Big Laugh Manic Revision 7″ (11 PM)
Remember the muscular skinhead on the cover of the Abused 7″? Turns out he’s still hanging out in front of that same brick wall, but now he’s using a rope to strangle someone who looks just like him! Nice of Milwaukee’s Big Laugh to continue the tale through the cover of their Manic Revision EP. It’s their debut 7″, and they’re offering four hardcore songs clearly influenced by late ’80s NYHC, more on the emotional (but not emo) tip, right before things fully codified over into the youth crew aesthetic. Pretty New Breed inspired with an appropriate level of grit and heavy chug, even when it’s fast – think Absolution, Pressure Release or Beyond if you’re wondering what kind of pit Big Laugh are looking to start. Personally speaking, it wouldn’t be my first choice if I was looking to play traditional hardcore, but I suppose it’s as fine an era of hardcore as any from which to take inspiration, and at least it’s not a painfully trendy one right now. Nothing particularly new is sonically explored or invented here, nor is this EP a game-changer for hardcore circa 2020, but Milwaukee’s gotta mosh too, so mosh they shall.

Blawan Immulsion EP 12″ (Ternesc)
My love affair with the music of Blawan is nearly a decade long at this point, and like any lengthy relationship, it’s had its ups and downs. I was feeling like I had my fill following his sole full-length from 2018, but then Immulsion showed up and reminded me that I will always need new Blawan tracks in my life. It could also be that this is an exceptional EP, far superior to the last few releases on his Ternesc label. It opens with “40 Spiral”, which does all the things I want Blawan to do: pound out a rhythm with ugly kicks and claps, and supplement it with weird alien sound-effects. This cut has what seems to be a human voice straining to make itself heard (one of my favorite industrial-techno conceits) and it barely relents, all without the aid of any sort of bass melody. “Immulsion (Come To Me In Full Mix)” is next, and might be my favorite here – oddly enough, it has the minimalist thwack of late ’00s Ricardo Villalobos, as if Villalobos attempted to produce a track for the Downwards label and failed beautifully. Skeletal and creepy, with faint background sounds that recall adhesive tape being slowly pulled off a shiny surface, it’s an electric haunted house in which I’d love to perpetually hide away. “Rain” is more urgent, with another cool vocal hook and the grinding gears I’ve come to expect from Blawan’s side-group Karenn, and the EP wraps with “Immulsion (That Kind Of Kink Mix)”, kind of a subdued groove highlighting the glorious sounds of electrical interference. Perfect place to start if you’re a newcomer to Blawan’s music, and the perfect place to resume if you loved his iconic His He She & She EP and haven’t checked in recently!

Bokeh Lenses Dances LP (Mirae Arts)
When I see the word “Bokeh” in the context of electronic music, my mind immediately goes to the great Bokeh Versions label. This, however, is the entirely-unrelated duo of Katsunori Sawa and Martin Heinze, although judging by the wonky and cavernous techno they’re made here, there has to be at least a couple social connections in common. Bokeh’s techno has a spring-loaded pulse that reminds me of a softer Female, although they also roam into deeper dub territories that recall classic Maurizio or the spaced-out bliss of Rod Modell’s last album. Even when reclined into dub position, though, there’s a certain restlessness that seeps through, perhaps a tweaked-out siren in the distance or a peculiar rhythmic pattern that slowly enters the fold and reminds you that all is not at ease. Still, I’d say that Lenses Dances is fairly typical and momentarily satisfying if not overly memorable or significant. What stood out most to me is the super-dated cover art, which seems like it should grace some late ’90s electronica compilation CD. Turns out it was designed by Paul Nicholson, most famous for creating the iconic Aphex Twin logo! Can’t deny that sort of authenticity, but it’s not quite my style.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters Hammered LP (Beast)
You want a name? “Jackson Reid Briggs”, now that’s a name! Sounds like every cast member of Friday Night Lights combined or something, and yet Mr. Briggs isn’t Texan, he’s Australian, which I guess is kinda like the Texas of the southern hemisphere. Anyway, this is a band that sounds like they lay blacktop for a living, drinking cheap cold beers with calloused hands, tired but tough. They’re four albums in at this point, and Hammered displays Briggs and his Heaters in fine condition, stomping out their hard-nosed rock n’ roll with boots, not sneakers. Sonic resemblances to Cosmic Psychos, The Saints, Rocket From The Crypt and OBN III’s are easy to sniff out, and certainly make sense in the scheme of what Briggs & Co. are offering. His vocals offer more passion than tunefulness, the sort of delivery that leads a vocalist to lose their voice one week into a four-week tour, but what are you gonna do, mumble instead? The band sounds suitably big, the riffs are better than average, and the attitude is pissed-but-welcoming. All they need now is Taylor Kitsch to star in their music video and they’re all set.

Cadenaxo Lenguas Pordidas LP (11 PM)
I’m not sure if there’s more hardcore-punk coming out of Mexico now than ever before, or if it’s simply being promoted and released in the United States better than ever? Probably a little bit of both, but whatever the case it feels like there’s a solid new Mexican hardcore group appearing monthly if not weekly these days. Mexico City’s Cadenaxo have been around since 2014, but this is their first vinyl full-length, coming from Richmond’s 11 PM upstart. Ten tracks on 45 RPM, Lenguas Pordidas delivers a dependable slab of fired-up hardcore. Rudimentary in design and delivery, I’d compare Cadenaxo to American ‘core heroes Necros and N.O.T.A. as well as the unpolished delights of the Attack Punk label (I’m talking about Underage and MG 15). Angry hardcore-punk, and rightfully so, of course. Sitting here listening to Lenguas Pordidas is fun, but I’d imagine that Cadenaxo commanding a packed Mexico City warehouse venue with punks climbing every nailed-down surface is the finest way to experience this group. Time to add that to my post-Covid to-do list!

C.H.E.W. In Due Time 7″ (Iron Lung)
Can Haters End (the) Whining? Pretty sure that must be the current definition of C.H.E.W., a Chicago hardcore group who continue to grow more maniacal and unhinged with every new release. I was lukewarm on the band at first (maybe even one of the aforementioned haters?), but their 2018 debut full-length is a corker, and this new five-song EP is even a cut above that. The riffs are fast and ugly without feeling heavy or metallic, closer to vintage Poison Idea, Brown Sugar and perhaps Impalers when they’re at their least Scandinavian. Vocalist Doris Carroll offers an inspired performance, somewhere between Tony Erba’s tenure in Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, Die Kreuzen’s Dan Kubinski and Sara Abruna fronting the short-lived JJ Doll. Phlegmy and snarling, she cuts through the seemingly endless array of riffs, riffs that could easily swallow up a lesser frontperson. In fact, I’m not sure how you could mosh to this with any sort of rhythmic pacing, seeing as the songs twist and turn quicker than one’s brain could reasonably expect. Any physical response to In Due Time would have to involve spasmodic and randomized flailing, which of course is an acceptable response in these times.

The Cool Greenhouse The Cool Greenhouse LP (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse entered my life with last year’s Crap Cardboard Pet EP, a real strike of ridiculous post-punk genius. Seemed like a surefire one-hit-wonder, so what’s amazing about The Cool Greenhouse’s full-length debut (and first outing as a full-band rather than a solo recording project) is that it’s still a one-hit-wonder, and still completely great! If you’re not already familiar, they play an ultra-repetitive form of groove-based post-punk with vocalist and orchestrator Tom Greenhouse calmly ranting in a form clearly guided by Mark E. Smith. Now performing as a band, there’s a bit more heft to these grooves: bass plunks the same two notes, guitar follows with one-finger chords, a keyboard chirps and sputzes and live drums energize the sound in the way that a programmed Casio cannot. The difference is easily discerned via “Cardboard Man”, which appeared on the previous EP as well as here, sounding like this full-band version could’ve found its way onto an adventurous 120 Minutes playlist back in 1993. Endlessly cyclical riffs, occasionally to the point of madness, but that’s the point! This self-titled album is sure to appeal to fans of Parquet Courts, Patois Counselors, LCD Soundsystem, probably even Viagra Boys and certainly The Fall. Silly-smart and unpretentious post-punk you can shake a leg to, recorded in an old potato-packing warehouse in Nottingham, lest you forget for a second this is a solidly English affair.

Dark Thoughts Do You Dream 7″ (Peterwalkee)
Superfluous 7″ here from a most necessary punk band. This is a two-track single from Philadelphia’s Dark Thoughts, and it’s presented in classic “first wave punk rock on Sire Records” fashion, taking a song off their newest album Must Be Nice and pairing it with an exclusive b-side. Cool idea, and while the music is great, boy does it go by fast. Like, really fast – it seems as though “Do You Dream” is barely thirty seconds, but maybe that’s a byproduct of the manic energy and fist-pumping speed the band has given it. A glorious track for sure, unabashed in its Ramones worship but so fun and catchy that any sense of nostalgic homage is brushed off by Dark Thoughts’ winning enthusiasm and attitude. Kinda wish they would’ve just pressed this song three or four times in a row on the a-side – it would’ve saved the trouble of getting up as soon as I’d sat down, feeling more like an exercise program than a record listening session. “It’s Too Late” is a formidable b-side, like a DIY basement version of the hyper-pop Chixdiggit were peddling back in the mid ’90s, but this one moves quickly too. Certainly can’t blame anyone for being a Dark Thoughts completist, as they’ve undeniably attained high-ranking status in the contemporary pop-punk playing field, but for the rest of us who need a fix, might as well follow the advertisement on the back of this 7″ and pick up their newest album instead.

Dendrons Dendrons LP (Earth Libraries)
It’s gotta be extra tricky to be a new band during a global plague, particularly one that seems eager to do all the things a band needs to do in order to get popular: put out an album, promote it, tour on it, socially mediate it. That’s the upward climb that Dendrons are facing, but they’ve got this album out now, so that’s pretty good at least, right? They’re from Chicago and they play an overtly melodic and lush form of propulsive indie-rock. I’m hearing a lot of The Dismemberment Plan here, in the brooding arrangements, broadly-sweeping gestures and emo-ish backdrop. The vocals here are more universally palatable though, soft, thick and kind of plain, certainly none of the “Eddie Vedder on helium” that made you either love or hate The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison. Dendrons could probably attract some Snow Patrol or Muse fans with these songs, although I’m not sure how you reach them besides opening for either group on a European tour. Dendrons are certainly capable and well-polished right out of the gate, so who knows what their future holds, presuming there is still a future for any of us.

DJ Central Passion 12″ (NES)
DJ Central’s “Drive” was my hands-down house anthem of 2017, a truly magical moment brimming with sentimentality. I’ve been chasing that dragon from him ever since, and mostly kinda let down (although last year’s full-length Om Dans has some truly sweet moves – not sure how I forgot to write that one up). Anyway, any prior contentions are forgiven thanks to Passion, a pitch-perfect four-song EP of Danish tech-house. “How” is the perfect opener, as it feels like the early morning hours after a restful night’s sleep. The butterflies are in the backyard, coffee’s on the stove, and DJ Central is getting his gear setup for a productive day. “TGTBT” is appropriately funky and lush, recalling Move D’s successful collaborations with Benjamin Brunn. When “Passion” hits, though, it’s all over – Central found the perfect vocal sample in the two syllables that make up its title, recalling Luomo at peak Vocalcity prowess. I love this cut! Makes me want to drive a factory-fresh Hyundai Sonata through an empty highway tunnel late at night. “Promise” wraps things up, but at this point I’m already completely satiated, and DJ Central seems to have anticipated this, as this final track diddles and dawdles into a soft after-hours formation. After all, the best DJs know what you want before you even know you want it.

Doldrey Invocation Of Doom 12″ (Iron Lung)
No matter what the extreme underground genre Iron Lung is peddling, there’s usually some sort of twist involved: maybe it’s harsher than anything out there, or weirder, or coming from some angle unique to that particular artist’s point of view. I was waiting to locate Doldrey’s distinctive traits, but after spinning this one a few times, it’s almost intensely typical hardcore-tinged death-metal. You’ve got a goat-demon presiding over a horde of skeletons on the cover (attributed to an artist named “Necfrost”), and song titles as basic as “Void”, “Harbinger Of Death” and “Eternal Oblivion”. The music falls comfortably between Possessed, Innumerable Forms and the stompy breakdowns of Hoax, with a big roomy recording that provides an expansive sound at the expense of its overall heaviness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly passable death-core, but we’re all spoiled with exceptionally great bands here in 2020 and Doldrey, while perfectly good, are not one of the ones I’d call great. They’re from Singapore, which certainly casts their music in a different light (bustling hub of underground metal it is not) – it’s gotta be harder to gather a crew of death-metal-loving conspirators there than in any major (or minor) American, European or South American city. Kudos to them for making it happen, but I think I’m gonna pass over Invocation Of Doom in favor of Iron Lung’s other recent slabs.

France Far-Out Far-West LP (Standard In-Fi / Mental Groove)
Vive le France! This drone-rock trio continue their quest to release as many live records as possible; Far-Out Far-West documents a 2008 show in Bordeaux. Theirs is a consistency you can rely on: much like all the other France records I’ve heard, this one is a plodding bass/drums groove (as much as a single note can really groove) with slowly heightening hurdy-gurdy wailing and churning over top. Completely devoted to the “Faust with Tony Conrad” school of drone-rock hypnosis, this record is one-sided, with the full thirty-three minute performance (only one “song” if you wanna call it that) playing from the inside out. While there are highs and lows here, the pacing and tenor of this performance is quite steady, a jam to slowly slide down into, like a hot-tub without the initial temperature shock. I can’t rightly say you need this one if you’ve got any other France records (their OTT double-album is probably the one I’d recommend), but it’s absolutely imperative that you own at least one of these France records. I’ll leave the specifics up to you.

The Futurians Atuan 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I’ve always been fascinated by the type of underground groups who perform rough and unscripted music (err, for the sake of argument let’s call it “music”) and insist on documenting and releasing every last drop of it. It’s like they’re more of a production facility, screening sleeves, copying CD-rs, dubbing tapes and occasionally sending their music out for professional duplication, than they are musical entities focused on the sounds they produce. Fascinating. Dunedin, New Zealand’s The Futurians are certainly one of these outfits, with a dazzling array of releases surely only heard by a select couple dozen humans total, and now they have what might be their highest-profile release to date: a 7″ single on I Dischi Del Barone. Don’t expect any Kiwi-pop hooks here – “Atuan Part One” is a dizzying flurry of atonal bashing, with every effect turned all the way up on whatever the synth, guitar and vocals are running through. “Atuan Part Two” goes further into the unknown with percussive call-and-response that bends my ear in a similar manner to Crash Worship, Foot Village and Menstruation Sisters. Nothing particularly exciting, but I’m not gonna turn down a good lo-fi crash n’ smash for at least a couple go-arounds. Can you believe that they don’t even have Covid in New Zealand anymore? They have lots of Futurians CD-rs instead.

Gulch Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress LP (Closed Casket Activities)
It’s rare in these days of the musical long tail that three unconnected friends mention loving the same new record in a short period of time. It’s even rarer when it’s a hardcore-grind album, which is the case with Gulch’s full-length debut. They’re from southern California, power-violence’s fertile homeland, and they’ve put together a heavy, formidable, moshworthy debut. My scientific analysis has located equal parts Despise You, Napalm Death, Trapped Under Ice and Morbid Angel, a hard-hitting formula that is just unique enough to avoid listener fatigue while also solemnly adhering to traditional hardcore-grind behavior. The vocalist has a raw squawk (not too high-pitched, with the right level of esophagal masochism), and the songs move quick and abruptly but with a sense of cohesion, not just stacks of parts deployed at random. Definitely sounds like the type of band who could share the stage with Xibalba, Healer, Turnstile, Power Trip or Jesus Piece and possibly show them up, depending on the crowd’s mood. And much like the rest of that lineup, even in today’s pitiful economy, these guys know how to shift units: unless my eyes are deceiving me, they sold out of the 1,500 vinyl copies of Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress in a week. Who does that anymore, besides Bruno Mars, David Bowie and The Beatles?

Hero Dishonest Maailma Palaa Taas LP (Peterwalkee / If Society / TrujÄ…ca Fala)
Eighth album from the indefatigable Finnish hardcore-punk unit Hero Dishonest. Where do you go for your eighth album as a hardcore band? Hero Dishonest’s answer seems to be the exact same place they’ve always been, melding ’90s melodic punk with “old-school” American hardcore-punk and Japanese hardcore thrash. They’re past the point of having any chance at being cool, comfortably settled into middle-age and playing music initially crafted for teenage enjoyment, so they just keep doing their own thing exactly in the way that they like to do it. The plus side is that no one could ever accuse Hero Dishonest of being trendy, but the downside is that their music isn’t quite what I’m personally looking for, either. It reminds me at times of SNFU, Kill Your Idols and Judgement, with a lingering sense that they listen to far more Fat Wreck Chords discs (let’s say No Use For A Name, Strung Out and Good Riddance) than the currently-revered hardcore influences (United Mutation, Void, G.I.S.M., Sick Pleasure, you get the picture). Peterwalkee pressed this version specifically for American customers in an edition of one hundred copies, so surely there are ninety-nine of my fellow citizens willing to give Maailma Palaa Taas a welcoming home, right?

Jäverling Meets Ganjaman_72 Chasing Dub / Insane Pissapes 7″ (Höga Nord)
I know what you’re thinking: “Jäverling encountering Ganjaman_72 in the studio? Not in my lifetime!”. Well, much like many other things that seemed utterly preposterous prior to this year, Jäverling did indeed meet up with Ganjaman_72 for a 7″ single, and it’s a beautiful dubbed-out excursion. Like a lazy river ride for your stereo, these two cuts are deep and charming left-field dubs. “Chasing Dub” utilizes what appears to be live bass-guitar and it pushes it through a prismatic lens of effects, percussion rattling off into infinite reverberations. The b-side track title sounds like it should be a new side project of Wolf Eyes and Crazy Doberman, but “Insane Pissapes” is another heavyweight vibe. Digi-dub bass meets clanky percussion meets a rising synth arpeggio that has me feeling like I’m at least a couple inches off the ground, even if I’m lying down. If I had any sort of human social contact planned, I’d be queuing up “Insane Pissapes” to immediately set the mood. Stoned-out Swedish dub is here to stay!

Kong Kong Raw And Primitive 7″ (Gorilla City)
Can you believe this is the first ape-themed Swedish oi record to be reviewed in these pages? It feels long overdue, I’ll tell you that. I can’t quite tell from the record itself the level of gimmickry this band is going for – do they wear ape suits and stuff, or are they merely content with calling their band Kong Kong and going by pseudonyms like B.B. Kong (guitarist) and Megaprimatus Kong (bass)? I may never know. Anyway, they’ve got four songs on here, which sound like 80% Dropkick Murphys and 20% Fucked Up. Bouncy and anthemic, this is oi for ex-skinheads who collect Funko Pops with their children and have more of a nostalgic rather than active connection to punk. Nothing wrong with that – it’s honestly a little unnerving when angry numbskull skinhead teens stay that way into their 40s and 50s – so if there are people looking for some harmless street-punk fun with a wacky gimmick, and they happen to live in Sweden, they’ve probably already ordered a limited Kong Kong t-shirt and 7″ bundle, and I am not one to begrudge anyone for that.

Landing / Headroom split LP (Red Scroll)
If there’s one thing I won’t accept from fans of CT guitar sorceress Kryssi Battalene, it’s complaining that there isn’t anything new to hear – just wait a few minutes and I promise you, some new recording featuring her signature smoldering guitar will materialize. I had never heard Landing before (due to an unfair personal grudge based on the occasional confusion I’d suffer when seeing their name and thinking it said Landed instead), but their music here is a keen fit. Lovely long-term-married-couple indie-psych ambience, like Labradford on a chill-wave diet, or Windy & Carl if they allowed a little trip-hop to seep beneath the blurry tapestry of soothing chords (both guitar-based and synthesizer-derived). If you weren’t relaxed before the record started, you certainly are now, and Battalene’s Headroom maintain your horizontal position with three elegiac psych-rock movements. I have to wonder if they’re showing their hand a little bit by pumping out so much content… their music is soothing and extended, like a drip of sweat on the tip of Neil Young’s nose, but by releasing so much of it at such a furious clip, is it basically as though Headroom And Co. are saying “this is all much too easy for us”? They could at least pretend that some level of frustration and trial-and-error went into their tunes, so that it feels like a special moment of success, like some secret one-of-a-kind gem we must tenderly hold. Chances are that it’s both easy and special, though, and as long as the CT Psych-Rock Association continues to have such a productive run, I hope their faucet remains wide open.

Loss Prevention Shoot To Kill 7″ (11 PM)
Kansas City’s Loss Prevention got together back in November 2019 – what a lucky time to be a new hardcore band! They managed to squeak out this debut 7″ EP with the quickness, and it’s a nice opening statement of immature and youthful hardcore-punk. Theirs is probably the millionth hardcore song with the title of “Vicious Cycle”, but they were bold enough to spell it “Viscious Cycle” on the back cover – why don’t more hardcore bands throw proper spelling out the window? Even bolder, lyrics are included for this song but I swear the singer is only yelling “cycle / cycle / cycle / vicious cycle” for the song’s duration. Why don’t more hardcore bands only sing the title of the song with no other lyrics, too? Loss Prevention is stirring up all sorts of questions in me. These four tunes are in and out fast – they could’ve easily fit on one side of a 7″ – and they stick with a fast, aggro delivery, recalling if not quite emulating aspects of Urban Waste and Headcleaners. No mosh breakdowns, just hardcore speed with a singer who seems to be content screaming as few words as possible. Works for me, and it should work for you, too.

Samara Lubelski Partial Infinite Sequence LP (Open Mouth)
Samara Lubelski continues her journey to the cosmic center of the violin with this new solo album, Partial Infinite Sequence. She’s clearly zoned in for its full (or should I say partial) duration, doling out a hypnotic otherworldly transmission that swells like the tide. In a way, I’d say her technique here resembles early electronic music, as she manages to finagle the same frazzled frequencies Tod Dockstader would’ve used to soundtrack a cartoon character seeing stars after an anvil fell on its head. You can tell it’s violin though, from the wheezing scrapes that lap each other and the physicality of her performance, reminiscent of those great Agencement albums (although far, far less maddening – there’s a definite healing property to Lubelski’s enforced hypnosis here). Towards the end of the second side, it starts to sound like the violin is trying to form words, as though it’s attempting to share some urgent warning from another dimension. It’s definitely out-there stuff, which of course means its appropriate company for the rest of the Open Mouth roster. Partial Infinite Sequence will aid you in your quest to lose or find your mind, depending on exactly what you’re looking for.

Minor Science Second Language LP (Whities)
About six years ago, music critic Angus Finlayson put his money where his mouth is and started making his own music instead of just writing about others. Bold move, although I guess it’s bolder if you suck, because Finlayson’s Minor Science moniker has brought some serious hits over the past few years: peep “Volumes” off Whities 012 and see if you don’t catch your pelvis twitching to the rhythm. Now he’s got his own album, and while it hasn’t been as compelling as prior singles (as is often the case with techno full-lengths), there’s a lot to love here. It’s sophisticated stuff, clearly well-versed in sound design while simultaneously beholden to the power of a sick beat. Finlayson packs a lot into these tunes, often upending tracks (see the full-stop in “Polyglottal”) with a curiosity that’s contagious. It’s like he wants to look under the hood of post-dubstep techno and futz around with things until something new is happening. Very much in line with artists like Joy O, Overmono, Nathan Micay and Batu (not to mention the rest of the ever-growing Whities family), but with his own particular set of predilections. Minor Science likes to rave hard (the pulse-pounding “Gone Rouge” makes me want to hop up to one of those pedestals above the dance-floor and really show off my stuff) while still ensuring there’s no easy read on where the track is headed or by what methods it plans on traveling. High caliber techno that makes you move without holding your hand through the process.

Psychic Graveyard A Bluebird Vacation LP (Deathbomb Arc)
What a nice surprise! I love(d) Arab On Radar, from their bee-in-your-bonnet guitars and frazzled rhythms to their perverse and grumpy demeanor, but I hadn’t done much recently to keep up with the new bands that sprung from their ashes. Made In Mexico were alright if kind of a letdown, and the little I heard from Doomsday Student and The Chinese Stars didn’t stick. I decided on a whim to peep A Bluebird Vacation, this relatively-new group’s second album in two years, and wow, it’s an absolute joy! Scuzzy, pounding noise-rock that’s still very much noise-rock even though I can’t hear any guitars? Live drums, what sounds like three or four menacing oscillators and synths bleating on and off, and the firmly-spoken voice of Eric Paul, down a few registers from his days in Arab On Radar. It’s heavy, gruesome music, recalling my favorite moments of Six Finger Satellite and Pop. 1280 without remotely copying either. Actually, A Bluebird Vacation feels very similar in mood and delivery (a sort of post-screamo minimalist industrial?) to Daughters (with whom they share producer Seth Manchester), and it makes me wonder why Daughters blew up and I haven’t heard anyone I know mention Psychic Graveyard once. Is it because Daughters’ vocalist Alexis Marshall is sexy and Eric Paul decidedly is not? As far as I’m concerned, Paul could write circles around Marshall – his lyrics here are particularly curious, memorable and darkly amusing, and they seem to flow naturally from him, as they always have. Daughters’ endless touring schedule surely plays a significant factor, whereas I get the impression that Psychic Graveyard are more of a hobby, less of a “going for it” affair. Now that we can’t go out anywhere anymore though, perhaps the odds are slowly tipping in favor of Psychic Graveyard.

R.M.F.C. Reader 7″ (Anti Fade)
From the cover art, I had assumed the band was actually called “R.M.F.C. Reader”, which seems excessive as far as band names go, but worry not – it’s just R.M.F.C., and it stands for Rock Music Fan Club. It’s on Anti Fade, so I knew it had to have some cool guitars and feature at least one person lurking within New South Wales, Australia, and I was right on both counts. It’s apparently the solo project of a teenager named Buz Clatworthy (please let that be the real name his parents stuck him with), and I’m impressed, seeing as all the instruments are performed with confidence and skill. “Reader” starts off with a nod to the nerd-pogo mania of Liquids or Erik Nervous, but the verses cool down with a taut groove that has me thinking someone slipped Young Clatworthy a Total Control disc during his freshman year. Certainly fits right in with the stuff Neck Chop and Digital Regress are peddling, and as worthy of your ear as any Ammerican act that home-records their solo-project punk rock. “Faux Freaks” is on the flip, and it’s a little more traditionally first-wave punk sounding, as if The Vibrators or The Adverts were actually just one lonely teenage boy surrounded by people on their phones all day. Unlike many of the other lo-fi solo punk records I’ve been hearing, there’s a subtle sophistication in the songwriting here that has me curious what else might come from the R.M.F.C. once they are allowed out past midnight.

Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb Fake Nature LP (Big Neck)
So we’ve got one member in a gold snake-print bodysuit, two in funny animal masks, and a third in a bunny mask, who’s pictured while gnawing a studded carrot (?) in multiple images. You’ve got my attention… do go on! Unfortunately, the slapdash costuming is where the fun ends for me with Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb’s sophomore album, Fake Nature. Is there still an audience for this stuff? It’s like, semi-jokey pop-punk with a serious deficiency of memorable hooks, riffs, choruses, or anything else that makes pop-punk fun and catchy. It sounds like the early ’00s albums by bands like The Queers and Screeching Weasel – everyone’s least favorite albums by those once celebrated, now disgraced acts – with maybe a subtle splash of flame-tattoo garage-y attitude. It doesn’t even strike me as particularly fun music, and they’re all wearing wacky masks for chrissakes! Even so, I suppose I was fine to tolerate Fake Nature, that is until the chorus of “Perverse Mortgage” hit, featuring the most egregious Fat Mike vocal imitation I’ve heard in forever. I’d say it’s like nails on a chalkboard, but I could actually go for a recording of nails on a chalkboard, whereas corny pop-punk by adults who should know better is what truly gets me shuddering in anguish.

Ulla Tumbling Towards A Wall LP (Experiences Ltd.)
I’m not immune to curiosity over the most hyped underground electronic record of the year, particularly in a year when there is little else to do besides listen to music at home. Ulla’s Tumbling Towards A Wall has been out for a few months now, but scarce to come by, at least until somewhat recently, presumably due to a repress (although like pretty much everything about Ulla, confirmed details are scant). Gotta say, this one lives up to the internet thirst, as it’s a captivating album of nuanced electronics, rich with healing properties amid plenty of left-field sound construction, forever to remain mostly unidentified. The equation here seems to be one part Autechre, a dash of Mille Plateaux’s seminal soundscaping, a pinch of Pendant’s skyward lo-fi drones, a hefty spoonful of Mike Cooper’s ambient-exotica and a Pop Ambient finishing glaze. Very hazy, mysterious sounds, delivered with both rhythmic pulses and beatless drifting. The flow here is pretty perfect, as drone-y moments give way to slow-motion grooves and back again; Ulla expertly weaves organic and synthetic sounds until it becomes impossible to tell which is which. “Leaves And Wish” is a particularly sumptuous groove: dystopian Balaeric, perhaps? It’s mixed for maximum impact, with swells of bass that strike at just the right frequency; jealousy from any average dub-techno unit is certainly warranted. I’m far from the first person to say it, but Tumbling Towards A Wall is a year-end contender, on my list and probably yours, too.

Upsammy Zoom 2xLP (Dekmantel)
Upsammy rocked my world with her Words R Inert EP back in 2018 (can you remember 2018, because I cannot). I’ve been chasing that thrill with her music ever since, and she hasn’t skimped on sharing it – since then she’s dropped another 12″, a full-length, and now another full-length, this one titled in homage to the only way we can see friends anymore: Zoom. Across these two 12″s, Upsammy doles out more of her warm, percussive IDM. She continues to craft effervescent pads and chiming tones with precision engineering here, very much in line with Aphex Twin’s Syro if a little less dense and a little more restrained. “Subsoil” is a pretty good example of the Upsammy sound, wielding beats straight out of Drexciya’s aquatic dreamworld, the bleepy-bloops of some classic Warp Records IDM and a tender melodic groove. At times, it’s as if Upsammy figured out a way to harness the split-second moment of an ice-cold can of flavored seltzer (coconut-lime, I’m thinking) being cracked open, using that refreshing crack as the center of her rhythms. Other moments get even warmer and fuzzier, with kindhearted synths that recall some of Dekmantel’s cozier artists like Fatima Yamaha and even Juju & Jordash. Not saying this one will change your outlook on life, but it’s a refreshing, energizing album with all the healing benefits that prismatic breakbeat techno can offer.

Vladislav Delay, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare 500-Push-Up LP (Sub Rosa)
Helluva 2020 for Vladislav Delay – he drops his first solo album in a number of years and it ends up being a harsh power-electronics divergence from the presumed Vladislav Delay sound, and now he’s got a new collaborative album with legendary dub duo Sly & Robbie. For this one (it’s not the first time Vladislav Delay has worked with Sly & Robbie), he went to Kingston and acted as a fly on the wall for a handful of the legendary production duo’s jam sessions, recording not only the drums, bass and vocals but the conversations between takes and the room itself. He then took the tapes back to Finland and gave them the expected Vladislav Delay treatment, warping these dub riddims with wild effects, misty dub echos and various tricky mixing techniques to which I’m not privy. I was reading a recent interview with Vladislav Delay, in which he shared his dislike of repetitive, locked-in-place loops, and from the sound of 500-Push-Up I’d confirm that he means it – these tracks bop and lurch themselves forward, but never in a rigid groove or synthetically looped format. Even when digitally altered and transformed, the playful humanity of Sly & Robbie’s production shines through, organic and genial.

Days Of A Quiet Sun compilation LP (Feel It)
At first glance, I was dismayed to think that Feel It has gotten into the old-guy-reissue game, music meant for ex-punks, balding and bearded and sitting in their recliner listening to the music of their parents’ generation. I looked a little closer, though, and I think I get it: they’ve always had a sharp sense of regional pride, and this compilation is a selection of remastered cuts produced by Richmond, VA’s Martin Gary between 1966 and 1968. It also doesn’t hurt that these tracks are all pretty darn palatable, ranging in styles similar to The 13th Floor Elevators, The MC5, Motown, The Doors, Northern Soul… it seems most counter-cultural rock sounds of the late ’60s passed through Gary’s studio. I’m assuming that like me, you haven’t heard any of this stuff, from what must’ve been one of the dozens of groups named The Barracudas in the previous century to The Hazards and Duck Baker. “Hippie Queen” by The Bosom Blues Band is a particularly refreshing blues-rock jam, threatening to knock your Mount Carmel records off the shelf. As it turns out, Days Of A Quiet Sun does a great job showcasing some of the forgotten history of late ’60s garage-bands in the vicinity of Richmond, DC and their countless suburbs. Try as I might, there’s no way to hate on this one!