Ilyas Ahmed & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma You Can See Your Own Way Out LP (Devotion)
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma isn’t simply a master of futzing his way through fascinating sonic environments, he’s also incredibly savvy when it comes to choosing his collaborators. His work with Félicia Atkinson is some of the most beautiful murk to arrive in the last decade, and this new one with multi-instrumentalist Ilyas Ahmed is equally as satisfying. The list of instruments here (piano, drum machine, guitars, keyboards) might read as fairly traditional, but the production speaks otherwise. These tracks resemble smudged Polaroids of ambient movement, nearly floating if their toes weren’t still on the ground. It’s very much in line with Cantu-Ledesma’s understood style, a sort of shoegaze-y take on incidental ambient sound that finds beauty in the dust below. Ahmed’s guitar is a welcome conceit, which often results in an answer to the question of “what would it sound like if Loren Connors and Ulla got together for an afternoon?”. ECM meets Kye via exclusive Boomkat distribution is certainly a vibe here. It’s funny, for an album with no discernible center of gravity or obvious sonic cornerstone, I can’t help but wish it was twice as long, so easy it is to softly slide into You Can See Your Own Way Out.

Aquarian Blood Bending The Golden Hour LP (Goner)
The sticker on the cover quotes Rolling Stone describing Aquarian Blood as dealers of “a heavy mind-altering dose of psychedelia”, and I have to wonder, what does Rolling Stone know about being psychedelic and heavy in 2021?? Aren’t they busy compiling the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time for the millionth time, shuffling Jimmy Page, Kurt Cobain and Eric Clapton back and forth for all of eternity? Totally random gripe, of course, and it has nothing to do with husband/wife duo Aquarian Blood, who do, in fact, play acoustic guitars with tinges of electronics, percussion and effects so as to impart a comforting haze. I should say, “psych-folk” is for the most part not my thing, and while I find no fault with Bending The Golden Hour, I can’t say it provides much to really change my mind about the genre either. Pretty typical acoustic guitar runs, vocals that no one would really consider heartrending or virtuosic (nor whiny or sucky for that matter), melodies that do not bend time so much as follow the well-trodden path already laid before them. Is the draw that they’re ex-punks doing a sort of pastoral, non-amplified thing this time around, homesteading their days instead of puking warm beer at a rest stop between Austin and Nashville? Or is this just a sound that some people really like? (It’s probably that.) Still, we can grow up without passively mellowing into our parents’ record collections, which is why I hope the next husband/wife duo record that comes across my path sounds like Bathtub Shitter.

Beneath On Tilt 2×12″ (Hemlock)
How about some tough-as-nails club music? I know I’m ready for it! Been a minute since I checked out anything on Hemlock, which I’ve realized makes perfect sense seeing as they haven’t really released anything since 2017, but I think the break did both of us good, feeling refreshed and ready for some action. Beneath has been making this sort of heavy-duty post-dubstep for a few years now, and I realized I was eager to find myself pummeled by his powerful club constructions before snagging On Tilt. It certainly helps that some of these tracks are enormous, aggressive and pensive, produced with a seemingly stronger gravitational pull than the one we’ve got here on Earth. His work is certainly reminiscent of fellow lads like Untold, Hodge and Chevel, and I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say that On Tilt is a personally distinctive record so much as a muscular serving of expansive bass, sharp claps, acid warbles, dub effects and rich pads. Start with “The Passage”, which has me envisioning a freshly-reopened Berghain with all the ghouls and goblins flying through its front doors like a reverse proton pack.

Blackhaine & Richie Culver DID U CUM YET / I’M NOT GONNA CUM 12″ (Participant)
Art-school power-electronics are on order here from newest Space Afrika member, choreographer and fashion-influencer Blackhaine and his compatriot conceptual artist Richie Culver. “DID U CUM YET” is a satisfying clash of angry spoken-word and harsh analog currents, like Whitehouse’s Birthdeath Experience for the contemporary British streetwear crowd. I find both of those aspects appealing on their own, and they work together nicely here as well, if perhaps mainly because it’s a two-track single and not multiple albums regurgitating the same sonic concept. “I’M NOT GONNA CUM” works a similar template at a slower pace (and twice as long at nearly ten minutes), opting for concussed tones, outerzone ambient drift and, more often than anything else, Blackhaine’s voice all by its lonesome. Both tracks come with music videos, though I haven’t peeped either yet, content to visualize my own black-and-white street scenes they inspire, life at the end of its rope to the point where mania and fear turn to hilarity and ecstasy (and vice versa). A robotic female voice eventually takes over toward the end of the b-side, a breathless recitation that summons an even higher level of drama. If you’re not sold on any of this, go look at pictures of Blackhaine online and then try again.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters Waiting In A Corner LP (Legless / Drunken Sailor)
Part of being a good workmanlike garage-punk band is to consistently put out records. Melbourne’s Jackson Reid Briggs and his Heaters have been more or less doing that for a few years now, churning out agitated, driving punk music meant for a mature drinking audience. Much of Waiting In A Corner shares the bold anthemic quality of Turbonegro, sans the ridiculousness or (at least overt) cocaine worship. Which I suppose means it sounds a lot like Murder City Devils and Cosmic Psychos, too? I don’t spend too much time listening to those last two groups (and I’m not comfortable aligning myself with Turbonegro fans, for that matter), but I could listen to Briggs & Co. any night of the week, pleasant as their hard-strummed grievances are. “Eaten Alive” feels like an Eddy Current riff subjected to a wall of guitars, calling to mind Deaf Wish with a Ramones fascination or, you know, Turbonegro. Sorry! Time for me to shut off my Critic Brain, sit back with a chilled drink and let the Heaters take me higher.

Burial Chemz / Dolphinz 12″ (Hyperdub)
Kind of crazy to think about how many Burial EPs are out there now! Simultaneously so much and never enough. This new one is, dare I say, not as strong as the majority of his (fantastic) body of work, but still, if there’s anyone who deserves a chance to not blow us away while still sounding like Burial, it’s Burial. “Chemz” arrives in upbeat rave mode, anchored to a suspiciously uplifting vocal hook and chopped up, re-wound and looped in a manner befitting one of those great original UK pirate-radio dance mixes that have been uploaded to the internet in recent times. Plenty of choral ambiance, artificial dust on the needle and Burial’s trademarked sensation of the echoes of a club outside on an empty street. “Dolphinz” takes a bit of a turn, this one essentially an ambient ASMR sound-bath that is pretty much an explicit celebration of dolphins (right down to a woman reciting some of their species stats at the very end). Strange choice, one might say, but if there’s anyone who earned the right to make a track that’s processed dolphin sounds, vinyl crackle and synth drones, it’s not you or I, it’s Burial.

Chai Wink LP (Sub Pop)
Much as I’m susceptible to desserts, I’m also susceptible to songs about dessert. Not since The Go Nuts has a group so easily lodged their donut-themed song in my brain as Chai have with “Donuts Mind If I Do”, a silly-dumb bop of joy that immediately hits the spot. I assumed the rest of the record wasn’t food-themed (which is not entirely accurate), but it inspired me to hear more. I will say, after understanding Chai as a band with fairly standard rock instrumentation, I was surprised by the ultra-slick modern pop that comprises Wink. Guitars and shout-along choruses are swapped out for chilled-out beats, teams of producers and the sort of hipster electro-funk one might associate with the Stones Throw label. Hazy, sunny, carefree alternative electro-pop that, were it to come out of the in-house soundsystem inside a Uniqlo directly following Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut”, might actually tempt me to purchase the lime-green corduroy pants I tried on and was on the fence about. Pretty fun, easily-enjoyable tunes, even if they almost seem focus-grouped for this precise moment in time, with an assumed inevitability that Chai are going to be guest judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race, play Pitchfork Fest Paris in matching costumes and cover Toni Basil’s “Mickey” for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert within this album’s press cycle. Better Chai than anyone else, I suppose!

Clibbus Horsesatelite LP (Clibbus International)
The internet has killed and flattened so many things I enjoy, but this new LP from Rochester’s Clibbus gives me hope that zeitgeist-ignoring weirdos will always spring up like weeds in cement no matter how art-unfriendly the world becomes. This is a “part solo / part full band” led by someone named, you guessed it, Beefus D’Aurelio, and they sound like a mix of, I dunno, Melt Banana, Primus, Northern Liberties, Captain Beefheart and Life Partners? These tunes are decidedly loony, with extended sprawling jams, wacky lyrics, spazz-core explosions and, I’m pretty sure some turntablism? Clibbus sees no boundaries to their musical canvas, with every idea given a fair shake (ie. the whistle-led bridge that shows up like four minutes into “Exploding Child”). They’re clearly talented players, but they more or less throw pies in the face of their talent for however long this booger-colored vinyl LP spins. Comes with a big booklet of gross, immature drawings, because of course it does! God bless Clibbus and all those who dare to be stupid.

Goodbye World At Death’s Door LP (Youth Attack)
Youth Attack continues to exist in its own hardcore reality, one that prefers a noisy re-imagining of classic US hardcore with a darkly cinematic presentation and without the slightest hint of ’90s nostalgia, sonic experimentation or anything besides the meat, tendons and bones of this classic form. Goodbye World is a new band, or maybe it’s a “project” like half of Youth Attack’s roster seems to be, this one featuring Aaron Aspinwall, Mark McCoy and Jeff Jelen (all of the iconic Charles Bronson) switching duties some twenty years later. It pretty much rules! These songs are deliberately non-stop, with cascading, fast-moving riffs – it’s brutal and mean and sure to cause significant wrist pain for anyone trying to play these songs on guitar without warming up first. I suppose by that measure, it could be considered “technical hardcore” (they pretty much refuse to ride on any given note for a full four count), but nothing here feels technical; it feels more like getting your head punched from behind, over and over, until you stumble down a rocky cliffside. Some of the rhythmic phrasing calls to mind the unschooled excellence of Septic Death, like opener “Blood And Bone” for instance, though I’m equally as reminded of Failures, Negative FX, Wretched and Cult Ritual as At Death’s Door plays out. Hard to ask for much more than that!

Headroom Rubber Match 7″ (Petty Bunco)
Long-form CT psych rockers Headroom return with… another seven-inch record? Who do they think they are, Spazz? This is the sort of band that should be pressing thirteen-inch mega-LPs, so extended and deep are their multi-guitar heroics, but it actually works here as well, seeing as Rubber Match celebrates not the locked-in groove so much as free-form guitars howling at the moon. Very PSF in nature, “Rubber Match” appears to be one track spread across two sides, a heavenly explosion of guitar strings pulled and stretched beyond capacity. No percussion, no bass guitar (I don’t think), just a handful of guitars reaching up into the sky until torched by the sun’s rays outside our protective atmospheric layer. For as much as I enjoy groove, there’s something particularly nice about the vibrant squall happening here, which, oddly enough, feels appropriately contained on this 7″ vinyl. Which of course begs the question: does Headroom have the guts to release a five-inch picture disc? Do they?

Hypnotizing Chickens (I’m On) Time 7″ (Petty Bunco)
Here’s a warped transmission from the deepest darkest days of the 2020 pandemic care of the only two members of Watery Love to play in that group from beginning to end, Richie Charles and Max Milgram. With seemingly no intentions beyond swatting around their guitars as a means of passing the nights, these two assembled as Hypnotizing Chickens to deliver these drain-clogging hairballs in indie-rock’s otherwise clean plumbing. With each member on guitar and the vocal duties shared, the vibe is frazzled, far more frazzled than these two relatively calm gentlemen ever exude in person. I’m reminded of Danny & The Dressmakers, Richard Youngs, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and more than a little Reynols, particularly on the Milgram-led “Buttoned Down Assholes”. Much like Watery Love, there’s the lingering presence of the Headache Records back-catalog buried deep within, even if it’s mostly blasted to smithereens here by Sun City Girls and Dead C anti-rock / anti-pleasure behavior. No idea where the name “Hypnotizing Chickens” comes from, but I’m going to wait for somebody else to ask them first.

Whitney K Two Years LP (Maple Death)
Let’s face it, everyone wants to be Lou Reed. I want to be Lou Reed too! He’s the coolest. So I’m not entirely surprised that Canadian cowboy Whitney K also very much wants to be Lou Reed. That seems to be the case he’s laying out here on Two Years, though I can only speculate as to his personal intentions. In any regard, Two Years is a smart record for the cause, dipping into lonesome ballads, drunken country shuffles, Velvets-y chug and hyperbolic rock drama ala The Walkmen with relative ease. It’s outsider-y yet highly self-aware of what coolness is and should be… I’d file Whitney K a little closer in aesthetic to Cindy Lee and Dirty Beaches than Orville Peck and Father John Misty, mercifully. Very old-sounding music, which was surely by design, but it suits these simple songs that seem geared more to showcasing Whitney K’s wordplay and personal character than providing dazzling melodic invention. If there’s still room in your life for a new one of these guys to show up and charm you, Whitney K might very well be the one to do it.

Mitchell Keaney Head, Gut, Heart LP (Gilgongo)
Kind of an unexpected and cool full-length debut from Brooklyn artist Mitchell Keaney (which, I should clarify, is not unexpected because it’s cool, just not the usually noisy Gilgongo fare). There are two basic forms on Head, Gut, Heart: the first and more arresting of the two comes in the form of long-form repetitive electronic patterns. I’m reminded of a techno-fied Steve Reich, Errorsmith, that great Oren Ambarchi album Hubris and, to a lesser degree, Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4. Fast-paced pulses slowly shift in tone and texture… very Editions Mego-friendly in aesthetic but I say that as an affirmation, not a slag. Besides these captivating long-form electronic passages, Keaney enlisted Inky Lee to read poems, and she does so quite softly. For my experience, going from ultra-repetitive trance pulses to hushed recitations of poems is jarring, and not particularly in a great way; I get absolutely lost in these rhythms, and now I’m expected to pay attention to a hushed poetry reading with nary a split-second break in between? Perhaps that is the point, and it’s certainly not a bad thing; I’m just saying, I want the staccato chop of “Gut, Pt. II” to echo behind my eyes for an extended period of time.

Leopardo Malcantone LP (Feel It)
Feel It continues their global outreach program with the warped strum of Switzerland’s Leopardo. Not sure I’d file this one under punk at all, at least in a sonic sense, as this group flop and sway through their outsider jangle-pop with the carefree fun of anyone who gets to claim Swiss citizenship and its assortment of quality-of-life benefits. It’s nicely bent but always melodically pleasant, recalling a disparate assortment of singularly-minded rock auteurs like The Rebel, Cheveu, The Clean, So Cow, Jennifer Gentle, George Harrasment… pretty much anyone with their own set of ideas who take the Velvet Underground’s uplifting chug and fidget with it. It’s fun, fuzzy music, the sort of jovial big-band style where a banjo is as likely to appear as a synth, with long-hairs and short-hairs commingling in the band happily side by side. It’s all pretty charming stuff, but I’d recommend going right to “Throwback In The Snow” if you want Leopardo at their hopped-up, catchy best. Not a care in the world for these folks besides wondering if they accidentally left the tambourine on the bus, or so it seems.

Lewsberg The Downer 12″ (Bergpolder)
Still loving that Lewsberg album from last year, the absolute pinnacle of undiluted Velvet Underground strum to come from contemporary young people, so seeing that their 2017 self-released cassette was recently reissued on a stately one-sided 12″ record I threw it on the turntable as soon as I could de-sleeve it. Three songs, all of which ride different emotional directions on the same basic template, which of course is directly VU derived. Is it heresy to say I’d rather listen to Lewsberg than the Velvets at this point? They have such a knack for finding the perfect lighthearted strum, locking it in, and allowing the vocalist to speak in his affable and assured tone, be it spoken-word storytelling or pop-song verse. No crazy tricks or wild moves, which of course might be their best trick of all: high-quality reliability. The title track is probably my favorite of the three, a song so pleasantly slow that it makes me feel happy to feel sad. Looks like there’s a few other Lewsberg EPs floating around out there as well, so hopefully by the time I snatch all of them up a new album might be on the way. Never change, Lewsberg!

Nusidm Hatred Of Pain LP (no label)
Doubt I’ll find a heavier avant post-punk album this year than Nusidm’s Hatred Of Pain, and I mean that literally – packed with thick glossy inserts, posters and writings, it’s massive! I should also clarify that Nusidm is more or less the work of Glen Schenau, a musician whose work with Bent and Kitchen’s Floor I’ve enjoyed as well as last year’s 7″ single under his own name. After wading through the numerous laminated, hand-scrawled and pro-printed inserts (whose frenetic and colorful style is redolent but not a direct lift of the prevailing Fort Thunder aesthetic), I found the vinyl LP (which is also quite heavy) and put it on. While I’m not surprised that I love the music of Hatred Of Pain, I’m surprised by what it is. These songs are fairly similar in structure, which generally involves a guitar (or sometimes a bass) picked wildly with abandon, just absolutely flailing while the percussion slugs along and Schenau recites his words with conviction. Is this the world’s first free-dirge record? The playing is often quite out of control, in a sort of post-Harry Pussy freakout mode, but rather than mirroring that intensity in the rhythms, Nusidm lurches along slowly. It’s immediately appealing to fans of no-wave, great terrible music or outer-limits post-punk such as myself, but it’s without easy comparison as well – the closest comparative description I can render is Slugfuckers’ “Deaf Dub” and live Public Image bootlegs soundtracking those scenes from Fitzcarraldo where they push the boat up a mountainside, but that’s not really too close to anything, now is it. I should also mention that Nusidm stuck a DVD inside this too, but I’m saving that for a rainy day when I’m in need of some freaky inspiration.

Predator Spiral Unfolds LP (Total Punk)
Total Punk’s singles series may be done, but if that means I get to enjoy twelve inches of Predator instead of a mere seven, it sounds like a good deal to me. This Atlanta punk group comes from the same camp as GG King and Nag, and they certainly sound like it, offering razor-sharp downer riffs through a bleak and tightly-buttoned demeanor. Gloomy yet energetic, Predator might be my favorite of the Atlanta bunch, as they are more traditionally hardcore-punk sounding (read: no keyboards) and their songs pack more of a punch than the Urinals-indebted Nag records (which I also enjoy). The songs here tend to waver between frown-faced first-wave melodic hardcore ala The Adolescents (“Howl” being a shining example) and the earlier Total Control singles, before synthetics supplanted their hard driving riffs. Spiral Unfolds can feel like a sci-fi strut into an unwelcome sanitized future, at least until you remember you laced your boots with barbed wire and are ready to kick your way out. Told you it was Total Punk!

Qlowski Quale Futuro? LP (Feel It)
London-via-Bologna’s Qlowski first crossed my path a couple years ago with a single that struck me as fairly unremarkable lo-fi new-wave post-punk, but how can I not trust Feel It at this point? It didn’t take me long to notice the musical maturation Qlowski have undergone since that time, leaping out into their own brew of anthemic, synth-driven post-punk here. The keys power things forward throughout, much in the manner of a classic Gary Numan song (but with a working knowledge of a more DIY-minded post-punk attitude). Surely they are fans of Total Control’s most recent efforts (I hate to keep mentioning them but can their contemporary influence be overstated?), in the way that the electronics help run punk music through a colorful prism, though Qlowski’s most prominent vocalist (a few members share singing duties) has such a Robert Smith-like warble that it kind of takes over. I think I prefer when the other vocalist sings: “A Woman” in particular has me thinking of post-rockers like Trans Am and Stereolab realigned to fit inside a La Vida Es Un Mus distro box, and it’s probably my favorite tune here. With such comfortable and solid guidelines in place for anyone wanting to play minimal-wave or vaguely-gothy post-punk, it’s always nice to hear artists who push on those boundaries – even if it’s a slight nudge in an under-utilized direction versus an absolute shattering of convention – which is what Qlowski deliver here.

Schwefelgelb Der Rest Der Nacht 12″ (n-PLEX)
It’s only a matter of time before the dark and pounding techno of Schwefelgelb returns to the inner sanctums of Berlin’s rave halls. This new one from the Berlin duo delivers four hard-hitting cuts designed for physical interaction, as sturdy and rugged as one could hope. Opener “Impulskörper” is a solid industrial-techno headbutt akin to Ancient Methods and Kerridge with its grimy bass kicks, intermittent furnace blasts and echoed vocals. “Lichtenberg-Figur” moves in an EBM direction, with choral rave chords and an uplifting sense of space. “Wie Viel Haut” is a mind-warping mechanical process seemingly designed to echo through the concrete walls of Tresor, and “Horizont” wraps things up with a powerful thwack, like Blawan curating a mix for a Muay Thai gym. No ambient pauses, no big builds and drops, just rigorously slamming techno for the all-black-clothes crowd prone to wandering metropolitan alleyways shortly before the sun comes up.

Slow Mutants Slow Mutants LP (Radical Empathy / One Percent Press)
Writing and performing a form of indie-rock from at least two bygone eras ago, Buffalo’s Slow Mutants did the financially-irresponsible thing and released this album a couple years after breaking up. I suppose it’s not like they were missing out on a heavy touring schedule in 2020 anyway, so if they’re proud of these tunes, might as well! Their sound is very much indebted to that classic guitar-centric indie-rock of the ’90s, bands like Sleater-Kinney, Jawbox, Superchunk, Imperial Teen, that sort of popped-up (yet anti-rock star) indie style. Presumably a good chunk of the twenty year-olds of the ’90s are the forty and fifty year-olds of today who still love this stuff, while their teenage children prefer to make viral dance videos to Lil Uzi Vert remixes. Anyway, Slow Mutants sounds like a record produced by J. Robbins, which is fitting since it was in fact produced by J. Robbins. Perfectly fine behavior, but to be honest, as this record spins, I can’t help but notice some teens out on the street outside listening to music on their phones and find myself wondering if it might be a little more cutting-edge and exciting than the time-worn sound of Slow Mutants.

Josiah Steinbrick & Sam Gendel Mouthfeel / Serene LP (Full Bloom)
Sam Gendel sure keeps himself busy these days, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Avant-sax players are surely in their highest demand, and with a bevvy of collaborators ready to go, Gendel keeps the new material pumping, like this highly pleasant LP with multi-instrumentalist Josiah Steinbrick. The title had me thinking it was two tracks, which is incorrect, as there are multiple tracks on each side, the five “Mouthfeel” cuts the more diverse selection of the two. I’m not overly familiar with Steinbrick’s music outside of this collab, but I’ll say that these songs sound a lot like the Sam Gendel I know and love – his wet and wiggly sax runs all over the room, often sounding as though it’s being played backward, or like he’s sucking air through the horn of the instrument, past the reed and into his lungs. Very distinctive, highly chill and always a pleasure. Accompanied by subtle slurps, drippy beats and electronic bass, it’s Gendel where I like him, at his loosest and most exploratory. The two tracks on the “Serene” side take that title to heart, an ambient soundbath of glistening tones and reverberating drones. Sounds like Gendel put down his sax and started playing one of Harry Bertoia’s metal sound sculptures instead, though I’d assume all the instrumentation used here could easily fit inside a small bedroom. Wind-chime sounds for the new generation, one that I hope will accept me if I continue to wear enough streetwear in public.

Sweepsculp Sweepsculp 12″ (Nous’klaer Audio)
Thessa Torsing generally produces electronic music under the alias of Upsammy, whose Words R Inert EP remains one of my favorite techno records of the last few years, and whose subsequent releases have failed to grab me as passionately. Fast forward to right now: Torsing released this new EP under the alias Sweepsculp, and it’s a highlight of 2021 for me thus far. Her process is still very much based in the viscous, glass-edged moves of IDM, but Sweepsculp centers acoustic guitars of all things. It really works! Multiple tracks of guitars chime, strum and noodle, with only the essential rhythmic underpinnings at hand – a pudgy kick, some fluttering percussion or elastic pangs. Reminds me of Jim O’ Rourke and Fennesz, of course, but with a stronger nod to the ECM catalog and less of a high-minded composerly distinction. I’m also thinking of that unusual Khidja collaboration with BalabaÈ™ from a couple years ago that attempted to infuse jazzy acoustic guitar into a forward-minded electronic framework, but I think I enjoy it best the way Sweepsculp does it right here. Spacious, weird and non-linear, unless you’re John Fahey Junior I think this is the way we need to approach the acoustic guitar from here on out.

The Uptights It Is For Them That The Lights Twinkle LP (Diger / Keep Secret)
Normally, the garage-based guitar music I encounter out of Oslo (and Northern Europe in general) is formulaic, professional and somewhat typical, the sort of skinny-tie, funny-sunglasses take on poppy punk rock one could set their watch to. Not so for The Uptights, a beguiling Oslo-based group in many ways. Apparently having only previously released a live cassette in 2011, they’re now back with this monaural full-length debut, full of cloudiness, distance and an unwillingness to meet the listener halfway. At times, it seems like they’re trying to play big-room power-alternative songs like The Killers or The National or something, but with a recording so encased in grime, it feels more like a lost Merchandise demo tape (though not nearly as affecting). And then there are other songs that churn and brood like the dirtiest that the ’90s emo scene had to offer, somehow recalling Constatine Sankathi (yes, a guest horn plays pops up on occasion) or I Hate Myself. And then there are the ones that sound like the ghost of Hamilton Leithauser’s piano being tossed around… like I said, nothing that can be neatly placed in a box. I suppose that’s ultimately a good thing, but these songs almost always find a way to be difficult to listen to, either from an unexpectedly emotional vocal outburst or, quite literally, just difficult to hear. Toward the end of the b-side, there’s one song that I’d best describe as “Radiohead meets Ceramic Hobs”, ensuring I remain firmly, and not entirely unamusingly, confused.

and felt like… compilation LP (Knekelhuis)
Please excuse the unenticingly vague lowercase title of this new compilation LP, because I’m here to give it a strong recommendation! Amsterdam’s Knekelhuis label has been responsible for some of my favorite hard-to-categorize (but very much electronic) music of the past few years, and I wholeheartedly support them releasing a compilation album, a format as crucial as it is maligned in modern times. This is what we had to do before playlists, kids, and it sure is nice when it’s well curated by someone with vision! Knekelhuis scanned the globe for like-minded sonic travelers, from Sweden and Australia to Azerbaijan and Jordan (and, completely reasonably, no American stops), offering a varied yet cohesive sampling of what is going on out there right now. Ambient synths, spoken-word, acoustic guitars, radio static, pianos, they all swirl together throughout and felt like… in an anything-goes “forth-world” melange of meditative and discomfiting electronic music. Standouts are the bizarrely plaintive Treasury Of Puppies (whose album is already too expensive on the secondary market for me to personally justify), Michel Banabila’s avant-noir and Bashar Suleiman’s autotuned Egyptian emo-rap, though there isn’t a dud in the bunch. Like all great compilations, the individual tracks are strengthened by how well they all go together as the sense of a cohesive yet varied scene emerges.

Welcome To Pittsburgh …Don’t Move Here compilation LP (Cruel Noise)
Two great compilations in one month?! Be still my heart! I truly never thought I’d see the day when Pittsburgh freakin’ Pennsylvania had one of the strongest (if not the strongest) hardcore scenes going, but this fourteen-band, fourteen-song album is about as killer as a hardcore collection can get, even when held alongside the first-wave classics. While styles vary as wide as crusty d-beat and snotty punk, there’s a consistent level of raging urgency throughout, clearly indebted to the Neon Christs, Necroses, C.I.A.s, Die Kreuzens and White Crosses that came before (without ever sliding into pastiche or tribute). It’s an absolute whirlwind, honestly – four songs in, my glasses were already fogged up, but not before I could read that it was Peace Talks who sounded like Ohlo Seco covering Unit Pride, and that it was Rat Nip who delivered their angry Antidote-inspired ‘core following a pleasingly wacky intro. I was certain at least one track would dip in quality, but by the time S.L.I.P.’s “Daddy’s Little Girl Part II” wrapped it up, with its sleazy Angry Samoans ‘tude delivered with panache, the title’s caveat made sense. Anyone else suddenly get the urge to rent that $80 room in Braddock that S.L.I.P. vocalist Dave Rosenstraus listed online? Maybe there’s a bunk bed and we can share?