Alien Nosejob Stained Glass LP (Anti Fade / Total Punk)
Fifth full-length in as many years here from Melton, Australia’s Alien Nosejob (the enduring solo affair of one Jake Robertson). If you’ve followed his work, you know that Alien Nosejob can veer from sneering, distorted punk rock to synth-based disco-pop, sometimes in the same breath. With the Total Punk stamp of approval on Stained Glass, I expected no funny business, and I was correct – this record is non-stop party punk the way Mother Nature intended. Guitars are front and center, hip-shaking and peacocking in the vein of the first-wave punk that descended from The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper and Mott The Hoople. Of all the Alien Nosejob records I’ve heard (and I’ve heard quite a few), Stained Glass wears the tightest pants for sure. The consistent swagger and pub-rock grooving reminds me of Vanity before they went full Oasis mode, as well as beloved natives like AC/DC and Rose Tattoo (though you can tell these songs are played by a devoted record nerd, not a ballroom bully). “Shuffling Like Coins” follows “Shuffle Boogie” and it might be the most AC/DC-ish tune here, yet somehow distinctly different from other hard-rock worshipping Aussie punks like The Chats and Amyl & The Sniffers (whose global domination seems to remain on the rise). Might be too late for Robertson to give himself an ironic mullet, but tunes this fun and tough don’t need a silly haircut to get by.

Arbor Labor Union Yonder LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Arbor Labor Union fit check: on the inner band photo, we’ve got two out of four wearing floppy farmer hats and three out of four in button-up flannels. Long hair is abundant, too. Seems perfectly appropriate for a band playing this sort of sun-dazed indie-rock, as I want this kinda music to be made by folks who politely avoid the straight world, those too obsessed with their guitars or insistent upon sleeping ’til noon to push papers around for money. There’s no hiding Arbor Labor Union’s southern roots in these frisky guitar songs (they’re from Atlanta), though their most direct sonic resemblance comes from the west – the Meat Puppets vibe here is too strong for any head (sober or toasted) to ignore. It’s kind of impossible to rip off the Meat Puppets though, and Arbor Labor Union don’t try, they simply arrive at similarly acid-country-fried conclusions, handling these playful ditties with a soft firmness no matter how fast the drummer is playing. Plus, you really need some high-caliber chops to be compared to Meat Puppets, and Arbor Labor Union have got the stuff, doling out double-helix guitar lines with ease and comfort, even if I’m sweating just listening to these dazzling, curvy melodies. Classic rock ignited by punk and smoothed out by indie, Yonder is a pleasant trip for all living generations, from our parents to our kids and us in the middle.

Michael Beach EP 12″ (Goner / Poison City)
There’s no shortage of loudmouths in the world of underground rock – it’s pretty much the perfect place for such personalities – so I gotta hand it to Melbourne’s Michael Beach, who strikes me as the exact opposite type of guy. The benefit of being a quiet and considered person is that when you actually do bother to speak, people listen, which is what I’ve been doing with this great new EP of his, co-released by Goner and Poison City. Understated to the core, Beach’s vibe exists solely on the strength of his songs, a risky move if you want to be famous but a solid move if you’ve legitimately got the goods. Hell, the cover art here looks like basically nothing at all, but those clued in to Michael Beach will surely savor EP like I am. Beach has always been kind of the king of basement-rock balladry, and it’s directly apparent here, pairing brash rockers like “Out In A Burning Alley” with the low-lit swirl of “Have You Ever”. I’m reminded a bit of fellow kindhearted Michael-named rocker Mike Polizze, though Polizze’s warm and appealing style is more Dinosaur Jr-minded whereas Beach dips far deeper into the influence of Neil Young. Beach even wraps the EP with sit-down piano ballad “Only A Memory”, a gorgeously sad closer that reminds me of what it was like to listen to Red House Painters alone on a rainy day before we all knew what a disgusting POS Mark Kozelek is. I’d say that I hope Michael Beach stays good, but I have complete faith that he will.

Ervin Berlin Junior’s Got Brain Damage 7″ (Total Punk Archives)
Your move, Ryebread: the Total Punk posse just pulled an ace out of who knows where, reissuing this hitherto unknown sleeveless punk chestnut. Hailing from somewhere in central Florida circa 1980, Ervin Berlin is apparently the work of an acid burnout in his late 20s (an elderly status for anyone playing punk rock in 1980) and a couple of neighborhood troublemakers, and it’s crazy that a single this delightfully amateur and undeniably punk laid untouched for this long. “Junior’s Got Brain Damage” is like the high school bully equivalent of The Generics’ “The Bitt”; imagine if Jacky Shark met up with Randy & The Goats in a Kroger parking lot and you’ll get even closer to the Ervin Berlin sound. B-sides to singles like these are often a toss-up – cheesy instrumentals or novelty tunes are not uncommon – but Ervin Berlin shakes even more action with “Last Time”, recalling Dust loading out at CBGBs as The Dead Boys load in. If Ervin Berlin ever laid down any other tracks, I sure hope the Total Punk archivist has access to those, as these two cuts are too kick-ass to not explore further. I wonder if the underground archivists of the 2040s will find a way to unearth the unheard gems of our time. What will they have to do, locate dead SoundCloud links and Bandcamp downloads?

Carnivorous Bells Room Above All LP (Human Headstone Presents)
“Post-hardcore” is such an ugly term, practically a pejorative at this point, and yet Philadelphia’s Carnivorous Bells are filling it with sparkling new life, managing to point beyond hardcore without losing any of its imperative qualities (harshness, fury, disgust, disbelief). Their first album was a cool way to enter the room, a buttoned-up take on the scalding styles of The Jesus Lizard and Saccharine Trust, and Room Above All moves well beyond that into some new category the rest of us have to catch up with. I’ve loved guitarist David Vassalotti’s playing since his Merchandise days, and he pushes himself further than ever before here. When he noodles, it’s captivating, when he rips through his jagged chords it’s invigorating, and when he shoots for the stars I’m reminded of Sir Richard Bishop or Magma, untouchable giants of underground rock. The group shifts from simmering, jazzy tension to fast-paced ‘core with the dexterity of a Russian gymnast, and when they do play fast it’s never the sort of thing you can predict – tracks like “The Master’s Plate” and “A Frigid Mass” are unlike any hardcore I’ve heard (maaaaybe Spike In Vain?) but I’d feel wrong categorizing them anywhere else. As is the case with their debut, these sharply-angled songs don’t lend themselves to easy vocal patterns, but vocalist Matthew Adis sounds completely at home here, squelching his larynx or softly singing as he deems appropriate (like on the acoustic-grunge-turned-math-rock “Perfectly Still”). This group always had potential to be something completely unique and great, and by jove they’ve done it here!

Center Over The Stations LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
New one here from the ever-restless Stefan Christensen and crew (Ian McColm and Dave Shapiro aka Alexander) under the plain-jane moniker of Center. Ironic then that the music of Center is the furthest out-there that these guys get, miles beyond traditional song-form toward realms of barely-there improv and beleaguered frequencies. These tracks utilize guitars alongside a host of junk-store instrumentation, bent and fractured pieces like you might expect from the Open Mouth label. They’re likely to let a single tone evaporate over the sound of recycled air or see what happens when you leave a guitar plugged in for over 24 hours… if anything comes close to a major chord, Center take lengths to disguise it. I suppose it helps to understand the rulebook if you’re going to throw it out a moving window, and as these three are more than capable of crafting orthodox guitar songs, it’s fun to hear them dissect and rearrange things so fully. If standard rock n’ roll is mozzarella string cheese, then Center are the wispy tendrils pulled from it, misshapen strands as wide as a thumbnail and thin as a horsehair. Equally delicious, really.

CIA Debutante The Punch / The Garden 7″ (Digital Regress)
Much like the real CIA, CIA Debutante tried to quietly slip this past us at the end of last year, but I’m on high alert for warped post-punk electronics such as theirs. These two new songs are welcome transmissions from fans of the duo, and if you’re not already hip to CIA Debutante, why not start now? It comes to us from Digital Regress after all, one of the few American distribution lifelines for much of the post-noise European underground. “The Punch” drips and drops some sort of disconcerting story, a beacon between the darkened shores of Cabaret Voltaire and the tiny Call Back The Giants ship out floating on the cloudy sea. The vocals are discernible yet tweaked, like they’re coming from a TV you thought you turned off. “The Garden” is motionless in comparison, a faded transmission across AM frequencies whose synthetic pulse lulls us unconscious… this is probably what it sounded like when SPK went to sleep back in 1979. No resolution or tidy conclusion, just some light electronic clanging as digestif, perfectly suited for the seven-inch single format.

The Cool Greenhouse Sod’s Toastie LP (Melodic)
Trying to imagine the type of person who would hate on The Cool Greenhouse, and while I struggle to draft their exact personality profile, I know for sure I wouldn’t want to spend any time with them! This British group (guy?) is an absolute hoot, and their minimalist poppy post-punk is at the height of its powers on Sod’s Toastie. Their songs are generally repetitive and groovy by design, with stripped-down drums (often of a pre-programmed synthetic nature), easy rock guitars and a splash of electronics/keys as needed. The vocals of Tom Greenhouse are the signature twist, as his softly-spoken short stories flow elegantly and hilariously over these cyclical grooves, only on occasion offering up any sort of repeated chorus line if warranted. The Fall are an obvious and significant comparison, though there isn’t even a hint of bile or fury within The Cool Greenhouse – you could play these songs for a room full of elementary school children and they’d happily bop about, the sly adult references zooming innocently over their heads. I don’t know what Greenhouse means when he says “It’s like Windows 98 in here”, but at the same time I know exactly what he means, as he communicates modern life in such a casual, breezy and spot-on way through these songs. After all, this is the only band I’m aware of that’s written a song about Amazon’s Alexa, one of the more insidious inhabitants of our world, and their style is keenly refined throughout Sod’s Toastie.

Discreet This Is Mine LP (Convulse)
Intriguing new hardcore unit outta Austin, TX here, featuring a few Total Abuse fellas, a Nosferatu guy and a Philly ex-pat who used to be in Creepoid. Discreet certainly lean closest to the Total Abuse aesthetic of the three groups mentioned, what with Hospital Productions-style design and a provocative aesthetic that has me thinking at least one member of Discreet can quote Peter Sotos from memory. If that sounds kind of tired, allow me to assure you that the music of Discreet is in fact quite invigorating and fresh… sure, it’s noisy hardcore-punk with metallic riffing at its core, but it’s delivered with an intensity and commitment that goes beyond your average pastiche of influences. I can’t help but think of all the bands that took influence from Brainbombs in the ’10s and went nowhere with it, and how Discreet actually imbue their songs with menace, misery and drain-swirling riffage. Certainly no Brainbombs worship here, but it feels like Discreet thoughtfully bare some similarities. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the singer’s voice is a 99% match for a young Hank Rollins… I can practically hear the Einst├╝rzende tattoo materializing on his bicep as these tracks plow through. It’s an uncanny similarity, the sort of throat you’re born with or not, and he enunciates with that same weary Get In The Van bitterness, like he’s slept on a pile of cardboard in a friend’s attic for the past month and is singing at an audience he hates. Just check “A Bug In A Jar” if you want to see what I mean: it’s the sort of Rollins-fronting-Brainbombs brutalizer that’ll knock even the sturdiest Chat Pile fan on their butt.

Empty People Empty People LP (Carnalismo)
Just as I was starting to recover from the danked-out haze of Frank Marchi’s solo album, this Empty People album on his Carnalismo imprint is here to ensure the whites of my eyes remain bloodshot. Empty People are a bass / drums / vocals trio featuring Frank Marchi on bass, Tombs’s Andrew Hernandez on drums and none other than Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson on vocals! Perhaps unsurprisingly, Marchi’s musical history seems to have the strongest presence here, resulting in a manic riot of grind, dirge-core and power-violence, very much in the Deep Six / 625 Productions school of thought. Marchi runs up and down his bass like ’90s Eric Wood, absolutely dominating the field while Robinson barks and growls across two vocal tracks. Along with the liberally-applied squealing electronics that pepper these tunes, what else could you need? Few people could sing songs called “Street Beef Stroganoff” and “Drug Burn” with legitimate ownership, but Robinson is one of them, the perfect foil to the unhinged squall that forms Hernandez and Marchi’s rhythms. Had Empty People shown up in 1998, they’d surely have been one of the hottest Slap A Ham acts, doing split EPs with No Less or No Comply, but instead they’re somehow here with us now, decades after hardcore’s power-violence evolution, reminding us of the unmatched brutality this form of hardcore can provide.

Equipment Pointed Ankh From Inside The House LP (Bruit Direct Disques)
The first couple Equipment Pointed Ankh records I checked out passed through here happily and somewhat uneventfully… I knew I dug this loose-limbed musical collective of Midwestern weirdos, but none of their material (besides the unforgettable cover image of their live LP) really stuck around in my headspace for too long. That changes with From Inside The House! It’s an absolutely fantastic album that lured me in from the throbbing boing of “Rubber Slacks” that opens it. I feel like this is what I always wished Animal Collective sounded like: joyous and warped music made by a band with a rich appreciation for the more colorful corners of classic krautrock (lotta Can similarities) enriched by its own particularly American weirdness. The grooves here are immense, and they perfectly support bold forays into horns, bongos, banjos, probably a couple unusual synths or maybe just some usual synths made to sound unique. The b-side even features the spoken-word of newly inducted EPA member Jenny Rose, who beats Dry Cleaning at their own game without trying (or even acknowledging a game to begin with). So often, this sort of lunatic DIY post-prog indie stuff can fall apart under its own hodge-podginess, but From Inside The House is full of endlessly-replayable tracks, an exceptional work from a very cool group. Big recommendation!

Feeble Little Horse Hayday LP (Saddle Creek / Unstable Collective)
Been a minute since I got excited for a Saddle Creek release… The Faint’s Danse Macabre? Bright Eyes’ Fevers & Mirrors? There’s probably like five generations of emo that passed me by in there, but whatever it is that Pittsburgh’s Feeble Little Horse are playing, I really love it. They are a young band with a young point of view, which is to say more stressed-out and cynical than the generations that preceded them, and rightfully so! That perspective is deep within Hayday, an album of psychedelic slow-core, buzzing lo-fi indie-rock and DIY shoegaze. Reminds me a bit of Empath, as both groups plant beautifully soft melodies within a beehive of fuzz and distortion; they’re also close to No Age, Pavement and Duster when they were all young and restless. Feeble Little Horse’s secret weapon are the emo-y pop-punk hooks within these tracks – if you cleaned up songs like “Drama Queen”, “Chores” and “Termites”, Charly Bliss or Bully could masquerade them as their own hit singles, but it’s more fun hearing what Feeble Little Horse do with them anyway, what with their weird grainy edits, conspicuous overdubbing and vocal tracking. Hope I didn’t scare you with the word “emo”, you geriatrics who don’t need to buy Codeine and Bedhead reissues because you still own the originals will dig on Hayday too!

Flea Collar Flea Collar LP (Feel It)
Cleveland happily skips well into the 2020s as a continued source of demented and immature hardcore-punk. I’m still having fun with those Woodstock ’99 records, for example, and now here’s the debut from Flea Collar, who share at least one member of Woodstock ’99 (as well as their general sensibility and emotional demeanor). Which is to say, this self-titled album has songs called “Jacken It” and “Buttcrack Man”, and the group is happy to end a song with slide whistle. Their music follows the rowdy ‘core style of Woodstock ’99 alongside bands like Brown Sugar and Bad Noids (who also share personnel with Flea Collar), fast and full of personality, where nothing stands in the way of a good (ie. tasteless) joke. Not sure who the singer is (the band members all have pseudonymous, uh, dog names) but they’re doing their best Doc Dart throughout, albeit a Doc Dart who occasionally has to scream along to wild hardcore-punk. Why not emulate one of the most gloriously annoying punk vocalists of all-time if you know someone who can? So often in hardcore, the more self-serious the scene the more notoriety it receives, so it’s nice to know there’s a thriving antidote to that in Cleveland. I get the sense that if I moved there and tried to start a band called The Booger Pickers, I wouldn’t only be welcomed, I’d have multiple punks offering to play kazoo.

Franciska Tryghed LP (Discreet Music)
The hard thing about establishing an aesthetic and mining it so thoroughly and thoughtfully is, where do you go from there? This new album from Jonas Torstensson aka Franciska certainly fits the Discreet Music MO – minimalist homespun instrumentation with incidental sounds – and while Tryghed might have hit me like a brisk breath of fresh air if it existed back in 2015 or so, I’m experiencing far less excitement encountering it now. Through two unhurried and untitled sides, Franciska offers open-air piano rehearsals with occasional tape disruption, field recordings, pastoral synth drones and melancholic improvisation roughened by the crude tape it was recorded on and the hands that held it. It’s certainly not Franciska’s fault that everyone else is trying it right now, this melding of brusque New Zealand-style home-taping and soft instrumental ambience from a place of isolation, but as a fan of creative underground music the deluge of records that sound like this are dampening my enthusiasm for the micro-genre as a whole (especially in a landscape where I have to plunk down thirty-five bucks or more for a basic retail LP). The relative “anyone could do this”-ness of the style doesn’t help either, as it can be difficult to separate the inspired artists from the trend-hopping pretenders when all the (non-)music sounds remarkably alike. I hold some of these records very dearly, while at the same time wonder if I don’t need to hear another new record like this for at least a little while.

Giant Swan Fantasy Food 12″ (Keck)
Make sure you’re properly stretched, here’s a new Giant Swan EP! This Bristol duo have always taken their techno in a playfully physical direction, and while I need to spend more time with their 2019 full-length, Future Food is an immediately satisfying riot. There’s something about Giant Swan’s music that sounds more human than most British post-dubstep producers; while it’s clear they recorded in a studio, it sounds like their shirtless bodies were pressed up against the glass, writhing and kicking along to their speedy jams. That’s very much the case here, as multiple tracks utilize vocal sounds (or maybe “mouth sounds” is more accurate) throughout, from the exhaust of a gut-punched stomach to the licking of chops. Tracks like opener “Sugar And Air” remind me of the aggressive potency of Powell before he went off the avant-garde deep-end, whereas “Abacuses” has big-room potential, a sort of hairy crowd-teaser one might discover in a Nina Kraviz or Marcel Dettmann set. Giant Swan always balanced their sonic abstraction with a penchant for fist-pumping grooves, and they play those opposite ends nicely against each other throughout Fantasy Food, throwing a sweaty kick under bolts of synthetic shrapnel as if there wasn’t any other way to do it. I’d say that I hope they come to the States so I can see ’em live, but I’m not sure an American audience would know how to react to techno as fun and brutal as this.

Hot Tubs Time Machine Double Tubble LP (Spoilsport)
If you’re brave enough to read this review and not immediately skip to the next based on this band calling themselves “Hot Tubs Time Machine”, you’re a better person than I! If they hadn’t kindly sent me a copy of Double Tubble I’d have immediately erased any memory of having encountered this band’s name, but here I am, spending my personal free time listening to and thinking about them. Turns out, it could be far worse: this Melbourne duo plays a fairly cheerful form of simplistic, dance-y post-punk indie, as if LCD Soundsystem stayed in the bedroom, writing cute little inside-joke songs solely for the amusement of the band and their close friends. Drums are programmed, synths are used in a swirly electro-pop manner on some songs and a stabby post-punk technique on others, guitars generally operate outside of the spotlight and the vocals are confidently spoken. To my credit, the vocalist reminded me of the humble and disarmingly conversational style of The UV Race, and what do you know, vocalist Marcus Rechsteiner (of The UV Race) is none other than Hot Tubs Time Machine’s vocalist! It’s all starting to make sense now. He’s a real-deal weirdo through and through (I sat next to him at a bar once before realizing who he was – my personal experience confirms this), and it makes sense that he’d move from a large garage-pop ensemble to this portable duo. Rechsteiner always had a Swell Maps kind of energy about him, and it’s still evident in the synthetic oddball-pop of Double Tubble.

Lore City Under Way 7″ (Lore City Music)
I know that as a music reviewer, I’m supposed to distance myself from the word “ethereal”, but whoever made those rules must’ve never heard Lore City. How else can you describe the music of this married Portland duo? The Pure Moods drumming, cloudy hum and vaporous vocals would guide any seance into spelling out E T H E R E A L on a Ouija board immediately. Their music reminds me of Tamaryn sans designer photoshoots, or perhaps Grouper if she crafted her music to be played inside one of those hipster “provisions” shops that sells $36 olive oil, and while that may seem like a slight, I find it perfectly peaceful. Both tracks on this self-released single arrive on dark cushions of ambient tone, the second of which hovers in place for its full duration, like that one alien movie where spaceships appear in random spots all over the globe, do nothing, and everyone is wondering why. That track is called “Very Body” but they could’ve just as easily called it “Very Body (Vape Break)” and attracted an entirely new audience. Of all the things a married couple can do to spend their time together, there is far far worse than starting a dark n’ stormy 4AD indie-drone thing, and I’m glad Lore City are at it.

Melchior & Pronsato Nijinski Picnic Part Two 12″ (Foom)
Comforting minimal techno familiarity here from frequent collaborators Thomas Melchior and Bruno Pronsato. They’ve got a wealth of productions under their belts, and I sincerely appreciate that while the electronic music scene reinvents itself on a weekly basis, what with micro-genres popping up and dying with increased frequency, these guys are still doing what they’ve always done. “Candidate” is the opener, and it’s amazing that two people contributed to the mix, as it’s so streamlined and stark. A confused vocal is chopped and released over a snappy digital hi-hat, with errant synth chords forming a queasy melody. Feels very in line with Villalobos’ Sei Es Drum, which is fine by me. The same general production technique is at play with “Cumulus Ruckus (Back Version)”, a different cut-up vocal over simple rusty percussion. I dunno, this sorta thing just really works for me, to the point where such a fairly simple track bears repeated playback in my household. “Nijinski Picnic (Bells Version)” is the poppiest of the three (by comparison), though still oddly roomy and stripped-down, like the corpse of a ’90s house track reanimated barely enough for party functionality. Why cater to the trends when you can keep making music like this?

Bill Nace Through A Room LP (Drag City)
Back in the cursed year of 2020 Bill Nace released what might be considered his first “statement” solo record, Both, which was also his first for Drag City. That record rules, and Through A Room is even better! If you want to hear Nace in full-on harsh squall formation, there are lots of recordings and live documents to enjoy, but Through A Room displays him at his most considered and melodic, very much solo and lurking in the colorful maze that is his mind (possibly depicted through Dan Higgs’s cover painting). Of course, “melodic” means something different when talking about Bill Nace’s music; these songs all utilize patterns of notes and tones, but nothing remotely close to a chorus or hook is pursued. Fine by me! His guitar (and small assortment of other sound-making devices) throbs, pulses, tickles and wheezes throughout. Some songs (or should I call them “pieces”?) slowly assemble a solid form through multiple loops, whereas others shift through a single motif, wringing out every possible sound from that particular setup of gear. Through A Room occasionally calls to mind the syrupy blurt of Mark Morgan’s guitar playing on some of the later Sightings records, the motor-driven compositions of Remko Scha or the impossible-to-place preparations of Keith Rowe, though I’d imagine any dutiful reader of this website who fancies those three already picked up Through A Room and could probably tell me a thing or two about it. I’m listening!

Portable Dogs Ads In Bed / Sleeping In The Vacuum 7″ (Maternal Voice)
In contrast with immobile dogs, I suppose? It’s a fitting name for this weirder-than-weird duo (featuring a member of Dick Diver and released by the appealing Swedish label Maternal Voices), whose playful and hands-on post-punk electronics exist freely on their own. “Ads In Bed” has an inorganic rhythm that falls over itself a bit, as lively as Kraus but bearing the otherworldly keel of Idea Fire Company. It’s a song more than it is a “piece” or a “work”, but only barely. “Sleeping In The Vacuum” is a bit less stable, conjuring images of electronic boats lapping against a dock as a neon-orange sun sets in the opposite direction. It’s kinda close to Ulla’s newest album if she had a sly sense of humor about it, and not as studiously polished. Put these two tracks together and it feels like a shaky bridge over the gap between the modern post-ambient scene and the post-Kye non-musical zone of question marks… or, let’s say, the dawn of industrial tape-trading home projects upgraded with today’s modern gear. Cool that they did a seven-inch single (with art by the ever-busy James Vinciguerra no less), but I’m eager to hear what the Portable Dogs can get up to if given a full twelve inches to sprawl out upon.

The Revelons 77-82 LP (HoZac)
For each underground NYC rock band from the late ’70s that I’ve heard of, it seems there are a dozen I’ve yet to discover, a testament to the insane level of musical activity from that scene (and perhaps less flatteringly, my limited knowledge of cool bands). Take The Revelons for example, who check a lot of appealing boxes for me – primitive rock n’ roll with outlandish sassiness, proto-punk attitude and even a touch of no-wave antagonism – yet I’d never even heard of them until this archival collection from HoZac came through! They almost seem like a fictional band to me in that regard, as if I’d expect them to only exist within the world of The Deuce or some New York Dolls-inspired CBGB movie rather than the actual real New York The Revelons inhabited, so familiar are their moves (right down to the lipstick-painted band logo). Through this comprehensive collection, they offer up some Television-esque moments of contemplation alongside glittery stomps redolent of Milk & Cookies and whatever “Red Hot Woman” is – Ramones under the tutelage of Glenn Branca, perhaps? Sure, they only released a seven-inch single (on the legendary Ork!) in their day, but I feel a little foolish for not being aware of “The Way (You Touch My Hand)” before, as it hits a remarkable level of coolness, like The Rapture covering Richard Hell or something. Time to go ask Lydia Lunch if she remembers these guys – if she hasn’t knocked out or knocked up at least one of them, maybe they never were real after all.

Smirk Material LP (Feel It)
Third twelve-inch record from Smirk since 2021, the one-man song factory whose parents named him Nick Vicario. From the start, Smirk was all about stripped-down punk, tuneful strum played with a hardcore mindset and the compact, precise drumming that generally accompanies any good solo punk studio project. I’m not sure two years is really enough time to “mature” or whatever, but nevertheless Material is less rough around the edges than previous affairs – once you’ve done this a few times, you can’t help but show some signs of technical improvement, I suppose. Thankfully, Smirk is still mostly the same as it ever was; with the exception of some guest vocals, there are no dramatic shifts in the Smirk sound. Which is to say, it sounds like a tuneful update of Institute’s downer jangle, not dissimilar to Crisis, Mission Of Burma, Shoes This High and that great Hand Grenades Demo To London EP. Pretty cool sound, though even after repeated listens individual songs aren’t jumping out at me the way they did on previous records. This could be a me problem, though, as one of my close trusted confidants put Material high on his “best of 2022” list and I know he wouldn’t do that if he didn’t mean it. I’d give it some dedicated time over the next few months to see if it’ll fully click with me, but there’ll probably be a new Smirk record out by then anyway, knowing how this guy works!

Strange Attractor Good Boy Bad Boy LP (Celluloid Lunch / Discos De Muerte / Drunken Sailor)
For a while there in my neck of the internet, the term “BBQ sauce” was used pejoratively towards garage-rockers who veered in an uncool sort of -abilly direction, and now here’s Strange Attractor flaunting his love of buffalo wings on the cover, his sloppy dinner’s remnants assembled into jewelry! It helps to take a firm stance as a punk, even if it’s a doomed or idiotic one, and Jeff Houle (who appears to be the sole stockholder of Strange Attractor) plants his flag with Good Boy Bad Boy, his fourth vinyl full-length. That’s plenty of time for any punk to get a grasp on what they want to do, and in the case of Strange Attractor it’s a raucous, personality-driven punk bop, led by aggressive jangle and frustrated vocals. He seems to be having quite a bit of fun here, stomping out garage-inspired punk that reminds me of Chain Gang and Black Time with the gleefully obnoxious party attitude I’d associate with collectible classics like Freestone and Child Molesters. Kinda weird if this is simply Houle’s solo project, as these songs really do sound like they’re coming from a well-rehearsed band of garishly dressed punk weirdos rather than one guy in a room by himself. Maybe they will be someday, or there’s some sort of live formation that already exists? Who knows, technology is crazy!

Stray Bullet Factory EP 7″ (Not For The Weak)
Anyone else still having trouble accepting that British hardcore is… good? I grew up with it being a given that there was Voorhees and basically no one else, and yet I acknowledge that in the past decade or more, some of my favorite hardcore-punk and hardcore-punk-adjacent records have come from England. Virginia hardcore label Not For The Weak, on the other hand, has no problem flying the Union Jack with the second EP from Sheffield’s Stray Bullet. They share a member or two with Rat Cage, and opt for more of an American-inspired style here, a burly and energetic sound that can be traced as far back as Poison Idea, The FU’s and The Fix but sounds more like the last couple generations’ take on that “old-school” style. Which is to say, Factory wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Gloom Records in 2003 or Deranged in 2010. These songs are too complex and rich in parts to truly adhere to the first-wave sound, which of course is fine, as they do a fine job of jumping on your back and crawling between your legs in the same forty-second song. Hardcore is alive and well, even in bloody England!

Wreckage Our Time 12″ (Scheme)
When I first got into hardcore, it was likely that I’d check out a band because I loved the zine done by someone in the band or their label. Now I find myself checking out CT’s Wreckage because I love the Scheme email newsletter! It’s kind of the best case scenario of “guys being dudes”-style hardcore writing; their youthful enthusiasm is contagious. You can tell the Scheme guys truly believe in their bands, and it’s informing my enjoyment of Our Time. This is NYHC-inspired hardcore, reminiscent of Burn, Killing Time, Breakdown and Beyond without specifically aping any single group. Not a bad way to approach hardcore! These songs are energetic, metallic around the edges, aggro without being macho and avoid formulaic tendencies for the most part. The fast part in the title track comes as a pleasant surprise, and with various mosh parts in the mix (though never gratuitous), I give Our Time a firm thumbs up. I spend the majority of my hardcore listening time with bands that wear boots, and while Wreckage are clearly of a cross-training sneaker persuasion, I cannot deny what they’ve got going on here. If it doesn’t hit for you on first listen, go read the Scheme newsletter where they talk about how excited they all were to get together for Our Time‘s New Year’s Day release and see if you don’t feel the hardcore spirit bubbling up inside of you.

Big, Big Wave compilation LP (Feral Kid)
Downright impossible to find fault with this, a deeply loving compilation LP of punk bands from Hattiesburg, MS. The Feral Kid crew drove from Buffalo to Hattiesburg (phew!) and recorded eleven Hattiesburg bands in one day at a makeshift studio, documenting the strange and lively activity happening in this humble Southern burg. Sure, the limitations of this DIY approach are going to be evident, but that makes it all the more charming, especially in this day and age of flattened culture and depleted local flavors. If Big, Big Wave is to be taken as an official scene document, it seems that Hattiesburg aligns in favor of rudimentary and oddball punk with plenty of room for goofin’, simple one-two one-two songs favored over precision and flamboyance. Alongside personal faves like Pleather and Judy & The Jerks, there are a number of new-to-me artists contributing here, like the snotty punkers Bigg Band and the Man’s Ruin-styled stoner grooves of Stellatone. Stellatone’s “Golden Zeppelin” leads right into the frantic yap of Judy & The Jerks’s “Dog”, and within that transition I can start to visualize the shape of their scene, united by shared resources, an outcast sensibility and thoroughly unpretentious attitudes.