Archive for March, 2024

The first warm evening of Spring is traditionally a fantastic day to attend a show, and this was no exception. Taking place on the outskirts of the Chinatown district in Philadelphia (in a venue that bears some sort of fiduciary connection to the infamous Diplo), the odds were in favor of Escape-Ism, Kilynn Lunsford and Annie Achron. I met a friend outside the venue, sporting black sunglasses, a beanie and a winter beard so bushy that it required two glances before I could confirm his identity, and we ventured in, eager to shed our winter layers.

South Philadelphia’s Annie Achron opened the show, standing up straight behind her table of cord-laden synths and related accoutrement. No worries if you haven’t heard of her – I don’t think she’s played more than ten shows in her life, and seeing as I missed all of them up to this point, I was pleased to have arrived on time. While her 2021 cassette release Silver​-​Handed In Subterranea reveled in the grimier, post-punk side of homespun electronic dance music, her live set landed closer to upbeat tech-house in a club setting. With imperceptible breaks between tracks, her songs buzzed with double-time loops and high-pitched effects, as if she was testing the highest keys on her sampler keyboard at least once per track. A nice touch! While Achron herself was stoic, even when adding her reverberant vocals to the mix, her music was buzzing with energy, like the dog that hops around excited to greet his owner when they come home from work. It’s my understanding that a highly reputable underground label has signed on to release her next album, and I can’t wait to hear it.

Up next was Kilynn Lunsford and her band, as she announced them in their matching mechanic suits. I’ve seen her perform a number of times now, not to mention her shows with the no-longer-active Taiwan Housing Project, and was eager to experience her junk-store voodoo no-wave amongst this crowd of friends and strangers. Lunsford sported a new shaved-head ponytail style, looking like a glamorous new member of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 lineup, and her band were particularly inspired this evening, drummer Thomas Storck throwing his hunched, lanky body into every skeletal beat alongside that rack of misbehaving synths, rubber-band bass and Lunsford’s echo-loop vocals. She played all the hits off her 2022 debut, Custodians Of Human Succession, as well as some I didn’t immediately recognize, giving hope for another new recording in the works. “Sewerland” and “Reality Testing” hit particularly hard with a live band. There’s a reverence for classic no-wave inherent to the funky bass / death-disco drums / vocals n’ noise configuration, but Lunsford is an expert student of the genre, knowing full well the most important thing is to put your own personal stamp on things, which in her case also includes wearing a large phallic pendant as a necklace and smushing her cool hair all around. We are lucky to have her with us.

Escape-Ism was the headlining act, a group I had yet to hear in any form but was particularly excited to see. Having been a fan of Ian Svenonius since discovering The Nation Of Ulysses as a teenager and hearing the stories of their wilder-than-wild live shows (they bring a rack of black suits to the show and throw it into the crowd like maniacs???), he’s been a low-level legendary force, the type of guy who accidentally reveals himself to be extra smart by behaving extra stupid. It can be hard for any performer to live up to the hype we build up in our heads, but I am relieved to share that my expectations of this DIY punk luminary were surpassed.

Escape-Ism is as stripped-down as a Svenonius group can get, this one featuring him on vocals and guitar, backed up by Sandi Denton on bass and keys. Sporting matching fire-engine-red suits, Denton played it straight while Svenonius remained locked in half-character at all times, introducing songs humorously and off-the-cuff, always lightly pushing for audience interaction. (Lots of “can I get a”s and “are you with me?”s inserted into every song where other singers would normally take a breath.)

I had not previously known Svenonius as a guitarist, and after witnessing Escape-Ism I can’t say that I know him as one now. His was some of the most technically-unskilled guitar playing I’ve seen play out in front of a live audience, which of course means it ranks near some of the best. In a delightful and confounding twist, he insisted on holding a second microphone in addition to the normal one on the stand, struggling to find chords with the added difficulty of holding a skinny retro mic with those same fingers. While the songs were staunchly primitive rock n’ roll, all public-domain riffs delivered without shame or pretense, Svenonius’s sharp lyrical mind was on proud display, skewering the capitalist rich in a variety of entertaining and funny ways. “Fire In Malibu” is still lodged in my head from hearing it only that once, an ode to the property-destroying blazes that continually pop up in the richest counties of Southern California. As Denton’s two-note grooves and Svenonius’s one-rhythm drum-machine hold down the fort, he jumps up, scatters across the stage and gesticulates uncontrollably, his guitar switching between silent and brash as he struggles to hold that extra mic, almost reminiscent of Neil Hamburger fumbling with four gin-and-tonics in his grip.

Considering the low overall wattage of Escape-Ism’s setup, it was surprising when the venue’s power dropped out for a few minutes. Such a sad turn of events has killed the energy of many a live performer, this writer sadly included, but Svenonius didn’t seem remotely phased, instead jumping into an unplugged sing-along, still strumming his electric guitar and wildly emoting with nary a care as to the lack of amplification. The power came back the exact second they finished that song, almost as if it was part of the show. But really, it was Svenonius affirming the fact that, had all of his limbs fallen off instead, he would’ve simply taken to spinning on his torso with the mic lodged in his throat, a vivacious performer incapable of ceding to anything besides the grim reaper’s eventual call. After the show, another friend remarked that much of the crowd smelled really good, a rare inversion of the typical underground gig. It was just one of those nights.

Reviews – March 2024

Ancient Plastix II LP (Maple Death)
Liverpool’s Paul Rafferty continues to gaze into an organized vortex of hardware synths with his second full-length outing as Ancient Plastix. These tracks are so deeply devoted to the instruments with which they were created that I can almost picture Rafferty poking his head out of his studio laboratory after weeks in isolation, sporting a head of hair made out of patch-cords. With so many ways to go when it comes to “synth music”, Ancient Plastix opts for a less-extreme path, one well-trodden but no less satisfying because of it. His tracks are melodic, slow and deliberate, very much in the Berlin School frame of synth-worship but not coming across as a retro homage so much as a skillful excavation of what these machines can be prompted to do. Rather than throw a 4/4 kick under anything, or supplement the tracks with singing or added instrumentation, II shines a floodlight on the gear itself, allowing arpeggios to shift, bass tones to reverberate and patterns to emerge with patience and reverence for the form. Synthesizers remain the most recent musical evolution any of us have experienced, and while the sounds of Ancient Plastix are by no means new, they can still captivate.

ASA Radial LP (Raster)
ASA’s debut Radial is the rare kind of avant-garde EBM that’s so overtly physical, you’ll want to stretch your muscles before blasting it, lest you walk away limping. Considering ASA’s personnel, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as it’s a trio featuring Arturo Lanz and Saverio Evangelista of Esplendor Geometrico alongside Uwe Schmidt (aka Atom™). These guys have been deploying visceral electronic music for decades, big towering rhythms that feel more akin to brutalist architecture than synth-pop, and Radial is particularly inspired, pairing thunderous grooves with jagged samples. Opener “We Need A Medic” is crushing right out of the gate, not unlike classic Esplendor but also similar to the most butt-whooping tracks by Jlin in the way that choppy, staccato vocal snippets and sound effects repeatedly shock and stun. “Modo II” is another standout, with violent bass murmurs and an incessant dental drill boring holes in every last molar. There really isn’t any filler here though, as these guys are truly masters of the genre and refuse to phone it in. Doing karate moves to hardcore-punk never made sense to me, especially when there’s music out there like this, each industrial groove sounding like a combination of body-blows, uppercuts and spin-kicks.

Adam Badí Donoval Sometimes Life Is Hard And So We Should Help Each Other LP (Maple Death)
Kind of a cringeworthy title, but seeing as Adam Badí Donoval is apparently sincere in his sentiments (and a native Slovakian far from my American pessimism), we can let him go with a warning rather than a citation this time around. Donoval operates in the increasingly crowded field of sound-collage, leaning heavily on crackly field-recordings, dreary live instrumentation outside of the traditional rock n’ roll spectrum and incidental blips and bleeps. Sometimes Life Is Hard traverses foggy basins, empty streets at dawn, the chopped-up cement at the end of an unfinished highway, and other morose destinations where human activity brushes up against the nature it’s tried so hard to conquer. Donoval is not afraid of noise or hiss, clearly finding satisfaction in tapes that disintegrate in real time, dying batteries and microphone interference… all the stuff that podcasters hate, Donoval digs right into. Perhaps I’m getting a little fatigued of this particular style (and that’s my fault, not yours or his), but while Sometimes Life is perfectly fine, there isn’t much here that really elevates it from the pack. Whereas this style may have once been a truly experimental form of sonic creation, it’s gotten awfully by-the-numbers these days, Donoval’s moves sounding somewhat interchangeable from the rest.

Bloodshot Bill Psyche O Billy LP (Goner)
This is the second Bloodshot Bill album to make it to these pages, and while I didn’t really connect with the first, his charm is starting to take effect. Am I a “Psyche O Billy” guy now?? There’s just something admirable about the extreme dedication to which Bloodshot Bill approaches his old-timey cosplay music, clearly going to great lengths to embody the vibe. Look at him on the cover and tell me he wasn’t born in 1922. Who can argue with this level of commitment? Looking at images of him, and listening to his songs, it’s absolutely wild to think that this music was written and recorded in the last couple years and not in 1952. His songs hearken to a pre-Beatles world of rock n’ roll, with rockabilly guitars made out of fishing twine and plywood, a cartoon bear playing stand-up bass, Three Stooges chase scenes, eating baked beans from a tin can with the serrated lid still attached over a fire in the train yard, Link Wray licks… he really goes there. Can you even write a song like “I’m A Ding Dong” without astrally projecting back to a high school glee club lounge in 1948? I suppose I’m more fascinated than captivated, though fascination is surely how all new obsessions begin. How long ’til my targeted ads start trying to sell me Brylcreem?

Cruelster Lost Inside My Mind In Another State Of Mind: The Singles Collection LP (Drunken Sailor)
Finally, those of us lightweight poseurs who haven’t kept up with all of Cruelster’s various tapes, demos and split tapes can enjoy this rambunctious Cleveland group’s output on one jam-packed vinyl LP. Whereas I own and appreciate my various Perverts Again records (who, it appears, is the exact same band as Cruelster, and even provide two uncredited tracks here), I hadn’t really spent much time with Cruelster, even as I am intimately familiar with their Instagram hijinks. Turns out their music rocks too, appealingly juvenile in presentation even if it’s obvious they’re no dummies (Citric or otherwise). Their sound can certainly be pinpointed to Cleveland, as it’s raucous and frantic, brushing up against violent absurdity in forty-five seconds or less. It’s kinda like a feisty hodgepodge of Wrangler Brutes and Bad Noids, if said hodgepodge were trying to figure out if it wanted to be a comedy troupe or a street-punk-influenced hardcore band. There are twins in Cruelster, and there’s a song (I think it’s “Crisis In Local Government Part 3”?) where the singer (not a twin) goes off about killing twins… no target is safe, not even themselves. The best part might even be the printed insert, a lengthy screed explaining(?) the collection, completely hilarious and engaging and difficult to read due to the tiny font size. An album worth straining your ears and your eyes over!

Alex Deforce & Charlotte Jacobs Kwart Voor Straks LP (Stroom)
Stroom is consistently a few steps ahead of everyone else, so if Kwart Voor Straks is any indication, Belgian poetry over fractured soundscapes is going to blow up like a year from now. Okay, maybe not, but we’re not worried about what other people think anyway, we just want to hear some fresh and progressively warped tunes, of which this record is chock full. Deforce and Jacobs share vocal duties, reciting their Flemish spoken-word over condensed synths, simple 4/4 kicks and processed vocals – there’s never too much happening at once. Seeing as I don’t understand a word they’re saying, my focus is on the texture and intonation of their voices, delivered mostly in calmly reassuring tones, occasionally edited with effects that range from jarring skips to gauzy reverb. Certain moments remind me of Lolina in the way that chill-wave aesthetics are crudely applied to richly experimental forms, the music lulling the listener into complacency even as it behaves increasingly wacked-out; it’s a nice effect. Deforce lended his words to a 2019 EP from Victor De Roo (which I highly recommend), though the music provided by Charlotte Jacobs and himself here is more abstract – my favorite cut might be the word-bursting “AEIOU”, eschewing lyrics entirely for a trippy saunter through sampled vowel sounds. Deforce and Jacobs are already way out there, yet it’s clear they intend to go much further.

Diztort Vengeance Is Mine LP (Advanced Perspective)
Some of my elder hardcore friends have commented about show attendance being at an all-time high, noting massive crowds for local showcases in and around the Northeast. It’s wild to me that chugga-chugga beatdown hardcore has such a thriving resurgence, for a lot of reasons, but naturally in any large sample size of niche hardcore there are some standout gems (yes, that even includes gore-grind). If you’re looking for some direction within this current hardcore phenomena, then, the debut full-length from Los Angeles’s Diztort is a perfectly satisfying place to head. Their form of hard-pitting ‘core has a medium-slow lilt, metallic grooves and a general ’90s NYHC sensibility, clearly indebted to Madball, Merauder and the like. There’s also a swagger I’d directly attribute to Cold World, and a dense, dark-cloud effect to their songs that recalls both Iron Age (on the more epic tip) and Neglect (in the sense of depressive lessons learned on the streets). I like that the vocalist sounds tired and mushmouthed, moaning as much as he’s screaming yet consistently intelligible throughout. For as unhurried as their songs are, they pack a lot in – the essential opener, “Diztorted World”, hits hard, jukes into an instrumental mosh and closes with a soaring guitar solo, all under three minutes. Sure, there’s been dis-core for years, but now there’s diz-core too.

Fabiano do Nascimento & Sam Gendel The Room LP (Real World)
Putting every other recording musician to shame, Sam Gendel drops yet another collaborative album, this one with seven-string acoustic guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento. Whereas recent work from Gendel is investigative and downright experimental in nature, The Room is steeped in tradition, ECM-style Latin jazz as smooth as virgin silk. If I owned a restaurant, I’d play The Room over the house system and quickly modify my menu, removing “french fries: $5” and replacing it with “frites – sea salt, EVOO – $16”. It’s classy, studied and universally enjoyable, with do Nascimento’s flamenco-inspired, dazzling melodies and Gendel’s soprano sax keeping up with flair and aplomb, clearly savoring the chance to let his traditional smooth-jazz chops fly. For my (limited) money, I still prefer Gendel in exploratory mode, futzing with electronics and effects to create the newest lumpy hybrids of jazz, broken-beat electronica, hip hop and dub, but The Room is so spotless and fresh that I am enjoying it all the same. Definitely a record to keep handy the next time your parents come over and you want to appear respectable, as if you haven’t spent the last umpteen years of your life blasting Wolf Eyes and Angry Samoans.

Donato Dozzy Magda 2xLP (Spazio Disponibile)
One of the preeminent techno polymaths of our day, The Dozz’ doesn’t need to release new music at such a furious pace, but the Pope doesn’t need to keep blessing people to maintain his holiness yet I’m sure he’s constantly doing that too. Donato Dozzy has so many different modes, from aggressive acid-house to more ethereal delights (and lest we forget that one album based around the jawharp), and on new full-length Magda we find him in lush, sensual electro mode, a real sweet spot of cosmic techno comfort. An alleged emotional homage to “family and the Adriatic Sea”, these six tracks showcase his mastery of twinkling arpeggios, luxuriant synth pads and the ways in which they interlock and intermingle. He’s on some real Fibonacci-style grooves here, his sensual thrum and pulse evolving in real-time, always immaculate and flawlessly rendered. Fans of his work with Voices From The Lake will find a parallel satisfaction with Magda – there’s a similarly personal touch, as if these are protective ambient-techno spells Dozzy cast with your unique safety and comfort in mind. Honestly though, if you’re the rare type of person who doesn’t locate some blissful moment of calm while listening to this album, you’re reading the wrong blog entirely.

Mary Jane Dunphe Fix Me / Seasons 7″ (Sub Pop)
Been wearing out the grooves on my copy of Mary Jane Dunphe’s debut solo album Stage Of Love, so I slapped this new two-song single on my turntable fast as I could, eager for more. First thing’s first: “Fix Me” is not the Black Flag cover we need, but an original entry in the world of basement trip-hop. It’s less polished sounding than the album, with drums that sound like a cassette loop, yet it’s Dunphe’s most Alanis-esque track yet, like if Alanis was produced by Martin Hannett for K Records. B-side “Seasons” has a similar bounce, funky flanged-out bass shimmy-shaking and her unmistakeable vocals tearing at the seam that separates happiness and sadness. Both tracks remind me a bit of Olympia’s Daisies in their ’90s electro alterna-bop styles, or her work with CCFX on DFA, though as long as Dunphe is singing there’s no mistaking her for anyone else. As you may have noticed, this single is essentially only available as part of the Sub Pop Singles Club, but copies are already plentiful on the second-hand market, surely being offered up by bozos who hoped for a new Bob’s Burgers collectible instead of two new songs by one of the greatest American vocal performers alive today. Their loss can quickly become your gain.

Ecoegoe Ecoegoe LP (Cairecords)
This debut from Copenhagen-based future-jazz ensemble Ecoegoe is some true chicken-soup-for-the-soul type music for yours truly. Dig into these two side-long tracks and be nourished and renewed! I love those hefty (and pricey) Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society albums, and Ecoegoe could easily be mistaken for one, both in sonic properties and the tender qualities they imbue. The a-side is called “Kissing”, and with three percussionists, two sax players, a double bassist and someone on synth, they patiently unfurl their loose composition, mellow pastels lightly jostling into each other. It has that same Natural Information feel, in that the song is a perpetual warm-up, albeit extended so deeply that you realize the warm-up is the point entirely. It sounds like kittens waking from naps under a dust-speckled sunbeam, or a hundred different insects jamming together on a mossy forest floor. Real elemental, eternal stuff, coasting on a sophisticated internal logic to ensure it never feels pointless or too abstract. The b-side’s “Digital Brains” borrows the same bass melody as “Kissing”, though it feels hazier and looser, as if we’re slowly coasting in a hot air balloon up and away from the a-side piece. True weighted-blanket music right here.

The Exbats Song Machine LP (Goner)
Not a lot of father/daughter combo bands coming through these pages, but here’s Kenny and Inez McClain with their second album for Goner as The Exbats. As is often Goner’s prerogative, The Exbats are staunchly throw-back rock n’ roll, culling from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, usually with a spunky, garage-y attitude and plenty of sunshiney AM radio melodies. Lots of backing vocal chants, familiar pop harmonies and party-time guitar licks, but the songs are arranged with elegance, and the lyrics, while ploughing familiar rock n’ roll territory, are funny, charming and often put a different spin on the same ol’ subjects. I’m reminded of artists like The B-52’s, The Monkees, Tina & The Total Babes, The Barracudas and The Riptides… basically any poppy garage-rock that you’d want to bring to a beach party along with your umbrella, blanket and cooler full of beer. Can’t really say it’s totally my thing, but I also can’t deny that The Exbats nail their sound and push it ever so slightly in new directions. If The Lovin’ Spoonful ever wrote a song called “Cry About Me”, they probably wouldn’t have had a chorus that chanted “I’m overdue to fuck off out of here”, but The Exbats certainly did, right here in fact.

Gerycz Powers Rolin Activator LP (12XU)
Jayson Gerycz, Jen Powers and Matthew Rolin have been active in too many bands, projects and collaborations to list here, putting in work as a trio for the past few years as well. In this configuration, their sound is a distinctly contemporary form of guitar-centric improv, one that reinterprets folk and electric guitars for the sake of something more immediate, spontaneous and (hopefully) transcendent. Opener “Entrance” confirms that intent with two spindly guitars and Gerycz’s freefall percussion, at times sounding more like three drummers than one. “Sun Rays” goes in a more composed direction, with pre-planned melodic changes that still open up wide for spontaneous exploration. It’s improv in that Americana / Neil Young / Grateful Dead-obsession way that has become a hallmark of the guitar-improv underground as of late, clearly in similar spirit and sound to Steve Gunn’s varied improvisational projects, Bardo Pond, Kryssi Battalene and Steven R. Smith. It’s almost getting to the point where this particular strain of post-shoegaze rock improv is par for the course, but if it sounds as richly majestic as Activator, novelty is not a required trait.

Anne Gillis Vhoysee LP (Art Into Life)
Anne Gillis is timeless, so this new album of material that spans different decades makes perfect sense. She’s as mysterious as she is timeless, so the unknowable qualities of her music remain front and center here, too. Is “Mes Voix”, a recording ostensibly of sheet-metal slowly dragged across cement, from 1982 or 2022? And that photo of her on the cover (that’s her, right?) – that has to be from the early ’80s, unless her corporeal form is timeless, too? This combination of intrigue, weirdness and sonic prowess has made a massive fan out of me, and Vhoysee does not disappoint. Gillis has operated in various sonic formats since the early ’80s, from crude tape experiments to cold-wave pop to avant electronic noise, and this album, apparently consisting of reworked older material as well as newer recordings, covers mostly all of that ground. It’s an excellent entry-level sampler platter that’s equally substantive for us Gillis-heads who were already familiar with her oeuvre. If the industrial-synth chanson of “Brumes Renversées” is too melodic or dramatic for your anti-social tastes, perhaps the quiet rustling of a pilot light flickering through “Harpe À Poussière” is more your speed. Anne Gillis accommodates a variety of adventurous listeners and Vhoysee has something for all of them.

Group Material Intimations LP (Gilgongo)
Can’t walk five feet in any direction these days without bumping into a new ambient-guitar-with-field-recordings record – look, here’s one now! Group Material comes from Spokane artists Eric Sanchez and Avalon Kalin, perhaps notable to my readership as an ex-drummer of not only Glass Candy but ’90s emo-core paper-bag-screeners Christopher Robin. I’m guessing the Glass Candy relationship is where the Gilgongo connection comes in – this label never strays too far from Y2K neo-no-wave – although none of this really has any bearing in listening to Intimations. It’s a very soft and minimal album, with what sounds like home-recorded guitar loops (electric but undistorted) and only the softest crust of outsider electronic processing, as palpable and temporary as the frost on your car. It’s kind of empty music like that, so perhaps we can be forgiven for filling up some of that space with thoughts about its relation to Glass Candy. One track does indeed feature the infrequent sounds of bird-song (“Earth Poem”), though it’s the last of the four, “Nothings”, that I find most appealing, a lowlit amp-crackle lullaby with proggy fingerpicking sure to appeal to anyone who can name albums by William Basinski, Bill Nace and Daniel Bachman off the top of their head. Self-titleds don’t count!

Hacker Psy-Wi-Fi 7″ (Beach Impediment / Helta Skelta)
It’s not really fair that L.O.T.I.O.N. are the exclusive licensee of contemporary cyber-techno-horror industrial-punk, but I can’t help but look at the cover of this new EP from Melbourne’s Hacker and immediately chalk them up as obvious fans of L.O.T.I.O.N. This will probably be the case anytime a punk band’s design features sinister ’80s computer graphics with monsters and digital skulls and axes, but in Hacker’s case, the similarities end with the artwork. There are no programmed drum machines or synthetic effects in their music – Hacker are a grisly, semi-metallic d-beat affair, indebted to hardcore heavy-hitters from Sweden and Japan, though by no means a tribute. “Deliverator”, for example, has the grotesque heaviness of Framtid, but the riffing is closer to the groove-metal of Cold As Life. Nice trick! I also appreciate that the Australian accent of the vocalist is instantly clockable, which helps carve out their own particular sound in a world saturated with aggro hardcore. If it wasn’t for the AOL sign-off at the end of the EP, I would have forgotten their whole digital-nightmare aesthetic – when you write a song like “Deliverator”, no additional gimmicks are needed.

Henwee Blue Raspberry LP (Toxic State)
Incredible cry-for-help of an album from Hank Wood aka Henwee. Toxic State’s original core group of punks have found a variety of unusual and creative ways to express themselves beyond traditional genre confines, and Blue Raspberry is startling even in that occasionally outrageous company. Wood sounds like he’s in rough shape here, struggling to maintain relationships, losing his grip and maintaining a love affair with cocaine (most prominently discussed here on the track “I Love Cocaine”). He sings in an unhinged warble over baby’s-first-keyboards and the accompaniment of lightweight drum machines (no guitars). I’m consistently reminded of how much it sounds like The Wesley Willis Fiasco, these pawn-shop keyboard instrumentals given over to some disarmingly vulnerable singing and emotional turmoil; if you laughed out of discomfort, I’d understand. If I thought Hank Wood was interested in sarcasm and satire, I might question the intentions here, but he has always seemed to be an incredibly direct and sincere character, and Blue Raspberry also appears to be dead serious. Listen to his panicked moans at the end of “Running My Mouth”, where he practically swallows his own tongue… can someone go check on him? I worry that if anything truly tragic happens to Wood, we can no longer say that we didn’t see it coming.

Inner Cop Avoidance Inner Cop Avoidance LP (Sensorisk Verden / Iriai Verlag / TRii Musik / Spost World / KP Entertainment)
Fabulous debut album from the fabulously named Inner Cop Avoidance. You’d think avoiding one’s inner cop would be a primarily American pursuit, but they’re a German quartet who conjure up some charming and improvised un-rock methods for doing so. Three reasonably long pieces here, all pulsing with a trap-kit played rhythmically (but outside of a rock context) and guitars that keep similar pace through strange methods of performance. I’m having thoughts of Hans Reichel’s improvised tornados of prepared guitar given a communal, Sunburned Hand Of The Man-type setting, Vibracathedral Orchestra as viewed through glasses with the wrong prescription, or Avarus at a level of steely determination they never seemed interested in finding. “ICA 2” delves into a wooly, FMP-inspired improv state (with English spoken-word by member Max Stocklosa), a stilted calm that separates the tweaked-out forward motion of the first and last tracks. There’s probably a krautrock record from 1973 that sounds exactly like this and will blow my mind when I eventually hear it, but for now I’m merrily stupified by Inner Cop Avoidance’s self-titled full-length. Strongly recommended!

Knowso Pulsating Gore LP (Sorry State)
It can often feel like we unfairly reward punk that follows the rulebook – why, that’s a perfect assemblage of pre-approved influences, well done! – and leave the true outsider freaks to fend for themselves. Not on my watch! It’s not much of an anti-social social club if we’re all wearing the same stupid hoodie, which is why it’s nice that Knowso continue to exist, tempting the mostly trad-favoring Sorry State label into releasing their newest and greatest album, Pulsating Gore. They’re a Cleveland group, and while they don’t not sound like they’re from Cleveland, they have cultivated their own distinctive style even when compared to the likeminded bands they share stages (and band members) with. The basic template is Flipper as egg-punk / Nomeansno as math-core, with vocalist/artist Nathan Ward matching every mute-picked note with a lyric, ensuring every inch of space is filled with his sprawling screeds, targeting a variety of highly targetable aspects of our American existence, laughable if it weren’t so sad. “Drink From The Lake”, for example, fires at our incompetent leaders with precision, delivered with a deadpan that Chat Pile couldn’t muster even after studying a thousand hours of Norm Macdonald. Eleven tracks, and even though they’re densely packed, the album still flies by like it’s a hundred pounds lighter. So go listen to it again!

Mammal Deserted LP (Impermanence)
Gary Beauvais has been recording music as Mammal since the early ’00s, though his sound has shifted dramatically through the years. Starting off as a blown-out drum-machine psych-noise party, Mammal’s sound has only gotten darker and drearier – just when I thought he hit rock bottom, he finds a way to penetrate the murky sediment below and plunge even farther downward. Deserted, his first vinyl full-length in almost nine years, takes the sentiment from 2006’s Let Me Die and 2007’s Lonesome Drifter and extrapolates even further, sounding so far gone as to be peacefully resigned to his fate of perpetual depressed solitude. Over distorted, simplistic guitars and sparse electronics, Beauvais sings mournfully, as if he were the last man on the last planet in the universe and coming to grips with his fate. The recording style is direct and disarming – rather than coat his music in a shroud of reverb or effects, Deserted faces the listener directly, and it can be a bit much to bear. Imagine Dylan Carlson covering Jandek with additional production by German Shepherds to get a basic feel for the sort of solemn darkness that Mammal conjures here, a zen-like comfort within his total absence of happiness or fun.

Midnight Mines Since My Baby Left Me LP (Minimum Table Stacks)
Minimum Table Stacks has quickly established itself as one of the finest purveyors of unclassifiable underground rock, and this new vinyl disc from London’s Midnight Mines is a particularly scalding entry. Useful, fact-based information about the group (a duo?) is scant, but I heard somewhere that there is a member of Black Time involved, which makes sense in that Midnight Mines feels like the most violent and abstract iteration of Black Time’s delinquent garage-punk style, close in spirit and sound to the first Hospitals album. The guitars here are unhinged, free-form and explosive, with the semblance of song-form owed mostly to the vocals and/or drums. It’s as if they stared at pictures of Lou Reed and wanted to be that guy, but only heard Metal Machine Music, or if one of those noise-punk acts like Swankys or Lebenden Toten had never discovered hardcore, only third-hand live recordings of The Cramps for inspiration. For such a primitive and antagonistic sound, Midnight Mines manage to put some varied spins on it throughout, from levitational garage-scuzz to noise-rock dirges and back. There’s no shortage of creativity or hot acid-burning post-post-post-punk happening here… it’s a smart precaution to handle all Minimum Table Stacks releases with protective gloves but you’ll probably want goggles for Since My Baby Left Me, or at least a heavy-duty smock.

Minisnap Bounce Around LP (Tall Texan)
Another indie gem from the Tall Texan label that I surely would’ve never heard had it not been for the Tall Texan label. I’m still rocking that Sharp Pins album all the time, but this first-time-on-vinyl reissue of Minisnap’s sole full-length from longtime Bats member Kaye Woodward is the bee’s knees. It’s firmly rooted in an upliftingly humble New Zealand indie-rock sensibility, which is already appealing, but these songs are so damn hummable, soft and cool, the sort of record you instinctively throw on over and over because it’s such a consistently good time. Woodward has a great voice, and while I’m reminded of the first Girl Ray album, The Shop Assistants, and, y’know, The Bats, Minisnap isn’t mere pastiche. These songs are rollicking and full of little tricks, whether it’s subbing in auxiliary percussion for a standard trap-kit or layering some aimless guitar soloing over a hearty strum. New Zealanders were never keen on coloring within the lines when it comes to homespun indie-rock, and Bounce Around is not only full of absorbing song-craft, it’s as delectable and kindhearted as anything I’ve heard from that charming little island country.

Miradasvacas Of No Fixed Abode LP (12th Isle)
There’s no shortage of decrepit ambient music these days, the kind that sounds like old wallpaper flaking off into a pile of dust, and you can add Madrid’s duo of Pablo Mirón and Juan Vacas to that Jenga-esque stack. I go back and forth on it – do I need another record of creaky floorboards, four-hundred year-old piano sketches and the scrape of metal on metal? I suppose I let my heart be my guide, as Of No Fixed Abode offers a familiar perspective on this aesthetic, yet I find it enamoring all the same. I think it works for me because they do a nice job balancing musicality, be it bowed strings, melodic keys or humming chords, with discordant grey-noise, tape disintegration and roughly prepared loops. It’s engaging even at its most unapproachable – check the seasick warble of “V” (the tracks are numerated in a Roman fashion), which will lull you in as if it was the third head of a hydra otherwise comprised of Aaron Dilloway and Leyland Kirby. It might take a minute to acclimate yourself with the stained drift of Miradasvacas, but even as the shapes remain blurry and vague, their significance is clear.

Peace Talks Progress LP (Peterwalkee)
…but who’s listening? Peace Talks are a fairly new Pittsburgh hardcore ensemble, and they step right up with this fine full-length debut, Progress. It’s kind of an all-purpose raging hardcore record, succeeding not in uniqueness or distinctive character so much as delivering the goods as we already understand them with vigor, tightness and speed. There’s some Greg Ginn in the guitar leads, a few well-timed mosh breakdowns, and plenty of frantic fast-core. Reminds me of oldies like Poison Idea, Rattus and Flag Of Democracy, and more modern acts like Planet On A Chain, Chemical Fix and Electric Chair, which of course is fine company to keep. While Peace Talks may not have carved out their own one-of-a-kind identity just yet, there’s still some cool ideas that stick out from the pack, like the mid-paced album closer “Stranger In The House” with its incessant one-note piano accompaniment (there isn’t a single aspect of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” that isn’t worth ripping off), or the blasting title track, which reaches Lack Of Interest speeds in its opening and closing moments. There’s a ton of fun to be had playing and writing hardcore songs, mixing ripped-off parts with original ideas and raging all the while, a sentiment that I don’t have to explain to Peace Talks.

Shed The 030 Files 2×12″ (The Final Experiment)
Eventually, I hope to obtain access to all of Shed’s files, but for now, this no-nonsense double-twelve featuring cuts from his 030 Files is hitting the spot. I know he’s getting to be one of the Berghain elders at this point, but don’t mistake seasoned experience for mellowing out – each of these tracks go on the offensive immediately, big shots of alarm-system techno with disorienting loops, manic squeals and aggressive kicks/claps. Shed has such a significant body of work at this point, and these productions certainly bear his signature, though the unceasing intensity has me thinking of Sleeparchive or Planetary Assault Systems at times. Even with such power, Shed has always had a knack for dynamics, knowing how to layer his frequencies, sandwich-like, for maximum effect… a cut like “Zone”, for example, isn’t the hardest hitter, but it conjures the elusive headspace where zen calm and buzzing chaos crossfade. Shed tracks can get a little M.C. Escher without being too obvious about it, or they can ground you into paste (wear a helmet if you plan on blasting “Cut”). The 030 Files offers plenty of both.

Astrid Sonne Great Doubt LP (Escho)
I’m constantly fascinated by how certain albums get buzz in these fractured social-media times… why is it, I wonder, that Astrid Sonne’s newest album Great Doubt, released on the staunchly independent (in the punkest sense) label Escho, has reached a Militarie Gun-level of ubiquity in my various online pathways? Seems unlikely that Sonne’s music will be featured in the next Taco Bell commercial, though anything’s possible. Anyway, none of this is a knock on Astrid Sonne or her hyped-up new album, which deserves any praise it’s receiving. Sonne is listed as a composer and a viola player, and while I’m sure she composed these songs, electronic beats, pianos, synths and electronics tend to take the forefront – the viola that is here has no problem operating in the shadows. Her voice appears frequently throughout as well, and the results are refreshingly modern and strange. It almost feels like her compositional tactic is to sample snippets of different songs and splice them together into some brand new configuration, though I acknowledge that she isn’t doing that. It’s kinda similar to what James Blake was doing when he first started singing on his productions, with a little less R&B and a little more chill-wave in the mix. Check “Do You Wanna”, clearly the hit, in the way that drums, bass, piano, viola and vocals seem to exist in their own separate worlds, overlaid on each other to reveal something else entirely, like Portishead remixed by Moin, only less British sounding.

The Sporrs Big Joke 7″ (Die Slaughterhaus)
We’re far away enough from the arrival of The Strokes that the wave of bands trying to sound like them has died down considerably, so when I do hear a new band that gives me early Strokes vibes, it’s honestly pretty nice! Atlanta’s The Sporrs are not any sort of rip-off, but they have that same sense of taking what The Ramones and The Heartbreakers were serving and giving it a modern indie-rock sheen while preserving the glorious youthful lack of giving an F attitude that makes it so entrancing. “Big Joke” is the Strokes-iest, but I don’t think The Strokes ever got this energetic – I can’t picture any of them really jumping around on stage, but “Big Joke” is full of hop-in-the-air, fall-on-the-floor energy. Same goes for “Can’t Complain”, with almost the precisely same tempo and attitude, although the sole b-side cut “Lashed Out” opens on a brooding note before getting back into something rowdy, kind of a Pixies-ish trick. I’m picking up a similar wave-length to the sharp post-garage of Waste Man too, though The Sporrs are probably a bit more traditional at heart, much to the delight of small corner stages in the backs of bars that still mostly sell cheap domestic beer. As of right now, Google keeps telling me I’m actually searching for “The Sports” when I look for further info on The Sporrs, but this enjoyable seven-inch should hopefully change that soon.

Trash Knife Weird Daze LP (Big Neck)
Trash Knife are an appealingly dirt-baggy punk band, following a number of singles, EPs and splits with Weird Daze, their full-length debut. If they seemed low-stakes and amateurish before, little has really changed, which of course is a good part of the appeal. Do you want your punk rock played by careerists with business marketing degrees, or do you want it from those kids (or used-to-be-kids) who hang out at highway-underpass skate ramps, lighting off fireworks and spray-painting inside-jokes to each other well into the morning hours? Trash Knife do not appear to be making a bid for validation; playing mid-paced, thrashy punk that probably aspires to the Germs and Dwarves but doesn’t overtly sound like either is simply part of their natural lifestyle. They’ve probably played some clubs in their day, but it’s the generator-powered bridge show, backyard BBQ or all-day basement blow-out that is best suited for music as unpolished and proletarian as this. Maybe, in such a moment, it will eventually become clear to me if this Philly group references a blade comprised of trash, or if it’s a knife specifically designed for cutting through trash. Or both.

Wednesday Week Fan Club EP #1 7″ (Spacecase)
Spacecase continues their fruitful relationship with Kristi Callan, this time reissuing a “fan club” seven-inch originally released in 1987. Wednesday Week was Callan’s band after Narrow Adventure (whose Spacecase LP comes highly recommended), and they sound appropriately more mid / late ’80s than their predecessors. Though their formative musical years were borne of punk rock, Wednesday Week are tuneful college-rock replete with a booming snare sound and a willingness to delve into funk (“Businessman’s Wife”), new wave-abilly (“Also Clear”) and yearning 4AD-ish balladry (“The Leopard”). It’s the sportscoat power-pop of “No Such Thing” that I find most alluring though, probably because its tight hooks and energetic performance are closest to the scrappy punk-pop of Narrow Adventure. It’s all driven by Callan’s confident, trustworthy vocal, and apparently just one entry in a decent stash of Wednesday Week material, one studio album and a bunch of singles. Do I wait for Spacecase to keep reissuing this stuff or should I take a little initiative and find a clean copy of the LP?