Acrylics Structure / Gluttony 7″ (Drunken Sailor)
Acrylics are back with another two-song 7″ single, this one in homage to everyone’s favorite mall-based men’s clothing store (at least before it turned into Express Men, what’s up with that?) and everyone’s favorite deadly sin. Pretty sure this one saw a domestic release on Iron Lung too, but I’ve got the British version in front of me, and it’s nice to know this Californian band is tickling fancies worldwide. “Structure” gets right to it, an up-tempo pogo beat driving a manic surge of hardcore energy while the guitarist is granted free range to fully go off, running through East Bay Ray demented surf lines to Greg Ginn jazz-noodles and back. It goes by in a blip, and it’s the rare hardcore tune I find myself immediately wanting to re-play, in hopes of grasping a better understanding of what just happened. If “Structure” was lean and mean, “Gluttony” starts on an overstuffed note, at least until it also kicks into a choppy thrash beat with more wandering guitar antics and a vocalist who can only manage two syllables at a time (with music this frantic, it works). Reminds me of Cult Ritual, if Cult Ritual were ever afforded a recording where one could discern what was going on. Excellent work!

Beta Boys Brick Walls / Littered Streets 7″ (Total Punk)
Total Punk went and snagged one of the lowest-effort punk bands around, Beta Boys, to join their elite ranks of stamped paper-sleeve singles. This one features “Brick Walls” and “Littered Streets”, two things I presume Beta Boys pass while walking to get their morning coffee, and it’s probably the most musically-present material I’ve heard from them yet. “Brick Walls” takes a hard stance as it stalks the alleys, like a less manic Hank Wood with the chorus pedal turned up far beyond recommended levels. The lyrics also mention “littered streets” which I thought was a cool effect, blurring themes into each other, unless of course the songs are mislabeled (probably more likely). “Littered Streets” is twice the speed, with twice the lyrics, very early Southern Cali ‘core ala Stalag 13 or perhaps 7 Seconds if they ever had a Darby Crash phase (sadly their interest in straight-edge killed that before it could start). If you’re already committed to picking up half a dozen Total Punk singles this year, this one very well might make the cut. I could tell you whether or not the cover features a crude pencil drawing of cartoons giving the middle finger, but I’d rather leave you wondering, sorry!

Big Heet On A Wire LP (no label)
Big Heet are from Tallahassee and Exploding In Sound recently released On A Wire on tape, followed by this LP version… on Laserdisc! I damn near gasped when I pulled it out of its sleeve, like a 12″ extra-thick CD that somehow was cut via lathe, and it sounds surprisingly great, with none of the mottled patina of your average Peter King lathe-cut. It’s a striking piece, and I have to wonder if more unsigned, underfunded punk bands are gonna figure out where Big Heet got this done to press up a hundred or fewer copies of their albums, too. I would! Anyway, cool that this exists and all, but I might as well tell you about Big Heet as well. They’re a spazzy punk band, reminiscent of Skull Kontrol, Popular Shapes, Xbxrx, but maybe with a predilection for scruffy No Idea Records pop-punk buried somewhere under all the frantic beats and careening guitars. There are definitely at least a couple tracks that overheat in the classic Fat Day and Quadiliacha traditions, too. I certainly enjoyed listening to it, as well as the fact that a bunch of snarky punks from northern Florida beat Jack White to the punch on an outrageous vinyl gimmick – this sorta thing used to belong to the unloved freaks anyway, not just retro-obsessed toy collectors.

Peter Brötzmann & Fred Lonberg-Holm Ouroboros LP (Astral Spirits / Monofonus Press)
Just like a full column of Oreos, I can go for a Peter Brötzmann skronk-fest just about any time, and this new one is a mighty helping indeed. Here he’s teamed with Chicago-based avant-garde menace Fred Lonberg-Holm (he on “strings and electronics”) and it’s just what you’d expect while still full of unusual turns and surprising motifs. Brötzmann and Lonberg-Holm spend quite a bit of Ouroboros conversing with each other through their instruments, ranging from shy pleasantries to drunken shouting matches. Brötzmann casts an intimidating shadow for anyone trying to make some loud noise, but Lonberg-Holm wastes no time getting into the thick of it, plucking his strings with at least two dozen fingers and shredding his electronic gear as if the authorities are on their way to confiscate it. I thought Brötzmann’s recent pairing with Heather Leigh was going to be the most thrilling thing he did this decade, but Ouroboros (culled from a 2011 session in Germany) is a contender for sure, another brash and curious potion from two seasoned outlaws.

The Cowboys Vol. 4 LP (Feel It)
Following their self-titled album on HoZac last year (as well as a self-titled collection of previously released material in 2016, and a bunch of tapes, etc.), The Cowboys continue to flood the basement with their songs on this new full-length (by some metric, their fourth volume). I like it! They’ve got a distinct sound at least, clean-cut power-pop punk for the Lumpy Records mutant-punk crowd, and while that sort of thing could easily falter due to a lack of chops or hooks, The Cowboys come equipped with both. They seem to embrace the lovable nerdy-outsider vibe of Jonathan Richman (just check those athletic socks and dress shoes on the cover) and they channel it through the rowdy teenage garage-rock action of the late ’60s, the pointedly poppy punk of the early ’80s and a slight touch of The Strokes’ calculated-coolness (check “Transatlantic Romantic” and tell me it doesn’t sound like The Nerves covering something off Room On Fire). Their versatility in various forms of wild n’ basic guitar-rock pays off well, not just in their ability to write dozens of songs each year, but to ensure the results are fresh, fun and worth repeating.

Dark Blue Fight To Love / For You 7″ (12XU)
Dark Blue continue their stint as an unstoppable force of post-modern melodic malaise, lacing up their boots with roses in their teeth and daring you to even think about trolling them. Cool shot of Dark Blue’s Next Generation on the cover, and the a-side “Fight To Love” is cool too, even if I can’t shake the mental image of Bono with his arms outstretched each time I read the title. It’s pretty tender, with barely the slightest whiff of skinhead stomp, instead geared up for a slot on 120 Minutes and maybe a package tour with Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms (who, let’s not deny it, knew how to write some songs). The b-side is a cover of Anti-Nowhere League’s “For You”, and I have to wonder if the original is also seventeen minutes long or if Dark Blue took the liberty of stretching this one out to an extended length. “For You” repurposes the melody from Grease‘s “Summer Nights” into something ex-punks can dance to at their weddings in front of relatives, although truthfully I bet those ex-punks are all just dancing to “Summer Nights” itself anyway. I’d tease Dark Blue for playing showtunes, but I don’t want to have to explain to the EMTs taking me to the hospital that it was a Grease-related comment on my blog that got me curbstomped by Philly’s Rudest Skins.

Digital Leather Pink Thunder LP (FDH / P.Trash)
Even back in Digital Leather’s heyday (the mid-to-late ’00s?) I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of theirs. They released records on labels I appreciated and respected like Shattered and Goner, and friends of mine whose taste I admired were fans, but it never clicked for me. Listening now to Pink Thunder, this project’s eleventh album (not counting CD-rs, tapes or splits), I think I like Digital Leather even less! I just really don’t understand it, maybe you can help me out here: listen to “The Voyager” and tell me it doesn’t sound exactly like one of those “Casey and his brother” sketches on Tim & Eric. The vocals are almost comically muttered and out of tune, and the beats are, well, really dorky, but seemingly unintentionally so. It comes across as if it was an incredibly unpleasant experience to make and perform, and presumably an even less pleasant one to listen to. I get that if you’re a punk rocker who fell in love with Depeche Mode and OMD, you might be psyched to see that someone with a similar background is attempting a retro synth-pop sound, but man, shouldn’t it actually be at least kind of good? How did we wind up here?

Haircut Shutting Down 7″ (Feel It)
Something about the band name and messy use of a digital-clock font had me thinking (hoping?) this was going to sound like Le Shok, but nope, Haircut have different plans. They’re more shaved heads and DIY bleach jobs than Spock cuts, and they blade through five tunes on this, their debut EP. I have to say, I can’t remember the last time I heard a group bear such a striking similarity to Zero Boys circa Vicious Cycle – it’s not just the guitar tone that’s an exact match, but the frantic riffing as well, hands darting all over the necks of the guitars while the drummer sets a rapid pace full of changes and digressions. That great and overlooked Face The Rail album from a couple years ago or perhaps the first Suicidal Tendencies LP share a sonic kinship too, but Shutting Down is really like the fastest hardcore tunes off Vicious Cycle reproduced with less-melodic / more-aggro vocals. These five tunes are in and out in a blip, but it’s a blip that demands repeating if any of the aforementioned comparisons tickle your fancy (and tickle they should).

Häxxan The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II LP (Slovenly)
Don’t say I never teach you anything here: Häxxan is actually pronounced “cha-san”. They’re from Tel Aviv, and clearly part of Slovenly’s plan to seek out punk and punk-adjacent sounds from all over the globe, not just North America (see other recent releases from Greece’s Nomos 751 and Chile’s ANMLS), a noble effort to broaden our US-centric tastes. I’d be even more into it if I found the artists to be particularly great, or even really good, but I’m sad to say there isn’t much in Häxxan’s outrageously titled second album that sticks with me. I get the feeling they want to write songs beyond the normal 1-2-3-4, verse-chorus punk rock formula, but they don’t seem to have any exciting ideas to replace it with. Instead, they kinda stretch things out unnecessarily, or force incongruent parts together. Plus, they mostly seem to be a jumpy pop-punk band at heart, as if they truly just want to cover The Rezillos and The Dickies and have some fun bopping around, but the person in charge of writing the songs is bogging things down with visions of grandeur. See, you think it’s all well and good to let your guitarist buy a Mahavishnu Orchestra album until they turn around and accidentally think they can do all of that, too.

Helta Skelta Nightclubbin’ 7″ (Deranged / Helta Skelta)
If I was working the door at a club called Rouge or Mint and these chuffed-up punks strolled up, I’d sure as hell turn them right around. I wouldn’t want any trouble in my lounge, and it’s clear that Helta Skelta are nothing but! They’re from Perth and this is at least their second 7″ EP to come through here, and it’s pretty good, definitely punk, and most certainly Australian. The title track kinda walks and talks, more attitude than hook, and it certainly works for me – I wish more punk bands would realize that the personality and presentation of their tunes is probably more important than the riffs themselves. They get more riled-up and frantic on the b-side, with tightly clamped hi-hats and a tasteful guitar solo to wrap it up “B88”, whereas “Autodidact” bounces like a jubilant punk who just found twenty bucks on the ground. It’s a quick in-and-out for Helta Skelta, but they clearly picked the right three tunes for the job… very self-assured punk rock, rightfully so, and it shows!

Yuzo Iwata Daylight Moon LP (Siltbreeze)
I love me some Siltbreeze, but was content to pass on this new one, that is until I found out that Yuzo Iwata works at my favorite local independent hippie-ish grocery store. It’s quite possible he is responsible for ordering my favorite dark-chocolate almond bars, or frying up those delectable seitan dumplings (their hot bar is undeniable), and now I’ve found out that he also produces pristine, introspective-yet-expansive guitar music, toeing the line between understated, no-nonsense folk and classically psychedelic rambling. You get stretched-out guitar bliss on tracks like “Drone Beetle” nestled up to cozy Velvets-esque communal strummers like “Gigolo”; it’s mostly instrumental, although happily-chanted interjections and sparse poetic lyrics appear when necessary. There’s an informal jubilance deep within Daylight Moon, which reminds me of Tori Kudo (who wrote the liner notes for Iwata’s sole prior LP), but Iwata rocks much too hard and frequently to be confused with Kudo’s playfully amateurish jangle. This one’s all about the expressiveness of an amplified guitar, free of time constraints or mortal concerns, speaking a language that can only be communicated through six strings and percussive accompaniment. Now those dumplings are gonna taste better than ever.

Korea Undok Group Continent 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Just in case you thought I Dischi was on the verge of selling out into actual discernible songcraft, allow me to fly my drone over your backyard and have it drop this Korea Undok Group 7″ into your above-ground pool. I know nothing about this “group” besides that they are probably not from Korea and have self-released a number of tapes, so I’m assuming this 7″ is a nice intro into their sound and style. “Continent” somehow weaves lo-fi field-recording into melodic noise – a blender set to liquify rips over a drifting five-note piano motif until it becomes impossible to tell where the actual instrumentation begins and the tapes end. “On Alibi” opens the flip with more piano and the addition of slowed vocals, like a European homage to The Shadow Ring’s murkiest waters. It exudes a similar display of deep rumbling melodies melded with parts-unknown sonic manipulations, fairly simple (and the opposite of flashy) and strangely satisfying. I could honestly go for a whole cassette’s worth of this stuff, I just need to find a 1994 Honda Civic hatchback to play it in.

Litüus 2236 S Wentworth Ave LP (Avian)
Pretty handy album title here, as I bet if you dug the music found on this LP, you could roll over to 2236 S Wentworth Ave in Chicago and find Litüus himself jamming some foreboding and tense electronics in quite possibly the same cluttered room featured on the cover! It’s a very real and concrete way to ground an album, and it’s a nice contrast to the music here, which is mostly single-tone synth-work that resembles some of the dark new-age stuff Posh Isolation has been recently releasing. Or perhaps if you were listening to Autechre’s Confield on a stereo with only one working speaker, you might note a similarity to the pads and tones explored here. It’s certainly not dance music, not even prance music, but probably at least partially trance music, depending on your edible and vape consumption. Sounds pretty cool, although I often find myself wishing each track had more than one element at play, particularly during some cuts that sound like simply one ingredient rather than the full recipe. I’m all for minimalism, but when there’s just two echoed bleeps volleying back and forth, I can’t help but wonder if maybe there’s something fun or interesting happening next door at 2238 S Wentworth instead.

The Living Eyes Modern Living LP (Neck Chop / Anti Fade)
Modern Living is a well-rounded punk album, and the third one for this Australian group. The art is cool: a colorful rendering of each band member numbly staring at their phones (the insert continues the theme), and the music is even cooler, a mostly mid-tempo affair that references first-wave hardcore-punk without feeling overly nostalgic. I’m hearing a bit of that early Southern Cali sound, like TSOL or Bad Religion, but played slightly slower and with an impish sense of mischief instead of furrowed seriousness or even the slightest appetite for violence. They mix that in with some power-pop struttin’ and at least a slight nod to the modern mutant-punk scene (surely someone in The Living Eyes has tasted some slime). Whereas I’ve come to expect unschooled, basement-or-lower punk-rock from Neck Chop, The Living Eyes are clearly talented, or at least well-rehearsed, with songs that must’ve taken at least a little thought to construct, complete with zig-zagging guitar lines and cool drum fills. Doesn’t matter what time or place, a tune like “Horseplay” is top-shelf punk and I hope you get a chance to hear it.

Wolf Müller & Niklas Wandt Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World 2xLP (Growing Bin)
I know it’s not even really Spring but we’ve already got a strong candidate for “cover art of the year” with Instrumentalmusik Von Der Mitte Der World – just check Müller and Wandt with their picnic spread of percussion and samplers, feasting on the possibilities of rhythm instead of Pinot Grigio and Roquefort. Both of these chaps are new to me, but I won’t soon forget them, as this sprawling double LP is a fantastic trip through various modes of techno, funk, Eurodance, house, Balaeric and even touches of trance and “world music”. Every dance-oriented option is fair game for these two groove wizards, and they really went all out on Instrumentalmusik. Bubbly synths are a constant presence, as are lush pads and of course out-of-this-world drums, both live and synthesized, all coming together to form fully-realized songs as opposed to organized jams (sweet though organized jams can be). I’m reminded a bit of Move D and Benjamin Brunn’s fantastic Songs From The Beehive album in the way that meticulous production expertise can be laid to joyous long-form house excursions, but this album is far more organic in nature – just check the jungle-funk freakout of “Lockerina” or the lazy poolside playboy swagger of “Welcome Zum Paradies” to see the ways in which Müller and Wandt skirt the conventional in pursuit of the exceptional. I’m highly recommending this record now and it’s not even warm out yet!

Nomos 751 Nomos 751 LP (Slovenly)
Those hankering for Greek electro-punk, gather round: the debut of George Fotopoulos’s Nomos 751 project is upon us! I’ve listened a few times now, and while I’d love to tell you it’s a new favorite, Nomos 751 is a weary listen, an album overstuffed with songs (seventeen) and not enough interesting ideas to carry them through. They mostly all sound the same, for starters: a drum machine loop starts and remains unchanged for the songs duration, direct-to-laptop fuzz-guitar (and bass) join in after four measures, Fotopoulos shouts out some lyrics in an unwavering tone, and some sort of funny sound-effect hits after the second chorus. The music is more wacky and cartoony (ala a slowed-down Polysics or off-the-cuff “Weird” Al) than grating and cool (The Normal or Count Vertigo, let’s say), and it really starts to blend together after a while. Maybe I’m just used to all these modern punk bands that barely commit three minutes of music to a 7″ EP, but sitting through both sides of this album in a row quickly becomes a chore. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Nomos 751 sucks, as it certainly doesn’t, but Fotopoulos produces a very predictable and monotonous form of synthesized punk music on Nomos 751. If it actually sucked, that at least might have a chance at being kind of interesting, you know?

The Number Ones Another Side Of The Number Ones 7″ (Sorry State)
Sorry State did the right thing by drafting four new cuts from Dublin’s The Number Ones. I swear, I put it on and opening cut “Lie To Me” startled me in it’s near-exact similarity to The Exploding Hearts – it’s like hearing the voice of an old friend you thought you’d never see again. Every aspect (but particularly the vocal delivery) is just so dead-on, and while it could certainly be coincidental, I don’t really care either way, as it’s such a potent power-pop puller-of-heartstrings. The rest of the EP has a similarly pro-crafted Powerpearls vibe, but not as distinctly ‘Heartsy, for better or worse. Maybe a little touch of The Moderns in their communication of harmless guitar-based fun, or The Bureaucrats in their studied pop delivery, but who really cares to split these hairs. “You’re So Happy I Could Cry” is great too – it’s delivered in the same manner as the rest, but the melody and lyrics are ripe for theft from corporate rockers like Weezer or Fall Out Boy to turn into rock radio gold. Now all we need is their scatological side-project The Number Twos to get a release on Lumpy and all will be right with the world.

Portal Ion LP (Profound Lore)
Couldn’t resist picking up the newest from Australian kings of WTF metal, Portal. This sorta thing just makes me feel like a kid again: the shiny cover practically looks like a “limited edition” Spawn comic book, and the music is a stockpile of profoundly pointless and gratuitous metal blasting, in the best way possible of course. Inside that reflective gatefold cover (and upon at least five different colored vinyl variants), Ion is an endless swirl of murky tech-metal riffing, blast beats and darkly summoned vocal groans, as one might have come to expect from Portal. Songs don’t operate on a normal linear grid, or if they do, it’s as if the grid was reformulated, Rubik’s Cube style, where guitars overlap against vocals when they normally wouldn’t, and the drums intermittently blast with the indecisive nature of an animal scampering through the forest, not traditional black metal. If you were to tell me that Portal improvised Ion in one live take, or took two years to craft each intricate moment, I’d believe you either way. Rather than concern myself with how mere mortals would’ve created such a record, I’m far more content to shut off 80% of my brain and allow Ion‘s torrential blasts, howls and infernal torment to fill me with their evil power, so that I may ascend to my rightfully wicked position alongside Skeletor and Cobra Commander.

Rabid Dogs Rabid Dogs 7″ (Aarght!)
There’s simply no slowing down Melbourne’s punk underground, especially not with cool labels like Aarght! propping it up and promoting it. This is Rabid Dogs’ debut, featuring members of Gentlemen (no-fi garage), Krosomom (heavy d-beat) and Lakes (gloomy industrial-folk), and it seems they’ve checked those various extremes at the door in the name of feel-good, high-energy leather-punk. Rabid Dogs are audacious enough to call their first song “No Fun” and pose in a Rose Tattoo-esque group hug for their online promo photo, and that devil-may-care attitude carries into their tunes quite well. I’m reminded of a glam-metal Patsy, or a dumbed-down Vexx with a party attitude, and if either of those concepts sound appealing (they sure do to me) you’ll have no problem enjoying the four speed-punk blasts on this 7″ EP. Maybe a harder-edged, less silly Amyl And The Sniffers vibe, too? I can only imagine Amyl and Rabid Dogs are either best of friends or sworn enemies, operating together as a collective criminal organization or constantly warring with each other in the streets. Maybe we can convince Mikey Young to leave his mastering booth for a minute and act as impartial mediator, for the good of the scene of course.

Rrose & Lucy The Lotus Eaters II 12″ (Eaux)
Excellent tag-team collaboration here from two of my favorite mysterious industrial-techno heavyweights. Might as well have called this one Lotus Eaters: The Revenge, as these three shots are as sharp and deadly as the cross-sectioned bullet adorning the cover. Of course only those in the studio truly knew what went down, but my hypothesis is that Rrose brought the ceremonial deep-harmonic occult drones and their associated long-form textures, and Lucy captured them for dance-floor use with an array of menacing tics, brittle percussion and elastic rhythms. It’s truly the best of both worlds, bringing Rrose out of the avant-garde gallery space and pushing Lucy to exciting and frightening new territories. “Inner Membrane” is my favorite example of the pairing’s success, with widescreen sonic swells matched to ticklish hi-hats and rubbery pads, although there isn’t a dud to be found on this white vinyl 12″ EP. If the records you usually put on during marathon sessions of latex gas-mask sex are starting to feel predictable, look no further.

SBSM Leave Your Body 7″ (Thrilling Living)
What do you think SBSM stands for? “So Brutal So Mean” is my guess, if the tunes on this 7″ EP are any indication! It was released on tape last year, and is now on 7″ thanks to the good people over at Thrilling Living. I’d been waiting for the vinyl myself, and it’s pretty great, which is no surprise given Thrilling Living’s track record. SBSM are by far the least traditionally punk-sounding group on the label’s roster, opting for heavy electronics and percussion in favor of trebly guitars and squealing feedback (although both of those elements factor in here too). Sonically, I’m reminded of heavy drum-machine riot squads like Foetus and Nitzer Ebb, but somehow the delivery is more akin to raging hardcore brutality like Phobia or No Fucker. Imagine Agoraphobic Nosebleed with zero metal influence and a whole lot of fiery queer energy instead – who could resist that? It’s quite a feat, using synthesized rhythms and electronic noise to inspire sensations of gnarly hardcore-punk, but SBSM do it as if it was the only way to be done. Let’s not make them do another tape in order to get a much-overdue full-length vinyl LP, okay people?

Scrap Brain Unhappy Hardcore 7″ (Thrilling Living)
As if SBSM’s smasher wasn’t enough, Thrilling Living reach deep into a London dungeon to pull out Scrap Brain. They’re a real drain-clog of a punk group, ripe for filing next to other London-based miscreants like Good Throb and Frau. Like those other two, Scrap Brain’s sound is distinguishable while sharing the same sense of vitriol, tension and probably more than a little misandry. Their songs are anchored by thick bass and bouncing floor-tom, and come to life through mortally-wounded guitar and motormouth ranting. Vocalist Camille Rearden gives us the news and the weather while delivering their words, turning a song like “Don’t Talk To Me” into some sort of Rudimentary Peni-esque feral thrash, far beyond the GG Allin cover I had initially hoped for. Most tracks start as dirges, and a few finish that way, although Scrap Brain happily utilize tempo changes as a means for delivering their manic sensibility. Proud to say that I saw them live a few months ago and they left before returning the favor later that night – they had a Good Throb reunion gig to attend instead, and I would’ve been suspicious if they hadn’t.

Skull Black Static 12″ (Pre-)
Don’t we all wish we could do what Trevor Jackson is doing: starting one record label as a clearinghouse for various unreleased and archival projects recorded over the past two decades (that’d be Pre-) and starting another label for new and future productions (that will be Post-, apparently). Either he must be filthy rich or quite good at what he does, and I’m thinking it’s probably a mixture of both. He went with the un-Googleable name of “Skull” for this 12″, apparently recorded between 1996 and 2000, and it sounds as fresh and cool now as it would’ve back then. The title track is a slow-weaving cascade of noisy drones (punctuated by what sounds like directly live percussion), and it’s quite supple indeed, but it’s the three b-side tracks that have me keeping Black Static close at hand. “Camazotz” is like a trip to Adam X’s leather dungeon while Crash Worship argue with the doorman outside; “Toxicity” is a slow-motion groove to recall Actress’s early productions (stoned noisy trip-hop?); “Rent Yourself” is the upbeat electro slam that sounds like Cabaret Voltaire, DAF and Clock DVA unexpectedly caught up in a lava flow. If Jackson was kicking this much butt some twenty years ago, I need to hear his Post- material ASAP.

Sparrow Steeple A Aardvark 12″ (Ever/Never)
If you’re the rare freak who files your records alphabetically by album title (I know you exist out there somewhere), here’s the new frontrunner for your stack! Philadelphia’s Sparrow Steeple continue to mine an antiquated form of sunshine-y psychedelia, music that’s frequently tucked away in the dusty reaches of old, creaky-floored record shops across the United States. The Sparrow Steeple players are also frequently tucked away in those same antique-y record shops, so it’s a perfect match. On this five-track EP, they’ve only got one song about food (“Candy Apple Kid”) but I still can’t help but picture these guys walking down a meadow lane, sniffing flowers that turn into lollipops and tickling their stubbly grey chins with buttercups, a kaleidoscope of old-fashioned acid-rock jams soundtracking the trip. Guitarist Barry Goldberg has one of those warbly hippie voices that practically deserves its own Ben & Jerry’s flavor at this point, the sort of voice you’re either for or against. It all makes for a pleasantly tweaked excursion into the minds of restless old guys who continue to press onward with their distinct musical journey, beyond the static realms of Hippies and Punks into something I might one day understand when I too reach an advanced age.

Tropical Trash / Brutal Birthday split 7″ (Maple Death)
Louisville’s finest stink-rockers Tropical Trash team up with Bologna’s Brutal Birthday, bridging a deep cultural divide through pesky noise-rock. I honestly didn’t even recognize Tropical Trash at first, and was wonder if maybe the center labels were accidentally swapped, but nope, this is them, dropping a surprisingly non-noisy cut of mid-tempo attitude. Is it crazy if I say they sound like an art-punk Cake here? It’s all groove and swagger, and what do you know, it works! Brutal Birthday do their part to stir up a frenzy with their cut. It’s of a distinct modern noise-rock style, where the drummer plays an easily-programmable drum machine beat on an actual drum kit, the bass sticks to one or two notes, the guitar flails, and the vocalist peppers his staccato shouting over top – think Metz or Idles. Brutal Birthday are more lo-fi than those two, though, and apparently a very new band (this is their “first song”, isn’t that kind of adorable?), so who knows how mighty they may become. There are worse places to begin one’s career than on the other side of a 7″ with Tropical Trash, I’ll tell you what.

Vile Gash Nightmare In A Damaged Brain LP (Youth Attack)
After over a decade of existence, Vile Gash finally drop their first full-length (and by “full-length” I mean like twelve minutes). They’ve got one of the most questionable names on the Youth Attack roster, but their songs and aesthetic always struck me as one of the most straight-forward and non-edgelordy of the modern Youth Attack era – songs about how life is horrible, how much they hate society, how much they hate horrible life and are disgusted by society, etc etc. Very direct and declarative lyrics backed with a bruising selection of molten hardcore riffs, and it really does the trick. Just as hoped, Nightmare In A Damaged Brain offers no surprises or twists, but rather a streamlined and nearly-perfected showcase of their capabilities. Throaty vocals compliment the tumbling drums and manic guitar feedback as these songs explode out of the speakers – I’m hearing a strictly American take on Framtid, as if the Swedish and Japanese riff structures gave way to classic Poison Idea and C.I.A. modes of thought. It’s fiercely brutal and primitive, yet I could easily pick Vile Gash out of a modern hardcore lineup of other groups attempting a similar thing. Really hope they can condense another twelve minutes of hardcore magic by 2028; I’m already thirsty for the follow-up.

Wetware Automatic Drawing LP (Dais)
Wetware’s debut 12″ received a lot of play in my household (much to my neighbors’ chagrin), so I hopped to it and immediately snagged their debut album on Dais, a label that always keeps an ear to the ground for ugly new electronic styles such as this. Perhaps it was always the case for Wetware, but on Automatic Drawing the lack of discernible structure or premeditated songwriting is particularly stark. I’m sure it wasn’t, but this record sounds like it could’ve easily been recorded live, in one particularly inspired take, thanks to the manner in which sounds come and go. Matt Morandi tweaks his gear into a few nervous processes and teases their filters, eventually joined by Roxy Farman whenever she decides to wander in and grab the mic. It’s as loose as cold-wave could be, and while this might make it a difficult experience for listeners who require something tangible to grasp onto, I find Wetware’s approach to be distinctive and appealing (although I don’t necessarily want to hear too many other groups trying it). Farman’s voice is often buried in the mix, intoning like a ball-gagged Peter Murphy, speaking like a Black Mirror rendition of Siri or doing her best Steve Brule impersonation before various effects process her voice into shreds. If anything, the true spirit of fearlessly hard-to-enjoy industrial is alive and well here, actual “songs” be damned.

Leslie Winer & Jay Glass Dubs YMFEES LP (Bokeh Versions)
Lotta weird records discussed this month but I don’t think any are more delightfully strange than this one. It’s a collaboration between occasional spoken-word artist / ex-model Leslie Winer and Greek modern-dub maestro Jay Glass Dubs, and the title stands for “Your Mom’s Favourite Eazy-E Song” – see what I mean? I don’t care how big your brain is, this is a hard one to wrap your head around, and while I’ve had fun trying to discern just what Winer is getting at, and how she got wrapped up with Jay Glass Dubs to begin with, most of YMFEES‘s enjoyment comes from sitting back and letting these two freaks have their way with you, sense be damned. Jay Glass Dubs will set a beat in motion and tweak it sparingly (and lovingly) and once Winer gets started talking, she rarely stops, dropping some fascinating phrases (“bring me the moon with a fence around it / starring no famous actors”). Jay Glass Dubs’s distinctly cautious experimentalism and rain-soaked dub reserve plenty of space for Winer, who often seems content to ignore the music entirely while delivering her mesmeric and provocative prose as though they were the last words she’ll ever read. Am I crazy in picking up a subtle Scott Walker vibe here, too, somewhere deep in the darkness of “About The Author”? It’s like being cornered by the scariest and most fascinating person at a party while an experimental dub-techno DJ plays records across the hall, only in this case you’re free to abruptly stop listening without causing a scene.

WINO-D WINO-D 12″ (Wah Wah Wino)
WINO-D is the newest transmission from the Wah Wah Wino camp, and I’m not sure if they actually decided to call it “WINO-D” or if the Powers That Be simply came up with that name based on the matrix number. I dunno – should we care? Clearly this posse of Irish sonic miscreants wants to muddy the waters of who does what, and while I would normally find that sort of elusiveness to be a little annoying, I’m down to let this posse blindfold me before driving away in their van. This new EP features five tracks of standard Wah Wah Wino fare: jagged synths, punchy drum programming, live instrumentation, experimental funk, post-modern krautrock and a freewheeling sense that any form of electronic dance music could be pulled up in its net at any given time. Some tracks are easy to bob along to, but I prefer the more esoteric hip-shakers like the second cut, with hypnotically-panned pads and shimmering guitar(?), calling to mind Ricardo Villalobos tasked with remixing the 99 Records catalog. The second b-side cut is even better, a mixed bag of dubby bass, elastic guitar and various bells/whistles. I’d bet money that Morgan Buckley and Davy Kehoe had more than a couple hands involved in the making of these tracks, but even if not I’m sure they’ve enjoyed listening to them, a bond I happily share.

Young Echo Young Echo 2xLP (Young Echo)
Very cool and dare I say overdue album (or perhaps “compilation” is more appropriate) from Bristol’s Young Echo squad. They’re a group of no less than eleven producers who are like-minded in aesthetic sensibility and social outlook but vary greatly from a sonic perspective. Here you’ll find the heavy dread-dub of Gorgon Sound, the harsh electronics / spoken-word combo of Asda, the deep swinging post-dubstep constructions of Killing Sound, the creaky loop miniatures of O$VMV$M, rapping, singing, noise, demented R&B and rustled field-recordings all commingling wildly, like the various organisms found in a Petri dish of pondwater viewed under microscope. There are 25 tracks here across four sides of vinyl, and you can tell that these guys must’ve pooled together hours of material, eventually culling their finest moments for Young Echo. It flows quickly, with no particular cut monopolizing the overall run time, and I can’t help but notice how well it flows when considering the disparate material. I guess it just goes to show that aggressive rapping, morose spoken-word, Rasta toasting and soulful singing can all sound great on top of crusty and leisurely broken-beat post-techno, or at least when in the capable hands of this inspired crew of forward-minded artists.

Bränn Ner Hela Skiten compilation LP (Förlag För Fri Musik)
Förlag För Fri Musik is one label I sit up straight for, with great releases by Enhet För Fri Musik and Leda, really tapping into the darkest freaky underbelly of Swedish noise (and noise-like constituents). I couldn’t resist this scene-spanning compilation LP, sticking all of their friends and foes together for a schizophrenic mix of speaker-shredding chaos, confusingly muffled field-recordings and subtly vulnerable acoustic ambience. Schakalens Bror opens things with a sharp capsule of free-noise guitar (I need to snag his new LP on Förlag too!), and from there things quickly become impossible to follow – toward the end of side one, is that dumpy trumpet solo David Eng or Arv & Miljö? Of the four tracks by Pig, are any of them actually music? These are questions that I push from my mind, preferring to let the jumbled mash of lo-fi muck and basement noise sorcery take the wheel. The energetic curiosity brandished by these weirdos is palpable, and I’m thankfully they got it together enough to collectively share on 12″ record.