Susan Alcorn, Chris Corsano, Bill Nace Live At #6 LP (Open Mouth)
You had me at “Chris Corsano and Bill Nace”, but add in pedal-steel experimentalist Susan Alcorn and it’s a no-brainer. It’s also cool that this group improvisation took place practically in my backyard at The Rotunda in West Philly, a long-standing house of the avant-garde arts (and the occasional smelly punk show too), recorded last September and now pressed to wax with minimal text or adornment, just a stark photo of the three of them paying attention to both their own selves and each other. I’d place this performance somewhere in the mid-range as far as free-improv intensity is concerned – it’s like a bubbling pot of rice that occasionally causes the lid to pop, but nothing you’d need to call the fire department over. Alcorn adds a sort of chopped-up melodic haze to Nace’s stormy turbulence, and Corsano, the master he is, is content to volley back and forth with the two, playing a traditional jazz kit in his traditionally untraditional manner. Nice sense of flow on this one: the slower, emptier passages invoke a pleasant form of sonic inebriation, and taken as a whole, it’s a potent and screwy wedge of contemporary improvisation worthy of the twelve inches of black vinyl it was pressed upon.

An-i + Unhuman An-i + Unhuman 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
Regrettably, I’m coming to An-i’s music a few years late, having recently discovered his phenomenal Kino-i 12″ from 2014 (shuddering industrial acid par excellence), so I snagged this new 12″ on L.I.E.S. without hesitation. Never heard of Unhuman before, but any friend of An-i is a friend of mine, and this EP really delivers the goods – I can’t stop spinning it. I’d expect to see this one filed under “industrial techno”, but that tag doesn’t properly reflect all the character, nuance and grit that An-i and Unhuman deliver here. Opener “Five To Nine” is a rapid deployment of basement energy, and while it’s a cool way to kick things off, it’s the weakest cut here, due to the severity of the other three tracks. “Hate Thy Neighbor” rides a sidewinding bass-line into the middle of a shock pit, presenting like The Egyptian Lover in full bondage gear moonwalking through a rented dungeon. Fantastic! “Entschuldigung” gets even crazier, stuttering and grooving amidst hazardous substances with vocals that sound like Masonna doing his best James Brown impression. “Cannibals” closes it out with a series of corrosive body-blows, like Ancient Methods moving at Beau Wanzer’s limped gait. No two tracks are particularly alike, but they al clearly share the same DNA: industrial without being corny, noisy without being predictable, techno but not soulless… whatever it is these two guys are doing I want so much more of it.

Aquarian Blood A Love That Leads To War LP (Goner)
Interesting transformation here for Aquarian Blood, the married Memphis duo who previously went wild in a lo-fi garage-punk fashion. The cover photo sets the tone here, a tintype-colored image of Laurel and JB Horrell looking like your great-great-grandparents who dug potatoes out of the mud with their bare hands so you could ride a Lime scooter to work and complain about the temperature of your latte. They look stern, borderline pissed even, but they’ve left their crashing drums and distorted guitars behind for what is a soft and hauntingly melodic album of acoustic-led ballads and what might rightfully be considered “ditties”. The Americana influence is strong, but the music is more along the lines of somber indie-folk, the Hallelujahs, or perhaps Townes Van Zandt than any pre-war blues or gospel. This style suits them (especially when taking JB Horrell’s fascinating hairstyle into account), and they seem particularly comfortable with it, interweaving light swabs of synth or additional guitar to keep these moody hymns fresh. Even the title sounds like a Cormac McCarthy novel, which is just the sort of rugged, blood-stained American image that Aquarian Blood are cutting into here. I feel less embarrassed eating beans directly out of their can when listening to A Love That Leads To War, that much is true.

Michael Beach Curtain of Night 7″ (Tall Texan)
Aussie troubadour Michael Beach is back at it, this time with a new backing band (members of Thigh Master and Shovels) and still simmering with complex emotions that are best expressed musically. “Curtain Of Night” has that coulda-been-a-hit vibe had Tom Petty delivered it in 1981, but instead it’s 2019 and rock music is entirely obsolete, so only the few underground nutcakes still willing to buy a 7″ (or, I suppose, stream it on Spotify) will get to enjoy it. It has that Replacements-esque charm, simple and effective, as it seems that Beach truly believes in what he’s saying, whatever it may be. There’s a cover of “Electricity” on the flip (originally by New Zealand luminary Peter Jefferies), and I’m not going to pretend to be familiar with the original version, but it’s a pleasant contrast to the straightforward pop moves of the a-side – a lo-fi claustrophobia threatens to swallow Beach alive alongside thumping percussion, nagging keys and what must be some guitar in there somewhere. Certainly sounds like something Peter Jefferies would’ve written! Makes me wish I hadn’t missed Michael Beach’s October tour when it came through town, but I’m not too worried – all these Australians just keep coming back to the States over and over again for some mysterious reason.

Cherubs Immaculada High LP (Relapse)
It’s pretty cool the way Cherubs went from their cult status as a ’90s underground noise-rock band to their ’10s reboot with ease and panache, as if they never left the game of releasing new albums and touring to promote them. Immaculada High is their second since their reunion, and it feels as naturally Cherubian as anything they’ve done distantly or recently. You don’t play your respective guitar, bass and drums for as long as these guys have without getting somewhat proficient, and while Cherubs’ musical talent is clear, it’s a relief that they have the self-awareness and restraint to give the kids what they want, which is pounding, aggressive, semi-angular noise-rock with the guitars running through an ungodly chain of effects and the vocals high and mighty. The vocal delivery almost has me wondering if this record might appeal to adventurous Tool fans, no diss intended of course. Ultimately, this form of noisy post-hardcore is nothing new, but if it’s what you came for, you won’t be walking away feeling cheated. My only gripe is that Immaculada High can be so thick and buzzing with midrange distortion that the power of these otherwise meaty grooves can feel diminished – it might not be what they were going for, but I’d love to hear these songs with a little more clarity to really emphasize the inherent heaviness. Kudos to them for choosing to flop around in the sonic mud instead, though.

Stefan Christensen The Upcoming Flame LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
Starting to wonder if at some point, will I develop Stefan Christensen Fatigue? His music is mighty nice, but with new records arriving at a speedy clip, it seems possible. Today is not that day, however, as The Upcoming Flame takes a different direction than his other 2019 full-length, Unknown Fortune, this time portraying Christensen on his lonesome, a meager pile of recording equipment laid out next to guitars both electric and acoustic, presumably in a room without windows (or a small one crusted-over with dust). These tracks are fairly direct by his standards, relying less on noisy atmospherics and instead in deference to directness and clarity but still swimming with drones and strange ambiance – more ‘experimental’ than ‘rock’ but both sides of the coin are presented. He still feels indebted to the underground New Zealand scene as well, just closer to Roy Montgomery than Dead C this time around. A track like “Substitution Days” stands out for me, weaving an acoustic guitar down a creaky staircase of spoken-word phone messages, ghostly tape manipulation and other forms of sly sonic trickery. In contrast with its title, The Upcoming Flame feels like a cold morning that’s colder than expected, the sort of music that doesn’t comfort so much as shares its distress; to be fair though, Christensen never said the flame is here, but rather that it’s on its way.

Adrian Corker Music For Lock Grooves 12″ (SN Variations)
Dare me to say it? Okay, here goes… this one’s a real corker! Wait, come back, let me tell you about the actual record: this guy Adrian Corker put together a delectable suite of tweaked modern compositions on a 12″ EP, and I’d like to recommend it to you. He’s a British musician who writes for television and film, and I can’t help but wonder what particular programs he’s worked on after hearing these intriguing vignettes, as they certainly lean closer to ambient-industrial or minimalist noise than your average BBC show. I’m not entirely sure what his musical practice is, if it’s mostly electronic or in the production booth or what, but he enlisted Aisha Orazbayeva on violin and Sam Wilson on percussion to help realize these phony “lock grooves”, and it’s really nice. Subtle patterns repeat, be it a quick slice of Orazbayeva’s violin or a less determinable sound (clangs, bumps and donks feature throughout), and they quickly swell with anxious tension and subdued calmness, sometimes simultaneously. Reminds me of a clarified version of Nocturnal Emissions or something else that might’ve appeared on an early United Dairies compilation, purposely rendered in sharp hi-fi. This isn’t the stereotypical monotonous tick that one might associate with a locked groove, it’s a fascinating sound-world you’ll want to spend some time in.

Jonny Couch Mystery Man LP (Damaged Sofa)
I never heard of Jonny Couch either, but this record came with a nicely annotated press sheet referring to Mr. Couch as a “Bryan Ferry pop crooner” alongside highlighted band names like Grinderman and The National, so who knows, could be great, right? I see you shaking your head, and fine, you’re right, it’s not great, but let’s talk about Mystery Man anyway. I realize we’ve been collectively plundering the aesthetics of the ’80s for basically thirty years now, but this is one aspect of that era I didn’t think would resurface – those local-act, private-press new-wave groups that do one record pressed by their management only for it to evaporate from the surface of the earth with the exception of a few dank and humid spaces (namely, the basements of local record shops). I’m thinking of records like Fingers’ Video Games 12″, new-wave power-pop that looks like it might possibly be cool but ends up sounding like a mix of Peter Gabriel and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. That’s pretty much the sound that Jonny Couch has latched onto here, although I’d say he has more of a “Meatloaf fronting The Hooters” vibe to be specific. Kinda limp, kinda catchy, like a skinny-tie-wearing version of Survivor in case you needed one of those. Maybe you do?

Das Drip Das Drip LP (Sorry State)
So it is Das Drip as in the German form of “The Drip” or something more esoteric like Das EFX, or a gag like Das Racist, or what? Maybe I’m putting unnecessary thought into it, but I need something to help me retain focus after the brain-scrambling hardcore-punk whirlwind that is Das Drips’ self-titled debut. Throughout, the formula is fairly the same: an itchy rash of a bassline wobbles on some pogo-punk drums, the guitar skitters along, and the vocalist does her best to cram as many words as she can over top, unconcerned with any sort of standard rhythmic cadence. It’s overtly fast music, frequently verging on becoming a crazy mess (thanks in no small part to vocalist Rach Canning’s furious babbling), but that’s a big part of the charm here – a rickety punk go-kart flying down a hill without brakes or adequate safety features. When I find myself able to actually focus on what is happening, it’s clear that the band is actually playing the same songs together, but Das Drip have mastered the act of creating music that feels like it’s pulling apart from itself at the seams. Those looking for classic hardcore-punk songs might feel a little overwhelmed by Das Drip‘s frenzied approach, but thankfully this is a 45 RPM 12″ record, so wimps can start at 33 and work their way up.

Disjawn Loud Kush Assault 7″ (Ranch)
Was hoping that the title of the newest Disjawn EP made reference to the violent destruction of Jason Kushner and his tribe of despicable goons, but it appears they just like to get high. Fair enough! If the name wasn’t already a giveaway, Disjawn play d-beat hardcore-punk, but as is the usual style of today, they push it to disturbing levels of intensity, rife with distortion, excessive crash-cymbal usage and ghastly effects-laden vocals. It can be a bit predictable (if satisfying nonetheless), but Disjawn are particularly spirited, and have given more thought to their songwriting than your average noise-core attack unit – “Pain Is Reality” relies more on its sinister bass groove than buzzsaw guitars, which is a nice change of pace. Their expression of futility in the face of planetary war and misery is relatable, if not necessarily commendable, but at least they’re keeping it real. Five songs, no fuss, so if you’re spiky and charged and feeling hopeless, might as well blast this one until the skies are choked with orange smog and the oceans dry up.

Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich Midden LP (Gilgongo / Moone)
John Dieterich I recognize from his years spent in everyone’s favorite twee-pop avant-rock deconstructionists Deerhoof; Tashi Dorji I don’t recognize at all, but they both play guitar, and they got together here to create Midden. You get two side-long pieces of dual guitar improvisation, and while we all know that sorta thing can crumble under the weight of formless meandering, Dorji and Dieterich clearly have an excellent rapport and do no such crumbling. They’ve got lots to discuss with each other, and they do so entirely with their guitars, which for the most part utilize only modest distortion – no daisy-chains of effects pedals being stomped back and forth, or at least not until the end of side two. Brief twangy phrases, extended freakouts, discombobulated chords, awkward plucking, physical scratching and scraping, it all goes down throughout this two-way conversation, and for an unscripted journey, it flows incredibly well. These two guitarists aren’t simply going through the usual noisy improv moves, they play off each other in ways that demonstrate keen listening and natural synergy. Really though, the only important thing is whether Midden sounds cool or not, and by my estimation it surely does.

Vera Dvale & Psykovarius Avav LP (Sex Tags Amfibia)
The Sex Tags family of labels has been a necessary conduit for Norway’s magical underground dance scene, providing deep house thrillers and offbeat weirdos in equal measure. I based my purchase of this, the second collaborative album between Vera Dvale & Psykovarius, on the Sex Tags name alone, because let’s face it, unless it’s a power-metal group I’m not perking up over someone named “Psykovarius”. Wasn’t sure what to expect, and to be honest I was a little disappointed by Avav, which is a fairly rote and exploratory suit of vintage synthesizers utilized in a twinkly new-age fashion. Across these six tracks, neither participant seems in much of a hurry to get things going, so at these fairly modest track lengths (most around five minutes or so), nothing really takes off. It’s not bad, and certainly scratches any itch for moon-landing synth explorations into the chilly black depths, but I can’t help but long for something greater when I pick up a Sex Tags record (like the recent 7″ flexi from Geir Tore Holm that’s a field recording of him peeing in the snow). Even in their most stargazing and amphibious sounds, Vera Dvale & Psykovarius have yet to dazzle me, but I’m going to keep this one nearby on the off chance that it clicks for me on one fateful winter’s night. Or trade it in for that Geir Tore Holm flexi.

E-Saggila My World My Way LP (Northern Electronics)
Heavyweight new album here from Toronto’s E-Saggila, who has already established herself as a potent dealer of North American industrial techno. Sometimes it feels like a genre where the best works have already been accomplished, that there’s nothing else to really do but shift around the same pieces everyone else is using (which, when done well, I enjoy heartily), but E-Saggila pushes things to wilder and fresh new zones while simultaneously deploying some of the heaviest, most corrosive electronics here. Opener “Aziza” really sets the pace with a minute or so of harsh cut-up violence ala Contagious Orgasm or early Prurient, eventually finding its way to a near-gabber slam that incorporates the shredded ribbons of a trance-pop track. Phew! “Aziza” proudly displays the wide range of styles and tools that E-Saggila has incorporated into My World My Way, and the rest of the record frequently hits similar electroshocked highs. “Alia” features the vocals of Thoom, which smacks upside the head like Ghostemane remixing Despise You or something – I could go for a whole album of this! And the other guest spot, someone named “Oil Thief” on album ender “One Last Midnight”, feels ripe for an eventual sex scene in John Wick 6, with Oil Thief sounding exactly as you might expect a Cobra villain named Oil Thief to sound like: untrustworthy and imposingly sinister. My World My Way is rich with character and feeling, varied in its rhythms and percussive devices but unified by the unflinching mind that stitched it all together. Recommended!

Fix Fix 7″ (Phantom)
That’s right, legendary Detroit hardcore pioneers The Fix are back with a brand new EP. Wait a minute! This is actually some new German weird-punk group who don’t care about recycling a band name. They open with a sparse spoken-word track, like some funky and coherent moment one might find on an early Nurse With Wound album, before getting down to the nitty gritty of lo-fi, presumably-somewhat-synthetic punk rock. It’s such an in-the-red mess that the instruments are nearly unintelligible, except for the snare (is that a real drum kit?), the guitars when they hit a high note and the vocals (although just barely). Reminds me of Factorymen at their most traditionally punk, a live Crazy Spirit tape, the Pillow Talk 7″ played on 33 instead of 45, or a particularly rough mix-down of one of the many current Neck Chop Records punk bands hailing from Nova Scotia or Fort Wayne or something. Personally, I enjoy it, particularly cuts like “Basement Life” and “The Goof Life”, whose main riffs overcome the sonic hurdles set forth by Fix’s production standards, although it remains to be seen exactly how many repeat listens Fix will bear. I’m gonna go out on a limb and answer my own question with “less listens than The Fix, more listens than The Fixx”.

Gong Gong Gong Phantom Rhythm LP (Wharf Cat)
Tom Ng was the mastermind of one of my favorite bands (and self-titled albums) of the past decade, The Offset: Spectacles, so I’ve been eagerly following his work with current outfit Gong Gong Gong, who are clearly traversing similar musical territory. Which is to say, stark and repetitive blues-guitar grooves with minimal accompaniment and sparse melodies. That’s certainly the basis of Phantom Rhythm, their debut full-length, which I pre-ordered the moment pre-ordering was authorized. Unfair though it may be, I can’t help but hold it up against The Offset: Spectacles, and while Gong Gong Gong does not reach the same creative peaks nor deliver the same distinct earworm hooks, it’s still cool as heck. Tom Ng plays with variations of Bo Diddley riffs and bassist Joshua Frank fills the gaps, almost reminiscent of Peter Hook’s Joy Division style, except these songs approach post-punk from a rockist, non-goth, non-dancey perspective. The chord progressions that appear are familiar ground for stoner-rockers like Nebula and Sleep, but Gong Gong Gong eschew fuzz-distortion and percussion almost entirely (certainly no drums, at least), so the whole thing feels unlike anything played by groups that do not feature Tom Ng as a member. It’s most exciting when the hot slashes of guitar provide the percussive elements (see “地下日記 Notes Underground” or “騎你的馬 Ride Your Horse”) and Frank jabs up and down his bass, writing his own song within the song, which thankfully happens often. That said, some of these tracks can lag a little, but I suppose that’s the nature of music that toes the line between hypnotic and monotonous.

Haircut Sensation 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Why is Virginia, and Richmond in particular, such a fertile ground for hardcore in the past decade or two? That’s the sort of sociological dissertation I’d love to read (or at least skim), and I bet Haircut would get a footnote or two in it, them being a fine example of Richmond hardcore. Though to be fair, they don’t have the “Richmond sound”: Haircut prefer to utilize the tough-guy melodies of Sick Of It All and Agnostic Front, but instead of performing them in a traditional NYHC manner, they force these aggro riffs into today’s pogo-punk rhythmic patterns, far more Toxic State than Combat Core. Add to that the strained vocals of Juliana Viana and you’ve got a final product notably different from anything that would’ve come out on Revelation in the ’80s, but it’s undeniably hardcore, and works as well as any other set of hardcore influences (or coincidental similarities) you might find in a band that has received the Beach Impediment seal of approval. Only four songs here, and while they’re not incredibly short, Sensation does feel pretty brief, although I’m not begging for a double LP just yet either… just a little more so I can decide whether their haircut sensation is more along the lines of a buzzcut’s satisfying tingle or the painful scalp immolation of a bleach job gone wrong.

The Ivytree A Pillar Of Clouds LP (Tall Texan)
I hadn’t previously heard of The Ivytree, but I’m certainly familiar with the work of the man behind it – this is yet another project from the restlessly creative Glenn Donaldson, he of The Skygreen Leopards, Horrid Red, Thuja, and roughly a million other projects both solo and collaborative. He’s been active as The Ivytree since the late ’90s, most recently releasing an album on Recital before this one, which actually collects recordings from 1999 through 2004. Gotta say, I believe that, as these tracks are very much in line with the darkly floral-scented psych-folk of that era, ready to share space on a burned CD-r with Espers, Fursaxa and Six Organs Of Admittance. Layers of soft melodic guitar (both electrified and acoustic), occasional washed-out synths, and high wispy vocals combine with the occasional field recording (is that someone walking through a creek in galoshes?) to create this tender, cautious set of songs. As far as comparing A Pillar Of Clouds to similar albums by other artists, I’m not sure it particularly stands out for better or worse, but it’s perfectly enjoyable just the same, home-recorded lullabies for the artist class.

Lassie Collected Cassettes LP (Phantom / Et Mon Cul C’est Du Tofu?)
Here’s a very modern punk equation: band-name blatantly appropriated from some generic slice of culture, a vinyl album that collects two previously-released cassettes, and a lo-fi, warbly punk sound replete with chintzy synths and a predilection for early DEVO and Midwest goofball punk (Gizmos, Ice 9, Dow Jones & The Industrials and so on). Lassie stands out by being from Leipzig, Germany, although they do a fine job of sounding as if they are a bunch of soaking-wet dorks in Warm Bodies t-shirts from Oshkosh, WI. Funny samples are peppered between Lassie’s tunes (not entirely unlike fellow Germans Heavy Metal), and the tunes themselves generally favor a more relaxed mid-tempo pace than the hectic speeds favored by similar acts. The whole thing works well enough here, as Lassie seem to have taken the time to write actual songs as opposed to bleating out twelve studies of the same idea, but I’m not sure it’s quite enough to carve out Lassie as a distinct underground voice among Neo Neos, BB Eye, Erik Nervous, Toyota, Urochromes, Vanilla Poppers, Liquids… I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s just a lot of this stuff currently happening, but if you aren’t already starting to feel a little burnt out by this particular globally-shared punk aesthetic, Lassie won’t do you wrong. If you’re wondering if Mikey Young mastered it, do you even have to ask?

Life Strike Primitive Future LP (Strange Pursuits / Omnipest Inc.)
More Melbourne rock, this time coming from a new band featuring Nick Pratt, who was in Deaf Wish for their first four albums. The apple doesn’t fall far from that tree, as Life Strike play a similar mellow-noisy form of post-punk indie, perhaps a little more conventionally rocking than Deaf Wish. Whereas Deaf Wish were forever chained (perhaps unfairly) to Sonic Youth comparisons, Life Strike remind me more of North American college-rock like The dB’s or Mission Of Burma, fairly restrained and in control of their moody power-pop moves. It’s not fully buttoned-up, though, as some songs jangle like The Lemonheads and others remind me of the weird post-post-grunge current happening with groups like Puzzlehead. Life Strike find the common thread through all those approaches, although there’s a general sluggishness to Primitive Future that keeps me from fully connecting. Maybe they rip ’em up a little harder live? If you like your indie-rock to come fully assured that a mosh pit will not break out during its performance, Life Strike are pleased to meet you.

The Living Eyes Peak Hour Traffic 7″ (Anti Fade / Episode Sounds)
Do they not call it “rush hour” in Australia, or are The Living Eyes simply taking artistic license with the way they phrased it here? “Peak Hour Traffic” applies an appropriately maddening ping-pong riff over an oom-pah thud to remind us all how much it stinks to sit in crawling gridlock. I’m glad they were able to make lemonade out of these lemons, finding inspiration in life-sucking monotony, as it’s a sweet little tune. “Almanac” is the flip, which is similarly paced but with a dance-punk groove, as if there’s a little LCD Soundsystem suddenly injected into the Living Eyes equation where there was none before. The Living Eyes are one of the tighter bands playing melodic classic punk these days, so it certainly works for them, not that I’m surprised. Two cool songs here, in and out fairly quickly (not even four and a half minutes including the time it takes to flip the thing), and a nice little reminder for me to pull out their 2017 album for some extended enjoyment.

Loose Nukes Behind The Screen 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Even to this day, there’s an abundance of skulls to be found within new hardcore-punk art, and yet Pittsburgh’s Loose Nukes eschew the skull entirely here for a far underutilized element: the cartoon hand giving a middle finger. They are numerous on here, and rendered in different styles, so kudos to Loose Nukes for realizing the dormant potential in this imagery – classic and crude! As for their music, this band features ex- and current members of Government Warning, Dark Thoughts, Direct Control and Sickoids, and Loose Nukes is a pretty logical successor, one that withholds any sense of “wacky thrash” in favor of furious hardcore pummel ala The FU’s, White Cross, Zyklome A, and much of the classic first-wave hardcore that pursued speed and mania at all costs. What’s good for Loose Nukes is that they don’t sound like a carbon copy of any of those particular bands, but rather another formidable entry from our modern era. I’ll chalk at least 40% of the credit up to drummer Vince Klopfenstein, who absolutely shreds through these songs as though his life depended on it – EP closer “I Could’ve Been A Killer” is certifiably nuts in the way he turns high-speed fills into the actual beat, cascading in a manner similar to Brian Chippendale but far more hardcore-minded and direct. Both loose and nuclear in his playing, I can’t help but assume the band was named after him.

The Mauskovic Dance Band The Mauskovic Dance Band LP (Soundway)
It’s late 2019, so how about some Dutch Afrobeat? Wrong or right, I generally find the global dance appropriation done by Europeans to be rendered in good taste (although the jury is still out on Goat). For now, I’m giving the thumbs up to The Mauskovic Dance Band and their debut full-length. It’s a fairly direct and undeniable trip into heady, weed-scented disco-funk and Afrobeat, and this group, featuring four members with the unverified last name of Mauskovic, do it with panache. Fela Kuti is clearly an inspiration, but this album is more rambunctious, modern and silly, calling to mind Kid Creole at his most infectious and Golden Teacher at their most straight-laced. The track title “Space Drum Machine” is slightly misleading, as its sharp-edged funk and high-pitched vocal chorus have me imagining The Rapture collaborating with Emmanuel Jal on some raucous outdoor stage. Eight tracks here, across which gratification is never delayed – these are communal live-band jams with just the right amount of electronic infusion, and they should subconsciously connect with any human capable of shaking their limbs.

The Middle Ages The Middle Ages LP (Ripe)
Truly living up to their name, The Middle Ages are a new Seattle group of experienced adult musicians. They feature ex-members of The Pets, Razz and The Dutchess And The Duke to name a small selection, and after relocating to Seattle to focus on family (how punk rock is that?), they started this new trio and released an album on their own Ripe Records label. I can already picture the members of The Middle Ages asking their kids what the difference between Snapchat and Soundcloud is, as these tunes seem frozen in time from decades prior, which of course isn’t a fault if you’re trying to play upbeat, swinging punk / garage-pop, as this group certainly is. They’re clearly indebted to teenage garage ala Nuggets and saccharine early ’80s power-pop, and having quite a bit of fun coloring within those lines, even if they don’t have the energy and unrestrained attitude that can only be found in youth. As far as their tunes are concerned, I’d say they fill the air nicely with the sounds of their intended genre, but there’s nothing to particularly get excited about either, which is a fairly tall order at this point in time. Seems like The Middle Ages are more of a very serious hobby than a band trying to make its mark on the underground, which I applaud as a middle-aged alternative to arguing on Facebook or hours of Bejeweled Blitz.

The Never Quartet 1.001.006 / 1.001.007 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Here’s a new name from Michael Morley of The Dead C, The Never Quartet. He’s been putting out records solo as Gate for nearly as long as The Dead C have been kicking, so I have to assume something different is happening here – perhaps he’s not really performing at all? These two tracks reveal very little in the way of motion or expressive force, preferring to hover unto themselves like the private internal processes of a refrigerator keeping your milk cool or a microwave keeping your burrito hot. Drone music with a “set it and forget it” attitude, if my suspicions are correct. These industrial drones aren’t static – they flutter, slip up and cool down – but the feeling is certainly one of incidental activity, as though Morley stumbled upon these sounds by chance and was wise enough to put them to tape, and then send them to the I Dischi label with a note that says “hey, if you’re still looking to do another 7″, there’s this…” Or maybe this is Morley playing guitar in some way that hasn’t been otherwise created yet. This review is entirely speculative, but my enjoyment of this 7″ single is genuine.

Romantic States Ballerina LP (Gentle Reminder)
Baltimore’s Romantic States have returned, this time as a full rock band with Ilenia Madelaire taking on sole vocal duties. It’s pretty great! The music reminds me of the quiet-punk that Brooklyn’s Household delivered a few years back, as well as The Zoltars and early Cat Power, subtly churning minimalist tunes with softly spoken vocals just on the verge of singing. What makes it special are the words shared by Madelaire, who establishes herself here as a cruel poet of the mundane, consistently hilarious and wicked with a lyrics sheet you’ll want to read. The country-tinged opener “Changed Your Mind” ends with the chorus line of “fare thee well / I’ll see you in hell”, a sentiment that can be easily missed due to the deadpan delivery and jovial melody. I’m reminded of Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat in the way that Madelaire seems resigned to some special form of misery, perhaps heightened by her acute ability of expressing it. “Real Real Blonde” and “Cocaine Cul De Sac” are particularly dire, deliciously dire even, the sort of songs I find myself repeating just to savor their ice-cold spite, more satisfying than an ice-cold Sprite. Hey look, I’m a poet too!

Searing Arrow Paranoid Fiction LP (Tall Texan)
Debut transmission here from Houston’s Searing Arrow, connected via Tall Texan’s Texan roots. The record lists “Chris, Denniz, Ted, Shan and Melissa” as members, but I’m also hearing that it’s mainly just the solo studio project of producer Chris Ryan. Whatever the case, it’s pretty cool stuff – driving, meaty post-hardcore that seems to take inspiration from early death-rock and wiry post-punk as well as big dumb ’90s noise-rock riffage. Not an unheard-of combination in this day and age, but Searing Arrow don’t dilly-dally with it, as their songs lock into place quickly, only spiraling outward into waves of drones when the moment calls for it. It’s nice that they can veer from the high-speed menace of “Private School” to the synth-led dark-wave of “Places In The Heart” as though they were always meant to be together. The album sounds good too, booming and punchy (not unlike fellow Houstonites Balaclavas, come to think of it – I wonder if they recorded with Ryan too?), a nice little showcase of his skills for hire. As with most Tall Texan releases, this one is limited to a hundred numbered copies, not looking to go virally huge so much as document what’s happening for those who wish to hear it.

Slump Flashbacks From Black Dust Country LP (Feel It)
So the punks are all on acid now, huh? I wistfully remember the days of weed-worshiping crust, and while I’m sure that scene has never entirely gone away, bands like Richmond’s Slump are looking to transcend reality with their third eyes open. New York’s Kaleidoscope and Tempe’s Destruction Unit have been traveling on similar planes in recent times, but I think Slump might be my favorite of the three, were I ever forced to choose. Slump traverse different tempos and moods throughout this debut full-length, recalling a diverse range of bands like TAD, Spiritualized, Alabama Thunderpussy, Chrome and Poison Idea, all with the sonic firepower to back it up. The use of effects and synths can be the trickiest aspect – do you just slap it all on top of regular punk songs and call it “psychedelic” – but the Moog of Tony Nowotarski combined with the shape-shifting vocals of Suspicious Sonny help craft a different musical fabric along with Slump’s sticky riffs, as opposed to carelessly taping a Magic Eye poster onto a punk record. I like Flashbacks best when it chugs hardest: see “Sensory Cocoon” for its potent mix of stoner grooving and hardcore energy, as if Kyuss spent a sleepless evening listening to the first Comets On Fire album, which, come to think of it, is something I strongly recommend.

Porcelain Summer compilation 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Leave it to I Dischi to tackle one of the most endangered forms of underground documentation, the compilation 7″. No one wants 7″s anymore, and absolutely no one wants comps anymore (unless they’re streaming for free and called “playlists”), so I appreciate that I Dischi really leaned into this one with twelve brief tracks spanning the subterranean musical underground – might as well be really brazen about it! They get tracks here from a variety of names, almost certain to include someone you’ve never heard before. Cool skeletal punk from Vital Idles, a brief Heimlich maneuver from John Olson under his Johnny R. Spykes guise, a nice new Greymouth track, mid-morning piano from Karla Borecky, somber Germanic drone from the cult-adored Brannten Schnüre, twenty seconds of guitar-pop stumbling from JJ Ulius… it’s a dirty, stained kaleidoscope, but I wouldn’t have it any other way from I Dischi Del Barone. And if you’re one of those freaks who insists on owning the complete discographies of Red Brut or Amateur Hour, you’ll need to have it, too!