frothing at the mouth over some ignorant chug. Kilslug are incredible (even their reunion 11″ album is top-notch!), but Groinoids are less so, recalling Nihilistics at their most wasted or The Murder Junkies at their most childlike, with a slight funkiness to the drums common of the era but poorly aged in 2019. Still, The Groinoids sucking is a good percentage of their charm, so if you’re a fan of Boston hardcore obscurities, demented sludge-punk or the many ways in which they intersect, you’re going to have to seek out Lost for at least a cursory spin.

Half Japanese Invincible LP (Fire)
Imagine someone who picks up a copy of Half Japanese’s Invincible, really likes it, and then decides to go online and see if this group ever released anything else. Their roommates will be scraping brain matter off the ceiling for weeks! Half Japanese are an underground institution, with dozens of albums (and dozens more singles) to their name; Kurt Cobain loved them, and what, you wanna argue with the ghost of Kurt Cobain? My experience with them is fairly limited (at least in consideration of just how much Half Japanese material is out there to be familiar with), and while nothing will ever top the explosive singular insanity of their debut 7″ EP (nine of the best songs released in 1977!), Invincible is an optimistic, lighthearted romp that merrily sidesteps the various horrors of present-day. It certainly sounds like Half Japanese tend to sound, with most songs consisting of one repeated pattern (no verse/chorus hullabaloo) and Jad Fair’s vocals, which seem to split the difference between Rick Moranis and middle-aged Lou Reed. They do it quite well, with longtime associate and avant polymath Jason Willett on keys and bass to keep the ship on course. The perfect cheery avant-indie soundtrack to any day that needs a little brightening.

Hello Hooray American Burnout 7″ (no label)
Private-press American rock will never die, or at least not during my lifetime, which is really all I’m concerned about. Check Hello Hooray for instance, a group of buds that jam in their Brooklyn cellar, where you just know there’s at least a dozen crushed tallboys scattered about. The title track has a simple Velvets choogle but comes out sounding like one of the early Purling Hiss home recordings – crispy, a little burnt on the edges, and possibly blinding if you stare directly into it for too long. They even have a vague little “USA!” chant in the middle, which somehow feels completely divorced from what the USA actually is, which of course is a fantasy I welcome. “Cherries Light The Way” switches to a streetwise boogie, sounding like Tetuzi Akiyama sitting in with Endless Boogie on a Manhattan pizza tour. Gotta say, one of the most sonically satisfying self-released 7″ singles I’ve come across in a while – the band might be playing it cool, as if grooving in the basement is just something they do in between walking the dog and taking out the trash, but these two sizzlers speak to a higher calling. Or maybe it’s just the upstairs neighbors stomping on the floor.

Davy Kehoe The Pilot 12″ (Wah Wah Wino)
To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting the follow-up to Davy Kehoe’s masterful debut Short Passing Game would be an understatement – after ordering this new one, released with zero fanfare on a barebones Wah Wah Wino Bandcamp page, it felt like I had entered a prolonged state of Christmas Eve 1991. That probably means my hopes were unattainably high, but after spending a bit of time with these two lengthy new cuts (parts one and two of “The Pilot”), I think I’m picking up what Kehoe is throwing down. The a-side is the livelier of the two: his faster-than-appropriate rhythm box is happily sputtering along while synths, keys, pads, harmonica and (low in the mix) distorted screams intermingle. It feels like a live jam (is that an actual ride cymbal a few minutes in?), but the whole thing is so fluid and tricky to parse that it could all just be one software-based WAV file put to wax – anything is possible. If it is a computer-based simulation, I want to live there, as this a-side really calls to mind Can more than anything else, the way all of these unlikely sounds lock in and dance with each other, to which we can thankfully bear witness. If the a-side is the carnival, the b-side is the empty fairground at night. The drums are pitched to little more than a pop and a synthesized tambourine shake, and Kehoe seems to take the opportunity to lay out a sludgy, de-tuned bass improvisation that befits Thrones or Earth or something like that. Didn’t see that coming! He finds the funk eventually, and while I like it, this is the least immediate cut in his concise discography thus far. Overall though, just as freaky of an EP as I could’ve hoped for, with no signs that Kehoe’s boundless creativity is drying up anytime soon.

King Blood Hocus Focus LP (Petty Bunco)
Praise be, new King Blood! This is scorched-earth riff-mongering of the highest order, straight from some nondescript Ohio abode to your turntable care of Philadelphia’s always-alert Petty Bunco label. I’d hope that all you nice fans of High Rise, Tetuzi Akiyama’s Don’t Forget To Boogie, Birds Of Maya, Judas Priests records with a condition grade of G/G+, etc., are already familiar with the King Blood project, but if not, you’re in for a treat. Riffs are layered and repeated at dangerously hot levels, with no vocals to distract, just Anglo-Saxon heavy metal at its leathery core. This time around, I’m noticing more with the bass (could be a heavy rhythm guitar, or an actual bass?) and some extra percussion to drive these points home, but it’s ultimately quite true to the original intent of King Blood. Some tunes recall a dystopian ZZ Top, others are pure NWOBHM exhaust, and there’s at least one cut that sounds like an ’80s WWF theme song hacked to pieces. I released a King Blood 7″ some six years ago, and yet I somehow forgot how great this entity can be – Hocus Focus immediately whipped me back into shape.

Lo Kindre Chlorophytum 12″ (12th Isle)
I went gaga for the semi-recent 12″ Lo Kindre produced alongside Mr. TC on Neubau, so I got his name tattooed on the inside of my bottom lip and showed it to the clerk at my local record shop, who then handed me this. Nice! Chlorophytum offers more of what I had hoped for, and in no short supply, as there are six sumptuous tracks here, united in intent and delivery. Lo Kindre basically turns the drum machine down to its slowest BPM, lights up some heavy-duty dub effects, waits until the rhythm is proceeding at full performance and then lays down some sweet synthetic melodies on top, the perfect glaze to round out these weightless jams. The sounds come from familiar gear (an 808?), but Lo Kindre wields them differently, as if he’s trying to make the heaviest instrumental dub music with equipment unsuited to the task, as though electro wasn’t a hyperactive dance-floor substance but something to be packed into a bong and smoked. When the vocal sample hits in “Aibell”, I slink down in my chair halfway, and by the time “No Hiding” cuts in, I’m flat against the floor. Expert left-field dub for those who wish not to cut a rug but to lie deep within one.

Dion McGregor Dreaming Like Mad LP (Limited Appeal)
Limited Appeal is really striving to live up to their name with this one. Check it: an LP reissue of a CD released in 2014 of recordings from the 1960s of singer-songwriter Dion McGregor talking in his sleep. That’s it! Minutes upon minutes of incoherent rambling, arguments, discussions, instructions and exclamations of McGregor in his sleep. It’s a curiosity for sure, and pretty amazing to think he was able to speak at such length and with such clarity while asleep, but I can’t imagine listening to this more than once, and I say that as someone who routinely listens to music the majority of society would never give the time of day. There are some entertaining passages (“The Face Down There” is notable, particularly when McGregor notes that this man has “a very adroit tailor”), but I lack the discipline to sit and listen to a man babble about everything and nothing for minutes on end. I’d certainly put it on if I ever found myself in some sort of Home Alone situation where I have to fool two burglars into thinking my home is occupied by more people than just myself, but besides that, I just don’t know what to tell you. I’m almost more fascinated by Limited Appeal’s executive decisions than the sleep-talk of Dion McGregor.

The Minneapolis Uranium Club Band The Cosmo Cleaners: The Higher Calling Of Business Provocateurs LP (Fashionable Idiots / Static Shock)
A friend recently texted me “Uranium Club are the best punk band right now”, and after I clarified that he meant the Minneapolis Uranium Club Band (sorry, Sacramento Uranium Club Band), I found myself wondering if he might just be correct. I’m not sure by what metric “best” can be determined for contemporary punk, but it’s clear that no other band, punk or otherwise, has captured the modern sense of overstimulated confusion with the sophistication and accuracy of Uranium Club, and it’s a joy to behold. If you’re not familiar with them already, I have to wonder what you’ve been doing instead, but I’ll be quick and explain that musically, they have a sound that falls somewhere between Wire, Parquet Courts, Tyvek and The Coneheads – hyper-twitchy, manic, upbeat, semi-nerdy post-punk – and while they sound fantastic, it’s what they do with that sound that’s truly noteworthy. The lyrics are deeply involved and flow more like psychotic prose than punk lyrics… I’d love to see a lyric sheet, but it’d probably be more like a lyric tome. There’s so much to unpack, which is the fun of repeated listens – you can just jam out on their tightly-interlocked guitars without much of a second thought, or sit in close attention as the full Uranium Club story reveals itself. I’ve enjoyed doing both! The traffic-mayhem of “Grease Monkey” would be the highlight of any Gulcher Records compilation, but it’s the two lengthy tracks (“Michael’s Soliloquy” and “Interview With The Cosmo Cleaners”) where Uranium Club really lean into the fabricated happiness and technology-derived isolation of modern American society with the sandpaper-dry sarcasm and bitterness that only true punk rockers can muster.

Of Habit Viable Device LP (Index Clean)
Of Habit is what British artist Gary Myles goes by when he feels like calmly reciting prose over electronic pulses in various states of decline. Viable Device is his first vinyl release, following a cassette on the esteemed Entr’acte label in 2017, and if you’re a fan of Kye Records and Graham Lambkin, this one’s for you! I’m reminded strongly of Lambkin’s innovative group The Shadow Ring by what I’m hearing from Of Habit: a soft-spoken British male voice articulating broken verse over moody yet lightweight industrial soundscapes. Of course, The Shadow Ring were creating their auditory backdrops with rusty bike frames, broken guitars and sandpaper, whereas Of Habit’s soundscapes seem firmly synthetic, borne of laptop or modular gear, lights flashing to a tempo that doesn’t match the music. I don’t mind the stylistic similarities, and Of Habit’s backing tracks are pleasantly crunchy, some sort of IDM on its deathbed – maybe we should call it foreclosed house music? As internet teenagers might say, this album is a big mood, one of vertiginous confusion befitting avant-garde sci-fi film or something as simple as a windy and unlit walk through the park at night.

Ossia Devil’s Dance 2xLP (Blackest Ever Black)
I’ve got plenty of love for Bristol’s Young Echo posse, a raggedy collective of like-minded-but-different producers of all things dark, dreary and electronic. Ossia is one of them, and whereas I previously associated him with scalding dub workouts, Devil’s Dance reaches out into a vast expanse of emptiness, far from any terrestrial club night. Calling it a “dub record” would be like calling Sunn 0))) a “doom metal” band – sure, the inspiration and aesthetic essence is in effect, but for the most part this is bleary-eyed drone music, meant to be enjoyed by one’s lonesome in unventilated rooms without windows. That’s not to say it’s one big schmear of sound, though – Ossia pokes a variety of notable motifs through the soupy greyness, like the puffs of saxophone on “Radiation” (recalling Roll The Dice’s great Born To Ruin record), the title track’s piston-fired percussion (ala Skream at his dankest) and the digital body-blows of “Dub Hell” (like some sort of heinous mix of Demons and Asda). The album’s biggest moment comes last with “Vertigo”; it’s over twenty minutes long (the other tracks average around five) and it feels like Abruptum having a chance meeting with Inhalants and Will Over Matter at a pub in Bristol on a particularly chilly and humid evening.

Priests The Seduction Of Kansas LP (Sister Polygon)
Tune your web-browser to the usual-suspect indie-rock-mayonnaise sites and chances are there’s a recent Priests feature, and while I’m glad to know they’re getting their rightful share of press, I’m surprised at how little it’s mentioned that this band is literally doing it all themselves. Sure, we’ve all self-released a 7″ or two, and maybe even sold 500 copies (if we released it in the pre-Spotify era), but Priests are clearly going for it, trying to get big and popular and successful in the way that bands used to, all while controlling the means of production. I can only imagine the annoyance of having to do all that, but they’re committed to the ethics they’ve set for themselves, which is more than pretty much any other rock band can say. So anyway, they put together their second album, The Seduction of Kansas, and not only is it the most recent big-budget DIY rock album I can think of (at least since their last one), it’s mighty good! They’re clearly moving away from the feral, barbaric post-punk rage that defined their earliest tunes (and to be fair, some of my personal faves), instead dabbling with Joan Jett-style fist-pumpers (“Jesus’ Son”), Nancy Sinatra swagger (“I’m Clean”) and turn-of-the-century dance-punk (“The Seduction Of Kansas” and “Texas Instruments”), and it all feels true to what Priests are and want to be. Plus, there’s still plenty of unfakeable weirdness, moments that have me wondering if they listened to a ton of B-52’s or Le Tigre or Suburban Lawns or U2 or Henry Cow or what while writing and recording. I just hope they don’t get too popular – no one besides Mark Arm should ever have to experience the physical and psychological torture that is packing and mailing tens of thousands of LPs.

Protruders Poison Future 12″ (Feel It)
Here we go, another out-of-nowhere punk smash from Feel It! Protruders are from Montreal, and this is their first vinyl offering following a splattering of tapes, and it’s a real art-punk treat. I’m reminded of Electric Eels, Life Stinks and Swell Maps – you know, great weirdo punk from the sidelines of history – but Protruders go a little deeper than most bands that share those similarities or influences. Basically, it feels like Protruders are trying to sound like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground and The New York Dolls, but it ends up coming out all screwy and mangled, more akin to Pere Ubu, The Urinals or the Peer Pressure 7″ (one of fake-punk’s finest moments). Their grooves are nice, and while it can feel droney (in a good way), the riffs are constantly changing under the group’s feet, shifting and sliding like soapy water on a linoleum floor. “Stabilizer” is the punk missile, whereas “Wrong Way Sign” slowly unravels like a classic Television Personalities-style patience-tester. Excellent stuff, surprisingly in league with the various artists mentioned in this review. It’s almost like Feel It Records is showboating at this point, procuring sick arty punk from Montreal where so many others have failed!

Qlowski Pure As Fear 7″ (Maple Death)
Awkward name, but Qlowski are from Bologna, Italy, so maybe it’s lost in cultural translation. Or maybe it’s just awkward! This is the group’s second EP, and it offers four modest tunes of poppy, rudimentary post-punk. I’m picking up a pretty distinctly Black Dogs vibe from these songs, in the way that new-wave riffs, airy synths and the decidedly lo-fi sonic presentation collide. Qlowski are a little more throaty in the vocal department, though, which helps lean Pure As Fear closer to something Maximum Rocknroll would have written up versus Stereogum or Brooklyn Vegan or wherever Blank Dogs got talked about. “Golden Boy” has kind of a Cars vibe, but the brittle sound quality detracts from the smoothed-out power-pop pleasures such a tune might’ve otherwise offered. Some cool ideas, but ultimately inessential stuff. Maybe, in the true spirit of Blank Dogs, Qlowski will release another two dozen records over the next year and we can follow along as they figure themselves out?

Red Mass Kilrush Drive LP (No Coast)
How about a Canadian music conspiracy theory? I’ve heard somewhere that Canadian bands can apply for grants (this much I know to be a fact), and that they’re able to increase the amount of money they receive by the number of band members they have, which leads to massive ensembles like Fucked Up and The Arcade Fire being the (Great White) norm. Add a horn section, and watch that government-funded scrilla multiply! I have to wonder if there isn’t some truth to that, especially when considering Montreal’s Red Mass, a duo who frequently swell up to a massive collective of nearly a dozen people (and have in turn received financial assistance from the Canadian government to fund Kilrush Drive, as noted on the insert). And as can often be the case with musical “collectives”, this one is all over the place, from funky garage-rock to Led Zep-sized acoustic jams (“Dark Days”) to unquantized electro-punk thrashers (“Fight-Or-Flight”) to tunes that seem to fuse the widescreen jangle of Coldplay with the mushroom-mouthed vocals of Timmy’s Organism (opener “God’s House”). They’re dabbling with new age occultism one moment, and then stomping out a groovy rocker with the chorus of “show me the money, and I’ll show you the drugs” the next, because I guess they’re suddenly street-hustlin’ daddy-os now, too? It’s a mess of ideas – it seems as though Red Mass want to inhabit every counter-cultural rock movement of the past fifty years, but they fail to fully deliver the essence of any of them. Initially, my thought is that they might benefit from narrowing the focus of their ideas, but what if they simply haven’t gone big enough? Perhaps a thirty-piece Red Mass is the solution.

Richard Vain Night Jammer LP (Big Neck)
It’s gotta be a play on “dick vein”, right? What else could it be? Richard Vain started as the bedroom recording project of Jered Gummere (of The Ponys, White Savage and many others), and like many punk-operated bedroom projects, this one blossomed into a “real” band, now sporting its debut record, Night Jammer. Normally when I think of solo projects, I imagine them as an excuse for the artist to go a little crazy, to try something that normally wouldn’t work or merely behave more extremely than when tempered by the consciences of other band members, but Richard Vain is pretty mellow, it turns out. Much of Night Jammer reminds me of modern Cold Cave without the goth or industrial overtones – it’s synth-driven, major-chord alterna-pop with softly sung male vocals. These songs are pretty easy-going, almost sleepy at times, with lighthearted nods to psych-rock (Wooden Shjips-style) and modern garage… file under “trustworthy local opener for upcoming Jesus & Mary Chain tour”. Pleasant stuff, but these songs don’t really stick to the ribs – it’s like a competent recreation of ’90s indie-psych-alternative performed without the band or audience ever breaking a sweat. I’m reminded of my Capital One savings account – you can count on it to not screw you over, but the 0.8% interest rate isn’t turning anyone on, either. I’d be curious to hear Richard Vain take some risks, or at least in some way live up to the crude nickname their moniker could inspire.

Schwund Technik Und Gefühl LP (Phantom / Harbinger Sound)
Schwund finally answers that fateful question: what would’ve happened if instead of picking up their gear at various junkyards, Einstürzende Neubauten went to Radio Shack? That’s oversimplifying this German outfit (and not incredibly accurate, I suppose), but I thought it would be a nice way of opening this review. Technik Und Gefühl is full of commonplace synth sounds deployed over mid-tempo percussion with vocalists who mostly sing in standard timing, resulting in a sort of punked-up synth-pop not far from Metal Urbain or The Normal (but not as raw or captivating as either of those legends). Some of the fuzzy retro-synth sounds here remind me of Felix Kubin’s work, but he’s far more playful and impish than Schwund, who proceed without much emotion, positive or negative or otherwise. To Schwund’s credit, they avoid all the spooky-goth elements that often come bundled with this type of sound, instead favoring a more militaristic, no-nonsense approach, but they often fail to fill that void with much in the way of their own personality. Some of the instrumentals are undeniably fun (the paranoid melody of “SUV” is particularly tasty), but Technik Und Gefühl often feels less like a diary full of juicy gossip and more like a list of routine household errands.

Slag Queens You Can’t Go Out Like That LP (Rough Skies)
Tasmania’s Slag Queens team up with Tasmania’s Rough Skies Records for their debut album: a match made in heaven (aka Tasmania). They’re a new-ish group on the scene, and they come across as proudly queer and consistently agitated on their debut, two of the most important tenets of punk (as both a philosophy and a practice). I suppose their music could be more comfortably lumped into indie-rock than punk, however, based on the general tuneful delivery and relaxed pace, similar to Seattle’s The Stickers with a little less spazz and a little more slog. It feels like groups as varied as Talking Heads, Bratmobile and Tune-Yards have factored into Slag Queens’ aesthetic equation, but that’s just me assuming, and you know what happens when you assume. Their most immediately memorable tune, “Shit Faced”, repeats a line of “she doesn’t know when she’s got shit on her face” to a soggy, sullen, Mudhoney-esque riff, so maybe they simply like the sound of grunge without the goofy machismo that accompanies much of it. Unflinching and confrontational lyrics plus messy, muddy rock sure sounds like fun to me!

The Snakes The Snakes LP (Anti Fade)
This is the third Australian album I’ve got in as many months to feature head-shot portraits of all the band members on the back cover, and without a doubt The Snakes look the coolest of them all. They look like splatter-punks with at least one extreme hairstylist in their crew, and it was a nice counterbalance to their plainer-than-plain band name. After gazing upon their images, I was ready for whatever their music might be, but unfortunately it’s not doing a heck of a lot for me. Rudimentary new-wave punk stuff with haunted-house keyboard, tinny guitar and shouted vocals, not entirely unlike a lesser Nation Of Ulysses or an indie-pop Cramps. Maybe if the music was played faster I’d perk up a bit (although speeding this stuff up might make it sound like Black Cat #13), or if they went for the inherent pop possibilities and devoted their time and effort into writing some immediately gratifying hooks I’d be fully on board, but their tunes and sonic presentation are lacking, at least for my particular tastes. There’s gotta be some other punk band in Melbourne with utterly fantastic songs and atrocious personal style – maybe The Snakes could team up with them and eventually conquer the world?

Sweet JAP Be My Venus 12″ (Big Neck)
As punks who go to shows, we all have that distinct memory of the first time we saw a band go absolutely nuts on stage: jumping off amps, shedding clothes, throwing drums, crawling on the ceiling, what have you. It’s a powerful moment, to realize that a band is under no obligation to maintain standard social decorum, and Sweet JAP were one of my firsts, spending more time in the air than on the ground, climbing the PA and amps and crowd as though it was their last night on Earth. They were fantastic, and I scooped up all the split 7″s they were selling at their merch table eagerly, but as is often the case with live acts such as this, none of those records matched the live show. Fast-forward to now: Sweet JAP haven’t existed as a band in fifteen years, but Big Neck decided to throw a collection of unreleased and “rare” tracks onto one side of a red vinyl 12″, which is Be My Venus. It’s pretty average garage-punk of the era, the sort of thing that offers only the subtlest insight into Sweet JAP’s house-of-fire live performance. Much like my other formative insane live punk experiences (Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, An Oxygen Auction and No Justice in particular), Sweet JAP’s recordings don’t come close to properly displaying their true power, but I’m ultimately okay with it – sometimes the memories are more satisfying anyway.

Tashme Tashme 7″ (High Fashion Industries)
So often, I see people describing bands as “no frills hardcore” when they really just mean “pretty uninteresting hardcore that you can’t really hate on”. That’s fair, but I feel like Toronto’s Tashme are no-frills without the double meaning. Nah, they play rough-and-tumble hardcore, nice and meaty and with plenty of mosh parts without fully enabling the meatheads into action. Reminds me of the recent Convenience 7″ on Iron Lung, or Philly locals Machine Gun, or I guess any band who probably loves Negative Approach, Totalitär and Bastard (which, to be fair, how could anyone not?). Six tracks here, and if you hear a particularly cool drum fill or stutter-step bridge between d-beat and mosh part, chances are that Tashme will repeat it at least a couple times – it’s nice to know that this group recognizes their strengths. Not sure I’d be willing to deal with the ruthless Canadian border patrol to catch Tashme in person, but I’d gladly see what they’re like live if they ever swing through my American town.

Vintage Crop Company Man 7″ (Anti Fade / Drunken Sailor)
Geelong, Australia’s Vintage Crop go the faux-corporate route on their new 7″ EP. It’s an entertaining gimmick, but no one has done it better than Hewhocorrupts, who extended the shtick through their entire existence and were perhaps the first DIY hardcore group to present themselves as white-collar villains. But I digress! Vintage Crop are only playing the role for this EP, and they do it well too, four tracks of wiry, garage-y post-punk with satirical lyrics. Ausmuteants or Eddy Current Suppression Ring might be two decent references for a newcomer to Vintage Crop, but they’re a little more straightforward than Ausmuteants, and not nearly as friendly as Eddy Current. Perhaps their strongest similarity is with Uranium Club (two guitars scrapping out their different little squiggles with angry-geek vocals), but Vintage Crop are far more of a regular band playing regular songs than the madness that Uranium Club creates. Pretty cool stuff, if not a total knockout. I’ll give them props for having a song with a chorus that goes “I’m living the dream in 2019” (“Stock Options”), because I’m a sucker for songs with lyrics that have an incredibly limited shelf-life. More punks should embrace self-enforced irrelevance!

Wood Chickens Well Done! LP (Big Neck)
Alright, so I don’t necessarily expect you to like this one: melodic punk with rockabilly leanings and an instrumental surf intro. But I do! Well Done!, and Wood Chickens in general, remind me of a time when punk bands weren’t all competing in an unspoken coolness contest, one where your band has to mine the exact right obscure old-school influences, your style is beholden to a very distinct continuum (are we all still doing the single dangly earring thing?), and your attitude painfully aloof, as if you scoff at the idea of playing in a punk band while simultaneously playing in a punk band. No, Wood Chickens remind me of a time when being a punk was an outcast move for freaks and geeks in a social landscape where jocks might actually beat you up, not a style to co-opt on your personal journey in becoming a self-proclaimed guru influencer. I’m reminded of the flailing comedy of MDC, Government Issue (and Government Issue’s rockabilly side-project The Wanktones), maybe a dab of Propagandhi, or perhaps Supersuckers playing at double-speed. Wood Chickens are preposterously tight, are clearly having the time of their lives, and write perfectly stupid punk songs, the perfect soundtrack for a carload of punks taking a four-hour road trip to Cracker Barrel for no redeeming purpose other than pecan pancakes. If you’re willing to partake in some slightly embarrassing punk rock fun, Wood Chickens promise not to tell your cool friends.

Zaliva-D Forsaken LP (Knekelhuis)
All praise to Knekelhuis for continually providing me with my new favorite music that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. You can certainly file Zaliva-D under that header, as this group is making the exact form of sexual-yet-creepy electro-industrial music I’m always looking out for. They’re from Beijing (and a duo, one of whom does the music and the other, the “visuals”) and these seven bangers are superb. I’m reminded of the heavy clanging percussion of Vessel’s Punish, Honey, as though these beats were created by banging some sort of otherworldly metal into difference shapes, as well as the menacing Pan-Asian creep of Tzusing and the psychotropical death-drops of Coil circa Love’s Secret Domain. That’s quite a cocktail, and Zaliva-D make the most of it – their vocals are crazier than crazy (whispering Gollums giving way to some sort of regurgitating avian creature), and when they pair it with imposing and serpentine percussive rhythms and gnarly synth-bass, it’s a slam dunk every time. Forsaken isn’t so out-there as to be entirely unfamiliar or confusing, but rather it feels like the next logical progression of subversive underground electronics, both in aesthetic scope as well as production prowess. Big recommendation!