Cereal Killer Beginning And End Of Cereal Killer! LP (Anti Fade / Drunken Sailor)
Cereal Killer’s demo-on-7″ came through here a couple years ago, and I hated on it pretty badly due to its glaringly trendy tendencies, but what the hell, why hold a grudge? I trust the Anti Fade label, and if they are entertained by a fake Lumpy & The Dumpers from Geelong, Australia, perhaps I should be too. And while there’s still plenty of Lumpy influence on Beginning And End, it’s pretty clear that this group has listened to other stuff since putting out their demo. The overall sound is a little burlier, perhaps akin to Crazy Spirit or Bad Noids in the crunchy lo-fi textures and hardcore tempos, and there’s at least one or two tunes that utilize metal riffs (as seems to be the growing trend for hardcore-punk in late 2019). I suppose it’s pretty good, but there’s not much on Beginning And End that really stands out, which is perhaps the worst offense a hardcore band can commit: being easily forgotten. Some of the song titles are intriguing enough, like “Your Punk Scene Can Suck It” and “Should Punks Be Allies”, but sadly no lyrics are provided either with this record or on the associated Bandcamp page, so the lyrical contents of these tracks will remain a mystery. Maybe being a great breakfast-themed punk band is simply an unachievable feat… go spin some Waifle records to see what I mean!

Chubby And The Gang All Along The Uxbridge Road 7″ (Static Shock)
Hmm, “Chubby And The Gang” you say? Did Static Shock get into reissuing private-press funk 45s or something? Allow me to assure you that no, they have not – Chubby And The Gang is an apparent side-project (hence the low-staying-power name) starring Charlie Manning Walker (of Arms Race and Violent Reaction) and other Londonite hardcore hoodlums (members of bands with names like Gutter Knife and Salt Wound, really pleasant stuff like that). And I have to say, they absolutely rip! “All Along The Uxbridge Road” is thick and hook-laden power-pop with the energy of manic hardcore, and what a combination that is. Reminds me of The Love Triangle at their finest, but with the additional deployment of Powerpearls-esque hand claps and a raw yet powerful recording. Wasn’t sure if they could strike gold twice, but “Mockba” on the flip is nearly as good, a little more of a throwback rock n’ roll vibe to the riff, but it’s still played with the snarling hunger of a hardcore street gang. Definite beer-in-the-air, triumphant, high-octane hardcore-punk that would appeal to fans of Motörhead, Fucked Up, Nasty Facts, Marked Men, Poison Idea, etc., which probably covers at least 80% of all fans of rock music. I suspect some of these guys might be straight edge, which is a perfectly perverse twist on the matter if true. Those nutty Brits!

Civic Selling Sucking Blackmail Bribes 7″ (Total Punk / Anti Fade)
Civic came through here with a 7″ late last year that I really enjoyed, of the gruffly-melodic, poppy-but-not-pop-punk style. I was eager to hear more of that, but instead they seemed to have taken the name “Total Punk” as a personal challenge, absolutely raging through the two songs they’ve provided here. Even considering myself a reasonable fan of their music thus far, I’m blown away! “Selling Sucking Blackmail Bribes” is one hell of a title, and man do they make good on it – imagine the speedy-tight style of Zero Boys integrated into Fucked Up’s 2003 no-frills-hardcore prime, delivered with the recording quality of any given High Rise album. It’s a scorcher for sure, one that surprises me with its unbridled intensity even after I’ve already heard it and know what to expect! B-side “Velvet Casino” could be an acappella rendition of a Tom Jones song for all I care, Civic have already won this round, but it has the same disposition and sound quality as the a-side, maybe a little tougher and garage-ier, something for Goner Records fanatics who ride their motorcycles to the gym to listen to. No wonder half of the Melbourne underground is racing to put on polyester suits and knitted cardigans, how can you play punk with any sort of personal pride when Civic are wandering your streets?

Rupert Clervaux After Masterpieces 2xLP (Whities)
In case any journalists reading this are concurrently compiling a “50 Ruperts Under 50 To Watch” list, please, save a spot for Rupert Clervaux! This British-born world-traveler has made some supremely enjoyable music over the past few years, mostly with Beatrice Dillon, but also solo under his own name or his CVX moniker. And now, with the honor of becoming the first artist to get a Whities full-length, Clervaux has gone bigger than ever before with After Masterpieces, a six-track double LP. I knew I wasn’t going to get something I had heard before with After Masterpieces, as Clervaux is constantly looking beyond his current musical horizons, and these massive pieces are great, if not something that allows halfhearted dabbling. They’re more like long-form audio plays, suited for an avant-garde radio station’s 3 AM slot where only the truly maniacal insomniacs are listening (and without distraction). Clervaux recites irreverent poetry and prose over live percussive improv, juddering rhythmic loops, trumpet and sax, plucked strings or maybe nothing at all, just the silent sound of fog creeping into town. It’s hard to measure how much is happenstance and how much was precisely orchestrated, but Clervaux leads the charge unheedingly throughout, not caring if he’s the sole human who has the slightest idea what he’s going on about over four lengthy 12″ sides. I certainly can’t tell you what After Masterpieces means, but I’m firmly in support.

John Collins McCormick Ad For Nails LP (Gilgongo)
Following the Waxy Tomb album, Gilgongo continues to release music by visual artists who also like to get a little noisy. This one comes from John Collins McCormick (any relation to Daniel Martin McCormick??), who likes to play the drums while surrounded by half-dying motorized objects and sound buzzers. I’ve never tried it myself, but it sounds like a great deal of fun, and the occasional frenzy worked up on here seems to confirm the good time McCormick is having. On the a-side, McCormick dips and dives into his traditional drum kit while small crackly piles of dust shift and blow around the room, almost as if he’s improvising in tandem with some junk on the floor. The flip side, titled “How To Consider It Done”, is less obviously percussive, and more of a spontaneous field recording of dollar-store wind-up toys falling on their sides, TV interference, chatter of passers-by and the like, very much in tune (or anti-tune) with the Shots album that is discussed below. It’s almost as if music has stopped being a sufficient escape from reality, so artists who enjoy pursuing the furthest reaches of acceptable sound documentation are more and more drawn toward the Kye Records style of ecstatic arbitrary nothingness, forever circling a zen-like black hole. Perhaps you can relate.

Craow Branded Influence LP (National Waste Products)
Here’s the next barrel of discarded fryer oil care of Providence’s National Waste Products – an album by Providence’s Craow. The name, design and label affiliation had me expecting harsh noise with a techno influence, but this is really more on the synth-wave / minimal-techno tip, albeit one borne out of Rhode Island basement parties and DIY raves. A few years ago, this sorta thing would’ve seemed a little more cutting edge (and to be fair, Craow was making it a few years ago too, on cult labels like Nostilevo), whereas now it sounds pretty nice if a little expected. The label keenly “recommends it if you like” Boy Harsher, Orphx and M Ax Noi Mach, which really seems to be the perfect triangulation for the sounds within Branded Influence. Nighttime beats, synths that hover and zig-zag away, vocals deep in the mix with industrialized echo and ‘verb ala Uniform, and a thick sense of sexy and mysterious danger akin to Black Rain. Techno might be a fully normalized practice within the American punk-affiliated underground at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less affecting when done with style and awareness, as Craow has done here.

Curleys Johnny 7″ (Total Punk)
At some point, Total Punk has to stop being totally punk, right? Being punk isn’t something you can just take for granted, it’s a state of being that can easily be lost, and yet Total Punk continues to rep its name with integrity and pride. Take Curleys, for instance: I never heard of ’em before, might never hear of ’em again, but they rip through six fantastic jolts on this vinyl debut. The songs are quickly strummed, low on heavy-metal distortion, high on nervous energy, and guided by the incessant squawking of a vocalist who sounds like a mix between Hot Rod Todd of Le Shok and the agitated goose who sang for Pillow Talk. (Each of the three band members are credited with vocals, but the singing is pretty standard throughout – who is the real hero here?) Around the turn of the century, I got a little sick of overstuffed hardcore-punk EPs and appreciated the race to see which punk band could contribute the least amount of time to their 7″ singles (which is frequently the case with Total Punk 45s), but I think I’m kind of over that now and appreciate that Curleys gave us three bloody lil’ rippers per side here… they’re all so brief and rotten that there isn’t the slightest chance of boredom setting in, anyway. Unless you don’t like punk, which I don’t think is humanly possible?

Dana Glowing Auras And Black Money LP (Heel Turn)
Dana isn’t a solo project, it’s a group from Columbus, OH (curiously featuring no members named Dana), and they’re really going for it here on their second LP with Heel Turn. The record opens with the neo-no-wave funk of “Creamed Corn”, which calls to mind the day-glo splooge of AIDS Wolf or My Name Is Rar Rar, and while it’s a sound I certainly enjoy, this group is far too restless to settle on any particular style for too long. They proceed through the rest of the album like a hijacked van careening through a narrow alley filled with garage-punk, noise-rock, just plain noise, and post-punk, scraping their paint on every parked genre. They’ve got songs in here, but they slather them in effects, synths, even “custom electronics” (I hope that means some sort of Google Glass-based laser gun?). Often a group will lose me by going as crazy as Dana do here, but the recording is rich and distinguished (as opposed to a sticky paste of mi-fi treble), and they seem to be having all shades of fun. They must be an outrageously fun live band, because I can’t imagine any possibility of these songs not being entertaining in person, particularly the ones that spiral much longer than recommended – closer “Ballroom Bitch” goes on forever, somewhere between Tropical Trash, Royal Trux and a warped Man’s Ruin 10″. Say what you want about Dana, but there’s no accusing them of half-assing it.

Bill Direen A Memory Of Others 2xLP (Sophomore Lounge)
New Zealandphiles rejoice, here’s a heaping, career-spanning retrospective / “soundtrack” to an accompanying documentary from Bill Direen. I know him from The Builders and under his own name, but surely the Siltbreeze interns among us are familiar with the dozen or so other projects he’s been associated with, of which some of those songs appear here too. It’s kind of great what a scattered pile all of this is, with songs retroactively credited to bands that never played them, old songs that sound new and new songs that sound old, etc., because for as jumbled as it is, it all sounds like Bill Direen. He covers about as much sonic ground as a monthly weather forecast: dark clouds roll in, sunshine gives way to flowers, thunder crashes and drought leaves you distressed. And much like the weather, there are passages in this double LP collection that can be a little boring, but I’m not sure how that could really be avoided on a thick volume of psychedelic, moody post-punk that generally seems to have spawned from the Velvet Underground school of musical theory. Overall it’s a very enjoyable listen, particularly when a surprise like “The Utopians R Just Out Boozin'” shows up halfway through the D side, sounding like a late ’70s art-punk groove until one notices that Direen references iPhones in the lyrics. Bill Direen’s music is timeless in all directions, and long may he continue to make it.

Drose Boy Man Machine+ 2xLP (Computer Students)
Wow, so is this how all Computer Students releases will be? Lavish as all get-out and just like the Big’n 12″ they released last year, this Drose double album comes in a large sealed silver bag printed with precise and attractive typefaces, and inside that, a gatefold LP jacket along with a large, thick booklet of art and notes. Really the kind of packaging that can make an album feel more like an event – maybe Computer Students should get into wedding invitation design and really bring in the big bucks? Anyway, I could go on about the attractive extravagance of the packaging, but the music of Drose demands comment as well. Boy Man Machine came out back in 2016 (and received high praise from this very website back then), and now it’s remastered alongside tracks from their debut 7″ as well as some unreleased bits. Myself already being a Drose fan, it’s a little bit of a bummer, because I already own those records and was hoping to hear something new from them. Understandably, though, Boy Man Machine isn’t an album that is easily popped out every semester, it’s a true opus of insane post-rock deconstruction – it’s as if Slint, Swans, Billy Bao and Shellac fused only their most exemplary aspects and labored over an album recorded inside a literal automotive facility with cavernous metal spaces and a section of basement called “the hole” that required a forklift to access (!). Singer Dustin Rose sounds like he’s trapped in the bottom of a well with two broken legs for much of it, and the ambiance that surrounds every groove or anti-groove is thick and powerful. If you’re not already familiar, and you like big thick silver bags, wait no longer!

Exit Hippies Stoned / Stoned Agin 7″ (SPHC)
If it were any other band, Exit Hippies’ records would be slowly growing more disposable with each new release, particularly a sleeveless, two-song 7″ single such as this. And yet Stoned / Stoned Agin feels like precious gold in my hands! This really might be my favorite band of all time. If you’re not already acquainted, type “exit hippies” in the search bar on this website (I’m pretty sure it works), but if you’re too lazy to do that, let me just explain that they’re Japanese crasher-crusty noise-core punks who integrate filthy acid-house into not just their music but their fabric of being. When it works, it’s fantastic, and when it doesn’t work it’s still pretty amazing; as for these two tracks, they are magnificent. “Stoned” is a prickly, slow-acid groove not unlike Paranoid London but with a proper tweak of the nips. “Stoned Agin” is an entirely different track, prime-cut noise-core that has more in common with commercial jet engines than Disclose… it makes No Fucker sound like, well, Yes Fucker. A perfect reflection of the two sides of Exit Hippies, whittled down to about four minutes’ worth of music (or at least some rough definition of “music”).

Flame 2 Dive / Rain 12″ (Pressure)
The concept of Flame (both 1 and 2) is almost built for slight disappointment. Much like some sort of Street Fighter / Mortal Kombat crossover event, how could the collaboration between The Bug and Burial, two of the biggest, brightest, most forward-thinking UK producers stack up against their separate bodies of work? I was curious, as I often am, and was pleased to discover that while Flame 2 isn’t necessarily a new blockbuster, it’s still deep as hell, gruesomely thick and menacing, and a fine slab no matter how you weigh it. “Dive” is full of physical pressure, like a thick soupy cloud that just hangs in place – a frozen hurricane, perhaps? Burial’s trademarked crackle and rain coat some distant rave synths and pressurized bass, kicks and hats. If Godzilla or one of his enemies didn’t rise out of the nearby river while this one is playing, be thankful. “Rain” maintains the same inhospitable, greyscale atmosphere, but instead of idling in an ocean of murk, there’s clear and determined movement – the rhythm calls to mind an alternate history where industrial music was an exclusive descendant of reggae dub. At under four minutes, it feels like it’s just getting started before fading away, the ominous cloud cover parting for some breathable air. Heavy duty stuff from two heavyweights, to be sure.

Scott Gilmore Two Roomed Motel LP (Crammed Discs)
Discovered this album by perusing some random “favorite albums of 2019” list a Discogs user put together, an activity I highly recommend in moments of idle boredom. Never heard of Scott Gilmore before, but he’s a guy from LA with a “non-famous younger brother of Jared Leto” sorta look to him, and his music is a highly pleasant, no-nonsense romp through ’80s synth-pop. No aggression, no sense of pathos, just expertly deployed rhythms, pads, arpeggios (and occasional breathy vocals), a bright-eyed reimagining of The Human League or Gary Numan with awareness of Ford & Lopatin’s Software label and Not Not Fun’s pop-aspirational side. The title track is what I heard first, and it lured me in immediately: the weird stutter-step groove is smooth as sherbet and the various rhythmic leads (are those electric steel drums or synthesized bells, or both?) pretty much slay in that Switched On Bach way, but far more listenable and not retro for retro’s sake. The instrumentals are my favorite, not because the vocals are bad (they are not), but because there’s such a vibrant richness to these synth-pop carols that they stand firmly on their own. It’s a crowded field that Scott Gilmore is playing on (I can’t throw a frisbee in my neighborhood without hitting some budding synth-pop producer by mistake), but his Two Roomed Motel is worth a weekend stay at the very least.

Idiota Civilizzato Civiltà Idiota 7″ (Static Shock / Black Hole)
My Italian isn’t the best, but I’m pretty sure the band name translates to “Super Smart Civilization” and the EP is thusly titled “Civilized Genius”. Weird, but I’ll go with it! I’ve been seeing lots of praise for this group (Sorry State weekly newsletter, I’m gazing in your direction), and as far as Italian hardcore out of Berlin is concerned, I doubt there is finer. Following last year’s debut LP, Idiota Civilizzato’s new 7″ EP offers four new tunes of blazing hardcore and nothing but. This group’s songs seem to fall in the 90 to 120 second range, which can present challenges as far as maintaining intensity, interest and style are concerned (much easier to blast out a good 20 to 30 second ripper, let’s face it), but Idiota Civilizzato are up to the task, clearly well versed in the earliest, canonical records by Poison Idea, Rattus and Indigesti. I like all four cuts, but the last one, “Guerra Di Spettri”, is my go-to, as it offers an anthemic sound with free-fall hardcore speed and what I believe to be overdubbed backing vocals of heaving squeals. If that’s not genius, I don’t know what is!

Michul Kuun Great (Then After Awhile, It Didn’t Mean Anything To Them) LP (Ranch)
Michul Kuun had a few records come through these digital pages under the alias of Nah, which displayed his interest in percussion and rhythm both natural and synthetic. Not sure what sets Great apart from his previous work – maybe he just got sick of being called Nah? – but this is another album cluttered with grooves and bounce, as fine as anything under the Nah name. On the more esoteric instrumentals, I’m reminded of the more forward-thinking Hyperdub artists (Klein, Kode9 and Ikonika, let’s say) if they came from a DIY West Philly basement show frame of mind, not a British one where electronic music is respected as a form of art. Kuun is smart but playful (with a pretty hilarious repeated use of some guy saying “yeah, great” multiple times through the entirety of the album), willing to veer off into an unquantized hyperspace as much as lay down a thick and crunchy boom-bap with guest rappers spitting verse on top. Other artists might have a similar broad spectrum of influence, from crusty punk to electroacoustic studio compositions, but Kuun has a particularly keen ability to meld it all together in a way that feels natural, sounds cool, and best of all, is undeniably fun.

Les Milous Annie Hall / Shampoo Nightclubbing 7″ (Happiest Place)
A rare English-based outing from Happiest Place here with the debut of Les Milous, who I suspect has Swedish origins in spite of the French moniker. “Annie Hall” sounds like what the absolute coolest of the cool kids were dancing to in 1965 – prep-school teenbeat with attitude and flirtation. No garage-rock fuzz on this, just the sour snap of clean guitar with cool minimal drums and some tasteful keyboard ploops. “Shampoo Nightclubbing” sticks out to me from title alone, thanks to the infamous goth club of the same name here in Philadelphia (RIP), but I suspect it has nothing to do with that. This one has even more rah rah ooh mau mau built into its beat, with more of that clean rock n’ roll guitar rising up and down in surf-like patterns, but it’s overall not quite as strong due to its instrumental nature (what can I say, I love when a person huffs and shouts over music like this). Kind of a manic form of twee, which isn’t really going to blow down any new doors, but if you’re DJing one of those upcoming The Make Up reunion shows and you need a hot new 45 to squeeze into your velvet-upholstered singles box, it might be worth giving Happiest Place a call.

Levande Död Upp Till Kramp LP (Happiest Place)
Up until now, I thought I knew what to expect from Sweden’s Happiest Place label: JJ Ulius-related indie-pop and punk rock alongside noisy experimental stuff. Levande Död’s debut album doesn’t really fit those parameters, though I’m hard-pressed to think of a sonic arena that’s immediately suited to this peculiar band. They remind me of charisma-driven-but-musically-basic indie-rock like Girls, but then they also have slower songs that sound like a less serious, less fashion-y The Xx, but the entire thing is sung in Swedish by a guy who sounds like Thom Yorke shouting for help from a lonely warehouse basement. Very hard to pin down, but when it works, it really works! These songs are a shaky bridge between professional-grade indie-pop like Frankie Cosmos or Girlpool and home-dubbed tapes from the British DIY scene (I’m thinking of groups like The 49 Americans and The Mothmen, to be precise). It feels like a pretty long record, but not in a bad way, as Levande Död write different songs that sound good together as opposed to subtle variations of the same thing. Plus, the total lack of English is a sweetly defiant move to the rest of the world, and the pictures of (who I presume to be) the band on the insert, hanging out on cliffs and city streets enjoying each other’s company, are quite endearing. Good record, and one that I’m sure to never figure out entirely.

Mr. Clit & The Pink Cigarettes Pipsqueaks From Planet Fur LP (Heel Turn)
Listen, I just review the bands, I don’t name ’em! Blame Heel Turn Records for giving Mr. Clit & The Pink Cigarettes the platform of a vinyl album, not me. Anyway, this trio is two-thirds non-men, mercifully, and they play campy, poppy garage-punk with a trunk full of costumes, fake blood, wacky helmets, and so on. I get the impression that they are probably fans of The Spits, The Rezillos and The Plasmatics (visually in particular), and their sound, rudimentary and noisy as it may be, fits in there somewhere. Gotta say, is there a punk band geared toward juggalos yet? If not, allow me to make a suggestion. Mr. Clit & The Pink Cigarettes are from Indiana (the Midwest being a staunch juggalo enclave), and they come equipped with the exact sort of slapdash, raunchy nonsense that powers The Gathering – if they aren’t already, it might not be bad for them to start attending these functions and pass out their CD-rs (their debut of which is titled Cancer Tastes Great) to the open-minded ninjas who may be looking for something more appropriate for skanking and pogoing than horror rap. You can thank me later!

Moral Panic Moral Panic LP (Alien Snatch!)
Second full-length album from Brooklyn’s Moral Panic, and just like the first, it’s self-titled. They’ve apparently got better things to do than name their albums, and considering the crisp, hardcore-influenced garage-punk they’re doling out, I suppose I can’t complain. Much like their debut, I’m reminded of Video, as well as Career Suicide and Carbonas, maybe a little Dead Boys too, but there’s no confusing Moral Panic with a band that existed decades ago. They’re tight and to the point, and while they may lack the bite or individual edge one might associate with a group released by Total Punk or Feel It, Moral Panic run through their set with confidence and skill. The only thing I’m waiting for is some distinguishable aspect to Moral Panic’s songs, of which there currently really isn’t, but perhaps distinction is not their goal so much as tough, workmanlike garage-punk. To their credit, the song “Flower Violence” has a chorus of “so sick of this flower violence / just want some power violence”, which may be the first instance of a garage-punk band celebrating Man Is The Bastard and Crossed Out in song. It’s a start!

Bill Nace & Chik White Bill Nace & Chik White 7″ (Open Mouth)
Rare 7″ outing from avant impresario Bill Nace here, but what’s not rare is him finding musical company with kindred spirits of the outre sonic arts. Chik White is from Nova Scotia (or at least that’s where he can currently be located), and he joins Nace (here on amplified acoustic guitar) on a jaw harp, a “wired stick”, and vocals. Can’t say I’ve detected the vocals, unless you count the use of mouth in playing the jaw harp, but my ears probably just aren’t deft enough to parse out the human voice in these beguiling tracks. “Eel (All Parts)” is surprisingly tonal and rhythmic, a jovial swing casting its wide net across White’s distinctive jaw harp. “Wild Wire” on the flip is a little more in line with what I’d expect from Nace – unflappable drones that rub like corduroy against White’s amphibian-esque murmurs, some sort of processional hymn for the midnight tree-frog meditation, even if it’s actually just two dudes with some humble, mostly-not-broken gear sharing in a focused musical dialog that only they can fully decipher. Edition of 150 copies and I’m damn sure holding onto this one!

Nightmare Thirsty And Wander LP (540)
Not all who wander are thirsty, but that doesn’t go for Japanese hardcore legends Nightmare. They’ve been around for over three decades, and they maintain their upper-echelon status here, not wavering for a second into progressive songwriting or any signs of fatigue or weakening. No one knows how they do it, which of course makes it all the more sweeter – can you name an American hardcore band who is writing utterly gnarly, grotesque hardcore music consistently over three decades? Maybe Iron Lung will eventually get there. Anyway, as for Thirsty And Wander in particular, the guitar is particularly distinctive, with a violent twang and a painful level of treble, almost sounding as if Bill Orcutt returned to playing in Harry Pussy, but surely coincidental in that regard. The vocals are ferocious and spouted off mercilessly, the drumming is deceptively tight and intricate while continually cascading forward, and while I don’t really have much to say about the bass, I’m sure if I focused on it long enough I’d discover some fascinating properties there too. Pretty essential stuff, which feels weird seeing as hardcore is forever a young person’s game, just not necessarily in Japan, and certainly not with Nightmare.

Parsnip When The Tree Bears Fruit LP (Trouble In Mind / Anti Fade)
Earlier this year I was grooving to Parsnip’s Feeling Small 7″, wondering when they might do an album, and here it is! Nice how things can work out like that. This Melbourne group is out-tweeing the twee-est of ’em, and whereas that could possibly result in some painfully embarrassing material, Parsnip make funky playful softness seem as though it’s the only way music should sound. I suppose one could make a sonic connection to The Raincoats, as far as the way that both groups use punk rock as a launching pad for creatively un-punk sounds, but Parsnip are smoother than The Raincoats and less anxious, appearing more spiritually aligned with Sid & Marty Kroft than Rough Trade. I like the songs that are most bold in their preciousness, like the overly charming “Lullaby”, the funk-tastic “Taking Me For A Ride” and the shortcake psychedelia of “My Window” (which could’ve easily fit on The Apples In Stereo’s glorious Her Wallpaper Reverie). I can understand if When The Tree Bears Fruit is a little too cutesy and wholesome for some listeners, but Parsnip show no hesitation in their musical approach, which fits into the greater scheme of the Melbourne (and international) indie-punk scene while still wildly sticking out of it, like a brazen and character-defining cowlick.

People Skills Magnet Hill 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Is it a sad or happy thing that in order for me to enjoy the sounds of Philadelphia’s own People Skills on 7″ vinyl, I have to wait for a label from Sweden to release it? I’m not gonna linger on possibly depressing thoughts for too long, mostly because the music of Magnet Hill is enjoyably depressing enough as is! This single comes with two slow instrumental guitar/”drums” tracks and two infinite loops. “Three Smiling Dogs In A Dream” feels like a dreary sketchbook riff from Kurt Cobain’s diary; “Summer 1978” opens with some incidental street sounds before settling into a single repetitive guitar note punctuated by a high note on the keyboard, at least until Jesse Sinclair Dewlow (that’s People Skills himself) finds a lonely chord to press on before another cozy locked-groove takes the reigns. This is apparently one of three new People Skills releases, the other two being tapes, and I need to figure out which one comprises the live set I witnessed a few months ago, as that was an extraordinary puff of weary ambient choogle I wouldn’t mind hearing again.

Pleather Wasting Time With Riot 7″ (Feral Kid)
I had suspicions that the great hardcore-punk group Judy & The Jerks couldn’t exist in Hattiesburg, MS, all by themselves, and lo and behold, here’s the debut EP from Pleather, also hailing from that magical burg. They look pretty chill on the cover, wearing neutral tones and hanging out on piles of consolidated recycling, and their music, while firmly punk, offers a similar good-time, laid-back feel. “Riot” (which contrary to the EP title is the a-side) might be the least aggressive punk song to ever bear that title, feeling more indebted to the Velvet Underground than S.O.A. It’s catchy and tuneful, but avoids feeling like indie-rock… must be the attitude? “Wasting Time” is only marginally tougher, as there are moments when the drummer lets off of that Moe Tucker tom-ride and pounds, but the same sensation is delivered, the careless cool that made that dog.’s “Old Timer” and Redd Kross’s cover of “Blow You A Kiss In The Wind” so infectious and fun. I’m reading a vibe of “first time punk band”, but these tracks are too studiously crafted for newbies, so I’m not entirely sure what the case is with Pleather – all it takes is one member who can write a great song, I suppose – I’m just hoping to hear more from them soon!

Possible Humans Everybody Split LP (Trouble In Mind)
Another disc from down unda care of Trouble In Mind, who seem to have accepted the fact that if you want to put out well-considered modern underground guitar-band music, you’ll have to start combing through Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to maintain a steady clip. Possible Humans are a new group from Melbourne, and I’d bet their members have been in other bands before (at least it’s… possible!), as they play a highly-controlled, properly-executed form of DIY-inspired indie-rock. All the parts are in check – driving bass-lines, tight and compact drumming, tuneful jangle, understated vocals – but I dunno, Everybody Split isn’t really connecting with me as much as I’d like. There’s The Clean, The Verlaines, probably a little Gin Blossoms and Cranberries, and surely some Swell Maps and Mekons in the Possible Humans formula, but it’s like they take the safest and most-expected parts of those groups rather than anything that might spark a little excitement or cause any sort of problem. It’s jangly indie-punk with the edges sanded down to ensure no one cuts themselves on it. Hope I’m not coming across too harshly, as it’s an album that sounds perfectly fine and comes with no glaring faults, but it’s the sort of humdrum amateur-professionalism, the sense of motions being gone through that leaves me wanting rather than satiated.

Product KF Songs Of The Groves LP (Chicago Research)
Here’s my Chicago research: very cold in the winter, windy, unfortunate pizza, Billy Corgan lives there. I kid, I love that city and its wonderful people, and it’s cool to see new label Chicago Research giving consideration to their various locals, like cold-wavers Product KF for instance. As if you couldn’t already tell they play cold-wave, what with their European, cold-war-styled name and all. Songs Of The Groves is my first exposure to the group, and it’s been an enjoyable one. They seem to be kind of new, or at least not particularly polished with what they’re doing, and it works in their favor. These tracks almost come across like various mash-ups of cold-wave / gothy post-punk signifiers (flanged-out bass lines, scrapyard percussion, Ian Curtis-style warbling, a spooky dance-ability, and so forth), but it’s the jumbled nature of these tunes that I find appealing. I mean come on, they’ve got a song called “Pitch Dark” followed by a song called “Day Comes Too Soon”, these folks are true vampires in training. Songs Of The Groves feels less scripted than some of their contemporaries on larger labels, and more like a group of individuals who really know what they want to sound like, but aren’t technically astute enough to create a picture-perfect facsimile, so they’re just kinda throwing stuff together. It’s not an equation that always works, but it works nicely for me here.

Puzzlehead Big Sniff LP (Stucco)
After a couple banging hardcore EPs (Electric Chair and Suck Lords) and one fantastic post-punk EP (Table Sugar), Stucco moves on with Puzzlehead’s debut full-length. This feels like music very much made for the younger underground, with songs that might come across as somewhat, umm, puzzling to older folks (like me). Puzzlehead play a slow-motion, fuzz-soaked form of indie-grunge that keeps popping up on labels both major-indie and DIY self-sufficient, much to my surprise. Puzzlehead sound like Shop Assistants attempting to play Breeders songs in the style and sound of Kilslug, by my evaluation. Downtuned, sludgy and unhurried, Puzzlehead must’ve accepted a puff off of Milk Music’s Juul at one point or another, and I have to wonder if the influence of that band both stylistically and musically is something I’m dreading or eagerly awaiting over however many more months or years. Not really picking up much in the way of memorable hit songs here, but this feels like a band where their vibe is the focal point, not any particular single (although actually, the stoned pop jangle of “Cruisin’ 4 A Bruisin'” sticks out with its lyrics of “I’m gonna kick your ass”, a timeless statement if there ever was one). Complete with Grateful Dead-esque logo, simplistic cartoon-dog-and-flower art and a big newsprint poster (which seems to be a prerequisite for any Olympia-based release), Big Sniff stands as a shining example of where 2019’s underground youthful punk sensibilities are at, if not necessarily a captivating musical statement.

Shots Private Hate LP (Careful Catalog)
Here’s an appropriately ambiguous name for this experimental trio featuring Home Blitz’s Daniel DiMaggio and the Friberg brothers, John and Matthew. It calls to mind not just ground-level warfare, but also a crew of bros with a handful of Jager-bombs at the local bar, or Steph Curry’s three-point percentage, and somehow it all fits what this New Jersey-centric group is doing (or at least I think they’re all from Jersey – they named a prior release after a Mouthpiece record for chrissakes!). Anyway, this beautiful-looking record is a strange one for sure, filled with expansive tracts of absent sounds. The a-side opens with what might possibly be some uncoordinated basketball-dribbling in a suburban garage, followed by an awkwardly silent car ride over to the park, then maybe a drum kit slowly falling over? The soft fuzz of ambient silence is plentiful here, giving the listener plenty of room to settle in. The b-side takes us to a more populated venue: sounds of children in the distance and some sort of routine commerce are interrupted by indiscriminate microphone pops, as if the recorder was tucked inside a Jansport while walking through a high school hallway. Improvised field-recordings, should we call it? There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of post-production, but much like with similar works by Graham Lambkin and Gabi Losoncy, the mystery is never to be revealed. Private Hate is a record that bears very little repeating, and yet I’m at least half a dozen listens in… either Shots are cunning sonic tricksters or I’m a fool. It’s probably a little bit of both.

Trampoline Team Trampoline Team LP (HoZac)
New Orleans punk might best be defined by the fact that it doesn’t mess around, which is certainly the case with Trampoline Team. This trio slashes and bashes through their songs in classic downhill garage-punk-with-emphasis-on-punk fashion. I’m reminded of personal favorites like Loli & The Chones, Oblivians, Nots, Carbonas and Kill-A-Watts, but Trampoline Team are on the no-frills side of what is already a pretty frill-less cross-section. They play their songs slightly faster than this style usually allows, which adds a nice dose of mania to their fairly traditional chord progressions, and the vocalist Sam DeLucia (also of the wonderful Black Abba) shouts with just enough charisma to inject these straightforward tunes with catchy hooks and repeated enjoyment. Trampoline Team certainly aren’t the first band to play fast punk with songs about the various behaviors of jerks and the hate that those jerks inspire, but from where I’m sitting they deserve to be in the starting lineup of the genre’s modern purveyors.

Victory Hands Bishop 12″ (Headphone Treats)
It’s not often that a band, or a record, truly blows me away, but wow… color me blown away. Victory Hands are a Richard Nixon-themed math-rock band (yes, you heard me right) and this 12″ EP comes inside a multi-fold out, chrome-embossed, die-cut (for special securing of the actual vinyl LP as well as for added visual flair) cover. And this band, from Atlanta, has been doing this thing since 2013, previously releasing a 7″ as well as a 10″, all with the exact same visual and sonic aesthetics (and all lyrics cribbed directly from Richard Nixon speeches and dialogue). Do you understand any of this? I certainly do not. Somehow four guys thought this was a reasonable idea, and have stuck with it for years now, making these carefully produced records (and, none of my select Atlanta-based friends have ever heard of them, for whatever that’s worth). As for the music, it’s fairly basic poppy post-hardcore stuff, not unlike Shades Apart or Ethel Meserve or something in that realm, perfectly fine as well as more or less unmemorable. The whole thing, however, this idea of a Richard Nixon-themed band that is somehow not even remotely amusing and has clearly received significant aesthetic thought in spite of what must be a significant lack of fanbase, is something I won’t soon forget.