Ahulabrum Strange Lights Portend Their Presence LP (C/Site Recordings)
Metal is such a fascinating concept, because while there are undeniably strict aesthetic, visual and sonic guidelines, at the same time, kinda anything can be metal? In 2023, even canned water! Case in point is the mysterious Ahulabrum, whose illegible black-metal logo and ominous Old English typeface are as kvlt as kvlt can be, yet the group’s primary inspiration here appears to be… Bigfoot. I love it! It’s risky territory of course, the sort of thing that can spin into a self-parody if it looks in the mirror for a second too long, but by ensuring their music is as steadfastly unlistenable as Strange Lights Portend Their Presence, the whole thing clicks perfectly into place. It’s really more of a noise/guitar project than metal by a strictly sonic metric, with extended passages of harsh-noise-wall guitar to recall The Rita or Hanatarash, though the execution feels like black-metal pushed beyond its limits, which can be an exciting feeling. Who hasn’t wanted to torture black-metal a little? Alongside the smithereen-blasted guitars of the first side, a smattering of percussion and what may or may not be vocals first emerge on the second side (allegedly recordings of Bigfoot himself!), closer to the free-form morbid coke visions of Terrorism than any Roadburn-endorsed acts. Even if someone else attempted it, this would remain the finest Bigfoot-themed noise-guitar album out there.

Anunaku 063 12″ (AD 93)
Anunaku’s first couple EPs absolutely dazzled me with their inventive percussive workouts so I figured I’d check in with this new one on AD 93, a forward-thinking British techno label that’s always worth a peep. This time around, gone are the precisely-pitched polyrhythms, replaced by progressive monk-chant trance. Not what I expected, but I can dig! These six tracks (it’s a lengthy EP!) are chicken soup for the raver soul, the sort of big-room techno you’d expect to hear at a warehouse party that was advertised with a colorful postcard flyer filled with tie-dyed smiley faces and a list of club amenities. (Lasers! Full sound-system with a dozen subwoofers! Smoke and confetti with chill-out room and bar!) These tracks make me nostalgic for a ’90s youth I certainly didn’t experience first-hand, so comfortable and fun are these pilled-out grooves with their space-themed titles and Gregorian vocal samples. Even “Nebulosa”, with its repeated vocal sample of the word “control” is pleasantly apolitical, music that exists beyond our day-to-day concerns in a drugged-out techno escapist fantasy.

Awanto 3 Party Volume 1 12″ (Rush Hour Store Jams)
It’s almost time to put a lid on the grill and deflate the pool floats, but Awanto 3’s first volume of, uhh, Party, might keep the Citronella burning a little bit longer. This is rich and supple house music, as deep as the diving end of the pool. “The Lime King” pairs lively drum breaks with slow-cooked keys, landing somewhere between The Mole, Moodymann and that first track on Air’s Moon Safari. A perfect warmup for the sweetly hypnotic groove of “Seeyousoon”, whose eight-note progression is almost too lush and mesmerizing. I walk into that track and its seven minutes absolutely fly by… release the extended cut, Awanto 3! I’m already completely satisfied, but “Sawyoulater” wraps it up with another flashy house excursion, the live hand percussion and soft piano chords keeping things warm long into the after-hours. It sounds extremely Detroit to my ears, and yet Awanto 3 is unrepentantly Dutch, which just goes to show the universal party sensations invoked by staccato grooves and well-placed keyboards. Time to finalize my guest-list so that I’m ready in advance of the eventual drop of Party Volume 2.

Children Maybe Later What A Flash Kick! LP (Sloth Mate Productions)
Not all twee is created equal: there’s the cuddly-wuddly teddy-bear nerd stuff, with felt hearts sewn into its fleece and tears on its pillow, and there’s the chain-smoking, chunky-black-sunglasses-wearing cool-kid twee. Of course the two sometimes overlap, but Children Maybe Later arrive from San Francisco in the secondary camp, sounding like they’re wearing tight turtlenecks and berets in summer, drinking black coffee while discussing Godard films and Ferlinghetti verse. Their songs are delicate, elegant, and free from the loud thumping of a traditional drum kit; at their loudest, the trio augments their harpsichords and guitars with the light tap of a tambourine. It’s decidedly quite post-punk sounding in a first-wave British art-school way, almost to the point where the aesthetic supersedes the music itself, but their confidently understated delivery has made me a believer. The album title sounds like something a London mod would’ve yelled at his mates while goofin’ in the tube (chube) on the way to Rough Trade back in ’78, but maybe Children Maybe Later yell it at the bitcoin miners and NFT grifters they pass on the way to work, too?

Chinese Junk Fly Spray LP (Big Neck)
Probably the first punk band out of Orpington, UK to be reviewed here, here’s the debut full-length from Chinese Junk. Assuming you’re willing to give these jokers the benefit of the doubt on the band name (it’s a type of boat of course, but uh, is that their point?), you might find yourself enjoying their American-sounding garage-punk, straight out of the colorful pages of Rip Off Records and that whole “budget rock” scene full of bands like Supercharger, The Zodiac Killers, Teengenerate, Loli & The Chones and so on to infinity. You better believe the guys in Chinese Junk wear 3-D glasses for the fun of it, sprinkle their leather motorcycle lapels with buttons of bands they like, and sing quick simple songs about how they don’t like you, how they’re sick of you, and how you make them sick. If you find this sound appealing under basically any circumstances, there’s no denying that Chinese Junk have it down pat, with songs like “Ain’t Nobody Payin’ Me To Think” and “My Baby Works For Rentokil” delivering the goods. I’m fine with it, although my favorite part of Fly Spray is the little comic book insert that comes inside, which takes you through a typical Chinese Junk gig and all its tribulations. Why simply behave like a cartoon when you can become one, too?

Coffin Prick Laughing LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Cavity were always one of the coolest sludge-metal bands operating in the vaguely power-violence-centered nexus of extreme underground hardcore in the ’90s, so when I learned that Coffin Prick was the solo project of Cavity guitarist Ryan Weinstein, I showed some respect and threw it on immediately. I wasn’t expecting Cavity 2 by any means, and hooray for me, as Coffin Prick is an entirely different beast. Actually, not a beast at all really, maybe a playful house-cat that keeps getting into areas you thought you blocked off. Working on his own, Weinstein’s music features plenty of guitar, but plenty of other stuff too: lots of synths, funky drum machines, strange electronic melodies and a smattering of warped filters. As a whole, it ends up having a “Gary Numan and Scott Walker conspire on a yacht” vibe, reminiscent of Weinstein’s current residence of Los Angeles where the sun shines on palm trees and putrid gutter-trash in equal measure. The songs are overloaded in a way that works, somewhere between Here Come The Warm Jets, Matthew Dear’s Bunny and Wire’s early ’80s run of albums. In other words, the musicality is bizarre and off putting (both positive attributes in this case) and the songs are well suited to withstand the strangeness at hand. Pushead always loved Cavity; I wonder what he’d make of this?

Connections Cool Change LP (Trouble In Mind)
Columbus indie-rockers Connections were a songwriting force way way back in the 2010s, filling up albums with reliable and unassuming tunes. Been a minute (five years) since their last album, but Cool Change keeps the train rolling, more confident college-rock that puts the songs first. I can’t name a member of the band off-hand, or even claim to have ever seen a picture of them, but that’s not what Connections are about – with them, the music comes first! They come from the school of indie thought where the work speaks for itself, with nary a viral-worthy attribute to their collective name, and if you dig that sort of understated style, they have a whole bunch of records for you to check out. This new one is full of appealingly varied tunes, at times calling to mind the somber jangle of REM, the abnormal bliss of Built To Spill and the glistening breeze of The Lemonheads. Those aren’t new groups, but nothing about Connections feels nostalgic, either; guitar-pop like this is a timeless art form, and Connections spin their honest sound into its own sturdy web. Now seems like a terrible time to be a restrained band indifferent to attention, but Connections clearly have enough faith in their songs to leave it at that.

Coordinated Suicides This Could Be Heaven LP (Temporal)
There’s plenty to noise-rock about over there in the sprawling Midwest, as the weather gets more extreme and the sense of impending breakdowns (social, emotional and otherwise) grows ever stronger. Madison’s Coordinated Suicides synthesize a few disparate heavy, screamy, abrasive elements into their sound, sometimes in unexpected ways, which is always appreciated as so much music that comes out these days is severely expected. This Could Be Heaven was mixed by Today Is The Day’s Steve Austin, and that sort of discordantly arty groove-metal vibe is present in the songwriting as well, nodding to Chat Pile and Neurosis with kind of a softer ’90s alterna-vibe that lingers throughout like moths in an old flannel. The vocals stand out as well, as they opt for either a screechy black-metal caterwaul, its intensity often at odds with the somber, sludgy riffs, or a soft melodic coo, vocalist M. Martin unafraid to activate his inner diva. Beats the same ol’ shouting buried deep in the noise-rock mix, I suppose! They certainly keep it varied, even tempering some of the metallic misery with the acoustic guitar of “Mary Magdelene”. It runs into the opening, Converge-esque verses of “Like Shining Flies” before the Deafheaven metal-gaze chorus carries us home. All this and a band name that makes for an uneasy t-shirt to wear around town!

Dan Sour Drinkers Mass LP (Spoor LLC)
Dada meets animal husbandry on this new album from Dan Gilmore and Pat Barnsour aka Dan Sour, arguably a more compelling name choice for the duo than “Pat More”. Having become all too familiar with the Barn Sour seven-inch from a couple years back and its screaming wheels of agricultural madness, I was mentally prepared for whatever Drinkers Mass turned out to be, though I knew I’d be leaving the experience unclean. For the uninitiated, these two sound artists appear to combine samples (or live performance?) of tasteful musics – classical and fingerpicked guitars, orchestral concertos, jazz – with some of the most wretched, gag-inducing sounds created on this planet. The comforting drift of an acoustic guitar will be met with what sounds like pigs at a trough, bones being reset after an accident, acapella gore-grind vocals and so forth, all drifting in and out of the sensory field like a field trip meant to make you barf. What a ride! It has me imagining the intestinal breakcore of Otto Von Schirach playfully remixed by Matmos or Boards Of Canada, not only in the sonic content, but also the dexterity and thoughtfulness with which Dan Sour handle the material. The reactions these songs elicit are not due to the overpowering force of the sounds – no piercing feedback, no harsh tests of strength – but rather the startling and disconcerting nature of the sounds themselves, and the ways in which they’re integrated.

Martin Frawley The Wannabe LP (Trouble In Mind)
Can’t blame Martin Frawley for operating under his own name after leading Melbourne’s indie-rock outfit The Twerps. He’s all grown up now, twerpiness firmly in his past, and this new solo album (his second) is a pleasant and assured affair. These songs volley between night-moving power-pop and soft-touch alt-rock, resulting in a record with songs capable of shouldering up next to Haim, Tom Petty, Hackamore Brick and Terry on any readymade Spotify playlist. The overall feeling is one of tenderness and vulnerability, not always easy emotions to convey as a rock band, but that’s what a piano ballad like “I Wish Everyone Would Love Me” is for. My favorite cut is probably “Heart In Hand”: it’s pretty millennial sounding, with an instrumental hook sounds ripe for one of those sunny commercials advertising depression meds (do they have those in Australia too?), but it really works for me here, thanks to Frawley’s smirking vocal, sounding like the Aussie Kurt Vile. They both like using pics of cute kids on their record covers, although in the case of The Wannabe, I believe the child is actually Frawley himself, caught in a cute nuzzle with his father, the late Maurice Frowley. See, I told you it was tender!

FRKSE Desecration Anxiety III LP (Divergent Series)
Third and final installment of the Desecration Anxiety series from Boston’s FRKSE, who is also responsible for my favorite ambient-industrial electronics album to be released by Iron Lung (yup, that Iron Lung!). FRKSE’s music has always had a kind of body-horror / organic occult vibe, like some sort of ritual-based performance using only items found in alleyways on garbage night, and while that same eerie presence is felt here, I appreciate that it’s not a straight rehashing of the sonic themes explored on the first two volumes. Most notably, this time around FRKSE collaborates with a variety of people, most of whom offer their spoken-word talents. The various vocals are full of personality and manifold in style – some sound like they’re ready to snap, others are casual and relaxed, and in the case of D. Joshi on “Jai Maa”, a little melody is sung. Again, I’m strongly reminded of Demdike Stare in the way that melody, electronics and found-sound noise are psychedelically combined, although FRKSE doesn’t feel remotely British or susceptible to the allure of drum n’ bass. Desecration Anxiety III is a very American form of dreary industrial collage and a stellar final installment of the series.

Grawlixes Very Fucking Grawlixes 7″ (Shock To The System / Brain Slash)
The noise-not-music virus has made it to Albany, NY, infecting the brains of the three guys calling themselves Grawlixes (two Dans and one Not Dan according to the liner notes). They seem to exist in near-tribute to Swankys (and by that measure, partial tribute to Wankys), playing bare-bones melodic-punk with piercing noise-guitar – six songs here, though the room should clear out before you make it to the second. If it wasn’t for that Disclose-inspired guitar, this stuff would remind me of the crustier side of pop-punk in the ’90s, something like FYP or The Wackers or maybe even Showcase Showdown, but the Lebenden Toten tendencies at play here kind of override any other aesthetic, like trying to scroll through pictures on an iPhone with a shattered, spiderwebbed screen. Fun and noise seems to be the point here, not originality or “art”, as the insert even owns up to one of these songs being stolen from Chaotic Dischord (I pose too hard to recognize which). Chaotic Dischord were probably just stealing from The Exploited anyway… who cares about who originally did what when all property is theft and we’re just here to swill free cider until it comes pouring back out our noses?

Ilta Hämärä Origo 12″ (Bergpolder)
If this record wasn’t already covered in umlauts, it would be necessary to add them – here’s some seriously Euro brain-mushroom music from the duo of Ilta Hämärä. I’m not entirely sure how the two of them worked it out, considering that my ears are hearing a drum kit, a guitar and at least one keyboard, but maybe it’s simply my mind playing tricks on me (or, you know, overdubs). Not an impossibility considering how psychedelically-fried these tunes are, the drums keeping a slow-motion, drunken sense of time amidst so many reverberant tones. Very much in the school of Amon Düül, Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh (and if there was a Popol Vuh II, probably them too), as well as the more modern psych-improv meanderings of Ulaan Khol and even the Gunn-Truscinski Duo. It appears these tracks were recorded over the winter of 2015 into 2016, surely in some well-insulated Dutch studio setting with multiple incenses burning and the lights down low. Might’ve even been a little bit of the devil’s lettuce being partaken too, but I don’t want to get anyone in trouble with my speculations! The final tracks go further out there, negating percussion entirely for a swirl of occult droning and flute-like tones fluttering through the haze. I wonder what they’ve been up to since this recording session, presuming of course that Ilta Hämärä remain bound to our earthly realm.

Infinity Division INTOXTC 12″ (Never Sleep)
Ash Luk was half of techno duo Minimal Violence, a project whose name somewhat outlined their electronic style, and now they’re producing tracks on their own under the Marvel Comics-sounding moniker of Infinity Division. INTOXTC is the debut EP, and it acts as kind of a bellwether for prevailing Berlin-centric electronic trends, moving away from the thick granite thwack of Sandwell-inspired industrial techno towards jungle breaks, Mortal Kombat-throwback raving and opulent goth-pop. Big trance chords shoot skyward over a mix of drum n’ bass cut-ups, streaks of acid and high-tempo warehouse kicks boldly make their presence felt, and just when you think you haven’t seen enough fishnets and latex, a commanding diva vocal redolent of Zola Jesus announces their ghostly presence on “Visions”. I can’t tell if Luk is trying a little too hard to sign to PAN here, throwing every trick in the book together in hopes that it all sticks, but on the other hand I find that sort of brashness appealing – why operate in half measures, especially when hyper-pop is taking off from doing exactly that? Listening to INTOXTC can feel like watching a highlight reel of rapid-fire slam dunks: maddening or transcendent, depending on your personal constitution the moment it meets your senses.

Läuten Der Seele Ertrunken Im Seichtesten Gew​ä​sser LP (World Of Echo)
Excellent solo outing from Christian Schoppik, half of gloomy folk-collagists Brannten Schnüre over in Würzburg, Deutschland. Rather than sharply diverge from Brannten Schnüre’s darkly whimsical horror musics, Schoppik essentially does more of the same thing as Läuten Der Seele, offering up two rich twenty-minute tracks here (as opposed to Brannten’s more compact song-form). What’s borrowed and what’s home-brewed is incredibly difficult to calculate, though I get the impression the majority of the sounds here were “found” elsewhere, stirred together by Schoppik into an enchanted revision of history. It’s essentially haunted Christmas music, stuff from old wooden churches centuries ago, long before the Coca Cola-looking Santa we know today showed up, probably even from back before Krampus turned evil. It’s beautiful, soul-stirring stuff, similar in some ways to the classical dream-states of The Caretaker but far more melodic and memorable, at least by my count. These two long passages are filled with different songs, sounds and atmospheres, all edited together with warmth and care. It’s a love letter to centuries past written in a manner that resonates with daring modern audiences like me and you.

Loopsel Öga För Öga / Eye For An Eye LP (DFA / Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
Loopsel arrived as yet another Swedish underground phenom with a “blink and it’s $100” debut album in 2020. How many hundred-dollarses am I expected to have, just to keep up?? A member of Monokultur and Skiftande Enheter, Elin Engström records solo as Loopsel, seemingly existing in conversation with her local noise contemporaries while leaning towards a moody, melancholic melodicism instead. She’s clearly got a solid understanding of how to blend the scabrous with the shimmering, in her other endeavors but most certainly as Loopsel, too. These songs connect the dots between Young Marble Giants and Cocteau Twins, rainy-day twee and industrial-ambient, and work particularly well as songs, memorable, hummable songs as likely to excite an obsessive sub-underground Swedeophile as your friendly neighborhood Radiohead-worshipping barista. At first, DFA’s business deal with the JJulius and Loopsel crew seemed unexpected, maybe even suspicious, but the simple act of listening to Öga För Öga / Eye For An Eye is all it takes to realize that this isn’t some oddity created for the sake of its own obscurity, but rather a beautiful, enveloping album unbound by genre allegiance. The possibility of a Rapture remix twelve-inch is merely a bonus.

Мир Mindecision LP (Beach Impediment)
Hardcore archeologists are a passionate bunch, but few areas outside of the major American cities have been as voraciously excavated as the DC / Virginia / Maryland de-militarized zone. And the hits just keep on coming! I for one had no idea there was the Cyrillically-named Мир operating out of Roanoke, VA in the mid ’80s, and I certainly had no idea they were this mercilessly ass-beating! Mindecision was released on cassette in 1985, their sole non-compilation offering in their day, and it’s staggeringly good. They remind me of Wrangler Brutes if they had an X-Claim!-styled drummer, or No Fraud if they played with the wild abandon of Autistic Behavior. Just furious, raging stuff, with the songs taking their own original forms rather than ripped from the obvious blueprints of Negative Approach and Minor Threat. There’s even a little of that early menacing psych-damage sound here, moments of No Trend / Spike In Vain self-annihilation that aged far better than MDC and DOA. A song like “What’s War For?” twists typical peace-punk vibes into something Reagan Youth would’ve sanctioned, and I can’t stop listening to it. If Mindecision hit vinyl in 1985 I’d be slugging it out on the various digital marketplaces for a copy, but Beach Impediment saved us the financial bruising with this tasteful and dare-I-say-necessary twelve-inch release.

Мotorbike Motorbike LP (Feel It)
No shortage of playful Midwestern punk on the Feel It label these days, the label itself having relocated to Cincinnati a few months(?) ago and surely becoming quickly inundated with all the punk weirdos in a few hours’ driving distance. Motorbike is a new band, full of Cincinnati locals alongside Welsh ex-pat Jamie Morrison on vocals, because if you’ve got a guy with an accent from the UK in your American band, you’ve gotta get him to sing! On their self-titled debut, Motorbike play a self-assured form of contemporary punk rock, cherrypicking the tastiest influences and throwing it together in a refined and effective form. Some Stooges’ chug, the sly power-pop romance of The Exploding Hearts, some Thin Lizzy guitar heroics, a little of Chubby & The Gang’s good-time pub-rock and an itchy post-punk energy redolent of a good number of Feel It bands. Very modern, in that timeless way. Some of these songs carry a cool driving energy and songwriting style beyond the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure to remind me of that first (and fantastic) Ooga Boogas album, if it was played by punks not yet stricken by the onset of middle-age. Can’t necessarily say it surpasses the confluence of all these influences (or similar sounds), but they’re not re-writing the Holy Bible here, they’re playing music in a band they called Motorbike, which is success enough.

Pleaser Pleaser LP (Part Time)
There are worse things to do than go through the various entities named “Pleaser” on Discogs: DJs, butt-rockers, classic Harvey Milk albums, and now this shouty Danish punk group to round things out. They’re young and energetic with a self-described “lollipop chainsaw punk” sound, conjuring images of Hello Kitty wielding a spiked mace, or leather-jacketed femmes out for revenge. Their music is generally pretty fast and dense – kind of low on the lollipop side of the equation, to be honest – and the melodies are downer and unfriendly, an alt-grunge sound tinged with ’00s emo and played at hardcore speed. It’s interesting, but doesn’t quite result in something coherent or catchy enough to really lure me in. Part of that comes from the vocal delivery, which is almost always a monotone shout delivered by either of Pleaser’s two vocalists – the singing is so uniform across all of Pleaser that I find myself fatigued after either side, wondering what it’d be like if the vocalists tried something besides continuous full-volume wailing. And while I appreciate the somewhat eclectic collection of influences, the black-metal-inspired instrumental that ends the first side doesn’t strike me as beneficial to the overall album. It’s very cool that Pleaser found in each other a willingness to sound like 7 Year Bitch, AFI and Nog Watt at more or less the same time, I’m just not finding the final result to be especially, well, pleasing.

Rayne Rayne LP (Mighty Mouth Music)
Last month I was talking about the glorious randomness of the Almost Ready / Mighty Mouth empire, and now here’s a reissue of Rayne’s self-titled 1979 album, a four-figure psych-rock bonzer that appears on the grey market as frequently as Halley’s comet passes through our sky. Why not, right? I hadn’t spun this one before, not even in the form of its Shadoks reissue back in the ’00s, and I’m pleased to be making its acquaintance now, I tell you what. This is one of those “how come they never made it?” moments, as Rayne managed to combine the moody emotional righteousness of Neil Young, the street-rat strut of Dust or Leaf Hound and the blissful Southern harmonies of the Allman Brothers Band. This New Orleans-based squad sounded like Bob Dylan one moment, 1969 Blue Cheer the next, and often my favorite style, Bob Dylan as lead singer-songwriter of Blue Cheer. It’s obvious why this one became a rarified grail in the greasy world of obscure private ’70s rock collectors, as the songs themselves are as memorable, heartfelt and rockin’ as anything that came out on the majors back then, if not more.

Theee Retail Simps Live On Cool Street LP (Total Punk)
If the Total Punk label didn’t exist, it would be necessary to create it for the purpose of releasing music by Theee Retail Simps (you might also know them as Tha Retail Simps). They’re Canada’s finest bunch of rabble-rousers, vivid in my mind for playing pool with their guitars on the cover of their debut album and Instagram-beefing with some corporate-indie guy that kicked them off their tour. I forget his name, but I certainly remember thine Simps, who turn out another party-punk spectacular here. They don’t just rip a guitar solo, they’ll rip two or three at the same time (probably the same goes for their bongs), and they exude a manic punk energy throughout, like the runt offspring of Chris Farley and Black Randy tearing up some carpet. The music calls to mind the severely underrated Penetrators (from a couple hours’ drive and four decades away), securing their songs with a ruthless garage stomp and spazzing around on top of it, like those flapping inflatable tube men outside car dealerships. This time around, there’s even a hint of mellow hippie-burnout in some of these songs, though Joe Chamandy’s vocals are as blathering as ever, as congruous as Damian Abraham on those lite-shoegaze Fucked Up songs. The utter freeness at work here is exhilarating fun, equal parts bad-ass and silly; I’m reminds of Home Blitz in a spiritual sense, though he had a song called “Stupid Street” and Theee Retail Simps are cruising down Cool!

Silicone Prairie Vol. II LP (Feel It)
From my outsider perspective, the Kansas City / Lawrence punk scene is unique in its do-gooder vibes. All these cute and friendly bands, making their interesting punk art in cheap barns, helping each other out and having some wholesome fun… if I wasn’t mellowing out in my old age, it might almost be a little too much, you know? There isn’t a single shady label there that flakes on sending out a record everyone pre-ordered, or a band with sketchy lyrics that somehow gets to hang around, or even a notoriously drunk punk who keeps getting the cops called on DIY spaces out there! In the midst of all these feel-good vibes is Ian Teeple, egg-punk extraordinaire (and newest member of Snooper), who has been focusing his energy on community-aided solo-project Silicone Prairie. As Silicone Prairie, Teeple pulls back the spastic mania a few notches, taking a similar approach to the most recent Chronophage album, where it feels like they’re both trying to write theme songs for ’80s sitcoms that never existed. “Neon Moon” sounds like the theme for a public-access rom-com called Neon Moon; “Cows” sounds like a lo-fi take on the hyper-jangle that Angel Du$t have been boggling my mind with; “Elysian Fields” sounds like Ariel Pink when he was at the top of his Haunted Graffiti game… there’s a lot happening in these songs, vivid and bursting with ideas. Ten tracks, a couple of which are filler, though even the filler tracks are uncommonly engaging and add to the freaky-fun atmosphere. This is what happens when you’ve got Sweeping Promises planting flowers in your backyard!

Soft Shoulder Smile Building’s Exit LP (Gilgongo)
Not a lot of no-wave groups make it to seven full-lengths, but then again, not many no-wave groups have their own in-house label more or less dedicated to releasing their own music! If that sounds like I’m hating, maybe I am a tiny bit, but any sense of mild annoyance (or jealousy) quickly fades when I remember that I always enjoy the music of Soft Shoulder, this new album very much included. Sometimes they get a little conceptual, but this one is pretty straight-forward lo-fi disco punk, with the bass-guitar blaringly up front, crusty drums bashing along and vocals as fuzzy as they are sassy. Very much in line with the early Chromatics and Liars records, peak Y2K Troubleman Unlimited sounds to be certain. I’m sure there’s been at least one other no-wave wave since then – isn’t that kind of what Model/Actriz are all about now? – but Smile Building’s Exit sounds extremely twenty years ago, right down to the robotic throb of “Narrow Yellow Slip”, which reminds me that A Frames remain one of the greatest punk bands of the current century. Meanwhile, Soft Shoulder continue to deliver this satisfying sound well into our doomed future, and whether they’re operating in obliviousness or cunningly playing the long game, I’m glad they’re sticking it out.

Spiral Dub Spiral Dub LP (Sanctuary Moon)
Even with skyrocketing rents that already previously skyrocketed, a lot of the San Francisco underground seems eerily carefree and syrupy, content to see a flower and sniff it rather than hate it. The departed Life Stinks were a nice corrective to that vibe, vocalist Chad Kawamura being a big part of that equation, and I’m thrilled to see he’s making music with this new group, Spiral Dub. I know, “Spiral Dub” sounds like a techno project on Kompakt, but that’s precisely the sort of swerve these jokers like throwing our way – what else would you expect from an ensemble that also claims personnel from Pitchfork darlings DIIV and some band called Fuckwolf? Whereas Life Stinks were one-note kings of annoyance, Spiral Dub have clearly gotten too high to be cynical downers all of the time, even if that sense of the grim reaper reading your DMs over your shoulder remains tucked away in the far end of Spiral Dub’s DNA. Rather, I’m hearing the rowdy slacker-pop of Scott And Charlene’s Wedding, a touch of Happy Mondays’ blacked-out dance grooves, and on a track like “Hang From The Line” in particular, the jubilant, dance-y art-punk of Parquet Courts. “Punch Me In The Face” coalesces these styles with gusto, arriving with an immediately memorable hook in “punch me in the face / once for luck, and once for the fuck of it”, the sort of thing perfectly primed to receive weekly airplay on a 120 Minutes that no longer exists and hasn’t existed in decades. Thankfully I no longer need a late-night video program to tell me what’s cool – Spiral Dub is by far the coolest “indie” debut I’ve heard in ages!

Strapping Fieldhands Lyve: In Concerte LP (Ever/Never)
Sure, you can hit any one of those embarrassing tourist shops here in Philadelphia and pick up a t-shirt with a picture of Sun Ra eating a cheesesteak on the “Rocky steps” on it, but a pit-stained Strapping Fieldhands tee? That’s the real Philly, unable to be commodified even if it turned out the group was responsible for the word “jawn”. (They’re not.) Anyway, they were a weird folk-psych troupe playing for the bar crowds in the ’90s, and after a brief intermission they’re continuing on today as the same merry thing. Still, it can be nice to remember when nobody (as opposed to everybody) had grey hair, like on this live album which collects performances from the years 1993 through 1996. These renditions are spirited, loose and undoubtedly not sober, all with lively audience responses. I like them in this rougher, lo-fi, immediate form, fully immersed in the spirit of late-night college-radio rock and a proud nose-thumbing of the mainstream, less prone to sweating the fanciful details of a studio recording. The actual (as opposed to “throwback”) aura of the ’90s is especially prominent on the back-cover live photo: two members in backwards ball caps, all in shorts; one audience member in a Z. Cavaricci hoodie clutching his girlfriend tight; an inexplicable Adonis sitting behind the band on a stoop, shirtless in short-shorts and Adidas trainers with a backpack surely full of beers. Wonder what they made of the Fieldhands’ classic “Lonnie Donegan’s Mum’s Tea Chest”?

David Tholfsen Walk With Me LP (Spoor LLC)
Without question, David Tholfsen’s Walk With Me is the most demented record of the month! Of the decade, maybe? I wasn’t sure what to expect, what with David Tholfsen in a nature scene looking all singer-songwriterly on the cover, but I knew this was coming from the Barn Sour-affiliated Spoor label (and took note of Russ Waterhouse’s mastering credit), so something had to be off. My suspicions proved correct, so here’s the deal: Tholfsen goes on long walks, hums patterns to himself, then records them when he gets home, improvising multiple vocal takes over his original improvisations. It’s staunchly vocals only, harmonized in a way you’d expect from a barbershop quartet of salty sea captains, ninety-percent of which are without lyrics but rather oodles of “ooh”s, “dum-dah”s, “eee-yo”s and “wedda-loo”s. On one hand, it’s a completely maddening listen that grows only more intolerable as it progresses, but if you make it to the other side, it’s actually strangely beautiful? I’m up to half a dozen listens myself now (which might be a world record?) and my appreciation only increases as I follow the pacing of Tholfsen’s vocal melodies so clearly tied to his jaunty stomp down a wooded trail. Music can’t help but erupt from some humans, and it’s amazing that Tholfsen thought to record his internal rhythmic melodies, and doubly amazing that Spoor LLC thought to release it.

The Toads In The Wilderness LP (Anti Fade / Upset The Rhythm)
I hadn’t realized The Shifters were kaput, and maybe they aren’t, but it was a pleasure to hear the familiar voice of Miles Jansen fronting the equally affable Toads, fresh outta Melbourne. (Not to be confused with the Bay Area punk band Toads, a slightly different species.) Jansen teamed up with companions from Parsnip and The Living Eyes for In The Wilderness, an album of lively indie-pop that betrays none of The Toads’ members’ prior bands without directly repeating themselves. The squeaky pogo of The Fall’s early material is present and fresh-faced throughout, Jansen clearly enjoying himself as his bandmates hop and bop. I keep some of my Shifters records close at hand – Have A Cunning Plan is so warmly familiar at this point – and while some of the gleeful simplicity of The Shifters’ songwriting has given way to more elaborate (by comparison) arrangements here, The Toads are playing beach-party indie-punk, not “in the wilderness” so much as in a floating inner tube with cold drink in hand. No shortage of this kinda stuff coming from Melbourne, but that’s no complaint when it’s as agreeable and gratifying as The Toads.

John Wiese Magnetic Stencil 1 LP (Gilgongo)
Three separate volumes have arrived from noise lifer John Wiese on vinyl following their previous CD releases, extracted and assembled from a potpourri of fellow sonic travelers. He’s called them Magnetic Stencil, and just like Netflix, Wiese dropped all three episodes at once, allowing us to binge at will. This first volume has a pretty stacked list of contributors, from Aaron Dilloway to Lasse Marhaug, Charmaine Lee to Hair Stylistics, though the ability to ascribe any single sonic moment to its originating source is firmly out of reach. The answer, then, is to just sit back and let Wiese take the wheel, he being one of the masters of violent and painful jump-scare noise cut-ups. This first volume might be my favorite, filled with plenty of strange vocalizing (Aaron Dilloway and Charmaine Lee, is that you?), sounding as if the record is being yanked off the turntable by multiple hands, sometimes all at once. Ragged radiator noise gets bleeped out for tongue-pops and one persistent tuning fork; ham radios are sliced into ham sandwiches; alien transmissions are interrupted by a firehose filled with Mountain Dew. One could’ve truncated this set down to a single album, I suppose, but the results are pure uninhibited excitement, so three LPs it is!

Benefit For Prevention Point compilation 7″ (Strange Mono)
Philadelphia’s Strange Mono has taken the admirable stance of donating all proceeds from their releases to various worthwhile causes, this seven-inch compilation going towards Prevention Point. I truly thought benefit seven-inch compilations were a thing of the past, and I’m not even sure how it’s possible to make any profit on a seven-inch release in 2023, but hats off to them for figuring it out, or at least trying! This EP features six tracks from six different Philly groups, an enjoyable smorgasbord of what’s currently popping off in basements across the city. MESH are holding down the egg-punk wacky-sunglasses vibe and Added Dimensions arrive with some poppy post-punk strum, but the rest of the EP gets pretty grisly, with metal/grind/more metal from the likes of Shitty Wizard, Nothing Is Over, Programmed Hatred and Concrete Caveman. Very crusty stuff, music that has me lifting my His Hero Is Gone buttflap patch in order to use the house venue’s greywater flushing system. Music of a style befitting a DIY benefit comp, no doubt, where no matter how scary the double-bass metal of Concrete Caveman gets, I’m sure they’re group-hugging MESH and Added Dimensions by the end of the night. Seems strange it wasn’t packed in a silkscreened manilla envelope, but maybe it’s harder to steal from Staples these days.