ATM Inglewood Tapes Vol. 2 LP (Radical Documents)
ATM can mean a lot of things, from pornography to banking, but I assume it means something else entirely for these weirdos. They’re apparently based in Inglewood, if the title didn’t already tip you off, and this album is a mixed bag of both tricks and treats. Most cuts are electronic in nature, but played live, with sore thumbs twisting knobs and sweaty palms mashing keys. Reminds me a bit of the rugged, barely-functional electro of Danse Asshole or Crack: We Are Rock, groups whose members came over from the basement-noise scene to get the party started (or at least attempt to). ATM don’t settle on any particular genre, though, as numerous songs utilize guitars and vocals too, not unlike The Door And The Window or The Prats, but with an even greater understanding that there are probably very people who might enjoy the music they are making, and even fewer of those who will end up hearing it. I’m also hearing similarities with fellow West Coast art-freaks Los Tres Pericos, in the way that G-funk and sunny forecasts have unconsciously seeped into ATM’s sound, notably different from similar groups out of Detroit or Brooklyn. It’s amazing what easy access to really good, really cheap tacos will do to an artist’s disposition.

BB And The Blips Shame Job LP (Thrilling Living)
Those of you still lamenting the loss of London’s finest snot-punk bullies Good Throb, I have good news: BB And The Blips have arrived. BB is Bryony Beynon, Good Throb’s guitarist, and while she expends lots of punk energy outside of the stage or studio, she fired up this new band with various Australian scofflaws, and they rock. The Blips opt for a more tuneful route than Good Throb (to be fair, who doesn’t?), but rest assured the punk they play is rudimentary and cacophonous just the same. They’ll blast some hardcore ala Sin 34 (“L.I.B.I.D.O.”), which cannot be denied, but Beynon will actually sing on occasion (“Shame Job”) and I’ll be damned if I’m not hearing some Plastmatics (sans chainsaw, “Butcher Baby” era) in there. To get real specific, I’d file their overall sound close to LA punk, in that little sliver where the Dangerhouse groups started breaking up, Darby died and hardcore started to rear its ugly teenaged head. Of course, none of those bands wrote lyrics like these, cramming radical feminist sentiment into hilarious barbs and glorious idiocy (“Bitcoin Baby” being the pinnacle here). I wish I could sit at the Blips’ lunch table, but I’m content to clear their trays.

Big’N Knife Of Sin 12″ (Computer Students)
Hard to miss this new Big’N 12″, even if you intended to – it comes in a big gunmetal-grey sealed case, something fit for a mail-order hard drive, just wide enough to require a little finagling if you’re trying to squeeze it into a Ikea cube. It’s an impressive package, complete with a real LP jacket (and printed cardstock inner sleeve, too), all designed with a modern eye that could easily fool someone into thinking Big’N are a new group, and not one of the lesser-known (but quite good) Midwestern math-rock / post-hardcore groups of the early ’90s. So, all you hopeful math-rock groups, send your demos to Computer Students, maybe they’ll hook you up! Anyway, this new 12″, the first in seven years (and before that, over a decade?) from Joliet, IL’s Big’N, sounds surprisingly like their ’90s material. That’s a good thing, because those records rocked, and this one does too – big stutter-step guitar riffing, economical Todd Trainer-esque drum patterns, and a vocalist who squeals with all his might, like a Southern-fried Mark Arm at 100% lung capacity. At six songs, there’s really no fat here, and they continually get right to the point, which is original guitar riffs delivered with a sense of hypnotic turbulence and an unhinged menace narrating the proceedings. Seeing as this style is very much not the current flavor of the month, it’s more than a little refreshing to hear, particularly via Big’N’s capable and entertaining style.

Blades Of Joy Blades Of Joy LP (Melters)
There’s no judging Blades Of Joy by their cover, simply because it doesn’t particularly follow any judge-able logic: the band name calls to mind what, a Christian bootleg version of Nintendo hockey, while the cover art resembles one of the default templates you could use for your private-press contemporary rock album in 1984, like a fifth alternate for Flex Your Head or something. Perplexing vibes, but Blades Of Joy wear it well, especially once you actually listen to the record and their deep, shoegaze-inflected alt-rock comes surging in. This is a band that plays as though they are unburdened by life’s harsh realities, as if grooving out these songs among their friends is the only matter at hand, and it’s a vibe worth searching out. I’m hearing similarities to groups like Belly, Superchunk and Slowdive, but Blades Of Joy are particularly approachable, without any grand aspirations to conquer rock n’ roll. They’re not thanking publicity agencies and festival sponsors on their thanks list, they’re thanking their favorite liquor store, their favorite taqueria and their home city of San Francisco, which is hopefully no longer choking on smoke by the time this writing is published. Following that same grateful spirit, I’d like to thank Blades Of Joy for making such a pleasant and defiantly-uplifting rock record.

Blood Pressure Surrounded LP (Beach Impediment)
What do you think Pittsburgh hardcore warriors Blood Pressure are surrounded by? I’m guessing it’s not puppies, kittens and flowers, as this record is a non-stop hardcore assault, with the prerequisite two-or-more skulls on the cover. They rage through ten new tracks here, with seemingly every hardcore-punk weapon at their disposal: the frantic thrash of Indigesti, the steamroller speed of Poison Idea, NYHC breakdowns, the technical prowess of Jerry’s Kids, and a vocalist who uncannily matches the throaty bark of Boston Strangler’s Ban Reilly. So while the band blasts through fist-pumping riffs, high-speed thrash attacks and burly mosh parts, the vocalist shouts like a drill sergeant trying to rouse his platoon of lazy goofs. Perhaps there’s an Impalers comparison to be made, in the sheer technicality and power of their hardcore-punk, but Blood Pressure strike me as less likely to wear a spiked bracelet, more likely to know the names of all-star MMA fighters and hockey goalies. I’m still adjusting to the idea that Pittsburgh hardcore is a force to be reckoned with, but Surrounded makes it exceedingly clear.

Bloody Head Freedom / Mobility / Speed LP (Viral Age)
This Bloody Head album had all the markings of a Japanophile d-beat hardcore record on first look: spiky Old English font, a vomiting beast in chains on the cover, repetitive stylized band logo on the back, an insert booklet with more skulls and barbed wire, and so on. The only outlier is the instruction “listen to Kilslug” written under the recording credits, and it turns out that request is more their way of life than a mere recommendation. Turns out there’s no real hardcore to be found here at all, and certainly no d-beats; rather, Bloody Head play simple punk riffs at torturously slow speeds, ala Unsane, Unholy Two or Rectal Hygenics. Sometimes the riffs have a Sabbath-y aftertaste (peep b-side opener “This Is War! (Okay, Now)”), and sometimes they’ll utilize an open-string stomp as the entire basis for a song, but it’s evident Bloody Head come from a punk frame of mind (if the artwork wasn’t already an immediate clue). It’s certainly not far off from the aforementioned Kilslug either, although I’ll note that Bloody Head overload their songs with thick and heavy distortion, which is great if you love hearing a wall of sludge with vocals buried deep within, and not so great if you don’t. And if you don’t, I’m sure there’s some new Sufjan Stevens mixcloud you can go download or whatever. There’s really something for everyone these days.

Carbonas Your Moral Superiors: Singles And Rarities 2xLP (Goner)
I’m not old enough to tell you what it was like when The Dead Boys first rolled through CB’s, but I’m old enough to confirm that when the Carbonas showed up in 2003 with some shoddy-looking 7″ singles on labels called Douchemaster and Shattered, it was a minor shock to the punk underground. These Atlantans showed up with fast lo-fi punk filled with hooks and attitude, heralding back to the classic Killed By Death comps when most other garage-punk bands were still sending their demos to Lookout! Records or rehashing the same ol’ Rip Off Records aesthetic. In that brief era before an all-knowing, ever-present internet, it was refreshing and cool to hear this band that really loved the first Zero Boys 7″ and The Dogs’ “Slash Your Face”, and listening to these singles and rarities now, they’re even a little better than I remembered. These early Carbonas songs are catchy and relentless – they pretty much always play fast, and the drums barely ever stop for a fill, Ramones-like in their continuous energy. And before ultra-obscure 7″s became the foundational punk knowledge of today, the various covers here are not just expertly picked, they read like a gateway manifesto to streetwise American punk and proto-hardcore: Zero Boys, Nihilistics, Plugz, GG Allin, Kaos, Real Kids, even the Electric Eels are covered with admiration and style across these two LPs. I was starting to get a little misty-eyed, but then Carbonas’ timeless classic “Frothing At The Mouth” hit and I immediately slammed n’ wormed across the living room.

Cheap Nasties Cheap Nasties LP (HoZac)
The punk reissue field is more crowded than ever – not only are there a large number of labels fully devoted to the practice, it seems like pretty much every contemporary label can’t resist unearthing some punk artifact, regardless of its sonic quality. I’m a little surprised that HoZac is delivering such a high level of archival punk documents, but they certainly are, this Cheap Nasties LP being no exception. They’re presumably the first punk band out of Perth, Australia, and most notable as Kim Salmon’s first band. With punk, first doesn’t always equal best, but Cheap Nasties seem quite capable from the very start with these ten previously-unreleased tunes. Through coincidence or intention, they end up sounding similar to Time-Life Punk Classics like The Sex Pistols, The Heartbreakers and The Clash, with an occasional nod in the direction of The Stooges. Pretty standard for the era, but notable for their remote cultural outpost (I haven’t been to Perth, have you?) and the pre-Scientists factor, as Kim Salmon went on to write some of the best power-pop and punk songs of his generation, Australian or otherwise. Plus, the printed inner-sleeve comes with seventeen photos (I counted) of the Cheap Nasties bumming around the streets in ties, leather jackets and mirrored sunglasses, as if they were the only punk rock animals in town. Which, to be fair, they were.

Chips For The Poor / SNRRM And VARM The Handshake Exchange / Eccentric Women In Oswestry LP (Invisible Spies)
I was trawling through the great Blog Of Roland and found myself intrigued by an ostensibly-gushing review of this Chips For The Poor record (you can never quite tell with Roland Woodbe), so I decided to bite. I couldn’t be happier! This album features London’s Chips For The Poor on one side, and SNRRM And VARM on the other, who are apparently the main Chips guy (someone named “Supreme Vagabond Craftsman”) and a pal, so it’s all coming from the same basic source. And what an outlandish source it is! Chips For The Poor are disturbingly bent, as if UK DIY was informed by Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny instead of The Fall and Television Personalities, all with the fractured anti-song aesthetic of The Shadow Ring’s first few albums and the freedom of Dan Melchior at his absolute trippiest. Skeletal electronics provide the rhythm while multiple voices (dry, effect-laden, sped-up, slowed-down, etc.) read through genius prose – a phrase like “I sent a text from my car on the way back from the vet” has the rhythmic eloquence of Kendrick Lamar or William Shakespeare, and Chips For The Poor are filled with stuff like that. The guitar is surprisingly tuneful and slick (hence the ECM Records vibe), more likely to sketch some smooth jazz-fusion than feed back, and it really makes it… I’m already dying for more. SNRRM And VARM take a looser route, improvising one long piece of guitar, tapes and electronics – the Rhythmyx Chymx to Chips’s Severed Heads, no doubt. It’s a perfect pairing of delirious musics, and an essential listen for anyone seeking the outer limits of British experimental DIY.

Control Freaks I Am Crime 7″ (Bachelor)
The cover shot of Control Freaks “caught on camera” with big white pillowcases with dollar signs on them… I just don’t know what to tell you. I feel second-hand embarrassment each time I look at it, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing – if, on some deep level, punk is about being a foolish idiot for the sake of being a foolish idiot, this artwork could be referenced as the “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” of punk. I love punk when it’s smart and incisive, but I also like when it’s very much not. Anyway, let’s get to the music – the title track is just as you’d expect from Greg Lowery and camp. It bops somewhere between The Dickies and The Lost Kids, classic pop-punk simplicity you can depend on. “Time’s Up” is even simpler, a basic rock n’ roll chord progression played in the punk rock tradition, a tale as old as time from The Rezillos to Screeching Weasel and surely far into the future. It’s kind of amazing that Control Freaks seem blissfully unaware of modern society and its ills, or that they can willfully ignore it all and just play this same-old same-old first-wave punk in their matching get-ups, sunglasses and all. And when this group eventually dissolves, Lowery will probably just form a new band that also plays this exact thing. He knows what he likes!

Daughters You Won’t Get What You Want 2xLP (Ipecac Recordings)
It was shortly after the turn of the century when The Locust released splits with both Arab On Radar and Melt Banana (and toured with one if not both of them). If you were a teenager used to local punk and hardcore bands, and those tours rolled through your town, it probably split your brain right open, and understandably so! I have a suspicion that’s what happened to the guys who formed Daughters, particularly as their band initially sounded like The Locust playing Arab On Radar riffs with a naked screamo cowboy on vocals. I certainly enjoyed their first couple records at the time, but I never would’ve guessed they’d manage to take that starting point and juice it up to the stunning apex that is You Won’t Get What You Want. They still show their Locust / Arab On Radar roots, but they’ve whipped it into something previously unachieved by themselves or anyone else, resulting in what is probably the most entertaining, catchy and unique post-hardcore noise-rock record I’ll hear this year or next. The guitars steal the show – they’ll clank like a demonic harpsichord, buzz like a swarm of wasps, chime like church bells and stomp like Sepultura all within the same track, and what’s most impressive, it all feels as natural and unforced as echo on a dub record. Not a dud on here, but tracks like “Satan In The Wait” and “Long Road, No Turns” are particularly repeatable, not to mention the menacing robo-groove of personal favorite “The Reason They Hate Me”, which sounds like the peak HEALTH always aimed for but never quite achieved. Jeromes Dream are coming back with a new album soon, too… what is this world we’re living in?

Diastereomer Ignition Advancer LP (Bitter Lake)
Brooklyn’s Bitter Lake Recordings continues their mission statement of unearthing beyond-obscure Japanese synth/experimental/wave recordings and packaging them up nicely. I could act like you’ve heard of Diastereomer before, but none of us have, and that’s part of the fun of Bitter Lake – it’s almost as fun as trying to remember how to spell “Diastereomer”. This duo comes to us from a little beyond the usual ’77-’83 reissue zone: their sole 7″ single was released in 1989, and it’s repackaged here with live, instrumental and previously-unreleased tracks. They’ve got a cool look – one guy in suspenders and a white tee, the other in a black button-up with sunglasses to match – and their music is pretty par for the course when it comes to unheralded, collector-friendly, private-pressed synth-wave. The two songs off the 7″ are unsurprisingly the strongest: “Mothersun” predicts the minimal-synth of artists like Xeno & Oaklander and Linea Aspera, and “Place” behaves like the saddest Depeche Mode demo that never saw the light of day. The instrumentals remind of the random electronic interludes that King Diamond would use to push forward an album’s thematic narrative, which is of course nice, and the chase-scene programming of “The Diastereomer” and cheesy guitar licks of “Within Me Calling” reveal other paths worth exploring. If you’ve already been keeping up with Bitter Lake, why would you stop now?

DJ Qu Heed The Message 12″ (Strength Music Recordings)
For over a decade now, DJ Qu has been pumping out the deepest deep house, records with titles like Party People Clap and Real House Music…, all from the understated locale of New Jersey. At this point, he’s clearly a master of his craft, one who is finding new ways to excite himself, like when a pro-skater decides to relearn all their tricks in switch. I think that’s how he came to “May I Say”, one of the most infectious and twisted house cuts I’ve heard this year. Rolling on little more than a shaker and an intermittent kick, Qu samples the most outrageous vocal snarling over a mid-paced disco edit – you really need to hear this, words fail me! The other three tracks are nearly as great: “Things Get Ordinary” is a slappy edit, like a drunken Move D cut; “Picazon” is an expertly mixed percussive jam, as if ESG signed to Salsoul; “Circumvent” is a buzzing hive of theatrical house, oddly reminiscent of a coked-up Gas. They’re all highly creative and disparate works, not a throwaway in the bunch. DJ Qu seems to delight in what he’s doing, either rolling with the mammoth groove of “Picazon” or through the perplexing lo-fi mix that “May I Say” often dips into. He’s having fun, I’m having fun, and you’re welcome to have some with us, too.

Flanger Magazine Breslin LP (Sophomore Lounge)
My first landlord was a kindly man by the name of Breslin, and I would probably thumb through an issue of Flanger magazine if it were indeed a real thing, so I’m already feeling friendly toward Flanger Magazine’s debut album. It’s the solo work of Chris Bush, who used to sit with his legs folded over a tangled pile of gear in Caboladies, but he’s clearly matured – this sounds like the work of a man seated in a chair, not on the floor. Most songs here are comprised of some sort of rustic acoustic guitar picking, which is then integrated with various nature recordings and electronic tomfoolery, probably of the modular fashion. It gets pretty weird, but there’s always a sweet melody in there, thanks to the mournfully elegant guitar playing – it resembles the worst selling, most experimental works of Will Oldham or Conor Oberst, not so much the defiant freakiness of Avarus or No Neck Blues Band. Parts of Breslin are downright beautiful too, like “A Sketch Of The Lobby And Staircase”, which feels like a rural American response to some of Michael Rother’s sunrise jams. Fourteen tracks here, none of which top five minutes, all quaintly beautiful with a soft touch of peculiarity.

Gazelle Twin Pastoral LP (Anti-Ghost Moon Ray)
How many musical artists can you think of that have created not one, but two great characters in the span of five years? Gazelle Twin came on the scene in 2014 as a blurry-faced, androgynous chav in royal blue, and now with Pastoral, she’s an equestrian jester in blood red, hobby horse in hand. They’re like two sides of the same coin, both distinctly British, menacing and twisted (her teeth remain the only body part she reveals), and this album lives up to whatever notions this bizarre new persona might conjure. Her proper debut Unflesh was one of my favorites of its year, an aggressive and possessed record of creepily-whispered vocals and harsh beats, the sort of music you might hope Marilyn Manson to sound like if you only ever saw his pictures. Pastoral maintains that intensity (and creepiness), but with a striking level of comfort and ease, as if years of wearing smelly face-masks has steeled her to the game. Most of the tracks here are built on frenetic loops, almost nearing the manic pace of footwork but never fully losing the reigns, and the occasional addition of classical pan flute is delightfully demented (and less incongruous than one might expect). Vocals are heavily processed but discernible, usually deployed in rapid rhythms (like an explicit playground chant), and the music ensures involuntary rapid eye movement (do not listen to Pastoral while driving). For such an intense record, it has a great flow, keeping the listener gripped to their chair rather than exhausted and overwhelmed. If this is what Brexit has inspired in Gazelle Twin, I cannot wait to see what music she makes in reaction to the environmental collapse and global nuclear war of 2021.

Eli Keszler Stadium 2xLP (Shelter Press)
No fantasy league of modern vanguard improv drummers is complete without the inclusion of Eli Keszler. This Brooklyn-based artist has played with some heavyweight weirdos in his day (Tony Conrad, Jandek, Oren Ambarchi and Loren Connors to name a few), as well as constructed some large-scale sound installations (how about some quarter-mile-long wires dangling off the Manhattan Bridge?), but it’s the albums recorded under his own name that resonate with me most. This new one, on the exceptional French avant-garde label Shelter Press, is particularly fantastic. Across twelve tracks, Keszler establishes a singular mood and technique, one that fits in with the avant-garde underground of today (mysterious, jazz-inspired, more than a little dark) while establishing its own unique sonic signature. Most of the album unfolds with dusky tones and muted percussive pitter-patter, as though an afternoon storm-cloud is slowly parting while raindrops meticulously slap against the window, all while a stereo plays a Hessle Audio mix far, far below. It’s as if Burial’s work was scored for performance by a future-jazz quintet, and the drummer decided to rip out some patterns and rolls befitting Voivod and Gorguts through a highly compressed microphone – sounds tantalizing, right? For as manic as the drums get, they’re always mind-bogglingly precise, and amidst the unhurried melodic churn (brought to you buy such instruments as “vibraceleste, piano, violoskapa, landcelelsta and mellotron”), the resulting tracks are richly hypnotic and soothing, like the rattle of an Amtrak’s rails as it ascends to paradise.

Khidja Plot 12″ (Malka Tuti)
How about some hard-pounding extended techno workouts from Bucharest? If that hasn’t piqued your interest, run along to one of the garage-punk reviews, you turkey! Khidja is a duo that has been in the techno game for a few years now, and “Plot” is exactly what I want to hear from them: propulsive and vibrant synths, an ominously futuristic voice that repeats “show me… what you’re made of”, and a completely wicked bass clarinet soloing over top. It sounds like a Crossfit gym in Marrakesh circa 2049, a fantasy scenario my brain often wanders towards, and now I’ve got the perfect soundtrack. “Am I Really Here” is the b-side, and it’s no slouch either – this track feels like Morphosis at his club-friendliest (shades of Petar Dundov?) with live drum fills and what might even be electric guitar ringing out for the cheap seats. Really expertly executed, with just the right amount of rhythmic intervention… Khidja don’t distract or bore, they lock right into the sweet spot between those two pitfalls. Cool art design, too, although I would’ve happily taken Plot home if it were a white-label in a coffee-stained sleeve.

Lux Vanitas The Secret Life Of… LP (25 Diamonds)
Everyone’s getting reissued these days, and I guess when it really comes down to it, why not? Records rule, and no one is really buying new ones anyway, so if you’ve got the funds, you might as well immortalize that one project you loved twenty years ago on 200 copies of colored vinyl that will live in your basement until you die and your loved ones throw them away. People spend money on worse things (cigarettes, factory-farmed meat, lottery tickets) all the time anyway. So this one comes from the Minneapolis-based 25 Diamonds, who are finally getting these old tracks from hometown friends Lux Vanitas on record. While not mind-blowing, I can certainly see the appeal – as was the style of the time, Lux Vanitas seem to incorporate the raw emo-core that Ebullition was trading in at the time (Yaphet Kotto, Econochrist) with the tight-black-button-up Spock-rock out of San Diego (The Crimson Curse, Swing Kids). I also wouldn’t be surprised if, like so many of us at the time, they had their minds blown by At The Drive-In when they rolled through town, and realized they also wanted to spazz out in a similarly angular, garage-y, post-hardcore manner. I never saw this group, and yet their rough, pumped-up emo-punk is giving me a sweet dose of late ’90s nostalgia, back when the scariest thing imaginable was all our computers not recognizing the year 2000. If only!

Mars89 End Of The Death 12″ (Bokeh Versions)
Bokeh Versions is a label committed to extreme forms of dub, and this 12″ from Mars89 certainly fits the bill. With a name like a tag you’d see written on the back of an inner-city stop sign, this is roughneck lo-fi drum-machine music, unsophisticated and coarse. It opens with the familiar Cutty Ranks sample of “six million ways to die, choose one”, which is bold in its ubiquity, as if Mars89 is flexing to say “yeah, I used the most blatantly obvious sample, what do you wanna do about it??”. The next track samples Dawn Of The Dead, and whereas this sort of unflinching genericness could backfire, the primitive simplicity of choice and the way in which its delivered works to the advantage of Mars89. The music is little more than a crusty drum machine red-lining in a manner similar to the noisy dancehall of Ossia or Asda, buttons worn and wires exposed, with echo and reverberation utilized as texture. The unhurried tempos only add to the hostile attitude, a fitting vibe for such rugged electro-dub. Great cover art, too: a menacing, military-grade pill suspended in the air, like something Robert Beatty would design for a Gabapentin ad campaign.

Mentira Toda Tu Vida Es Una Mentira 7″ (Thrilling Living)
Looking for noisy, cavernous hardcore with Spanish lyrics… from St. Louis, MO? Thrilling Living’s got you covered. This is Mentira’s debut EP, and while physically thousands of miles from groups like Destino Final and Una Bèstia Incontrolable, the synergy with those Barcelonian groups is palpable. Mentira’s songs are thick and concussive like Destino Final, and delivered with a minimalist simplicity often found in Una Bèstia Incontrolable, and like both groups (and I suppose 80% of hardcore bands playing today), the vocals are gruff and echoed, like a zombie hound barking through nuclear fog. While not quite carving out their own distinct aura, Mentira do the genre well, particularly when the snare is plowing through gnarly rolls and the guitar tears out an unexpected solo (the tail-end of the title track). My favorite is probably closer “La Tregua” though, as it bears an artsy intro with hospital-beep guitars and a spoken-word sample before busting into a d-beat that sounds as though it’s running barefoot across hot coals. It would be wonderful if every moderately-sized American city had its own Spanish-speaking raging hardcore band that worshiped Declino, Void and Discharge, not an implausible feat as we move forward to 2019.

Monokultur Monokultur 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
I felt secure with the perception that FÃ¥glar I Bur released the best I Dischi disc this year, but then this Monokultur 7″ dropped and things are no longer so clear. This new duo (apparently two people from the garage-punk group Skiftande Enheter) really slam it home with these four tracks, bizarre basement-wave with the freewheeling spirit of early Rough Trade and Mute. Like some of the early greats associated with those labels (Cabaret Voltaire, The Normal, Metal Urbain), Monokultur utilize their humble instrumentation to fantastic effect, not just muddling things up with noise but crafting simplistic and memorable tunes from the muck, all with a vocalist who sounds like Graham Lambkin trying to learn French on Duolingo. It’s a beautiful thing when this works (and sometimes beautiful even when it doesn’t), and a track like the opener “Lindholmen – Stenpiren” is a case in point: anti-rhythmic tape loop, Sightings-style bass clusters, jeering guitar and muttered vocal all work as one in glorious rejection of the mainstream. Masterful!

Pig DNA Strong Throat 7″ (Square One Again)
While there’s no shortage of noisy d-beat ragers these days, Pig DNA, hailing from the Bay Area, have always operated on a level above and beyond the standard scrum. They push the noise-not-music ethos to its extreme, sharing plenty in common with the over-the-top noise assaults of Exit Hippies and No Fucker. Whereas Exit Hippies utilize their noise-core as an ingredient in an acid-damaged primal scream, and No Fucker utilize brutal feedback for the sake of brutal feedback, Pig DNA channel all their frustration and disgust into their brief and powerful tunes, the way mother nature intended. Each track on this two-song single takes up about a centimeter’s worth of grooves, in a way that lends gravitas to each song, as if meant to be listened to repeatedly, rather than in a large pile of other tracks. “Strong Throat” rips feedback with no audible sense of guitar – the bass provides the Shitlickers-esque progression and the drums plow through the wreckage while the vocalist decisively stands against any and all military action. “A.U.A.H.” is so raw, it sounds more like The Rita than Confuse upon its introduction, but the bass once again maintains a firm sense of order as the guitar howls like poisonous wind. No drums on this one, which apparently makes Pig DNA the first group to write a d-beat song without drums – a stunning accomplishment indeed. This 7″ EP is the group’s final recorded work, and they went out on top, like a champagne supernova in the sky.

Remnants Marred By Time LP (Crisis Of Taste)
Every few months, I’ll get a record in, usually drone or noise, where I have to write the label to figure out if it’s meant to be played on 33 or 45. Marred By Time, the debut vinyl long-player by Remnants, is one such record, but I’m gonna fly blind on this one – it seems like the sort of project where a lack of information is more valuable than information. It’s the solo project of a guy named Ryan Marino, who seems to have some sort of vague association with The Men, but don’t expect any countrified post-punk indie noise-rock, this is purely an affair of discomfiting audio manipulation. Tapes, vinyl surface noise, piano, voice, synth and field recordings are credited (although their attendance remains unverified), and with that arsenal Remnants slogs through six self-contained chunks of dense and anti-melodic musique concrète. Marred By Time is noise, but it’s the direct opposite of harsh noise walls and cut-up electronics: these tracks unfold slowly, won’t damage your eardrums (even at a high volume) and maintain a calm and subdued presence. I knew the Crisis Of Taste label wasn’t going to give us any sort of a plot, and in the case of Marred For Time I’m happy to mentally wander through these messy little thickets of sound, which I’ve decided, for the record, are best rotated at 45 RPM.

Glen Schenau Phantom Vibration 7″ (no label)
I met Glen Schenau roughly a year ago in his residence of Brisbane – he was filling in on drums for Kitchen’s Floor, as their first-string drummer had tickets to go see Paul McCartney instead. I tell you this so you understand my slight familiarity with the man, but rest assured that if this record stunk, I wouldn’t be afraid to say it… he’d have to travel around the world to kick my butt (and even then, he’d have to try). But don’t worry about all that, because this solo, self-released 7″ is the stuff that bizarre outsider dreams are made of: uncategorical, freaky, very-much-DIY out-rock that’s only concerned with brazen self-expression. “Phantom Vibration” has me wondering if The Clean ever tried covering Half Japanese, or if Lou Reed would’ve considered recording Lulu with Crom Tech instead of Metallica, or if maybe Ceramic Hobs ever had a glam-rock phase. Love it! “Canovee” carries a similar chutzpah, but I’m hearing something more like the greasy hunk that comes from melting Mud Hutters, Fat Worm Of Error and Rites Of Spring records together. It’s out there, way out there, even down to the completely indecipherable handwriting, but the handwriting is a useful omen, one that urges you not to try to understand but to simply enjoy.

Sick Thoughts Sick Thoughts LP (Goner)
Sick Thoughts is a punk band that seems to exist by sheer will of force, as though they were born to suck but simply willed themselves not to. It’s essentially the sole proprietorship of Drew Owen, who often plays and records the entirety of most Sick Thoughts material, and that’s the case on this, the third Sick Thoughts album and first for Goner. Being a snotty garage-punk band who gets to do an album on Goner is kinda like being a local drag queen who gets a shot on Drag Race: you better bring your A-game, lest you look like a chump, and Sick Thoughts stepped up to the challenge. Now residing in Helsinki (what’s that about?), Owen really cut the fat from Sick Thoughts for a pretty perfectly formed punk long-player – I’m reminded of The Insults, The Reactors, Unnatural Axe, pretty much any shit-brained punk band from rural America circa 1979 of whom some sweaty geek has paid four figures to own an original vinyl pressing. The songs are raw but powerful, and as far as I can tell, the pinnacle of Sick Thoughts’ discography thus far. Plus, it’s got a great cover shot of Owens with a fresh haircut and a glistening chainsaw, channeling the presence and temperament of the gentleman on the cover of an album titled Always Was, Is And Always Shall Be.

Spray Paint And The Rebel Charles And Roy’s Purple Wang 12″ (Ever/Never)
Has anyone else noticed Spray Paint’s ingenious behavior as of late? They morphed together with Protomartyr for a couple songs, grabbed Ben Mackie to step in as lead vocalist, and now have backed up Ben Wallers AKA The Rebel on this new 12″ EP. It’s kind of amazing, in that they’re still a band, but available for hire in a variety of forms – as rhythm section, as backing band, as whatever. I’m hoping their malleability continues to the point where they’re fill-in dance DJs, backing Lil Ugly Mane on a record, and psychically guided in a performance orchestrated by Yamatsuka Eye, but until all that goes down I’ll be enjoying the crudely-titled Charles And Roy’s Purple Wang. Apparently Spray Paint and The Rebel toured together and hit it off, and that camaraderie is evident here, across these repetitive, anything-goes post-punk mantras. The Rebel’s hilarious and blunt lyrics are a great fit for the mesmeric drums and guitars of Spray Paint, usually locked into some sort of queasy stasis until the tape runs out or a series of unfortunate events disturbs the rhythm. One gets the sense that much of the material here is borne of mean-spirited inside-jokes, which of course is The Rebel’s MO. I can already picture the unwitting hair-metal sound engineer dismissing The Rebel’s toy keyboard setup at some small Midwestern club, not realizing Wallers was mentally noting the interaction for use in a Rebel song to be written at a later date. Spray Paint’s perpetual noisy thwack and The Rebel’s outlandish spoken-word lunacy… Ever/Never provides us with the best of both worlds here.

U-Nix Nuke Portland 12″ (Feel It)
U-Nix’s Nuke Portland is the 21st Feel It release, and if it was kinda limp, I wouldn’t hold it against the Feel It crew – how many hardcore-punk labels can maintain a high level of quality into their twenties? Kudos then to Feel It, and Portland’s U-Nix as well, as not only is this a certified rager, it might be the finest distillation of underground hardcore the label has offered this year. U-Nix really go for it – they play super-fast Gang Green riffs with Neos-speed drumming and the care-free spritz of Chronic Sick, but the music frequently blurs from hardcore into proto-power-violence, as though U-Nix are so fast and out of control they accidentally conjure the spirit of No Comment (and yes, there are blast-beats). The vocalist can barely keep up, but boy does he try, groaning and squealing like the Die Kreuzen and United Mutation guys, only it sounds like the U-Nix singer hadn’t completely finished eating before stepping to the mic – you can practically feel the soupy spray as he sneers through “Liberal Hardcore”. Speaking of “Liberal Hardcore”, how can you have a song title like that and not include a lyric sheet? With other titles like “Society’s Victim II” and “Nuke Portland”, it seems like U-Nix are out to antagonize, and not sharing the lyrics is practically a cop out. Unless the lyrics are directly insulting Ice-T and Body Count (which is a good way to wind up dead), I’d love to know what’s gotten U-Nix so fired up as to create this frantic hardcore maelstrom.

Vanity Evening Reception LP (Beach Impediment)
Those first two Vanity records seem so distant, now that the group has fully committed to shimmy-shake rock n’ roll, but that just makes them taste sweeter, a rare moment in time when a couple friends committed to a pitch-perfect, not-eventually-racist All Skrewed Up impersonation. Evening Reception has only the faintest trace of punk, and maybe a subtle aftertaste of Oi, like the wet rings left from pints of Guinness; instead, they’re continuing their exploration of classic British rock music, with moves that nod toward The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces, The Kinks, and Oasis. With the addition of Vexx’s Michael Liebman, Vanity’s guitars are all-star grade, cruising through major-chord riffs with a sweet solo always locked and loaded. A few acoustic tunes break things up nicely, and might be my favorite on the record actually, self-assured folk that wouldn’t be out of place alongside Six Organs Of Admittance or Maxine Funke. The vocalist continues to shoot for the effortless sneer of Liam Gallagher, but without the British accent, his voice sounds more like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Alec Ounsworth at times, a comparison I assume they weren’t aiming for. Honestly, at this point, why not fake a British accent? We know you really dig British rock, and rightfully so… just go for it. I support you.

Vector Command System 3 LP (HoZac)
I assumed that Cheap Nasties album was going to be HoZac’s finest moment through the close of 2018, but this Vector Command album takes the cake! It’s apparently a “lost” record from Joey D’Kaye and Johnny Strike (both of seminal San Fran punkers Crime), recorded in 1983 and 1984 yet unreleased until today. If you barely sat up at the prospect of a post-Crime synth project, well I can’t fully blame you, but lemme tell you, this one is worthy of all the coveting, salivating and bed-wetting that occurs in response to groups like Solid Space or Trisomie 21. Vector Command somehow predicted all the cool electronic sounds that would survive well into the future (wind-swept drone-spheres, electronic motorik grooves, freaky occult jamming) while avoided nasal-robot vocals, funk bass and other understandably extinct musical touches. I’m hearing Suicide throughout System 3, no doubt, but also the post-industrial psychedelia of Psychic TV, the mutant electro of Cabaret Voltaire and Severed Heads, and the spooky soundscapes of Black Rain. The vocals are cool too, frequently little more than lyrics in the form of exhaled grunts, like a restrained Portion Control or less outrageous Clock DVA. Very cool stuff, both when assessed singularly as well as in the context of their contemporaries. I’m as surprised as you are!

Beau Wanzer Beau Wanzer 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
After three albums, ten EPs, and countless side projects, you’d think Beau Wanzer might be looking to slow down, or that his creative energy might start running dry, but nope, not this Beau Wanzer. He’s a certified gold-star freak, and this new 12″ on his home-away-from-home L.I.E.S. is another winner. There are five tracks here, and they certainly sound like Beau Wanzer: corroded synths persistently humming over vintage drum-machine grooves, as if The Egyptian Lover collaborated with Nocturnal Emissions for an Industrial Records cassette release. Often Wanzer will locate a groove and lodge himself in it, essentially letting it rip without disruption for a few minutes, but these tracks feel as though they received more editing than usual, verging on songs instead of jams. His vocals, which are intermittent on other records, are front and center here, and they play a good part in the song-like feel. B-side opener “He Spilled My Drink” is particularly potent, as if the slick electro-funk of Jimmy Edgar was soaked in battery acid, dragged from an uninsured Ford Taurus at low speeds and discarded in a tar pit. Naturally, it’s my favorite! All this and the vinyl comes with a massive Beau Wanzer poster, emblazoned with one of the most bizarrely lactose intolerant messages you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading. I kid you not.

Fritz Welch A Desire To Push Forward Without Gaining Access To Anything LP (Radical Documents)
Radical Documents is a new-ish label out of Los Angeles, happily mingling outre punk and electronics with outlandish non-music. This album from vocalist Fritz Welch is the latter, an album of joyous vocal jabbering, musical instruments be damned. A Desire To Push Forward undoubtedly follows the lineage of non-verbal vocal maniacs like the elastic-tongued Jaap Blonk, Phil Minton and his “solo singing”, and “Blaster” Al Ackerman’s comical avant-garde poetry. Welch layers tracks of himself, and it’s a ridiculous mess of voice – one track might stutter some wordless syllables while another gargles up some semi-English like a furious bridge troll, but it never stays in one place too long – Welch’s energy is admirable. Intoxicated screaming, Schimpfluch-style retching, some XJud JudX-esque chugging, even a clearly-enunciated “poetic response” is included; “Tamio’s Prison Song” is a brief, semi-sane respite from the cascade of gagas and googoos. I’m not sure who is nuttier, the person who records an album like this or the person who willingly sits and listens to all of it, but if you’ve got a 3:00 AM college-radio show for the purpose of messing with people’s minds, this needs to be in your bag.

Sam Wilkes Wilkes LP (Leaving)
Is this just what happens when you start pushing forty, you get into jazz? I swear it wasn’t intentional, it’s just that there have been a number of cool artists dabbling in jazz amidst modern electronics and experimental sound design lately, and I don’t care if I’m turning into my dad, I’m getting down with a lot of it – Sam Wilkes, in particular. His collaborative album with Sam Gendel entitled Music For Saxofone & Bass Guitar is one of my absolute favorite things to come out this year (infuriatingly only available on digital or cassette), and while this “solo” album doesn’t fully dazzle in the same way, it’s another must-hear as far as I’m concerned. Wilkes is traditionally a bassist, but he enlists multiple friends here for tender, swirling suites of wondrous melody, all slightly tweaked just as a YGR reader might hope. Sam Gendel joins Wilkes on saxophone for most of this album, which flows less like their digitally enhanced/edited collaboration and more like live composition, which also works for me. Processed sounds mix with live instrumentation, and it sounds like what a mass butterfly migration looks like, all wondrous and pretty. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before a big-name, nice-guy tastemaker scoops Wilkes and his gang up – for artists like Frank Ocean, James Blake and Justin Timberlake, Wilkes is ripe for the picking – but until he’s backing up a celebrity on the Coachella main stage, I’m going to relish my private ownership of Wilkes and whatever else he’s cooking.

New Centre Of The Universe Vol. 3 compilation LP (Anti-Fade)
This is what an indie-rock scene looks like in a country with $20 minimum wage: bustling, friendly, just a little nutty and mostly content with the world. The third installment of Anti-Fade’s New Centre Of The Universe compilation series features all your Aussie indie-pop faves and surely some you’ve never heard of: Terry, School Damage, Exek, Alien Nosejob and The Shifters are all present, alongside Billdozer, Vintage Crop, Parsnip and nine more. Whereas previous installments of this series were a bit all over the place stylistically, this volume really hones in on a specific vibe: no struggle, no streets, just colorful DIY indie rock and post-punk, with multi-gendered band members who playfully wear silly cowboy hats and colorful vintage clothes. My favorite tracks come from The Stroppies, Parsnip and School Damage, but the whole thing flows without a stumble, even if the groups sound a bit like each other, in that Television Personalities / Alternative TV / Modern Lovers / The Clean sorta way. Meanwhile, over here in America, the only comps being put together are Bandcamp-download benefits for under-insured artists or marginalized victims in hopes they might survive another year or two. Must be nice, over there in the centre of the universe.