An-i Rabble EP 12″ (Cititrax)
The almighty An-i returns after an eight year solo hiatus with Rabble, released by Cititrax in the same manner as his prior EPs: on contaminated neon vinyl. Since the last solo An-i outing, the underground techno zeitgeist has moved on from ballistic techno-industrial, but thankfully An-i hasn’t softened with the trends; this EP picks up right where he left off and even manages to steps up the intensity, which is startling considering the heft of his previous work. “Rabble” arrives on a morse-code speed bag, consistently hulking up into a roid-raging industrial clamor. That same rhythmic pattern persists with the properties of liquid steel, operating in a similar manner as Objekt at his ugliest and Regis at his most antagonistic. “Rubble” is a minimalist redux of “Rabble” – still quite stirring, if offering a little more breathing room – and “Chapel Perilous” takes that same sound palette into the galactic nightmare zone, like an astronaut realizing his cord to the docking station somehow came untethered. Very tense stuff, perfectly suited to a graphic fight scene in some blood-soaked metropolitan catacomb, or you can dance to it with your eyes rolled in the back of your head as your phone battery dies. I didn’t get to setting up a haunted house for the neighborhood kids this year, but you can rest assured I blasted Rabble out my window on multiple occasions to much the same effect.

A.S.O. A.S.O. LP (Low Lying)
The debut album from Berlin-based duo A.S.O. has me wondering, can a project be both fully-formed and a total pastiche? I think that with A.S.O., it can! This self-titled debut is unabashedly retro trip-hop, almost over the top in its sonic caricatures, and that’s also partly why it’s been so much fun to listen to. Melbourne-raised house producer Tornado Wallace provides the beats, all of which pay direct homage to Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Air, Jamiroquai’s track on the 1998 Godzilla soundtrack, JNCO jeans with an alien on the back pocket, seeing The Matrix in the theater in baggy PVC pants… you know the vibe! When I first heard “Rain Down”, I could hardly believe the gratuitous theft of that unmistakeable synth-line from the Sopranos‘ theme, but like anything sweet that’s unhealthy, I immediately developed a taste for it and wanted to hear it all the time. Aussie-born vocalist Alia Seror-O’Neill has a fantastic voice for the job, appropriately chameleonic in that she can channel Hope Sandoval, Stevie Nicks, Beth Gibbons or even Evanescence’s Amy Lee when feeling so inspired, and it comes in handy as these songs conjure different downtempo moods throughout, extrapolating on the theme rather than repeating it. I’m busting on the extremely pinpointed nostalgia of it all, but A.S.O. back up the aesthetic with some highly-repeatable tunes. Of all the ’90s subcultures that haven’t already been picked clean, why not trip-hop, and why not A.S.O.?

Cheval De Frise Fresques Sur Les Parois Secrètes Du Crâne LP (Computer Students)
There’s no shortage of reasons as to why a digital-only listening experience is depressing, but the fact that all songs are packaged the exact same – basic band/title information with a tiny digital square of “album art” – feels like a particularly important loss. When everything is flattened to the same smartphone interface, you lose out on the chance for an experience like this, the insanely lavish and thoughtful reissue of French math-rock duo Cheval De Frise’s 2003 compact disc release. With this package, you get a heavy-duty gatefold sleeve, art booklet, inner sleeve with more art and even a glossy 8×10 photograph of the band(!), all wrapped up in a Computer Students-trademarked electro-static oversized foil bag. The quality of care and attention to detail is overwhelming, and as such, positions the music of Cheval De Frise to be taken with utmost seriousness, as if this is the best post-Flamenco math-rock reissue you’ll hear this year (which it is, of course). Much like the Computer Students reissue of Cheval De Frise’s debut full-length, Fresques Sur Les Parois Secrètes Du Crâne sounds like the ’90s Chicago indie-outré scene transposed over a Renaissance-era European piazza, somewhere near Gastr Del Sol, Hella and Slint but carving its own space entirely. Presented as one of the many Bandcamp Friday pay-what-you-wish offerings, I’d gloss right over it, but sitting here with it spinning on my turntable, my table covered in its various bags, booklets and sleeves, I’m enthralled.

Collate Generative Systems LP (Domestic Departure)
More of that Y2K-era dance-punk redux here from Portland’s Collate on their newest full-length excursion. The office clip-art, ’70s-looking kid on the cover and chipboard-with-pasted-on-image design elements all reek of Troubleman Unlimited, Gravity and the various labels that found similar inspiration in the earliest of aughts, right when disco beats and Gang Of Four records were coming to prominence for a new, younger audience. That’s the clear vibe of Collate, and their music fits it to a tee, with fundamental post-punk drumming, a bass-guitar to drive the melodies, a guitar to punctuate and exclaim, and disaffected vocals bemoaning the many bemoanable aspects of our current societal mess. It’s a queasy funk sound, clearly influenced by punk while ensuring that their skeletal beats and restless moans are inhospitable to moshing. Maybe it’s because I just finished reading that excellent retrospective Black Eyes zine, but Collate seem to embody that same sort of out-punk spirit, seeking community via DIY engagement and scrappy, loose-limbed post-punk music. Had Collate been around in 2003, they probably would’ve played together, but now that Black Eyes are (kinda) back together in 2023, maybe it’s still in the cards?

Consec Wheel Of Pain LP (Not For The Weak)
Rollin’ with the gosh-darn Wheel Of Pain over here! Consec might not be the greatest hardcore-punk band from Athens, GA of all time, but they also very well might? This is my first experience with them and it’s really fantastic, A+ no notes, hardcore that rages at an incredibly high level without respite. Imagine the meanest and scariest that the ’80s had to offer, stuff like Mecht Mensch and Die Kreuzen and Septic Death, infused with at least an awareness of power-violence and the speeds that can rightly be obtained through it, the oily grossness of Cult Ritual and at least a few obvious pile-on crowd pleasers. (“Quick To Forget” in particular has me up and out of my lounge chair, ready to Goldberg-spear the first person in my line of vision.) The bass-line to opener “Powder Keg” is pure neuroses-as-music, way too fast and furious, like if DRI were on X-Claim! or something. See what I mean? This is top-shelf stuff, not sloppy but not tight in a technical sense either, invoking that same thrilling sensation you had when you first heard hardcore-punk this fast and visceral. Apparently a good number of the LPs came on “random color” vinyl, and I swear my copy matches the vibe perfectly, a polluted-pond yellow with some chunky brown glops, not looking like one of these annoying typical “limited colorways” so much as a naturally abhorrent mess. The music is a perfect fit!

Anla Courtis & Vomir Sin Comentarios LP (L’Eau Des Fleurs)
Two high-ranking names in the international bizarre-noise circuit collide here, the sort of collaboration that seems both randomly pulled out of a hat yet also a savvy pairing. You surely know Anla Courtis from his work in the legendary genre-exploding group Reynols, and Vomir is the French noise guy who plays unwavering walls of harsh static while wearing (and urging his audience to wear) a black bag on his head. What could go wrong! Two side-long extended noise-scapes are on offer here, the first side favoring a high-end, bristly scrape. It’s a constant, extended sound, though there’s activity to be found in the overcast static, with feedback-y tones whistling through a corroded tunnel. Courtis is credited with “electromagnetic sources, objects, tapes and wind field recordings”, and I don’t doubt it for a second, as this certainly sounds like an electromagnetic wind storm. Vomir is curiously credited with something called “acousquantics noise” – his own proprietary blend? – and alongside Courtis, his constant pummel takes a little longer to enter the low-visibility swirl of the second side. There’s more of a rumbling hum to it as well, almost as if you’re listening to the toxic storm-system of the a-side through the unfinished concrete walls of a below-ground bunker. Appropriate (non-)music for our times played by two gentlemen of high regard.

Cuticles Pavlova EP 7″ (Wormwood Grasshopper)
It’s gotta be a great feeling for a shambolic indie troupe to receive a Siltbreeze co-sign – any of these groups that would aspire to anything higher probably aren’t to be trusted, anyway. Cuticles come from Oamaru, New Zealand, a place that we probably all wish we were from on some level, and they do a great job of dressing up the difficult behavior of Mad Nanna with the chutzpah of Swell Maps on this Wormwood Grasshopper EP (released more or less simultaneously alongside a Siltbreeze full-length). Which is to say, they are playing fairly straightforward Kiwi-pop in a roughed-up way with plenty of oddball personality. And you can sing along to it! “Mattress 2” opens with the impassioned line “I think I’m slowly / falling in love with a mattress”, sounding like Kitchen’s Floor on ecstasy – still on suicide watch, but with a big wet grin on their faces. I love(d) The Trendees, another fairly recent New Zealand indie group (who shares vocalist/guitarist Matt Plunkett with Cuticles!), but whereas their unhinged etiquette bled over into the song structures (or lack thereof), I can see more people sticking around to the end of a Cuticles set. The Trendees were too good for this messed-up world anyway, but seeing as Cuticles have me singing along to loving my bed, perhaps it’s their time to shine.

Dragnet The Accession LP (Spoilsport / Polaks)
I’m cautious to say “hey, heard your new album, it’s great!” to any given Australian punker, as it seems likely that anything older than two months will have already been followed-up by an even newer one. Okay, that’s probably not entirely true, but it sure feels that way! In this particular case, we have the newest full-length from upbeat indie / post-punk group Dragnet, featuring vocalist/guitarist Jack Cherry (who also sings for Vintage Crop). I’m trying to discern a clear stylistic distinction between the two groups, and I suppose Vintage Crop are a little more aggressive, with maybe a tad more brutishness to their riffs and drums, but from a macroscopic view they are two poppy, garage-y post-punk groups with the same singer singing the same way. Dragnet are a little more likely to turn on a synth here and there, but Cherry’s vocal recitations maintains the same level of grievance for both groups; Dragnet get a little feral here and there as well, in that same descendents-of-The-Fall way. It’s alright! There is clearly no shortage of this stuff happening in Melbourne, bands with overlapping members putting out new records in one form or another at a near-constant pace, so if you’re a big fan you’ll have endless fun connecting the dots and collecting ’em all, but if you’re only looking for the cream of the (vintage) crop, you’re gonna need some extra caffeine to sort through it all.

Christopher Alan Durham & The Peacetime Consumers Kicks Or Macabre LP (Soft Abuse)
First vinyl album from Chris Durham under the name printed on his birth certificate, backed up by an affable band of easy-rockin’ pals, The Peacetime Consumers. You might know his appealingly-fried guitar music from groups like Roachclip and The Bibs, and Kicks Or Macabre certainly exists within that same musical universe, laid-back dirt-guys hitching rides to wherever. It kinda sounds like proto-punk without the punk, as if the late ’70s arrived and everyone just kinda flopped back down onto the couch instead of shaving their heads and safety-pinning their noses. Very Acid Archives in that way, though Durham’s music falls on the, um, peaceful side of things, never getting out of hand or remotely heavy. I sense ties to weirder stuff like Vertical Slit or even Television Personalities, but at the same time, it occasionally sounds like the absolute earliest KISS demos from before they even considered picking up a tub of greasepaint. Weirdo city-rat music from before all the sub-genres were so codified and strict, and you could just kinda screw off with your friends and not think too hard about the future. Sounded nice then and Durham & Co. make it sound nice now.

The Gabys The Gabys 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
The Fruits & Flowers Bandcamp pages describes The Gabys as an “almost totally anonymous UK duo”. Ahem, we already clearly know their first names at least! Anyway, they’ve got that DIY amateur dream-pop thing going on: one lightly-fuzzed guitar strumming open chords seemingly beamed in from some distant radio station, and vocals as polite as they are mellow harmonizing over top. No sonic variation, just that downy bliss-out guitar-fuzz and a tender voice to accompany it. I hope they’re actually a Sleaford Mods-style duo, where one person sings and plays guitar and the other simply vibes out, maybe sipping some Yorkshire tea and looking through ’70s decor magazines while her friend performs her bedroom songs, though only a scant few are bold enough to consider themselves a member of a band without contributing a sound. (It’s something to consider.) Theirs is a distinctively throwback style we’ve all heard before, from Fruits & Flowers as well in fact, but if you love this stuff (and many do), I don’t see how you could avoid falling for the rudimentary charm of The Gabys. What if it turns out they were actually Daft Punk all along?

Gee Gee Decorator Gee Gee Decorator LP (Coq Au Vinyl)
“Unhinged” doesn’t begin to describe the madness within this sole long-player from something called Gee Gee Decorator, originally released sometime in the early ’80s (specific date unverified) and now once again on this grey-market reissue. Sleuths placed the group somewhere in the Newark, NJ area based on the original pressing’s center labels – no cover was ever issued – and little else is known about the people involved in this cuckoo recording. Surely it was little more than a few non-musicians making a mockery of music in a studio back when it occurred, but I’ll be damned if this sort of zero-talent noise-rock madness isn’t an absolute hoot. Drums, percussion, noise-guitars and vocals conjure some sort of mangled funk, like a Meters record discarded on the subway tracks, on par with the grimiest Danny & The Dressmakers material and flimsiest ESG rhythms. Ideas are conjured in the moment, repeated, and probably forgotten, thankfully surviving the last few decades in a scant number of thrift-store copies until now. It’s so gloriously inept and wild that I’ve seen accusations online that Gee Gee Decorator are a new project masquerading as an old band, an account that has been more or less disproven by the existence of the original pressing. Such is the caliber of this forgotten trash-rock masterpiece, on par with the very worst (best) of Demo Moe, Menstruation Sisters, Pussy Galore, Instant Automatons and Mountain Cult.

Goat Joy In Fear LP (Nakid)
No, not that Goat – or the other Goat – this Goat is the mind-melting Japanese one. If you’re not familiar, and understandably so as there’s only so many Goats a person can be reasonably expected to know, I’m excited to tell you about them! “Math-rock” is often a lacking term, but if we want to work on those terms, this isn’t algebra or even geometry, this is PhD advanced calculus dissertation defense level stuff, with the “rock” aspect left far in the rear view. If you told me their music was completely crafted on Aphex Twin’s laptop, I’d still be impressed, but the extreme levels of pointillist precision on display here are the product of human hands on drums, bass, guitar, saxophone, percussion and flutes. It’s the final-boss composite of gamelan, Zach Hill, Zs and Moin, enthralling not only for the Japan’s Got Talent!-level feats at hand, but also the fact that this nearly-impossible music is captivating on a sonic level, even when ignoring the physicality necessary to produce it. Listeners aren’t as siloed in their individual musical genres as they used to be, so fans of Emptyset and Autechre would find as much to enjoy here as Damon Che or Tortoise obsessives. I am starting to think that this Goat might be the GOAT Goat.

Gruuel Nobody’s Daughter / Dust With Legs 7″ (Trevor)
Beau Wanzer collaborating with James Vinciguerra of Total Control is one of those things I’d daydream about, and yet here we are in late 2023 and the dang thing happened! That’s what Gruuel is, with Wanzer lending some of his crabbiest drum machines and Vinciguerra providing the absolutely demented vocals. Props to Vinciguerra, as you’d think such a deft master of rhythms would want to pursue something a lil more complex, but nope, this is extremely uncomplicated sewer-electronics with unnerving spoken word. I’m not sure what Vinciguerra does with his voice on “Nobody’s Daughter”, but it sounds like maybe he spoke extra slow, sped it up and then pitched it down, or modified the decay in real time? It truly sounds like he’s a drunken comb-over uncle whose face is slowly disintegrating (aka the Beau Wanzer official logo), so bravo. Wanzer’s beat for “Dust With Legs” is even more sparse, and Vinciguerra’s recited story is only lightly dub-affected, so that it can be more or less followed by anyone willing to pay a reasonable amount of attention. Kinda feels like the whole thing was done in three seconds, and yet I can’t stop spinning it – what does that say about them, or me?

Chris Korda Not My Problem, I’ll Be Dead 12″ (Yoyaku)
How about some minimalist techno… filled with unbridled, righteous hate?? Chris Korda has been a transgressive genius for decades now, pushing uncomfortable truths and a sincerely nihilist perspective (please read up on her Church of Euthanasia) alongside patented techno grooves. This new one, if the title wasn’t a hint, skewers the carelessness of our aristocrats with a political viciousness that exceeds the majority of what’s happening in the allegedly subversive subculture of hardcore-punk. Quoting real-life business-psychos on “Baby Batter Bingo”, the track sounds like a stripped-down tech-house track until you realize what’s being said by the disturbingly-neutral cyborg voice. RuPaul meets Rand Paul? It makes me think of some sort of Google murder-robot that comes to your door to carry out your termination, calmly unaware of the terror it brings. The other three tracks work in similar ways (though not as savagely as “Baby Batter Bingo”), with “Awesome On Mars” making another fine argument as to why Elon Musk’s neck should be first on the guillotine. And you can dance to it! With other releases on Perlon, Mental Groove and International Dee Jay Gigolo, you know her pedigree is top-notch from a technical perspective, but as an artist of political agitation, she’s unparalleled.

Lewsberg Out And About LP (12XU)
Lewsberg, the hardest working band in Rotterdam, continue their outstanding run of full-lengths with Out And About. They’re a testament to the practice of making rock music with obvious and glaring precedents and growing it into its own beautiful thing entirely. In this particular case, The Velvet Underground is the obvious bedrock, but as I listen to Out And About it’s so clearly the work of the one and only Lewsberg, far from one of the numerous indie VU clones that have come and gone. I loved Lewsberg before, and I love them even more now! These songs are maybe a little more introspective and low-key than previous outings, though this was always a bookish group, deploying their precious and significant little tunes with only the most necessary of parts to keep it running – a floor tom, a solid bass-guitar melody, one guitar to chime and another to jangle. These songs are some of their strongest, and the album is perfectly sequenced; the soft confessional of “A Different View” leads right into “Going Places”, whose skip-step bass-line you’ll be humming in your sleep. Lewsberg just completed a lengthy US tour (and, having witnessed them, am happy to share that these songs sounded fantastic live), playing small (or “intimate”) rooms, and I hope for their sake that the gobs of Jens Lekman and Belle & Sebastian fans seeking some new form of sophisticated-yet-humble guitar pop get hipped to Lewsberg sooner than later.

LLL Sunda School III 12″ (Porridge Bullet)
Been loving the weird techno emanating from Estonia’s Porridge Bullet label, particularly the “Sunda School” series of which this twelve-inch is the third installment. Certain Porridge Bullet releases conjure an aesthetic connection to the Wah Wah Wino crew over in Dublin, favoring slowed-down grooves and a playful, kitchen-sink omnivorousness. LLL’s contribution to the Sunda School series is ‘floor-oriented but it never loses that adventurous spirit. “Friday Rituals” features my favorite trick – a rollicking tech-house groove with some distorted voice talking over top – and it’s followed by the half-time dub of “92”, splashing like a particularly fat and oily seal on the shore. The b-side opens with the lo-fi hardware dance-chasm “Yyyeah Exactly” and the even more nocturnal “Valu-e”, both tracks as grotty and underground as Ron Morelli’s recent Heart Stopper album with the mischievousness I’ve come to expect from the label that brought me a project based on an imagined sequel to a 1961 sci-fi film (that’d be Amphibian Man II). Expert stuff from folks that don’t act like experts… these porridge bullets don’t miss!

Monolog Jern 12″ (I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free)
Long-running Danish-born, Berlin-stationed techno artist Monolog contributes to the Ukraine benefit label I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free with an EP full of hard-edged contrasts. For me, it’s all about that the opener “Trailing”, as I simply can’t get enough of the commingling of doom-metal guitars and modern sound-design, particularly when it comes from the electronic camp. This track sounds like Black Mayonnaise and Thrones inside an art gallery on the moon, doing their impression of heavy metal crushed by elephants. It’s kind of a tease, really, as “Trailing” is the only track that sounds like that here. “Decent Of Ares” and “Drinking Tea With Killers” exist on the opposite end of the tempo spectrum, two ripping drum n’ bass tracks full of grey-scale distortion with the occasional sound of cryogenic chambers opening. Someone with the dated moniker of “Kid Atari” reworks “Drinking Tea With Killers” to more cinematic ends, and “Forgotten Circle 10” offers a soft-yet-desolate finale, a mood piece with the sound of war in the distance, made all the more unsettling by the circumstances of the responsible label.

Mother’s Milk Render Void At Gate LP (State Laughter)
Can’t go wrong with a trio that looks like slight variants of the same person. Hanging on the cover of their album, Atlanta’s Mother’s Milk look like triplets with slightly different hair and glasses, and I appreciate the physical unity. A strong bond between band members will surely help fend off the repeated question of “did you name your band after the Red Hot Chili Peppers?”, a question that would tear down a weaker band, though the songs of Render Void At Gate certainly help dispel any freaky-styley behavior. On further investigation, the group appears to be led by one Crane Fortune (of GG King, Glittering Insects, Wymyns Prysyn and so on), and Mother’s Milk is his chance to explore the moodier side of post-grunge art-punk. These songs are heavily indebted to Sonic Youth, as the guitars vacillate between 120 Minutes grunge-pop and noisy pedal-chain deconstructions, often in the same song if applicable. It clearly comes from a hardcore-punk background, rather than a commercial/indie mindset, which is probably why it’s more cynical- and tough-sounding than the many moneyed college-graduates who have attempted a similar sound as of late. Apparently in the wake of Render Void At Gate, the group has ballooned into a septet, though I’m not sure what those other people are doing – more guitars, maybe some electronics? It’s ambitious, negative and vaguely druggy, a combination which has served underground rock extremely well throughout the years.

Nurse Nurse 12″ (State Laughter)
Fine new twelve-inch slab from Atlanta’s Nurse, a sinister hardcore group who take their time with things. This is the first we’ve heard from them since their excellent 2017 seven-inch, and I can’t help but assume they’ve been busy lurking in the shadows and writing blood-stained ransom notes (or, maybe just playing in other cool bands, as it seems like all of Atlanta’s punk musicians are in at least three bands). They’ve got a cool thing going, a vibrant combination of negative-mindset aesthetics: the vocalist sounds like Jake Sayles of Filth trying out for a black-metal group, the riffs are spindly and evil, and the tempos are fast and/or menacing. Rikk Agnew melodies meet No Trend inside that big waste pipe on the edge of town where some kids allegedly died years ago. It hits a real sweet spot for me, but I can see how a larger form of underground popularity might elude Nurse, as the songs here that behave similarly to Gag and Gel are too weird for your average hardcore Zoomer, goth kids might be turned off by the aggressive hardcore-punk songwriting, and the whole thing is too visceral and screamy for any garage-rock turkeys who might otherwise appreciate the jumpy riffs and leather-jacket attitude. If you are less inclined to seek out by-the-numbers punk, however, Nurse extend their hand to you, wrinkled and grey with long pointy nails.

OK EG Rivulets 2xLP (Kalahari Oyster Cult)
Nothing but straightforward techno quality from the Kalahari crew, though I associate the label with twelve-inch singles, not double-LP full-lengths. They must’ve liked what they heard from Melbourne duo OK EG, and I’m right there with them, as Rivulets is an impressive collection of pristine techno construction. Go ahead, give it the white glove test and you won’t find a single dust mite on its glossy surface, so thoroughly sterilized and slick are these spare trance grooves. Even the microscopic traces of ASMR in “Flow Regime” feel like they were freshly unwrapped from a laboratory desk. OK EG’s sound borrows heavily from ’90s progressive-rave culture, the sort of mind-melding synth-lines that are inherently psychedelic with or without a pill on your tongue, with the less-is-more attitude favored by much of the seminal dub/minimal tech-house contingent. Hard not to picture Wolfgang Voigt, PSI and The Orb up in the booth, reducing track after track to their most essential parts with a contemporary range of software. It can be hard to make a style this established sound fresh, but as I sit here with “Rivulets” on full blast, it feels as timelessly exhilarating as standing under a waterfall, even one of those little man-made ones in an overpriced spa resort.

Pharma See? 7″ (Big Neck)
Pharma had one shot at using this pun-based title, and I’m glad they took the opportunity here on this fairly blistering five-song EP. I associate Big Neck with bloozy garage-punk of varying levels of quality, so I was surprised to hear that Pharma are firmly hardcore-punk, not far off from quintessential (and fellow Detroit-stationed) ragers Negative Approach. These songs hit that sweet spot of too fast for comfort – drummer Krystian Quint sounds like he’s whooped just from playing the intro of “End Of Days”, yet he presses on, getting even faster on “Blasphemy”. The level of bile raised by Pharma reminds me of one of my anti-social NYHC faves, Nihilistics, with vocalist Charles Stahl penetrating drywall with his throat and the rest of the band pushing each song to its meanest possible form. The guitar seems to be fueled by a hatred of its enemies, squealing out very active forms of feedback at any moment the main riff isn’t being hammered into the floor. Refreshing to find some brutal, speedy, no-nonsense, untrendy hardcore-punk when I wasn’t expecting it! It’s like walking into a pane of glass you thought was empty space.

PLO Man Anonymousmaterial 12″ (Acting Press)
Berlin’s PLO Man sets phasers to stun on this righteous new EP of uncompromising dub-techno. While Anonymousmaterial makes no attempt at uncharted territory or some exciting new path forward for electronic dance music, it does provide four ripping cuts of cloud-parting techno. His general move is to lock a rhythm into some sort of airtight container, then jostle it about, sometimes chopping up the pavement with bulldozers, sometimes applying a fresh smooth layer of cement. The sonic properties are very much dub-techno, but more aggressive and active than that label can sometimes infer; “Fig. 001” volleys multiple interlocking patterns and “Fig. 015” opens with a few minutes of pure “crash cymbal in a washing machine” bliss. I fondly recall going to the Hardwax site, reading some sort of barely-coherent description and taking a chance based on an appealing project name or some connection to a label/artist I already dug, and nearly blowing my speakers on the rich German grooves I purchased, as finely engineered as a Porsche. PLO Man is taking me to that special place once again.

Pretty Sneaky Koldd LP (Marionette)
For some people, extended atmospheric drones provide soothing ambient comfort, but when I’m seeking that sort of sonic weighted-blanket feel, I reach for soft-touch arpeggios, of which Pretty Sneaky’s Koldd is chock full. This is slow-motion ambient electronica that navigates the drift while hooked to delicate synth patterns, like a seahorse with its little tail wrapped up in some kelp as the tide pushes it back and forth. Almost all of these tracks open with some sort of bird-song or natural sounds (the third track references wind in the title and definitely ends on the sound of it), but it’s the plush synth pads and unhurried pace of the melodies that has me coming back to it over and over. A track like “Entering Theme” picks up the pace in a manner redolent of Yu Su, but falls back to serene, soothing mannerisms on the next cut, “Desert Theme”. The sounds are varied but the vibe is all early-morning hygge, the afterlife of a rave when only the sleepiest, most turtle-paced harmonies are still out lingering on the grounds.

Puffer Puffer EP 7″ (Roachleg)
Hard to go wrong with boutique Brooklyn hardcore-punk label Roachleg, so while I am unsure if this new Montreal-based group is referencing coats or fish with their name, I’m down for a spin. They carry a pretty contemporary aesthetic mixture on their debut, a future where punks and skins have finally attained unity (sorry herberts – it’s just not your time) and it’s not only okay to like heavy metal but actively encouraged. Which is to say, their music is like 70% Riot City, 20% NWOBHM and 10% Chiswick. The vocalist has a gorilla-throat in the same genus as Steve Clark of 86 Mentality, with the benefit of songwriting that values hooks over attitude; these are songs for a crowd well into advanced drinking age. The b-side tracks are my favorites: “Sister Marie” sounds like The Damned if they crash-landed on Headache Records in the early ’90s and were forced to share beer with Wretched Ones, whereas “Hard Way To Go” sounds like that great first Vanity album if it was co-produced by Fizzy and Ace Frehley. In this time of fractured social networks and general insanity, anything is possible, especially in New York, and probably even Montreal.

Salenta + Topu Moon Set, Moon Rise LP (Futura Resistenza)
We all know what Brooklyn sounds like now (Olivia Rodrigo playing out of a bluetooth speaker attached to a food-app delivery bicycle), but this fine release from the Brooklyn-based duo of pianist Salenta Baisden and cellist Topu Lyo has me imagining the Brooklyn of my great-great-grandparents on a particularly boozed-up, candlelit night. The piano sounds pre-World War One, what with the creaky room sounds, and Lyo’s cello adds a tentative pluck or mournful rub even when Baisden is feeling particularly jaunty. These songs seem to be improvisations, or at least very loosely structured, but Moon Set, Moon Rise is clearly rooted in melody, both playful and exploratory, as opposed to wild atonal scuffles. Not sure if “domestic-spiritual” is a thing, but I’d feel comfortable filing this album into that micro-genre in the record store that lives in my head. For as inquisitive and conversational as it is, there’s a richness to these songs that burns late into the evening, perhaps in part to the clear intimacy happening between the two players. Feels lucky to be a silent voyeur peering into their proceedings, because I’m sure the floorboards in their Bedstuy walk-up would be groaning the moment I opened the door.

Sharp Pins Turtle Rock LP (Tall Texan)
Intriguing find here from Tall Texan, the solo / plays-all-the-instruments-himself project of Kai Slater, perhaps best known as a member of up-and-coming indie trio Lifeguard. He’s young enough where you can do a full-time, going-for-it indie band and record an album yourself of fully-realized songs, which is the case of Turtle Rock. Lifeguard I’m lukewarm on – no hate, just haven’t really connected with ’em – but Sharp Pins is pretty ace! As I listen, I’m picturing Homosexuals if they had the advantage/disadvantage of existing with the knowledge of ’90s alt-rock. Which is to say, the songs themselves are splendidly lo-fi and odd and reach for some sort of Big Star / T. Rex glamour in spite of their sonic limitations, but they also sound like they could’ve come from the Elephant 6 collective in 1994, or within the lost demos of The Shins or Jay Reatard. Even a Siltbreeze connection would make some sort of sonic/aesthetic sense! The songs themselves take precedence to style, but Slater’s appealing vocal warble and the shaggy recording add to the overall charm. A sleeper hit, the sort of record that has annoyingly sold out by the time you find out about it from reading those end of the year best-of lists, so go on, beat the holiday rush!

Shela TV Songs LP (Discrepant)
I don’t think that when I started this website back in 2008 that I expected to find myself surrounded by records of solo piano with random household noises some fifteen years later, yet that’s one of the many joys of music – no one’s personal journey is set in stone. Shela’s TV Songs is yet another entry into this ever-growing field, one that I am certain I will eventually find myself exhausted by (and, like all sub-sub-genres, probably will have some obvious shark-jumpers that we’ll look back upon head-scratchingly years from now), but I keep not reaching that point. Or maybe TV Songs is just a pretty record, trend or no trend? Lisbon pianist João “Shela” Pereira recorded these songs at home with the television on, and unlike many of the other domestic-ambient artists who use the piano as another found-object to poke and prod, Shela’s music is more song than sketch. These melodies are mournful and romantic, veering on sleepy jazz or rain-dappled classical, and their inherent beauty (alongside the very light coating of TV sounds) shines through, succeeding on the strength of their melodies and progressions rather than the boldness of messy avant-garde collage. Imperfect and noble enough that I’ll probably tolerate lesser examples of this genre for at least a little while longer.

Slutavverkning Levande Charader LP (Feral Cuts)
It’s sometimes a little embarrassing to only speak or really understand English, but at the same time, I’m able to enjoy a record like Levande Charader by Swedish noise-rockers Slutavverkning in my state of quasi-illiteracy. Just look at that saw-blade on the cover and imagine what it’s like to say “Slutavverkning” out loud and you won’t need a mastery of the language to pick up the vibe. Their songs are both brutal and brutalist, built like squares and rectangles of repetitive rhythmic thud, a proud dearth of melodies and a vocalist who seems to be screaming beyond his capabilities, the sort of throat-scorch that only Junko of Hijokaidan can sustain for years. Taking that Swans Filth template and juicing it with the energy of hardcore, Slutavverkning would sufficiently damage ears based on their rhythm section alone, but they take it a step further with the frequent saxophones and clarinets, deployed in a perpetual squeal. The “free jazz” tag might be used, but this doesn’t feel free so much as an intentional act of savagery. The result sounds like Brainbombs at twice the speed (and as far as I can tell, none of the depraved sexual violence), or if that recent Oxbow collaboration with Peter Brötzmann was in perpetual full-on attack mode instead of smoker’s lounge jazz.

World I Hate Years Of Lead LP (War)
You’d think the experience of listening to great new hardcore would get progressively less exhilarating over time, and while that’s probably true in a general sense for me, Years Of Lead fired me up instantly. World I Hate are a Milwaukee hardcore band, but rather than doing the trendy beatdown thing, they clearly take inspiration from the burliest of fast-core / power-violence ragers. I’m hearing Infest, Mind Eraser, Vile Gash and Think I Care (whose band name and typeface they resemble) in their sound, a cavalcade of stop-on-a-dime blasts that grind up against grueling breakdowns and furious (yet precise) thrash. There’s a tasteful hint of crowd-killing in some of their mosh parts – as is the parlance of the day – but the music errs on the side of blazing hardcore-grind. The recording is clean without surface shine, never feeling too “pro” without the diminished heaviness that a lo-fi aesthetic can bring. You can get by on this style without a noteworthy singer, but I really love what vocalist Hal Crossno brings to the table here, a rapid delivery somewhere between Ban Reilly and Bob Kasitz of Lack Of Interest. He goes absolutely bananas on “Safer In Jail”, like a grindcore Twista going buckwild before the riff even kicks in! Not sure I can get off the couch without using my hands these days, yet I have the violent urge to catapult myself over a stranger’s shoulders when Years Of Lead comes on.

Yellowcake Can You See The Future? 7″ (Not For The Weak / Suicide Of A Species)
It’s not often that a hardcore band-name makes me hungry, but I’m over here having Betty Crocker visions as the pitch-perfect d-beat warfare of this Phoenix group explodes from my speakers. Turns out the name references some sort of nuclear by-product, but I don’t care, I’m still appetized by both the name and their true-to-form, classic Swede-inspired hardcore-punk. The drums and bass are locked-in and fluid, even in these high-tempo situations, the guitar is an agitated hornet’s nest, and the vocals are delivered in brief sentence fragments in the precise manner that Discharge and Shitlickers taught us. There’s even a metallic edge to some of these tunes, but they work that into the stew nicely, never entering crossover territory so much as fancying up their impressively menacing d-beat sound. It’s funny, I’ll get other genre-conventional records and be bothered by their uniformity and lack of imagination, but in the case of Yellowcake, who don’t remotely deviate from their established d-beat genre, I love it. Could be that d-beat just rules in general, or that Yellowcake are particularly adept, but I’m thinking it’s a little of both.