Ishai Adar feat. Maurice Sarfati Ana Belephoneq 7″ (Confused Machines)
If you came to this website hoping to read about some extremely dope Arab-Israeli synth-wave, look no further! This 7″ is really hitting a sweet spot for me, that same slow-motion electro-churn favored by Gil.Barte and Beau Wanzer, but this time delivered with a sweet electro sheen that seems to split the difference between those aforementioned artists and the retro-pop of Pender Street Steppers. Adar is the producer, and he uses the spoken voice of the late Maurice Sarfati (who Confused Machines states was a “Jerusalem legend, Arab-Jew of Tunisian descent, a poet, a singer, a rock historian and a retired income-tax investigator”, in case you weren’t already feeling unaccomplished). Sarfati has a rich, weathered voice, the perfect vessel for his well-enunciated Hebrew. The pacing, sound-effects and groove, delivered with an old man’s speaking voice, remind me of last year’s double seven-inch EP by Paul Jansen & Zn., which you should also hear if you haven’t already. “My Life In Bethlehem” is less dance-y, more wave-y than “Ana Belephoneq”; the clicking rhythm track and warbly guitars have me thinking of Choir Boy or Drab Majesty, but Sarfati’s no-nonsense vocals shifts the mood to an entirely different, Eastern realm (although anyone with more than a couple Dais or Dark Entries releases on their shelves would surely light up when encountering this evocative dark-wave tune). Wish there was more than just a two-song single of this fabulous collaboration – apparently an album is in the works, and I’m ready to give it a warm and caring home whenever it enters this world.

B.C.F.W. Barragemirage Megamultifurcation LP (Radical Documents)
Sorry to disappoint fans of British Columbia Frontier Wrestling, but this is actually a modern free-jazz summit involving Andrew Barker on synths, Daniel Carter on a variety of horns, Pat Foley on guitar and Fritz Welch on drums. Based on the Radical Documents association, and the funky title, I was prepared for a full-blast free-jazz caterwaul, but Barragemirage Megamultifurcation is actually quite restrained and even downright seductive at times. Welch’s drums are mixed kind of low, so his rapid clatter (is he playing a drum-set or a fully furnished test kitchen?) never overpowers Foley’s languid guitar lines. Barker’s synths firmly anchor the sound to our modern era, adding a variety of subtle buzzes and tropical chirps to the mix, but it’s Carter’s horns that bring it all together, the cornstarch to the rest of the quartet’s various liquids. His melodies bend over backwards, flutter softly and occasionally dazzle – while the rest of the group stirs up rackets both ominous and optimistic, its Carter’s lines that my mind immediately latches onto and tries to follow along. Very cool stuff, and I appreciate that they gave this configuration its own distinct moniker, even if it’s based off their names. Can you imagine how less cool Minor Threat would’ve been if the band was called Brian Baker, Ian MacKaye, Jeff Nelson & Lyle Preslar?

Brain Bagz / Blood Bags split LP (Big Neck)
No longer can we idly sit by – the time has come to pick a side! You’re either Team Brain Bagz or Team Blood Bags; there can be no in-between. Let’s start with Salt Lake City’s Brain Bagz. They play a loose n’ sleazy form of noisy garage-rock, music without even the possibility of a happy ending. I’m reminded of the cavernous scuzz of TV Ghost, Lubricated Goat’s dry heaving, the cackling depression of Laughing Hyenas… that sorta untrustworthy demeanor. Not hearing much in the way of memorable songs here, but as for the style and sound, Brain Bagz make sure spirits are suitably dampened. If I gave you ten guesses as to where Blood Bags hail from, you probably still wouldn’t get it: Auckland, NZ! Fittingly for this split, they sound like the opening band on a Nashville Pussy / Candy Snatchers tour, pissing and stomping through their booze-fueled garage-rock in a raw, lo-fi fashion. The singer plays a Flying V, the rest of the band has beards or black sunglasses or both… I think we all know the drill by now. Honestly, I was expecting a clear victor to emerge on this split, but both groups do a fairly decent job of playing complimentary forms of loose and noisy garage-punk without really excelling at it. One of these bands is far more likely to catch Covid than the other, though, if that counts for anything.

Cro-Mags In The Beginning LP (Mission Two Entertainment)
We’ve all seen hardcore described as “ignorant” in a complimentary fashion, so how about an ignorant review? Like so many others, I cherish The Age Of Quarrel as the NYHC behemoth it indisputably is, but I haven’t really listened to anything from the group beyond it. Hell, I actually don’t even know for sure who is in this Cro-Mags lineup… I’ve never been interested in following the Harley Flanagan / John Joseph drama that so many hardcore fans gawk over like an episode of Real Housewives or something, and in service of my ignorance, I’m refusing to look it up. Sounds like Harley on vocals, but who knows, he’s probably got a son in his 20s who could’ve joined as the singer at this point. Anyway, probably unfairly, I wasn’t expecting much out of In The Beginning, but what do you know, it’s actually an aggressive and feisty hardcore album that bears repeated listens! They open with “Don’t Give In”, which boldly rips off Cro-Mags’ legendary “We Gotta Know” intro. What other band could get away with shamelessly ripping themselves off? The rest of the record follows with hard-hitting metallic hardcore, equal parts stompy mosh breakdowns and that classic laid-back NYHC gallop beat. I’m often reminded of Pantera’s faster parts (the vocals can echo Phil Anselmo’s meaty shout too), which they enhance with labyrinthine guitar solos suitable for one of King Diamond’s solo albums, but it’s alll still trademarked Cro-Mags music through and through. Even the violin-centric instrumental, “Between Wars”, fits right in, conjuring the streetwise mysticism that made The Age Of Quarrel such a potent, consistently-relevant classic. They’ve still got it!

Dame Dame LP (Beach Impediment)
If I’m going to Beach Impediment, it’s for burly hardcore-punk that isn’t afraid of a little blood, not rain-soaked post-punk in funeral attire. It’d be like going to a dentist to treat my eczema! That said, I realize the whole world is a stylistic melting pot at this point; everyone is friends with everyone else, and for the many passed-out-drunk Poison Idea fans in Beach Impediment’s mist, there are surely some somber art-lovers who enjoy dour post-punk in there, too. That’s definitely what Boston’s Dame are offering on their sophomore full-length, right in line with what anyone already familiar with the group would expect. They’ve been a fixture in the scene for most of the last decade, and continue to work with actual punks instead of the indie-industry publicity/promotion circuit, much to their credit. Is it okay if I say that I’m not really feeling this album, though? The parts are all exactly in place as they should be, from the shimmering guitar to the taut drumming, keyboard-enhanced melodies and gloomy/warbly monotone vocals, but nothing is particularly standing out to me, for better or worse. This sort of pleasantly-derivative, Joy Division-inspired sound has reaped significant underground popularity for close to two decades now, long enough to no longer be considered a resurgence so much as the normal lay of the land – don’t forget, we were first subjected to Blessure Grave back when Obama was first taking office. Maybe I’m simply tired of the by-the-books uniformity this style tends to breed (actually I know I am), or maybe it’s increasingly difficult to stamp a unique imprint into a style such as this. Either way, and by my fault or theirs, I’ve been unable to connect with Dame.

Eyes And Flys Coastal Access / Black Flowers 7″ (no label)
Has it been a year already? Eyes And Flys’ debut single came out last fall, showcasing two songs from what was a solo-project at the time. Now, guitarist/vocalist Pay Shanahan’s enlisted three other folks in the group (including a bassist with the wonderful name of “Biff Bifaro”), for what is surely more fun than trying to track each instrument separately all by one’s lonesome. “Coastal Access” is enjoyable and sonically interesting, as it seems to be a speedy garage-punk song played with decidedly non-garage-punk settings. The guitars are best suited for jangly college-rock ala REM or The Stone Roses, but they don’t seem to notice they’re being used for a fast-jolting song that is structurally far more akin to Jay Reatard or The Marked Men. “Black Flowers” actually shows some signs of buzzy distortion, with an ugly, choppy groove that feels like it would’ve come from an angry small-town band that managed to open for Mudhoney in 1990. Across four songs thus far, I can’t quite tell exactly what it is that Eyes And Flys are after, and maybe they’re not sure either, but it’s the figuring of things out (for both them and me) that’s the rewarding part, right?

First Boy On The Moon Sofia / Fast Machine 7″ (Manic)
I had to put on my shades to look at the cover of First Boy On The Moon’s new (first?) single. This thing looks like a Hot Topic-branded makeup palette or something, which I’m assuming is kind of the vibe that Malmö’s First Boy On The Moon are happy to oblige. “Sofia” blurs the line between radio-rock ala The Killers and Franz Ferdinand and moody punk/indie touchstones like Social Distortion and The Cure. Come to think of it, did I just describe the entire contents of a Hot Topic t-shirt display? Interestingly enough, I enjoy “Sofia”, with its muted attitude and smoothly-crooned vocals… if you can deliver me this sort of slickly-serious pop-rock with bravado and a decent hook, I’m in. “Fast Machine” is even more impressive, in that it kinda sounds like modern-day U2 but I also somehow like it! I can picture The Edge being responsible for those chiming guitar chords, Bono kneeling at the edge of the stage to deliver these dramatic vocals, and the other two U2 guys (has anyone ever figured out their names?) holding down the majestically plodding rhythm. Swedes are just annoyingly good at music sometimes, from Ace Of Base to Mob 47, and this new group, with an image that seems geared to appeal to American teenagers in 2006, might have to be included in that list.

Grave New World The Last Sanctuary LP (Bitter Lake Recordings)
It’s not hard to imagine the legions of hardcore-punk collectors who sat agreeably on the sidelines as Bitter Lake released one synth-wave curio after another, then rushed the stage upon word of this, a lavish reissue of Grave New World’s sole release. Made up of members of Last Bombs, Asbestos and Crow himself, The Last Sanctuary has achieved legendary status, thanks to both its boggling unavailability (Discogs hasn’t seen a copy in five years!) and its even more boggling musicality. It would seem that this project aimed to directly interpret a post-Armageddon hell-world, and while that’s not a particularly novel idea, The Last Sanctuary embodies that dark fantasy with mind-bending plausibility, succeeding with wild flair where so many others have come up short. It’s a big sonic mess, that’s for sure – psychedelic guitar noise gives way to Crow’s tortured shrieks, overdubs of sound-effects and acoustic guitars are plentiful, and it seems that every crazy idea received at least some serious consideration. The songs call to mind the metallic ‘core of The Clay, the glam-thrash of Randy Uchida Group and the mainstream gloom of Metallica’s self-titled 1991 breakthrough, released one year before The Last Sanctuary originally came out. I can even hear hints of Cradle Of Filth in the baroque metal of “Spiral Moment”, but only hints, and I swear there’s a Flower Travellin’ Band homage to some of Crow’s extended caterwauling, much to my delight. Combine all these disparate, sometimes incongruous styles, dose them with the intangible magic possessed by these four underground Japanese lifers, and if you’re lucky, a beautiful headscratching steamroller of a one-off like Grave New World just might occur.

Home Blitz All Through The Year 12″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Has it really been five years since Daniel DiMaggio’s last Home Blitz release, the Foremost + Fair album? Maybe it’s because my brain is still processing that one that it doesn’t seem so long, but I better set aside my plans (just kidding, I have no plans) and spend the appropriate time to process this one! I’m like half a dozen listens in, at the time of writing, and I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of half of what’s going on here. If you’re not familiar with Home Blitz already, I have to wonder what blog you’ve been reading all these years, but All Through The Year continues the same thread while also leaning into newer, stranger territory, which is a feat for this group/project that has never been short on strangeness. “What We Were” is a speedy power-pop flip-trick, barely a minute long, leading into the college-wave swing of “Final Decay”, which utilizes bass-guitar and electronic percussive elements for what might be the catchiest Home Blitz tune yet? Not counting the unexpected musical drop-out a couple minutes in, leading to just a kick-drum and DiMaggio’s frustrated ranting, of course. Foreshadowing things to come on the b-side, a-side closer “What I Say I Mean” is a sassy stream of melodic speak-singing and crusty chimes (presumably borrowed from Shots, his suburban-concrète noise project). This leads to the unbridled mania of “Real Green”, a wildly spiraling suite of precocious classical piano, strings, musical theater, sound effects, and the near-constant stream of DiMaggio’s vocal consciousness, which slowly grows more and more indignant – his words are practically impossible to follow, but I know a string of swear-words when I hear them. The song eventually breaks into Home Blitz’s “Pointed Sticks at the Ren Faire” vibe that consumed much of Foremost + Fair, but there’s so much musical information packed into these nine minutes that trying to dissect it is pointless. I will say that this is the first Home Blitz record to leave me curious about DiMaggio’s sexuality, for whatever that’s worth. Love or hate it, how can you make it through 2020 without hearing All Through The Year?

ISS Too Punk For Heavy Metal 7″ (Total Punk)
Pour one out for Total Punk – they were really doing the Lord’s work over the past decade or so, pumping out these hand-stamped 45 singles with the tireless dedication only shown by true behind-the-scenes punk fanatics. What better way to end the imprint, then, than with a 7″ by digi-punk pranksters ISS, who take the opportunity to roast the label on their a-side track “Too Punk For Heavy Metal”? Over a lurching bass-line (ripped from Dead Kennedys?) and disco-punk drums, vocalist Rich Ivey goes Jeff Ross on Total Punk’s ass, and it’s a delight. Throw in some surfy guitar (ripped from Dead Kennedys too?) and some electronic sound-effects and you’ve got an ISS classic-in-the-making. And then, in an effort to out-punk the rest of the pack, they drop two tracks in roughly a minute’s time on the flip. “MSG2U” is a fast one, with drums that sound like one of those programmed Institute of Technology drum-robots trying to emulate Deep Wound’s fills. It’s followed by “Hittrack”, which is the exact same music as “MSG2U” with a different vocal line, a clever trick that I first personally encountered on The Vindictives’ Eating Me Alive / Johnny, Where Are You? single (and of course utilized by reggae artists the world over), and ISS seem as rightful a punk group as any to give it a go. The whole record is a quick, sneering blast, wrapping fully in under four minutes’ time. I can’t think of many/any punk labels that delivered such a fitting finale, so kudos to Total Punk’s singles line for going out as (un)tastefully as it came in.

Lalalar Isyanlar 7″ (Bongo Joe / Dunganga)
Gonna slip on my A&R hat (it’s a ruby-red fedora) before writing this one, because it’s criminal that a big indie hasn’t swooped in and signed Istanbul’s Lalalar yet. Domino, Merge, Upset The Rhythm, XL Recordings, hell even Sub Pop, I’m talking to you! This band’s really something special, perhaps too special for ignorant Americans actually, but non-ignorant Americans would probably lose their mind a little bit over this new group, much as I currently am. I guess I should tell you what they sound like, but that’s not particularly easy as there isn’t much of an obvious genre or sub-genre I can point towards. They’re a trio, opting for guitar, bass-guitar, drum-machines, vocals and electronics, but don’t expect something inspired by Interpol or Cabaret Voltaire or anything Anglophile. Their music is steeped in Turkish heritage, from the scales they play and melodies they craft, but they anchor it with butt-jiggling beats that call to mind Mr. Oizo at his most unhinged. “Ä°syanlar” is killer, using a pure Knight Rider bass-line and Turkish guitars for a stunningly strange product. The flip, “Yalnız Ölü Balıklar Akıntıyı Takip Eder”, stomps like Khruangbin before getting all disco-noirish, as if Matthew Dear was a Turkish dignitary trying to organize an underground rave. This is all delivered with a formidable, potent vocalist, whose deep buttery croon adds another fascinating edge to Lalalar’s sound. Be cool like me and get into this band while they’re still only releasing 7″ 45s on the prescient Swiss label Bongo Joe!

Long Knife Night Of The Hunter 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Portland’s Long Knife have spent the last decade proving that they’re a hardcore-punk group you can hang your hat on (especially if it’s one of those old-timey motorcycle helmets with a sticker of a hand giving the middle finger on it). They’re burly, closer to old than young, and are not afraid to write a hardcore song that’s over three minutes long without “reinterpreting” or “revolutionizing” hardcore. “Night Of The Hunter” tells the tale of a horrible drug- and booze-addled murderer wandering unfriendly streets, at least until it seems like vocalist Colin Jarrell has changed perspective as though he himself is in the ranks of The Hunter? Who knows for sure, he probably just wanted to write some lyrics about murder and coke and misery, and well, mission accomplished. It’s a heavy mid-tempo groover with a thuggish attitude and a melodically-inclined chorus hook, not too far off from that little patch of land where Poison Idea and Fucked Up once overlapped. “Rough Liver” is the flip, and it’s about the discomfort and pain of life, not a poorly-executed foie gras appetizer. This one is primed for the fist-pumping punk crowd, with a shout-along chorus and a daringly-extended guitar solo that is sure to unite both long-hair and skinhead (or at least those of us victimized by male pattern baldness). It’s gonna be a beer-soaked celebration when Long Knife are once again able to perform in front of a hometown crowd, no doubt.

Museum Of No Art Museum Of No Art LP (Séance Centre)
Séance Centre has taken too much of my money in the past couple years, thanks to their impeccable streak of unearthing far left-field gems and offering them up for sale to obscure-hungry bozos like myself. Figured I’d give this one a shot, a rare contemporary artist coming from their ranks, and it meets my expectations nicely (although for the price-tag, I was a little surprised to see they went the “piece of paper glued to a blank record jacket” design route). Museum Of No Art is the work of one Mona Steinwidder, and it fits the Séance Centre aesthetic almost too well. These tunes generally skip between early ’80s avant-garde composition (strong shades of Arthur Russell, Julius Eastman, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson), obscure basement-brewed new-age music from the ’80s and ’90s, the supremely eccentric synth-pop obscurities reissued by labels like Growing Bin and STROOM, a little Kate Bush, and the modern-day sparkle that reminds me of the synth-wave one might’ve found on Not Not Fun or 100% Silk in the early ’10s. Definitely sounds like music you’d expect to hear at a post-modern dance performance at an ICA that’s attended by mostly cool-dressed hipsters as opposed to their uncool-dressed arts-supporting parents. Steinwidder flows from a multilayered acapella movement into a pensive synth instrumental redolent of Tangerine Dream with ease, something that may have been highly unorthodox in decades prior that now makes perfect sense. I wonder which came first, Séance Centre’s refined style or the artists who so easily resemble it?

Norms Háború És Fű 12″ (Mindig Otthon Punk Discs)
Sorry if I’m shouting too loudly, but there’s a new Norms record out! I can’t help but get excited by this Hungarian hardcore group. Háború És Fű is a seven-track “mini-album” and much like their 2018 full-length debut, it’s full of high-speed hardcore-punk that flails in all directions. I’m reminded of classic first-wave maniacs like Neos and Rattus, but also sense a common thread shared with current-day groups like Portland’s Reek Minds and Brisbane’s Pious Faults, as Norms are willing to push a song far beyond its acceptable limits, verging on an unstructured freakout befitting Harry Pussy. Check the b-side-opening title track, for instance, which calls to mind E-150, Antioch Arrow and Fat Day all at once, three very different groups whose energy overwhelmed their music. Norms are a crazy mess, but they’ve still got songs, and with their more-than-capable drummer (who integrates some sort of cowbell or bottle nicely), this record remains a satisfying jolt after repeated spins.

Parsnip Adding Up 7″ (Anti Fade / Episode Sounds)
Four new tunes from the ‘Snip… who wouldn’t be pleased by this news? I can understand not loving this precious Melbourne-based indie-pop quartet, but to hate on them would be like hating rainbows or birthday cake – the territory of monsters. These songs offer no new surprises or divergences from their already-established sound (a sort of early poppy Rough Trade post-punk infused with a potent dose of childlike psychedelia), but they fall closer to the standard poppy DIY indie side of things, at least by Parsnip’s standards. This works for me, as I like it when they write in more of a minimal/economical style, as opposed to a cutesy Sid & Marty Kroft technicolor mania, which they also do exceedingly well. “Treacle Toffee World” should probably be the theme song for a reality cooking show of the same title, wherein Parsnip devour caramelized sweets across the globe, but maybe that’ll have to wait until this whole Covid thing blows over. “Crossword Cheater” has a funky go-go vibe ala Pizzicato Five, and “Repeater” dips into the garage a bit. Interestingly, I noticed that songwriting credits for each of the four songs here are attributed to a different band member, which is pretty cool, kind of a throwback to the golden days of The Beatles or whoever, which most retro-minded indie groups don’t or can’t abide. Go on, let your drummer write a song and see what happens!

Pearson Sound Alien Mode 12″ (Hessle Audio)
New Pearson Sound! And on Hessle Audio! This feels like something that used to happen a lifetime ago (read: in 2012), but he’s back, right where he belongs. One might expect Pearson Sound to have changed with the times, either delving into gritty lo-fi hardware techno or into the opposite end of the spectrum with warped hyper-modern sound design, but nope, Pearson Sound is still doing what he always did, much to my relief. Which, if you’re unfamiliar, is post-dubstep breakbeat rave. “Alien Mode” is a prime example, rocking the party with a pristine break, pumped-up subs and a catchy vocal hook, wherein a disturbed woman says “I think I’m losing my mind” only to be consoled by some robotic guy’s response of “you’re not losing your mind”. I caught myself singing along the first time I heard it, which is a good sign. “Cobwebs” reminds me of Ramadanman (one of Pearson Sound’s earlier aliases), with skittering percussion and a surge of bass that sounds like half of the Fast And Furious gang gliding up to the curb on racing motorcycles. “Everything Is Inside Out” wraps it in a relaxed fashion, still quite redolent of Pearson Sound’s earlier releases while also in line with contemporary ravers like Head High and Dynamo Dreesen. “Alien Mode” is the track, but it’s simply nice to see a fresh new Hessle Audio slab in a time where any good news is at a premium.

Prutser Netels 7″ (STROOM)
Gotta say, I’m really enjoying STROOM’s move toward releasing 7″ singles. What other weird electronic reissue-minded label is doing that, and often with new artists, no less? Even down to the flimsy and glossy color sleeve, the vibe is right. This is probably the best I’ve heard from STROOM thus far, too, the debut of Prutser, a new collaboration between Victor De Roo (whose Knekelhuis 12″ was a 2019 standout) and the shadowy figure of Frederik Willem Daem. Just kidding, I looked up Daem and he’s wearing a baseball cap like any other slightly-hip millennial, but he sounds damn mysterious on “Netels”. I love this form of cold-wave, one that relies more on nuance, noir and mood than aggression or derivative goth signifiers… it strikes me as particularly Belgian in nature, relaxed and prepared for whatever form of doom awaits. Daem’s voice is breathy and firm, occasionally dipping into a warble similar to Mr. Arafna on a November Növelet track. I can say “Netels” with ease, but the b-side title “Derealiteit (Alles Wat Ge Denkt, Zijt Ge Zelf)” has required a little more practice. This one feels slightly more urgent, with a bass line that dips in and out, scintillating keys and guitars that seem to be hiding behind a velvet curtain. Daem is clearly pleading with whomever the song is directed toward, and if it wasn’t for the language barrier I’d be tempted to offer some sort of help. Seems like I can finally stop looking for something to stick between Grauzone’s Eisbær and Joy Division’s Transmission on the antique cold-wave jukebox I keep in the darkest, dreariest corner of my basement.

Rigorous Institution Survival / Despotism 7″ (Roachleg)
Had it in my plans to pick up something on Brooklyn’s Roachleg for a while now (maybe an Urchin 7″ or two?) but Rigorous Institution’s new single is my first. Pretty swell place to start, as this Portland group’s metallic dirge-punk reeks of exactly the kind of nuclear-fallout poison wind I was hoping for. They seem to be inspired by some of the cult-worshiped Japanese crust groups who more or less played metal, such as Death Comes Along, Effigy and of course G.I.S.M, as well as British metallicrust masters Amebix, probably their closest sonic relation. There aren’t a lot of bands I know of who are currently doing doom-laden metal from such a classically crust-punk perspective, and Rigorous Institution in particular seem to know what they want. Take “Survival”, which rides a funereal riff through smoke-filled mountain paths in search of potable water. Throw in the Mumm-Ra inspired croaking of vocalist Savonarola and a creepy synth that only seems to show up a couple minutes in once the riff finally changes, and you’ve got a hit! “Despotism” creeps around in the murk as well, less metallic and more in line with goth-punkers Lost Tribe and Anasazi, although Rigorous Institution seem too punk for any goth characteristics to really stick – there’s no morbid beauty to be found here, just the molten wreckage of a fallen society. Portland seems to grow these bands like flooded drywall grows black mold, and Rigorous Institution are a notable specimen indeed.

Saskia Eeuwig Op Reis 7″ (STROOM)
It should be fairly clear that I’m not a “reissue guy” at this point, but I don’t want to be inappropriately stubborn about it. When it comes to, say, a 7″ EP featuring two tracks plucked from a cassette that was “given to friends and family in an edition of no more than ten in 1983”, well, that seems like grounds for an attractive vinyl edition if the music is special. That’s precisely the case here, and these tracks certainly deserve it, as they are prime examples of lonesome DIY synthwave that operated on a scene-less, friends-and-family basis. This is music that sounds like a tiny karaoke machine slowly floating in the unlit recesses of outer space, its little red power light slowly flickering on and off. “My Lips Get Hot” is a cosmic bedroom vision; it utilizes barely more than a heartbeat rhythm, dissolving synths and Saskia’s unimposing voice… a lullaby for broken dreams. B-side “You Left Your Soul Behind” has more of a soft, jazzy, homespun Pink Floyd sound. It’s an instrumental, and while I could’ve gone for more of Saskia’s emotionally-inscrutable vocals, the mood conjured here is nearly as rich and strained, like a nightclub in one of Éric Rohmer’s films. It should be impressive that STROOM somehow discovered this tape, presumably not being part of Saskia’s family or friends back in 1983, but they consistently make it look so easy.

Science Man Match Game 7″ (Swimming Faith)
You’d think Buffalo’s Science Man would be putting his skills to use in discovering a Coronavirus vaccine, or at least developing some sort of virus-repellent active-wear, but nope, he’s recording and releasing 7″ EPs! The nerve. Seeing as it’s a solo punk-band project sorta thing, at least one can assume he’s kept his social distance, although with this sort of spazzy, weirdest-kid-in-the-room vibe, I’m not sure social distance has ever been an issue for him. Anyway, this 7″ features nine new tracks, most of which are energized noise-punk over a drum machine. I’m reminded of the jump-all-over weird-punk of XBXRX, and a track like “The Rush” is closely related to the sound of Lumpy & The Dumpers, but there’s something about Science Man’s general delivery and aesthetic that doesn’t feel like the aping of any particular contemporary artist. Lots of herky-jerkin’ in these tunes, to be sure, as well as an uneasy alliance with thrash-metal, or so the riffing tends to come across. Many would ask why, but Science Man asks why not?

The Slow Painters The Slow Painters LP (Keep Secret / Diger)
Sixteen years is a long time between a band’s formation and their first album, but they’re not called The Fast Painters, now are they? This Oslo indie group takes a very clear and direct set of unsurprising influences, and applies them gratuitously to their own music, for better or worse. Vocalist Andreas W.H. LindvÃ¥g can’t decide if he wants to be Bob Dylan, Thom Yorke, Alec Ounsworth or Hamilton Leithauser, so he vacillates between them all, a nasally vanilla swirl that certainly fits these chiming, boppy tunes. Certain tracks recall the soft shoegaze touch of Slowdive, others jam with the box-store advertising pop of Foster The People, and at least a few have me wondering why Jimmy Eat World was always the very best at writing songs that sound like Jimmy Eat World. If I was going to have a nondescript night out on the town in Oslo, running with a pack of friends I just met and following their lead, I’d be absolutely delighted to come across The Slow Painters on stage somewhere, wondering to myself if perhaps a member of Sportwear is also in the room. As for spending much time around the house listening to The Slow Painters, however, I’m not so sure.

The Slugs Don’t Touch Me, I’m Too Slimy! 7″ (Related)
Unexpected dose of merry DIY post-punk from The Slugs, who are probably what, the hundredth band to be called The Slugs? I dare you to finish listening to Don’t Touch Me, I’m Too Slimy! in a grumpy mood… these songs are such simple, merry fun that even the stinkiest curmudgeon in your group won’t be able to complain. Guitar, drums and vocals are The Slugs’ equation, about as simple as it gets, yet these songs really come alive with the same innate pizazz that made records by The Petticoats, Television Personalities and Thin Yoghurts the timeless delights that they are. “Not Here For That!” offers a catchy chorus that seems to have both members singing a chorus of, correct me if I’m wrong, “I’ll just eat my chips from the boat”. Little effort appears to have been put into the drum pattern and guitar riff of “Last Night I Had A Dream I Had Conical Breasts”, but that leaves plenty of open space for The Slugs to sing lines like “I got married in a dress by Vera Wang” and ensure they remain in your skull after the single stops spinning. I wanna say they sound English, but who knows, they could be from Akron or Mississauga for all I know. The Related Records’ Bandcamp page offers little info, which makes this release all the more intriguing and pleasurable. Fans of the lighter side of the Messthetics comps need to jump on this one ASAP!

Sweeping Promises Hunger For A Way Out LP (Feel It)
If your feed is remotely like mine, then this is this month’s record you’ve already been hearing about for the past couple weeks: the full-length debut of new Boston group Sweeping Promises! If you’re even more like me, you hadn’t heard of this group before (really, how could anyone have, barring friends and neighbors of the group?), and if you’re like me and apparently everyone else, you’re already in love with Hunger For A Way Out. It’s a pretty winning formula, but this duo (with what must be pre-recorded live drums?) really knocks it out of the park. Their music is a playful-yet-serious form of DIY post-punk, keen on intriguing melodies and interesting songwriting while still firmly planted in the economical world of Wire, Desperate Bicycles, The Fire Engines and such. I’m usually happy to accept a faithful re-creation of that sound, but Sweeping Promises jump off from there into indie-pop moments recalling Times New Viking (in both fidelity and demeanor) as well as Sleater-Kinney in the bold and fully-committed vocals of Lira Mondal. This results in a song like “Safe Now” sounding like Parquet Courts covering Slant 6, or maybe vice versa, but honestly probably better than either of those fantasy situations! It’s no wonder that Sweeping Promises are catching on, number one because no one is playing shows so it’s more about the recordings than the exhaustive touring schedules at this point in time, and number two because these songs are all really, really great. A year-end contender on what will surely be many different lists, mine included!

Variation Four 7″ (TDF)
The key to my heart is pretty simple: just utter the words “sixteen song seven-inch EP” and you’ll see the hearts in my eyes. That’s what Baltimore’s Variation are offering here, their vinyl debut among a small handful of cassettes, apparently all self-released. They play tuneless crust-core, and I’m here for it! Reminds me a lot of groups like Stapled Shut, Phobia, Laceration and maybe a smidge of Terveet Kädet, but at a very early-demo / first-attempt level of musical aptitude and delivery. They mix the speeds up, from painful dirges to sloppy oompah-blasts, running the gamut of acceptable behavior for hardcore-punk such as this. Vocals are mostly unintelligible mush, too, although I could actually make out the repeatedly uttered word “Variation” on the song that is also titled “Variation”. If Bovine Records still existed, they’d be finalizing a Variation / Suppression split 7″ right now, just waiting on one of their friends to finish up the “zombie-demon surrounded by pot leaves” pencil art for the cover. Brings a tear to my eye to know that kids are still pursuing such noble endeavors.

Virtualdemonlaxative Virtualdemonlaxative LP (West Mineral)
Wow! Sometimes the endless genre-churning can leave me feeling a little uneasy, but this one is so completely unexpected (not to mention in my sonic wheelhouse) that I have to tip my hat. Virtualdemonlaxative is a new collaboration between artists best known for their post-ambient, experimental dub creations: Pontiac Streator, Ulla and Special Guest DJ are credited in these ranks. One could comfortably expect something that fits within those loosely-defined sonic parameters, but this? Never this! Virtualdemonlaxative is a noise-core record through and through – I’m not saying it’s “inspired by” noisy high-speed grind, so much as that’s precisely what it is. Pin this one next to Arsedestroyer, Sissy Spacek, Gore Beyond Necropsy and Discordance Axis, as the same level of unhinged screaming, post-human drumming and atonal riffing is deployed here. Sure, the drums are all of a synthetic nature, so some of that traditional band feel is gone, but Agoraphobic Nosebleed has existed for over twenty years now, and Virtualdemonlaxative fit in nicely alongside them. Perhaps most amazingly, this album doesn’t play out like a genre-hopping lark, so much as a sincere adherence to making the most uninviting and harsh noise-not-music possible, true to the spirit of the genre while also cutting its own software-guided path. If they get on next year’s Obscene Extreme fest lineup, I may have to risk it all and book my non-refundable flight straight away.

Yambag Posthumous Pounce! LP (Convulse)
Not sure if I’m supposed to take the title to mean that Yambag are no longer with us, but as is the case with most Cleveland hardcore bands, none of them ever really break up, do they? Some will merge with each other, or take years-long breaks, but they never fully die. Yambag are new to me, but they feature members of The Cowboy, Vanilla Poppers, Bad Noids, and, you guessed it, Shit Blimp. Just reading that reminds me of the grand tapestry of hardcore that Cleveland has already provided us with, which also includes Yambag, who are really cool! Their brand of hardcore hearkens back to the nasty, fun-loving Y2K thrash/grind that is very much not en vogue at the moment, but I dare any fan of the artform to listen to Posthumous Pounce! and tell me it doesn’t whoop butt. I’m reminded of snot-nosed speed-demons like Stark Raving Mad (that debut is insane!), the spontaneous chaos of early Indigesti, but also stuff like Life’s Halt and Nine Shocks Terror (two very different but very good late ’90s groups). When Yambag double up the already-fast tempo to Fuck On The Beach speeds, I can’t help but think that Yambag would’ve been a standout on a ten-band 7″ comp released by 625 Productions in honor of skateboarding and kung-fu movies in 1999. I’ve got a friend named Sanchez – perhaps he’s your friend too – and the next time I see him, I’m gonna slap him with this Yambag record before he gets a chance to complain about modern hardcore.

Zaliva-D Immorality 12″ (Knekelhuis)
Of all the Knekelhuis artists I love (and there’s more than a handful), Zaliva-D is probably the… weirdest? This Chinese duo makes music that is immediately identifiable to my ears, even in the crowded field of slimy basement industrial music. I loved last year’s Forsaken, and this new EP, Immorality, is a welcome addition. It trades in similar materials, namely low-tempo rhythmic chug, Eastern percussion, and unrecognizable groans, bleats and gurgles of presumably organic origin. Imagine if Muslimgauze was as inspired by insect larvae, farm animal noises and BDSM as the political conflicts in the Middle East and you’ve got a reasonable lead on what Zaliva-D is up to. Check the title track for instance, which ominously combines non-Western strings, detuned piano and what seems to be someone screaming through a bagpipe into a tough-as-nails beat perfectly ready for some oddball morbid rapper to freestyle over. And even though it’s fairly evil music, there’s a sneaky sense of humor built into the music of Zaliva-D, as if they’re fully aware that they sound like Clock DVA lost inside a deadly rainforest and they’re just as amused by it as we are. You can dance to it (“Sick Step” is not only the name of one of the songs here, but presumably the name of the dance one is expected to do it), but I’m certain Zaliva-D have a variety of uses in mind for their music, some of which cannot rightly be printed here.