Alamoans Alamoans 7″ (Kill Enemy)
It’s gotta be intimidating to start a new hardcore band in Pittsburgh these days… the bar has been set at such a high level over the past few years that you have to have some elevated level of confidence, chops or both to enter the fray. Alamoans are a post-Covid group featuring folks from Eel and Speed Plans, two of Pittsburgh’s gnarliest if not most technically precise, and in this configuration, they lower the tempo and reduce the general sense of violence that came with those other two groups. Sometimes you just wanna groove, even if it’s still in a basement-dwelling hardcore sense, and Alamoans find a solid mid-tempo lane for much of their five songs here. These songs are still prepared to weather substantial moshing – “We’re Laughing” is primed for sideways pitting – but there’s an underlying sense of outsiderness, the sort of thing that made Condominium and Slices stand out from the crowd. Reminds me of SQRM too, hardcore that frays the line between anguish and awkwardness in a way that I find appealing. The sound on this EP might be murkier than I’m used to hearing from Pittsburgh hardcore (is the Braddock Hit Factory no more?), but Alamoans seem to thrive on their lack of clarity – the lyric sheet, amusingly, is completely redacted.

Ancient Filth No More Hiding LP (Shock To The System / Gonzosonic)
Like ten years after their inception, Boston’s Ancient Filth finally release their first vinyl full-length, true to their unwavering cause of injury-prone hardcore-punk. They’ve got an energetic, unhinged sound without ever playing overtly fast… it’s a proud strain of American hardcore, and Ancient Filth are popping the buttons off their shirts as they perform it. Most specifically, I’m reminded of Northeast suburban thrash-core (The Rites, Tear It Up) from twenty years ago, with a touch of Infest’s incessant 90- and 180-degree riff-shifts and one mosh breakdown every six or seven songs (they’re from Boston, after all). The singer appears to be in constant physical battle with himself – are those pieces of paper stapled to his body on the back center sticker? – the sort of guy whose violence is self-directed but it’s still kind of scary. Even with this belligerent presentation, Ancient Filth are saying real things, complete with an attractive poster insert that includes not only lyrics but explanations of those lyrics, in case you were to somehow take “Legalize Suicide” and “Father Knows Best” the wrong way.

Brorlab Working Out In Heaven LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Here’s a fun one you may have missed, perhaps the first band to have released music on both hardcore-punk authority La Vida Es Un Mus and avant-prankster seal of anti-quality Ultra Eczema. Brorlab are an Antwerp group venturing into Casio-punk territory, even if no actual Casios are necessarily represented. It’s bass, guitar, high-pitched shouting and one extremely overworked and obviously fake-sounding drum machine, and if you find pleasure in sounds that annoy the vast majority of other people, Working Out In Heaven is for you! It’s like if Atari Teenage Riot were on Crass Records, or if Good Throb got Agoraphobic Nosebleed to write and record their next record. Wacked-out on purpose, with songs that constantly check your patience – go on, give “Anyway The Wind Blows” a listen and see if you can pass Brorlab’s entry endurance test. As for me, I love it, though even making it through the full album in a single go feels more depleting than if I sat down with stacks of Journey albums or ’90s emo double-LP compilations. It’s music meant to wear you out, which is a very punk thing to do. I have to wonder though, are Brorlab immune to their own sonic weaponry, or are they also exhausted by the end? They have to be hearing it too, even if they’re the ones making it… some punk rock freaks are just built different, so who knows.

Class If You’ve Got Nothing LP (Feel It)
The desert is a funny place to be a power-pop band… just imagine how sweaty it gets in those tweed sport-coats and skinny ties! Of course, Tuscon’s Class aren’t playing it by the stereotypical rules, which is a significant reason as to why their second Feel It full-length, If You’ve Got Nothing, is so good. They’ve got vibrant, rocky guitar chords deployed in classic punk configurations, a lively performance and catchy vocal harmonies, and they deliver it all without sounding hokey, generic or insincere. I suppose the most sincere way to sound these days is “depressed and miserable”, given the general state of affairs, but I appreciate that Class seem frustrated and angry without an overwhelming sense of resignation or hopelessness – I wouldn’t call what they’re dealing here “hope”, but it feels willing to at least face the world rather than aggressively hide from it. There’s a touch of Exploding Hearts in If You’ve Got Nothing, but also a strong Cleveland vibe, working-class proto-punk I’d associate with guys like Peter Laughner or Ron House. Rootsy American rock in a completely non-corny way, which gets close to some eternal truth or at least a couple kernels of it.

Coeval Coeval LP (Le Turc Mecanique)
Coeval won’t be the most notorious English post-punk group to have a trauma bonding song (that honor goes to High Vis), yet I find their distant and morose style more intriguing, starting with opener “Trauma Bonding” through the self-titled album’s close. They’ve got that dead-serious attitude along with a heavy shot of melodramatic flair and a looming professionalism, not unlike Savages or Fontaines D.C., that sorta money-backed, stylized goth-adjacent rock vibe that refuses to ever fall out of style. Only in the case of Coeval, they’re not on some big label with professional photoshoots and toiling publicists on hand, they’re scraping it together more or less themselves with similar wide-screen results. Some of these songs, when churning their own dark emotions deeply, remind me of Iceage if they were trained musicians who did not have the lived teenaged experience of a scrappy hardcore scene to raise them. There’s probably some Joy Division, Cold Cave and even The Xx in there too, but Coeval truly does a fine job of sounding separate from the pack, or at least not so beholden to the exact same synth presets and familiar melodic progressions. A song like “Liminal”, for example, seeps like black coffee through a paper towel, all of its parts creeping and seemingly out-of-time yet all the more interesting because of it. Unlike the other artists I mention here, sometimes it can be hard to tell if Coeval are making it up on the spot, a difficult yet successful approach to depressive post-punk mood music.

Comes • Veldman Manifest Exodus LP (Dead Mind)
Sometimes I think of all the drone-ambient fans out there, and how lucky they were to be alive in this very moment, this bountiful period of drone-ambient in human history! Imagine being born merely a couple centuries ago – a micro-blip in the history of this planet – and well, if you want to hear drone-ambient, you’re going to have to go work at the steam-engine assembly-line or something, and even then, it’s mostly the same set over and over. Anyway, Manifest Exodus is another new drone-ambient album, but it comes from the very not-new Hessel Veldman alongside his younger (but still older than me) counterpart Martijn Comes. Veldman is one of my favorite Dutch post-punk experimentalists, whose inventive work has stretched out from 1981 or so into the very present, and while that sort of pedigree isn’t mandatory for making engaging drone-ambient, it sure doesn’t hurt. On this LP we’ve got four thick, lengthy tracks, all of which seem to relate the stretching out of distant galaxies but in a soothing manner, as if we have nothing to fear – we’re all just stardust anyway. There’s shimmering, animated distortion and a heavy low-end providing gravitational pull, but these tracks always maintain a peaceful melodic resonance, like light shining through the crusty cracks of some ancient cavern, or prehistoric gears slowly locking into place. Perfect for the next time you need sit and think (or attempt to avoid having any thoughts entirely).

Dridge Dying Out 2xLP (W.G.M.)
On Dridge’s 2021 vinyl full-length, there was an undercurrent of pop-melodicism to their heavy grunge riffs, but not even the skeletons of such endeavors remain here on the follow-up, Dying Out. See, this is pure epic doom-metal – released in one of my favorite epic doom-metal formats, three songs on three sides of twelve-inch vinyl – that harbors no hooks, no verse/chorus comfort, nothing besides the dreariest, heaviest sludge. Solid move! Even with twelve-minute-long songs, there’s something about Dridge that feels punk, or at least punk-indebted… it’s doom-metal, sure, but performed with such spite and disgust that it feels like metal can’t fully claim it as its own. Kinda like how St. Vitus looked/sounded on those Black Flag tours, authentically metal yet authentically punk at the same time, if more spiritually than sonically. The strings here are downtuned almost past the point of being able to functionally reverberate, the drums keep painfully-slow time with some inspired patterns and fills (that’s gotta be tricky at these speeds), and the vocals sound like a five-hundred-pound monster awoken in his cave. Fans of Eternal Rot won’t be disappointed! It’s a big shift from what they sounded like only two years ago, but their evolution (or tragic mutation, as it were) is ace.

Forestlike Forestlike LP (Patsy Presents)
Extremely precious debut here from Indiana’s Forestlike, an indie-folk duo who might blow away if they get caught up in a light breeze. They’re apparently old friends who reconnected with each other and their nylon-stringed guitars, aging out of scrappy indie bands to this tender, emotion-centric affair. There is nary a sharp edge to be found within this self-titled debut, full of airy melodies, vocal harmonies, acoustic guitars and an overwhelming softness, the songs crafted with considerate care and attention to detail. Feels like Conor Oberst at his most subdued, Will Oldham on his deathbed, Ben Gibbard covering Pearls Before Swine, or Simon and Garfunkel if they toned down the aggression a bit… it’s not children’s music, by any means, but if Forestlike switched out their lyrics for lines about caterpillars who hug rainbows, it might be the perfect cozy come-down to usher in nap-time without protest. Forestlike are all-in on this vibe, and I appreciate their commitment to such kindhearted music, even if it might be a little too hushed and sentimental for my personal predilection. How much tenderness can you take??

The Gents Responsible Dog Walker 7″ (Creepy Kid)
An EP titled Responsible Dog Walker, as performed by a group called The Gents… are you also feeling a little suspicious? There’s no way this self-described group of “three elementary school teachers” are actually as polite as it might seem upon first glance! Turns out my suspicions were well-founded, as they blast through five flailing tunes as though they’re trying to start a riot in third period lunch. These songs are poppy by heart but performed with abandon and recorded red-hot, sounding like H-100s trying their hands at Screeching Weasel-y pop-punk, or some playground dustup between Slobber and Assfactor 4’s cover of “Attempted Control”. It’s dirty music in a very American way, which is why I was surprised to discover that The Gents are actually from Hamburg, Germany. (I’d be relieved in my assumptions if it turned out to be a typo and they were actually from Hamburg, Indiana or something.) Probably a little too poppy and fun for the usual wild n’ lo-fi garage-heads (and vice versa), but for someone like me who isn’t caught up with staunch genre separations, it’s a treat.

Hard Copy 12 Shots Of Nature LP (Feel It)
Though Feel It has relocated from Richmond to Cincinnati, that hasn’t prevented them from releasing dispatches from the freakier end of Richmond’s punk underground, like Hard Copy’s curious debut for instance. 12 Shots From Nature shows a band that, even in its infancy, is yearning for something beyond the typical post-punk confines. Their songs can feel like one-act plays as much as danceable grooves, often at odds with each other, which is part of the fun. There will be a two-note bass-guitar rhythm that stinks of early Viagra Boys, some strange percussive experiments the likes of which call PiL to my mind, a belligerent/intelligent vocal prowess that might reverberate with the chutzpah of Mark E. Smith, and chards of raw dance-punk that feel like a beer-soaked match to labelmates Sweeping Promises, to give you a general idea of Hard Copy’s range of musical approaches. And rather than write songs in a typical verse-chorus structure, these tunes remain unpredictable throughout – examine the way that a brief vocal appearance gives way to an extended krauty dance groove in “Torpedo”. It’s like the art-school sophistication of Patois Counselors butting head-on with the anti-virtuoso punk attitude of Buck Biloxi, with results that sound decidedly like neither. I can picture the average Feel It fan passing this one by, it being very much a square-peg record in a round-hole world, and I can also picture more adventurous listeners discovering it years from now, wondering what the hell was up with this delightfully strange band.

The Judges Judgement Day LP (Total Punk / Anti Fade)
The international accord between America’s Total Punk and Australia’s Anti Fade could only yield positive results, like this debut LP from Melbourne’s The Judges. If I had to guess, the cover photo reveals one of the Judges undergoing a guitar transaction inside of a liquor store with some guy they met on Australian Facebook, a welcome bit of snark on an album that otherwise is no laughing matter. Judgement Day sounds like it came from a band whose favorite Stooges are Ashetons, inner-city bad-kid rock n’ roll from the last continent to really take that sort of thing seriously. The Judges take the holy template of dual-guitar power-punk and run with it, with gasoline/nicotine-scented riffs, appealingly bad attitudes and no filler. It’s a style that can’t ever truly suck, but it certainly can be boring… lucky for us, The Judges sound like they’re playing for their lives, leaving every last drop of blood on the floor. Definitely sounds like the kind of garage band that gathers as many friends as enemies, but that could just be the sound they’ve produced. Perhaps they’re sweethearts, even if their songs sound like they were written and performed by the thieves who stole your bike and never got caught.

Jared Leibowich Secret Spells LP (Bruit Direct)
Jared Leibowich carved out his own soft and unobtrusive spot in the indie underground through a bunch of records with his group The Zoltars (and one album with an entirely different group of people as The Infinitives), and now he’s stepping out under the Leibowich family name for his first “solo” affair, Secret Spells. I put solo in quotes because this certainly sounds like a band, complete with tumbling, cymbal-deficient drumming, chiming guitar notes and Leibowich’s easily recognizable voice. His voice always sounds like a nerd you should take seriously, barely raising it above speaking volume while maintaining a melodic pitch… it’s one of the signatures of his music, and much as I’ve enjoyed it previously, I’m enjoying it here. And while his style has generally remained the same, one of cozy slow-core indie-rock ala The American Analog Set and Bedhead at their most traceable back to the Velvet Underground, these songs feel slightly more bombastic, more inclined to throb with tension and energy. There’s some nice low-end here, a warm bass sound and some auxiliary keys that fill up the space like the decor of a well-designed room. As perhaps his most textured and pulsating work yet, Leibowich is in good company with Bruit Direct’s stable of misfits.

Leopardo Solo Recordings 2019-2022 LP (Chrüsimüsi)
Whimsical Swiss indie-psych is the name of the game with Leopardo, operating as both a live ensemble and, back when society actually recognized the ongoing pandemic, a solo recording project. It’s the work of bandleader Romain Savary on this collection, coming across like the egg-punk Tiny Tim or something. Soft, swirling, silly songs are on offer here, mostly utilizing a standard guitar/vocal arrangement and mucking it up with some sort of synth, woodwind or homemade approximation thereof. I suppose if you squint hard enough, you can pick up on the melancholy isolation with which this music was written and recorded, but Leopardo have always delivered a sort of offbeat childlike cheerfulness, and I’m sensing that here too, even though a track like “Bündnerfleisch” feels like This Kind Of Punishment covering “She’s Lost Control”. My favorite cut is the opener, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With Nobody”, which sounds unlike any of the rest. It’s a silly post-punk streetwalk with outrageously warbled vocals, sounding like you’re cornered by a chainsmoking Frenchman at an ’80s roller-disco new-wave party. Even in isolation, Leopardo refuses to succumb to the dark side.

Liquid Mike Liquid Mike LP (Kitschy Spirit)
Radio-friendly pop-punk is one of those things I have a superhuman tolerance for – the band could be pro-fracking pyramid-scheme loan-frauds who foreclosed on my parents’ house, but if their songs do the same basic things as All American Rejects, Blink 182 and Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue”, well, fine by me! Now, I can’t claim to know how the members of Liquid Mike make their money outside of the band, but they’ve got that same bouncy, anthemic, Totally ’90s pop-punk sound on this, their first vinyl record. “God Bless The World” has an overtly Tony Molina-esque vocal melody (and Molina’s trademark abrupt ending style), but I’m also hearing The Promise Ring at their most uproarious, the Adventures Of Pete & Pete theme song, the first Charly Bliss album, the aforementioned major-label pop-punk and, I dunno, probably hundreds of other bands who more or less sound like this. There are also millions of Snickers bars out there right now, and you know what, their ubiquity doesn’t make them any less sweet and tasty! Liquid Mike are from Marquette, MI, and if the house-parties in neighboring towns aren’t at least a little envious, it’s probably because they haven’t heard about Liquid Mike just yet.

Peder Mannerfelt The Benefits Of Living In A Hole 12″ (Voam)
It seems like Peder Mannerfelt is never not having fun. Even on some of his more ominous, serious-sounding works, there’s always that sense that he’s enjoying himself a little too much. On this new EP, however, the fun is front and center, ebullient rave mayhem that squeaks and squeals. On this punchy four-track EP he takes the neon eye-glare of PC Music and thrusts it into muscular techno patterns reminiscent of Errorsmith, with plenty of room for his wild bicycle-horn synths to grab all the attention. “Vankelmotor” feels like Blawan through a funhouse mirror, the synths given a full-on taffy-pull, whereas “Eurotrashed” finds a lone goblin wandering through a k-hole. “Liquid Rattan Mainframe” ends on a high note, a fast-shuffling beat alongside what is easily the most cartoonishly flatulent synth-leads on an EP full of silly sounds. It’s precisely the sort of ridiculousness that I’d associate with Mannerfelt: forward-thinking, fast-paced and side-splitting.

Meat Shirt Army Of Dolphins EP 12″ (Phantom / Destructure)
I was prepared to chuckle at the fact that French power-punk trio Meat Shirt recorded their Army Of Dolphins EP in the French town of Brest, but it’s an absolutely gorgeous little port city, the type of place I certainly wish to retire to someday. Apologies to all Brest residents for my immaturity! Anyway, French hardcore is always weird and a little awkward, even when it doesn’t want to be, but Meat Shirt (hailing from Saint Brieuc, not Brest) are actually pretty well-adjusted. They operate on the poppier end of the post-hardcore noise-rock spectrum, where the guitars self-destruct rarely and tastefully and the rhythm section continuously propels things forward. The thuggish tempos occasionally carry the sensation of Viagra Boys, whereas some of the guitar work has me thinking of East Bay Ray’s demented-surf stylings. Suitable for a band called Meat Shirt, to be sure! It’s their debut, and you can kind of hear the band sorting themselves out in their fledgling state, playing fast, searching out grooves and even trying out a funky gang-vocal “whoop whoop” breakdown on the title track, a moment far closer to modern-day Red Hot Chili Peppers than, say, Metz or Drive Like Jehu. Maybe “Meat Shirt” is just another way to say you’re going shirtless, Chi Peps style?

Melenas Ahora LP (Trouble In Mind)
Has the genre “playlist-rock” been invented yet? Ahora, the third album from Spanish group Melenas certainly fits that feel in a non-derogatory way, one of subdued, chilled-out indie-rock moves with a reliance on soft synths, chugging motorik rhythms and mellow vocals. It’s one of those records that will offend absolutely nobody, and I don’t mean that as a diss – Melenas have cultivated a smooth, tender indie-krautrock style aligned with Broadcast, Neu! and to a lesser extent Domenique Dumont and Electrelane. There are no dangerous edges here – you could leave a toddler unattended inside Ahora and rest assured that they won’t somehow injure themselves. B-side opener “Bang” is pop fun, big cozy synths guiding the tune on a course that would satisfy an iPhone commercial where young attractive people dance by themselves in their bedrooms as well as a birthday party for one of those aforementioned toddlers. The more I listen, the more some of these understated hooks cling to my brain, a subtle trick for a record that is otherwise trick-free.

Nameless Creations Plague Party LP (Antena Krzyku)
Goth has gotten way too fashionable over the last decade or so, let’s be real. It used to be scary and disgusting, the subsect of punk that creeped out regular punks, and while I’ve grown accustomed to it as more of an Instagrammable aesthetic choice (which I guess could be said about a lot of things), it’s cool that Warsaw’s Nameless Creations are dedicated to keeping it gross. I mean, they kind of tastelessly called this new album Plague Party, and instead of hiding behind crystalline waves of reverb, they’re screeching and drooling through songs with titles like “Dirge For A Lunatic” and “Poison Island”. It would make Christian Death and Bauhaus proud, I’m sure. These songs are ramshackle and spooky, at some points sounding like Nick Cave if he hailed from a Southern California suburb in 1983, or some unstable melange of Subtonix, TV Ghost and Trop Tard. I love that the singer is named Dorian Wiseblood, and that the bassist is Harry Throat – shouldn’t someone named “Harry Throat” be the singer? Nameless Creations are unabashed weirdos, stirring up a sinister mess of aggro post-punk that fashion-goths will struggle to understand.

Erik Nervous Immaturity LP (Feel It / FatCat)
Now that egg-punk has been officially SPIN-articled and continues to age out of novelty/obscurity, new directions are welcomed for the reluctant genre. Erik Nervous has been at it for a while now, catching the formative aesthetic as a youngster and impressing his own brand of nerdy/garage-y speed-punk upon the Midwest underground and outwards. Even in the halcyon days of 2015, his musicianship stood out, and on this new full-length, Immaturity, Nervous’s skills remain at the forefront of his work. Of course, punk rock has always been at odds with formal talent, but Nervous really makes it work, writing dazzling, hyperactive guitar lines and inventive drum patterns and presenting them with a comfortingly familiar level of basement grit. His alien-geek-robot vocals are appealingly monotone, a necessary foil for the haywire melodies and technically-astute riffage that he apparently performs and records entirely by himself. It can sound like Whatever Brains on their sixth can of Monster, or Jay Reatard if he never moved out of his mom’s attic (both good things), but I’m most enamored by the glimpses of out-there instrumental work – “Pretentious Instrumental Break” tries to self-deprecate with the title, but it recalls the lunacy of Systematics or even the portrayal of Philip Glass as egg-punk liege. Be proud of your formidable skills, Mr. Nervous!

Maayan Nidam Habe Ich Gewonnen? 12″ (Giegling)
Best Giegling single to hit my desk in a minute! Maayan Nidam is new to me, but “Eisbär” is a techno-not-techno track I won’t soon forget. It behaves so strangely… like, yes there is a beat, but it’s also kind of motionless, with this warm and warbly synth squiggle that gets flipped on and off like a light-switch. There is no groove whatsoever, and that’s what makes it so compelling. It’s headphone/meditation/dishwashing electro of a refined caliber, a listening zone I strongly endorse. The rest of the a-side wanders with a similarly uninhibited presence, drums offering only the most rudimentary of patterns, bass-lines restlessly burbling, perhaps a simple melodic line or a sprinkling of low-level dub interference. The flip offers no easy answers either, only more patient and sparse techno maneuvers in the hazy clap n’ throb of “In Reverence”. It’s like there are the sanctioned styles of electronic dance music, and then there’s Maayan Nidam, blissfully negating the things a techno producer is supposed to do. Habe Ich Gewonnen? reminds me of Kassem Mosse, Margaret Dygas and labelmate DJ Metatron in that way, a playful thumbing of the rules and reorganization of techno groundwork… yet another friendly reminder to keep an eye on Giegling at all times.

Northeast Regional Fitness 7″ (Tor Johnson)
Now firmly a band (as opposed to its previous solo-project existence), Richmond’s Northeast Regional follow their debut LP with this three-song seven-inch (and promotional Northeast Regional-branded water bottles, too – a nice touch, though a Stanley collab would really put them on the map). These three songs are both leaner and meaner, moving ever so slightly from the screamy pop-punk / melodic hardcore vibe to one of aggressively downward post-grunge chug. The two a-side tracks tumble forward like the most aggressive Hot Snakes material, or KARP with a Jade Tree contract. If you play these songs without enough energy or a capable drummer, everything can fall apart, but everyone in Northeast Regional is holding up their various ends of the bargain here. I can’t help but think that if Fucked Up stayed a normal band back in 2008 and never strayed the course, their results may be similar to these songs as well. The b-side is nice too, opting for a Nirvana-goes-hardcore riff with the sense that it’s played by guys with Rocket From The Crypt-looking button-up shirts. Probably hard to stand out playing music this un-zeitgeisty in 2024, even if you’re really good, but I want to remind you once more that Northeast Regional made promotional water bottles for this release, which is a nice start. Maybe every band should start giving out free household items? It’s surely the next step in our ultra devalued industry.

Now And Blue Space Is Burning Noon LP (Sloth Mate)
Sloth Mate continues to sharpen its savvy aesthetic with Now’s vinyl debut, another sophisticated-DIY indie-pop act out of San Francisco (a city that seems to have a never-ending supply of this sorta thing). They have some recognizable sounds and musical approaches here, all of which come together in a fairly novel arrangement. Some tracks (like opener “Wind Was”) sound like Cocteau Twins’ guitars as utilized by Homosexuals, whereas others split the difference between mopey twee like Brighter and upbeat private-press power-pop. That seems to be the axis on which Now spin, one where buttoned-up power-pop moves, C86 jangle, lite shoegaze psychedelia and a jittery, nervous form of glam-rock mix and mingle. Can’t help but picture skinny ties stuffed into big cable-knit sweaters as And Blue Space Is Burning Noon spins onward. I feel like some of the San Fran DIY-indie scene rests its laurels on aesthetic signifiers and Moe Tucker drumming, a presumed cool to kind of gloss over the lack of fresh songwriting, but Now are innocent of any such charge, clearly a group where sharply-written songs and unique style are crucial elements.

Philipp Otterbach Correct Me If I Am Incorrectly You LP (Offen Music)
German producer Philipp Otterbach dropped two new full-lengths in the tail-end of 2023, one on the well-regarded Music From Memory label and also this one, whose inscrutable title drew me in. I loved his Knekelhuis EP from a few years back, ushering in a weird-nouveau strain of electro noir, and Correct Me spreads its legs in a similar fashion. I guess one could consider this a collection of vignettes, “audio postcards” documenting particular moments in Otterbach’s intriguing life – all the song titles are different dates, though as some date back to the early ’90s, I don’t believe they directly correlate to when they were recorded. Nope, Otterbach likes to tease and gesture from behind a darkened veil, making it clear there’s some sort of narrative story happening in his music but ensuring we’ll never know what any of that is. Thankfully, his music is creative and evocative, curiosity being key. He might get into the low-lit strum of “Okt 01, 21” like some sort of Coil / Current 93 collab, or the cinematic desolation of “Apr 23, 11”, playing out like one of Burial’s street-view ambient pieces… anything alluring, coincidental, spooky or seductive is grist for Otterbach’s mill. The bass and drums of “Mar 27, 16” recall a lightweight MIDI Swans circa Children Of God, though I can’t imagine he had anything close to them in mind when crafting it. Correct Me is a series of unusual connections like that, constantly wandering off the page entirely and all the better for it.

Pyrex Struck Down 7″ (Die Slaughterhaus)
Following their Total Punk full-length, Pyrex loosen up a bit with this slippery two-song single. The album was perfectly fine, but I like them better here, feeling less clenched and more comfortable in their own skin, even if this is still frustrated, manic music by any evaluation. “Struck Down” pushes the disco hi-hats to their limits over a furious strum, sounding like Cheater Slicks covering Interpol at twice the recommended speed. Ugly music by its very nature, rather than any sense of artifice or, even worse, “trying too hard”. And speaking of trying, I’m not sure what Pyrex are trying to do by covering “Staying Alive” (yes, that “Staying Alive”) on the b-side, but I’ll be damned if they don’t make it their own thing entirely. It sounds like Mayyors arguing amongst themselves as a live YouTube of Nirvana’s “Endless, Nameless” is blaring nearby, but if you squint hard enough, Magic Eye-style, the meat and bones of The Bee Gees original can be discerned. Reminds me of that fantastic album by The 012 that is filled with mangled pop covers, far transcending the original material. Crazy ideas are always best – sometimes they just might work!

Red Herrings Zax Armoire LP (Dot Dash Sounds)
Just yesterday I put on WFMU while driving out of New York and enjoyed a killer selection of left-field / lo-fi punk, eventually discovering that it was Tom Dash’s show, he being a notable NYC garage-punk busybody. How nice to hear Screaming Urge segue into The Stimulators on the way home from the indoor-surfing mall! Turns out Dash’s also got his own label going, Dot Dash Sounds, inaugurated with the debut LP from Holyoke, MA’s Red Herrings. Their Western MA affiliation had me thinking of the spacier avant-garde side of electric guitar music, and Dash’s radio show had me expecting some obscurist DIY post-punk, but Red Herrings play it close to the vest, hammering out a noisy-psych form of aggressive garage-punk, not a frill in sight. Certain songs sound like Hot Snakes venturing into outer space, whereas others take more of a Comets On Fire-meets-Purling Hiss approach, multiple layers of guitar rippling like fudge. It never gets too fast or too stoner-y, though, as Red Herrings prefer to stick and move with traditional Nuggets-y rhythms, their pugnacity calling to mind the harder end of Estrus’s back-catalog of 45 RPM singles. In the live photo insert, a pack of Marlboro reds is clearly visible through vocalist Zach Tisdell’s chest pocket, and if somebody’s gotta smoke ’em, I’m glad it’s him and not me.

Sacred Product Return Souvenir 7″ (Wormwood Grasshopper)
Confusion, or at least some low level of blatant incorrectness has always been at the heart of Lynton Denovan’s music, both in his fantastic group Satanic Rockers (no one has since topped their album art in sheer stupid shock value) and solo as Sacred Product. Right off the bat, this EP has the b-side song’s name on the cover – who does that? More than ever it feels like everyone is trying extra hard to please everyone, so it’s refreshing when a new Sacred Product single arrives, clearly uninterested in pleasing anyone. “Angry Red Planet” has a Flipper-ish monoto-bounce, vocals coming in and out without ever seeming entirely aware of the music they’re singing over, then letting it play out instrumentally for the last minute or two. “Return Souvenir” rides a different acid-bent pop progression, again in a mode indebted to Flipper but without any of their underlying nihilism. Almost sounds like a warped Madchester tune, depending how far you’re willing to stick your face into the speaker. Again, I want to stress how appealingly oblivious these songs sound, staring off into the middle distance with a sleepy grin on Sacred Product’s face. It’s a contagious form of stupified bliss, or at least that’s my excuse.

Screaming Urge Buy LP (HoZac)
Screaming Urge’s Homework is one of the greatest Killed By Death tunes – please run to YouTube and watch their 1980 cable-access performance of it if you haven’t seen it already (or even if you have) – and while that single was reissued back in 2012, the good archivists at HoZac offer both of those tunes alongside their debut full-length in another tidy package. That single is so damn killer that the more subdued, lower-energy LP tracks bring the mood down a bit, though once you get over the cheap thrills of “Homework” and “Runaway”, the LP is still a fun listen. While Screaming Urge were happy to wear their wacky, grandma’s-raided-closet punk outfits, their music is already a bit more refined on the LP, or if not refined, omnivorous – you can hear them trying out blues, reggae, power-pop, rockabilly and new-wave maneuvers in fractional if not complete form. I like ’em best when they bop like idiots, of course, the frantic buzz of “We Are Mono” hitting the spot in particular from the LP session. Even though I’ve heard “Homework” at least a hundred times, its mix of Television-esque guitars and extremely teenaged lyrics gets me every time. Screw you, mom and dad!

Sklitakling Sklitakling LP (Back To Beat)
It takes Norwegian garage-punk group Sklitakling four songs before we reach a part that isn’t a one-two drum beat with double-timed guitar strum, but even before “Luftgevær” is over they revert to said technique. If you’ve figured out what kinda music you wanna play, why do anything else? The majority of their self-titled debut is moody punk that finds common ground between hardcore-punk and garage, not unlike The Vicious (or The Wipers if you want to go further down the evolutionary chain). Vocals are shouted by what seems like more than one member, Sklitakling clearly approaching matters as a unified gang rather than a band of individuals each vying for the spotlight. It’s solid stuff overall, if perhaps not entirely unique, but I stand by my thought that every town everywhere needs at least one cool punk band to call their own, even if their songs might not overshadow a lineup of their peers. It’s cool that their lyrics are all in Norwegian, although the lone instrumental track, entitled “Stonerboner”, has me wondering if it actually means something in Norwegian or if I’d get in trouble shouting it while wandering the streets of Oslo at night. Their culture is not my costume!

Ssabæ Le Roi Est L’Oiseau LP (Few Crackles)
Another late-in-the-year stunner from the Few Crackles camp, one that if you aren’t immediately hipped-to will require ponying up some inflated scratch (which has an extra sting to it in our era where standard vinyl prices are already exorbitant). It sucks paying thirty bucks for something you only kinda like, but Ssabæ’s second vinyl album is really stunning, even richer and more refined than last year’s Azurescens. Like its cover image of some unusual foliage rendered in and out of focus, Le Roi Est L’Oiseau feels psychedelic in an organic sort of way. Dominated by resonant keyboards, untethered saxophones, guitar on half the tracks and a smattering of headier gear (the title track is credited with not only duduk and harmonium but also “waterphone” and “oiseau-robot”, both of which are real things I am glad I looked up), the album feels dark yet pleasant, as if you finally met the poltergeist that’s been haunting you and it turns out he’s actually a decent guy. It shares the feel of early Demdike Stare when they were deep into occult territory, though there’s no techno to be found here, but something closer to the freakiest, least rock-centric Black Forest activity ever rendered by Faust or Brainticket, or Brannten Schnüre after the thaw of spring, complete with arresting French vocals (again, only some of the time – sonic elements continually shift from track to track). “7arche”, for example, stirs my soul like a cauldron of witches’ brew – horns squealing and purring over a persistent underlying duduk melody – before the funereal chanson of “Le Premier Soir Du Monde” drifts us solemnly out to sea.

Tyvek Overground LP (Ginkgo)
Long after the lo-fi punk trend of the ’00s came and went, Detroit’s Tyvek remain punk as hell, seeking the approval of absolutely nobody. Not sure what album number Overground counts as, considering the number of grey-area twelve-inches, CD-rs, cassettes and such – there’s even a Live At Third Man album in there! – but I can verify that they’ve been a band (if not a full-time endeavor) for way longer than most of their peers, yet this new album displays no transitional path to “maturity”, wankery or pop aspiration. They sound like the DIY post-punk clown car they always sounded like, with more vitality and compacted hooks than ever. The group has gone through myriad personnel, always circling around singer-guitarist Kevin Boyer, and this time the saxophone of Emily Roll punches through, a new and welcome addition to the Tyvek sound. It’s incredible that any established band could write a song like “M-39” this late in their existence, sounding like X_X meeting early Parquet Courts in a schoolyard tussle, but the whole record is basically like that, high energy, garage-y DIY punk that shakes you by the shoulders. Amazingly, it might be favorite album of theirs I’ve heard! It can sometimes feel like being in a band has never been less fun than it is in our modern-future time, but here’s goddamn Tyvek, galloping around like they’re teenagers at their first basement party gig and someone else brought the beer.

Variation Eight 7″ (no label)
Eighth release here from Baltimore noise-core unit Variation, who do the right thing and fill this seven-inch with fourteen insubordinate blasts. They manage to recall two vectors of underground hardcore with their sound and presentation: rare and noise-soaked Japanese hardcore flexis of the early ’80s and power-violence-bordering American fast-core of the mid ’90s. Nope, I wasn’t recently looking at old photos of my family, the tears in my eyes are from the sweet sounds of Variation! The guitar is a constant TV-screen fuzz, leaving the bass and drums (any/all cymbal sounds swallowed up by the guitar) to hurl these songs forward. Their previous EP had Stapled Shut vibes (and I’m picking up those here too), but this time around I want to mention Rupture, the first flexis by Gudon and Confuse and any given Vilently Ill compilation tracks. Not sure if there is an actual Japanese connection to this group or if they are simply obsessive fans, as certain songs (and both center stickers) are written in kanji, but seeing as the record itself offers essentially zero information beyond one- or two-word song titles and the first names of Variation’s members (“Dumpy” is on the drums), it seems that Variation want to focus on the wretched, crusty hardcore they perform rather than their own personal selves. Their meekness is a lesson for all of us.

XIII Permanent Rain LP (Knekelhuis)
Absolutely exquisite new album from XIII aka Italian producer Alessio Capovilla. I believe previous XIII works were more of the left-field experimental sound-design offshoot of avant techno, but Permanent Rain is a stunning step forward (or sideways, depending on your perspective). This album mines the increasingly-familiar arena of new-age ambient dub with non-Western percussion, but goes far beyond surface-level signifiers. I don’t think there are any winding rainforest rivers over there in Italy, but boy does he conjure that sense of ominous natural wonder on tracks like “Where Are You Now” and “Hardtmuth” (featuring the cool conversational vocals of Hans Harsen). Other cuts take on the pensive, post-coke binge contemplation you might expect to hear in a late ’80s no-budget action flick: check the nylon stringed guitars of “Rientro In Alona”, ripe for a Miami Vice scene where they sneak into the bad guys’ lair to search for clues, no doubt. “The Distance” even ends on a post-rock stomp! As a whole, it can be reminiscent of Nicolas Jaar, John T Gast, Nuel and the Mandalorian soundtrack, though XIII favors organic melodies over abstraction and studio trickery. What makes Permanent Rain special is how all these elements come together in a polished and consequential way, substantial yet light to the touch.