Ellen Arkbro Chords LP (Subtext)
Don’t ark me, bro! Actually please do ark me, because Ellen Arkbro’s sophomore album, Chords, is just the drone for me. She approaches her compositions with fantastically microscopic detail, and delivers them direct and without fuss, which is an excellent combination for this style. You can think about it for days (and she clearly has, digitally aligning her “chords” to exacting microtonal perfection), or you can just throw it on, lay down and see what happens to the space inside your skull. Two tracks here, “Chords For Organ” and “Chords For Guitar”, and they ain’t lyin’. “Chords For Organ” lays down a massive throb as though it were highway pavement, all thick, perfectly formulated and smooth for driving. Walk around the room while listening and your ears will provide their own unique remix! “Chords For Guitars” changes the pace while continuing the thesis, as Arkbro strums a perfectly tuned (and electronically modified) guitar so that it’s rich with overtones both natural and synthetic. You might be wondering to yourself, “slow acoustic guitar repetition, does that mean it sounds like Earth?”, and no, fellow music enthusiast, it’s not particularly heavy or loose, and it really stays its course for the full side, allowing each consecutive strum to pull you further into its web. Reminiscent of Alvin Lucier’s long-form minimalist pieces, in that these intriguing conceptual ideas actually result in compositions that are engaging and satisfying to listen to.

Bad Breeding Exiled LP (Iron Lung / One Little Indian)
Yikes, so what very well might be my favorite no-nonsense hardcore album of the year comes from… England?! The patriotic eagle in my heart is shedding a single tear. That’s right, I’m talking about Bad Breeding and their new album Exiled. Hailing from the humble municipality of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Bad Breeding have crafted yet another masterwork of grisly hardcore aggression. Their aesthetic cocktail is specific yet universal, taking inspiration across hardcore-punk’s long and thorny lifespan to make their own noise, which is absolutely wonderful. You get the snarling Crass Records bite of Flux Of Pink Indians and Rudimentary Peni, the impenetrable misery of Youth Attack’s mysterious-guy hardcore circa the mid ’00s, the scorched earth of hardcore early-wavers like Die Kreuzen and United Mutation, just a touch of Swedish heaviness ala Anti-Cimex and Shitlickers, and the “will it all fall apart?” sensation of the first Iceage album, all smushed together in an unventilated basement, pushing and pulling against each other. The songs carry all that diversity without ever veering outside the statutory boundaries of hardcore-punk (this is a good thing), the vocalist has an appropriately frothy bark, the guitars test out some disturbing effects at exactly the right moments, and the snare drum sounds like it was fitted with a sandpaper head. What else do you want to know? Bad Breeding capture the essence of the moment (spoiler alert: it’s grim) and channel it through a thoughtfully creative and unrelentingly brutal album.

black midi Schlagenheim LP (Rough Trade)
I like to think I’ve got a finger on the pulse, but I’m still a little shocked to process that the underground rock band with the most buzz in 2019 is… a spazzy math-rock band? Has the nostalgia cycle already caught up to late ’90s artsy emo-core? I’m not necessarily complaining, particularly in a landscape dominated by inoffensively mopey electronic R&B pop, but I’m still not understanding why black midi were one of the “must see” acts of SXSW earlier this year. Maybe if I saw them I’d understand? Anyway, enough about my poor grasp on today’s music trends, let’s talk about British wunderkinds black midi, who opt for an all-lowercase band name in case their music itself didn’t inform you of their pretentiousness. Schlagenheim is their debut album, and I’m intrigued to hear strong similarities to Hella, 90 Day Men, Portraits Of Past and Slint. Definitely would’ve been a high-profile release for GSL or 5 Rue Christine, had black midi been born fifteen years earlier! And while they are strongly indebted to that era and sound, they’re clearly operating with a broader scope, benefiting from having the history of music at their disposal and incorporating soul, noise, free-improv and krautrock influences, punctuated by the finest percussive tracking I’ve heard on a record this year or last (the drummer is the star, no doubt about it). Multiple members sing, but I’m a little perplexed at the Adam Sandler-esque voice of Geordie Greep (which, let’s face it, sounds like the name of a character Adam Sandler would play). I find it off-putting and slightly embarrassing, especially when compared to the cool, calm and collected British cadence of the other guys. Maybe the wacky vocals help lock in the Mr. Bungle and Ween audiences? Whatever the case, I find myself perplexed in many ways by black midi (particularly the world’s reaction to them), which makes them more fun of a listen (and topic of rumination) than much of what contemporary underground rock has to offer.

Charly Bliss Young Enough LP (Barsuk)
If you ran into me a couple years ago (or anytime since), there’s a good chance I blabbed in your face about how much I love Charly Bliss’s debut album Guppy, so naturally I’ve been eagerly anticipating the follow-up. They reinvigorated all the great things about pop-punk on their debut, and did it in their own weird way (those alien-baby vocals!) with at least four earworm hooks per tune. It’s a hard record to follow, and while I don’t think Young Enough has quite matched it, by any other grunge-pop band’s standards it would be an unprecedented success. If I may try out a Matt Sharp-based analogy, Charly Bliss’s debut was strongly Weezer-ish – thick with power-pop riffs and “playing in the basement, dreaming of stadiums” rock moves – whereas Young Enough is far more Rentals-ish: synth-laden, heavier content, still richly melodic but slightly mopier and more nuanced (read: less lyrics joking about pee and weed). I would’ve been completely content if they had released Guppy Volume 2 instead, but this is most certainly not that – Charly Bliss are already stretching the confines of their initial cotton-candy pop-punk party zone towards a more textural production quality, a wider range of emotion and a sense that they’re really committed to getting the most out of themselves and their band. This is cool and all, but the only question that really matters is “does it slap though?”, and while it doesn’t slap in that same instantaneous “wow I just found my new favorite band” way that Guppy did, these songs are catchy as hell too, filled with more smart-dumb lyrics, hooks upon hooks, and all the stuff that drew me in in the first place.

The Cool Greenhouse Crap Cardboard Pet 10″ (Lumpy)
Oh my god, my new favorite band is here! They’re called The Cool Greenhouse, hailing from London and offering up some of the sharpest, least difficult post-punk I’ve heard in quite some time. Just go peep the opener of this three-song 10″ EP, “Cardboard Man”, which utilizes a simple Casio pre-set rhythm, a taunting one-note guitar “melody”, colorful bass guitar and a vocalist who is utterly self-assured in his conversational tone. His lyrics are more like amusing, thematically-related tweets, little sentences and snippets that paint an entertainingly real picture of modern society’s endless numbing agents. Same basic premise goes for “Pets” (wherein the vocalist waxes at length about, well, pets) and “Crap Art”, which copies the guitar rhythm used in “Cardboard Man” but has the decency to add an additional music note. For years now, I thought the singular WTF genius of Ziggy Stardust Band would sit alone on the shelf, but The Cool Greenhouse deserves a seat at that table – these songs are like fractured, one-handed takes of The Fall with a laid-back sense of humor, wearing its musical monotony like a badge of honor (and rightfully so). It’s most certainly a one trick pony, but when your trick is as perfectly delivered and musically satisfying as this, why would you ever do anything else? I see that there are already a couple other Cool Greenhouse records out, and by the time you read this they’ll have hopefully already arrived at my doorstep (thanks Discogs Prime!).

Current Affairs Buckle Up / Worlds In Crisis 7″ (…)
That’s no typo, the label is called “…” (you say it like “dot dot dot” if you ever were to reach a point in your life where you need to discuss this label out loud) and they’re putting out some cool international punk singles, complete with risographed covers and hand-stamped labels (why pay The Man to print your labels when a chiseled piece of rubber and an ink pad can do the trick?). Glasgow’s Current Affairs are new as a band but not new as musicians, with personnel coming from Anxiety and Shopping and Rose McDowell’s band, and they’ve got a pretty great sound across these two songs. “Buckle Up” is tense and classic new-wave punk, reminiscent of bands that arrived in Joy Division’s immediate wake and tried to do a similar thing but couldn’t help but be themselves instead. Somewhere between Magazine and Marine Girls, maybe? “Worlds In Crisis” is even nicer, bouncing like Girls At Our Best with great contrasting vocals on the chorus and an urgency that would normally find itself at odds with these slick melodic moves. I’m nowhere near as cool as Current Affairs, but it’s incredibly easy to bounce around the room to these two great tunes and pretend.

Cyberplasm The Psychic Hologram LP (Iron Lung)
Do we have room in the scene for two cyber-punk sci-fi hardcore bands intermingling corroded electronics, dial-up internet connections and G.I.S.M. worship? My sources say yes! The most obvious entry is L.O.T.I.O.N., but Olympia’s Cyberplasm are out and about too, grinding out a very similar aesthetic territory. Rather than make this an unnecessary competition, I’m happy to enjoy Cyberplasm for what they are offering, which is mostly fast and noisy hardcore-punk utilizing synthetic drum programming, Lebenden Toten-esque guitar squalls, cavernous vocal screams and plenty of nearly-techno interludes. They’re not afraid to throw it all in a blender, overloading any given track with harsh noise run through flangers, additional percussion loops, pretty much anything to drape their tunes in a paranoid sensory assault, as if the video game bosses we feared most have come to life and are stomping towards our homes. I’m not really picking up much in the way of individual tracks on The Psychic Hologram – sure they stop songs and start new ones, but the whole thing plays out like a demented free-for-all, as if the more hardcore moments of G.I.S.M.’s catalog engaged in a final showdown with Hanatarash’s bulldozer. If Cyberplasm can work out some distinct hooks in the future, they might topple the competition, but the spewed digital shrapnel of The Psychic Hologram is already worth the price of admission.

D7Y D7Y LP (Iron Lung)
Not sure how you say the name, so I’m doing with “dee seven why” – even Icelandic acronyms give me trouble! D7Y feature members of Roht, Dauðyflin, Börn and other Icelandic hardcore / punk bands, and in this particular formation, they’ve opted to play buzzsaw d-beat hardcore. Fans of Disclose and labelmates Physique will presumably reap a similar level of enjoyment from D7Y, as the music follows a similar aesthetic pattern. Good burly vocals on this one, with guitar that sound as though its strings are red hot from nuclear exposure. I personally enjoy the fact that a flange effect randomly appears through many of these songs, its volleying rhythm frequently out of time with the tempo of the actual song. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m surprised more crasher-crusty hardcore bands don’t rip various loud alarms or shock-based soundwaves while their songs play – if I was to start a d-beat group, I’d want at least one member to fire off a couple different car alarms during the set, just because. At twelve tracks, D7Y are in and out pretty quickly, about as straight and direct as noise-laden d-beat gets. And all you fans of skulls out there, rest assured that D7Y don’t leave you hanging: there are four on the cover and 112 on the inner sleeve, all lined up and ready for inspection.

France Ott 2xLP (Mental Groove / Standard In-Fi)
I can’t believe I’ve been walking around all these years, thinking I was a fan of transcendentally noisy drone-rock, yet blissfully unaware of this group that goes by the name of France (who apparently are from France). This is the finest slab of repetitive one-note psych-rock churn I’ve heard since I don’t know when! And on the fittingly-named Mental Groove Records, no less. Anyway, these three sides of 12″ vinyl (with the first disc housing sides 1 and 3 so that a listener with a dual turntable setup can spin them uninterrupted) contain the entirety of France’s performance at Ottfest in 2014, one of the first places I’m headed if I ever get this time machine working. With a setup of bass guitar, drums, and hurdy gurdy, France slowly chug across the astral plane, subtly shifting their patterns while maintaining the same continual trajectory for what, maybe a full hour? It’s a slow rise, but once off the ground, the hurdy gurdy multiplies itself into a flock of screaming violins, as if you dropped four of the craziest Velvet Underground bootlegs simultaneously over a caveman-style percussive thud. It’s utterly majestic! For a live show, the recording quality is top notch, and the group’s single-minded dedication and perseverance is awe-inspiring, truly locked-in and focused on a soul-numbing drone-rock caravan. If anything, I’m sad it’s not longer, but there’s apparently a bounty of France recordings out there, and I’m making it my mission to track down every last one.

Ben Hall & Don Dietrich Tiger Swallow Tail LP (Radical Documents)
Two heavyweights of contemporary noise-aligned free-jazz, Ben “Hell” Hall and Don Dietrich of the immortal Borbetomagus duking it out in two fifteen-minute spars. What’s not to like? If you know these guys at all, you know what it’s going to sound like, and that’s exactly what it does. On the a-side, Hall maintains a rolling boil for the entirety of the track, somehow avoiding fatigue or repetition in his performance, while Dietrich brays like a wounded donkey to his maximum capacity. I can’t say I hear much of a conversation between the two, but it’s a solid vibe: a steamroller and a jackhammer working side by side. I’m fairly certain Dietrich switched over to a guitar on the b-side, or some other instrument capable of ear-piercing hot sweaty treble, but he uses it in the traditional Hijokaidan fashion to invoke a gruesome ambulance pile-up, all sirens still blaring. Hall pounds a little harder here, and justifiably so, as it feels like one elongated climactic ending; if both members are in the upright position at the end of this one, they’re stronger men than I. Truly boggles the mind that moshing was invented in the ’80s to hardcore punk rock rather than in the ’70s when this assaultive free-jazz came into existence – how else could one be expected to properly dance to Tiger Swallow Tail?

Heatmap Thank 12″ (Dimension Arts)
Can someone pinpoint the exact moment that bands on Dischord traded in their ragged t-shirts for button-ups? 1990 or 1991, maybe? Philadelphia’s Heatmap certainly fall on the dress-shirt side of the equation, playing a tight and melodic form of post-hardcore that has me thinking of Frodus, Jawbox and Q And Not U. These six songs are fairly simplistic for a genre that often revels in its possible complexities, but I tend to prefer it the way Heatmap do it: robotically groovy basslines, guitar interjecting as necessary, understated drumming, and a vocalist who sounds a lot like Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins. I haven’t listened to much of this stuff lately (except for the Revelation Records In-Flight Sampler CD that somehow has been a continual part of my life for over two decades), but Heatmap are reminding me how enjoyable this sound can be when performed with no pretense, direct songwriting and a steady vocalist who never veers off into atonal emo yelping. I bet Frodus, Jawbox and Q And Not U have sold close to 250,000 records combined (this is based on a wild guess – could be significantly more!), yet Heatmap will probably require a few months and a heavy show schedule to sell out of the 100 copies of Thank they pressed on their own Dimension Arts label. Dismal times to be a band, and although Heatmap don’t seem too bothered, I’m registering my complaint on their behalf.

Hierophants Spitting Out Moonlight LP (Anti Fade)
Go ahead, try to put Geelong, Victoria’s Hierophants into a stylistic box – you cannot! This group dresses like Man Machine-era Kraftwerk, and they play a welcoming form of let’s-call-it indie rock that feels indebted to Stereolab, The Clean, Imperial Teen, Hall & Oates, Kindercore compilation CDs, The Music Tapes, and so on and so forth. The aesthetic overlap between that list of groups is fairly low, but the convivial, almost child-like positivity that imbues the music of Spitting Out Moonlight is what links it all together. Their songs often feel like different bands entirely, depending mostly on who is singing and how much of a reliance on spacey synths they have for any given track, but I can get into bands that scatter their tunes across various genres, particularly if they’re not jerks about it. Hierophants seem particularly un-jerky – even their sense of Devo appreciation feels playful, not aggressively mutated, as is the common contemporary inspiration taken from Devo in the underground scene. I always bristle when some random dad is like “hey, just saw Toy Story 3 and it was good for both kids and adults!”, but this random dad is telling you that Spitting Out Moonlight is enjoyably upbeat, dance-y indie music suitable for all ages.

The Infinites The Infinites LP (First Humans)
Jared Leibowich has been the voice of The Zoltars throughout their underappreciated career, and now he’s in a band called The Infinites, singing for them too. As a resident of Austin, TX, it can’t be very hard to find a band or three, so Leibowich is reveling in the opportunity and putting out some cool records in the process. Whereas The Zoltars existed on the twilight edges of indie-rock, content to stargaze or linger over a cup of diner coffee after hours, The Infinites are far more social and upbeat, prone to going out rather than staying in. Leibowich’s voice remains the same distinct tone of cautious vulnerability, but these songs skip like Elf Power or The American Analog Set. Nothing to prove, no trends to glom onto, just jangly, breezy indie-pop that keeps things moving. All the songs are titled after people on here – not sure what that’s about, except that I first thought “Nathan Wray” was a touching tribute to Nathan Lane before I double-checked the title. Enjoyable record for sure, which makes me wonder if The Infinites are truly a cut above the rest or if I actually like mellow indie-rock more than I thought I did.

Insanlar Demedim Mi LP (Rush Hour)
I like to think that it takes some truly special and well-considered musical decisions to satisfy my sonic needs, that I’m some sort of high-level aesthete who demands the utmost craftsmanship and quality, but I’m starting to realize that isn’t the case. Case in point: Demedim Mi pairs a rudimentary tech-house beat with long-form psychedelic baglama solos (that’s a stringed Turkish folk instrument)… that’s pretty much all there is to it, and I cannot get enough! I’m certain that Istanbul’s Insanlar duo didn’t just slap it together, but both sides of this long record (“Demedim Mi” parts 1 and 2 total nearly fifty minutes) are audio comfort food for yours truly. The beat persists with little variation (although if you squint hard enough, it’s there), and baglama player Cem Yildiz stretches his legs across all of it, sometimes riffing along, sometimes spiraling deep into outer realms and utilizing effects to reach his destination. It all feels like something Ricardo Villalobos would’ve done in 2008, which of course is a personal stamp of approval, but it also feels special, like a very specific moment in time between electronic producer and acoustic performer that bridges old-world culture with modern electronic dance.

Kilchhofer Anklin Moto Perpetuo 12″ (Marionette)
That big Kilchhofer album from last year still gets plenty of play around the house, but this new EP in collaboration with Michael Anklin is even more enticing, if less of an easy background listen. Together, they’ve created a quiet storm of abstract and microscopic electronics. It sounds like if Autechre collaborated with a full-scale bee colony, or maybe if one of those preciously quiet Marginal Consort performances found itself deep within nature. Dried bamboo shoots rattle arrhythmically, or wait, is that actually the magnified flapping of a locust’s wings? There are moments that absolutely must be typewriters and spoons given the Chris Corsano treatment (“Flor”, for example), but Kilchhofer and Anklin blur the lines of the natural and the inorganic so smoothly that any attempt to parse the sound sourcing will prove fruitless. I’m perfectly content remaining in the dark as to the origin of these sounds, as these two guys are master magicians in their craft, with a vague sense of abstract techno guiding these curious and tricky pieces. As is the case with nature, Moto Perpetuo feels like a glorious miracle of chaos, but if you start to look closely, patterns emerge from their wondrous and post-modern disorder.

Knowso Like A Buzz / Physical Freak 7″ (Total Punk)
Always nice to get a new blast of weird Cleveland punk, this one coming from one of the lesser-active groups in that orbit, Knowso. They’re the brainchild of artist Nathan Ward, whose frenzied artwork has graced numerous slabs of goofball punk in the past few years, but his music is notably less wacky than say, that of Perverts Again or Citric Dummies (whose cover art he has designed). “Like A Buzz” feels like early FYP with a deadpan vocalist and an angular (nipple) twist, whereas “Physical Freak” ricochets off the walls like A Frames with a Devo addiction, but really it all just sounds like Knowso and their collective group of friends. From what I gather, Knowso don’t seem to have a permanent drummer, but Jayson Geryczcz (say that ten times fast) is amply talented on the kit for these songs, and he recorded this single to boot. Does he just not want to commit, or are the other two members of Knowso content to play the field like the swinging bachelors they are? Maybe it’s time they sat down for a talk.

LBB Popped Music LP (Iron Lung)
Don’t swing at this one thinking it’s a heater down the middle – LBB’s Popped Music is one of those fancy curveballs Iron Lung loves to pitch once or twice a year. I’m really curious how the average Bad Breeding / Wound Man / No Statik fan will process this one, as it’s about as far removed from hardcore as anything bearing the Iron Lung label. That said, it fits in due to its extreme nature, as this is a record of harsh silences, violent cello improv, sharp-cut electronics and a profound sense of impenetrability. I’m thinking of a Xenakis composition remixed for RRRecords release, the squeaky squawks of Agencement’s long-form violin improvisations, and one of those pre-genre-classified oddball experimental albums found on the hallowed NWW list – you know, records that are either worthless or priceless depending on one’s personal point of view. LBB not only maintain my attention throughout Popped Music, they lead me down various unexpected passageways with their thunderous klang and pensive drones, seemingly equally curious to discover where things are headed as I am. Throw in the cool cover art reminiscent of Barcelona’s first two records and you’ve got yourself a deal!

Lifes Treading Water LP (Here And Now! / Knochen Tapes / Middle-Man / Triple Eye Industries)
The improper grammar of “Lifes” is killing me, much like every time I think about early Hollywood punkers The Cheifs, but both of these bands sound good enough that I’m able to overlook the (presumably) intentional misspellings, particularly in our age of band-name saturation. This Milwaukee hardcore group features personnel from Kungfu Rick, Seven Days Of Samsara and People Again, and let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from those trees. Treading Water is a fairly unrelenting album of grinding hardcore, reminiscent of Despise You, His Hero Is Gone, Converge and the aforementioned Kungfu Rick. They’re a (deeply distorted) bass-guitar / drums duo, so they must get their share of Iron Lung comparisons, but if we’re here to split hairs (what else are we here for?), I’d say Iron Lung are more on the technical power-violence tip whereas Lifes are burlier and looser, with longer track times. Definitely similar, though! This style is by no means fresh or new, the sort of thing where a listener such as myself might rely on the late ’90s classics and skip out on the modern torchbearers, but Treading Water is certainly enjoyable, chock full of hardcore-grind comfort food to keep us entertained from start to finish.

Limbs Bin Blast Anthemics For A New Generation Of Ecstatic Youth 7″ (Wyatt)
Limbs Bin have a pretty good thing going – harsh blasts of noise with beyond-human drum programming and screamed vocals – but how many times can you go around that track without it getting at least a little old for performer, audience or both? Sure, Agathocles are somewhat of an exception to the rule, but even Napalm Death chose to start writing songs longer than fifteen seconds only a few years into their existence. I would say that Limbs Bin has found a solution to this issue with Blast Anthemics For A New Generation Of Ecstatic Youth, a positively entertaining 7″ EP that either has a few dozen tracks or one track per side depending on how you’re counting. It essentially plays out like an Adult Swim mini-sitcom version of brutal noise-core, as each side is edited with various non-sequitur nonsense in expert fashion. The a-side in particular is great, with a voice actor repeating the name “Limbs Bin” interspersed with live recordings of the crowd between songs, some traditional Limbs Bin “songs”, and other chuckle-worthy snippets of sound. The b-side is less thematically solid, and more of a jumbled mess of harsh blasts and random clips, including part of a @catatonicyouths-style nu-screamo ballad (if you know, you know), which made my day. Gives off kind of a Cock ESP vibe, but with a sharper wit and less decadent nihilism, which the vaguely straight-edge looking cover art echoes. Recommended!

Mock Identity Where You Live 7″ (no label)
What’s amazing about the constant flow of new underground rock bands coming out of DC isn’t merely the quantity, but the quality! I feel like I’m hearing about a new thoughtful and interesting punk(ish) band out of DC every week at this point. This is not a city that breeds lackadaisical stoner-rockers, to say the least! Speaking of, I can’t claim to know how much or how little Mock Identity choose to imbibe, but if “sober-rock” was a genre, I’d file them right in. You can’t be wasted and hope to play these precisely angled riffs, as there isn’t much room for error in these technically-advanced tunes. Even the bassist isn’t afforded a moment to zone out! With songs as tricky as these, it takes a confident vocalist to find their place within them, but Adriana-Lucia Cotes is up for the task. She’ll spit verses over a speedy punk riff, rant at her own pace over a jazzy breakdown, or come up with her own counter-melody when the band locks into one of the numerous prog-punk moments found on this four-song EP. At this point, I can imagine her passing out from boredom if forced to run through some Ramones covers, or anything less than the nimble post-punk riffing of Mock Identity to keep her on her toes. Betcha this band knows where to get a good cup of coffee in our nation’s capital!

Model Zero Model Zero LP (Black Gladiator / Slovenly)
Here’s some hot-oiled, electronics-enhanced garage-punk outta Memphis, a new band with old dudes (as is becoming more and more common for garage-rock). I know there’s some shared personnel with Ex-Cult and The Sheiks, and surely other bands we’re all familiar with in the mix, but none of that really matters too much if the tunes aren’t good, which thankfully these are! I really like what Model Zero are throwing down, which is a relaxed, semi-sleazy take on noisy punk rock, as likely to do the robot to rudimentary drum-machine rhythms as to space out over some glam-rock stomps. I’m reminded in part of Gary Wrong Group (the imposing aura of downer psych?), TV Ghost (the slinky trash-rock moves) and Mordecai (the loosey-goosey vintage riffing), but Model Zero come across as a worthy peer, not an aspirational pretender. They cover Neil Young, but not in that Clockcleaner way – Model Zero shake and snort all through “Mr. Soul”, which fits in nicely among all their original material. Plus, they’re all wearing some of the crappiest makeup on the insert live photo, as if the band’s inherent straightness wasn’t already clear.

Pleasure Leftists The Gate LP (Feel It)
Sad to admit I had kinda forgotten about Pleasure Leftists, but that almost feels by design: self-promoting, self-branding, self-fellating this band is not. It’s as if they are content to be a hidden gem in a sea of aggressively goth-styled rockers who thank House of Vans and Red Bull in their liner notes, and I can certainly understand the ‘Leftists’s confidence in letting their music speak for itself, as The Gate deserves a spot on that skinny little shelf where the featured releases go above the alphabetized bins. Their music is tuneful, moderately abstract post-punk, which feels both old and new without kowtowing to either time frame – they don’t go all out with dated effects for authenticity’s sake, nor do they give it that modern slick blandness that at times feels inescapable. The songs are great, filled with cautiously joyful melodies, energy and mood, and vocalist Haley Morris remains the crown jewel of the group, singing with the confidence of a thousand The Voice contestants in her own distinct articulation. How best to describe her vocals: a pitched-down Kate Bush? Drunk Fiona Apple? However you want to slice it, hers is one of the most unique voices in the crowded field of post-punk vocalists, conveying a kaleidoscope of emotions through words that are only partly intelligible. Of all the Feel It releases, this is probably the one you’ll feel the most.

Preening Gang Laughter LP (Digital Regress)
Oakland’s Preening are squeezing a lot of mileage out of their fairly modest setup of vocals, bass, drums and saxophone, which I’d say is a testament to their talents and creativity. I loved their first 7″ single, at which point they certainly seemed like a two-single band at best (in a good way!), but they proceeded to release two more, all entertaining, and have now stepped out with a full-length! Good for them. Moreso than the primitive no-wave skronk of their previous records, Gang Laughter reminds me of unheralded ’90s weirdo punk groups from the deepest underbelly of the scene, groups like Impractical Cockpit, Mecca Normal and Fat Day; bands who played folk festivals one night and metallic hardcore matinees the next. None of those groups sound particularly alike (although they all enjoy making a spazzy mess whenever possible), but they share a sense of disinterest in the prevailing trends, instead searching out their own unique language even if it means the masses either don’t understand or are indifferent toward their music. It feels like Preening are doing Preening, which is refreshing at a time when so many are doing accurate and satisfactory reenactments of others. My favorites on here are “Watercloset” (wherein two members repeat the phrase “water closet” to increasing incredulity) and “Red Tape”, which alternates between a sickly melody on the horns and canned laughter, but the whole record is a pleasantly rude gesture in the face of conventional mindsets both personal and political.

Private Anarchy Central Planning LP (Round Bale)
Finally, my own Private Anarchy. This is a solo outing by Clay Kolbinger of Davenport and Maths Balance Volumes, and if those names mean nothing to you, allow me to explain that Kolbinger is a part of the American extension of what musician Rob Hayler dubbed the “no audience underground”, where everyone involved is an active participant in making and trading and occasionally even selling low-edition CD-rs, tapes and vinyl. Anyway, if you’re an uneducated dolt like me, the word “anarchy” makes you think of punk, and while that connotation probably fits some aspect of Private Anarchy, it’s not a bullseye. Private Anarchy’s songs are tweaked and twitchy, with undistorted guitar, plunky bass, anxious vocals and at least some slight form of production mishaps disrupting what would otherwise be regular music. A little math-y / basement prog-y action in the guitars, but the drums generally just plod along in time, which makes sense seeing as Kolbinger recorded all this stuff himself. I’m reminded of something that Wheelchair Full Of Old Men would release, except Central Planning isn’t particularly funny… maybe similar to Perverts Again if they felt zero allegiance to hardcore-punk and got deep into Negativland and the tail-end of those Hyped 2 Death comps? I prefer it when Kolbinger is at his furthest from standardized song, as the delirious garbled chatter of “Accumulation” is a barrel of fun, but there’s something to be said for the more rock-based post-punk here as well, so long as you like your post-punk overly caffeinated, paranoid and weird.

Psience Pscience LP (Space Taker Sounds)
The P’s gotta be silent, right? Seems like a novel new way of enabling successful Google searches without doubling up on a consonant (I don’t care how many big venues they sell out, I’m glad my band isn’t called “Alvvays”!), and while Pscience are clearly a direct-to-the-point garage-punk band, it’s evident that they consider the details, too. Their riffs are very much in the back-and-forth Buck Biloxi style, and the drums carve a similar path (no fills, maybe an occasional crash cymbal if you’re lucky), but there’s no sense of nihilism or hatred simmering in the sounds of Pscience. Rather, their punk sounds like it’s covered in pillows, with any sharp edges softened and a generally welcoming attitude to any interested parties. The lyrics remind me of A Frames’ post-grad science lingo, which of course is fitting for a band called Pscience. I just did a little research, and it turns out Buck Biloxi himself is actually in this band, along with other New Orleans punkers from bands like Trampoline Team – who knew that Mr. Biloxi had such a distinctive writing style? And was capable of turning down his social resentment! If Buck goddamn Biloxi can better himself while maintaining a distinctive artistic core, what’s your excuse? (Post-publishing correction: Buck Biloxi sent YGR a message stating that he simply plays drums in Pscience and is not responsible for any of the songwriting – his bandmates wrote these songs. I stand corrected!)

Room Thirteen Daytona Beach View LP (Syncro System)
Maybe a year ago, I was plagued by ads for some show after Better Call Saul starring a blonde bearded hippie dude engaging in madcap Southern Cali adventures. I forget the title, but I’ll be damned if the vibe that show was going for (or at least its commercials) isn’t deeply ingrained in Room Thirteen’s Daytona Beach View. Much like the title, this is a record for part-time surf shop employees who accidentally stumble upon love, or at least wander off into the perfect sunny day. Room Thirteen play twee-pop with dalliances into old soul and hazy surf styles, with just the right amount of smudgy tones and electronic enhancement to keep things CBD-friendly. The vocalists’ breathy coo (both Abigail Clark and Heather Lee Smith are credited for vocals) remind me of April March at her most sun-dappled, probably Hope Sandoval too, except Sandoval never cracked a smile as wide as Daytona Beach View. For as proudly retro as it feels, there’s a newness to these songs, like a particularly engaging new configuration of the unsolved Rubix cube that’s been laying between old magazines and a bong on the coffee table for months now. We’ve reached peak sweltering summer, and Room Thirteen seem to embrace it without making a big deal out of it, embodying shoes-free summertime bliss without the icky Instagram Influencer aftertaste that stinks up much of that vibe these days. I’m gonna stash this one away until it’s the middle of February and I need a record to warm my chilly bones.

Rough Sleepers Hangman EP 12″ (Tall Texan)
Before Tall Texan, there was the Dull Knife label, and before Rough Sleepers, there was the Balaclavas band. The Dull Knife label released no less than four Balaclavas records back at the turn of the current decade, and it’s nice to see the friendship (and artistic patronage) still in place, even as things change and people grow older. I’m not sure if there’s more than one Balaclava in Rough Sleepers, but they have a similar vibe, and it’s one that I find appealing. Big, beefy, gothy industrial-rock moves, as if Peter Murphy played Freddie Mercury in that new Queen movie, perhaps. The keyboards are rich and powerful, utilizing sounds meant for big-room EDM parties, but performing some sort of glammy, kraut-rockin’ post-punk instead. Think Spiritualized’s soaring guitars re-calibrated for goth night with a faint whiff of something Cedric Bixler-Zavala would add to his Apple Music playlist, maybe? They’ve got a good sound, and while I haven’t detected any must-hear hits on this four-track EP, it wouldn’t surprise me if Rough Sleepers are putting the finishing touches on one of those in their practice space right at this very moment.

Sea Urchin Tahtib Tehbat LP (Bokeh Versions)
Gotta love the Bokeh Versions label for consistently expanding the definition of dub, both as a musical practice and a sonic philosophy. Thanks to their keen curation, I now know about Sea Urchin, the Italian / Egyptian duo of Francesco Cavaliere and Leila Hassan (both based in Berlin, because of course). Even with all the micro-genres of electronic music that exist today, I’m hard pressed to cleanly fit Sea Urchin into any given box, but I’ll try my best at describing it to you. They utilize multiple percussive loops of seemingly disparate lengths and tempos, often on the same track, favoring what sounds like hand percussion and acoustic items warped and bent into new configurations. Over this, Hassan speaks and murmurs and makes her presence felt, maybe like a shadowy, avant-garde corollary to Christabelle’s work with Lindstrøm. Peaking Lights meets Sublime Frequencies, maybe? It’s pleasantly disorienting, music that soothes and mellows the spirit while confusing the mind, as if reggae was invented in the Middle East in the year 2099 instead of 1960s Jamaica. That’s not to say that real grooves aren’t cooked up as well – “Mish Hata’ref tesHa?” simmers across melodious grooves and pitched percussion with Hassan providing verbal instruction – and electro-dub bass is never far from one’s chest. The name really suits ’em, as this is beautiful, entrancing music that would probably immediately poison me to death were I to accidentally step on it.

75 Dollar Bill I Was Real 2xLP (Thin Wrist)
So I guess this is where I’m at now: paying big bucks for new releases of stately vanguard experimental music with bespoke packaging. I guess it beats being just another sweaty body in the Have Heart crowd? A friend recently saw 75 Dollar Bill perform with Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society recently, commenting that buying both artists’ new albums together would require a literal 75 dollar bill, and while my immediate reaction is disapproving, I can also empathize with artists who put a lot of care and thought into their albums and wish to be compensated for it. For $30 plus shipping, I Was Real comes in a lavish gatefold cover with that sort of sewn-in tweed material usually reserved for Mozart collections or obsolete encyclopedias, and most importantly, the music is utterly fantastic. This group features a guitarist and a guy who sits and taps on a plywood crate, which is instrumentally quite different but spiritually akin to Joshua Abrams, if I can keep the comparison going. 75 Dollar Bill get deep into cyclical grooves that conjure pre-war blues as much as Group Doueh, extending their soul-nourishing songs into serene new heights, with the confident freedom exhibited by Laddio Bolocko at their most meditative or the psychotic/hypnotic boogie minimalism of Tetuzi Akiyama (who’s inspiration is plainly noted on the track “Tetuzi Akiyama”). For such a humble setup, 75 Dollar Bill present a variety of styles, all of which they finesse masterfully, with multiple well-considered contributions from friends and collaborators. Slapping a big fat recommendation on this one!

Toyota Toyota LP (Digital Regress)
Jeez, I had heard San Francisco’s Toyota described as a band very much inspired by Coneheads, but I wasn’t prepared for how much of a contemporary imitation they were willing to deliver on their self-titled debut album. Maybe it’s on purpose, some sort of meta commentary on the fruitlessness of originality? Anyway, they play their nerdy, angular punk as tightly wound as possible, directly indebted to what Coneheads were doing, although by no means an exact replica – Coneheads still seemed to have some allegiance to early hardcore-punk like Angry Samoans and Adolescents and the like. There’s no meaty bite to Toyota, only artificial flavoring, which might be exactly how they wanted it. I’m actually picking up kind of a Neon Hunk vibe here too, due to the spazzy drumming and fragmented songwriting, yielding music that sounds like it was written by poorly-stitched Muppets in day-glo fashion. The other clear influence at play here is Uranium Club, as Toyota seem to have bit the entire Uranium Club aesthetic (inserts filled with corporate-speak, and Toyota pretend to have their own company too, Discontinuous Innovation Inc.), while also performing gonzo punk with blurts of synth (and even auto sound effects, just like Uranium Club did on their last record!). If I were to listen to Toyota in a vacuum devoid of other modern underground punk awareness, I’d say that it’s enjoyably freaky nerd-punk with no-wave leanings, but the stylistic similarities seem too egregious for me to enjoy this one guilt-free. Unless, in a stunning display of art imitating life, Uranium Club and Toyota merge corporations, lay-off 40% of the members, contract out Coneheads for all songwriting (without insurance or benefits) and offer free shipping on their records in an effort to put all local Devo-worshipping punk bands out of business.