Alpha Maid Chuckle 12″ (C.A.N.V.A.S.)
Read a couple intriguing profiles of London’s Alpha Maid over the past year, and decided to wait until vinyl surfaced to properly investigate. It’s finally here, and she’s pretty phenomenal! It’s not too often that music comes out of the gate sounding so unlike anything else, but Alpha Maid (the solo work of one Leisha Thomas) is cutting a hairy new path, and seems to do so naturally. A song like “Newly Woke & Thought Provoked”, for example, is a perfect fifty-fifty split of Frank Ocean and Jandek to my ears, the sort of eyebrow-raising comparison that Thomas manipulates with ease. Imagine Frank Ocean’s tender bedroom melodies and lyrics presented with Jandek’s supreme avant-awkwardness, and you’ve got weird guitar-pop that feels as though it were conceived in solitary confinement. Thomas takes these songs and wrings them out, layering lo-fi drums over hi-fi guitars, processed vocals and uncomfortable sounds to the point where it feels like Hyperdub artist Klein releasing a record on Kranky in 1999, or June Of 44 dropping a surprise album on PAN in 2021 (check “Mild Weather” to see what I mean). I’m probably getting a bit off course here, because for as fun as it is to contemplate the unorthodox combinations that Alpha Maid’s music inspires in my cute little brain, it’s even more fun to sit back and listen to Chuckle, which really couldn’t have come from anyone else.

CDG Unconditional 7″ (Domestic Departure)
At first glance I thought the band was calling themselves CDC, which would be kind of a funny throw-away provocative punk band name now that I think about it. But no, this Portland-based group is called CDG, and whatever that might mean (including perhaps nothing at all), they maneuver a form of classic groove-driven post-punk no-wave. I’m reminded of multiple generations of artists who’ve worked out this sound, from The Mekons to Emergency to Priests. The drums lock in an uncomfortable funk, the bass is applied accordingly, and the vocals and guitar scritch and scratch in various cool directions, abstract but never too noisy. Some bands sound like at least one member is wearing sunglasses, whereas CDG sound like at least one band member is wearing sunglasses upside down. It’s a stripped-down sound that never gets too fast or out of control and CDG make excellent use of it. My only gripe is that I wish it came with lyrics – I’m gathering the respective gists of “Remove Officer” and “Audiophile” from listening but I’d love to confirm the precise sharpness of the barbs CDG are dishing out.

Come AKA The Come Club 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
The cool thing about having an independent label is that you can literally do whatever you want with it. Sure, most labels generally follow some prescribed genre allegiance, either for the sake of avoiding financial ruin or because it’s simply what the people who run the label like. Chunklet, on the other hand, seems to take great pleasure in releasing fake records by real bands, real records by fake bands, joke records, lathe records, serious critically-lauded albums, ornate retrospectives… it’s like taking a tour of label owner Henry Owings’s mind, for better or worse, generally slanted toward the rougher side of ’90s indie-rock that was enjoyed by the twentysomethings of that era. This new single certainly fits that MO, two Gun Club covers performed by Come back in 1993, transferred from videotape to the record that spins here before me. So very niche, but for the select group of listeners who are devoted to that sliver of rock n’ roll history, they probably already picked up this 7″ on multiple colors of vinyl. “Preaching The Blues” and “Sex Beat” are raucous and loose, a treat for underground insiders and the random barflies who happened to be at TT The Bear’s on November 10th, 1993. And now us, too!

Computer American Digital Prayer 12″ (Skrot Up)
Bay Area miscreants Computer continue to shine a light upon the most shameful hunks of data lurking on our hard-drives with their newest album, American Digital Prayer. Coming from members of FNU Clone and Slicing Grandpa, it should come as no surprise that they’re dealing with a gross and murky form of digital noise and cultural detritus, this album featuring two side-long forays into such. They’ve got other bands if they want to write songs, so they go full-on extended collage here. The sound of bitcoins roasting on an open fire? By my estimation, I’m thinking of Glands Of External Secretion mixed for an American Tapes release as I listen, with cascades of synthetic tones and sampled snippets bubbling up amongst computer voices, clanging gears and terrible YouTube video wormholes. No one seems to get out alive from this one, which somehow reminds me that climate change is an irreversible nightmare even though nothing on this record speaks of any particular cause or sentiment. We all hate our computers and we’re all on them everyday anyway, a fact that Computer is all too happy to remind us.

Darkside Spiral 2xLP (Matador)
Not sure how to explain my fandom of Nicolas Jaar: enthusiastic but wary? There’s at least like three hours of music he’s made that I absolutely love, which is far more than I can say about 99% of the other artists who come through these pages, but I also find myself wondering how much of his allure is based on the cache of cool that buffers everything he’s done… is he really great at denying a beat-drop and patching together dusty piano loops, or is he simply great at presenting as though he’s great at it, chorus of critical acclaim by his side? I’ve been wondering that while listening to the new Darkside album, Spirals. I’ve really enjoyed Darkside’s records this far, but this new one feels like it relies on the established Darkside moves while kind of succumbing to that modern universal indie sound that I find insidious, music that at its base level is meant to be simultaneously ignored and streamed. The little guitar riffs here are more cool variations on Dire Straits and Pink Floyd for the Editions Mego generation, and the various production tricks and percussive elements are mighty nice, but I can’t shake the feeling that this kinda just sounds like The War On Drugs who sounds like Tame Impala who sounds like Toro Y Moi who sounds like Phoebe Bridgers and so forth. Probably a timeless complaint, but I think Nicolas Jaar and Darkside have plenty to offer conceptually and musically, so I want the very most out of them. Spiral sounds pretty sweet, but it’s a casual lap through the neutral zone, not an expedition into the unknown.

During Birds Of Juneau / Big Farmer 7″ (Chunklet Industries)
Intriguing slice of vinyl here, a 7″ with what appears to be an LP-sized center sticker and a substantial run-in (as opposed to run-out) groove. Turns out there’s a good reason for all that, as this is actually a hand-cut record limited to fifty copies! During are a new trio with members of Brandy, Spray Paint and Ballroom respectively, practically an Ever/Never SXSW showcase package, and if you liked any of the snotty post-punk and in-the-red rock those entities were dealing, you won’t have any problems enjoying During. “Birds Of Juneau” is dance-y and mean, somewhere between Wire, Clockcleaner and Electric Eels. “Big Farmer” is less friendly, with what sounds like an Australian vocal(?) that has me thinking of Lubricated Goat aiming for a record contract with 12XU. I realize that sort of description might only make sense to like fifty people here on Earth, but big deal, there are only fifty copies of this record so it works out perfectly!

Eyes And Flys Anxiety Tools / God’s Management 7″ (no label)
Eyes And Flys are a band, not a record label, but they should consider offering some business advice to all the labels out there struggling to get records pressed, seeing as they continue to release these 7″ singles with speed and quality. The Buffalo group has wavered between garage-rock, the lighter side of hardcore-punk and Flying Nun-inspired indie-pop on previous singles, and “Anxiety Tools” goes straight for the latter, a soft strummer that’s simultaneously uplifting and moody, from the chiming guitars and string accompaniment to the bitter, downward-facing vocal. “God’s Management” (is that a fancy phrase for “angels”?) kicks in with a soaring alt-rock instrumental groove, the sort of thing I’d expect to uncover when digging through bootleg outtakes from Pearl Jam’s Ten sessions (something I need to remind myself to do). Kind of a shame they couldn’t get Eddie Vedder to belt something out on this one, or at the very least, have one of the Eyes And Flys posse give it their best shot. It’s been an interesting band (and occasional solo project) from the start, but I think I like this single the most of all of them, what with the amiable strum of the a-side and the uplifting instrumental on the flip.

The Freakees Freakee Deakee 7″ (Tomothy)
You best be freaky if you’re showing up with this band name and record title, and I am happy to say that Los Angeles’s The Freakees come correct. They play a spastic but not gimmicky form of noisy punk, reminiscent of scrappy ’90s unknowns like Los Huevos, Yah Mos, Old Man Homo and The Mormons, the sort of sound I’d expect to hear on one of the great million-band comp LPs of the era like America In Decline or Wood Panel Pacer Wagon With Mags. (I highly recommend both, which you can pick up together on Discogs for less than ten bucks plus shipping, but I digress.) Three slippery directionless moshes on the a-side akin to FYP covering Red Cross, and one bleary come-down on the b-side, like Sonic Youth imitating the Germs for fun on Halloween or something. A cool punk single that defies contemporary trends, and also brings to mind the trite but sincere statement that it’s a good sounding record by a band who is probably even more fun to listen to live and in person.

Frigate Dreams Of The Deep LP (D.Q. Records T.U.)
Thinking this will be my favorite reissue of the year! Originally released in 1977 on the impossible-to-find tax-scam label C.C. Records, I’m thrilled to be hearing these demented psych-rock tunes now for the first time. No idea who Frigate were, or if that was even their real name (so deep does the intrigue run), but this is kind of the classic rock of my dreams, no pun intended. The album’s theme seems to be loosely based around seafaring heartbreak, which suits these loose and ketamined tunes. I’m picking up visions of Golden Earring falling asleep while attempting “Radar Love”, a classically-inclined Mountain Cult, Randy Holden playing every instrument with his feet, and Speed Glue & Shinki if Shinki quit the band and they ran out of speed. Truly warped music, the bass and drums barely, barely held together with a charming vocalist who sounds like he’s laying down with his eyes closed while delivering his lines. “There She Stands” almost predicts the unhinged hippie meanderings of Moss Icon? I love classic rock, but I love when music goes horribly wrong even more, and Dreams Of The Deep is a shockingly fantastic combination of the two.

Guardian Singles Guardian Singles LP (Trouble In Mind)
Here’s a good case for actually having friends: when I first got this Guardian Singles album, I threw it on once and kind of forgot about it, until a friend of mine who rarely checks into new music asked me if I heard the Guardian Singles album, much to my surprise. He was raving about it, and you know what, on repeated and focused listens, I can see the appeal! They’ve got a cool sound going, one that traverses rain-cloud power-pop, moody emo-rock and traditional punk-derived garage. Guardian Singles spin that all together nicely, not having a garage part or a power-pop part but rather fusing those elements together, so that it sounds like Tweed and Bureaucrats covering The Anniversary and Mineral while The Stranglers look on in approval. A song like “Roll Undead” even has enough of that darkly-chiming, rhythmically propulsive groove that I would expect to hear on the The Crow soundtrack, a high mark of ’90s culture. Even so, the whole thing still sounds punk, or at least punk-informed, which is probably inevitable considering Guardian Singles are from New Zealand, where indie-rock is their mainstream and no one has ever heard of Justin Beiber or Post Malone. Or so I like to believe.

I.G. Isolationsgemeinschaft LP (Phantom)
No, Instagram didn’t put out a vinyl album just yet, this I.G. stands for Isolationsgemeinschaft and this is their debut! They play a very German-sounding form of restless cold-wave, which is reasonable considering the duo’s Berlin residence. Synths and drum machines lead the path forward out of a neon-lit ’80s bunker into, well, a very similar-looking ’20s bunker. I’m reminded of Voice Farm, Vono, and that brief intersection where NDW bands revolving around the ZickZack label encountered the Sky Records synth scene that preceded it, a nice pairing of ’70s synth worship and ’80s post-punk paranoia. I.G. are certainly closer to the post-punk paranoia side of things, with many of these songs sounding as though they’re being tailed by a dark figure shrouded in a long trench coat, even if it turns out it’s only one of those Drab Majesty mimes looking to score party drugs. A genre exercise for sure, complete with some subtle Kraftwerk rips here and there (let the electronic group who has never ripped Kraftwerk cast the first stone), but it’s pleasant enough, or should I say unpleasant enough, that Isolationsgemeinschaft receives a synth-wave passing grade if not high honors.

Lysol Soup For My Family LP (Feel It)
Last I heard, Lysol had to change their name, but in that same way that I guess Tyvek had to change their name (where they went by “TYVK” for like one record and then just quietly went back to “Tyvek”), as the band is listed as “L.I.” on the cover. Is that how the law is written, you just can’t use it on your record cover? Anyway, this Seattle trio has been clouding up the basements of Olympia, Seattle and associated boroughs for a few years now, claiming a coveted Total Punk single along the way and not releasing much besides that in the past five years. Good thing that punk isn’t a race, then, as they’ve come around with their debut full-length here, Soup For My Family. It reveals the band as I knew them to be, leather-clad and raucous with the severe attitude of fellow Pac NWers like Gag and Electric Chair but choosing a looser, rawk-ier path. They’re a four-piece, so even though the singer can roll around on the floor all he wants, he prefers to hold things together, punctuating every line with a saucy “yeah!” or “woooow!” in the classic bad-news rock n’ roll tradition. Can’t tell from the lyrics if the song “Blessures Graves” is supposed to be a straight-up diss track against Blessure Grave, but considering the sassy attitude of this crew, I would be disappointed if it wasn’t.

Bill Nace One Note (Solo Guitar 2) LP (Open Mouth)
Last year’s solo album Both was a remarkable entry into Bill Nace’s already deep catalog, notable for its lack of collaborators and stark, hypnotic tone-burn. Now he’s turning the pages back to 2007, the time when he recorded this suite of tracks on his lonesome in Bennington, VT, surely within close proximity of a Ben & Jerry’s outlet. While his oeuvre has certainly grown in the thirteen years that have followed, it’s nice to get back to his formative days with this stately vinyl reissue of what was previously a 2008 cassette release. Reminiscent of many of the live performances I’ve witnessed, One Note has Nace lacerating his amplifier, with squalls of harsh noise more reminiscent of Macronympha than any improv guitarist, astringent frenzies of hiss and what sounds like metallic pebbles dropped into the bottom of a well. The noise scene was harsher and less nuanced back in 2007, and while I appreciate the wider variety of sounds that basically everyone is making these days, there’s something to be said for sheer sonic bludgeonry. Nace’s guitar is eruptive more often than not here, and if that Bennington cabin is still standing to this day, I’ll be impressed.

Onion Engine Bulbs 7″ (no label)
The first time Pete Warden released an Onion Engine 7″, I found it to be a beguiling curiosity worth holding onto, and as far as this new one is concerned, that sentiment has returned. Like the first, the songs on here are mild and woozy excursions, a musical sensation akin to finding out the steak you just ate was actually venison, not beef as ordered. Trumpet and simplistic drumming waltz out of the speakers, sounding as if Warden had some extra studio time at the end of one of his sessions as a part of Michael Beach’s band or with his other group Brain Drugs and decided to give the Onion Engine its due. Seems like something the Careful Catalog would like, presuming they aren’t afraid to get a little musical once in a while. Cool single, but the best part is certainly the lavish art prints that come inside: I count at least ten richly-detailed pencil drawings of bulbs from alternate realities, as if Nick Blinko completed a fine art degree while only listening to Wolves In The Throne Room or something. Tempted to hang all these up down my hallway, but I don’t want my house-guests to assume I’m rich.

Bill Orcutt A Mechanical Joey LP (Fake Estates)
National treasure Bill Orcutt has kept himself particularly busy over the last decade, and it’s been a joy to behold. His distinctive guitar playing continues to develop in inventive and strange ways, but we can’t forget that he knows his way around a mouse, too. Orcutt’s computer music first came into the world with Harry Pussy’s Let’s Build A Pussy, a split-second snippet of a scream stretched across four painful LP sides, and now he’s offering A Mechanical Joey, an equally ridiculous yet significantly more listenable (relatively speaking) full-length album. The concept here is thus: Joey Ramone counts out the numbers one through six and they’re relentlessly chopped up and spit out in rapid formation. Hypnotic and downright paralyzing, this sounds like Joey Ramone put through one of Evol’s sonic experiments, or the closest thing we’d ever get to Philip Glass working with The Ramones, or a more accurate piece of music for the title “Blitzkrieg Bop” than the actual song of that title. The patterns (and numbers) change throughout, even as the pace remains unbroken, resulting in a perfectly maddening piece of experimental computer music. It rules!

Kuzma Palkin Stadion Sever LP (ГОСТ ЗВУК)
The cover of Kuzma Palkin’s new album reminds me of the labeling of a dangerous new energy drink, which is a suitable analogy to his music. It’s energized and highly synthetic music with addictive properties, and as someone who has had nary a sip of Monster Energy in his life, I’m glad this Saint Petersburg-based producer is filling that void. His beats are rigid yet textural, snapping into place like a Transformer with what must be dozens of tiny parts flawlessly in place. Stadion Sever bears a similar sonic signature to works by Objekt and Upsammy, a fresh combination of neck-snapping electro (ala Dopplereffekt) and modern updates on the Rephlex aesthetic. Even at its most dizzying, I can bob my head to any track here and feel deeply connected to the groove no matter if my brain is only comprehending thirty to forty percent of it at any given time. Yet another reason for me to take a lengthy tour of Russia post-pandemic!

Pigeon Deny All Knowledge Of Complicity LP (Adaio830)
Loved that Ostseetraum LP that rolled through a couple months ago (Berlin group doing a punky minimal-synth thing for those who don’t instantly recall every band discussed here), and it turns out they share a member or three with Pigeon, a post-punk band who favor live rock instrumentation. This record sounds like a mix of where the indie-leaning post-punk underground is at today: Total Control, Wire, Iceage, Blitz’s Second Empire Justice and Moaning all enter my headspace as I spin Deny All Knowledge Of Complicity. Dark, brooding and slick-ish post-punk that aims to highlight the fact that we’re slowly becoming digital automatons through both the feel and rhythms of its sound. Not bad by any means, but certainly typical, perhaps extremely typical if I want to take a tough stance on this innocent band. This sound has been co-opted by a lot of bands with managers and agents and an eagerness to sell out in a scene that doesn’t even acknowledge sell-outs anymore, but to Pigeon’s credit, they seem to be not that. Either that or I’ve got a weak spot for any band that still puts a photocopied lyric booklet inside their LP.

Snooper Snõõper EP 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
How do you like your egg (punk)? I realize it’s a dated term, but Snooper go hard on the egg sound here with these four cuts. The recording sounds physically sped up, which is a funny trick if true and an even funnier trick if they managed to simply play their instruments this speedily and high-pitched. The guitar is twangy and direct, the drums sound as though they were fashioned out of cardboard, and the vocals are spoken with the rapid-fire delivery of a little green martian asking the first human they see to take them to their leader. It’s got Coneheads written all over it, which at this point I’m ready to hear again, seeing as Coneheads stopped existing before Trump was even a viable presidential candidate. Snooper don’t take themselves too seriously, but they make good on this sound, un-serious as it may be. A suitable direction for the timeless Goodbye Boozy label, whose history of flaming dice “aWOOga!” punk rock is better left in the past.

Spllit Spllit Sides LP (Feel It)
If you can’t trust Feel It, who can you trust? I love the fact that I am familiar with barely a quarter of the bands they release, and find something to appreciate in all of them (some of whom I certainly appreciate a lot). I was excited to see that Spllit are from New Orleans, following my ongoing love affair with the last New Orleans punk record Feel It released, Waste Man’s masterful debut. To their credit (and as per my expectation, thanks to the wildly creative New Orleans punk scene), Spllit sound nothing like Waste Man. Rather, this feels more like a conceptual punk record, as much devoted to mood, attitude and recording trickery as to actually being a punk band. (This is predicated on the idea that they are in fact a punk band, which seems to be the case, but in this time of uncertainty, nothing is a guarantee.) Anyway, they’ve got a very quirky, semi-nerdy post-punk thing going on, full of dance rhythms, funky bass, weird sound effects and assured vocals. I’d compare it to the whole Kansas City / Ian Teeple / Uranium Club / Suburban Lawns strain of intellectual punk weirdness that’s taken off in the past couple years, and it’d be a reasonable comparison, but somehow Spllit seem less dorky about it. Maybe New Orleans simply has less room for dorks? Spllit still use altered high-pitch voices and xylophones in sparing ways, but the delivery and overall sentiment makes it clear: Spllit are doing a cool thing, not a nerd thing.

The Tubs Names 7″ (Trouble In Mind)
Might just be an exhausting time of year, slogging through the tail-end hottest days of the summer, so forgive my lack of immediate excitement over some new band with a “The (some basic item pluralized)” name, though I found the artwork (either inspired by, eerily similar to or actually created by James Vinciguerra) appealing on first glance. This was the perfect no-expectations setting for me to throw it on, as I can say with confidence that this is probably the best power-pop EP I’ve heard all year! Blew me away from the first note, a calmly confident spin on the sound of Protex, Purple Hearts and Jimmy Edwards, scruffy but firmly polished. Perhaps The Tubs are doing for first-wave UK jangle-pop what Chubby & The Gang seem to be doing with pub-rock and oi, which is to say cherry-picking the genre’s winning attributes and leaving the corny, dated aspects on the cutting room floor. As is often the case with this style, the vocals make it or break it, and whoever is singing here (no performance credits are listed) has a beautifully distinctive voice, masculine but delivered with a feminine flair on par with The Housemartins’ Paul Heaton. “Illusions” and “Names Song” are my favorites, more worthy of a hand-cranked mixtape than the inevitable Spotify playlists that will find them instead. Regardless of the media format, these are wonderful songs that everyone should hear.