Cindy I’m Cindy LP (World Of Paint)
Electronic artists sure have been obsessed with the intersection of pop stardom and plastic artifice over the past few years, often leading to the creation of mysterious mononymous guises, almost always female. You’ve got Poppy, you’ve got Sophie (who I guess has been confirmed as a living person at this point), and among others, now you’ve got Cindy, too. It’s the work of Kai Hugo (aka Palmbomen) and vocalist Blue LoLãn, who is amazingly credited as a “filmmaker, actress, model and health expert” on Instagram, a chunky stew of influencer talents. They did a song together called “Cindy Savalas” on a Palmbomen album, and Cindy (the “group” I guess?) is an extension of that, creating this fairly immersive world of a lonely heartbroken teenage girl’s pale-pink bedroom circa 1986. The music is aerosol-based synth-pop, a very light and dreamy form of electronic pop balladry and occasional dance grooves. Sounds like Maria Minerva on Adderall, or one of those recent Chromatics lineups in a narcoleptic haze. To be honest, it was the packaging that lured me into buying this one: the LP comes with two posters, a booklet, and a tissue signed, lipstick-kissed and tear-stained by “Cindy Savalas”, complete with certificate of authenticity (would hate to have purchased a bootleg by mistake). Sheesh, not even Prurient puts this much maniacal detail into his limited-edition releases! Cindy made videos for some of these songs too, which feature great weirdo spoken-word intros, as if Cindy was a newly-discovered best friend of Sarah Palmer who also died under mysterious circumstances. Much to my disappointment, those voice-overs aren’t on the actual record, which really pushed it to a new dimension of dedicated immersion in their fictional world. Maybe you could get by just fine watching the videos on YouTube, but I dunno, this tear-stained napkin might come in handy someday.

The Cowboy Feel The Chi Releasing From You 7″ flexi (Feel It)
I love that flexis have been back in action for a while now, after kind of dipping out somewhere in the early ’00s, but can I share a quick gripe? Why must they all be square… doesn’t the technology still exist to cut them into the shape of an actual record? Am I the only one bothered by this? Yes? Okay, I won’t mention it again. Anyway, you gotta love Feel It, and this new one-sided, three-track EP from Cleveland’s The Cowboy is a cool punk curio. These songs move in and out pretty quickly, more of the noisy apathetic garage-punk we’ve come to expect from The Cowboy (singular). These songs in particular, while enjoyably choppy, almost veer closer to indie-rock, as if they’re slowly inching away from Homostupids and towards Times New Viking (but still have quite a long way to go). Honestly, this is probably my least favorite of all the various bands these guys have going, and not because The Cowboy is bad but because the others (like Pleasure Leftists and Vanilla Poppers for example) are really quite exceptional. None of their songs have ever really grabbed me, but they seem to have a low-energy / low-effort vibe that might be the whole point. If it’s good enough for Feel It, though, then I suppose it should be good enough for me too.

Gen Pop PPM66 LP (Post Present Medium)
Following two great 7″ singles, Olympia’s Gen Pop still somehow feel like a well-kept secret. I’m thinking it could be because they’re not easily filed in any particular sub-genre, but that’s what makes them so great! Listening through the first side of this full-length debut, I’m reminded of artists as cool and wide-ranging as The UV Race, Cockney Rejects, Richard Hell, Swell Maps, Rogers Sisters and The Vibrators. Whew! There’s so much cool punk out there to sound like, and Gen Pop cover more than their fair share of its rich and fertile territory. It’s great, but I think I prefer the b-side’s velocity, with tracks like “Personal Fantasy” that zig and zag in a manner similar to The Middle Class, Rhino 39 or some other early punk band that verged on hardcore’s speed. “Easy” rips like classic RF7, too! I realize I’ve listed like a hundred bands already, which isn’t necessarily helpful, but Gen Pop really tilt my brain on its axis. I can’t help but marvel at the various sonic similarities they conjure, a veritable highlight reel of early punk / proto-hardcore music, sung with inexplicably non-American accents (although I certainly can’t blame anyone in this day and age for covering up whatever Americanness they can). It’d be a great record if it came in a plain white DJ sleeve with no information, but the outer bag is silkscreened, and the insert features both lyrics and an elegant preamble on Gen Pop’s intentions and reflections, perhaps the finest piece of writing I’ve read in a punk record’s liner notes maybe ever. If you haven’t noticed Gen Pop before, now seems like an appropriate time!

Gooch Caught Up In You 12″ (Specials Worldwide)
Seems like every hip zoomer is dressing like a ’90s sitcom parody these days, which is my snap-judgment of Gooch on the cover of his Caught Up In You EP (presuming that’s him pictured and not Oliver Tree’s cousin or something). I suppose I understand it and don’t understand it, but one thing I do understand is soft-rock-infused modern dance music, which Gooch deploys here with comfort and grace. Think Phoenix being produced by Caribou, M83 visiting Ibiza for the summer, or John Mayer laying down some sweet licks on a Prins Thomas track. The live instrumentation pushes these songs to a more palatable and believable dimension, particularly as all the players are tight (the bassist runs the neck with ease) and the songs snap into motion, allowing Gooch to repeat mindless lyrics like “I like this groove / you like this groove” and me to not mind in the slightest. I picked this up because Yu Su has a remix on here, which takes “This Groove” into a choppy, dubby direction, reconfiguring that smooth jam into a trippy abstraction. Is it weird that I’d rather just hear Gooch’s smooth Balaeric pop-rock originals instead? He makes vanilla taste so good.

Knock Over City It’s Rad, Dude. 7″ (Constant Disappointment)
This is exactly where pop-punk has gone over the past decade, right? Taken over by burly dudes with beards and Chris Farley’s demeanor, dirty flannels over band t-shirts, bedsheets perpetually unlaundered? It’s not that this is a brand new genre of dude, the friendly party-animal-but-a-kid-at-heart punk guy, it’s that they’ve pretty much taken over. I had to look up pictures of Knock Over City after listening to this new 7″ EP, and I’ll be damned if they don’t precisely look the part. Guys who look like this certainly like to play music like this, a style that borrows from thick n’ heavy ’90s alternative slacker-rock (bands like Weezer, Wax and Nada Surf) and dips into semi-screamy No Idea style pop-punk emo, strongly reliant on the big chorus or sing-along hook. I’m thinking of White Reaper, Jeff Rosenstock and Diarrhea Planet, bands who seem to go from self-releasing a 7″ in the beginning of the year to playing on Conan by the end. Before you mistake my reading of this scene for jealousy or dismissal, I want to clarify that I totally get why this stuff is popular – if the hooks are there, the kids will love “whoa-ah-oh” pop-punk songs ’til the end of time – and big silly hairy slacker guys not afraid to take off their shirts and belly-flop into the pool will always offer some spark of joy, even in our otherwise depressing world. Every college town deserves at least one band halfway decent at this sort of thing, and Lowell, MA’s Knock Over City certainly make the grade.

Martin Savage Gang Now We’re Rollin’ LP (Human Audio Recordings)
I sit here in a mix of befuddlement and admiration when it comes to Swedish garage-rockers. Why do they love it so much? Did The Hives resound so strongly as to affect every young Swedish music fan in the two decades that followed? Seems like I get a new Swedish garage submission at least once a month, this one coming from Stockholm’s Martin Savage Gang. They might be the most generic of the recent bunch, strongly adhering to the Mummies / Rolling Stones / Johnny Thunders school of thought. That classic organ warbles over driving and familiar garage-rock progressions, with a guitarist-vocalist (presumably Martin Savage himself) who jumps and shouts. One song is even called “NYC”, with lyrics that seem to be Meet Me In The Bathroom fan-fiction. Other song titles include “Hot In The City”, “Dead And Gone” and “Back To The Nite”, which encapsulate this band’s derivative feel-good party attitude better than my limited English ever could. If this is your thing, Martin Savage Gang will make you happy, but it really has to be precisely your thing, and probably your only thing.

Mosquitoes Minus Objects 12″ (Ever/Never)
The new Mosquitoes EP has finally arrived from Ever/Never, Covid-based delays be damned. Since their very first 7″ EP, I’ve been enjoying this English group’s curious experiments, loosely structured around the holy trinity of guitar/bass/drums, and my enthusiasm has only strengthened over time. This new one, a nine-“song” EP, skitters and scatters with the best of ’em. The general description of the group hasn’t changed – think a jazzy Sightings spending a week in This Heat’s Cold Storage studio with exclusively low-volume amplifiers – but the various crevasses and crannies from which their sounds creep are as fascinating and palatable as ever. Through much of Minus Objects, the guitar takes up negative space, like a faint odor of burning wires in a clandestine laboratory. The percussion is directionless and propulsive for the most part, exhibiting agitation and energy without ever moving from point A to point B. Last but not least, I’d say the bass-guitar is most responsible for Mosquitoes’ signature sound, as it usually sounds suspiciously like a normal bass, one that finds slippery runs up and down the neck, buried deep in the haunted gap between Charles Mingus and Rancid’s Matt Freeman. In this time of miserable fear and uncertainty, there’s an eerie calm to Minus Objects, like a yoga session in a scrapyard under the dark orange skies of San Francisco. “Minus Object Four” is a deep meditative chant, but you can still smell the poisonous dust on their breath.

Bill Nace & Graham Lambkin The Dishwashers LP (Open Mouth)
If you’re a fan of either of these gents, and I’m sure many of you are, how could you not be excited for this one? It’s one of those rare situations where you’re awaiting a new record that you know is gonna be good, but you also have no idea what it’ll actually sound like. Those were my expectations, at least, and The Dishwashers has certainly exceeded them, a full-length that’s at once sweetly charming and confoundingly inscrutable. Recorded in London, The Dishwashers carries more of Lambkin’s environmental distortions than Nace’s electric guitar noise, but seeing as Lambkin’s aesthetic carries a stronger gravitational pull, sucking everything else into it, I’m not surprised. This leads to meticulously edited incidental sounds (the local birds and automobiles of London) as well as extended cymbal drones(?), bowed strings(??), a friendly Om chanting (two takes, in fact), unintelligible mutterings and acoustic guitar actually played in the manner one would normally play an acoustic guitar. Though there’s no electric guitar noise at all, at least from what I can deduce, Nace seems perfectly at home, picking tasteful acoustic chords around Lambkin’s various rustlings and improper microphone placements. “Egg Shell Moon” might encapsulate their dual approach best, as it features a long and tender guitar improvisation, which is then heard in what seems to be an immediate playback off one of their iPhones, allowing the listener to be joined by Nace and Lambkin, not as active participants but eager listeners as well. Paradoxically, it’s a record that’s all dull moments, but never a dull moment. Recommended!

Narrow Head 12th House Rock LP (Run For Cover)
Next time you go to your mom’s house, you can unpack your oversized grunge t-shirts from high school and throw them on eBay for a few hundred bucks, but you might be more tempted to start wearing them again if Narrow Head’s 12th House Rock hits you the way it hit me. The Texan group basically replicates Siamese Dream with stunning accuracy, filling it out with pitch-perfect guitar grooves borrowed directly from Hum, Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate. It’s like an alternate world almost, one where Smashing Pumpkins immediately followed Siamese Dream with another album that sounded just like it, free from the overblown grandeur of Mellon Collie. It’s a pretty brazen move, this level of blatant stylistic allegiance, but I love the hell out of Siamese Dream, and it’s been a total pleasure to hear this relatively new band replicate its compelling sound, right down to those high-wire guitar solos that streak across the sky. Of course, it’s not purely a Pumpkins’ affair – compare the intro of “Stuttering Stanley” to Jimmy Eat World’s “Clarity” for example – and there are moments when I’m almost certain Dave Grohl is chanting “the best!” in the vocal booth next door, but perhaps that collaboration is still pending. The perfect soundtrack for attempting skateboard flip-tricks in empty parking lots with your friends, pre-driving age, pre-discovery of underground punk, although I’m surely projecting a little bit (okay, a lot). It’s such an odd feeling when something new immediately transports you back.

Obnox Savage Raygun 2xLP (Ever/Never)
On the first inner sleeve to be pulled out of this double-LP gatefold, Obnox’s twenty releases are pictured, dating back to 2011. That’s eleven albums and nine singles, and quite an achievement, all from the tirelessly-working Lamont Thomas who must’ve written, what, almost 200 songs across all of them? I’ve identified at least eight of these records that I’ve heard, all of which present a wide range of sounds, from blown-out molten garage to loop-based hip-hop, all of which feels distinctively “Obnox”. This new collection, Savage Raygun, presents more of the same, which is good news for anyone who doesn’t have enough Obnox in their lives already. There’s still plenty of blown-out garage-punk, but I’d say that takes somewhat of a backseat (or perhaps “rides shotgun” is more appropriate) to the beats, of which no fewer than five producers are credited. It goes from dusty jazz-looped boom-bap to aggro rap-rock territory and back again, with moments that have me imagining Moodymann running through the streets with his three-piece suit on fire. Racism is the main target in the accompanying artwork and notes, as well as the songs, although with any Obnox recording, an emphasis on his love of weed as well as copious amounts of braggadocio (and rightfully so) pad it out. If you or I were to attempt the equation of “garage-punk + hip-hop”, it’d surely fall apart in a foolish mess, but Obnox weaves common threads through all of his varied approaches (mostly via his recognizable voice and rippling sonic hiss), as if his methodology for making noisy, swagger-y music was the only way to do it.

Pi$$er Crushed Down To Paste LP (Cimex / Kibou / Amok / TNS / SPHC)
One thing that I love about old British HC guys is their willingness to be silly. There’s a very particular strain of that in English punks over fifty, guys who were in legendary and respected groups in the ’80s who are now content to go by names like Dr. Shitewanker and wear a monocle as a gag, and there’s something to that eternal taking of the piss that I find endearing. Pi$$er is a pretty good example, just check this resume: ex-members of Doom, Anti-Cimex, Sore Throat and a dozen other (and lesser) groups across the past three-or-more decades. And now, they’re doing this band, which is heavy anthemic d-beat… with a twist. The twist being that a saxophone is played nearly continuously, either mimicking the guitar riff or adding an additional harmony to the tried-and-true d-beat hardcore sound. It can’t help but slightly resemble Voodoo Glow Skulls to me, what with the moderately-fast tempo and heavy guitars and honking horn, but I guess it’s not particularly a bad thing? If you’re anti-horn, just forget about Crushed Down To Paste right now, but if you’ve got a decent tolerance (or maybe perhaps even enjoy horns in hardcore?) Pi$$er are pretty fun, particularly on a song like “Problem”, which sounds like classic Doom thrust into a wild three-ring circus. It almost seems unfair to the guys in Chaos UK that none of them were invited to join Pi$$er, but they’re probably working on their own trombone-centric hardcore side-project as I speak.

Ray Gun Ray Gun 7″ (It’s Trash!)
Usually, 2010 doesn’t seem that long ago, but then I’ll hear a band like Ray Gun and remember that bash n’ crash lo-fi garage-noise hasn’t been in the spotlight for quite a while now. I realize the cycle of nostalgia is ever shortening, but I’m in the mood for any band that isn’t more god-forsaken gothic dream-pop, and this three-song single from Nashville’s Ray Gun is hitting me nicely. “Lunkhead” sounds like Homostupids at the wrong speed, care of the deep bass, relaxed (yet thrashy) tempo and general noisy escapades, certainly befitting the title. “Seance” feels more like a classic Mayyors-style race to the bottom, not as powerful as Mayyors were (no one is) but a fun romp nonetheless. “I Am The Rat” gets the b-side to itself, and it’s their finest moment, sounding like a Dangerhouse 45 skipping in place before lurching into a closing-time sweep of the floor, pushing the crushed cans and cigarette butts into a pile. Guitarist Wes Salton even finds time to shred out a solo, as if to demonstrate that playing the guitar isn’t simply an aggressive release, it can also be fun. Based on their Nashville residence, I’m betting that Jack White either absolutely loves or hates Ray Gun – there simply isn’t room for anything in-between.

Shifting It Was Good LP (Permafrost / Constant Disappointment / Gabu / Whosbrain / Assos’Y’Song)
Without a doubt, the allure of writing and performing disaffected post-hardcore music has reached all corners of the first-world. That certainly includes Dublin, Ireland, the home of Shifting, who deliver their menacing, occasionally-mathy / occasionally-noisy rock music as though it were bad news. The bass provides a morse-code pulse, the drums lock into unsettling formations, the guitar scrapes and cuts in and out, and whoever’s doing the vocals (I can’t find credits anywhere – could be more than one member?) speaks, screams or grunts. I like it best on the songs that are subdued and quieter, like b-side opener “Big Bottle” – the rhythm recalls the off-kilter swing of US Maple, and the spoken vocals are so deadpan that I can’t determine if they’re serious or seriously kidding. It certainly fits in line with playfully antagonistic groups like My Disco and Harvey Milk, whereas much of the rest of the record can feel like a diet Metz, or something in the more traditional Fugazi / Shellac orbit – good if not particularly noteworthy. It’s not a style that is lacking in records to choose from, after all, so while It Was Good was good, I am hopeful their next release will be great.

Sky Furrows Sky Furrows LP (Tape Drift / Skell Recordings / Philthy Rex)
Albany’s Sky Furrows are a newish band of oldish people playing an underrated form of music: talking post-punk. You know the style, where the band just kinda cycles through the same looping chord changes with nary a chorus or bridge, and the singer rants their miseries and recites their poetry over top. My two personal faves are Moss Icon and No Trend (in the form of “Teen Love”), and lucky for me, both of those specific styles are emulated here. “Ensenada” is in Moss Icon mode, with a mournful bass groove and spindly guitar squeaks leading vocalist Karen Schoemer to delve deep into her third eye as she inventories a dusty fever dream. “Foreign Cities” is the upbeat rocker befitting “Teen Love”, or maybe even Saccharine Trust’s most artful moments on Paganicons. Or maybe I’m only reminded of Saccharine Trust because of “On Alyosha”, its lyrics mentioning SST Records and Raymond Pettibon by name. For this sorta thing to work, the lyrics have to be powerful enough and the music has to support them, and I’d say Sky Furrows succeed on both counts, although I prefer Schoemer’s more esoteric musings to her conversational banter, though it all works. Come to think of it, my favorite talking-punk tune is probably “Murdering The Brady Bunch” by Deathrage, have you heard that one? Sky Furrows, if you’re reading this, and ever needed a song to cover…

Special Interest The Passion Of LP (Thrilling Living / Night School)
If underground punk had a hotly-anticipated album this summer, it’s gotta be Special Interest’s sophomore debut, care of Thrilling Living (and Night School across the pond). I’ve heard nothing but good things about this New Orleans group, but had yet to actually hear them until The Passion Of arrived. Apparently their live show is unbeatable (and there’s nary a more photogenic punk band around these days), so whenever that becomes a thing we can do again, they’re first on my list. After spinning The Passion Of a few times, it becomes clear how they could be the rare group to outshine both Limp Wrist and Boy Harsher in respective opening slots. Theirs is a demented, misshapen techno-punk that surely propagates sweaty dancing like mold on month-old fruit. My favorite cuts are the ones that hit the hardest, like “Homogenized Milk” and “Don’t Kiss Me In Public”. The programmed drums, choppy guitars and churning bass of “Don’t Kiss Me In Public” strongly recall Men’s Recovery Project’s later material – hold up MRP’s “Frank And Judy” or “Vote Fraud On The Moon Base” and it’s practically a mirror image some twenty years apart. Not all the tracks carry that same energy, however, and there are times where I find myself drifting, surely due to the vinyl’s quiet (or at least not-loud) mastering and the tendency of the lower frequencies to blend together. (And while I’m at it, the vocals could’ve benefited from a boost in the mix, but please, someone pull me out of the producer’s chair already.) “Street Pulse Beat” is another standout, spacious and tuneful and sounding like it could’ve been a Yeah Yeah Yeahs stadium hit, of all things. Of course, Special Interest will be blasting it in basements instead, and I hope to find myself in one of those eventually, sporting my black PVC catsuit with my back pressed firmly against the wall.

Spyroids Spyroids 7″ (SPHC)
Just when weird-punk outsiders The Coltranes started to get cooking, it seems they’ve broken up, or at least taken some time out to exist as Spyroids instead. Like much of the SPHC roster, this EP is immature and un-trendy music made by punks who will never headline a fly-in destination fest (assuming those someday return). Save for the snarling, cartoon-villain vocalist, Spyroids are completely synthetic, utilizing synths and drum machines for the entirety of their productions. They’re still writing punk songs though, just bleeped out via keyboards programmed to Euro-trance settings. Sounds like Digital Octopus covering FNU Ronnies, or Gag given an Atom & His Package makeover (how does Gag & His Package sound?). Music made by weird angry punk nerds who are somehow both annoying wimps and a little scary and intimidating, depending on the time of day. If it goes on much longer where we can’t see each other or do things together, I can see more and more punk bands turning inward like this, becoming as synthetic and disturbed as Spyroids.

Tommy & The Commies Hurtin’ 4 Certain 7″ (Slovenly)
Can’t help but get the impression that Ontario-based punk rockers Tommy & The Commies chose their name based on its irreverent rhyme scheme, not because they have any sort of actual Communist affiliation. It’s funny, because I feel like most of the modern-day punk bands I enjoy are far more likely to actually espouse Marxist beliefs than shoot for a goofy pun (although the truly exceptional ones manage to do both). Whatever the case, Tommy & The Commies insist on having a good time, which is possibly more prevalent in Canada than anywhere else in North America at the moment. Their songs certainly help matters, as this trio offers a tightly-wound, speedy power-pop sound that gets as close to classic Buzzcocks as anyone can without directly covering “Orgasm Addict”. It’s a clear homage, but they are such technical experts (and Tommy Commy has the perfect sour-sweet sneer) that tapping one’s toe (or ramping up into a pogo) seems downright inevitable. I know there’s a market for this, the well-beyond-teenage crowd that still wears leopard-print creepers and skinny ties to shows and host college-radio shows called Modern Kicks and Shake Some Action (who Tommy & The Commies will dutifully re-tweet when documented in one of their playlists). If those folks get wind of Tommy & The Commies, capitalism won’t stand a chance.

Totally Cracked Bala Boi Biblia 7″ (SPHC)
Totally Cracked is the result of “seven dudes in São José Dos Campos taking twenty-four hours out of their wild BBQ party weekend to spontaneously jam out some hardcore”, which sounds like a dream come true in our extended period of isolation. I get the impression that the personnel involved play in other bands, both Brazilian and American, as Bala Boi Biblia takes aim at both Bolsonaro and Trump, two sides of the same turd. While these are definitely rudimentary hardcore-punk tunes that could be written, rehearsed and recorded in a span of a few hours, the drummer clearly knows their way around traditional fast-core drumming, the guitarist stabs in and out with glee, and the bassist could be playing the same messy bass-line for every song, the tone is so muddy and raw. Which, in this instance, is of course a net positive. I’m reminded of bands like Mellakka, Kaaos and Rupture (sonically, not lyrically, speaking), which is interesting as the promo writeup references traditional American acts like Minor Threat and Circle Jerks as inspiration – neither of those groups ever got as dirty and panicky as Totally Cracked does here. I certainly love hardcore-punk as a thoughtfully-considered form of raging energy, but I also love it as a social pastime among friends, which is clearly Totally Cracked’s lane. Let’s hope their contributions here help de-crack the world by some small margin.

The Umbrellas Maritime E.P. 7″ (Syncro System)
Syncro System was responsible for those radiant Strange Passage records, so being unfamiliar with The Umbrellas I trusted some sort of sweet indie-pop bliss to come wafting out of my speakers like a friend’s warm greeting. Turns out my assumptions are occasionally correct, as these four tunes are picture-perfect indie-pop tunes, exactly how we’d want them. The drums are bright and grooving, the guitars chime like wedding bells, and the vocals are tender and close. Two Umbrellas share vocal duties, “Matt F” and “Morgan S”, and they compliment each other nicely, presumably Morgan with a hushed tunefulness redolent of Rose Melberg and Matt with more of a restrained murmur, coffee on his breath but smelling pretty good, actually. While this style of music can often feel sorry for itself (and I admit, I love it when it does), these songs are fairly optimistic and uplifting, falling somewhere between Go Sailor and Another Sunny Day if I had to aim for a target. Vocals aside, “Visions” recalls the moodier b-side of the first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album, a record that I think I’ll go put on right now, actually. Why? Because The Umbrellas put me in a good mood, that’s why!

Vestals Holy Origin LP (Dust Editions)
What do you get if it’s dream-pop without the pop? Vestals’ Holy Origin is as good of an answer I can think of, a barely-there spritz of shoegaze perfume, both intoxicating and vaporous. It’s the solo project of a woman named Lisa McGee, and these songs take a deep dip into dubbed-out shoegaze effects, with McGee’s resonant vocals used as both melodic leads and percussive additives (check the slippery “Pale Lips”, which sounds like Hooverphonic in Augustus Pablo’s studio). Strong Grouper vibes too, although in an entirely different outfit – swap Grouper’s rustic, self-enforced solitude for a new-age 4AD cosmetic sheen. Maybe if Grouper moved to LA and joined a macrobiotic cult, her music would come closer to that of Holy Origin. It’s easy for this record to fade into the background, by virtue of its incessant sparseness, but if you can find the means to focus on it (which I have, albeit not every time), Vestals’ timid beauty reveals itself. I’d try listening to it while taking a long mineral bath, but I’d permanently prune up before ever thinking about getting out.

Vintage Crop Serve To Serve Again LP (Anti Fade)
No shortage of cool punk happening in Melbourne and surrounding estates, particularly not on Anti Fade’s watch. This is Vintage Crop’s third album, and it feels very much in sync with a small handful of like-minded punk bands operating today. I don’t think there’s a name for this particular style (closer to egg than chain, but truly neither) – it features taut post-punk guitar lines, simplistic drum patterns and a vocalist who purposely sounds like some hapless television announcer, insinuating that we’re all in on the joke together because of how phony their pleasant disposition is. Uranium Club are probably the progenitors of the style (although roots can surely be traced back to DEVO and Flipper), but Cleveland groups like Knowso and Perverts Again share similar traits, as do San Francisco’s Toyota. The strongest common thread seems to be a lyrical focus on banal domesticity: songs about walking your dog, watching Netflix, going grocery shopping, paying the cell phone bill and the like, all presented with a defeated cheerfulness that’s a by-product of our sad late-stage capitalist society. Whew! I’d say I’m generally a supporter of this aesthetic (at least until it becomes too watered-down by the eventual copycats), and Vintage Crop do it well, bopping across their charming and well-choreographed post-punk songs, sounding like a pop-punk Crucifucks on “Streetview” and reminding me of Henge Beat-era Total Control when the synths show up on the title track (a title referencing a local supermarket named Piedimonte’s trademark slogan, which brings us back to the theme of domestic inspiration). If only Vintage Crop had written “Smoko” instead, they’d be moving out of their suburban bungalows and into big-city high-rise condos, but few of us are so lucky.

Violent Change Violent Change 7″ (Sloth Mate Productions)
San Fran’s Violent Change are at it again, this time with a new four-song EP. If you’re not already familiar, they sound like the exact opposite of what you might presume a band reviewed in these pages called Violent Change to sound like – this is lo-fi, brittle, disorienting indie-pop that offers no help to any listener trying to sort things out. I’d probably hurt myself worse moshing to Violent Change than Side By Side, in fact. Anyway, “Squandered” kicks it off with an easy groove, recalling a garbled tape copy of Ariel Pink’s Before Today, and it’s followed by the pastoral “Production Life”, which sounds like Eat Skull covering Flying Burrito Brothers under the instruction of Jandek. Appropriate title, as the production is what makes Violent Change so consistently distinct. You can hear everything, but only if you squint hard enough, a sort of sonic Magic Eye painting that can easily recede into white noise without the proper focus. Those a-side tunes were in stereo, and the b-side duo are in mono, what surely must’ve been a considered choice and not a last resort. “Open Space” and “Dreary Example” are two other cute pop tunes decimated by their lo-fi qualities. On “Open Space”, the drums are more of a feeling than a sound, or maybe they really only played a kick-drum on this one? “Dreary Example” offers a bit more clarity, even though the vocals are smeared beyond recognition. If it’s too obliterated-sounding for you to enjoy, feel free to listen to literally any other band, as Violent Change continue to wear their obliteration with pride.

Wild City Mindless Dolls LP (no label)
Seems to me like it’d be cooler if the band was called Mindless Dolls and the album was called Wild City, but it’s not my call now is it? This Melbourne group went the DIY route on their debut album, so they can do whatever they want. And rightfully so, as Mindless Dolls is quite good! It’s a classically-informed take on smoky punk rock, and for as by-the-books as it might be, they get a lot of mileage out of the equation. I’m hearing almost equal parts of The Saints, Redd Kross, The Scientists and Wipers here, and seeing as Wild City secured a lively and raw (but not lo-fi) recording, and know how to write their own songs, I’d say it’s a winner. There are moments that remind me that this group must surely be fans of Eddy Current, but mostly it’s more traditional and dare-I-say darker than anything Eddy Current ever offered. “It’s For Your Own Good” stands out too, recalling The Gun Club’s swampy punk-noir, the sort of thing that necessitates wearing opaque sunglasses indoors. I’d imagine that if Wild City remain without a label to call their own much longer, it will be strictly by their own choosing.

Youth Deprivation Behind The Lids LP (no label)
Nice to know that even in this time of widespread information sharing, some European punk bands still sound decidedly like European punk bands. That’s the case with Groningen’s Youth Deprivation, a fairly new group whose self-applied Bandcamp tags are “anarcho punk”, “deathrock”, “hardcore” and “noise punk”. They thank Rudimentary Peni for inspiration, a group who never seem to have been more popular than right now, as well as Pleasant Valley Children, a British anarcho-hardcore group the world seems to have all but forgotten. Of the two, I hear more of Pleasant Valley Children in the music of Youth Deprivation, care of the brittle and flanger-effected riffing, gruff vocals and vaguely-metallic late ’80s sound. The lyrical themes are certainly of our time, with an emphasis on anti-fascism, anti-bigotry and pro-mental health, but the music sounds as though it were plucked from 1987 or so, those lean years when hardcore fell apart in service to thrash-metal and those sticking with the style were making their historically-worst albums. Behind The Lids ventures into different tempos and rhythms, from full-speed hardcore-punk to discordant post-hardcore, crusty pop-punk and proto-Amp Rep atonal noise-rock, but they never seem to find a firm footing in any of these sounds, or perhaps they’re still finding it.

Zeel Hard Rock On East Street + Fired 12″ (Tall Texan)
Hadn’t heard of Zeel before this 12″ EP collecting two of their cassettes (cassingles, really) arrived at my door, but based on Tall Texan’s track record I was certainly curious! The colorful cartoon art adds intrigue, but a few songs in, it’s clear what Zeel’s deal is – rootsy indie-rock with an emphasis on rock. It surely goes back to Dinosaur Jr. and Meat Puppets for these guys, but I’m hearing Purling Hiss’s later-period full-band material on opener “A Star Will Shine”, and “Hard Rock On Easy Street” is pure Neil Young by-way-of Milk Music. I’m also reminded of Milk Music’s boldness (read: absolute fearlessness in the face of blatant corniness) when “Revolution” kicks in with a direct rip of the first half of the eternal “Ziggy Stardust” riff. It’s funny, I can remember a time when ripping off someone else’s idea, or even the possible consideration of borrowing a few similar notes, was career-suicidal for bands both underground and mainstream, but now no one really cares anymore – everyone is ripping off everyone else on some level at least, and I can’t even personally remember if I care, or ever cared, about it. That’s not to say that Zeel are egregious rip-offs – they most certainly aren’t, they just have a clear set of canon influences and pay homage to them in a respectable (and enjoyable to listen to) way. Seems like a good percentage of my friends who still like rock music mostly want to recline in their easy-chairs and throw on something like Zeel to ease their weary minds at the end of the day, music that is more likely to rep The Grateful Dead than Black Flag, and much as I’d like to explain why they’re absolutely wrong in doing so, I find myself struggling to make a compelling case.

Zzzwalk Holy Royal Casino LP (Tall Texan)
What’s next for Tall Texan, records by Zoinks and Zyklome A? Zzzwalk is pronounced “sleepwalk”, although in my experience it’s much more fun to actually say “zzzwalk”, sounding like an unreleased Sleep Chamber song or something. Anyway, from what I gather they’re Brooklyn-based, featuring members of The Men and Psychic Ills backing up Jon “Catfish” DeLorme on a musical excursion that sounds very much like the album cover, an old-time glitzy neon cowboy sign flickering in the night. These songs are honky-tonk indie-country, fairly traditional in execution as well as delivery, although there’s probably a better chance your average War On Drugs fan might add something from Holy Royal Casino to their Spotify playlist as opposed to George Jones or Ernest Tubb. Tall Texan references Beachwood Sparks in Zzzwalk’s sound, which I can certainly hear, although this focus is more on classic-country storytelling than field-of-flowers psychedelia (though there’s some of that in there too). I dunno, so much of this style, particularly when played by any sort of contemporary artist, sounds like a polished take on the Beverly Hillbillies theme song to me, but then again someone who primarily loves this stuff might say that all punk music sounds like that “punky Chips Ahoy” commercial, which is probably an equally inaccurate sentiment. Highly appropriate tuneage for a label that calls itself Tall Texan, no doubt.