Ammo Web Of Lies / Death Won’t Even Satisfy LP (Wallride)
When I came up, “Jersey hardcore” was defined by Floorpunch, 97a and Ensign, long after it meant Chronic Sick and Fatal Rage, but it seems to have come back around again now with bands like Ammo loitering in the Garden State’s various QuickChek parking lots. On their debut record, they do a lot of different things, all of them falling comfortably under the blanket of anti-social hardcore. Some tracks recall the sloppy, fireworks-in-the-pit belligerence of Nine Shocks Terror and Gas Rag, whereas other cuts interpret Poison Idea’s steamroller fury or the riotous thrash of early COC and Suicidal. “Slam Slam Slam” sounds like fellow Jerseyans Tear It Up covering Ill Repute, for example, and I swear there’s a sonic kinship with What Happens Next? (the vocals, drumming and riffs?) that I’m not used to hearing in our age of noisy d-beat and blackened oom-pah hardcore dominance. It’s pretty refreshing, honestly, the way that Ammo sounds very much like a Jersey hardcore band, on par with Public Disturbance and The Worst (and certainly the aforementioned Tear It Up), probably socially as well as musically. (The record also arrives replete with a title that feels philosophically aligned with Jersey’s greatest punk export of all time, Cyanamid, in Death Won’t Even Satisfy.) The one thing the rest of the world can agree on is that New Jersey sucks, which breeds a certain defiance among not only its commuter traffic but its rowdy punks as well, beautifully displayed here.

The Art Gray Noizz Quintet The Art Gray Noizz Quintet LP (Bang!)
Does New York City qualify as a swamp? I’d say it fits the description in more ways than one, which explains why the boozy swamp-rock of The Art Gray Noizz Quintet manages to thrive on that tiny slab of land. Featuring Stuart Gray of none other than Lubricated Goat, his menacing neanderthalic thud continues out of the ’90s and into the future care of his capable quintet. The noise-rock predilections of Lubricated Goat are still in effect, but injected with a garage-y twang, resulting in a sort of sludge-rock Cramps that staggers back and forth. Many songs follow Cramps-ian tropes of schlock horror and drug-induced paranoia/despair too, as likely to invoke the Creature From The Black Lagoon and Godzilla as brutal cops and hangovers. Whereas many noise-rockers seem content to hide their actual personalities behind walls of blown-out fuzz, Gray is a proud carnival barker, his gnarly croak coming across like the bridge troll that swallowed the opening band. As far as stanky garage-noise is concerned, this quintet is the real deal, and if you don’t believe me, go ahead and google their bassist, “Skeleton Boy”, I’ll wait!

Baby? Baby Laugh / Baby Cry LP (Post Present Medium)
Long unsatisfied with playing aggressive DIY hardcore alone, Max Nordile and Erin Allen have found time outside of their shared band Violence Creeps to call this new project “Baby?”, that’s right, Baby with a question mark. Nordile is a relentless creator – I bet he made the crusty collage on the cover (editor’s note: he did) – and Allen is a willing co-conspirator, decorum be damned. Baby Laugh / Baby Cry kinda disassembles the connective structures of (loosely) punk and (even looser) hardcore, improvising their way through various bouts of anxiety, antagonism, meltdowns and tomfoolery. If you can call these songs, you can call anything songs, but that’s part of the fun, peeping in on these two and their idea of annoying fun. Reminds me of something that would’ve crawled out of the Blackbean And Placenta Tape Club back in like 1998, like a more no-wavey Gang Wizard, or perhaps the soundtrack recording of the John Gavanti play, which was also pretty no-wavey in a “leave no audience member undisturbed” sorta way. Horns honk like geese who know you’ve got a stash of Wonderbread in your backpack, and the songs themselves splatter to the ground all over, as if Nordile tried to pull the tablecloth from under a pile of Preening songs (one of his many bands) and it ended up smashing to pieces. More like Baby! if you ask me.

Michael J. Blood As Is 2xLP (Blood)
Nice deep dose of British house here from Michael J. Blood (probably not their real name), following a busy run of tapes over the past two years. Blood appears to be tight with Rat Heart (hell, there’s a good chance he is Rat Heart) and the rest of that mysterious Boomkat techno crew, and while Rat Heart’s records have been fun if not as mind-blowing as the hype that preceded them, As Is is an undeniably rich and funky affair. These tracks sound as though they’re manipulated in real time, closer to the patio of one of Omar S’s Conant Gardens parties than the cold interface of a Macbook, and they groove all over the place. I’m reminded of Shake Shakir’s inventiveness as well; Blood works with a wide variety of electronic sounds here, delving deep into his synths far from the basic presets (or somehow making those basic presets sound fresh and new). Arpeggios are catchy but weird (check “GMT” for a particularly fun stop-and-go synth loop), and the focus seems to be on freshness and energy, not emotion or precision. Reminds me of Galcher Lustwerk at his most playful too, moving out of the darkened corner of a club and into a colorful streetscape filled with weirdos, shops and motion. For as long as this album is, it never sags – an always impressive techno feat – and it’s already fitting to be my go-to summertime techno long-player (though I’m ready to welcome the competition).

Crime Of Passing Crime Of Passing LP (Feel It)
Minor silly gripe: what’s the deal with all these goth-y punk / synth-wave bands popping off these days where the band is a bunch of guys in their basic street clothes alongside a femme singer in over-the-top skimpy fetishwear? Off the top of my head, Starcrawler, NIIS and Pixel Grip (as well as many I’m forgetting right now) all seem to fit the bill. There’s at least one of these bands on every fest these days, and my issue is not with the singers but the musicians that back them up – why can’t you also wear a PVC thong, Pleaser platforms and fishnet stockings if your singer is going full bondage model every night? Make it happen guys! Special Interest gets it right, but of course they don’t have a bunch of uptight dudes backing the singer… but I’ve already digressed far enough. Cincinnati’s Crime Of Passing do a similar thing in the photos of the band I’ve seen, but their release is care of the top punk label in town, so maybe the rhythm section is just waiting for their advance to clear before purchasing their respective latex tops and leather harnesses. They play an energetic-yet-morose strain of spooky post-punk, replete with Peter Hook bass-lines, smoke-machine synths and guitars that both chime and scrape, the sort of thing I’d associate with Dais more than any label who ever released a Bad Noids record. It’s not a sound that always gets my blood pumping, generally speaking, and while I am unbothered to sit and jam Crime Of Passing, the vocals are kinda low in the mix and the songs themselves don’t linger, at least by my estimation. If their singer wore comfortable sweats from Target on stage and the rest of the band wore Borat thongs, maybe I’d hear it in a different light.

CTM Babygirl LP (Posh Isolation)
Can we just say it? Posh Isolation is one trendy-ass label. Now, I’m unsure how much of it has been them starting the trends versus them following the trends, but their timeline arc from blackened hardcore to industrial noise to techno to sound-collage ambient and now arts-council-friendly experimental new-age pop is almost an identical match to the prevailing underground trends since the label’s inception in 2009. It’s even evident in many of the label’s artists – heck, labelhead Loke Rahbek’s musical career shares the same trendy trajectory – but of course, Posh Isolation has picked up new artists along the way, growing outward as well as upward. And perhaps most importantly when it comes down to it, I enjoy a whole lot of it! This new release from Danish cellist, singer and composer CTM (aka Cæcilie Trier Musik) is right on time for 2022, combining formal classical musical forms, cut-up trip-hop beats, pop vocals, weird sounds and meditative drones in a manner that is sounding more and more familiar every day. Sounds are looped at odd angles, ambient melodies are reflective like the surface of a pond, and CTM’s vocals are hushed and chill, casual yet confident. I suppose I dig it, especially if I try to place myself in as much of a social vacuum as possible while listening, taking in the abstract songwriting and sounds at face value. But in the context of what everyone else is doing, particularly on labels like PAN and Hyperdub, CTM becomes less distinctive and more another person making the same hyper-contemporary sounds I’m hearing everywhere else, for better or worse.

Delco MF’s EP 7″ (MF)
The rise of Delco in the cultural consciousness seemed to begin with John Sharkey’s relentless lauding following Dark Blue’s emergence, exponentially increase with HBO’s Mare Of Easttown and now perhaps reach its zenith with the debut seven-inch from Delco MF’s, which I can only assume doesn’t stand for anything you can sound out loud in front of your grandma. It’s apparently the solo work of Jim Shomo, who plays in Dark Thoughts and tirelessly books all the cool punk shows here in Philadelphia, and boy did he let ‘er rip! He’s also a member of Loose Nukes and EP is much closer to their form of explosive hardcore, though Delco MF’s practically break the knob off while turning it up to ten. The guitars are flailing, the drumming is extremely questionable, and I’m reminded of screwball classics like Neos and Koro and, perhaps most of all, the pre-Pennywise band Con 800, whose 1982 demo (“reissued” on vinyl in 2012) is a real mindblower if you haven’t already peeped. Delco MF’s end their furious debut with “MF Stomp”, the only track over a minute and a refreshing pit exercise before they kick into one final burst of speedcore mania. Apparently they’re a live band now too, so I’m already practicing my Delco accent for their gig in the hopes that they don’t mistake me for an uppity Bucks County resident.

The Dogs John Rock 7″ (Last Laugh)
Last Laugh keep the reissues of classic punk singles flowing, this one mercifully not simultaneously and unrelatedly released by an entirely different label. The Dogs’ Slash Your Face is inarguably one of the best Killed By Death singles of all time (arguably the best), one of those records that cost $400 before every rare punk record cost $400. Last Laugh reissued that one in 2017, and now they’ve taken care of the first single by The Dogs, originally released in 1976 before punk rock clobbered the world. “John Rock” is a fairly standard blues progression given a street-tough workup by The Dogs, a song more remarkable for what was to come than what it is, but for archival sake, I’ll do the twist to “John Rock” any day of the week save for Monday. “Younger Point Of View” is less teen-garage and more hard rockin’, reminding me of mid-period Blue Cheer, truly devoted to rock n’ rolls various powers, from healing to destructive. Great drumming and the band’s all locked in, even on the “dahh dah dah” closing outro, providing ample evidence that Detroit’s The Dogs had plenty to offer. The archival live photo on the back cover also has me wondering, who was the first rocker dude to wear a mesh shirt on stage? Probably didn’t happen until the ’70s, right? Who knows, maybe it was this guy!

Earthen Sea Ghost Poems LP (Kranky)
The thing about punk is that you generally get worse at it the longer you do it, whereas those who create abstract experimental music often end up finding their true voices later in life. That seems to be the case with Jacob Long’s Earthen Sea project, originally formed from an ashy dub-techno and now, while still kind of that, bursting with its own distinct palette of sounds and colors. 2019’s Grass And Trees really established his signature trippy, meditative style, and he further distinguishes it this time around. Crackles, clicks and snaps (and what very well might be the sound of velcro being quickly pulled apart) follow repetitive but unintuitive patterns across a gauzy field of cushy drones and rich melodic chords, resulting in a softly soothing gravitational pull not unlike low tide or a hammock in the breeze. There’s a strong Pop Ambient feel to the synthetic melodies at play here, which, when paired with the snappy and ever-present percussion, reminds me of Eli Keszler at his most contemplative. Rain-streaked windowpanes give way to rainbows somewhere in the distance, and if you think you might smell weed, allow me to confirm that that’s definitely what you’re sniffing. Truly beautiful music happening here, delicate and strong.

K. Freund Hunter On The Wing LP (Last Resort)
You getting sick of these collage-based ambient field-recording jazz-piano records yet? I feel like I can see that over-saturation point in the distance, but for now it’s an aesthetic I continue to appreciate, particularly when done as engagingly as K. Freund’s Hunter On The Wing. Mr. Freund is part of the Last Resort gang, alongside artists like G.S. Schray, Aqueduct Ensemble and Lemon Quartet, loose-knit groups of apparent Ohioan origin yet consistently released by this London-based label (and always in colorful, attractively-designed covers). I’d say this is a solo record, but Freund is joined by G.S. Schray, Linda Lejsovka and Natalie Pillsbury here, all of whom doing who knows what, as is the case with semi-scrutable music such as this. Dusty piano is played live or sampled into loops, field recordings provide some sort of reality-based time-stamping, horns and voices wander in and out like roommates passing through the living room on the way to the fridge. Very much aligned with Félicia Atkinson, Claire Rousay, Martin Brugger, Sasha Vinogradova & Alina Anufrienko, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma (and so on and so forth), but there’s something about the way Freund makes it sound like a duet between R2D2 and a baby grand piano that I find immensely soothing. His is an active form of ambient, richly expressive and dare-I-say fun, and while this particular style is quickly reaching max capacity, for now he can stay.

Girlsperm The Muse Ascends LP (Thrilling Living)
It’s a rare and special thing when punks in their 40s (and up) keep playing punk music without “maturing”. Girlsperm are as slopped-out and scraggly as the bands their members played in decades earlier, but not in an intentional, self-aware form of amateurism. As someone who managed to avoid learning how to play the guitar while still playing in bands for a quarter of a century, I feel a personal affinity towards Girlsperm. And while a lack of technical chops can lead to some uninspired playing in its own right, Girlsperm are bursting with flavor here, stomping and splashing and cutting through these minimal post-punk songs, both guitars (no bass!) seemingly doinked one string at a time in a way that reminds me of a stripped-down Arab On Radar or that glorious live EP from Foams. The most distinctive aspect of Girlsperm’s musical approach are their vocals, which are deployed more often in simultaneous shout-alongs than solo lines. It really makes Girlsperm feel like a tight-knit unit in the way that their lyrics are consistently shouted in unison, that they are all fully on the same page with every aspect of their sound and style. Much like the early Dischord bands, Girlsperm seem to be the kind of band where they would have to break up before replacing any single member, more proof that punk is meant for friends, not business.

Lewsberg In Your Hands LP (12XU)
Three albums in, one could easily say “meet the new Lewsberg, same as the old Lewsberg”, and while they wouldn’t be wrong (just a little reductive), Lewsberg found their lane early on and continue to investigate its possibilities here. If you’re not familiar, The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” is seemingly the entirety of Lewsberg’s influences, and yet they manipulate and maneuver through multiple variations of that sound in a way that I find deeply satisfying. It’s like, all skateboards are basically the same, but some people are doing 360 flips onto vertical cobblestones with theirs while others just push around and coast, you know? Lewsberg are erudite but approachable, and their dedication to repetitive song patterns is hypnotic and charming, the sort of thing that could easily become maddening or overly pretentious in lesser hands. For fans of the other two records, I’d note that Lewsberg play with mood and time a bit more here (see the b-side’s “All Things” and “All Things (Continued)”), and hone their narrative lyrics to an even sharper point, but the general vibe remains undoubtedly the same. I wouldn’t think I’d need three Lewsberg albums if you described their sound to me, but here I am already cherishing In Your Hands alongside the other two.

Maraudeur Puissance 4 LP (Feel It)
Feel It’s tentacles continue to spread across the globe, this time snatching up German post-punkers Maraudeur for an American pressing of their newest (and otherwise self-released) full-length. On their Bruit Direct debut, Maraudeur reminded me of first-wave post-punk acts like Delta 5, Liliput and Wire, but on Puissance 4 I’m hearing a closer sonic relation to the Y2K dance-punk revival, if you’re willing to split some hairs with me. Maraudeur works uneasily-funky bass-lines around wiry guitars, bloopy keyboards and steady drumming in a manner redolent of Erase Errata, Numbers and The Scissor Girls, all with semi-spoken vocals as disaffected as they are tuneful. Kind of a classic style and execution, but one that feels endearing and alive, particularly when the songs are crafted as fun and slanted as these. Some of these melodies and riffs sound like they might’ve been written by playing normal progressions while holding the guitar upside down, intuitive to the ear but also weird and reversed; it’s like writing a word backwards and reading the backwards version, then reversing the recording to hear what the actual words “should” sound like. Post-punk is best when it toys with all sonic dimensions, properties and tailoring, and Maraudeur are keeping that tradition alive with flair and style.

Rick Myers Obstacle 79: Memory Is Current LP (Open Mouth)
If there’s a continual thread running through Open Mouth’s discography, it’s not a sonic one so much as a conceptual one. Each release comes charged with its own distinctive perspective, thought or intent, often out on the edge of experimental music where the music is actually some sort of experiment, not “experimental” as genre tag with customary signifiers. Case in point is this pleasant new head-scratcher from British artist/musician Rick Myers, who obtained a player piano and manipulated its rolls in a manner that obstructs the spaces between notes in an effort to “dislodge time”. Now I can’t say I visited the dinosaurs or aliens while listening, but the effect of his preparation results in an enchanting and unhurried piece, with unexpected clusters of notes arriving like scattered fireworks against a nighttime landscape. In a second movement, he stretches the piano at its seams, conjuring a long squealing drone that has more in common with extended violin punishment than any tickled ivories. And in an interesting twist, Myers actually speaks between his pieces, directly explaining his process, which of course becomes part of the very piece itself. Pressed on vinyl as thick as a plate, Obstacle 79 is practically begging for some other sonic adventurer to use it as the base of their own experiment, forever pushing ideas and sound onward.

Mystery Girl / Mononegatives split 7″ (Feral Kid / Brain Slash)
No need to adjust your browser, this isn’t a Terminal Boredom post from 2006 or a MRR ad from 1995, this is an actual new punk rock split 7″ in the year of our Lord 2022! It’s antiquated and financially irresponsible and I wish more bands would snub their nose at digital music whatever and just go back to this sort of thing, social media engagement be damned. It also helps that these two bands work well as a pair, taking melodic punk in their own directions. Albany’s Mystery Girl play classic, rock n’ roll-y punk, “Loveline” coming from a patch of land between Exploding Hearts and White Reaper and “Tumble With Me” a Hollywood Brats cover played very true to the original, the sort of song you expect to hear in the bathroom of the Whisky when David Lee Roth pops out of a bathroom stall with coke all over his nose. Ontario’s Mononegatives run through their three tunes on the nail-biting side of punk, twitching through an Adderall binge with new-wave synth, spastic drumming and doubled vocals that have me thinking of Whatever Brains covering Pere Ubu, or something that would pass for that on Halloween. Maybe it’s still the early 2000s up there on the Northeastern Canadian/American border? I should probably visit more often.

The Neuros (Baby) Don’t 7″ (Shipping Steel)
Five releases in and Melbourne’s Shipping Steel has made their mission statement clear: rough n’ tumble working-class punk rock, free of ornamentation and experimentation. The Neuros make that perfectly clear with their debut three-track EP, from the guitar-riff / kick-drum intro of “(Baby) Don’t” to the final ring out of “Are You Talking To Me?”. You’ve heard these riffs before, and you’ll hear these riffs again, as this is time-tested garage-inspired punk that goes back to The Dead Boys and The Damned and will hopefully continue far into the future. For now, it’s nice to hear The Neuros’s take on it, with vocalist Freya squeaking the ends of her lines in a playfully threatening manner and the rest of the band chugging tightly and dutifully behind. Kind of hard to have much to say about a record like this, so traditional and satisfactory as it is; it’d be like coming up with fresh critical insight on a charbroiled hamburger, possible but outside of my personal abilities. So if you needed more streetwise no-frills Aussie punk, The Neuros are out there for you.

No Knuckle No Knuckle LP (House Of Tomothy)
It was only last year that Sorry State released a seven-inch by Portland’s Gimmick, and I’m not sure if they’re an ongoing concern, but three of their members are currently playing in No Knuckle, which of course is a great move if you don’t want to have to go through the discomfort of kicking someone out. “Uhh, yeah, umm well the three of us are doing this other band now, but yeah, no, you’re still in the first band…” Of course, I have no idea the circumstances and they could all be best friends for life, but what’s more fun than imagining drama among bands you’ve never personally met or know anything about? Whatever the case, No Knuckle have debuted on the cool House Of Tomothy label, particularly cool in that it might be the only DIY label around today that seems to have its own self-contained home studio where all of its releases are recorded. That’s the case here, and No Knuckle are decidedly different than Gimmick, playing a no-wavey sort of post-punk that keeps things catchy and cool. It’s giving me big Gang Of Four vibes, a touch of the Midwestern herky-jerk of Dow Jones & The Industrials and a vocalist who sounds like a young Chris Thomson and goes all out, sputtering and smooth-talking like he’s trying to sneak into the Mudd Club without paying. A lotta dance-y post-punk passes through these pages, but No Knuckle seem particularly fresh and invigorated, like they’re truly thrilled to play with the form and make it their own.

Lilly Palmer We Control 12″ (Drumcode)
This hefty dose of main-room techno is just the energizer I needed! Turns out I’m not the only one, seeing as I pulled up her Instagram and discovered that she is probably the only artist I’ll be reviewing this month (or year) to carry a cool million followers on the social media platform. I’m sure there are a few intertwining reasons for that, but the four tracks on We Control are massive, intuitive techno cuts with all the builds and drops you’d hope to hear while searching for your friends in a massive dancehall filled with smoke and lights. Her technique reminds me of Boysnoize and Planetary Assault Systems, tracks that race in a straight line with physical bass-lines, vaguely industrial synth stabs and ice-cold vocal hooks (see “We Control” for her effective and simple utilization). Once the deep-sea sonar hits in “Plasma”, I don’t care how many dishes are in the sink in front of me, I’m instantly transported to Panorama Bar, five vodka sodas deep and unable to keep my arms from raising above my head in some sort of victory dance. Thank you Miss Palmer!

Pyrex Touch / Conditioner 7″ (Filth Pot)
I had incorrectly presumed that the manner of scrappy punk bands naming themselves after household consumer products had waned, but here’s Brooklyn’s Pyrex and their inaugural release for Portland, OR’s Filth Pot Records. They’ve got a fairly common noise-punk sound going on here, raging through a small handful of chords on “Touch” in a back-and-forth manner akin to artists as varied in popularity and fidelity as The New Flesh and Fresh Meat, Metz and Idles. Kind of a muddy sound here, but muddy is often the aim, and it certainly adds a claustrophobia to what already sounds like a small, unventilated room. “Conditioner” maintains the mood but replaces the groove with a petulant stomp, reminiscent of Lamps care of the loud echo-y vocals, total lack of funkiness and deeply frustrated demeanor. Not really a standout, but I dig bands who do records like this, particularly when they’re released on a DIY label with an awkwardly-cut paper sleeve, stamped(?) center labels and clearly a lot of personally-involved passion. When you do it yourself, you don’t gotta listen to nobody, not even me!

Rose Mercie ¿Kieres Agua? LP (Celluloid Lunch / Jelodanti)
I love bands who come across not merely as a collection of people playing the same songs together but a righteous gang, a group who shares deep personal connections and a likeminded artistic focus or what have you. That definitely seems to be the case with Rose Mercie, as the French quartet were all down to appear nude on the cover, proudly inhabiting their bodies and collectively daring the viewer to try and find fault with their freedom. That’s a commitment I appreciate, and that sort of headstrong attitude is on display in their music as well, albeit in a subdued, chilled-out way. They play melodic yet skeletal post-punk indie, fairly rudimentary in approach and style. I’m occasionally reminded of some of Priests’ earlier material, or Grass Widow on quaaludes, but with more of a mystical/communal approach – maybe it’s in the keyboards or the ominously cyclical drumming? Songs are in French, English and Spanish, and at least a couple members (if not all of them) contribute vocals, enhancing their collective power. Rose Mercie are content to glide through these songs, throwing dark shawls over the lampshade and vamping like those pics of Kate Bush in a bat costume, a natural and sincere form of spooky behavior.

Sewer Election & Charmaine Lee Navigation I Inre Och Yttre Landskap LP (Förlag För Fri Musik)
Even for the red-hot Förlag För Fri Musik label, this new international collab LP was a particularly blink-and-miss-it affair, but I managed to secure myself a secondary-market copy like any good fan of sour ambient noise. Sewer Election is half of my favorite Swedish noise duo, Neutral, and Charmaine Lee is a hotly-tipped vocal-noise improvisor born in Australia and based in New York City, a pairing as classically cool and insalubrious as cigarettes and coffee. Sewer Election’s lo-fi, low-energy, (s)low-motion murk seems to anchor the proceedings, or at least it sounds most like his oeuvre, with damaged tape noise, ancient radio interference and wind-swept inhospitable tundras slowly morphing over time. Sounds a lot like a rusty submarine sending distress signals from deep in a tarpit, in the best of ways. Lee eventually makes her presence felt as a vocalist, and it’s a keen addition, her voice disturbingly inhuman, its familiar tones abused and heightened in what is developing into her own signature style. Strong American Tapes vibes throughout, like an unmarked Birth Refusal CD-r you couldn’t find a listing for on Discogs, or that great one-sided Miscarriage twelve-inch with its combination of caustic tones and vocal trash compaction. If you can’t find a copy of Navigation I Inre Och Yttre Landskap for under forty bucks, do yourself a favor and pick up that Miscarriage record, as copies of that one float around for under ten!

Parrish Smith Light, Cruel & Vain 2xLP (Dekmantel)
As producers continue to sound more and more like each other, thank goodness Parrish Smith is still creeping through the clubs and putting in work at the studio to bring us the outlandish monstrosity that is Light, Cruel & Vain. If there are other records coming out sound like this, I haven’t heard them! Smith combines electro, hip-hop, nu-metal, post-punk and grunge in a pretty unholy and minimalist combination, an iconoclastic goth achievement that follows no scripts. If that mix of styles is preemptively freaking you out, that’s understandable – I might be a little scared too – but his unique spin on heavy club music is fascinating and potent. Imagine Amnesia Scanner, Ghostemane and Adam X starting a band together, all corpse-paint and latex and smoke machines on full blast, resulting in a highly futuristic sound that feels popular and timely for goth clubs ten to twenty years from now, after society has really crumbled. Or, picture L.I.E.S. getting exclusive Hot Topic distribution and needing a record to connect the elder industrial-techno hipsters to the delinquent teens who possess elaborate makeup routines, switchblades, ennui and vaguely threatening auras, because Light, Cruel & Vain is the one-of-a-kind record ready to bridge that gap. Parrish Smith’s goth music breaks all the rules and I’m wondering if the world is ready for it just yet.

Stacks Love And Language LP (Knekelhuis)
Bandcamp commenter James Cox says “Stacks are hot. Kate Bush is suddenly popular again. This is pretty similar to “Hounds of Love” era Bush.” I’d say he’s right on two points! Stacks’ beautiful Love And Language album certainly exists in that same Kate Bush / Stranger Things / emo-retro-synth expanded universe, but this Belgian duo is far more refined than anything that might find itself marketed as Funkopop collectibles. They’ve got a sensual romance thing going deep in these tracks, like if Enigma had beautifully-sung lyrics instead of sampled Gregorian chants, or if Portable went fully downtempo after a soul-shaking heartbreak. This is synth-pop on a bleary 3 AM awake-in-bed tip, searching through the club in a futile attempt to find your lover who already left. The songs are pretty slow, and heavy on synthesized pianos and keys… these tunes could easily translate on acoustic instrumentation but instead are deployed with subtle grace and rich electronic textures. The singing is almost church-like, delivered so earnestly that it’s easy to forget how irony- and sarcasm-poisoned we all are, though Choir Boy has prepared me for the relatively calmer voices of Stacks. In many ways, there’s a similar feel to my favorite synth-pop Swedes Kite, though Kite present themselves in booming ostentation, and Stacks are far more low-key, not breaking a single sweat through the entirety of this record. Knekelhuis favors artists who fully inhabit their own individual worlds, Stacks being the most recent one to do it.

System Exclusive System Exclusive LP (Castle Face)
Is it possible to be a punker in a relationship with another punker and not eventually put together a synth-pop project?? It’s like the steps of romance are first date, sex, move in together, get a dog, start a synth-pop project, post engagement photos on Instagram. It might sound like I’m hating but I swear I’m not, it’s just amusing how frequently this is the case, and it appears to be the case with Los Angeles’s System Exclusive, featuring Ari Blaisdell of Lower Self and Matt Jones of Male Gaze. And just as the VHS-throwback album graphics would lead one to believe, this album is retro-synth-centric, complimented by live drums, guitars and Blaisdell’s commanding voice. It’s a tough time to make a fresh and compelling statement with New Order-style arpeggios and disco-punk drums, so unless you’ve been asleep for the past twenty-five years, the sounds of System Exclusive are familiar and average, a passing grade without honors. Good for them, though, and I mean that sincerely! Sure beats axe-throwing, brunch and Sunday football as collective American hobbies, but let the record state that if I ever make a record with my girlfriend, it’s gonna sound like Sete Star Sept, not The Kills meets Flock Of Seagulls.

Zusammen Clark Earlier LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
I’m so accustomed to being swerved by Bruit Direct that their recent forays into somewhat traditional guitar-pop are nearly as disorienting as their wacko experimental releases. As I listen to the smooth pop sounds of Zusammen Clark, I keep wondering when its congenial demeanor will be torn off in a flurry of noise edits, grotesque experimentalism or something equally user-unfriendly, but nope, Zusammen Clark are a sunshiney French indie-pop group offering nothing more than upbeat melodies, chiming guitars and relatable singing. Belle & Sebastian are probably a pretty close sonic relation (particularly notable when Zusammen Clark whip out the horn arrangements), as are Bruit Direct labelmates City Band and Thigh Master, though Zusammen Clark are surely the most polished of the Bruit Direct bunch. A song like “Animals & Evidence” recalls the communal fun of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, and when they follow it with the sophisticated pop of “Rest Position”, it’s like a fresh slice of tiramisu following hearty chunks of baguette and cheese. Back when young people still loved happy guitars, I could see this sort of thing gaining the attention of Matador, Merge or spinART, but now it’s mostly the territory of visionary sub-underground labels such as Bruit Direct. The kids don’t know what they’re missing!

KWALK compilation LP (Wah Wah Wino)
A compilation album with an unlisted “mixtape” format isn’t my first choice for a record, but seeing as the Wah Wah Wino crew is responsible for some of my favorite unclassifiable music of the past few years, I couldn’t resist. Featuring contributions from Wino lifers like Morgan Buckley, Olmo Devin and Davy Kehoe alongside presumed aliases like Sli Town Crier and Mr. & Ms. Kwalker, KWALK plays out like a pleasantly bent dream, moving swiftly from church bells and children playing to warped synths, buzzing noise and hysterical looping. Since day one, the Wino crew’s musical tastes have been omnivorous, and this one plays out like a modern corollary to the Nurse With Wound list, a fascinating mix where anything is possible, musical or otherwise. Case in point, they open the set with the tail-end of a live Alvarius B. performance (the cantankerous solo guise of Sun City Girls’ Alan Bishop), upon which they quickly overlay a completely warped saxophone performance by Piero Bittolo Bon (as recorded by the always fascinating Rabih Beaini). Just a wealth of weird and engaging nonsense happening here and I’m thrilled to bear witness.

Ô – A Tribute To Ô Paon And Geneviève Castrée compilation 2xLP (Ô Paon)
The love has poured from so many places following the untimely passing of artist and musician Geneviève Castrée. Her husband Phil Elvrum has explored his grief so sharply and unflinchingly that I’m straight-up scared to listen to some of his records that reflect upon it, and now there is this double LP compilation of friends, co-conspirators and admirers of the late Castrée in tribute. Not that any two tragedies are comparable, but records are, and this one reminds me of the In Memory Of Jason double LP compilation from the ’90s, though instead of documenting the pre-screamo emotive DIY hardcore landscape of its time, this one puts its fingers on the many intersections of ambient/metal/indie/lo-fi/folk/noise, mostly with a rustic and handspun point of view. Haunting, ethereal, touching (and frequently French) songs come from familiar artists like Thou, Nadja, Karl Blau and Mount Eerie, alongside the unexpected metalcore of Cloud Rat and the kraut-sludge-shoegaze(!) of New Issue to name a couple. Lots of different sounds are explored, though the mood is mostly introspective and respectful, with occasional flairs for the mystical… owners of more than one healing crystal will find much to appreciate here. Similar to my experiences listening to In Memory Of Jason and pouring through its accompanying booklet, I find myself touched by the diverse community of artists who surrounded Castrée and joined together to mourn her loss and celebrate her life.

Síntomas De Techno: Ondas Electrónicas Subterráneas Desde Perú (1985​-​1991) compilation LP (Buh)
When it comes to archival compilations, there are those that essentially act as mixtapes, offering a selection of previously-released tracks in an effort to define a scene or era, and those that truly excavate the trenches of music that even obsessive collectors had been unable to discover otherwise. Síntomas De Techno is the latter, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the prior output of Peruvian label Buh Records, a true champion of the forgotten or missed, particularly from their nation and surrounding countries. What blows me away here is the quality, sourced from various demos and private archival recordings that never had the chance to exist on vinyl (or tape, or compact disc) in their time. How were there this many cool EBM, synth-wave and industrial projects happening in Peru in the mid to late ’80s? Disidentes open the album with a gnarly locomotive slam strongly redolent of Esplendor Geometrico, and from there we are treated to moody synth-wave ala Trisomie 21, robotic tension in the spirit of Metal Urbain and so forth. I’m strongly reminded of the Bippp compilation, in both general aesthetic and consistent level of quality. The biggest difference is that the people who made Bippp had old singles to dig through, whereas I can barely imagine the ground-level hustle the Buh crew put in to make Síntomas De Techno a reality. Inspiring on many levels!