Amphibian Man II Amphibian Man II 12″ (Porridge Bullet)
Some names just draw me in, case in point Amphibian Man II and this twelve-inch release on Estonia’s Porridge Bullet label (another absolutely smashing name). Turns out Amphibian Man II is a new alias from Kiev’s Dmytro Nikolaienko, and I really hope he’s holding up alright, not only because his music here is absolutely killer but because everyone deserves to not live in a war zone. Anyway, my ears perked up immediately upon the smoothed-out dub-detritus of “Crimea 2084”, the opening cut. It’s got theses rich and deeply messed-with organ stabs and just kinda floats on its own weird waves, which is a hard thing to do. Other effects crackle and pop over a deep bass-line and it all comes together in a strike of genius, followed by a proper rinsed-out edit in the form of “Crimea 2084 (In Dub)”. It’s like the perfect halfway point between Morgan Buckley and Pender Street Steppers. “Yalta” follows with a level of intrigue befitting the “imaginary movie soundtrack” that apparently inspired Nikolaienko to create Amphibian Man II, running cool synths through even cooler delay machines, a beatless journey across tape warble and effects. Following a twitchy “Yalta” edit, Amphibian Man II wraps it with “Balaklava”, which continues the EP’s style of sounding like Aaron Dilloway remixing Jan Jelinek. Porridge Bullet doesn’t seem to miss!

Blue Lake Stikling LP (Polychrome)
Culturally, it feels like all us artsy music types are one step away from moving out to the remote countryside for good, that is if we haven’t already. It just seems less oppressive, at least to a city slicker like me, and perhaps that’s why a good portion of underground sounds are favoring bucolic, outdoorsy motifs these days, free from metropolitan hustle and bustle. Blue Lake’s new album Stikling sure fits the bill, a shimmery and breezy affair that centers Blue Lake’s collection of homemade zithers, something not many musicians can claim to have. Building one’s own zithers sure seems like a rural activity to me! These tracks are gorgeous and easy, from the meandering experimental drone-work of “Thread” to the respectful groove of “Shoots”, which gives rhythmic praise in a manner redolent of Natural Information Society at the height of their morning-yoga powers. This music is credited entirely to Danish musician Jason Dungan, yet it feels like a rich communal experience the way in which the percussion, strings and featherweight drones intermingle, resulting in a congenial melodic conversation that never gets too chaotic or busy. Sure, there are probably never-ending rodent/insect issues and nothing to do after a month, but Stikling continues to beckon me towards the rolling grassy hills of elsewhere.

Thomas Bush Preludes LP (Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
When Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox talks, I listen, so I found myself eager to throw on this new one from (the presumably British) Thomas Bush, whose previous full-length Old And Red twisted my head in a pleasant direction. On Preludes, he continues to approach each track as its own little planet, switching instrumentation, tenor and style completely, though the distant sense of emotional longing seems to remain in place throughout. Some of the instrumental tracks remind me of the domestic solitude of People Skills, though he’ll throw an actual guitar-based song in there too, slow-core ala Bedhead, or fingerpick an acoustic guitar like someone else entirely. At its song-iest, Preludes feels like a lost gem from the UK’s earliest minimal-ambient post-punk era, akin to Virginia Astley or Flaming Tunes, though it’s just as likely to drift off into its own snuggly abyss, a track like “Odeep One” falling somewhere between the inscrutable oddity of John T. Gast and the librarian dub of Young Marble Giants. And there’s also “The Remote”, a slippery drum-less pop song that feels like something David West would’ve conjured from his bedroom. As you can surmise, a lot of things happening here, but they all play well together, resulting in an unlikely feat of savory experimental pop.

Chalk Neophobia LP (Post Present Medium)
It appears that Texas post-punk unit Institute is no more, which is a bummer, though I suppose not every band needs to last forever. They had a solid handful of great records, which is more than most can say! Their members seem to be active with new projects anyway, with Barry Elkanick flying solo as Chalk (though not opposed to bringing in friends to collaborate along the way). Like many contemporary punk-adjacent solo projects, this one flutters through a wide range of sounds and styles, as partial to a rough-edged collage as a dour post-punk requiem or a blaring house loop. Those with attention deficits will sit through Neophobia comfortably, so quickly does it shift from style to style like a hand nervously flipping through a dial of early-morning college-radio shows from the ’80s and ’90s. For as varied as it is, there isn’t any moment that sticks out to me as a mistake; even the inconsequential string jangle that opens the b-side feels like a welcomed pause between the many home-fangled post-punk screeds that ooze through Neophobia‘s cracks. I’d actually love to hear a more focused Chalk, not because Neophobia needs it so much as because it seems like everyone else does it this way too, almost to the point of being the standard form of experimental post-punk expression. In a sea of weirdo punk malcontents venting their frustrations through home-recorded nonsense, the trick is finding a way to really stick out.

Eddie And The Subtitles Skeletons In The Closet LP (Slovenly)
For as much as I like to profess my love of early ’80s Orange County hardcore-punk, I’ve never checked out Eddie And The Subtitles. Come to think of it, I have no interest in Eddie And The Hot Rods either, and have yet to hear Eddie And The Tide… it appears I harbor extreme prejudice towards any band that allows an Eddie to steer their ship. Anyway, Slovenly has entered the classic punk reissue fray with the reissue of the debut Eddie And The Subtitles album, Skeletons In The Closet, originally released on the band’s own No Labels label. I’m at once relieved and disappointed to discover that I wasn’t really missing all that much by not hearing it until now, kind of an unremarkable album in a sea of first-wave punk and new-wave classics. It definitely leans on the power-pop/wave side of things, including rockabilly moves (see “Boppin’ Little Bobcat”) that simply aren’t for me, and sloppy punk jams that are more to my liking (“No Virgins In Hollywood”). Eddie And The Subtitles played shows with Rhino 39 and Circle Jerks, but their material doesn’t really compare, closer to a warmed-over X and the power-pop that was coming out of New York City around that same time than anything Mystic would chase after. All said, I’m certainly glad I’ve finally heard the group – it’s by no means a bad album, just kinda sub-par for their time and era. Maybe I’ll fare better with the Hot Rods, but I won’t be seeking them out on purpose, sorry!

82J6 Offen Im Sturm 12″ (Offen Music)
If I had a record store, I’d insist on having a section of records filed under “repetitive to the point of madness”, and in its “new arrivals” section, you’d be sure to find a copy of this new twelve-inch single from Cologne’s 82J6. I’ve seen the a-side cut “R228 (Maison Mix)” described as a “heavier Muslimgauze”, and while the Middle Eastern horn loop certainly calls to mind a similar sonic geography, 82J6 blasts the loop into relentless orbit, an unchanging reiteration that I wouldn’t necessarily expect from Muslimgauze. If anything, I’m reminded of late ’00s EPs from Luciano and Mirko Loko, back when Ricardo Villalobos’s acolytes gleefully echoed their South American, Middle Eastern and African samples over minimal techno beats. The incessant horn rides the electro beat with ease, calling to mind elegantly-adorned elephants dancing in a celebratory procession, or, you know, Ricardo Villalbos going into the fourteenth hour of his DJ set on some tiny Mediterranean island, all sweaty and jubilant. The b-side is a “beatless” mix of the same track, and kind of unnecessary, unless you’re planning to do some magical DJ tricks with it (and even then, you probably don’t need all ten minutes of it). I could’ve gone for an additional different cut instead, but if 82J6’s intention was to leave his horn ringing in our ears for hours after listening, well, mission accomplished.

Flasher Love Is Yours LP (Domino)
Flasher are swell folks, some of whom I’d known prior to the group’s existence, so I probably would’ve enjoyed their debut album on some level regardless of how “good” it actually was. This is probably why I was so stunned by how much I ended up loving it – it’s a rarity that anyone makes classic indie-rock sound so pertinent, fun and memorable, but they sincerely blew me away with Constant Image. Now, on Love Is Yours, they’re down to a two-piece, and they’ve drifted from fairly traditional rock-trio instrumentation towards the shiny realm of synths and electronics, but their core being remains the same. Which is, they know how to write a damn catchy song! It’s a smoother, more polished sound overall, but it suits their songs, which are both dazzlingly intricate and easily digestible. There’s kind of a root sound reminiscent of Quasi, Yo La Tengo and Imperial Teen, but Flasher do so much with it, coming up with all sorts of unexpected earworms, melodies that conjure confusion and happiness at the same time, and lyrics that spell it out while leaving plenty of space for personal interpretation. There’s nary a dud in the bunch, but I’d point you directly to “I’m Better” if you want a taste, a fun romp that makes excellent use of detuned(?) guitars(?) on the verses which then lead into a pop chorus I’d expect from The Apples In Stereo’s Robert Schneider at his prime. Thirteen fully-grown tracks here, and they whiz by every time.

Randy Holden Population III LP (Riding Easy)
Nope, that’s no typo… this is Population III! I didn’t see this coming, but the moment I got word of its existence I had to track it down, knowing full well it’s essentially impossible to match the shamanic rock glory of Randy Holden’s godlike Population II, but I think my expectations were reasonable and my mind appropriately open. After a few spins, it’s definitely a different beast, notably smoother/flatter than the Randy Holden of 1970, with the digital studio recording subtracting a bit from Holden’s imposing presence. His voice is strained and lighter as well, which makes sense considering how old he must be. As for the feeling, it remains evident that Holden is a firm believer in the power of the guitar and his ability to simultaneously spread its gospel, amazingly leaving his stamp of blue-collar mysticism all over this one. These songs are long, loose and sprawling, full of harmonica solos, guitar solos and caveman-thud drumming, and Holden’s tone is still rugged and uplifting, even if the clean recording robs some of its power. Knowing that Holden is back in the game, can we get some young people (and by young I mean in their fifties and sixties) to work with him next, maybe record Population IV? The Om-like bass in “Sands Of Time” and grinding chug of “Land Of The Sun” would truly explode if the guys in Goatsnake or Mudhoney were in the studio engineering, producing or backing up. If Randall Dunn isn’t frantically trying to get in touch with Holden’s team right now, he’s making a mistake!

Horrendous 3D Horrendous 3D 7″ (Black Water)
It would’ve been damn near impossible for Portland’s Horrendous 3D to top the title of their debut EP (The Gov. And Corps. Are Using Psycho​-​Electronic Weaponry To Manipulate You And Me​…), so I can’t blame them for a no-frills self-titled follow-up. Thankfully, the music hasn’t softened one iota. If anything, their bombastic noise-crust has tightened its gears here, with a righteously thuddy drum sound and a refined tone, completely relatively speaking. Their songs are more detonated than performed, with a mix of ugly distortion, power that is difficult to achieve and vocals that recall one of the finest hardcore bands to never reunite, His Hero Is Gone. They mix it up a little with the rotten stomp of “Utterly Fucking Useless”, easily the slowest song in their catalog to date, but it’s a welcome addition. Fans of Framtid, Public Acid and Kriegshög would revel in Horrendous 3D’s shockwaves, though I’d imagine anyone into those three bands is already well aware of Horrendous 3D at this point. Another fresh and invigorating crust attack from the fine folks at Black Water!

Sheng Jie & BoYu Deng 送魂使者 Soul Sender LP (Inu Wan Wan)
Inu Wan Wan grabbed my attention with their fantastic inaugural release from China’s Gotou, and the Seattle label continues their connection to the Chinese underground with this full-length from Sheng Jie and BoYu Deng. Unlike Gotou’s rigid and icy post-punk, Sheng Jie & BoYu Deng improvise this sprawling affair, a free-noise collision of drums and cello (distorted via RAT pedal). On the first side, they get messy and splatter against the wall, but not immediately; Jie and Deng follow a warped, winding path towards chaos, locating an arhythmic pulse that eventually builds towards wild instability. Flip it over and the drumming intensifies against a cello that can no longer claim any level of innocence. It sounds like it’s being held down in various incapacitating chokeholds, the fluttering feedback eventually giving way to what sounds like soaring guitar leads on a planet with a poisonous atmosphere as the drums try to confuse and deflect. It’s like a funeral procession and an exorcism at the same time, and it leaves me feeling very much alive and in excellent health.

Joy Orbison Pinky Ring 10″ (XL Recordings)
A lot of people were raving (pun intended) about Joy Orbison’s album from last year, but it never quite grabbed me like I’d hoped. I’ve loved some of his singles through the years though, and this new one is another peak-time banger for forward-thinking clubs (or, in more my case, USB speaker dishwashing playlists). Released on the unfairly-reviled ten-inch format, no less, “Pinky Ring” manages to sound fresh in spite of its two somewhat-dated tricks: a snipped-and-clipped vocal sample and dubstep bass wobbles. Maybe it’s just been a while since I tapped into a new track like this, one that confidently fuses house, dubstep and UK garage, but I think the more likely case is that it’s simply a standout track. Reminds me of the way Pangaea used to twist vocal melodies into wordless electronic bliss, only somehow sharper and more effective. The b-side cut “Redvelve7” is no slouch either, Joy O’s machines slowly starting up before a beat kicks in, reminiscent of that breakout Mount Kimbie album in the way that it sounds techno but feels post-punk, as likely to jive with Cabaret Voltaire as Aphex Twin. Kind of a cool-down after the a-side’s blissful sophistication, but in this heat, we need it.

Kalahari Super Voodoo The Arabian Dream LP (Bergpolder)
An unpredictable record from an unpredictable label, Kalahari Super Voodoo have put to vinyl their original soundtrack for Maher Al Sabbagh’s 2007 documentary The Arabian Dream. That’s the what, who, where and when, but the why remains pleasantly out of reach. As far as soundtracks go, this one is more active than passive. Sure, it’s a mostly synth-driven electronic affair, but these tracks make their presence felt, sometimes like a lotioned massage of the neck, sometimes like a pebble in the sock. I’m not sure how the field recordings came into the soundtrack – are they are part of the film themselves? – but there are distinctly human beings operating here alongside outstretched synthesized melodies and churning electronic pulses. There’s even some sort of old-timey recording of a Western ragtime song lifted directly from its source, a jarring dose of antiquated pop alongside Kalahari Super Voodoo’s more subdued exploits. How does this all fit together, many years later, for release on Rotterdam’s Bergpolder label? My English-speaking, Dutch-ignorant mind can’t help but wonder.

Kids Born Wrong Book Of Vile Darkness LP (What’s For Breakfast?)
There’s been a creeping fantasy element in the garage-rock scene for the past few years, perhaps ushered in by big guys like King Gizzard and The Oh Sees, and I’m hearing plenty of that in the debut from Louisville “horror-rock” group Kids Born Wrong. They’ve got at least one member from garage-blasters Archaeas, and they squeeze a lot of style into these songs – they’re no GWAR, but you know they don’t merely sing about Dungeons & Dragons, they obsessively play it too. The presentation is very much within traditional fuzzed-out garage-rock confines, but they take these songs in weird directions sometimes, willing to dabble in sounds and transitions one might describe as “epic”, “prog”, “fantasy” or “metal”. “Killed On Video” swings a garage-punk version of the “Tainted Love” melody with a shouted chorus of “I just wanna see people die”, and while there’s plenty of songs that don’t sound like this, it’s as valid of a representation of Kids Born Wrong as anything else on here. Not sure who they’ll be covering at this year’s Halloween cover-band show, but I can’t imagine it going down in Louisville without them.

Nihiti Sustained LP (Lo Bit Landscapes)
Mysterious-yet-Brooklyn-ish dark techno concern Nihiti is at it again, with their starkest and perhaps most effective album to date. Three long tracks here, which simplify their approach to what is more or less power-drone. Works for me! The a-side, commissioned for the Sustain/Release festival, originally debuted “on an endless loop in a semi-hidden cabin” at the fest’s first year, and I can’t think of a better place for it. A pretty simple electronic loop decays over and over, somewhere in the tradition of William Basinski. It doesn’t particularly transcend the style’s forbearers, but it’s a sick loop nonetheless – very easy to put it on, check the clock a few seconds later and realize ten minutes have passed. The b-side offers some variation with the choral blast of “Tetrachrome”, an all-keys-held-down squall recalling Fennesz or Phil Niblock at their most triumphant, and my favorite cut of the three, “If The Color”, which takes a Twin Peaks downer synth melody and adds some intrigue alongside one of those pitched-down, roughed-up vocal filters that I will forever find irresistible. Simple and effective for both remote cabin and inner-city artist loft.

Phantasia Ghost Stories 12″ (Beach Impediment)
Being surprised by music is one of my favorite sensations, and this might be the most surprising record of the month. The tattoo-flash cover, band name and label association had me expecting some sort of blackened thrash, but New York City’s Phantasia offer no thrash here, even if some of its members’ prior bands raged hard. Instead, they play a tuneful, simplistic form of goth-indebted indie-pop, a familiar sound to fans of The Cure, Modern English, Siouxsie & The Banshees and all of those classics who somehow continue to headline goth fests the world over. Kind of a crowded field, as a multitude of crusty punks seem to have shifted their gaze towards morbid synth-wave over the past decade (even just locally, Haldol and The Guests immediately come to mind), but Ghost Stories really stands out. A significant portion of the credit is due to vocalist Tara Atefi, whose voice goes from a soft and tuneful post-punk sing-shout to a truly over-the-top gothic warble. At first it was almost unappealing, the way in which she seems to be singing in a completely made-up voice, cartoonishly low and dramatic, but on second thought, perhaps most other goth vocalists aren’t dramatic enough. Besides, it’s not like death-metal and grind and hyperpop etc. etc. vocalists use their “real” voices! Her voice absolutely commands these catchy tunes, my favorite being the record-ending “Leftoveryou”, which digs its hook deep into my brain, and leaves me feeling more emotional than I could’ve anticipated. I told you, the surprises just kept coming with Phantasia’s debut.

Puppet Wipes The Stones Are Watching & They Can Be A Handful LP (Siltbreeze)
Believe it or not, I had the pleasure of listening to this Puppet Wipes album for the first time with a friend (in real life!), and he made the astute comment that, if he were watching Puppet Wipes play these songs live, he’d probably find it intolerable, but on a record, it’s great. Funny how that can be – I’d certainly prefer to listen to Philip Corner’s Coldwater Basin on vinyl than an actual dripping sink – and while I probably have a higher tolerance for deliberate post-punk tomfoolery in a live setting than he, the point was taken. Puppet Wipes have the distinction of being the first contemporary act on Siltbreeze in quite a while, and it doesn’t take long to see how they fit in, moving from semi-tuned guitar-guments to toy xylophone/horn duets and dying-battery synth-sploitation. Very much in line with the endless joy supplied by early DIY labels like Deleted Records and Terse Tapes, long columns of bands that existed purely for their own satisfaction, thumbing their nose at the very concept of “being a band” in the first place. There’s also a thread to Puppet Wipes’ chaos that I find particularly reminiscent of Die Tödliche Doris, an appealing trait indeed. Considering their art-noise was a direct reaction to the imposing surveillance state in a time of global nuclear threats, it makes sense Puppet Wipes might behave similarly in our near-identical circumstances.

Romance Once Upon A Time / In My Hour Of Weakness, I Found A Sweetness LP & cassette (Ecstatic)
Boomkat really excels at records like this, smart-dumb gimmick records that probably won’t be all that important or interesting by next year but are perfectly intriguing in the here-and-now. And I’m often one of the first in line to buy records like these, so don’t take that as me looking down upon them! For this album (and its accompanying cassette of additional material), Romance slows down Celine Dion vocal snippets, loops them, and layers them over gauzy ambient drone the colors of twilight. I chuckled when I saw it described as “crybient”, but it’s a fitting tag, as Celine’s suddenly un-gendered voice repeating lyrics of hope, love and loss will certainly tickle the blue side of your emotions, in case you weren’t sad enough already. It’s a pretty basic vaporwave trick, but I loved that ” I Wanna Be 5 Semitones Down” Brandy edit someone did last year too, and will probably continue to enjoy listening to pitched-down singing voices applied in ways both expected and new. Only the emotional spirit and pitch-perfect vocal cords of Celine remain, wrapped in soft blankets of ambient synth drift, and when I remember this record exists in a year or two, I’ll fall in love all over again, if only fleetingly.

Shiroishi / Tiesenga Empty Vessels LP (Full Spectrum)
Sax players Patrick Shirioshi and Marta Tiesenga discovered an underground tunnel under a “permanently-closed” restaurant in Los Angeles and they did what any good free-improv jazz player would do: they recorded an album in it! They show an astounding level of restraint on the a-side’s two pieces, which barely hover above the level of a singing wine glass. Together they softly locate the upper-register pain-spot on their respective horns and just levitate there, like a fly trapped between two panes of glass. I find it to be kind of a baffling approach, when free players simply maintain the most astringent pitch possible for as long as possible, but maybe I need to try it before I knock it? The b-side opens things up quite a bit, with “On A Stone Pillow” getting downright cozy in its scattered melodies, the echo of the abandoned tunnel providing a rich resonance. They reach some impressive tones here, recalling a children’s choir or seagulls at the end of a lonely pier, and always give the tunnel and each other plenty of space to explore or contemplate. Imagine being some average rat, minding your own business in one of your favorite underground pathways, when two humans shuffle in and spritz the room with their saxophones. Must’ve been the best day of its filthy little life!

Slicing Grandpa Casual Pain 12″ (String Theory)
Certain records are perfectly encapsulated by their cover imagery, and this new Slicing Grandpa 12″ EP, featuring a zoomed-in-to-the-point-of-pixelation image of a syringe in a toilet, is one of them. John Laux’s Slicing Grandpa project has been stirring the sludge for a good two decades now, faithfully churning out various lo-fi and grotesque sludge-punk recordings regardless of who might or might not be interested. Following his first pandemic-era release under his own name (reviewed in these pages a few months back), he’s now back in Slicing Grandpa mode, and it’s a stubborn pipe-clog of lazy rhythms, impotent riffing and airy noise, all of which I mean to be taken as compliments. I love bands like Satanic Rockers and Gary Wrong Group, artists who kind of use Flipper as their jump-off point to pursue weirder, heavier, more textural or more annoying concepts, and Slicing Grandpa fit right in those ranks. FNU Clone’s Jim Veil produced Casual Pain, a fact that is inarguable upon listening. Isolated and kooky, I can’t blame someone for wanting no part of a record like this, yet I find it eerily relatable and poignant, a deflated noise-rock gasp that goes against any grain you can find.

Soft Estate The Painted Ship EP 12″ (Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
The Swedish underground has been tearing up the folk, noise, indie, ambient and improv scenes for a few years now, but electro-pop felt somewhat underrepresented in their global dominance. That’s where Soft Estate come in, a new group I know little about beyond their association with JJ Ulius’s Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox label, whose quaint synth-pop tunes quickly found a soft spot in my heart. Teetering on the edge of pop into experimental post-punk asides, these songs certainly reflect upon “forty years of art-school electronics” as the record’s promo sheet states. Young Marble Giants might be the simplest comparison, though I’m reminded of those great (and still cheap!) early Anna Domino EPs, Anika, Francisco Franco, Microdisney, Molly Nilsson and Domenique Dumont. Phew! Soft Estate might be cooped up in a snowy flat in Sweden somewhere, but The Painted Ship is pleasantly Mediterranean; you can practically sniff the sea breeze as it accidentally blows your crudités onto the patio floor. Their drum machines sparkle and puff, and the vocals and synths swirl the melodies like a soft-serve twist. Stay cool!

Water Damage Repeater LP (12XU)
Cool lineup of dudes here in Water Damage, with drummers Mike Kanin (of Black Eyes!) and Thor Harris, Jeff Piwonka and Greg Piwonka (of Marriage) and Shit And Shine’s Nate Cross. The secret is in the title here, as Water Damage churn through two sides of unrelenting repetition, slo-mo psych-rock grooves that do the cool trick of spiraling out into the cosmos while remaining firmly rooted in the ground. I love when Tony Conrad did essentially the same thing with Faust, and I might love it even a little more the way France keeps doing it (that’s the band called France, though the country is also one of the more alluringly hypnotic nations I’ve visited), and now I’ve got Water Damage if I ever decide I need more, which I do. I find it interesting that a lot of wild noise music can be fun to play and less fun to listen to, whereas the locked-in drone-rock of Water Damage is quite enjoyable to hear and probably a mind-numbing pain to perform. They’ve got three drummers all playing the same simple beat together! It’s a beautiful thing. On the b-side, things get a bit more energetic, which is cool and maybe closer to the tradition of Laddio Bolocko’s time-warping rock experimentation, but it’s all about the unhurried a-side for me, a staunch vortex of sound that quiets all the pesky distractions in my head.

The Wilful Boys World Ward Word Sword LP (Big Neck)
The (Wilful) Boys are back in town, with their 2020 stimulus checks long gone and their desire to keep trudging forward lessening by the day. This group of New York-based men (some originally from Australia) has been on this path for a while now, and the dull pain of their approach remains stubbornly intact. Like their earlier records, this tongue-twisting album sounds like an Australian Watery Love covering Motörhead; hard-rocking punk whose disgust is palpable and based firmly in reality. There are moments of Thorogood-ish groove that remind me of Viagra Boys as well, but there’s nothing Vans Warped Tour- or Adult Swim Block Party-accessible about Wilful Boys, who prefer to sit at the far end of the bar and speak to no one. It’s admirable how World Ward Word Sword avoids catering to any current trends, satisfyingly traditional and angry without feeling insincere or rote. Hell, they even end the record with a Discharge cover, because when you live on your own and pay your own bills, that’s exactly the sorta thing you can do if you want.

Woodstock ’99 Super Gremlin 12″ (Sorry State)
The final Nine Shocks Terror seven-inch ends with the sound of a bowling strike, and almost in a passing of the torch, fellow Clevelanders Woodstock ’99 utilize a gong sound effect after many (all?) of their songs on this new twelve-inch EP. I never understood why so many hardcore bands, presumably made up of social freaks who have no interest in regular mainstream behavior, don’t do more lunatic stuff with their recordings? Praise to Woodstock ’99 then, who not only picked one of the dumbest band names in a while, they also do whatever the hell they want, be it ripping through classic fiery hardcore-punk or completely goofing around with the idea. Classic rock guitar solos, CB-radio vocals, more of that damn gong, sure why not! What blows me away about these Cleveland bands, besides their unified vision in praise of idiocy and fun, is that they all tend to have these incredible drummers who propel the music to a higher level; they just don’t seem like the kind of people willing to spend hours practicing anything. When Woodstock ’99 really get pumping, I’m reminded of a mix of Crazy Spirit and the aforementioned Nine Shocks, though there’s so much personality on display here that it never feels like another average hardcore band content to sound like the sum of their influences. This world is more unhinged than ever, so why aren’t more hardcore bands answering it with songs like “Beatboxing In Viet…Nam!” and its funkdafied intro/outro??

Yuko Yuko S/T Demos LP (Bergpolder)
I love a scene that’s so interwoven it’s practically impossible to unknot, which seems to be the case with the Dutch underground these days. Here’s what I mean: Yuko Yuko is the solo project of Elias Elgersma, who plays in (Sub Pop recording artists) Homesick with Jaap van der Velde; van der Velde is joined in Korfbal with Leon Harms, who also plays in Yuko Yuko; Lyckle De Jong made a great solo electronic record in 2020 and he also appears on this demo collection alongside van der Velde and the rest. Or so I think! I haven’t heard Yuko Yuko before, but I know enough of their crew and the sterling reputation of Bergpolder to trust whatever this is to be cool. Turns out it’s a pleasant, easy-to-listen-to indie-pop outfit with mild psychedelic flourishes, kind of throwing things back in a retro paisley way while also not really. If anything, it reminds me of Ariel Pink circa Before Today, a well-written, indie-minded take on Beach Boys psychedelia, generally speaking. Not totally my thing, but I have no qualms with it either. Yuko Yuko would fit snugly in a playlist of artists like The Walkmen, Beachwood Sparks and even Father John Misty, though there’s a notably cheerful, care-free attitude imbued in these songs, presumably because of the world-renowned Dutch universal healthcare that surely nullifies the constant low-level personal uncertainty us Americans have buzzing in the background at all times. Must be nice!