Artificial Joy 100% Pure Joy LP (Break The)
100% Pure Joy is the fun and animated full-length debut from Los Angelean punks Artificial Joy, which begs the question, well, which kinda joy are we dealing with here, real or fake? I don’t want to insinuate they should change their name or anything, but these tunes are frantic fun in a genuine way, nothing fabricated about it. The album definitely has that recognizable West Coast DIY hardcore sound, polished and punchy, busy and berserk, where even the mosh breakdowns are fast and the songwriting favors agility over brawn. You know, somewhere between Look Back And Laugh, Street Trash and Acrylics and the modern crop of three-letter-wonders Gel and Spy. Vocalist Sky Shin sounds absolutely ecstatic throughout, part Olivia Gibb of Warm Bodies, part Bride of Chucky, and the rest of the group keeps up honorably. In spite of never having seen them live (which is apparently a rare occurrence even for locals), I get the impression that Artificial Joy are perpetually down to hang, the type of band that enjoys post-show parking lot goofin’ / convenience store loiterin’ as much as stage-diving directly onto their best friends’ faces.

Beef Beef 12″ (Feel It)
Solid debut twelve-inch slab here from Cincinnati’s Beef, featuring none other than Feel It head honcho Sam Richardson on guitar. They play punk rock with a first-thought-best-thought, four-on-the-floor approach: the riffs barely require the necessary finger movement to count as “riffs” and the shouty vocals are delivered by none other than their drummer, one Takoda Hortenberry, a name his parents should be proud of bestowing. The songs are extremely rudimentary, located in that crevice where garage meets no-wave, and it seems to be a proudly low-stakes affair. Sounds kinda like if Lamps and Pampers were Australian, though I’m not entirely sure why, seeing as Beef are grade-A American. No big swings or profound statements to be found here: they just wanna make a racket in various unkempt rooms across southwestern Ohio and up to this point, mission accomplished. Seems pretty understandable that they got Feel It’s backing for their debut, seeing as their guitarist runs the whole thing, but can you point to a single iconic hardcore-punk label that didn’t involve releases featuring the bands of the people who ran it? It’s kind of a necessity, and while Fried Egg might’ve been Richardson’s Minor Threat, Beef can be his, hmm, Skewbald? Only time will tell.

Bjarki Tears In Berghain 12″ (NIX)
Bjarki is the clown-prince of Icelandic techno and this new EP is prime supporting evidence. Not only did he dream up the idea of revising the lyrics to Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” by replacing each use of “heaven” with the name of the most notorious Berlin club, he actually did it here on the title track. A minimal thump is the backdrop for the narcotized AI voice that recites these lines, making for a gloriously uncomfortable listening experience be it at home on the couch or in an asbestos-padded basement bar. “Rave Daddy (NIX MIX)” is even more disturbing, once again setting some unhinged robot dialogue on top of a stripped-down club groove, very much in the spirit of Mr. Oizo but somehow creepier, particularly when the “daddy” character chimes in. If I haven’t already tempted you to immediately check out these messed-up tunes, I’m not sure “Pano Party (Dressless)” will convert you, as it’s another loony cut of perverted deepfake techno, but what did you come here for, to find out about boring background-music techno? Or to discover the sickest, most head-spinning tracks to freak out your friends with?

Cigarette Camp Chalk EP 7″ (Dead Broke Rekerds / Bloated Kat / Bigdreams)
Goddamn, here’s a ’90s throwback I can fully get behind, a ten-song seven-inch from Boston’s Cigarette Camp. This rambunctious trio plays an extremely ’90s form of lightly-crusty pop-punk, full of those fists-in-the-air melodies, backwards baseball caps with band patches on them, goofy pogoing, thrift store clothes before they were sold for ten times the price as “vintage”, under-a-minute song lengths and boundless fun-loving energy. Bands like Cigarette Camp used to write songs about how Green Day were sellouts, how it sucks to get punched by jocks and how being ugly is actually cool, and while I would’ve accepted that sorta thing from Cigarette Camp based solely on the joy of their scruffy melodic punk, they’ve updated the lyrical themes here (probably a good move, unless they really wanted to stick it to Dan Cortese one last time). While concise, these songs fit right in with the best that The Mushuganas, Dillinger Four, I Farm and Pinhead Gunpowder had to offer in the mid ’90s, recorded raw and lo-fi but in a way that enhances the overall charm. There was a time when 75% of my friends owned Showcase Showdown t-shirts, and if I could’ve introduced Cigarette Camp to us back then they would’ve been our new favorite band. Even now, as a dehydrated middle-aged man, I find Chalk to be an irresistible and memorable spin on a trusty old style.

Corker False Truths LP (Feel It)
Feel It is gonna put Cincinnati on the map if it kills them, and lucky for them they have no shortage of Cincy bands with which to blast at the rest of the world, like t-shirts in a cannon. Corker are another young upstart, and they fall on the moody-militant side of the punk / post-punk spectrum, amongst an ever-growing field of furrowed brows, tucked-in t-shirts and razor-cut mullets. Falser Truths is chilly without ever feeling goth, the songwriting and sound very much in line with Home Front, Poison Ruin and labelmates Crime Of Passing, if perhaps a little more Crisis and the blustery anguish of early Iceage in Corker’s particular equation. Vocalist-guitarist Luke Corvette (great name!) sings like Joe Casey of Protomartyr after a particularly frustrating day, which certainly works for the unfriendly sound they’ve got going. I like it best when Corker veer off the modern-icy post-punk script: “Seeking, Marching” adds some nice guitar damage over a plodding electro beat, like Thurston Moore scribbling his autograph on some early SPK. The kids will want to do their po-faced Ian Curtis dances, so there’s “A Fitting Compensation” and “Anomie”; everyone’s happy, and by happy I mean performatively upset.

Drab Majesty An Object In Motion 12″ (Dais)
Figured it was time to lend my attention to one of the most popular modern-underground goth groups, Drab Majesty, so I fired up this new EP. I saw them a few years ago, and have enough general awareness to know that these four lengthy tracks (and I mean lengthy – “Yield To Force” is over fifteen minutes!) are a bit of an outlier from the duo’s otherwise fairly traditional guitar/synth/drum machine setup. Instead, they showcase a twelve-string acoustic guitar, draping it in all sorts of ambient glimmer. The result falls somewhere between hair-metal ballad and kosmische warp-zone. “Vanity” sounds like the verses of one of Poison’s or Whitesnake’s acoustic heartbreakers (the contemplative axe-work before the chorus kicks in), whereas “Cape Perpetua” is like Mary Lattimore interpreting John Fahey; the massive “Yield By Force” is widescreen erotic steam directed by Klaus Schulze and Günter Schickert (with King Diamond lurking in the castle tower above). Closing track “The Skin And The Glove” is easy-listening Britpop-inspired shoegaze, a sugary little nugget to finish the meal. Weird stuff overall, but not in any sort of “trying to be weird” way, even for a band who wears facepaint, wigs and wraparound BluBlockers… An Object In Motion feels like a group (and a successful one at that) trying something new and unusual because they felt compelled to do so, not because it makes solid business sense.

Drain Brugs Elevator 7″ (Cease And Desist)
The first time around, singer-songwriter Michael Beach and percussionist Pete Warden called their project Brain Drugs, but it must not’ve been warped enough for these two, now going by the ugly-to-read, ugly-to-say “Drain Brugs”. (And wouldn’t it be “Drain Bugs” if they’re just switching the starting consonants? Why add an extra r for “Brugs”?) Anyway, Beach’s solo venture has evolved into handsomely scorched rock balladry, but as Drain Brugs, the duo get nice and loopy with “Elevator”. It’s instrumental, simplistic and lightly fried, like the hold music I’d expect if I called a bespoke record shop that only dealt in original krautrock pressings. Some simplistic keys and horn on here too, because why not? “Nitghsifth” (that’s their spelling again) on the b-side gets a Mikey Young remix, and while I was hoping for him to explode the thing in a bitcrushed Skrillex beat drop, the vibe is quaint and vaguely emo, keys and bells and horns slowly ascending to the heavens. To my ears and perhaps yours as well, this strikes me as particularly inconsequential music, but perhaps that is the very point.

Mary Jane Dunphe Stage Of Love LP (Pop Wig)
Mary Jane Dunphe is one of the most thrilling vocalists of the last decade, let’s get that on the books first and foremost. She howled in the gone-far-too-soon Vexx, wrote the best synth-pop song of the ’10s (CC Dust’s “Never Going To Die”), stunned audiences with the confusing punk group Pinocchio, even veered folksy with The County Liners for a minute there, and now has delivered her masterwork, Stage Of Love. If you have to file it somewhere, “synth-pop” works, though these songs encompass a wide range of instrumentation, full of synths, guitars, electronic percussion and keys with the soft touch of xylophone and lap steel if you catch them. (Guest players include Ben Greenberg of Uniform, Emil Bognar-Nasdor of L.O.T.I.O.N. and the Dylan Carlson on guitar!) The music is stunningly beautiful and rich in emotion, dramatic while never overwrought and eccentric without sacrificing pop hooks. Originality is the hardest quality to find these days, and Stage Of Love is full of it. There are vague moments one could compare to Drab Majesty, Trisomie 21, Boy Harsher, Cold Cave or Depeche Mode, but these songs are hers and hers alone, due primarily to her one-of-a-kind voice. Each word quivers with passion, dipping through registers with a litheness and heart-baring to match her live performances, leaving every last emotion exposed on the floor. Album of the year contender to be sure!

Eyes And Flys Swirl Maps LP (no label)
Following seven self-released seven-inch singles since 2019, Pat Shanahan moved from Buffalo, NY to Long Beach, CA, not only getting a tan for the first time in his life but bringing along his project/group-on-demand Eyes And Flys. And now there’s a self-released LP! As has been the case since their inception, Eyes And Flys are kind of an art-minded garage-punk group, stomping out their moody jangle without any sort of “get drunk and party” vibe or social aptitude. I’d say they fit in somewhere closer to The Embarrassment, early No Age and Spray Paint, or on an opening slot of a 1986 Meat Puppets / Sonic Youth college tour. The guitars are firmly, classically garage-pitched – no overt shoegazin’ or noisy loops – but the songs move in a manner more redolent of Dunedin than Memphis, where pop songs wander off and get lost. They can cut a path to the pit on the band theme “Eyes And Flys”, but they’ll also skip out on drums for a lo-fi confectionary strum like “Records And Books”, a fine way to wrap Swirl Maps. Versatility isn’t an expected (or requisite) trait within the world of post-punk garage-rock, nor is attention to detail, but Eyes And Flys continue to display both with their thoughtful alternative to the norm.

Grand Scheme Numbers Game 7″ (11 PM)
Not long after the paint-markered Xs dried on its hands had youth-crew aesthetically divorced from its hardcore-punk predecessors, but Grand Scheme keep it old-school as well as youth-crew in a way that strongly resonates with me. Theirs is a dirty and fast sound, far closer to No For An Answer and Straight Ahead than Bold or Floorpunch, hardcore from the era right before collegiate sports became an approved hardcore pastime. Through these seven brief tunes, Grand Scheme respectfully acknowledge the pit without cheating on their fast beats, and vocalist Dane Barker lives up to his name quite literally, a gruff spitting that doesn’t try to pretty itself up for the Nike hi-top varsity squad. The music is absolutely geared towards slamming, and rightfully so, but the bounty of high-speed tempos is timeless and righteous, appropriate for a slot on the New Breed mixtape and versatile enough to hold up in battle with the crustier crowd found on Deep Six’s series of Reality compilations. Just angry no-frills hardcore that gets to the point and leaves no room for half-stepping, or karate crowd-killing. As a wise friend constantly says, DC remains undefeated.

Lex Gray Pearls 7″ (Love’s Devotee)
Mover-shaker Herb Shellenberger recently returned to his roots in eastern Pennsylvania and planted a new record label, Love’s Devotee, which promises to shine a light on various genre-skirting musics that most of us have no idea exist. Case in point is the label’s first release, this smoldering two-song single from Vancouver’s Lex Gray. Covering Sade is a bold choice no matter who’s doing it (consider this a formal challenge, Alien Ant Farm), but Gray seems up to the lofty task at hand, channeling much of Sade’s leagues-deep emotional heft and presenting it with the synthetic sheen of Auto-Tune as though it were the title music for a new HBO show about a sad sexy robot (as opposed to the old HBO show about that). Nothing more than Gray’s voice and some tasteful keys and strings, very bare and vulnerable and captivating because of it. “Bionic (Nude Mix)” is the b-side original, which has Gray espousing in cyborgian Fiona Apple mode over spare and bassy electric guitar. Can’t really understand the words – they sound like English, but her voice is so quavery and elastic that I only understand hints of language, like a ’20s vocal-pop version of Elizabeth Fraser. More to come from both Lex Gray and Love’s Devotee, I can only imagine!

Idol Ko Si Idol Ko Si LP (Twenty One Eighty Two)
Heard from a friend who heard from a friend that A Frames might be brewing something this fall after years of inactivity, and while I’ll try not to drool too hard over the prospect, this new full-length debut from Idol Ko Si is something else for me to chew on. The group consists of Min Yee of A Frames, Matthew Ford of Factums and Robert Millis of Climax Golden Twins – quite the Pacific Northwest pedigree! Members of A Frames and Climax Golden Twins collaborated before, of course, via the prickly and decidedly anti-commercial AFCGT album, and Idol Ko Si is equally experimental, if significantly more chill. These eight tracks are generally electronic in nature, acting more as self-contained vignettes than songs. Each song establishes a mood, be it dystopian, liminal or zonked, and just kinda hovers around its center, seeing what happens when you move around inside it a little. No sense of urgency happening here, which is refreshing. Synths take a central role, but there are guitars on occasion, dub-like properties throughout, and even some vocals, which sound like someone who stumbled into the back door of the studio before finding his way out. A lovely record to spend some time getting lost in as I await any and all A Frames news.

Kosmetika Illustration LP (Spoilsport)
Melbourne’s Kosmetika pared down from a quintet to a duo, presumably out of pandemic-based necessity, resulting in the synth-focused Illustration. Their prior record was very much that of a guitar band, and while I hope those other members managed to take up crochet or online gambling during their quarantines, this shift towards new-wave synth-pop fits Kosmetika just fine. They clearly had the full array of hardware/software at their disposal, pairing day-glo ’80s synths with celestial krautrock ones, electronic drums, bass-guitar and the English/Russian vocals of Veeka Nazarova. It often feels like the music of Blondie and Gary Numan updated for modern indie audiences, pleasant and not particularly risk-taking songs that neither irritate nor titillate. As a Covid project, they should absolutely be proud of themselves, but amidst the myriad other indie-dance synth projects floating around out there now (Bandcamp alone accounts for 2.4 million of them), it’s not a standout.

Los Llamarada Space & Time LP (C/Site Recordings)
Back in the mid ’00s when the garage scene exploded into experimental lo-fi shards all over the pre-social media internet, Los Llamarada were on the tip of every weird-punk’s tongue, and for good reason. Their loose n’ noisy psychedelic no-wave sounded particularly fresh then, and the fact that they were one of the very few punk bands (the only punk band?) in their hometown of Monterrey, Mexico made it all the more unexpected. After a couple great records and various side-projects (The Love Is So Fast’s sole twelve-inch is a wonderful way to spend $3.46 on Discogs), transmissions ceased – until now, that is, on none other than CT’s C/Site! Space & Time picks up in similar Llamarada fashion, full of rippling phaser beams and paisley guitar riffs played through toxic effects, with mumble-shout vocals wafting in from behind a screen. Surely Sonic Youth covered Flipper once or thrice, and I’m certain it ended up sounding like much of this record, “I’m Not You” in particular. Maybe Los Llamarada always sounded like that – I’ve gotten much more familiar with the music of Sonic Youth in the fifteen years since I actively assessed a new Los Llamarada record – but their sound here feels particularly alive and potent, a decade later and still ahead of (or vastly behind) their time.

Magnitude Of Days Renewed… LP (Triple-B)
The fascinating thing about living long enough to experience a new generation of hardcore kids replicating an era I experienced first-hand is seeing what pieces the kids decided were worth resurrecting and which they left behind. Magnitude are a straight-edge hardcore band from North Carolina, whom a good number of my remaining straight-edge friends (all of whom are even older than me!) enjoy, and their style is decidedly throwback. Look at that cover of some amorphous sunset(?), and the album title, its vague gravitas evoking a distinct strain of late ’90s Euro metalcore. Very Distro called, they want to carry some of your CDs and never pay you for them! Musically, Magnitude nail the ’90s hardcore style that caters to pile-on sing-alongs as well as “old-school” fast parts (they could’ve fit right in on Indecision Records in 1999), not quite meathead-beatdown though it wouldn’t completely alienate that fanbase either. Reminds me a lot of Ensign, actually, from the momentum of the songs and general riff-style alongside vocalist Russ Bussey’s delivery (aggrieved but overly intense), and Strife, care of the multitudinous crushing breakdowns-as-verses they so deftly unleash. The lyrics approach a murky emotional discontent and disapproval of society, which kinda reminds me of Eric Andre’s “do you believe in society’s lies?” character (particularly on “Built On Lies”), but Magnitude’s unwavering commitment to the style sees it through. I keep wondering, how long until today’s kids bring back the Epi-Fat sound of Strung Out, No Use For A Name and Good Riddance? When’s that resurgence arriving? Chances are it already has and I just need to spend more time with twenty year-olds.

Tony Molina Embarrassing Times LP (Catholic Guilt)
Tony Molina is an American treasure, one of the realest rockers you’ll ever meet, and this new vinyl reissue of his earliest 2009 solo recordings displays his fully-formed arrival on the scene. His signature style of ultra-concise, fuzzed-out power-pop with guitar hero theatrics grabbed the underground spotlight care of 2013’s Dissed And Dismissed, but this inaugural solo collection confirms that he figured out what he wanted to do early on, even if his mix of pastoral acoustic guitar instrumentals and thrash-metal breakdowns might’ve confused some indie-rock puritans, probably more then than now. If you are a fan of richly melodic guitar-pop and somehow haven’t heard Molina’s music, you should start with Dissed And Dismissed (and make your way through his full-yet-succinct discography), but Embarrassing Times is a thrilling glimpse of his formative sonic DNA – Paul McCartney meets blue-album Weezer meets Dinosaur Jr. with just a touch of No Less when you least expect it. You also get some insight via his cover-song choices here, from an unexpectedly sweet Dead Milkmen tune to a tender Camper Van Beethoven rendition. We must continue to protect Tony Molina at all costs.

Steve Moore & Overcalc Calyx 12″ (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)
Sharp pairing here of two brainiacs skilled in the advanced realms of musical mathematics: Steve Moore (of Zombi) and Overcalc (aka Nick Skrobisz of Multicult). I appreciate all that Steve Moore has done for the modern cosmic-synth community, and Skrobisz really came into his own with Overcalc, a project I highly regard that I’m surprised I haven’t really heard anyone else ever mention. Maybe I hang with the wrong crowd! Overcalc combines tricky drum-machine patterns with absolutely bugged-out guitar runs, a stellar combination that works excellently with Steve Moore’s synths here. Honestly, though it’s merely an EP, I wish the two collaborated more: opener “Calyx” is a fantastic collaboration, but it’s followed by solo tracks from each artist. The solo tracks are nice (Overcalc’s “Fruits” in particular – seriously, go give this a listen!), but I feel like their powers are so complimentary that I’d love a full album of them pushing each other’s limits. The b-side features reinterpretations of each other’s tracks, which has Overcalc throwing some signature fantasy-metal solos over top of Steve Moore’s “Time Crystals” and Steve Moore turning Overcalc’s “Fruits” into a full-on trance banger, which merely whets my appetite for more. Can you imagine going to a club where Steve Moore is DJing and out comes Overcalc on an elevated stage with an extremely pointy Jackson guitar, high-speed arpeggios rippling from his strings over hypnotic techno grooves? There would be no greater American live music experience.

Northern Liberties Self-Dissolving Abandoned Universe LP (no label)
DIYing your band is fun and easy for the first year, maybe two, but when you make it twenty-plus years, it becomes something greater, somewhere between commitment, obsession and durational performance-art. Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties are on their eighth full-length, self-released as is most of their discography, and their dedication is impressive no matter if the idea of an art-driven bass/vocals/drums trio sends you scattering to the exit or clamoring for more. In many ways, the comparisons to Lightning Bolt are glaring: noisy bass/drums duo with distorted vocals and a band member who does all of their eye-catching artwork in a signature style. To those of us who are questionably-socialized enough to really get into this kinda stuff, however, there are plenty of differences, as Northern Liberties’s songs are grandiose fantasy prog-rock epics filtered through crusty punk basements. One gets the sense that Northern Liberties don’t have access to a Guitar Center’s worth of vintage equipment or lavish budgets, so they make the available scraps and borrowed instruments come alive in spite of their humble origins, utilizing an affordable legend like Steve Albini to record. Cardboard LARPing post-hardcore metal for art freaks who were born that way. I can’t see Northern Liberties calling it quits at this point – even after they die, I’m sure they’ll be happily gigging in the underworld, to an audience that finally really gets it.

Off Contact Pearls Before Swine LP (no label)
Proud to say that I can now name at least one cool post-punk band out of Sioux Falls, SD, and they’re called Off Contact! They self-released this LP (and, ambitiously, also released it on CD), and while I generally try to avoid being jaded, I’m still a little surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. Off Contact come from the troubled-boyfriend corner of post-punk lineage, kicking up a similar cloud of dust as The Gun Club, Shame, The Birthday Party and Iceage, and while those are some lofty comparisons, Off Contact could at least hold their own with the best of ’em. I’m sure the geographical isolation plays into their style – there’s a pale beauty in existing in a place that the rest of the world doesn’t care about – as these songs feel lonely yet free. Vocalist Lindy Wise has a great wounded yowl, confident even when muttering under his breath, and it suits these moody post-punk downers nicely. Fans of the style won’t be disappointed. The band photo of them standing in the windows of an empty stairwell at night only reinforces my impression of what it’s like out there for these guys… too exhausted to smash a random warehouse window, too disinterested to hang out elsewhere. Don’t worry guys, it’s not any better over here either!

Pain Of Truth Not Through Blood LP (Daze)
The heavy-beatdown wing of hardcore remains on top these days, and while it’s not my first or second favorite sub-genre, it’s so damn massive that I figured I’d check out the new full-length from the indisputably tough-guy Pain Of Truth, if only to feel like I’m participating. They’re a relatively fresh group, both in existence (their first EP arrived in 2020) and behavior, repping Long Island with images of snarling dogs and oversized guns on their covers. It is clear from every angle that I do not want to mess with them! Musically, it hits the nail directly on the head: stompy mosh-pit judo-contest riffs, thick guitars, energetic rapid-fire vocals with plenty of gang shout-alongs, and drums that command the proceedings, perfectly suited for fans of Hatebreed, Trapped Under Ice, Bulldoze, Death Threat, Crown Of Thornz and so on. The snare pops through cleanly, dare I say like a gunshot, with toms and a kick that’ll knock the wind out of you, all of which are crucial elements to making this style work. While an overwhelmingly distinctive vibe isn’t present, Pain Of Truth still manage to stand out, in this case by a seemingly endless variety of well-suited guest vocals – Freddy Madball, Justice Tripp, Scott Vogel of Terror, basically a who’s who of guys you should never insult behind their backs. Wish they got Myke Rivera from District 9 on a track, but hopefully they’re saving him for the next record.

Pmxper Pmxper LP (Smalltown Supersound)
Pavel Milyakov has yet to let me down, so when I saw he had this new duo with Ulla cohort Perila, a moody downtempo affair unlike his usual techno and industrial productions, I couldn’t resist. It’s quickly becoming a trendy style, particularly redolent of Moin and the way that they reconfigured the post-rock emo that Numero keeps reissuing into something for British electronic heads to enjoy, but I’ll be damned if Pmxper’s take on it isn’t marvelous. These songs are led by muted guitars, more rhythmic than melodic, and aided by light rhythmic thumps, droning strings, rudimentary bass-guitar, delicate synths and the inscrutable spoken-word of Perila. The results are sultry lowercase pop with experimental ambient leanings, and with Perila’s voice often taking center stage, it has me imagining a world where Leslie Winer fronted Young Marble Giants and signed to Stroom, where smoking isn’t merely allowed on stage but encouraged. The songs walk in woozy circles, growing only foggier as Perila tries to guide us to some unknown destination, and I sink deeper into their world with each new listen. Recommended!

Emily Robb If I Am Misery Then Give Me Affection LP (Petty Bunco)
I like the concept of loud guitar records; it’s kinda like cold beer, in that the defining characteristic is really up to the user, not an inherent part of the product. And yet If I Am Misery Then Give Me Affection couldn’t be quiet if it tried, so lively and rich are its multi-tracked guitars! Emily Robb’s sophomore solo effort lost the element of surprise that came with her 2021 debut, so while I already knew what to expect (and her formula remains unchanged), the listening experience is still gratifying for anyone beholden to the power of the electric guitar. Her general technique involves laying down some sort of lower frequency loop and then splashing around over top, slicing and dicing in a playful and exploratory manner. It often sounds like Robb doesn’t know exactly where her fingers are going to take her, which makes for an engaging listen, not feeling “free” in the musical-genre sense of the term so much as just, y’know, free. As with her debut, the closest sonic compatriot remains Tetuzi Akiyama in wide-brimmed six-string assassin mode, though the free-floating ringtone of “Bells” sounds like a busy signal from the furthest reaches of the New Zealand lathe-cut underground. You don’t need a sponsored Creem ad to tell you rock n’ roll still exists when Emily Robb is out there gigging!

S*Glass Cesspool Of The Angels LP (Minimum Table Stacks)
This new album from Seymour Glass proceeds like a particularly entertaining scroll through Twitter in its heyday: various screaming entities, human and otherwise, some brilliant, others falling apart, all blustering and confused under the unforgiving glare of the digital town square. Sucks when it’s happening to you, and the reality of it can feel pretty dismal even as a bystander, but when those same sensations are communicated not through a series of text messages but as a thick, stinky audio-collage stew, it’s great! Glass’s collaborations with Orchid Spangiafora have provided me with an abundance of post-Covid-age fun, and this new one is spirited and engaging as well. Unlike those collaborations, this one is more esoteric and dreamy, prone to strange extensions of sound as opposed to a strictly rapid-fire stream of soundbites lifted from YouTube or wherever. A horse will whinny over sci-fi pulses as popcorn overflows from a nearby kettle, feet scatter towards an accident and disembodied voices from decades past are forced into conversation with each other… just another sunny afternoon in the healthy/depraved mind of Mister Seymour Glass.

Shiftyman’s Day Mangold Masarati LP (Beatbude)
Records that sound like the outcome of a small handful of Euro buds messing around with a selected pile of analog gear are near to my heart, so while I had never heard of Berlin-based quartet Shiftyman’s Day prior to this release, they already feel like old friends. They take a very playful, lightweight approach to their music, an effervescent electro dub that behaves like sunflowers swaying in the breeze. I’m hearing a clear sonic connection to modern artists like Domenique Dumont, Yu Su and Meitei as well as the quaint electro-pop of Anna Domino and the domesticated retro-future electro of Stereolab, all of whom would make for a jazzy and uplifting mixtape. Shiftyman’s Day is surprisingly unbusy for the four sets of hands manning the keys, pads and knobs, which I certainly appreciate – no need to overstuff music like this. The title track, for example, sounds like one of those Richard Scarry traffic-jam scenes, where a worm in an apple-copter waves to a pair of wolves in a pickle-car… just a bunch of wacky happiness coexisting on the same open plane. Mangold Masarati is just as loose, with its percussion often arriving in slightly off-kilter, un-quantized form, adding to the congenial atmosphere and sense of live, off-the-cuff performance.

Spells Loose Change, Vol. 2 LP (Snappy Little Numbers / Shield / Keep It A Secret / Motorcycle Potluck / Big Neck)
One record label per band member for the release of this new album by Spells, collecting various tracks that hadn’t previously made it to twelve-inch vinyl. I hadn’t previously heard this Denver band, but at the same time, it’s like I have, as they play an extremely familiar and basic form of garage-y punk rock. Their sound is very much in the school of the ’90s bands who were inspired by the late ’70s bands, wherein classic punk-pop melodies are doused in ’90s alt-rock sheen. Not on the level of but clearly inspired by Riot Fest lifetime passes like Rocket From The Crypt, Dillinger Four, Naked Raygun, The Lawrence Arms and American Steel… the gas-station-jacket realm of Lookout!-styled pop-punk, to be sure. Absolutely nothing wrong with this stuff, and even as I find myself tapping along in time with “I Don’t Feel At All”, I can’t pinpoint a single distinctive element to the music of Spells, for better or worse. Maybe it’s in there and my ears have just numbed to decades of punk, or maybe they’re just perfectly, enjoyably unmemorable. I’d like to believe it’s the latter.

Troth Forget The Curse LP (Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox)
Not just anyone is offered a seat at the Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox table, Troth being only the second act not directly affiliated with the label’s in-house projects to get released. It’s a sensible pairing, though, as both entities trade in blurred images of ambient, indie, post-punk and electronic-pop, as elusive as they are homespun. I feel like I’ve heard most of Troth’s vinyl releases, and it’s been fun to watch them bend in and out of focus, moving in the direction of song before disintegrating like a sugar cube in milky tea. Forget The Curse is on the blurrier end, with rhythms, melodies and vocals coalescing seemingly by chance rather than preplanned intent. You only half-remember your dreams at best, so it makes sense that music this evocative of dream-states floats in and out. It’s getting a little recognizable at this point, but they still have some unexpected twists, like the title track’s meandering piano loop, conjuring jazzy hip-hop as much as dreary ’80s goth-ambient. Could a JJulius / Loopsel / Troth collaboration be far behind?

Wet Specimens Over Pale Bodies LP (Brain Slash)
There’s simply no chance for handsome, attractive hardcore to come from Albany, NY. Nope, it’s gotta be ugly as hell, with visible stink-lines and weird stains, and Wet Specimens certainly fit the bill. This is their debut full-length following a smattering of singles, and their hardcore-punk is crusty to its core, even as the songs themselves may push beyond those confines. I’m hearing Inepsy, Totalitär and Tragedy in these tunes, though there’s also a melodic undercurrent that reveals at least one songwriting band member to be a fan of Rikk Agnew, probably butting heads with the other guy who only listens to metal all day and corrects your pronunciation of the band name Anaal Nathrakh. They weave the songs with atmospheric noise collages, which, depending on your perspective, can make it feel like a run-on sentence of hardcore parts or engross the listener fully in its skeleton-pope nightmare. There’s always that one easily-digestible hardcore band who garners praise from the indie crowd, offering an olive branch to timid listeners who find hardcore to be too vulgar, aggressive and childish, and I can say with certainty that Wet Specimens ain’t it.

White Beast Suffering Time LP (no label)
White Beast are a self-described “sludge pop” duo from Richmond, VA, and while I don’t equate sludge-pop with Richmond (or anywhere, for that matter), their vibe fits right into the northernest southern city. It’s got that crusty edge, but often falls closer to dirty pop-punk than hardcore, even as the band is in a guitarless formation of bass/drums/vocals. Their songs are generally mid-paced, complicated by punk standards and groovy – nothing directly skank- or mosh-worthy – and act as backdrops for the voice of Jeffrey Rettberg, who clearly has something to say. The design follows a kind of Crass Records stencil pattern, and it seems he’s trying to reach a similarly personal/political space with these songs, pursuing an ambitious, righteous truth-telling over catchy hooks or genre compatibility. In a way, it’s not too far from the DIY post-hardcore artistry of Northern Liberties, though White Beast are the more likely candidate to have been inspired by Avail and/or Page 99, an aesthetic quality that I swear reveals itself if you squint hard enough. It doesn’t always make sense, but this sort of complicated, messy music feels beholden to our times, warts and all. Besides, Richmond’s most famous group, GWAR, made a career exclusively out of the warts.

Otto Willberg The Leisure Principle LP (Black Truffle)
Phenomenal solo bass album here from London’s Otto Willberg, who otherwise has the distinction of playing improvised music alongside Charles Hayward of a little group called This Heat. Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle label is nothing if not a delicious bag of mixed nuts, so while I had never heard (or heard of) Willberg before, knowing that Ambarchi signed off on this album of bass-guitar and bass harmonica (I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a bass harmonica?) piqued my interest straight away. And my god, it’s glorious! Willberg provides the slimiest, slipperiest funk licks, a continual spewing-forth of exploratory funk somewhere between Thundercat and Holger Czukay. The soloing usually takes place over some sort of ground-level looping, be it a dark pulse or low-end whoosh, though really he could rip these freewheeling lines of funk over top of the sound of rush-hour traffic or an exotic pet store and it’d be just as captivating. For such a simple setup, it’s an absolute pleasure from start to finish, singular in its mindset but wondrous within those confines. Can you imagine what it’d be like to sit with Flea as he listens to The Leisure Principle for the first time, taking in his reaction? I’m getting goosebumps.

Wireheads Potentially Venus LP (Tenth Court / Walking Bird)
Adelaide-based post-punk indie group (and probably also a sub-Reddit for fans of Colin Newman) Wireheads seem to have all sorts of fun, from shrinking to a trio to doubling in size, recording with Calvin Johnson on remote islands in Washington state, just kinda living the best possible life of an unheralded indie-rock band through the years, it seems. Potentially Venus is their sixth album in ten years, and it reveals a band cheekily high on life and perhaps a couple other things. The music is upbeat and snarky, with plenty of riffs based more on notes than chords. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t require one’s complete focus to play, which is my personal preference – rock music is a social experience, not a scientific one. Those tunes, somewhere between the lightweight strum of The Clean and The Fall and the hefty choogle of Ooga Boogas and Radio Birdman, make for an excellent backdrop for vocalist Dom Trimboli to spin his yarns. I wish there was a lyric sheet, but it’d probably end up being a lyric book, as these songs are filled with sentences and paragraphs, sharply painting his pictures before lighting them on fire. He occasionally elongates syllables in the same sassy pitch as Idles’ Joe Talbot, though Trimboli’s words leave me amused and beguiled, not embarrassed to have heard them. All in all, an indie-rock style that’s been done a million times before, but if it’s done like Wireheads, I hope we get a million more.

Yu Su I Want An Earth 12″ (Pinchy & Friends)
Never a bad time for some new Yu Su! This new four-track EP from the Chinese-Canadian producer is full of chill-out beats, sonic hygge ready to wrap you in one of those infinity fleece blankets that extend the entire length of the living room. Yu Su’s music often feels as precious and cute as a souvenir shop in your favorite foreign city, and it goes deep too, bubbling up from some place that feels eternal and welcoming. These tracks are that, although they move with such tender reluctance that it can be easy to kind of space out – I’ve had to listen a few times just to be able to recall what they sounded like. That can be a bad thing or a good thing of course, so while “Counterclockwise” sounds like a Postal Service interlude with its floating emo tones, you’ve gotta be willing to let Yu Su be the captain who sits back, letting the wheel spin as it may. The last track “Pardon” is a loosely exploratory piece for piano that twinkles in the night, not unlike Nils Frahm in a candy shop, but “Manta Y Menta” is my fave, a lightweight groove that has me picturing fields of the Gufram grass chairs bending with the breeze. New Yu Su users should start with Roll With The Punches; advanced practitioners can hop right in here.

The Happy Squid Sampler compilation 7″ (Spacecase)
I’m guessing the Narrow Adventure connection opened the door for Spacecase’s faithful reissue of the classic Happy Squid sampler seven-inch – the label previously issued Narrow Adventure’s fantastic archival collection, a group featuring members of Urinals and Danny & The Doorknobs (track numbers one and two here). There’s always a new door to be opened in the wooly world of punk reissues, and if you’ve got the chance to reissue an oddball gem such as this, jump on it! If you’re not familiar, Urinals are one of the greatest punk-singles groups of all time, and they rounded up this ramshackle gaggle of punk outsiders on their Happy Squid label, far more likely to release the tape-experiment noise of Arrow Book Club than something catering to teenaged Circle Jerks fans. The vibe falls somewhere between DEVO and Dangerhouse, with the stridently anti-commercial slant of San Francisco’s underground coming through loud and clear. The b-side is encompassed entirely by the outré post-punk of a quintet called NEEF, who seemingly improvise their way through lo-fi sludge and keyboard sound-effects in a way that would make Flipper and the LAFMS shake hands vigorously. I hope Spacecase sells the hell out of this seven-inch reissue and they have to cut a hefty royalty check to the remaining NEEF guys. They deserve it.