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Alien Eyelid Bronze Star LP (Tall Texan)
Doesn’t get much taller or more Texan than this, the sophomore album from Houston’s Alien Eyelid. A band name like that has me picturing a bongwater-powered stoner-rock spaceship, but Alien Eyelid leave their distortion pedals and Orange amps out in the desert somewhere, preferring to get all sorts of countrified down-home rockin’ instead. Their sound comes from what must be a love of John Prine, The Grateful Dead, Blaze Foley, CSNY and all that ’70s mustache / bald-with-long-hair Americana that has charmed multiple generations of easy-going pleasure-seekers. Long-haired and friendly, Alien Eyelid don’t play up on the hokey, gimmicky aspects of the style though, preferring to let their ensemble-chooglin’ and delicate vocal melodies lead the way. Theirs is a sound entirely undisturbed by any person, place or thing more recent than 1974, though it’s my understanding that members of Alien Eyelid have played in all sorts of bands that most certainly don’t sound like this (hardcore and noise, among other things). Well, they know how to channel the vibe! These songs are humble and warm, the band singing about real-people stuff in a way that doesn’t feel trite or phony, with a sense of gratitude for getting to play these songs together and share them with any willing listeners. I’m glad to have listened.

American Nightmare Dedicated To The Next World 10″ (Heartworm Press)
There have never been more ways to be a hardcore band than right now, and while it wasn’t always this way, American Nightmare’s existence is most certainly a minority path in 2023. They’re a cult-worshipped life-changing band from like twenty years ago, who tour sporadically with a sound – fast melodic Boston mosh with diaristic lyrics – far from the more popular trends of today, still releasing new records but feeling more like a side-project to their various adult lives than the all-consuming existence of their twenties. They’ve got a reliable following of mostly their same age group, but the hype fests of today’s hardcore youth are asking other bands to play, you know? It’s a curious place to be, kind of a real band who previously defined an era, and I appreciate that they soldier on if simply because they’re hardcore dudes who have devoted themselves to playing hardcore music and will do so for the rest of their lives. Which, in their case, includes releasing a ten-inch EP of four new songs! I felt compelled to check it out, and I appreciate that their overall style hasn’t dramatically shifted, neither to the dominating trend of chugga-NYHC beatdown or moody synth-infusions (no need when you’ve also got Cold Cave, bandleader Wes Eisold’s more active engagement). It still sounds like post-Y2K Bridge Nine hardcore, and though Eisold’s voice isn’t quite as violent as it used to be, I’d imagine he’s not as violent as he used to be either, so it fits. My favorite track is the unexpected “Self Check-Out”, with what appears to be electronic drums and direct-input guitar for a fist-pumping sideways-stage-dive anthem, though “Real Love” could be a lost Nation Of Ulysses track for crying out loud. If today’s younger hardcore bands want to start sounding like Nation Of Ulysses, I wouldn’t be mad!

Anadol Hat​​​ı​​​ralar LP (Pingipung)
Anadol is easily one of the coolest artists to arrive on my radar in the last five years or so, 2018’s Uzun Havalar and 2022’s Felicita receiving endless plays in both home and car. And yet, I hadn’t tracked down her 2017 digital-only debut Hat​​​ı​​​ralar, that is until Pingipung recently reissued it! I didn’t expect it to be as good as the other two, and while it’s certainly not, it’s still a fun and rewarding listen, a pleasant glimpse of a semi-formed Anadol. The main distinction is that the music here is entirely synthetic, with the familiar sounds of old-school drum machine beats and cosmic synths driving the songs completely. Her melodic talent is clear from the get-go, but whereas later releases utilized a wide range of instrumentation, these songs are more like switched-on lounge music from the ’70s, something between Bruce Haack and Wendy Carlos with a touch of that Brain Records-styled krautrock fusion. The same general sound palate exists throughout, though Anadol is always a deft composer, squeezing a sultry melodrama out of “Orman Yangını” with casual ease. If this came from someone else, I’d be very impressed, and while I wouldn’t say I’m not impressed, it’s also kind of like watching video footage of Michael Jordan’s college career: spectacular, but a far cry from their future greatness.

Animal Piss It’s Everywhere Animal Piss It’s Everywhere LP (Half A Million)
Not the band name we wanted, but surely the band name we deserve: here’s the debut from Animal Piss It’s Everywhere! This Western Mass sextet are a whole lot of amusing fun, a hearty indie-country jam with head-turning lyrics. Imagine Silver Jews on an obsessive Workingman’s Dead kick with laugh-out-loud lyrics, and you can understand why it’s near-impossible to dislike the stylings of Animal Piss It’s Everywhere without being a bonafide hater. There are no less than two songs here that reference Jesus in the title (“I Like Jesus” and “Jesus Got Under My Skin”), plenty of direct commentary on wine and drugs and the situations that arise from their partaking, and a straight-faced delivery that makes it all work. They go from a falsetto harmonizing of the phrase “hot sewage” (in the song “Hot Sewage”) right into the next tune’s repeated sing-along chorus of the phrase “naked ass man blues” (“Naked”). I always loved that live video of Dr. Hook on German television where they’re all completely off their rockers wasted/high, barfing barely off-camera and falling off their stools with big warts poking out of their beards, and wondered when that specific mix of disgusting and joyous sensations might enter the roots-rock equation again. The answer is no clearer than Animal Piss It’s Everywhere.

Big Burly Tumors 7″ (Strange Mono)
You never really hear about anything being small burly, do you? Big Burly is a new Philly group and they’re hooked up by local label Strange Mono for their debut seven-song seven-inch, Tumors. Their sound takes me back to the realm of gleefully slop-tastic wannabe power-violence circa 1998, back when the coolest skate-rats in a few select suburbs across the US wanted to sound like Spazz. Big Burly avoid grinding (or really any sort of speed at all), instead delivering the slow and mid-paced parts that No Comply and Godstomper would’ve written between fast-core blast beats. I suppose you’d file it under “noise-rock” in that case, but there’s something happening here that feels equally as likely to be on a compilation LP alongside Charles Bronson and Suppression as a volume of Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking In The Streets. Weirdly, Big Burly have two bassists and no guitarist, but the sound is just as trebly and itchy as the aforementioned Godstomper and No Comply. Maybe they only used amps that can be carried with one hand (or simply recorded it to sound that way), but it’s a DIY-sounding affair, right down to the distorted squeal of vocalist Dan T. If you want polished hardcore, you can go to the mall!

Burger Service Demo 12″ (Bergpolder)
Misleading Band Name Alert: if the idea of a project called “Burger Service” releasing their demo on vinyl is conjuring images of dirtbag garage-punkers in leather jackets and tighty-whities, I’m right there with you, but we couldn’t be more wrong! Burger Service is not remotely American for starters, but rather the project of Dutch-raised Belgium resident Jan Tromp, and it’s actually a subdued and tasteful indie-wave thing. A track like “Vervandaan Wordt Ingekort” sounds like The Xx with a touch of Flying Nun, and the track that follows it, “Sneeuws”, sounds like the elevator pop of Francisco Franco, or Young Marble Giants’ instrumental Testcard EP. Soft, homespun and appealing stuff, which also calls to mind the free-form synth-wave dalliances of Hessel Veldman. It’s released on Bergpolder, the always-adventurous Dutch label with ties to Lewsberg, and it also feels like the sort of surprise Euro-indie act I’d expect to find from Stroom, if that makes sense to any fellow Stroomheads reading this. It doesn’t sound like a demo so much as a balanced set of well-considered tunes, the dainty instrumental drum-machine tracks pairing well with the comparatively upbeat “Niemand Heeft De Schuld” and “Afslag Zuidas” (a Strokes-y one-two punch). I always knew that I’d one day find myself singing along with a song in Dutch, I just never expected it’d be something called Burger Service.

Burnt Envelope I’m Immature: The Singles Vol. II LP (HoZac)
I was confident that Heavy Metal’s IV: Counter Electrode / Iron Mono was going to be the greatest reissue of a couple years’ old cassette from a punk-as-disturbing-sketch-comedy project in 2023, but now I’m listening to Burnt Envelope’s I’m Immature: The Singles Vol. II and not so sure! I still love that Heavy Metal album dearly, but Burnt Envelope are equally demented in all the right ways. For starters, it appears that this is a collection of imaginary “singles”, the second such collection to Burnt Envelope’s name, fantasizing rare seven-inch EPs that never actually came. The group is more or less the work of Anthony Pasquarosa, whose name I remember from the grisly hardcore of SQRM and Aerosols (and apparently moonlighting in Animal Piss It’s Everywhere, too!). I loved those groups, but Burnt Envelope might be his finest moment yet: rudimentary, bad-kid punk rock ala the earliest Killed By Death era, sounding truly backwater and miserable in the best of ways. Over basic shit-can guitar and drums, Pasquarosa rants, argues with himself, accuses and jeers like the unknown punk outsiders of yore, on par with The Generics’ “The Bitt”, Peer Pressure’s “Underachiever”, Nubs’s “Job” and even the theatrical trash of Jimmy Smack and crude menace of Bobby Soxx. He picks apart his own band at one point, fake-cries like a baby the next, and then rolls out an echoed sample of an extended WWF promo over a brooding instrumental. In other words, just really great stuff, the sort of thing that would happen if The Spits devolved into a basement project or if Amyl & The Sniffers was just one single brain-damaged Sniffer, left to wander the streets alone while recording his ugly thoughts on tape. No offense to anyone else, but I’m Immature is far and away the punkest record of the month.

Feeble Little Horse Girl With Fish LP (Saddle Creek)
Not ashamed to admit my love of poppy emo, although it can be harder to find something fresh within the genre as I enter graying beard territory (speaking for myself, at least). Seems like there’s a million more bands than ever before (this goes for every genre, really), and while I’m not checking out every last one of them, it feels pretty safe to say that Pittsburgh’s Feeble Little Horse are one of the best things going for emo in its multitudinous forms. I loved their debut album and am settling into Girl With Fish nicely, as the best parts of their debut are still in place, just with new songs and a confident hold on what they’re trying to do. If you’re not already familiar, they’ve got these weirdly distorted, lo-fi shoegaze guitars, drums that sound like they were recorded in the other room, at least one or two tracks of amp feedback that turn on and off at appropriate times, and the captivating vocals of Lydia Slocum. Her voice is expressive yet detached, rich with individuality and that sweetly nihilistic Zoomer attitude. Like Stephin Merritt and Kathleen Hanna, I can already picture a new generation of indie-rockers trying to copy her singing style, so infectiously weird as it is and with great lyrics to boot. It’s a striking sound for sure, but any form of pop music requires catchy hits, and Girl With Fish comes prepared, from the Duster-ish “Tin Man” to the hazy grunge of “Steam Roller”, sounding like Helium on helium, or a hit off the first Rentals album chased down the street by Hijokaidan. Fantastic stuff, and lightyears beyond the emo made by millennials, which we can all agree was the worst era of emo thus far.

Freak Heat Waves Mondo Tempo LP (Mood Hut)
We can always count on Vancouver’s Mood Hut for relaxed-fit dance music; nostalgic sonic templates updated for today’s modern needs. This new one from Victoria, BC’s Freak Heat Waves fits the bill perfectly, melding laid-back ’80s cheese with after-hours hipster flavor. Mondo Tempo calls to mind contemporary artists like Juju & Jordash and labelmates Pender Street Steppers, Daughn Gibson’s sensual Carnation album and original Balearic inspirations like Tullio De Piscopo, Kano and New Order, all of it washed in a soothingly narcoleptic rinse. Pure Moods for today’s obsessive cratediggers. It’s music where you start off listening in a chair and find yourself flat on the floor by the end, which has been one of my favorite genres lately. The vocalist plays no small role in achieving this state, as his languid, recently-awoken voice is a dead-ringer for Tin Man, whose similarly icy drawl elevated records like Wasteland and Cool Wave to ’00s synth-wave classics. Music as vibe-y as this often gets lost in its own accoutrement, worried more about set-dressing than plot, but Freak Heat Waves have been at it for a while, and the songs they’ve programmed here are fresh and original, a sophisticated balance of pleasant and weird. Sweet stuff, even if the name of the group will grow less and less cute with every subsequent record-breaking summer on this doomed planet.

Geld Currency // Castration LP (Relapse)
A fresh combo here: raging hardcore-punk from Melbourne (of all places) on Relapse (of all labels)! A few cynical contrarians reading this are probably quipping something about how Relapse releases lots of hardcore-grind, and while I appreciate them for keeping me on my toes, Currency // Castration is purely grind-free, thank you very much. While I wouldn’t say it’s completely devoid of metal’s influence, those aspects play out more in the poisonous guitar tones and blown-out drum sound than the songwriting or drumming. Geld borrow sparingly from black-metal and thrash (and Septic Death), sparsely applying it to the overall sonic experience, which is fast raging hardcore with a smattering of moshy breakdowns. I’m strongly reminded of the sound and style Youth Attack fostered in the ’10s, sounding more like Aerosols, Raw Nerve and even The Repos than anything else, really. The riffing is very much in line there – a more complicated take on first-wave hardcore like Rattus and Die Kreuzen – and the gravel-voiced shouting of un-Googleable vocalist Al Smith seems to take more influence from Ildjarn than Uniform Choice, which of course is the way of the Youth Attack breed. Geld break up the onslaught with the instrumental industrial soundscape “Across A Broad Plain”, which feels more like a G.I.S.M. move than anything else, and which I’m hopefully allowed to say out loud now without one of their members crawling out of some old fiber-optic cables in my basement and strangling me. Come to think of it, G.I.S.M. are on Relapse now, too! Everything is crazy!

Incipientium Underg​å​ng LP (Happiest Place)
Richly developed noise record here from the tongue-twisting Incipientium, alias of lone Swede Gustav Danielsbacka. Not that I’d expect anything less than thoughtfully-crafted from the Gothenburg scene, but even so, Underg​å​ng stands out. Using voice, magnetic tape, sampler and “acoustic instruments”, Incipientium slowly moves from the deeply-rumbling crackle of Ramleh to the temperamental fog-zones of Demdike Stare, all with the “hand-made in a creepy old barn out back” feel of Aaron Dilloway. Can’t help but hear some similarities to Neutral as well, in the way that the music sounds like decaying organic material as opposed to crisp digital noise rendered from mouse-clicks. I say noise, but plenty of Underg​å​ng is subdued and almost melodic, the opposite of in-your-face (out of your face?); there are moments early on the second side that have me imagining Fennesz in a Tom Hanks Cast Away situation, resorting to composing his dazzling electronic soundscapes on downed palm leaves, a dying radio transponder and hollowed out coconut shells. Sorry, crime scene and bondage photo enthusiasts: this noise record offers neither, only a shiny silver stripe upon which to reflect your own blurry self-image.

Karenn Everything Is Curly 12″ (Voam)
Juggernaut duo of Jamie Roberts (better known as Blawan) and Arthur Cayzer (aka Pariah) blew me away with the debut of their adamantine cyber-death project Persher last year (still waiting on a vinyl release, guys!), but they’ve also been operating as Karenn for a number of years now. It’s crazy how Roberts never seems to miss… I’d forgive an airball or two at this point, but no, Everything Is Curly is an inspired four-track EP of rigid and uniquely-abrasive techno. These tracks engage like sharkskin, visibly smooth but prickly to the touch. Bass-lines creep up to the midrange and the rhythms twist (or should I say curl) like a snake up your arm, a hectic sense of motion always present. Great stuff! Samples are scuffed-up and tossed in, the heavy-artillery synths are only lightly invoked and it seems like these two are simply having a swell time together, making club tracks, or at least their interpretation of club tracks. Opener “Feeling Horizontal” is my favorite, reminiscent of Audion’s sleaziest hits and bustling with chaotic activity… it’s what I’d imagine John Wick would try to make if he traded in his guns for a copy of Ableton Live.

Al Karpenter & CIA Debutante Al Karpenter & CIA Debutante LP (Ever/Never)
Weird recognize weird, it would seem, as Basque noise-prank provocateur Al Karpenter has joined forces with French experimental-trash duo CIA Debutante for a full-length player (released in tandem with a solo (but guest-filled) Al Karpenter album). I haven’t heard anything from CIA Debutante I haven’t enjoyed, and Karpenter is a guaranteed wild-card, so it comes as no surprise that this self-titled collaboration leaves a satisfied smirk on my face. CIA Debutante are always up for downsizing, removing necessary elements of song-form (even avant-garde or post-punk song-form) to leave behind the picked-apart carcass of a tune, and Karpenter takes the opportunity to roll around in it, spouting off-the-cuff lyrics about medieval cocaine (“Medieval Cocaine”) and public scaffolding (“Public Scaffolding”) with the vigor and froth of Mark E. Smith’s Von Südenfed contributions. As is frequently the case, Al Karpenter comes with Mattin and friends in tow here, who add percussion and electrical interference (and “computer”) to Nathan Roche’s incidental guitar and Paul Bonnet’s shortwave electronics. These tracks have the feeling of being executed live in person, but also being post-operatively disassembled in true Shadow Ring fashion, levels raised and altered with abandon. I once questioned if Al Karpenter was a real person on here, and then he showed up in my Instagram comments asserting his existence! I almost thought I heard him speak to me personally during the uneasily-musical closer “This Is An Invisible Song”, but when I go back to play it again, it’s gone.

Graham Lambkin Aphorisms 2xLP (Black Forms Editions)
The field of quiet domestic experimental tinkering has grown crowded over the last few years, but Graham Lambkin reaffirms his status as master of the genre here with this new double album, Aphorisms. I find myself a little leery of the presumably-moneyed Blank Forms Editions label, who kind of arrived on the scene fully LLC’d with a business-y art-world vibe (their Discogs pages lists eight people on their “board of directors” and over a dozen on the “curatorial advisory board”, what is this, Succession?), but all Lambkin needs is some thick black vinyl and a sturdy sleeve and he can let his music (or complete lack thereof) speak for itself. Aphorisms is certainly a “piano record”, but in as much as the demolished pile of bricks and insulation down the street from my house is still a pizza restaurant. Recorded in both London and the Blank Forms studio in New York (see what I mean: they have their own studio!) and cross-edited, Lambkin summons high drama from incidental noise, the inner and outer workings of your standard-issue piano and surely a bevy of other unidentified causers of sound. I like it best when the piano is drifting away at sea, its wires gradually resonating, as Lambkin huffs, puffs and abruptly screams into it, an auditory jump-scare crafted out of common household items. It’s crazy how he can configure so much nothing into such a transfixing final product; lots of copycats out there with the same general materials but none of them could put together Aphorisms, not even if the Blank Forms Cultural Advisory Board taught a seminar on it.

Leda Neuter LP (Discreet Music)
The noisy Swedish underground continues to churn at a consistent pace, but I found myself growing disconnected with the amateur folk performance / domestic field-recording style which has really risen in prominence over the last couple years. Thank god for Leda then, half of powerhouse industrial/psych duo Neutral, whose debut solo album knocked my socks off. She’s back with Neuter, and it rules! Once again, it seems to be all (or at least extremely mostly) guitar, working a live looping technique where the crunch of a muted riff becomes the rhythmic backdrop for further heavy-psych exploration. Her playing is crude and powerful, and while the concept of layering guitar loops in real-time is as old as the loop pedal itself, Leda has found a compellingly ugly way to do it. Her guitar whooshes, squeaks, churns and vibrates without ever feeling cluttered, and though it’d probably be best to file Neuter under “experimental” instead of “rock”, she finds clever ways to integrate heavy stoner riffs in the mix. The first track on the second side sounds like Bill Nace covering an Emily Robb instrumental, for example, rejiggering a classic chord progression into something suitable for Throbbing Gristle and Randy Holden fans alike. Recommended!

Lifeguard Crowd Can Talk / Dressed In Trenches LP (Matador)
There are many steps towards feeling old in the underground: when your friend’s younger sibling starts going to shows; when your friend’s kid starts going to shows; a formative band breaks up; a formative band reunites; a formative band’s kids start a band. In this case, I’m hearing that the ranks of Chicago indie-rock band Lifeguard include at least one child of a member of the band The Ponys, who also released an album on Matador earlier this millennium. Sheesh! It’s bad enough hearing Wolfgang Van Halen on terrestrial rock radio and being reminded of my mortality, but I guess I hoped indie-rockers would be too hip to breed. Anyway, what’s even weirder to me is that Lifeguard don’t rebuff their parents’ style with a Mountain Dew Code Red-soaked 100 Gecs sound, but mostly adhere to an aggressive Y2K indie-emo aesthetic. These songs sound like Milemarker, Drive Like Jehu, a touch of Unwound, a whiff of Q And Not U and perhaps most of all, a subdued, less-incomprehensible At The Drive-In. Curious set of influences for a trio of youngsters, and kind of refreshing, as it’s nice to hear people under the age of forty who still have some cartilage left in their knees playing this sorta thing. And it’s on Matador, of all labels! Time is feeling less and less like a valid concept.

Brandon López Vilevilevilevilevilevilevile LP (TAO Forms)
Most annoying album title of the month without a doubt (and it’s not even the “complete” version, which apparently goes on a lot longer?), but all is forgiven when considering the meaty heft of Brandon López’s solo bass brutalizations. He’s known for playing in all sorts of improv trios, and while I’ve enjoyed him live alongside Steve Baczkowski and his car engine-sized saxophone, this new solo venture is a real highlight. López gets messy and violent from the get-go, moaning and wailing along with his standup bass in a way that reminds me of Bill Orcutt on “LikeTheEdgeOfAMachete”. The motion is constant and hectic, at times recalling the incessant synapse-firing violin of Agencement, or on “PonceNewYork”, sounding like he’s trying to replicate a full grindcore unit with only his two hands and a large, hollow, wooden box with strings. Even when he commits to simply tapping the body of the bass, it’s urgent and fierce. The energy is palpable throughout, and while the recording is precise and clean, it provides a close-up of the blood under his fingernails as opposed to filtering it away. Hell, you know what, this album can have as many viles as it wants! Even a Kurt would be nice.

The Malakas She’s My Walkin’ Rock N’ Roll 7″ (Almost Ready)
Almost Ready has been at it for quite a while now, and their promotional style has always been entertainingly lax. They’ll release a record without updating their website, reissue a reissue they already reissued, put out a brand new band and press up a demo from 1979 at the same time… it’s the opposite of industry professionalism, and I always appreciate it. You won’t be plagued by Instagram ads and unboxing TikToks if you keep up with Almost Ready, that’s for sure! This leads me to this seven-inch single by The Malakas, a band I had never heard of, with two copyrights on the back cover, one for 2000 and one for 2022. I’m always curious enough to Google bands like this, and it appears they existed right around Y2K, may or may have not released a CD or two, and then guitarist/vocalist Cranford Nix sadly passed away (there is now a tribute website for him, his various projects showcased and documented by a loving friend). It seems to be an all-too-familiar story, drugs wiping out a wild life ahead of its time, and these two songs certainly sound like the kind of Heartbreakers-y punk such a character would make. The lyrics are casually offensive by today’s standards, unsurprisingly; the a-side opts for a three-chord Ramones kick and the b-side is an acoustic-driven tirade driven by expletives and insults, in the spirit of the acoustic GG Allin records but closer in sound to Paul Westerberg. Which is all to say, this record is bad-apple punk that who else but Almost Ready would save from total obscurity.

Ron Morelli Heart Stopper 2xLP (L.I.E.S.)
Naturally, when the clubs were packed in a pre-Covid world, Ron Morelli insisted on making noxious ambient noise, and then when everything closed down, he put together the tracks for Heart Stopper, an unflinching and extensive set of hardware-driven house jams. Gotta love his style, essentially building his own cool-ass network of gritty techno individualists through nothing short of years of hard work, and Heart Stopper, his first solo full-length in four years, reminds us that Morelli is never, ever to be shorted. I saw a video of him demonstrating how he makes beats a little while ago, and for as chill as he maintains his demeanor, you could just tell he was psyched as hell to program a couple machines, run them alongside an old sequencer and build a caustic dance track from the ground up. That’s what Heart Stopper is, a love-letter indebted to after-hours dance music, far from the commercialized realms of corny EDM festivals and Tesla-driving Tiësto fans. These tracks are primitive, exposed, occasionally grouchy and often promiscuous, calling to mind Adam X, Joey Beltram, Clock DVA and Bam Bam. Uncompromising and heartfelt, where pop-industrial, tech-house and EBM meet. Not sure if that’s Lydia Lunch providing the uncredited sexy-scary vocal on “Tangled Trap Of Love”, but I can picture her dragging me down the basement steps behind a Manhattan club while Morelli watches, slowly finishing his cigarette with his hood up rather than offering me any help.

No Reality Daddy Longnose 7″ (Industry Standards)
California’s No Reality features personnel from Acrylics, Smirk and Spiritual Cramp (although I get the impression only one of them wrote and performed this EP?), and he/they open it with “Buying Drugs”, a near pisstake of modern hardcore. The pogo-mosh riff is just so distinctly beholden to Gel, Gag, Spy and countless others that I can’t tell if it’s parodying the genre in the way that Crucial Unit did with straight-edge or if it’s simply just a hardcore song like many others. The rest of the EP, while not as blatantly mosh-pandering, is more or less on the same tip: “Daddy Longnose” sounds like Iron Cross covering SOA (though the metallic guitar solo and breakdown finale throw this comparison a little off), and Smirk guests on “Fashion Rocker”, which means choppier punk-rock guitar (and maybe that he’s not a full-time member of No Reality). The vocals are firmly in the 86 Mentality school of gorilla mouth – always a fine way to go – and the song titles and written insert have me wondering what combination of “serious” and “joking” No Reality are delivering. If the question is “can anyone take a hardcore song called ‘Daddy Longnose’ seriously?”, I appreciate that No Reality have left me with no easy answer.

Optic Sink A Face In The Crowd 7″ (Spacecase)
Future-primitive punk outfit Optic Sink evolves from the duo of Nots’s Natalie Hoffmann and Girls Of The Gravitron’s Ben Bauermeister to a lean trio on this two-song single. Sounds great! “A Face In The Crowd” is motorik-punk with sass and class, the drums locked in place, the guitars thin and queasy and Hoffmann’s dead-stare vocals penetrating any non-metal surface. Sounds like Blondie if they signed to Subterranean in 1980 and were never heard from again by 1982. “Landscape Shift” is the flip, leaning harder into the rhythm-boxes and synths, eschewing guitars entirely while Hoffmann’s vocal sneer maintains a post-punk rather than new-wave stance. It’s as if someone gassed the punk bar with Italo-disco and the survivors came out sounding like this. I could certainly go for more songs like either of these, but for now I’ll be content to flip A Face In The Crowd back and forth until my carpal tunnel starts to kick in.

People Skills Hum Of The Non-Engine LP (Digital Regress)
People Skills (one Jesse Sinclair Dewlow) was doing the whole dilapidated-ambient thing long before the underground shifted its attention in that direction, and while that sort of oversaturation can sometimes point out an artist’s inherent disposability, Hum Of The Non-Engine is a shining example of what a true talent can do in the genre. People Skills has always toed the line between organized song and random noise, and the beauty of this new one is the way in which he melds the two. A buzzing loop will become the basis for a quiet indie dirge; keyboards flash on and off like fireflies and you only realize he was quietly murmuring some lyrics after the song is over. Can lo-fi hum, sampled drums in the far-off distance and a single strummed guitar string comprise a song? Damn straight if its People Skills it can! This new album is like the perfect convergence of Félicia Atkinson’s incidental-domestics and Flying Saucer Attack’s sandpaper-melodicism, sounding like a tiny basement band slowly consumed by the piles of cassette tapes and thrift-store synths that surround them and in turn becoming its own distinct thing entirely. Like I said, it feels like everyone is trying to record the sound of their empty kitchen and mix it with lonesome-sounding synths/guitars these days, but I swear if you didn’t tell me who this record was by, I’d recognize it as People Skills from the quaalude vocals, blue guitars and expressively-vague mood that surrounds it all.

Road Soda World’s Greatest Disappointment LP (What’s For Breakfast?)
Lots of cool, thought-provoking records reviewed this month, but none of them startled me as violently as the new full-length from Davenport, IA’s Road Soda. Why, you ask? Because I truly believed this particular style of extremely ’90s numbskull pop-punk ceased to exist! Much to my surprise, here are Road Soda, behaving as if the last twenty-seven years didn’t happen. Their style is an exact amalgam of The Nobodys, The Vindictives, Guttermouth, The Queers and any local pop-punk demo that dared to parody the South Park characters on its cover in 1997. I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys are the last remaining Boris The Sprinkler fans left on the planet, and you know what, I think I love them for it. All their songs are about how much they suck, or being losers who can’t help but party… I can practically picture them crawling out from underneath the ramps of an indoor suburban skate-park, Encino Man-style, assuming it’s still funny to talk like Beavis and wear a chain wallet so long you trip over it. One song takes a shot at Luke Perry (as if he’s still on the tip of everyone’s tongue!), and there’s another song called “Who’s Bad? Party Time”, a slogan that I understand to have originated from beer bong funnels, because when I was in high school in the ’90s I had friends in a basement pop-punk band (just like this one!) who actually named their demo CD-r Who’s Bad Party Time. Road Soda’s drummer’s name is even “Scud”, like the infamous missile used in the first Iraq war! I might have to skip writing about anything besides Road Soda for the next few months, so deeply have they struck a chord with both my fifteen year-old self and however old I am today.

Rocket 808 House Of Jackpots LP (12XU)
I think we’ve all agreed that “guilty pleasures” is a faulty concept, but I definitely believe in the similar notion of liking something you shouldn’t like. On paper, and even in execution, Rocket 808 isn’t something that would normally jive with my tastes – honky-tonk guitar over programmed rhythms – yet I can’t deny the pleasures it brings. Opener “Under Surveillance” sounds like the soundtrack to a commercial advertising a Ford F-150-inspired men’s body-hair trimmer, just really boldly in your face with that Jack Daniels-scented Old Spice vibe, and yet here I am, calmly tapping along with it while I warm up my morning oatmeal. The riffs are staunchly in the ZZ Top / Link Wray school of desert-casino rock, and they chug along with nary a care in the world, dropping a pair of pink fuzzy dice on every rear-view mirror within earshot. It’s a very different form of being cool than the ones I usually ascribe to – no other record this month will sound like an Elvis impersonator peeling out across the set of Breaking Bad – but there’s something so timelessly attractive to these slow-simmering guitar lines that I find myself fully along for the ride, no matter how many cactuses are in our path and vultures on our tail.

Son Of Dribble Son Of Drib Against The Wind LP (Minimum Table Stacks)
It’s cool that the nascent Minimum Table Stacks label is investing in both obscure cult artifacts as well as modern-day obscure cult groups. You can file Son Of Dribble in the second column, as this is a currently-functioning group out of Columbus, OH who carry the Columbus sound with pride. While their recording quality is significantly clearer than your average Columbus Discount Records release, the band’s demeanor and approach to songwriting are in a similar boat, a kind of slacker-y, half-drunk style where anything can knock a song gleefully off course and at least half of the instruments are borrowed from strangers for the night. Imagine if Protomartyr decided to write a full album in a day and only remembered their plans at 6:00 PM, or if Mordecai and The Walkmen had to combine into one band against their will… it’s classic indie-rock strum that sounds like it’s all beat up and doesn’t care, lumps proudly on display. Son Of Dribble’s is a style that relies heavily on charm, but they’ve got more than their share; they seem like they could talk their way into any backstage area, convincing everyone that “Son Of Dribble” is a perfectly normal and appealing band name by the end of the night.

Patrick Stas If Paul K.’s Life Was A Movie, This Would Be The Soundtrack Of His Death LP (Stroom / Kontakt Group)
As is often the case with Stroom releases, I’ll just start by saying I have no idea what the hell this is. From what I think I understand, it’s a guy named Patrick Stas, who also goes by the name Paul K., who appeared on a couple tapes back in the early ’80s, sometimes with a group called Gheneral Thi Et Les Fourmis, but also on a couple random remixes in the late ‘2010s? You’d think we’d have run out of musical mysteries by now, especially cool post-punk ones, and yet Stroom keeps digging and hitting gold. If Paul K.’s Life Was A Movie is a fantastic collection of this guy’s work, all of which is extremely Euro-sounding instrumental cold-wave post-punk, rife with funky bass, clinking electronic drums, bleating keys, brittle guitars and an imposing sense of dread that’s impossible to ignore. Feels right in line with Trisomie 21, Fred A., Ceramic Hello, Grauzone; any music that was created with a Korg in a dust-filled warehouse without working heat in 1983 to an audience of no one. I kinda can’t believe Patrick Stas’s stuff stayed undiscovered for this long, considering the quality of the music, which really displays the best that depressive cold-wave music can offer, back when it was the result of singular creative expressions and not a standardized goth aesthetic. The title’s no joke, either – Stas sadly passed away in 2020, but the album (and title) was in the works as early as 2018, yet another striking aspect to this exquisite collection.

The Stools R U Saved? LP (Feel It)
Detroit has never been short on head-punching punk rock, the type that makes no distinction between garage-rock and hardcore, and The Stools are one of that fine city’s recent exports of this particular strain. How can you argue with any of R U Saved?? They appear to be a younger band, roughly the age where you can destroy your body for twenty-four hours straight and bounce back the next day with nary a headache or ingrown toenail, yet the spirit of John Brannon is alive and well here, one of battle-scarred endurance. These songs call to mind Laughing Hyenas mixed with the cooler side of ’90s Estrus/Goner, taking equal heed from Bo Diddley and The Fix to craft their sound. The Stools are stompy even when they’re fast, making any scarf-wearing garage-rockers sound like Coke Zero by comparison, and they even manage to squeeze some hooks in there when necessary: the repeated chorus line of “falling out the window / and into the street” (“Into The Street”) feels a lot like that first Hank Wood album, which is a clear sign they’re doing something right. Mean and friendly at the same time, you know? They’ll smack you upside the head and then hand you a free Bandcamp download code when you come to.

Sweeping Promises Good Living Is Coming For You LP (Feel It)
Can’t think of a more hotly anticipated follow-up in the past year or so than this one… who among us wasn’t enraptured by Sweeping Promises’s out-of-nowhere debut? Hunger For A Way Out was one of the few highlights of 2020, and after these last few years, doubts quietly crept in: could they follow it up with something as exciting? Was the first album a random confluence of greatness, and what’s taking so long with the new one? Seeing them live in 2022 reaffirmed my faith, as they were undoubtedly the best bedroom-project-turned-live-act I’ve ever seen, and now that Good Living Is Coming For You has, uh, come for me, all uncertainty is destroyed. They’ve got that same punchy lo-fi sound and the same knack for writing classic-sounding post-punk songs that somehow haven’t been written before. This includes re-writing their first album, which is always a possible pitfall, but these songs branch out tastefully, with more synth/sax/etc. peppering when needed. Even more notably, the songs themselves feel more varied and free, less constrained by “classic post-punk” songwriting (not that it was ever a disadvantage for them before, but you know, the walls of the genre are pretty firmly in place). Beats are slower and less energetic overall, but more distinctive and intriguing because of it. The funky “Walk In Place” would’ve stuck out on the debut, but its synth-bass and slappy strut makes perfect weird sense among the many other moods on here. Honestly, the biggest similarity to their debut is the complete lack of duds – Good Living Is Coming For You was worth the wait.

Telegenic Pleasure Concentric Grave LP (No Front Teeth / Feral Kid)
Both the artist’s name and album title are so extremely angular on the cover that it took me some effort to figure out which was which, and judging from the group’s sassy synth-punk, I’m sure they’d delight in my confusion. Telegenic Pleasure are a duo featuring at least one Mononegative, apparently hailing from both London, Ontario and London, England for added kookiness. Their songs are overtly synthetic, laced with choppy post-punk guitar and topped off with some mouthy glam vocals. The end result sounds a lot like Jay Reatard fronting Digital Leather, which surely happened at some early ’00s Gonerfest, or at least it should have. Very jittery, anxious stuff, which has me imagining Too Much Coffee Man, stressful calculus tests, the gobblier end of the Drunken Sailor catalog, big science-lab goggles, the first Intelligence album… that sorta stuff. Kind of a thin sound overall, which seems to often be the case with many of these punks who do bedroom synth projects… the lo-fi mid-range sound works well with feedbacking guitar amps, but doesn’t always deliver the same results with software plug-in synths, I suppose. What are you gonna do though, say “no” when your friend asks if you wanna sing on some wacky new electronic instrumentals he’s been working on, and there’s a label down to release it?

Gene Tripp The Ghost Of Gene Tripp LP (Moone)
Gene Tripp opens this new album with a soothing soundscape, pulsing like indie-pop ambient over a starry canyon, before settling into his primary form of expression: lonesome troubadour pop. Be it a softly-strummed guitar or the warm reverberations of an organ, Tripp blinks a rhinestone teardrop, only for it to run down his cheek and land on his fringed velvet coat. Hate to bring up the cursed vibe of Orville Peck, but Gene Tripp (also an assumed country-guy name) has a similar mood, one of mild glammy camp and a preference for aura over songcraft. Not my favorite, I gotta say! At times, I’m almost reminded of the occult country of King Dude, although Tripp’s voice floats in a middle register, and his lyrics are often difficult to discern without focus. There’s no dirt here either, as the constant synths droning in the background pull Tripp away from the Earth’s surface. Everything’s coated in a misty reverb, which some might describe as “Lynchian”, though I don’t think it’s quite unusual or atypical enough to fairly wear such a tag. Those opening drones are probably my favorite part, both sonically interesting and universally soothing, but I get the impression they were meant more as an intro. I dunno, at least he’s from a real desert-cowboy state like Arizona and not the litter-free suburbs of Canada!