Agencement Binomial Cascades LP (Pico)
Agencement’s second self-titled full-length (released in 1989) is somewhat of a personal epiphany record for me. Purchased at random in a used collection that came into my favorite local shop like twenty years ago, it was my first encounter with noise that wasn’t harsh or brutal, but quietly, violently abstract; if you haven’t heard it, it’s basically a continuous, extended flow of microscopic plucks and scrapes of the violin. It was so utterly alien and incomprehensible to me at the time that it left a permanent impression on my impressionable self, all before you could simply look up anything on the internet and find out what it was. Anyway, Agencement was and is the work of improviser Hideaki Shimada, and Binomial Cascades is his first full-length in seven years (and his sixth across thirty-eight years!). Unlike the album that dazzled me, Binomial Cascades is spacious and kind of solemn. Across two side-long pieces, Shimada takes his time between scrapes, plucks and rubs, wielding his instrument like punctuation between expanses of silence or subtly-modified room-noise. As my familiarity with improvised music has grown, this feels more typical for what I’ve come expect from solo violin: various textural approaches with minimal processing, slipping in between overlapping realities. I’m enjoying Binomial Cascades, but primarily as a means of checking back in with Shimada, his Agencement moniker a pleasant reminder of how fun it is to have some unknown record immediately blow your mind.

Alien Nosejob The Executioner / West Side Story 7″ (Anti Fade)
The chameleonic Alien Nosejob beams down two more cuts on this tidy seven-inch EP. There are some Alien Nosejob records I absolutely adore and others I can happily live without, and while I have trouble meeting anybody these days who would consider a seven-inch release to be an essential purchase, this new one should cause any sane punk to open their wallet. “The Executioner” enters with a jagged electronic-drum fill before kicking into a cool and unusual riff, one that might feel heavy if played by someone else but comes across appealingly scrawny here. There’s a cool shout-along chorus that will stick in your head after a single listen, though if you own the single you can listen to your heart’s content! “West Side Story”, on the other hand, sounds like it should exist in that axis of The Chisel and Chubby & The Gang, a beer-soaked stomper that’s as close to a No Future-sounding tune as we’ll ever get from any of these bedroom-punk solo-projects. I’ve barely laced up my Docs before the song starts fading out, the rare punk tune that I wish was longer, not shorter. Best ‘Nosejob in a minute!

Bato Human Cancer LP (Not For The Weak)
Virginia Beach hardcore unit Bato diagnose us with the worst form of cancer on their full-length debut: human! They should sell records like these at Home Depot between the all-weather screws and sledgehammers, so rugged and indispensable is this form of unmistakably American hardcore. Bearing no discernible allegiance to moshy-beatdown, grimy-pogo or thrashy-metallic forms of hardcore, Bato rip and roar in line with the crudest hardcore-punk the very early ’80s had to offer, sharing the spirit of Necros, Corrosion Of Conformity and Die Kreuzen. It’s not entirely beholden to 1982 Touch & Go, however – I’m also picking up similarities to some of the less-transgressive Youth Attack acts, like The Repos and Salvation in the way the songs are constructed (more dimensional than “I Hate My School”, let’s say). Bato might not have their own unmistakable set of traits that immediately stick out (or even stick out upon numerous listens), but I happen to love the style of music they play, and they play it with all the enthusiasm and urgency that it demands, the abrasive guitar mixed loudly throughout these unrelenting songs. If I had any remote shred of American pride (which I do not), it’d be due to Bato and bands like them.

Bib Biblical 7″ (Quality Control HC)
Omaha’s Bib continue to stick it out in the hardcore trenches, coming up on ten years of friendly pit warfare. I haven’t checked in with them since 2016, and while I found their brand of echo-vocal / Bone Awl-drumming hardcore to be derivative back then, there’s something about the fact that they stuck with it (and more or less maintained the same sound) that I can’t help but appreciate. This new five-song EP still sounds a lot like Gag and Gel – more an energetic collection of fast parts and half-time breakdowns than distinguishable songs – but they’re probably one of that particular sub-genre’s scene elders at this point, and they get the job done. The vocals remain short staccato syllables enhanced with echo, usually opening every mosh with a single throat-shredding ewwww, of which there are plenty. I’ll give it to them that “Bitter Mind” sticks out, not for any deviation of form but because there’s some sort of strange vocoder-enhanced vocal line in there, satisfyingly out of place, though even that quickly fades back into their hardcore maelstrom. It’s crazy how big hardcore has gotten now, crazy in a good way (I think), and Bib is starting to feel like the new meat-and-potatoes, for better or worse. The modern version would be what, plant-based meat and potatoes? I’d make fun of it, but I honestly eat that multiple times a week and love where food technology has taken us. Maybe I can learn to love Bib, too.

Bronson Arm Bronson Arm LP (Learning Curve)
The duo Bronson Arm do a good job of concealing their sparse ranks – it took me a minute before realizing that there’s no bassist providing the low-end. It’s Blake Bickel on baritone guitar, an instrument that probably appeals to skilled musicians and Guitar Center employees, two groups of people I can’t consider myself a part of, and it sounds pretty solid on Bronson Arm’s debut. They’re clearly students in the Shellac school of noise-rock, with big-huge drums full of precisely-mapped fills and breaks, steel-bolted riffs that refuse to state their intentions (a celebration, or a lampooning, of classic rock riffing?), and unamused male vocals that only shout some of the time. There’s plenty of room between the instruments, but they keep it tight anyway, probably because they’re such talented players in this rigorous form of music that they don’t know any other way to be. Like basic training, it gets the job done with a time-tested, regimented formula, and while Bronson Arm surely accomplish their goals here, I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like if they threw a wrench in their own works. I dare you to invite that guy lurking in the alley behind the studio to sing a song, or cover Melt Banana, or throw an AI-generated Bootsy Collins bass-line over one of these tunes! What’s the worst that could happen?

The Celebrities Redd Karpet 12″ (Total Punk)
The Celebrities are a long-distance collaboration between Joe Sussman (of, uh, The Muff Divers) and Kel Mason (of Gee Tee), an American/Australian summit of wacky mustaches, outrageous mullets and cheap sunglasses in service of the almighty egg-punk. These bands spawn like bathtub mold, and while The Celebrities are presumably not a functioning band as we generally understand the term (though who knows these days!), they’ve secured a nice deal with Total Punk for a debut EP of Redd Kross worship as filtered through the modern post-Coneheads lens. The vocals are delivered in typical robo-squawk fashion, whereas the songs bop and shake in a very Teen Babes From Monsanto way – clearly speedy, jumpy punk, but lampooning KISS and Cheap Trick riffs where the line between sincere adoration and tongue-in-cheek teasing is blurred. If you need more lo-fi egg-punk that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, I don’t think you can go wrong with Redd Karpet, but I can’t help but assume that everyone else’s personal quotas for transitory recording-project punk in the style of Coneheads are nearing their limits. It seems like something to do for a laff, which is cool, but I suppose I’m more interested in seeing where the Total Punk sounds of tomorrow are headed. I’ll put it in terms easily understood by your average egg-punk: it’s like pizza that arrives a little colder each time I get a new one delivered.

Arianne Churchman & Benedict Drew MAY 2xLP (Love’s Devotee)
Ridiculous second release from the Love’s Devotee label, a stunning sequel up there with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Empire Strikes Back. MAY is a dense and extravagant nine-track double-LP from two names I was previously unfamiliar with (and will be following closely going forward). Arianne Churchman has a lovely voice in the British folk tradition, one that is appropriately accompanied by acoustic strum and synthesizer warble, and Benedict Drew explodes it wide open with a variety of processing, looping and compositional techniques. The result is something like the bucolic folksy corner of ’70s kraut-rock reconfigured in the form of extended-duration praise music – imagine Broadcast lovingly remixed by Charlemagne Palestine into something completely fresh and reverberant. These lengthy tracks often start at a simplistic point, little more than a single leaf of dew-dropped vetiver. The camera slowly pans out to reveal massive and thriving ecosystems with countless forms of lush flora, then flips it into a kaleidoscopic light-show. It’s incredible from start to finish! There’s a sense of studied electronic mastery ala The BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, but with streams flowing through and rainbows jutting out of clouds. If you told me MAY was a lost masterpiece rendered by Popol Vuh and Shirley Collins, I’d be scouring the internet for a copy, but it’s new music easily available from Love’s Devotee, though if other people catch on to its glory, I can’t imagine for very long.

Climax Landers Zenith No Effects LP (Gentle Reminder / Home Late / Intellectual Bird)
Anyone with a band named Climax Landers has to be some level of nutty, preferably the sweet spot between offputtingly dry and try-hard wacky. I’d say that Climax Landers fall within those danger zones, utilizing a proficient, jazzy sort of twee-pop as the vehicle for bandleader Will Moloney’s untrained voice and entertaining lyrics. He riffs on the societal disgust anyone with half a brain is feeling right now, but it goes down easy with his unusual turns of phrase, funny rhymes and clever gags. While the rest of the group sounds like a band that plays in a park for onlookers, he casually hits you with a line like “stronger than my love forlorn / consuming porn with the X-Man Storm”. The ending of “Ad Hominem” is worth printing, too: “Blessed by health and love and weed / Find the truth dialectically / No Ad Hominem attacks / What do you take me for? / An ass?” I’m not always a lyrics guy but I like when they do something different than all the other lyrics out there, and Climax Landers keep it fun, fresh and unpredictable. As for the music, it’s not really my thing – an ill-fated combo of nice, traditional and kinda boring – but as a delivery system for Moloney’s entertaining verse, it goes down without incident, a pleasant contrast to be sure. I chuckled at the genre tag of “non lucrative rock” on their Bandcamp page, but it got me thinking – who actually plays lucrative-rock these days, anyone at all?

DAR A Slightly Larger Head LP (Sophomore Lounge)
A slightly larger head and a slightly different configuration from the various players that provide the foundation for Sophomore Lounge, one they’re calling DAR. It’s led by Aaron Osbourne (of State Champion and Plows) and flanked by Jim Marlowe and Ryan Davis, both of whom play together in Equipment Pointed Ankh (and of course Davis played in State Champion too, not to mention his recent solo outings with The Roadhouse Band, also lovingly released by Sophomore Lounge…). Must be nice, just hanging out, making up new bands all day! Anyway, DAR takes a classically ’90s approach to indie-rock: kinda slacker-ish in demeanor and execution, reliant on oblong melodic twists rather than typical pop progressions, tuneful and ragged in a way that could trace back to Pavement / Guided By Voices / Built To Spill and so on. Unlike a lot of so-called indie-rock, DAR explicitly rocks a lot of the time, almost sounding like a cleanly-recorded, fully-expanded version of Times New Viking on a track like “Will 2 Luv”. I’m not sure where they all found the time, but these songs were clearly labored over, written and re-written until the right balance of cohesion and nonchalance is achieved. You know, a sophistication that comes off easy and casual, just like all the bands these folks do, someway somehow.

DJ Rat Nocturne 12″ (Crude)
Can you feel blissful and caffeinated? I feel like all those expensive skinny-can energy drinks at Whole Foods purport to provide such a sensation, but I’m gonna skip all that when I can just reach for my copy of Nocturne by DJ Rat. Not sure what DJ Rat’s deal is, except that they’re from the Pacific Northwest and managed to link up with German label Crude. I’m mighty glad they did, as this is some of the most attention-grabbing neo-trance EDM I’ve heard in a minute. The BPM is fast, maybe a little too fast, and it runs out across minimal beats and tightly-gated arpeggios. I guess that doesn’t sound so unique, but DJ Rat bridges the various gaps between Drexciya and modern progressive trance, offering dance manna to the masses with the sophisticated aesthetic of an NTS radio show. These tracks are as exquisitely simple as Black Merlin’s with the peppy electro skip of Jensen Interceptor, invoking some sort of crystalline hallway that provides a path to shimmering new dimensions. It’s like if gabber and dub-techno had a precocious child who wanted to find a voice of their own, one that is explored through these four similar-but-different cuts. By the time “Corridor” is fired up I’m already levitating, and once the dreamy acid of “Telepathic Climax” (sick title!) is complete, I’m firing proton energy blasts from my hands like I’m an X-Man. How long until Kalahari Oyster Cult pins down DJ Rat to put the finishing touches on the intergalactic rave portal they’ve been constructing?

Egg Idiot Best Of LOL LP (Phantom)
There should be a rule that the next time someone decides they want to start an egg-punk band, they have to listen to Egg Idiot’s Best Of LOL. Like, are you sure you wanna do this? Leipzig’s Egg Idiot takes the formula and dumbs it up even further, though we must admit, he warned us with the name. Sped-up, DEVO- and Coneheads-inspired songs buzz and jolt in the manner we’ve all become accustomed to, with rapid-fire muted picking, electronic drums and messy, childish vocals. Egg Idiot treats some of these songs like skits, replete with a variety of digitally-altered vocals interacting with each other – it can be reminiscent of rudimentary Adult Swim animations. Taken without context, it’s a silly, occasionally endearing listen, but I find the way in which Egg Idiot brazenly checkmarks every typical egg-punk move to be a real turn-off, right down to the project’s name. He certainly has his own ideas (I suppose no one else has written a song called “Pills In My Butt” before), but Egg Idiot comes across like a proud imitator, doing what everyone else has done or is doing and not thinking for a second that there’s anything uncouth about it. It reminds me of Cereal Killer in that I needed to take a break from listening to Lumpy & The Dumpers when that band came out, and now I’m feeling like it’s time to put some distance between me and my Snooper and Erik Nervous records for a little while, just to be safe.

First Boy On The Moon Cybergirl LP (Manic)
Sweden’s First Boy On The Moon come through with a disarmingly corny set of alt-indie pop-rock. Their sound is about as off-trend as it gets these days: ’90s-inspired, but not in a shoegaze/grunge/goth/slowcore way… it’s far closer to the semi-goofy alt-pop of groups like Fastball and Everclear. Vocalist David Pedroza (who I believe is an American living in Sweden) kinda sounds like Julian Casablancas trying to imitate Morrissey if they were both from the Midwest, and he sings songs called “Generation Suicide” and the title track as though they were the freshest, coolest things a guy could possibly sing and not, you know, a song called “Cybergirl”. I feel like they’re the band least likely to succeed in today’s trend-loyal underground, and I have to say, their complete out-of-stepness with what’s cool in 2024 is a good part of why I appreciate them. These songs really do sound like they could’ve been alt-radio hits back in 1997, and come on, does anyone else have the guts to sing a song called “Taste The Rainbow” (wherein the title is repeated throughout), acting like Skittles didn’t already come up with it? More and more, I feel like young rock bands are hyperaware of what is perceived as cool and what isn’t, treating their social-media feeds like focus groups ready to provide any and all fan service, and here’s The First Boy On The Moon over in Sweden, putting out these endearing pop records outside of the typical indie machinations without a care in the world. Their website is a Facebook page, for cryin’ out loud, and I love them for it.

Morgan Garrett Purity LP (Orange Milk)
It’s evident that our younger generations not only have less to look forward to than those that came before, but they’re also acutely aware of the fact. It’s awful of course, but it’s interesting to see how this sort of well-founded nihilism is finding its way into underground music. In the case of Morgan Garrett’s first vinyl full-length, Purity, it’s a striking, thrilling jolt of uncomfortable emotion, paranoia diving headfirst into frustration and despair. And it doesn’t sound like much else out there! Imagine, if you will, if Xiu Xiu went nu-metal, or Sightings mockingly imitating Slint. The songs here are wildly unquantized and unpredictable, with the typical tendons of underground-rock torn and sewn back up or discarded entirely. Shards of down-tuned sludge-metal flash in the moonlight, acoustic guitars appear to be waterboarded, and Garrett moans, whimpers and snorts throughout, as if he’s writing a suicide note but it turns out the note is actually for you, not him. There seems to be an awareness of hyper-pop and that whole post-100 Gecs scene happening somewhere in here too, or at least a working knowledge of the ways in which digital editing can be used to humiliate the original sound source, though Purity is often as stark and bewildering as Keiji Haino. It all makes for a captivating album that avoids easy categorization, and alongside Ecology: Homestones, makes a case for Philadelphia as a quality source for art-noise that’s sure to leave a dark ring in your tub.

General Labor Illuminator / Tastes Metallic 7″ (Spacecase)
We’re in decade number five of people naming their synth-based music project after dreary corporate/industry terminology with no signs of stoppage. General Labor is the work of Memphis’s Corbin Linebarier, a name that is so damn interesting, he’s the rare case where someone should just use the name on their driver’s license for their electro-punk rather than come up with something new. General Labor has the feel of that scene of garage-y, Goner Records-y punks who shifted to synths, taking “TV OD”, early Soft Cell and Cabaret Voltaire (and, perhaps less intentionally, Blank Dogs) as inspiration for an unsophisticated, street-level take on the genre. Very similar to label-mates Optic Sink, for example, though I find Optic Sink’s songs to be a bit more fleshed out, or at least more pronounced. “Illuminator” has that 8-bit haunted-house feel with murky synths and distorto-vocals, and “Tastes Metallic” follows suit, with a pulsing synth arpeggio pushing its way to the front of the mix; there’s even some distorted rock guitar when the time is right. It’s not unlike an early side from The Pink Noise, with the sense of punks migrating from Fenders to Korgs and dipping their toes into a whole new world of sonic opportunity in the transition. I personally will not recall the existence of this single a year from now, but who’s to say our future will last that long anyway?

Guerra, de Paiva, Hornsby, Konradsen Contrahouse LP (ULYSSA)
That’s Gabriel Guerra, Lucas de Paiva, Bruce Hornsby (yes, that Bruce Hornsby) and Jenny Konradsen together on a wild intercontinental collaboration called Contrahouse. Guerra and de Paiva are house/jazz/funk students down in Brazil, Bruce Hornsby toured with The Grateful Dead, and vocalist Jenny Konradsen is over in Norway. The three guys lay down some cruise-control jams similar in effect to Pender Street Steppers, Jan Hammer, Sam Gendel and Weather Report, that pastel-sunset intersection of ’80s ECM jazz and contemporary ambient-house that really can’t be beat. Konradsen’s voice is pitched and morphed to sound a whole lot like Arthur Russell, bits of words and phrases dropped in and out over the glossy keys, drums and synths. It feels like music that would’ve been popular in 1988 if Arthur Russell was as commercially successful as Phil Collins, an alternate reality that I like to believe exists. It’s wild that Hornsby was down to work with these two young and energetic Brazilians… I suppose the only connection between all the players is a mutual love of airbrushed pop-rock, silky-smooth melodies and body-soothing rhythms, which is more than enough. Only four tracks, but they’re long ones, perfect for all-white suits out by the infinity pool and a living room with more marble columns than places to sit.

Itchy & The Nits The Worst Of LP (Total Punk)
At first glance, I found myself confusing Itchy & The Nits with Sniffany & The Nits. Rest assured, The Nits didn’t swap bandleaders – Sniffany’s London-based gang is all boys, whereas this is a female trio from Sydney (and Itchy doesn’t actually exist, if the declaration on the back cover is to be believed). Now you can say you learned something today! Anyway, the stamp of Total Punk approval is key, and understandable once you hear the gleefully simplistic party-punk that comprises The Worst Of. These songs canoodle with with Redd Kross, The Donnas and Loli & The Chones, the perfect intersection of dumb/happy/silly punk rock. There isn’t a chord or chord progression that hasn’t been used by dozens of other bands before, and the drums gleefully eschew fills (or crash cymbals, or rack toms…), yet Itchy & The Nits make it quite clear that sonic originality is a game for narcissist jocks and insecure nerds, not actual punk rockers who have wild fun in public on a routine basis. If Itchy & The Nits continue to play music in a band together, the possible pitfalls of “prowess” and “sophistication” will inevitably rear their ugly heads, beckoning the band to write more complicated and nuanced songs. Let’s hope they kick sand in the face of those impulses and drink beers at a children’s playground ’til some hapless old security guard chases them off.

Jan Jelinek Social Engineering LP (Faitische)
Jan Jelinek is a well-trusted German producer of ambient and techno, but there’s a not insignificant number of gimmick records in his sizable discography too. Don’t equate “gimmick” with “throwaway”, though – who doesn’t love the spacey crackle of Loop Finding Jazz Records, for example? Here’s the trick behind this new album released on his own Faitische label: Jelinek uses synthetic speech programs to read email phishing attempts aloud (in a variety of languages) over queasy soundscapes. If it sounds like a cute little idea that doesn’t need to be heard to be appreciated, that’d probably be true for a producer of lesser renown, but I have to say, Jelinek clearly relishes the assignment and went above and beyond with it. Voices fade and malfunction while searing buzzes, overheating drones and synthetic interference commingle to create a rich digital environment. It almost feels like you’re caught in a cyber-cubicle as these replicant bots ask you to sell your kidneys, or my favorite scam, threaten blackmail from the video footage they secretly took of you jerking off in front of your computer. Internet scams have only gotten more darkly peculiar, and their placement within this abstract electronica is fitting. Jelinek is all too happy to spring all sorts of sonic traps on us listeners, ensuring we stumble face first into the black mirror.

Ryosuke Kiyasu Bereft 12″ (Ultra Eczema)
Damn has it been tough getting Ultra Eczema releases in the US lately. I feel like label-owner Dennis Tyfus has more or less given up trying to get them to the US, and to be honest I don’t blame him – international shipping is practically on par with a Spirit Airlines flight these days. Anyway, sometimes you simply have to make the sacrifice for a cool record, and at the very least it’s making me appreciate this one-sided picture-disc 12″ from Japanese percussionist Ryosuke Kiyasu. He’s apparently gone what the kids are calling “viral” lately, thanks to his incredible live videos. He’s kind of like the Masonna of the snare drum: one man with a thick head of long black hair going absolutely ballistic, risking life and limb in a full-body noise performance. In Kiyasu’s case, you really just need to pull up a vid if you haven’t already, as he mashes his face Justice Yeldham-style into a snare drum, throwing around a microphone (or any objects within reaching distance) and the noise folding-table itself, just a masterful series of improvised explosions as brief as they are impactful. Bereft is of course a live recording, and while it lacks the thrill that comes with the visual, I could listen to this stuff all day, violent snare-drum clatter with deep noise rumbles and errant screams. Pretty much perfect for the unhinged art styles of Ultra Eczema, and perfect for me, too.

Linekraft & Prurient Government Controlled Shrines 2×7″ & 5″ (Hospital Productions)
Hot damn, a double seven-inch and five-inch EP… available in both picture-disc and black vinyl versions! You don’t see this sort of unnecessarily over-the-top vinyl release these days unless it’s some godawful Record Store Day pap. Hospital Productions has been releasing outrageous stuff consistently for decades, of course, and when it comes to misanthropic noise, it’s served best on formats designed to agitate and turn-off the easy-going masses, by labels that refuse to stray from their mission. As is the case with probably 75% of all Hospital releases, Prurient is featured on this one, teaming up with the strict Japanese noise soldier Linekraft. And while they could’ve easily phoned it in, knowing only a couple hundred people at best would ever hear it (many of whom are surely dedicated, uncritical fans), these tracks are engaging and animated… it’s the good stuff. There are plenty of harsh tones but they don’t dominate here – spools of grey static interact with various metallic sounds (the sharpening of knives, the slamming of oil drums, etc.), ominous distorted voices, even an errant rhythm or two. The final side “Arson At Shrine” calls to mind early Broken Flag industrial. As with all Prurient, the thematic elements are front and center and ambiguous in intent, giving the mind’s eye something to chew on while bursts of white-noise, sirens and digital feedback dance like devils around a fire. I don’t want to get all gatekeepery, but it’s almost a shame this music is available for free on Bandcamp – these tracks are best enjoyed through this glorious (ridiculous) vinyl presentation.

Marcel Wave Something Looming LP (Feel It / Upset The Rhythm)
I’ve wondered if we’d hear from Sauna Youth again, and though I’m still wondering, at least I’ve learned that Lindsay Corstorphine and Christopher Murphy of the group have since joined vocalist Maike Hale-Jones and brothers Oliver and Patrick Fisher (of Cold Pumas) to form Marcel Wave. It certainly has the touch of a seasoned group of indie-punk players, knowing when to be tender and vulnerable and when to throw it all in the air in a fit of ridiculous amusement. With the constant glowing buzz of a keyboard, Marcel Wave’s songs are active and limber, a punk-centered form of indie post-punk that frequently sounds good when the British have a go at it. There’s some of Sauna Youth’s freewheeling pop without their noisy haze, a rambunctiousness similar to Vintage Crop and Tactics, and a dry humor (excuse me, humour) that has me picturing The Cool Greenhouse collaborating with Dry Cleaning. It would still be cool if the songs sounded tossed off, but Marcel Wave clearly put some work into the writing, from the layered melodic devices (there’s even an “aleatoric piano” credited on the track “Mudlarks”) to Hale-Jones’s standout lyrics. The title track keeps it simple and bleak, whereas Hale-Jones asks “can you imagine living inside a crater?” in the harrowing “Where There’s Muck There’s Brass”. What could be more tragic than knowing that there are humans on this planet right now who know precisely what it’s like?

Max Nordile Hanging By A Fan Over Wet Cement LP (Gilgongo)
Olympia’s Max Nordile must’ve got himself a nice fat Gilgongo budget (fifty bucks?), and he runs with it here on this new full-length, his third for the label. Across many scattered releases, Nordile has firmly established his aesthetic, one where the dusty detritus and cast-off errors of regular music receive his full spotlight and a thorough investigation. Most rock groups would try to edit out that little brush of speaker feedback, errant cough or interfering frequency; Nordile will capture them and mash them into an extended piece. He plays some horns here as well, but mostly it sounds like cardboard boxes hastily wrapped in duct tape, squalls of rain on windowsills, muddy boots stomping up wooden stairs and the wind that pours into open car windows – all aspects of daily living that rarely receive the focused attention of anyone’s ears. Reminds me of a one-man Marginal Consort restricted to items found in the garage or basement, strong-willed enough to turn any piece of metal into a cymbal and scrap of carpet into drums. Who will break first: will Nordile eventually succumb to the weight of all this deliberate nonsense and quit the biz before Gilgongo stops willingly releasing it?

Norms 100% Hazaarulas LP (11 PM)
Not a lot of Hungarian hardcore comes through these pages, but when it does it’s often from Norms and affiliated projects, which absolutely rules. Cool to see an American label giving Norms a go with this new fourteen-minute LP, as fitting as any place for your personal relationship with Norms to begin. They certainly don’t need any sort of handicap grading for coming from an overtly repressive country, as their music is as frenzied, alive and bombastic as the best the rest of the world has to offer. They’re on par with the first Sex/Vid EP and Cold Sweat’s Blinded, completely crazy hardcore-punk that clearly worships Void and Neos (who doesn’t?) but surely has a working understanding of Harry Pussy and free-jazz as well. Once you realize you can blow up the style of music you’re operating within, it’s a glorious sensation, and Norms clearly push every aspect of their songs to the limit, moving as fast as E-150 with the outrageous discombobulation of the debut singles by Meat Puppets and Half Japanese. There’s even a lot of cowbell happening here, which the fantastically skilled drummer treats as naturally as a China crash in beatdown hardcore. Sitting here listening to “Valóság 9.0” right now, I just noticed I was unconsciously holding my breath during that insane fast part, an involuntary bodily response to such dazzling brutality. If you’re a fan of true undiluted hardcore, I’m not sure you could walk away from 100% Hazaarulas unscathed.

Personal Damage Violent Ritual 7″ (Sorry State)
From self-released tape to Sorry State seven-inch, Los Angeles’s Personal Damage offer a first-wave Cali hardcore sound so authentic you’ll swear the chili-dogs at Oki Dog are still thirty-five cents a piece. A lotta hardcore mad-libs going on here with both band name and title, familiar signifiers that are almost comforting in their hardcore ubiquity/genericness, but the music of Personal Damage stands out, even to these weathered ears. They simply nail that early Mystic/Frontier Records sound, clearly indebted to Circle Jerks and Adolescents while managing to feel vibrant and novel. The vocals are super snotty and constantly flanked by tuneful backups, a cool trick you don’t see too often these days, and one that provides the tunes with more memorability than your average 1-2-3-4 fast-core act. The title track calls to mind Career Suicide at their snarky best, and “Program Agent” sounds like it could’ve come from NOFX’s Fuck The Kids EP, which I have no shame in loving and hope you don’t either. I can understand why so many modern punks avoid catchy melodies, especially now in the age of obscuro blown-out d-beat worship, but Personal Damage remind us how great (and punk) it can be for the vocals to be more than an afterthought. Personal Damage’s talent culminates in “Banned From Society”, a chant-laden blowout that should have every tuneless hardcore band second-guessing their approach.

R.J.F. Strange Going LP (Industry Standards)
You might be familiar with Ross Farrar as a hardcore vocalist, most notably of Ceremony as well as Crisis Man and Spice (and surely other bands I’m forgetting or never knew of in the first place). He’d like you to know that there’s more to his art than ripped-shirt howling and sweaty pile-ons, however: he’s a published poet, and now has two LPs of restrained, downright narcoleptic post-punk dub under his belt. No one’s ever accused him of being a musician, so I was excited to check out what a solo album from Farrar would sound like, far more than if he was a musician. The second of the two, Strange Going, is more or less a direct sequel (both aesthetically and sonically) to the first, so if hushed sung vocals over clean, simplistic and repetitive bass-lines is what you’re after, there’s plenty of R.J.F. awaiting you. I’m reminded quite a bit of Carla dal Forno’s music, in the way that the songs are skeletal and quiet, usually consisting of little more than the repeated melody of a bass-guitar or piano, the soft tick of a drum machine and synth effects both fuzzy and dubby. As far as coolness goes, the aesthetic is on point, coming across like a mysterious side-project from someone in Wire or Section 25 circa 1984. These songs, however, can grow long and static in mood. Seeing as they’re all more or less softly-spoken vocals over a repeated four-bar melody with little deviation, the effect can be wearying and samey, even if the basic aesthetic is appealing. I find myself painfully admitting that maybe a little musical expertise can actually come in handy in certain post-punk situations, or if not musical skill, judicious editing – distilled to an EP of highlights, I’d probably love Strange Going.

R.E. Seraphin Fool’s Mate LP (Take A Turn / Safe Suburban Home)
The Bay Area rock renaissance continues, now with R.E. Seraphin adding a new vinyl full-length to his credits. He played in Razz and Apache, seemingly closer to the Burger Records scene than Sloth Mate’s, though there’s naturally some overlap among the wide variety of Bay Area garage-rockers. There’s a full band playing on here, though I can see why Seraphin would put it out under his name, as it’s very much in the tradition of singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello, Elliott Smith, Tom Petty and other guys who flirted with subterranean sounds while writing firmly pop-oriented music. Seraphin’s songs are indebted to a similar era, sounding like a missing piece of the Sire Records puzzle in 1982, the cooler underground cousin of Cheap Trick or Rick Springfield. The biggest difference in Seraphin’s approach is his singing voice, which never raises above a hushed murmur, sounding more like the introvert in the back of the room than a swaggering rock n’ roller poised at center stage. His delivery makes Alex G sound like Mariah Carey by comparison, though it’s ultimately an appealing contrast with the upbeat pop-rock he’s got backing him up, even if it could be argued that certain songs might benefit from moments of more impassioned singing or some sort of change of pace. No need though, let’s let the other indie-rockers break a sweat – this guy puts the R.E. in relaxed.

The Spatulas Beehive Mind LP (Post Present Medium)
With a name like Miranda Soileau-Pratt, what are you gonna do, not write and record twee indie-pop music?? It only makes sense that she started The Spatulas, following contributions to Portland-area groups like The Blimp and Lavender Flu. At the helm, Soileau-Pratt imbues her songs with whimsy and charm, softly strumming typical major-key melodies over Moe Tucker drums, bass and lead guitar. There’s a lot of this stuff going around these days, groups of articulate and underpaid thirty-somethings who are relaxing into New Zealand- and Velvet-inspired indie-strum following messier punk rock upbringings, and for a listener like me who is only really interested in the very best the style has to offer, many of these records are fleeting pleasures. Beehive Mind is probably one of them, as while it doesn’t make any wrong moves, it doesn’t manage to distinguish itself from the pack either, at least by the estimation of my ears (which admittedly aren’t expertly tuned to discern such differences). Those of you with PhDs in guitar jangle, however, may find a wealth of subtleties this corn-fed writer will never have the pleasure of ascertaining.

Teini-Pää Mietin Minne Meet 7″ (Vague Absolutes)
It’s funny how it sucks to get tricked by people, but being tricked by music is a pleasure I’ll enjoy ’til I die. The tattoo-flash artwork and relation to no-joke hardcore label Warthog Speak had me expecting a band that sounded like Blazing Eye meets Negazione, but Finland’s Teini-pää aren’t even hardcore by association. No, they’re a charmingly dulcet indie band, presumably influenced by perennial hot-topic The Cure and similar to other modern groups with chiming guitar leads, poppy energy and sweet vocals. (I die a little bit each time I write the band-name “Alvvays”, so I’m only going to type it here once.) It’s punk in the sense that punks are responsible for the record, but the music is undistorted and pure, driving with a tunefulness akin to Shop Assistants and a shimmery chime that’s way more “Pitchfork Fest” than “Sorry State Weekend”. I don’t comprehend a lick of Finnish, and yet the tender dual-vocals of “Kerron Salaisuuden” have my eyes tearing up, a vast difference from the last time a Finnish group made me cry (Räjäyttäjät in 2012 when a speaker fell on my face).

Trendees Barmaid 7″ (What Lies Beneath)
I had thought Trendees were finished, having somewhat morphed into The Cuticles, but you really can’t kill a New Zealand band, can you? They might not be actively functioning at this time – this seven-inch is a reissue of a two-song cassette originally released in 2017 – but zine and label What Lies Beneath haven given Barmaid a second life. I do miss Trendees and their sloptastic take on punk, so it was a welcome surprise regardless. “Barmaid” sounds like it was practiced zero times, only loosely discussed before being laid to tape, and I love the exuberance and shifting guitar bits, seemingly changing without coordination between performers. This seven-inch version of the EP adds the track “Masterpieces”, which rips particularly hard, as if the first wave of UKDIY bands also had a copy of Nirvana’s Bleach from which to draw inspiration. It’s over in a minute or less before the sleepy, inept psych of “Flat Tac On A Moony Night” offers further evidence of Trendees’s sonic range. They sure were having a lot of fun over there in 2017, perfectly imprecise with the rest of the Albert’s Basement gang. I’m certainly keen to hear more from The Cuticles going forward, but Trendees will always have a place in my heart, no matter how many two-song tapes they may or may not have released.

Vacation Rare Earth LP (Feel It)
Feel It is now fully intertwined in the Cincinnati scene (complete with brick-and-mortar record shop!), and having already given us records by groups like Crime Of Passing, Beef and The Drin, here’s the latest full-length from Vacation, who share members with all three of those groups (among others). Vacation are surely the most easily digestible of the aforementioned bunch, swinging for the fences with big rock moves delivered in a lovably underdog fashion. They’re jumping and shouting like The Replacements on a particularly hot night at Maxwell’s, windmilling their picking hands and striking power-chords like Alice Cooper, and doing it all with the understated humor and earworm hooks of M.O.T.O. I don’t know what they’re on about in “Big Hat World”, but I’ll be damned if my fist isn’t in the air singing along to the titular chorus before it’s over! It’s all wholesome, uncynical fun, but the existence of the video for the song “Kink” reveals a more complicated side to Vacation’s boy-next-door image, a far more sincere display of latex fetishism than all the surface-level goth-wave bands who are wearing it because their stylists told them to. There’s enthusiastic rock mastery on proud display here, and it’s the work of weird-ass punks; while that opposite set of charges could cancel itself out in certain situations, it’s a good part of Rare Earth‘s success.

Wax No. 90009 12″ (Wax)
Would be cool if MTV buzz-bin legends Wax returned to the scene, but this Wax is one of the many aliases of German techno legend René Pawlowitz (best known as Shed) and it’s probably even cooler. He’s been a pretty constant source of formal techno expertise since the turn of the millennium, including once or twice a year under his Wax moniker. This new one, hand-stamped by Pawlowitz (and his children, according to his recent Tone Glow interview) is typically excellent. Pawlowitz’s productions often are measured experiments in contrast, and the A-side here is no exception, as he pairs a pugilistic beat with a lustrous, melancholic melody. I don’t know if I want to train for my next Muay Thai fight or release doves into the sky with tears bursting from my eyes as it spins – perhaps both simultaneously? The b-side, which offers the cool trick of playing from the inside out, ups the BPM a few notches, calling to mind the rugged shuffle of Anthony “Shake” Shakir or Prince Of Denmark, though once again the majestic, weightless synth chords are pointed towards the heavens, not the sticky tile floor of a basement club. It’s trance without the melodrama or sentimentality, as timeless, humble and effective as the black ink stamped on the plain white center labels.

Winged Wheel Big Hotel LP (12XU)
Winged Wheel follow their 2022 debut with Big Hotel, also issued care of the estimable 12XU label. As I understand it, the group’s debut came about from long-distance collaboration, but the credits for Big Hotel note a recording session in Kingston, NY, the up-and-coming playground destination for indie rocker elders. It certainly sounds like a hefty band jamming out some lightly-structured psych-rock, with the drummer and bassist obligated to steady the course while everyone else finds ways to add melody, ambiance and complexion to these open-ended tunes. Some vocals and keys occasionally spring up as well, adding to the communal, open-ended feel of these songs. It all calls to mind the democratic workings of Bardo Pond, the angelic glisten of Spiritualized and the free-flowing guitars of Harmonia, all handled with the gentle touch of our modern underground indie-hippies, as familiar with the works of Michael Hurley and Grateful Dead as Throbbing Gristle and Les Rallizes Denudes. It’s like a cleaned-up take on today’s psych underground, easily compatible with bar-dwellers like Major Stars and Headroom, though opening a stadium gig for The War On Drugs isn’t outside the realm of possibility, either. Seems like a pretty nice place to be.