Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society Mandatory Reality 2xLP (Eremite)
Here’s a first for me, and not exactly a precedent I was looking to set: I paid fifty freakin’ dollars for a newly-released domestic album! It’s nuts, and not something I intend to do again anytime soon, or at least not until the next Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society album comes out. In this highly specific case, it was completely worth it! While I’ve seen Joshua Abrams’ name around for a while (and enjoyed the shuddering noise scrapes of his recent solo bass album), I wasn’t prepared for the immensely chill vibes that inhabit Mandatory Reality. Over four massive tracks (the sprawling “Finite” covers two full sides at nearly forty minutes!), Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society meld the smoothest aspects of New York-style minimalism with the floaty jazz sculptures one might associate with Pharoah Sanders or Alice Coltrane. They lay down a cozy melodic blanket that progresses through the same six-or-so notes, and the individual members take turns spinning their own rich textures throughout. There’s something about the pacing and melody that feels akin to a meditative practice – this is music that flushes the bad air from one’s system, leaving them relaxed and refreshed and oddly empowered. When you combine that with the fact that this is a double LP in a richly silkscreened cover, with screened inner sleeves, center stickers, and liner notes, suddenly fifty bucks doesn’t seem so bad for sharply-packaged transcendent enlightenment.

Alexander The Pale Light Over The Dark Hills LP (C/Site)
I think I figured it out: guitarist David Shapiro’s full name is actually David Alexander Shapiro, hence the choice of moniker for his solo guitar excursions. Initially I assumed he was just being precocious, and while his music might be described similarly, there’s a very warm heart beating behind all of the tracks on The Pale Light Over The Dark Hills, and a sense that this music goes far beyond mere technical exercise. Solo acoustic fingerpickers are like ice cream to me – I’m ready to enjoy them at any given time, just not too much at once – and this new Alexander is particularly tasty and sweet. He’s clearly technically talented, but I appreciate the leisurely pace of many of these tracks, allowing the tender pulse behind them to shine, his melodies untangled and unhurried. Some of these tunes are lyrical in a style reminiscent of Glenn Jones or Jack Rose, but they harbor very little in the way of melancholy or darkness. I suppose you could listen to this record while in an emotional funk, but it wouldn’t patiently sit beside you at your bedside so much as open the curtains to let the sun shine in. Optimally, I’d be listening to The Pale Light Over The Dark Hills barefoot and creek-side in mid August with a handful of wild blueberries I picked myself, but I’d need to get a mighty long extension cord for my turntable. Time for a Home Depot trip!

The Anemic Boyfriends Fake I.D. 7″ (HoZac)
Even though I’ve been aware of The Anemic Boyfriends for a number of years now, and own their other (fantastic) 7″ single, something about them still doesn’t seem real – how could a band this cosmically cool, with such timeless proto-punk tunes, have actually existed in Anchorage, Alaska at the dawn of the ’80s? And a bunch of teenagers, no less! The whole thing seems like fantasy-fiction drafted by a sweaty record collector, but all evidence points to The Anemic Boyfriends being a real group that actually existed, and no matter what timeline of reality we’re in, these songs are real and can be heard. And not just can, but should! “Fake I.D.” is a coulda-been hit, with lyrics true to the title and a streetwise bop that combines the toughness of Joan Jett with the goofball fun of Big Star. “Bad Girls In Love” is the b-side (taken from their other single), and on any other 7″ by any other band from the era, it would’ve certainly qualified for the a-side slot. It has that Bomp! Records glam bounce with the ready-to-fight attitude of early Chiswick Records, but of course this wasn’t made by snotty British men, it was made by teenage girls from Alaska. Not trying to get patriotic, but when I gaze into my framed poster of a rippling American flag with a bald eagle soaring in front of it, the chords of “Fake I.D.” and “Bad Girls In Love” ring through my subconscious.

John Atkinson & Talya Cooper Plains LP (Florabelle)
Synth player (or should I say “synthesist”?) John Atkinson and guitarist Talya “Don’t Call Her Tayla” Cooper got together to score the film Two Plains And A Fancy; Plains is an “extension and expansion” on their score. While the movie is currently resting comfortably on my Netflix DVD queue (that’s right, I rent DVDs through the mail), I certainly don’t require its visuals to find satisfaction within the beautiful soundscapes these two have created here. I’m reminded of Grouper (although Plains is of studio-grade fidelity, not dusty lo-fi), Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work with BJ Nilsen, and Earth in their cowboy-hat mode (at least in spirit if not direct sonic resemblance), although the music here is so calming and universal that it feels free of obvious influence, more like a timeless process of nature. For much of the record, it’s difficult to determine where the synth ends and where the guitar begins, which of course is a testament to the fluidity of Atkinson and Cooper’s compositions, but occasionally the clear sound of plucked strings pokes through, reminding us that a guitar was physically handled during this recording. It’s most notable during “Geologer” and “Seconds”, which utilize field recordings from Federico González Jordán to ensure that the untamed Western expanse is vivid within our mind’s eye. Plains is a luminous ambient formation, shimmery and deep and likely to make you think of donuts, as most good things do.

Bananagun Do Yeah 7″ (Anti Fade)
What’s Anti Fade offering this time? Why, some groovy ’60s dance-pop, bay-bee! This 7″ is Bananagun’s first release, and I doubt it’ll be their last, if only because I can’t imagine they bought all those dapper vintage outfits to only wear once. “Do Yeah” is very entertaining, the perfect modern tune to spin at one of your local retro dance-party nights; you know the type, ones with names like “Vinyl Fetish” and pictures of The Supremes surrounded by 45s on the flyer. The auxiliary hand percussion here is excellent, and the song hovers somewhere between a James Bond theme and Los Cincos at their most kaleidoscopic. B-side “Top Cat” is notably less Barbarella-esque, instead conducting itself with the garage-rock manners of The Pretty Things or Love. It’s music meant to be performed in Small Faces haircuts, felted-wool berets and skin-tight turtlenecks, which is a stroke of luck, as that’s exactly what Bananagun are wearing! If they rolled up in baggy skater shorts with a Fender covered in Fat Wreck Chords stickers, it’d be a mess, but they look the part and respect the tradition and know their way around a tune and I’m on board with all of that.

Nick Craft Minerva LP (Cheersquad / Dolos)
Decades beyond his days in Aussie major-label alt-rockers Sidewinder, Nick Craft has comfortably settled into solo-acoustic adulthood with Minerva, his debut. It’s overly precious stuff, perpetually tender and wrapped up in emotions both sad and profound. Not really a style that comes through these pages too often, but I suppose Craft is as if not more capable with his acoustic Starbucks-indie as anyone else I’ve heard, though he rests more on the general tone and feeling of the style than distinct hooks. Reminiscent of Iron & Wine covering The Postal Service, or the music that plays during the promo for an especially touching episode of This Is Us, or, worst case scenario, The Plain White T’s cancerous abomination “Hey There Delilah”. By the time “Leaves” hits, and Craft softly explains to us how the insects behave during the change of seasons as backing vocals coo along, I feel as though I’m transported to a rustic church watching my daughter marry her soulmate at our family-drama series finale, tears streaming down onto my Men’s Wearhouse tuxedo, and I am almost angry at Nick Craft for playing with my emotions so easily. But he’s undeniably sweet and adorable (just look at him on the cover with a sleeping child on his shoulders), so I can’t stay mad for too long.

Crazy Doberman Crazy Doberman LP (Mastermind)
There’s been an absolute flurry of activity over the past few years from Midwestern collective Crazy Doberman – shows and tours to records, CD-rs, and tapes, tapes and more tapes. I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve experienced (both live and recorded), but it’s nice to settle into a thoughtfully-crafted full-length vinyl LP, which is exactly what this self-titled album is. Each side gets its own long sprawling cut, and together, it’s a fine demonstration of why this group is perhaps the hottest psycho-jazz act on the Instagram-meme scene. “Immortal Hand Or Eye” is the a-side and its notably nuanced for a group that is liable to come at you with a four-headed saxophone attack. It slowly arrives at dusk, a particularly dark-red sunset that forebodes calamity, finally climaxing with a flock of little Albert Aylers migrating for the winter. The b-side is somewhat split into three parts: “Held Inside / Fragmented / Kept Close”. It arrives with the clattering power of Amon Düül, but only for a moment before Crazy Dobe’ reassesses the situation with suspicious horns, loose percussion, skittering guitars and electronics and even a bass to maintain a sense of gravity. Some of their foggy lurking makes sense given their relation to the American Tapes / Hanson Records universe, but their application on this album isn’t noisy or harsh, and I appreciate that. They really stir the stew up for a while here, with each member of the tentet ensemble pulling their weight in pleasantly stimulating ways, collectively making a burbling, hazy and sinister form of music that a duo or trio could not. I look forward to their next album, and will probably have to dip into another live gig or limited release before then, too.

Carla dal Forno So Much Better 7″ (Kallista)
Good news – here’s a new 7″ single from Carla dal Forno! The London-based Aussie really located something marvelous in her solo material, combining the most romantic aspects of industrial music with a pop sensibility that remains barely out of reach. Her music often feels as if Lana Del Rey was raised on Throbbing Gristle, and dal Forno’s distinct sound remains fully intact for these two new tunes. “So Much Better” is lovely – its bass guitar and drums carry the patient insistence of much of Dark Blue’s music, except dal Forno supplements them with eerie tones and out-of-focus ambiance instead of electric guitar. Over it she sings what appears to be a bitter hate-song, made all the more sumptuous by her unflustered demeanor. Like much of her discography thus far, the b-side “Fever Walk” is an instrumental, and it’s a ghostly reggae-dub that drifts over shark-infested water, the final puff of weed before being pulled to one’s watery grave. Kallista Records is apparently dal Forno’s own label, as in she created it to release her own music, and I’m already chomping at the bit for KALLISTA002, whatever it might be.

De-Bons-En-Pierre EP No. 2 12″ (Dark Entries)
I consider myself a pretty enthusiastic Beau Wanzer fan but I still probably own like, 40% of his discography at best. Dude is constantly cranking mutant techno tracks in various collaborative formations as well as by his lonesome, and when I saw that his De-Bons-En-Pierre duo with the great Maoupa Mazzocchetti dropped two new EPs on Dark Entries (sold as an affordable twenty-dollar bundle), how could I resist? On the first of the set, I’m hearing a friendly compromise between Wanzer and Mazzocchetti, wherein Wanzer tidies up the muck and grime that often surrounds his beats and Mazzocchetti drops an antacid into his queasy sound palette. They’re both on their best behavior there, but they get truly nutty on EP No. 2, by my count the stronger of the two. Beats seem more devious and impish in this second installment, with Wanzer’s aberrant tendencies causing delightful little reactions with Mazzocchetti’s almost comical sound design. Wanzer’s barely-audible vocals hide out throughout these songs, like little Gremlins scampering behind the drywall of your bedroom, and Mazzocchetti clearly brought his trusty tool-kit of elastic spasms and nauseous synths to make it all snap. Between the seven tracks here (and the six on the other), it’s a bountiful buffet of twisted alien-funk, greywater electro and inscrutable nonsense from two of the brightest weirdos on the scene.

Game No One Wins LP (Beach Impediment)
Cool, a new band on Beach Impediment with a grotesque scene of zombie Grim Reaper carnage and fantasy evil on the cover… probably gonna be enjoyably-forgettable hardcore-punk or d-beat crust, right? Wrong! Maybe you knew better, but I wasn’t prepared for the raging metallic brutality that awaited me within Game’s debut album. I’ll tell you, it was like entering a scalding shower that I presumed was only lukewarm when I first put it on! This London group really nails what they’re going for, which seems to be a hybrid of NYHC crossover-thrash (lotsa Crumbsuckers mosh parts and Attacker-style guitar heroics) with early UK thrash-metal ala Sacrilege and Celtic Frost, but delivered with a thorny, dare-I-say-demonic attitude that makes me think at least one band member owns the Zouo 7″. Jonah Falco from Fucked Up provides the surgically-precise drumming, and London punk heroine Ola Herbich (of Arms Race, Slur, Stab and more) sings. From what I understand, this is the first band Herbich has sung for, and my god, her playing an instrument instead of singing makes as much sense as Chris Cornell playing drums for Soundgarden. What a voice! She growls, screams and commands hellfire to rain down upon us, maintaining a guttural intensity no matter if she’s bellowing a single note or delivering rapid-fire recriminations (in both English and Polish!). I can only picture her recording these vocals from atop a throne made of axe-blades and writhing poisonous snakes, not a normal human recording booth. The music rules, but the vocals upgrade Game from a cool project to a must-hear for any fans of sword-wielding, metal-tinged, unlawful hardcore assemblies!

Gonzo Do It Better Again LP (Anti Fade)
This Gonzo is the 45th documented Gonzo over at – perhaps someone is willing to handle the task of listening to and ranking each one? I’d read that! Anyway, this Gonzo is another Aussie punk group out of Geelong (see also: Vintage Crop), and they’ve got a good thing going. They play an easily approachable form of twisty post-punk, something that ties the early melodic punk styles of groups like Protex and The Deadbeats with the spazzy post-emo stylings I associate with Troubleman Unlimited’s turn of the century output, groups like XBXRX, Erase Errata and Harriet The Spy. Gonzo do right by it, coming across as itchy young men who are trying to shake their anxieties via the writing and performance of punk music, which of course is an outstanding reason to play this stuff. Their songs are tightly-wound and fun, with cool bass-lines that have me thinking of Tony Lombardo on those early Descendents records, somehow. The kids need something to boogie to, so why not Do It Better Again?

Juma Selected Works 2xLP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
There are so many entries in the modern-day reissue game – some good, some bad and some ugly – and I feel comfortable in saying that this Juma retrospective is essentially the best possible outcome that comes from the practice. Selected Works curates tracks from an impossibly rare discography (cassettes originally made-to-order?) of an artist that sounds fresh and intriguing by today’s standards, let alone 1981 when it was initially released. It’s not like you can just plop down $250 for an original – the originals are so rare as to be practically non-existent – so this varied and expansive double LP collection is a treasure to behold, reminiscent of Vinyl On Demand’s finest moments. From what I can gather, Juma was a project run by Koushirou Toshimatsu and friends, released exclusively on the DD Records label, and it investigated all the hot styles of today nearly 40 years earlier: warped synth excursions, free noise, aquatic ambient pop, outsider minimal-wave, and so on. Very much on par with what Vanity Records was releasing at the time (both stylistically and quality-wise), yet relegated to home-dubbed cassettes instead of glossy vinyl LPs. I’m crazy about the longer, noisier tracks (imagine if Maurizio Bianchi jammed with Kaoru Abe, Aube and Klaus Schulze!), but I’m intrigued by the soft pop-rock cuts that also appear here under the Juma name. Bitter Lake has done a fine job reissuing underground Japanese music thus far, but Selected Works is unquestionably at the top of the stack.

Jasmin Kaset & Quichenight Tuxedo LP (Cheersquad)
Seems like there’s a burgeoning new genre of “indie artists with celebrity parents”, which kind of makes sense in that it’s becoming more and more of a necessity to have a strong financial backing if you wanna get into the music biz, indie or otherwise. I don’t think Jasmin Kaset is one of them (although according to Discogs, her mother was a country singer), but she certainly has that pro-tude vibe, as thought she’s always been free to follow her own musical devices at an unhurried pace. Maybe she was home-schooled? This might all sound like a diss, but I’m a big fan of this vibe when the songs back it up, and I think Kaset’s do so mightily! Her songs feel indie while attempting to replicate glam, country and classic rock, which kinda puts her somewhere in the middle of a big Bonnaroo lineup, an easily overlooked gem in a sea of adequacy. These songs have a strong “hippie lost in the city” vibe, not too far from John Mayer or Portugal. The Man in both aesthetic and practice. And much like John Mayer, Kaset knows how to write a damn hook! “Things I Wanted” is bell-bottomed Liz Phair rock glory, whereas my personal favorite, “O Dam”, succeeds at implementing a throw-back Rod Stewart glam-boogie where so many other hipsters have failed. Stealthily cool tunes, and if anyone of importance ends up hearing Jasmin Kaset and her Quichenight backing band, who knows what might happen for her.

L.O.T.I.O.N. World Wide W.E.B. LP (Toxic State)
Jeez, I loved L.O.T.I.O.N.’s 2015 debut, but I didn’t know what love was until I heard World Wide W.E.B.. It’s really that great! First, the art: the cover seamlessly merges ’80s psycho-fringe war magazines with the pixelated vibes of Konami’s Contra, COBRA henchmen, Robocop heavy-metal fantasies, pretty much anything that my ten year-old self would’ve had exciting nightmares about. It’s over the top and perfect, outdoing any other band that dares approach cyber-punk aesthetics, and a keen match for the music contained within. They’ve kind of perfected their sound here, which is to say a crushingly-distorted mix of G.I.S.M., contemporary Ministry, early KMFDM, Zouo and Powerman 5000. Whew! Electronics are as seamlessly integrated with the live instrumentation as the microchips and wires that run through the cyborg super-soldiers on the accompanying fold-out poster, pulling from gabber and early SPK but delivering them with the rock n’ roll flair of that tractor-trailer guitar guy in the Mad Max remake. These songs are memorable and peppered with sharply curated samples to further remind us of the insane tech-enslaved hell-world humanity has created for itself. It’s a fine achievement on many levels, some amusing and some downright scary, and I intend to buy a new copy after I wear this one out.

Maurice Louca Elephantine LP (Sub Rosa)
Got turned onto Maurice Louca by a friend who works at a notable record label that really should be signing stuff like Maurice Louca instead of the stuff they are signing. I mean, come on – psychedelic and amorphous jazz from Cairo? Why aren’t the big indies squabbling over stuff like this? Louca plays guitar and piano on Elephantine, and has quite the group at his disposal, with the ferocious Anna Högberg on alto sax and a long list of other musicians holding down vibraphone, violin, bass guitar, clarinet, oud, tuba, you name it. An array of emotions and musical dispositions are explored, from post-rock grooves that recall Tortoise or The Sea & Cake to howling big-band romps ala Barnacled and cosmic jazz explorations not unlike Sons Of Kemet, all clearly steeped in Louca’s proudly Egyptian culture. Pairs nicely with Sam Wilkes’s recent solo album, although Maurice Louca is clearly operating from a vastly different time zone, one where Westernization is not the presumed norm. Is this just it, I’m a jazz guy now? I assume I’ll need to start wearing pleated slacks with orthopedic sneakers, but I’m hoping to hold off on the balding ponytail for at least a couple more years.

Josh Mason Coquina Dose LP (Florabelle)
With over twenty releases in the past five years, Florida’s Josh Mason sure likes to keep himself busy in front of his laptop, or amp, or tape reel, or whatever technology he decides to utilize at any given moment. Coquina Dose is my first encounter with his music, and if it’s any reasonable representation of what he’s normally up to, I owe it to myself to dig in deeper. It’s electronic music that seems to come from some organic source, albeit one maybe three or four steps removed from the final product, which comes in the form of drippy electronic melodies, hazy churning atmospheres and bubbling chords. I’m reminded of the Fennesz classic Endless Summer, Mike Cooper’s tropical guitar experiments, and maybe a little of Ian William Craig’s eroded choral harmonies. It’s an excellent and well-considered mix, one that allows acoustic guitar to bleed through the cracks while microscopic IDM textures crash in and out with the tide. I always assumed the music of Florida mostly sounded like Limp Bizkit blaring out of Diplo’s jeep at a Coors Light spring break party, but Coquina Dose offers an entirely different perspective.

Nathan Micay Blue Spring 2×12″ (LuckyMe)
Following a couple great 12″s, Toronto-born / Berlin-stationed techno producer Nathan Micay steps up quickly to his first full-length. It’s a risky move, but I swear more and more people are figuring out how to write a techno album while maintaining their core strengths and avoiding listener malaise. Micay succeeds by my metrics, crafting an album of mostly short-ish tracks (by techno standards) that work wonderfully as a cohesive statement as well as in separate bites. His vibe here is somewhat unique, too: a modernized take on power-trance melodies, rave throwbacks and ’90s Japanese video game soundtracks. It’s more fresh than nostalgic, but instead of getting all a-hundred-mouseclicks-per-millisecond on us, Micay is playful and agile, happy to oblige any reasonable party instead of showing off his hardware processing power. “He Has The Key” feels like Donato Dozzy’s K as a selectable Final Fantasycharacter, and while it absolutely rips, the epic synth-riffing of “Ecstacy Is On Maple Mountain” practically owes royalties to Whities labelmate Avalon Emerson’s “The Frontier”. “11.11.90 (Beat Version)” somehow does what Burial and Zomby did ten years ago in a way that feels prescient and chic, not dated. Field recordings (both real and imagined) add texture and presence throughout, but Micay’s productions are novel and engrossing no matter how you feel about crickets and seagulls.

Norms Hülye Hardcore LP (Mindig Otthon Punk Discs)
Woo daddy, here’s some hardcore that cannot be denied! Straight outta Budapest, Norms are putting us all to shame, without your help or my help or anyone’s help. I hadn’t heard them before, but Hülye Hardcore isn’t an album I will soon forget. The fast parts (of which there are many) remind me of Deep Wound in the way that the drums seem to be perpetually outracing themselves, just a hair slower than No Comment and slightly more traditional than Cult Ritual. They supplement that speed with other first-wave, non-metallic hardcore-punk moves, guitars taunting like Greg Ginn at his least despicable and their vocalist frothing like Tony Erba at his Gordon Solie peak, all of which is delivered with the unbridled ferocity of early Rattus. And they get weird in their own weird way: the title track is an instrumental zombie-march that samples various tough-guy hardcore banter into a deadly poison serum. I can’t even tell if it’s a straight-up diss to macho hardcore or what, but it has moved me, and that’s the point of any good art, right? Honestly can’t remember the last time a gimmick-free hardcore-punk record has excited me this much – Norms took the same building blocks as thousands of others, and came together with a distinctive (yet classic sounding) album of smart-ass, radical hardcore rage. A+!

Nox Novacula Hitchhiker / Drug 7″ (Moo Cow)
Whoa, Moo Cow Records! That’s a name I haven’t seen in years, and it’s a name I hold dearly, as it’s the first label to ever release one of my bands on vinyl (ahh, 1998). Whatever the reason for their return, they’re now working with Seattle’s Nox Novacula, whose name sounds vaguely like a boss Mega Man or Sonic the Hedgehog would’ve battled, but I assure you 16-bit nostalgia is not what they’re going for. The switchblade, gloomy Polaroid and dying lily on the back cover make their mission statement clear: this is moody goth-rock, wax dripping from candelabras as an owl hoots menacingly from an old church spire in the moonlight. “Hitchhiker” has a driving energy that many similarly-styled bands don’t go for, feeling like Tamaryn backed by Murder City Devils, perhaps. “Drug” brings in the synths and drum machine for a spooky dance party, with guitars a-blazing – it sounds like some sort of mix of Esben & The Witch and post-Fall Out Boy mainstream dance-rock, with New Order and 45 Grave posters on the wall. Neither song really does it for me, although this particular style is harder to win me over than others – you’ve gotta be really something else to catch my attention with your post-punk goth-rock, and Nox Novacula are really more of the same. But to be fair, my Moo Cow Records release pretty much sucked, and I’m still around decades later!

The Oilies Psychic Dog 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
Carly Putnam was an upstanding member of groups such as The Mantles and The Art Museums, and now she’s stepping out on her own as The Oilies. If you ask me, this is where she shines! She bestowed four tunes upon this 7″, and they’re a pleasure for any ears interested in demure yet durable indie-pop. Putnam strums her guitar and sings, sometimes with drums (of a programmed nature?), sometimes with candy-coated keyboards offering melodic encouragement, sometimes floating on their own mild reverberations. They call to mind Marine Girls, Felt or Orange Juice, stripped down to the home-recordable basics and emoting a sense of purpose and optimism. The Oilies are understated by their very nature – certainly the last record in the bin to try to gain your attention with some sort of brash gimmick – and it’s the honest simplicity of these songs that shines through. I don’t know any psychic dogs, per se, but The Oilies have me convinced they’re a heartfelt and universal occurrence.

Olivia Neutron-John Olivia Neutron-John 12″ (Sister Polygon)
Olivia Neutron-John is one of those artists so enchanting and distinctive that I often forget their name is a silly groaner of a pun, and I’m the type of person to take close note of puns! They do things the old-fashioned way: lots of live performances and touring with only a scant and selective physical discography. I’ve been waiting on something new for a while, so this 12″ EP on the praiseworthy Sister Polygon label was exactly the treat I needed. On here, Olivia Neutron-John (whose “real” name is Anna Nasty, so it’s kind of one of those Nika Roza Danilova / Zola Jesus, Malefic / Xasthur deals) lays down classic drum-machine beats with hypnotic and clinical precision, supplementing the rhythms with bass guitar, understated synth and their own gauzy vocal (which bears pleasant similarity to Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons). I’m impressed by the patience shown throughout these tracks, which comes with the sense that Olivia Neutron-John has really lived within these songs for a while before finalizing them in recorded form. Take “16 Beat” (which appears twice on here!) for example – the beat is withheld for what seems like a few minutes before it all drops into place, creating an exciting sense of anticipation that many similar artists forego. Even when the track falls apart towards the end, it’s like you can visualize Olivia Neutron-John with their finger on the sampler, physically cracking the groove to shards. Freedom in all its forms seems key to Olivia Neutron-John’s equation, which is a significant reason why their performances, and this quizzical, sleek and shifty new 12″ EP, are so captivating.

Philipp Otterbach The Rest Is Bliss 12″ (Knekelhuis)
The unexpected hits just keep on coming from Knekelhuis, like this 12″ from Berlin’s Philipp Otterbach. The Rest Is Bliss sounds very of-the-moment while avoiding easy categorization, which I suppose is a trait that ties together most of the Knekelhuis roster. Otterbach’s music shifts between languid, guitar-centered ambient music to reclusive acid techno and disassociated house, and while those might sound like three distinct colonies, they feel like naturally-occurring mutations of the same body here. I’m reminded of Daughn Gibson’s most melancholy instrumentals, Tin Man’s frozen acid tears and DJ Healer’s sampling techniques (“The Weak Song” in particular), but it’s on “The Roamer Pt. 1” and “The Roamer Pt. 2” where Otterbach enters entirely new territory, something that sounds like an unsettling mix of Enigma and Raime’s post-punk side-project Moin. Those two tracks venture into a sensual form of post-punk dub, as if Balearic electronica act The Beloved took a nosedive into Coil’s darkest recesses. Evocative and outré, soothing yet disconcerting, The Rest Is Bliss is another crucial piece of the Knekelhuis puzzle.

Pinocchio Pinocchio 7″ (Toxic State)
After the dissolution of Vexx, who were probably the best punk band of the ’10s if we’re being real, I had been hoping and praying vocalist Maryjane Dunphe would find her way into another rock band (although her forays into synth-pop with CC Dust and indie-country with The County Liners have been great too). That’s now the case with Brooklyn’s Pinocchio, whose debut 7″ EP delights and confounds. There are eight tracks here, but there’s a catch: three of them are different versions of “Light Speed”, and two of them are different versions of “My Time”, and there’s also a song called “Your Time” which might also be conceptually related. If you’re confused, you’re not alone! It’s almost like something Philip Glass would do with his compositions, except Pinocchio is a punk band on Toxic State… this sort of sketchbook approach to punk songwriting is intriguing to say the least. As for their music, it’s mostly upbeat punk with hard rock riffing, as if The Dead Boys or Wire were covering Tank or Judas Priest – “Behind You” is the perfect example, as the main riff sounds like a bloody executioner’s axe but it feels like dirty punk. The music is cool if oddly tricky (not to mention the two glammed-out bootstomps of “My Time”), and Dunphe’s voice is in peak form, cascading over the rhythms or riding the melody as she sees fit, still as iconoclastic and fearless as ever. Very intriguing debut, not that I’d expect any less!

Scrap Brain A Journey Into Madness LP (Thrilling Living / Drunken Sailor)
How is it that bad music makes me feel so good? I find myself wondering that while listening to the debut album from London’s Scrap Brain, who deliver on the promise of their debut 7″ EP from last year. The high points of A Journey Into Madness seem to answer the question of “what would happen if Honey Bane fronted Flipper?” – plodding, simplistic, unreasonably noisy and unsophisticated, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want their punk performed any other way. I was reading an interview with the band, and the guitarist mentioned that no one ever notices when he messes up, and I have no reason to doubt him after hearing the faster songs on here, which maintain an uneasy equilibrium on the verge of collapse, as though everything is held together by duct tape and safety pins. For as simplistic as it is, Scrap Brain’s sound is atypical, with progressions and changes that haven’t been written by other punk bands a hundred times over. And while the musical presentation is not a graduate-level display of prowess, the lyrics are keenly critical and take aim at the many disparities, crises and miseries Scrap Brain encounter on a routine basis. It’s a journey into madness in both senses of the word: furious anger and spiraling insanity.

Skiftande Enheter Skiftande Enheter 12″ (Levande Begravd)
There’s one big problem with this Skiftande Enheter 12″ – the music’s only on one side! This Swedish punk group is top notch, so you can imagine my disappointment to learn that only one side of this 12″ contains their brand of unrefined DIY punk. I’ll have to find a way to survive, and I suppose the best way to do that is to listen to the eight tracks on the a-side over and over. If you’re a fan of Swedish punk like Ebba Grön and Kriminella Gitarrer, as well as fine DIY snot like Nixe and The Four Plugs, you really can’t go wrong with Skiftande Enheter. I’ve enjoyed band-member JJ Ulius’s solo material, but Skiftande Enheter is more punk than pop, which is my typical preference. There’s a slight Mummies vibe to some of these tunes (maybe it’s the antagonistic keyboard), whereas others seem to utilize Boston hardcore melodic progressions for their lightweight sloppy punk (the melody of opener “33” sounds like it could’ve been lifted straight from a DYS song). Lots of cool influences (or unintended similarities) at play here, all of which works wonderfully for Skiftande Enheter and the international punk-listening populaces.

Spiral Wave Nomads Spiral Wave Nomads LP (Feeding Tube / Twin Lakes)
Of all the various musical pastures ex-punks go to retire in, this is one of my favorites: loosely-improvised psych-rock. You know, people who used to play aggressive music in their 20s that stumbled upon the gospels of Neil Young and Jerry Garcia in their 30s and have been pleasantly lost upon those seas ever since. I think Spiral Wave Nomads is a nice example of the style (although I cannot confirm their personal musical journeys), this being a group featuring a member of Burnt Hills and one of the guys from More Klementines, New Englanders with plenty of barn space to set up their drums with piles of auxiliary percussion and a few guitar amps with varying chains of effects pedals. Spiral Wave Nomads remind me of Bardo Pond (duh), Gunn-Truscinski Duo and maybe a touch of Charalambides when the spiral-waves venture toward the lighter side of things, as well as Headroom, Stefan Christensen and the assorted New Haven psych-rock players. Spiral Wave Nomads stick out a bit through the use of a sitar, often swirling and chiming in the mix, although they’re surely not the first group to pack a sitar for their psychotropical excursions. Regardless of this style’s increasing ubiquity among my generation, it’s satisfying and pretty and sometimes spiritually soothing when done properly, and though Spiral Wave Nomads haven’t leveled me with a “come to Jesus” moment on this debut, I can’t deny the blithesome effect this album has had on my couch-based evening relaxation.

Thistle Group Thistle Group 7″ (Soft Abuse)
Here’s something I didn’t realize I needed – the first 7″ from Thistle Group! Beyond it being the primary work of a person named Claire Mahoney, I don’t know much about it, but as far as musty DIY ineptitude is concerned, it’s a hard one to beat. Across these four songs, I’m reminded of the anti-greatness of Mad Nanna as well as the peculiar solitude of One Of You’s 7″ EPs. Keyboards linger from under a closed door, drums (a single snare?) keep their own secret pace, and vocals ignore the rest, singing what are presumably English words with the carefree attitude of a drunken shower while the roommates are out of town. Definitely too noisy and crude to appeal to the usual lo-fi indie crowd, but too sweet and timid to get the basement-noise tape-traders to perk up… Thistle Group happily exists in a space between discomforts. “Always The First To Sleep” might be my favorite, a dreary environment of clangs and bangs and a too-loud guitar solo, but then the pudgy synth-tones and pained vocal hook of “Into The Night” follow it, and I’m torn. For lovers of intrepid post-noise anti-pop such as myself, the whole EP is golden!

Unknown River Driver / Rations Noise Remains / Dronestruck LP (Farsot / 86’d / Tor Johnson / Different Kitchen / Ersatz Reality / Rad Girlfriend)
Goddamn, no less than six labels got together to put this out! How is that sort of financial situation navigated? I can’t tell if it’s a great idea or a logistic nightmare. What I do think is a great idea is the hardcore-punk split LP, a format which seems to be dying out (along with 10% of the earth’s species). I’m not sure entirely what to attribute its loss to (although I have my ideas), but it’s cool to see these two similar-but-clearly-different artists sharing this 12″ slab. The name “Unknown River Driver” sounds like an NJPW finishing move, but they’re a group from New York (from what I can tell, the state, not the city) playing a mix of Ebullition-style emo-core and gruffly anthemic melodic punk ala Avail or Dillinger Four. Music for people who love beards, bikes, tattoos and IPAs but also wear their heart on their sleeves and are sickened by today’s political climate. That’s how I’ll segue to the Rations Noise side, their Dronestruck clearly raging against endless military actions. They’re a noise duo, but not in the power-electronics or harsh-wall sense; rather, they prefer to remix hardcore-punk into tense and menacing collages, which feel like disembodied melodic hardcore songs looking for a host body. It’s an esoteric take on the same general themes pursued by Unknown River Driver, and I can’t think of a better way to deploy this cooperative statement than a split LP.

USA/Mexico Matamoros LP (12XU)
At first glance of the cover, I was afraid this was a new Orville Peck record, but thankfully this is no such travesty. It’s USA/Mexico’s sophomore album, continuing in the manner of their primordial sludge-rock debut! When it comes to this style, they’ve got some big names in their roster – namely King Coffey of Butthole Surfers and Craig Clouse of Shit & Shine – and fans of those groups will not be disappointed: USA/Mexico’s MO is tormented, crawling, distorted and beyond-heavy noise-rock grooves. When you’re recording music that’s in the red, what’s the color beyond that? Brown? If so, this record is definitely “in the brown”, probably in more ways than one. Matamoros is so blown out and heavy, I worry that my humble home stereo is only giving me a quarter of the album’s true sonic force, but maybe there was just no way to truly capture the oppressive tones at play, and this recording is modern technology’s best replication of the real thing. It’s like listening to Rusted Shut inside a parked car with the windows up in the sweltering summer sun, reaching dangerous levels of pressurized heat and airlessness through each new blown-out slog. “Vaporwave Headache” careens precariously, but the punitive march of “Anxious Whitey” gets USA/Mexico back to their trademark sluggish slam. Making this kind of music is like digging a hole to China – how far can you go until you’re blocked by the churning magma and intense gravitational pressure? – but USA/Mexico are already deeper than just about anyone else out there.

Warren Winter’s Band Crossbar Hotel LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Even Sophomore Lounge, tireless purveyor of underexposed underground sounds, can’t resist the temptation of the reissue racket. It seems to be an inescapable allure, or maybe it’s simply economics at play, seeing that your average indie record buyer seems more likely to scoop up a reissued obscurity than take a chance on an unhyped contemporary artist? Whatever the case, there’s no denying how nice Sophomore Lounge’s version of Crossbar Hotel looks, with its sharply silkscreened (and die-cut!) cover. They clearly gave it all the love it deserved and then some. As for the music itself… I dunno, I think the hype sticker’s allegation of “biker folk cult classic” is pushing it. Circuit Rider this ain’t! These tunes are mellow AOR with plainclothes vocals, like Christopher Cross in an ill-fitting denim vest, or Townes Van Zandt making an unlikely late ’80s cameo on Miami Vice . No freak-outs of any sort, simply unobtrusive pop-rock with piano, strings, folksy underpinnings, harmonizing backing vocals and acoustic and electric guitars. If that’s your steez, you’ll probably want to purchase and file Warren Winter’s Band appropriately, but for my ears, it seems like a vague musical footnote from 1988 that was perfectly fine remaining relegated to the deepest and dustiest record shop basements.

Young Skulls Bomb Train Blues 7″ (Slovenly)
How about a new garage-punk band featuring an occasional associate of Trans Am to get your attention? It worked for me! Trans Am were a real eye-opener for me in the late ’90s, with albums that have (perhaps surprisingly) aged quite well, so if I find out that Chris Turco (also of Kukim and Pines Of Nowhere) is doing a new project with one of the guys from The Chrome Cranks, why wouldn’t I give it a listen? “Bomb Train Blues” is no-nonsense fun, stomping mud-holes with a routine three-note progression, spazzy vocals, budget-rock keyboards, and stop-starts that provide plenty of space for Turco’s meaty drum rolls. “We’re Gone” is more on the Y2K sass-rock end of things, like Le Shok at the end of a long night with a slobbering party-dude replacing Hot Rod Todd on the mic. Nothing life-changing happening here, just a stupid good time from some experienced underground rockers doing things they’ve more or less already been doing for years, which is perfectly fine by me.

BC 35 Volume Two compilation LP & 7″ (Bronson Recordings)
Cool idea here: as Martin Bisi’s BC Studio turns 35, a large group of underground NYC lifers and friends get together in groupings (both random and predetermined) to record new material at the studio for this celebratory compilation. It’s a long list of attendees, featuring ex- and current members of Art Gray Noizz Quintet, Live Skull, Blind Idiot God, Swans, Cop Shoot Cop and Alice Donut, not to mention no-wave’s biggest sweetheart himself, Bob Bert. As one might imagine, the sounds (and songwriting) vary significantly, to include aggressive post-hardcore, funky no-wave, sample-laden noise, bluesy rock and some deviant lounge-jazz (while Lydia Lunch doesn’t appear here, her spirit is felt). It’s certainly an older crowd of musicians, which is why I’m sometimes surprised that certain tracks remind me of Explosions In The Sky or Protomartyr or Uniform or hell, even Linkin Park, but shame on me for thinking the middle-aged can’t rock like millennials. I enjoy that a smattering of applause follows many of these songs, as I can’t help but envision the studio packed with ’80s and ’90s indie-rock luminaries hanging out and cheering each other on, no pressure to do anything besides have a good time and reconnect. Although there aren’t any standalone cuts that stuck out to me as particularly impressive or noteworthy, the convivial spirit and creative energy is palpable throughout BC 35, and I’m glad to have had the chance to listen in.