Act Now Louis Adonis / Wow Factor 7″ (Trev)
James Vinciguerra’s artwork is as distinctive and imitated as Pushead’s at this point, and he also dabbles in electronic/dance(?) music under various twice-and-done monikers, released in editions to satisfy his robust social network but probably not much more than that. When Vinciguerra plays drums in a band (such as Total Control), he locks in on dazzling and precise beats, but if you let the man loose on his own, be prepared for inexplicable jolts of sound, color and lighting. This new one is called Act Now, and the a-side “Louis Adonis” features his pal Tarquin Manek on a one-take clarinet solo. There’s an elastic beat on the constant verge of toppling over, with frantic percussive elements, samples of talking and probably a synth or three, all splattered in kaleidoscopic dub. Trippy stuff, presumably digital in nature but feeling more in line with outer-limits DIY post-punk than the electronic boundary-pushing of a label like AD 93. Feels more like a missing Squarepusher record produced by Mark Stewart for the Rough Trade label, a future-past that should’ve happened. “Wow Factor” allegedly samples a Fishbone beat, but I don’t remember Fishbone ever sounding like a piece of heavy-grade sandpaper being beaten with an axe. More multi-layered and echo-effected horns on this one, alongside some deep-house synth chords and a chattering vocal… this track behaves like an inspired interlude that could’ve appeared on Tom Of England’s stellar Sex Monk Blues album, or Jac Berrocal freaking out over a Heatsick mix. We can all make whatever music we want, but Vinciguerra chooses his own adventure every single time.

Amateur Hour Krökta Tankar & Brända Vanor 2xLP (Appetite)
The dank Swedish underground is relentless, churning out more inspired noise than any other European country as of late. The newest comes from the trio Amateur Hour, featuring Dan Johansson of Neutral and Sewer Election, Hugo Randulv of Enhet För Fri Musik and Skiftande Enheter, and Julia Bjernelind of Typical Girls. If you’re as obsessive with this stuff as I am, you know that their other bands run the gamut from jangly indie-pop to harsh noise, and Amateur Hour manages to synthesize their various other endeavors into its own glorious sludge, like a diamond-shimmering seashore care of a recent toxic petroleum spill. Guitars feature prominently, but more as a sensation than anything rock-oriented; it’s a sound strongly reminiscent of New Zealand’s famed avant-noise styles care of acts such as Dadamah or Dead C. Amateur Hour pull back quite a bit though, frequently reigning in their Flying Saucer Attack vibes with empty ballads like “Livets Laga”, which recalls the isolated gloom of Grouper. The whole thing sounds like it was recorded in an airplane hangar on a cliff overlooking a stormy sea, which enhances the patient melodies that fill up the majority of this record. No noise for noise’s sake or pop for pop’s sake – Amateur Hour consistently strike the perfect balance between the two, and at four full sides of twelve-inch vinyl, it’s easy to get lost deep within it.

Black Bones Nairobi Night Train / F.A.D 7″ (Höga Nord)
I really dig Sweden’s Höga Nord label: they manage to keep a steady stream of cool seven-inch singles flowing, generally from artists I’ve never heard of before (and often don’t hear from ever again). Black Bones certainly fits this description – I’m still not entirely sure who they are or where they’re from, but they’ve got a tight sound going on these two tracks. “Nairobi Night Train” anchors itself to a looping wooden percussion and moves in different directions with it, first on a sort of downhill techno slide ala Mental Overdrive or something, but a melodic side appears halfway through, as if the sun rose on a nighttime rave and the village children joined in. “F.A.D” arrives on a trance-y motif which finds its way through a hypnotic maze of loops reminiscent of Boys Noize, a packed groove that doesn’t offer any space to think or reflect. If you’re a DJ and want to carve out a moment where you can ominously fist-pump in the direction of your audience, “F.A.D” is a fine tool. Both cuts are well-edited and firm, quick to get to their respective points and hammer them dutifully. There’s a strong chance I’ll never discover another Black Bones record, but there’s beauty to be found in fleeting relationships such as this.

Th Blisks How So? LP (Altered States Tapes)
More groggy low-lidded bliss from the Altered States family, this being a new project that’s essentially the duo of Troth plus Yuta Matsumura (of Oily Boys and recently-revered solo-project fame). Much like Troth, Th Blisks operate in a floaty headspace, one where downy new-age sounds integrate with Joy Division-inspired post-punk rhythms, lazy trip-hop grooves and indecipherably-reverbed vocals. Whereas Troth seem to be really honing in on their own specific sonic imprint, Th Blisks move from song to song without careful continuity; a guitar-based new-wave number butts up against a proto-techno strut without a second thought, like Cybotron running into Siouxsie Sioux at a yoga retreat. The emphasis is on the feel rather than the song – for example, the swishy drum textures and droning chords of closer “Taipei Dubble” seem to be the point, rather than deriving meaning as a pop song with verses and choruses. Th Blisks aren’t songwriters here so much as humble explorers of chill instrumentation, which could probably be said for a lot of the Altered States roster. What a nice way to spend time with your friends!

Bromp Treb Bald Eagle Over Food City LP (Artsy / Ikuisuus)
Bromp Treb is one of the great names of the ’00s DIY noise explosion, the sort of persona I’d file next to Twig Harper, Mat Brinkman and John Olson: determinedly weird men, living in homemade paper maché bunkers with piles of paint-splattered electronic gear (also homemade) and a compulsory need to package their music up in fragile little plastic releases and share it with the world. I haven’t thought about Bromp Treb (or his equally-entertaining ensemble Fat Worm Of Error) much lately, but I saw that these two Finnish labels got together to put out his amusingly-titled Bald Eagle Over Food City and I had to take a sniff. Judging from the perverse and mutilated strings/horns/electronics I’m hearing here, he hasn’t lost a step, happy to remain planted in front of a confounding pile of frequently-malfunctioning electronics and hassle out some great disjointed noise, both loop-based and free. Some tracks sound like a marching band subsumed by quicksand, others twinkle like parking-lot lights on the fritz, but they’re united in their strange activity, the perfect soundtrack for overturning a large stone in the woods and peeping all the wriggling and writhing little invertebrates. Lots of noise guys went on to become techno guys, whereas Bromp Treb remained content to keep plugging his hand-wired gear into the wrong ends of themselves and documenting the misshapen sounds that came forth.

Chacon / Nakatani / Santistevan Inhale/Exhale LP (Other Minds)
That’s Raven Chacon on guitar, Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion and Carlos Santistevan on bass, but I’m sure the real free-music heads knew that already. Chacon and Nakatani I know, but Santistevan is new to me, and like many free players these days, this trio found a particularly resonant spot to set up shop and improvise an album: the San Miguel Chapel in New Mexico, boasted here as the “oldest chapel in the United States”. From the insert photo taken of the three during their recording, it appears to be a structure both beautiful and vaguely haunting, and their music certainly follows suit. A-side track “Inhale” is sludgy swarm of sound through its entire duration, pushing and pulling in various directions but never able to break through its murky membrane. Too restless to be considered drone, they manifest a brownish-green wall-of-sound here and really stick with it. I wonder what Nakatani’s “extended percussion” entails in this performance… I’m sure it adds to the nocturnal din. “Exhale” finds the trio in more of an active conversation, each player giving space to each other as Santistevan locates atonal puncture-wounds on his bass, Chacon’s guitar emulates a beehive in a blender and Nakatani skitters across the entirety of his kit (and selected strikeable objects). “Inhale” slowly sucks the air out of the room, whereas “Exhale” squirts it back in various raucous movements. That’s my kinda church experience!

Jacques Charlier Art In Another Way 2xLP (Séance Centre / Musique Plastique)
Dazzling retrospective collection here from Séance Centre and Musique Plastique, bringing to light the prescient electro-pop of one Jacques Charlier, a multimedia artist who wasn’t going to get his due without someone else singing his praises. Having only released a few cassettes back in the ’80s, I’m thrilled to have made his acquaintance here, as his retro-futuristic lounge-pop sounds like the sort of thing present-day keyboard auteurs would attempt to create, very much in line with the STROOM label’s hazily romantic new-wave aesthetic. Across a good fourteen songs, Art In Another Way provides a robust feel for what Charlier was after with his music, a humble yet impish take on French chanson pop and DIY electro post-wave. One could easily file some of these songs under early cold-wave (see the somewhat menacing “Top”) whereas others invoke a Twin Peaks-ish melodrama or a playful French pop sound. Where do you even file “Tout Va Bien”, a Jane Fonda workout tape soundtrack melded to a Morricone spaghetti Western? I’m sure Charlier’s music slipped through the cracks in its day due to his disinterest in the music biz, but also because a sound this joyfully anomalous had no built-in audience. I can’t imagine what it was like to hear this in 1985, which, to its benefit, makes Art In Another Way one of the brightest and most intriguing reissues I’ve heard all year.

Chronophage Chronophage LP (Post Present Medium / Bruit Direct Disques)
There are countless good bands out there right now, probably even countless great bands too, but how many are truly interesting? That’s the elusive quality, now that everyone knows what all prior music has sounded like and there are basic templates for starting bands of every pre-established sound or style. Good on Chronophage for being one of the interesting ones, then, as their music continues to evolve and grow in unexpected ways, far from your typical post-punk or indie-rock sounds. For example, a pal of mine described the opening track “Love Torn In A Dream” as sounding like a ’90s sitcom theme song, and I can certainly picture it, some oddly melancholy comedy sandwiched between Mad About You and Empty Nest. The rest of this self-titled album maintains that tenor, one of uneasy nostalgia, unconventional guitar-pop, complicated emotions and blue-eyed soul, as if Christopher Cross signed to Mute and recorded at Cold Storage, or if Gin Blossoms shared a songwriting session with This Kind Of Punishment. Chronophage are fully soft-rock here, but it’s ornately detailed and memorable, approaching some new form of adult-oriented pop-rock rather than the comfort of retro familiarity. Weird stuff, and certainly interesting! I almost forgot punks were responsible for all of this, but the message on the back cover is a welcome reminder to us all: “IT IS RIGHT TO BE DISGUSTED WITH REALITY!”

Deep Heavy Fear Dark Days 12″ (no label)
Here’s one of those records that’s easier to simply recommend than file away, were I to work in the imaginary record store of my dreams. They’re a German group, and apparently released this twelve-inch their damn selves, though I’m surprised to imagine there aren’t any labels out there eager to release weird, poppy, downtempo synth-pop like this. “Dark Days” reminds me of Pender Street Steppers in the way that it kind of turns ’80s dance-pop on its side, pulling the parts they want (cool punchy melodic synth leads, clacky drum machines) and updates it with uneasy pop vocals, slightly closer to indie-rock than Madonna. It really works! Reminds me of the rainy-day synth-pop of Fatima Yamaha as well, nostalgic for a lonely latch-key existence that we’re probably misremembering. The plot gets even more curious with “So Schnell Wie Möglich”, a quick two-minute slip n’ slide through moody post-punk emotion, like a minimalist dub-techno remix of The Blue Nile or something, with jazzy guitar chords, live bass and drums (I think?) and more too-cool vocals, seemingly from a different band member this time around. It’s not particularly deep, heavy or fearful music, yet the name somehow fits? The type of band that either signs to XL and gets big within a year or we simply never hear from them again after this magical EP.

Freak Genes Hologram LP (Feel It)
Kind of a confusing album cover, considering there is also an active hardcore-punk group called Hologram who could conceivably put out records on a label as esteemed as Feel It, but I suppose this sort of thing is bound to happen in an underground scene where the same words tend to pop up over and over. Anyway, this is very much an album by European duo Freak Genes, their fifth one in fact, and they continue to hone their own synth-punk style, even if it’s not without clear precedent. In fact, I’d say that Freak Genes are sounding more like other artists this time around, but it’s led to better, more memorable songs? “Strange Charm” is pure Jay Reatard gone-electro (Angry Angles or Lost Sounds maybe?), whereas a number of tunes here are strongly reminiscent of Total Control circa their mighty Henge Beat. “Hologram” and “DNA” set that tone early on, with perhaps a little more spastic Screamers energy than the restrained cool of Total Control, but I’m really splitting hairs here (or are they aux cables I’m splitting?). Like many people, I sure could’ve gone for a few more Henge Beats (though I celebrate the entire Total Control discography), and Freak Genes do this sort of post-punk/synth/hardcore-tempo mind-meld well, with their British vocals, creative drum patterns and own particular melodies. The Queen is dead, but her hologram can’t be too far behind, right?

Front De Cadeaux We Slowly Riot 2×12″ (Antinote)
I tried Front De Cadeaux’s Sad Is Fashion twelve-inch on a whim earlier this year and loved it, and this new double twelve-inch (compiling previously-released and previously-unreleased tracks) is even better. Might be my techno album of the year depending how things shake out; it’s really that good! This Rome/Brussels duo located their own niche within various forms of electronic music and I find it absolutely irresistible, the sort of thing I realized I’d been searching for as soon as I heard it. They combine the super-slow dirge pacing of the Neubau label with the colorful personality quirks of minimal tech-house artists like Melchior Productions and Portable and the sunglasses-down, feet-up grooves of labelmate Alek Lee. Maybe a touch of tweaked French mania ala Mr. Oizo in there too, the way in which Front De Cadeaux utilizes a vocal hook or unexpected horn or whatever to crack a track wide open. Or Paranoid London in the way that deep deadpan vocals roll out over taut electro beats? Front De Cadeaux do all of these things across these eight tracks, cool as hell and firmly planted in its own specific aesthetic form, each track managing to slowly bang with an arsenal of memorable hooks. Confident, unorthodox cuts that find beauty in the crude and vice versa. Recommended!

Gloved Hands Empty Terminal LP (La Luna)
Pleasurable sonic spa treatment here from Morgan Fox AKA Gloved Hands, whom you may recall as one half of the ambient-krautrock-techno duo Blank Gloss. Much like Blank Gloss’s pop-ambient shuffle through fluffy clouds on pristine escalators, Gloved Hands is restlessly soft ambient music, like a big knotted pile of blankets and quilts with some cute little animal snuggled somewhere deep inside. This feels like techno as it wakes up in the morning, stretching out its chords and calibrating its bass throbs and watery samples for the rest of the day over a solitary sunrise and a serene cup of coffee. Percussion is infrequent if almost entirely non-existent here, recalling the moments in between beats on Luomo’s Vocalcity, that feeling of unhurried ambient loitering as the rack of synths test the waters before deploying a sumptuous house groove. There’s no grooving here, though – Fox might be using traditional Kompakt-esque synth pads, but he prepares them in a manner redolent of Fennesz’s Endless Summer, smearing colors together until the air is filled with drifting scenes and traces of club music sans kick or snare. Try it with your next açai bowl and see if your morning commute isn’t slightly more relaxed.

Human Adult Band Slog Quest Crosstime LP (Feeding Tube)
Cool to see New Jersey dirt-rock lifers Human Adult Band getting some shine from the good folks over at Feeding Tube, though as the label closes in on their thousandth release, there may be more underground artists with a Feeding Tube logo on their record than those without one. If you’re not already familiar with this long-running ensemble, they’ve been jamming their way to the gooey center of grunge/indie/noise/stoner/psych rock for a while now, and Slog Quest Crosstime is both a nice addition to their discography as much as it is a suitable introduction. To me, they seem to embody that weird post-Nirvana moment where bands with zero career aspirations managed to garner acclaim while performing distinctly, perhaps-deliberately uncommercial rock music. One song will groove like Cows or ’90s-era High Rise, another flails like Mudhoney at their silliest, and there’s plenty of mind-numbing dirge-rock akin to Flipper and Kilslug as well, if either of those bands had any interest in extended guitar solos (peep “Unhurried Skeletons”). There seems to be no grand purpose here, no eloquent statement of our times or attention-seeking aesthetic, just a bunch of long-term friends in some Jersey garage having the time of their lives lugubriously rocking out while other acquaintances pass through, and it’s a thing we need more of. Peep Chaz Wetlands’ contribution of “pitch shifted pedal steel” on “Unhurried Skeletons” and you’ll wish you were part of the gang too, pulling up in their driveway with some roto toms, a RAT pedal and a poorly-rolled joint.

Ignorantes Parece Que Tuvimos Demasiados Hijitos LP (Under The Gun)
This Chilean punk band didn’t call themselves “Inteligentes” for good reason – their raw pogo-punk is engineered to destroy brain cells, not stimulate them. In an age where punks are more interested in replicating every fine detail of some specific (real or imagined) past than carving new paths forward, it makes sense that Ignorantes are catching some attention, as their sound appears to be both ripped from the past and fully authentic in its own right; the best of both worlds. That’s to say, they catch the same buzzy recording quality of a South American punk band from 1985, and bash it out with nary a misstep or diversion (no “funny” cover songs, funky breakdowns or attempts at flashy musicality to kill the mood). Hornets’ nest guitar, flubby bass played one string at a time, oom-pah drums and pained vocals from some sort of cave under the stage, this is charged and angry punk rock somewhere in the neighborhood of The Swankys, Chaos UK, The Casualties, Raw Power and Huasipungo. International ‘core united in two-note song-structures and the neighbors leaving angry notes to be found in the morning. I need to listen to this sort of music on the regular to keep from blowing my top, and Parece Que Tuvimos Demasiados Hijitos, amusing cover art and all, is a worthwhile inclusion.

KEN Mode Null LP (Artoffact)
Damn, KEN Mode’s eighth album! And it’s as burly, noisy and aggressive as ever. You don’t stick it out in the post-hardcore noise-rock biz for the fame and fortune if you’re eight albums deep, and Winnipeg’s KEN Mode (named from Henry Rollins’ “kill-everyone-now mode” ethos) are clearly here because they love it. (That said, I’m sure Canada’s artist grants don’t hurt, which helped fund this one!) Anyway, if you’re remotely a fan of metallic noise-rock ala Young Widows, Botch, Unsane, Chat Pile and so on, I can’t imagine you’d leave Null feeling unsatisfied. I like this sort of stuff in modest doses, and KEN Mode nail the sound where heavy down-tuned guitars scrape and rumble, drums pummel at half-time and vocals act as sonic punctuation. They keep my full attention with diversions from the standard professional-grade metal-core template, such as the heavy industrial bleat of “The Tie”, which truly kicks butt care of its squealing horns(?) over an Emptyset-styled distorted bass throb. “Lost Grip” is a satisfyingly miserable metallic-industrial dirge, another worthy entry in the “white guy loses his mind because of society” pantheon of noise-rock, the sort of thing that will get the dozen guys in Swans shirts in the crowd smirking knowingly. Not much else to do once you’re eight albums deep but follow your heart and tighten your craft; KEN Mode bring it with gusto here.

Kulku Fahren LP (Phase Group)
Chew on this phrase for a moment: acoustic no-wave. Could really go either way, right? I found it an intriguing enough conceit to check out this album from Berlin’s Kulku, who have been labeled as such, and I’m glad I did! They’ve got an unusual take on rhythmic post-punk, offering percussive-fronted jams that still allow one of the more charismatic members of the group to bellow, rant, rave and squabble on the mic (because let’s face it, no one really wants an instrumental post-punk band). Opener “Hoodoo Blues” is a slanted lurch of drums, looped on repeat while it sounds like someone slowly lets the air out of a giant balloon before the vocalist gets to his list of complaints. Other tracks are groovier, with the pleasant tones of a xylophone, a timpani and even a cello all united in their mission of discordant, sour dance music. They get tuneful too though, like the sparkling “Untern Himmel” which does for minimalist artful post-punk what Aloha did for emo (read: centered a xylophone). Certainly recommended if you dig Einstürzende Neubauten, Niagara, Golden Teacher and/or the Anne Bean & P. D. Burwell single on Pulp Music, or if you liked the concept of the group Foot Village but never really connected with their records (I’m willing to step forward and admit that myself).

Lassie Behold LP (Phantom)
Following a fun foray into the world of singles and tapes, Leipzig’s Lassie step out onto their first vinyl full-length with Behold. Seems like they put their heart into this one, from the collection of songs to the substantial zine/booklet that accompanies the record. They play an incessantly-upbeat form of punk, with multiple members sharing vocal duties and a keyboard that bleeps, bloops and zings… pep-rally punk for a rock n’ roll high school. Sure, spiderwebs and chains are illustrated on the center labels like many of today’s evil/spooky punk bands, but Lassie bop around the room with optimism and a shared excitement, the sort of band that would be equally suited to sharing a bill with Sweeping Promises as Sheer Mag. At times, I think I’m hearing that classic Dangerhouse sound ala Eyes and The Randoms, but there’s a strain of melodicism here that bears closer relation to modern speedy pop-punk ala The Marked Men. Modern punk bands sometimes suffer from a lack of their own identity, and while Lassie aren’t exactly breaking out into uncharted territory, they’ve got a good enough thing going where I could see a crowd coming out specifically to see them play rather than simply the bands they’re opening for.

L.O.T.I.O.N. W.A.R In The Digital Realm LP (Toxic State)
It’s funny (actually not funny at all) how L.O.T.I.O.N. went from being a punk band based on retro-futuristic terror to the punk band most accurately reflecting the spirit of our times. Things are moving fast out here, and thankfully we have L.O.T.I.O.N. to provide the appropriate soundtrack, one of violent gabber beats, screaming sirens and digital fright. This new one might be their most succinct and easily-digestible one yet, offering chant-along riot songs geared for kicking one of those munition-armed robot police dogs in the face. This New York group seems to swing between traditional rock band and synth-based formations, and W.A.R In The Digital Realm leans towards the latter, with programmed drums and aggro synths comprising most of the music, the guitar being the main (only?) instance of live instrumentation. Vocalist (and band artist) Alexander Heir sounds like he’s somehow whispering his gnarled vocals this time around, like he’s doing his best orc-wizard voice softly into a tiny microphone while his roommates sleep in the room next door. It adds to the overall feel of cybernetic armageddon – as I listen, it doesn’t feel like I’m being screamed at by a punk, it feels like some radiation-poisoned commandant is barking threats with one hand on a giant red button and a skull in the other. We all hate cops, but “Every Last One” is a new anthem for the cause, the sort of Ministry-esque rager that makes you want to rip down chain-link fencing with your bare hands. Ugly music for ugly times!

Olta Karawane Deep Cover #6 12″ (Deep Cover)
Olta Karawane are a self-described “alcoholic duo from Moscow” who first came to my attention as purveyors of not just one but a series of remixes of Primus’s “My Name Is Mud” (you can find those on Bandcamp). Not a bad way to make a first impression, but their two edits on Deep Cover #6 are entirely different beasts, the sort of thing friends and fellow party-goers would enjoy rather than uncomfortably scurry away from. “Galocher” is a superb edit of Cosa Rosa’s “Die Fantasie Reicht Bis Zum Knie”, a pensive Euro-pop smoker, adjusting the BPM to a Balearic presence with sweeping synths and precise little twists for maximum party pleasure. Great tune! “In Freunde Mit Dub” appears to be an original, or at least more of an original, and it locates a different groove, equally Mediterranean and laid-back in nature but with some overly active synth-work, pulsing rhythms and at least one keyboard soloing at any given time. Could be the best hold-music you’ve ever had while trying to get your electric bill adjusted, or a midnight epiphany at some outdoor club you’ll never find again. Hope Olta Karawane are surviving alright (and not hitting the bottle too hard) – there’s a freeness of spirit and wild talent on display here, one that deserves to thrive.

The Prize Wrong Side Of Town 7″ (Anti Fade)
Doing my best to piece it together: looks like Aussie power-poppers Mr. Teenage are no more, but three of them are now in The Prize, one of whom is the child of Cosmic Psychos drummer Dean Muller. Mr. Teenage had a cool thing going, a mellifluous power-pop punk style with tasteful hard-rock flourishes, and The Prize continues forward on essentially the exact same musical path. No harm in finding your lane and sticking to it! These songs acknowledge the impact made by Royal Headache and Sheer Mag while maintaining a more general-admission style, less idiosyncratic and more populist at its core. Wave your beer bottle, sing along, hell even bop around into other people if you’re one of those types… The Prize’s rock n’ roll is naturally uplifting and communal. Each band member is credited with vocals, and I’ll be damned if the back cover doesn’t prove it with a live pic of all five band members singing. No egos here! They all look like they just woke up in their photo-booth pictures on the cover, but these songs are caffeinated and ready to get a jump on the day. Three originals and an Incredible Kidda Band cover, because why cover any ordinary Kidda Band?

Anna Savage Queens Rd / Saturn Again 7″ (Altered States Tapes)
And now something entirely pleasant: the debut single from Fremantle, Australia’s Anna Savage (which I’d assume rules out any possible relation to members of Parquet Courts). She collaborated with James Vinciguerra on the art (there he is again!), which means that anything is possible with her music, but “Queens Rd” is nothing more than a pleasant acoustic meanderer. Recorded up-close with just the faintest hiss of the room grounding it, “Queens Rd” is tender folk in step with Vashti Bunyan and Maxine Funke (who shares this sense of personal intimacy in her music). “Saturn Again” arrives similarly, traipsing through a homespun folk tune on acoustic guitar. Savage has exceedingly sufficient guitar chops for the style, and her voice is hushed and confident, resulting in a pretty exemplary foray into pastoral folk. Disarmingly straight tunes, particularly considering the left-of-center pedigree of Altered States. And seeing as this is her first publicly-released recording, I’d imagine she’s just getting started on the path to charming all who encounter her music.

Sick Thoughts Heaven Is No Fun LP (Total Punk)
Drew Owen has been getting kicked out of clubs since the early ’10s, a scruffy, proudly-inebriated punk who is all scum, no crust. He’s left his skid-marks on the scene with a hefty variety of collaborations and solo projects, most prominently under the Sick Thoughts moniker, which enlists the help of friends when necessary. He’s probably against the concept of evolution, but Owen’s music has only gotten tighter, catchier and more refined over time, in a manner that gets deeper to the core of punk rock rather than further outward into sellout territory. Heaven Is No Fun is his new full-length and his best yet, really capturing the elusive “all killer no filler” flag. These songs are tuneful and grating, perfectly in line with first-wave heroes like The Dead Boys and The Misfits, as well as Killed By Death one-offs like Hollywood Squares, Nervous Eaters and Freestone. Completely snotty in the vein of GG Allin’s first album, and just as tuneful/hateful, with earworm hooks being equally important to attitude and crude sass. He even manages to slow it down to perfection on “Mother I Love Satan” and recall early Judas Priest on “Submachine Love”, displaying how smoothly early punk and NWOBHM can intermingle in the hands of a keen songwriter. I kinda can’t get over how good Heaven Is No Fun is, especially considering that hard-partying punks tend to decline in ability and focus as their youth fades. With any other band, I’d say it isn’t possible they actually sold their souls to the devil, but in the case of Sick Thoughts it feels like a distinct possibility.

Siri Karlsson 100 DB LP (Tombola)
Siri Karlsson’s 2019 album Horror Vaccui passed through these pages back in 2019, kind of an unmemorable-if-not-unpleasant take on industrial-tinged horror-folk, but whatever their new album 100 DB is, it’s not that! I get the impression that this Swedish duo approaches every album as its own unique organism, worried less about continuity between records than stamping each one with its own distinct identity, and they definitely do that here. To their credit, I haven’t heard many records like 100 DB before, as they go all-in mixing epic prog instrumentation with rollicking space-rock riffs, big strings and bigger synths. It feels like a big rock record, but there are no guitars! Their sort of stadium-minded approach reminds me of Boris, and these songs often sound as if Boris was fronted by Aïsha Devi and only interested in covering the songs of Magma and Heldon. I appreciate the wide variety of Swedish artists who swing for the fences with their music, from Kite to Avicii to The Hives, and Siri Karlsson absolutely go wild here, trying to make every percussive breakdown the burliest, every cosmic synth arpeggio the flightiest, and singing as if it’s imperative that the rest of the world listens. I’m not sure who the audience is for this style – fans of both CocoRosie and stoner-rock? – but if there isn’t already one out there, Siri Karlsson seem confident it will come.

Terminal Addiction EPs 2020-2021 LP (Not For The Weak)
At first glance, the skeleton/skull/mushroom-cloud art and generic hardcore band-name had me ho-humming as I dropped EPs 2020-2021 on the turntable. A moment later I took note of the fact that Terminal Addiction aren’t from suburban New Jersey or Chicago, but Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, which certainly alters my experience. It’s surely a lot harder to be a raging punk band where they’re from, a more firmly established dictatorship zone of despair than the US (at least for the time being). I’m sure you have to fight twice as hard to exist as a band, from the basics like owning/storing gear to finding places to play, and yet their music rages in a fairly generic manner redolent of Totalitär, TØRSÖ, Vaaska and other Swedish or Swedish-inspired hardcore bands. That said, “generic” has never been a punishable crime in the world of hardcore, and the studio recording they’ve got (on what was originally two cassette EPs) is punchy and clean, honestly probably polished to a point beyond I tend to like my hardcore-punk. Lots of people do prefer their hardcore to sound like Terminal Addiction, however, and it’s delivered with an inherent urgency and daringness that most of us Westerners could only pretend to have.

Two Shell Icons 12″ (Mainframe Audio)
What if there was some bliss to be had in the imminent augmented virtual-reality zone? That seems to be the question posed by London’s Two Shell on their superb new EP, which looks far into a digital future with a quirky optimism and the beats to back it up. They got their start with Bristol’s Livity Sound, and I can certainly hear their techno bangers in the context of labelmates Peverelist and Hodge, but Two Shell have come out and defined their own aesthetic with careful detail here. A good part of that comes from the “mad futuristic vox” (that description comes from a Bandcamp commenter), which pop in and out of these nu-rave tunes like an AI customer-service attendant checking in to make sure you’re partying at optimal levels. Reminds me of Al Wootton under his Deadboy alias given a turbo-charged upgrade, music that has big-room hooks and abundant personality, as likely to call to mind classic trance tracks as the utopian vision of Drexciya and the playful impishness of Zomby. Following Sophie’s untimely passing, I thought I might not encounter a British electronic artist as joyously abnormal as hers for a while, but Icons is filling that void with all of its confetti-colored splendor.

Labyrinth Of Memories compilation 2xLP (Kashual Plastik)
For as long as I’ve been around, compilations have played a pivotal role in defining scenes, providing some sort of much-needed aesthetic cartography as groups of like-minded folks do their respective things in a similar time or place. It’s about time then that someone put together a collection of the global lo-fi bedroom sound-collage ambient abstracted post-post-punk scene that has bubbled up over the past few years, and this sure seems to be it! Across four sides of vinyl and no less than thirty-one tracks, Labyrinth Of Memories does a masterful job of providing a sort of who’s who (and who’s not who) of that loosely-congealed scene. Not only does it put together some of my favorite names in that sub-underground – Monokultur, Mosquitoes, Hypnotic Sleep, People Skills, Brannten Schnüre to name a few – Kashual Plastik does us the service of locating top-quality lesser-knowns in a scene that, at its peak, is lesser known. The globe is fully combed here, with a few North American artists, a handful of Australians and majority European representation, a United Nations of quiet bookish weirdos armed with acoustic guitars, portable tape recorders, borrowed synths and a nagging desire to assemble it all into some sort of crude sonic art. By the time you make it to the final two tracks, Loopsel’s enchanting ambient guitar and Thomas Bush’s alternate-reality-emo rendition of “Private Dancer”, I’d hope that you already have a rough idea of the private basement recording project you intend to create.