Ayshay Warn-U 12″ (Tri Angle)
What can I say, I’m starting to get hooked on the wet n’ wild weirdness offered by the Tri Angle label. It’s like each new release lowers my immune system to the point where I need their brand of syrupy electro-haze to survive. Looking at the cover, I’m not sure if Ayshay is an Earth-born human or a Final Fantasy character come to life, but it’s not really important to understand the entity behind Warn-U in order to comfortably digest the vibe at hand. Starting at the beginning, Ayshay produces three cloudy, anchorless trips through the Rio Hamza… vocals are pitch-shifted to represent various genders and deities, the words are morphed into unintelligible frequencies, and the whole thing swirls around ambient keys and peaceful synth-pads. Kinda like if an instrumental version of Lil B’s Rain In England was remixed by oOoOO, perhaps. No real beats, just a calm serenity pool oozing electronic zen. Nguzunguzu puts together an Ayshay “megamix” on the flip, going all future-bass with Ayshay’s moonlit-hotel-pool synths and vaguely ethnic chanting. A nice change of pace to the a-side’s drift, even if it’s not quite exciting enough to keep me coming back repeatedly. Can’t say Warn-U is a required trip for today’s age of spiritual electronics, I guess, but I’m glad I gave it a ride just the same. Feels like I gained some RPG experience points after every recurrent spin.

Bloodloss Lost My Head For Drink LP (Dirty Knobby)
For as much of a Mark Arm fan as I claim to be, I had no idea that the band Bloodloss existed until now, thanks to this 1997-recorded, 2011-released album. Along with Arm, there’s Guy Maddison from Lubricated Goat (and currently Mudhoney as well), and a couple other Australian blokes, and before I go any more fan-boy on Bloodloss and ask them to sign my shirt, let’s focus on the music at hand – it’s killer. 1997 isn’t usually the year I look to for swampy, noisy garage-rock, but Bloodloss seem to revel in the past as much as predict the future with Lost My Head For Drink. Reminds me of Feedtime, were Feedtime ever capable of cracking a smile, with a reverence for Mudhoney’s sloppy past and the unhinged cacophony of Sick Things burning within. All four guys sing, and while Mark Arm stays true to form, one guy has a Tom Waits-y croak that somehow works, and the other two are appropriately raw. “Chocolate Cake Factory Blues” sounds like it could’ve come off of Clockcleaner’s Babylon Rules, which is a compliment toward both groups. The liner notes talk about how broke and distraught Bloodloss were at the time of this recording, and while these guys are probably tough enough to ride out any personal storm, that sense of impending doom seasons Lost My Head For Drink in the best possible way. Imagine being so cool as to have an album like this just laying around unfinished for over a decade.

Brain F Sleep Rough LP (Sorry State / Grave Mistake)
Brain F (pronounced “Brain Fahrvergnügen”, I believe) have graduated to long-player status on the reputable Sorry State and Grave Mistake labels. Much like their So Dim single, Sleep Rough comes equipped with plenty of rough-and-tumble, hardcore-leaning garage-punk, as melodic and grooving as it is raging. Vocalist Elise Anderson kinda talks her way through things, backed up by guitarist Nick Goode and the rest of the pack, recalling The Avengers, The Gits and X (either X, I guess) as they roll with the punches. It’s a decent record, but aside from the chorus of “Sleep Rough”, not a whole lot of the album has made a lasting impression on me. They’ve got a pretty raw sound, bordering on lo-fi, which makes things kinda run together into one long song after a while, particularly as their approach never waivers (and all the instruments just kinda ride the same clumpy sound-wave, coming at you as one solid mass). I’ve found myself waiting for the record to end more than once, which definitely isn’t a sensation I look for in my punk rock. Not a bad effort, but with so many better choices out there (even on the respective labels that released Sleep Rough alone), I expect Sleep Rough to fade from my consciousness much like the end of this band’s name.

Buffalo Bangers Blockader / Granite Grandma 7″ (Private Leisure Industries)
Not sure if you can still order buffalo bangers at Applebee’s (they’re great with ranch!), but they’re also now an Atlanta-based rock group. Whenever I see Beavis in his “death rock” shirt, I think of songs like “Blockader”: foreboding, creeping, twisting, unsettled, and more bite than bark. Buffalo Bangers have their own thing going on, though… it’s like if Fred Schneider quit the B-52’s after having a transcendent experience at a Samhain concert and started a new band with his roommates who had never played in a real band before (but the singer here is a woman – just listen, it makes sense I swear). “Granite Grandma” almost has kind of a Crass Records vibe, if the guitars weren’t so sadly soothing. Gonna take more than this single for me to really figure out if Buffalo Bangers are good or not, but I’m interested enough to stick around and eventually crack this case.

Citizens Patrol Citizens Patrol LP (Sorry State)
Citizens Patrol are decked out in Government Warning, Geriatric Unit and Corrosion Of Conformity shirts on the back cover (can’t make out the drummer’s, but he’s got a band tee on too), and to someone not obsessed with the intricacies of hardcore, that list could sum them up well enough. It’s a decent style, though – Citizens Patrol starts off like Good Riddance on a more hardcore bent, thanks to the drum-beat that made Fat Wreck Chords millionaires, and the snotty-but-not-too-snotty vocals, but they’ve got the chops to make it work (and they wisely keep the songs under a couple minutes’ time). Very much by the books, with song titles like “Mental Disorder” and “Panic Attack”, which have been used by dozens of other hardcore bands, but Citizens Patrol don’t disgrace that tradition, even if they don’t do anything to elevate the form either. Good-not-great hardcore-distro filler that anyone cherry-picking the best of the genre can comfortably avoid, although those in need of a constant hardcore fix won’t find themselves asking for a refund after a few runs through Citizens Patrol.

Condominium Warm Home LP (Condominium)
At the very least, something about Condominium has always intrigued me. They seem to go the “mysterious guy” route with a lot of their artwork, but they find better pictures to use than most, and while I haven’t been blown away by any of the singles I’ve heard, I’ve always had the feeling that they were just on the cusp of doing something great. Now I’ve got their self-released full-length (if you consider seven songs at twenty-two minutes a full-length), and its a definite improvement, if not the stunning hardcore masterpiece I was awaiting. They’re probably not aping them on purpose, but surely Condominium are aware of Slices, a band that seems to share very similar ideas on how to create unnerving yet meaty hardcore, at times nearly interchangeable from each other. Burly riffing, frantic drumming and lightly-distorted vocals all come together in a powerful, almost melodic package. They manage to sound unchained without ever getting “crazy”, which is a definite plus, and the drummer clearly has talent beyond the narrow hardcore template (“Warm Home” is particularly pummeling). They mix it up with the avant-percussion / violin party of “Why Be Something That You’re Not?” (first Clockcleaner, now Condominium… can’t we just leave poor Negative Approach alone?), and the loutish spoken word of “An Arbitrary Choice Between Infinite Coexisting Realities”, but these diversions seem a little too self-aware to have me wondering when Condominium will be checked into the insane asylum. At the very least, Warm Home is a modern hardcore record that I’ve enjoyed thinking about, which is a rare and desired quality. When the chance presents itself, I’ll go see them live, in hopes of plugging a few more pieces into their puzzle.

Cult Of Youth The Devil’s Coals / Sidestreets 7″ (Blind Prophet)
Coming off a pretty substantial US tour, Cult Of Youth have put all those stage hours to good use, becoming a tight-knit unit as evidenced by this new single on bandleader Sean Ragon’s Blind Prophet imprint. “The Devil’s Coals” is a pretty great example of what Cult Of Youth are all about: quasi-religious angst set to violently-strummed acoustic guitars, weepy violin and ceremonial drumming. They even force Martial Canterel’s “Sidestreets” into a dour acoustic makeover, unplugging the original’s synths but keeping its desperate paranoia intact. I can certainly appreciate Cult Of Youth’s style, and while I haven’t entirely felt the group’s allure in the past (I just can’t shake their vague Ren Faire vibes that I’ve spent my life trying to avoid), Cult Of Youth pull me closer to their velvet-lined cottage with every new record.

Degreaser Bottom Feeder LP (Negative Guest List)
Degreaser take it sleazy with Bottom Feeder, an album properly represented by the crude drawing of a butt-munching face on the cover, the words “Bottom Feeder” almost smudged to illegibility above. If you enjoyed The Birthday Party most when they wrestled you down into the filthy muck, far from any literary references or gothic depression, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Bottom Feeder. Drums and bass lock in on heavy, tom-led rhythms, guitar spirals over top like a fresh plume of smoke, and the singer yowls off-key and off-time, like a late-twenties Nick Cave with a small beer gut replacing his visible ribcage. For as referential as Degreaser sound, it doesn’t bother me in the least – they never seem to be “trying hard”, nor do they beg for my attention – they simply pound out their sewer-rock and ignore anything in their path. Pretty sure one of the Coconuts dudes plays in this band, which may explain the particularly sluggish tempos, although Degreaser never quite fall into a dirge. Really good record, but you may want to take a shower after having a listen – Degreaser leave behind a grime that requires more than a squirt of hand-sanitizer to properly remove.

Double Negative Hardcore Confusion Vol. 1 7″ (Sorry State)
Can I just say how unappealing I find Double Negative’s gimmicky packaging to be? Hardcore Confusion is a four-part series of 7″s that, when held together, make up the band’s logo… come on guys, this is what NOFX does. And Double Negative is one of the rare modern hardcore bands that doesn’t need a gimmick to attract attention. On Vol. 1, you get a Poison Idea-ish hardcore steamroller that tips over into a prolonged mosh part on the a-side and a minute-long Die Kreuzen-y rager on the flip. The recording sounds beefier and blazes with a brighter clarity than Daydreamnation, which certainly improves my Double Negative listening experience. I don’t know, I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m buying limited-edition holographic Image Comics first-issues when picking up Double Negative records, but I don’t really like generic-looking hardcore records either, so maybe there’s just no pleasing me. Still, when it comes down to the music, there’s no denying that Double Negative are hardcore thrash-heads of the highest order.

Double Negative Hardcore Confusion Vol. 2 7″ (Sorry State)
Might as well keep the volumes coming, right? Two more top-shelf cuts from Double Negative on the second installment of Hardcore Confusion, resulting in roughly four more minutes of angry, uninhibited hardcore punk. The vocals in “Fat City Address” tend to remind me of Alabama Thunderpussy of all bands, a nice and subtle change to the usual Double Negative throw-down. Squeals of feedback open “Face Jam”, put together with a deceptively intricate rhythm that even the most brain-dead punk could effectively slam to. It’s the sort of powerhouse cut that even a decent drummer couldn’t attempt to play – Double Negative are nothing if not a band with chops. I guess there are two more volumes forthcoming, which may or may not have already been recorded… if there’s a hardcore band that can get a pass for this sort of intentional collector-bait, it’s Double Negative.

James Ferraro Far Side Virtual LP (Hippos In Tanks)
I don’t care if James Ferraro’s deal is an elaborate performance-art prank or if he truly is a digital-age soothsayer; either way, he never fails to crack me up. I’m not laughing at him, though – there is an undeniable humor to his artwork, as he references iPads, Naked juice drinks, Cleatus (the Fox football robot), remote controls, Whole Foods, and a plethora of visual stimuli grown from modern culture that no other drone musician (or any musician, really) wants to talk about. I’m sure lots of artists have similar ideas, but they manage to reign it in before actually sending a photo of Best Buy to the record label for their cover art. I love how Ferraro goes for it, even if I only need to hear every twenty-fifth release of his. Figured I’d check in with Far Side Virtual, and it’s just as tweaked as I hoped: sixteen tracks of intricately-prepared keyboard pre-set demo tracks. If you are around my age, you probably had one friend who composed insane music on Mario Paint, and it probably sounded a lot like this. The sounds within Far Side Virtual are similar to Ford & Lopatin’s Channel Pressure, but removed from any sort of pop world; Ferraro sterilized and injected his music directly into those creepy old dentist offices that still run Windows 95 and Quicken for billing purposes. I like it a whole lot more than I should, partially because I love picturing Ferraro hunched over his keyboards, sipping on a Mountain Dew slurpee and munching a Larabar deep into the night, making this music that no sane person could enjoy. I also like it because these anti-septic keyboard miniatures tickle my brain’s nostalgia bank in places I didn’t know I had. Most certainly a “not for everyone” record, but screw it, I’m having a positively fun time.

The Garbage And The Flowers Stoned Rehearsal LP (Quemada)
There are plenty of groups whose stoned rehearsals I would avoid at all costs, but The Garbage And The Flowers certainly lend themselves to such a situation. Even when sober, they barely have it together, but that’s their charm – this is hobby music in the best possible sense, a rock group that plays music in the spirit that other people play Scrabble or watch the Super Bowl together. Stoned Rehearsals is indeed just that, the band comfortably high and having fun, letting the tape roll as they lay down some thorny, bucolic rock music. If you thought the first side was loose, they really let it hang out on the flip, as the first song is botched (or forgotten) thirty seconds in, and the dogs in the room bark in disapproval. So many records similar to this one would drive me nuts (I can’t even look at a Tori Kudo record without getting nauseous), but The Garbage And The Flowers are never too precious or too grating to lose me on their trip. I’ll see them in eight years when their next record comes out so we can do this all over again.

Household Items LP (Dull Knife)
No longer just my favorite Ikea section, Household is a band, and Items is their debut LP. Dull Knife has become one of those labels you can take a chance on, just based on their track record, as there’s always a level of quality upheld among artists both familiar and strange. Pretty sure Household doesn’t have a booming fanbase, but with this album, I’d expect that to change – they play a pretty catchy, distinct style of hushed punk rock and it’s really great. I’m picturing Young Marble Giants with less artistic aspirations, or Yellow Fever with beers instead of juice boxes in their practice space, or a normal punk band that grew up rehearsing in a library. Very bare-bones, not a distortion pedal in sight, and Household make it work, embracing their minimal setup and delivering Items with a clear recording (no “let’s hide behind a cloud of lo-fi” tackiness here). Even as Items feels pretty homogenous at times, specific songs reveal themselves over repeated listens, and this is a record that demands repeated listens anyway, so there you go. Thumbs up!

The In Out The Venal Column LP (Sell You)
Boston is a city rich in indie-rock history, to the point where bands like The In Out can comfortably release four albums, because why not? The Venal Column is their fourth, and it’s a tightly-buttoned affair; compact, smart, occasionally angular and probably wittier than I am able to pick up on. I’d imagine The In Out make for a versatile opening act for touring bands, as people would certainly buy beer during their set while waiting to see Mission Of Burma or The Country Teasers or The Hot Snakes – The In Out paint with a pretty wide brush. I really don’t listen to this sort of thing a heck of a lot, you know, scrawny indie-rock with a vocalist too sharp for his own good, but I don’t mind it when it’s on, either. Reminds me of that Bands That Could Be God compilation, and I’m not talking about Deep Wound, but Salem 66 and Sorry, maybe? I didn’t use the download code, but if this sounds at all interesting to you, and you’ve kept up with The Fall post-1987, shoot me an email and I’ll send it to you.

Jamka Pari Passu CD (Sub Rosa)
If you’re a social person, and you live near an art space that puts on occasional noise shows, I can guarantee that in the past five years you’ve seen some person or group perform in the style of Jamka. Electronics are fun to torture (it’s not like they can fight back), so plenty of folks have been abusing synths, drum machines and other electronic instruments without retribution, particularly in recent times. Jamka aren’t particularly great at it, but they’re no slouches, either – this is disjointed mutant techno that grew from a Wolf Eyes bacteria sample. It’s all pretty slow-going for the first few songs, but as the album winds down, Jamka make good on the rhythmic end of things, offering music that could conceivably be danced to. Not sure how many CDs you can sell of this sort of thing, the market being what it is, but Jamka are cool and I have enjoyed my time with Pari Passu. I swear this sort of music has replaced monetary currency deep within some of Baltimore and Providence’s squat-houses – I’d probably trade a grilled cheese or some new shoelaces for a solid Jamka jam.

Lost Tribe Lost Tribe LP (Blind Prophet)
It can be difficult to meld other musical styles with crust-punk to any positive effect (Leftover Crack fans may disagree), but Lost Tribe waft in the cold, gothic paranoia of the mid-’80s without losing anything in translation. Sure, people with oil-stained Amebix back-patches will always be Lost Tribe’s target audience, and rightfully so, but the constant keyboards, downward-spiraling melodies, echoed vocals and dramatic live atmosphere (asthmatics should never attend a Lost Tribe gig) extend Lost Tribe past the rigid crust template. It’s not like they are the first, as they’ve clearly spent time with The Mob’s “No Doves Fly Here” (or any of the more theatrical Crass Records singles), but they make it work without tipping too far into modern cold-wave trendiness or traditional mediocre crust. No real standout tracks, except maybe for “Gunk” (hard to go wrong when the chorus to a song is just the word “gunk”), but I wasn’t looking for any hits here anyway, so much as the distressing vibe one feels while hiding in a graveyard during nuclear war. Definitely the type of record that makes me want to adopt a dog, so that after the fallout, I’ll have another nose rooting around for food through the ruins.

Manymental Mistakes Trois 12″ (no label)
Alright, if your band is willing to go topless in your underwear on the record sleeve, and is comprised of two attractive women and one goofy guy, I am willing to listen. I’m not impervious to skin, and while the exhibitionist tendencies of Manymental Mistakes lured me in, the music of Trois sadly flattened my interest like an opened Coke that was left out overnight. Not really sure what they’re going for… oddly enough, the music recalls a plebeian Arab On Radar at times, while maintaining a decent proximity to Turbonegro and the roller-derby women and door guys who stamp your hand that love them. Unfortunately for Manymental Mistakes, their entire approach kinda reminds me of Monotonix, one of the worst and shtickiest bands to render post-show cleanup a necessity, trying to combine the trashy rock of Iggy Pop with glammy power-moves and ending up limp at both ends. I’d certainly go check out Manymental Mistakes live, in hopes that either their sex appeal or musical abilities are enhanced in the live setting, but even if this is all they’ve got, it really ain’t the worst thing in the world.

The Midwest Beat Back To Mono 7″ (Eradicator)
Eeesh… “The Midwest Beat”? Who wants to hear that? It’s like naming your restaurant “Discount Seafood and Ribs”. I can’t blame The Midwest Beat for false advertising though, as this is pretty painless, fun-to-play-not-so-fun-to-hear rock music, heavy on the jangly and G-rated Nuggets vibe. Kinda like an American (Midwestern, let’s say) version of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? Normal rock music for people who reach for Jamba Juice and iMacs instead of Frostys and Dells. I couldn’t be less interested in the music of The Midwest Beat, but I’m sure they are civic-minded, pro-choice, recycling-conscious, kindhearted people that I’d get along with just fine. So long as I can just grab a late dinner at a gastropub with The Midwest Beat and not have to listen to their music, I have no doubt that we’d become fast friends.

Moscow Moscow Moscow Hammer, Sickles, And Girls 7″ (Eradicator)
Aww crap, not these guys again! A shiver went down my spine when I pulled this single out of its mailer. Moscow Moscow Moscow’s previous 7″ was quite possibly the worst record I heard last year, and I think they’ve topped (or bottomed) that with Hammer, Sickles, And Girls. More stupid song titles (“Surfin’ USSR” and the title track in particular) and more half-assed guitar-and-drums surf instrumentals, probably the style of guitar music most likely to suffer from half-assedness. And they’ve truly gotten worse, both in song-writing and musical ability! I’m trying to think of anyone who would enjoy listening to this, even idiots with awful taste or annoying contrarian music critics, and I’m still drawing a blank. Maybe Guy Fieri if he was a failed stand-up comedian instead of a celebrity chef? Shame on you, Eradicator Records. Shame on you.

Obtane / Giorgio Gigli / Tin Man Analysis Of A Nihilist Who Wants To Become Famous 12″ (Zooloft)
Tin Man presence aside, I had to own this 12″ based on the Giorgio Gigli name. It could be a designer perfume, a French amuse bouche or an actual person, but come on, Giorgio Gigli? Who doesn’t want to buy a record with that name on it? Anyway, the pretentious title leads way to some pretentious techno, but in one of my favorite ways – horizontal, infinite, minimal techno with ever-present subsonic bass. It’s like the Vomir of dance music. Tin Man contributes an equally meditative track (his for club usage) on the flip, vocal-less and serene, and Obtane and Giorgio Gigli collaborate again on another icy stare into the void to finish things up. Just say it with me now: Gior-gio Gi-gli. It even feels good to say.

The Outdoorsmen Tell Your Folks I’m A Goner 7″ (Psychic Handshake)
This Psychic Handshake single is my first encounter with The Outdoorsmen, but I’ve been meaning to check them out for a while now. Descriptions pegged them as offensive, over-the-top fuzz-punk, not to mention the substantial quantity of pencil-drawn genitalia on their record covers, so I’m glad to have finally checked in. The title track is pretty much as I expected, and it’s a hot little number, as if Lamps joined the Confederacy of Scum. “Stink Up The Bathroom” is great too, like something off All Skrewed Up if GG Allin took Ian Stewart’s place. Last track “She Wants To Go Steady” has a similar vibe to “Stink Up The Bathroom”, even though it also has this strange similarity to Home Blitz or maybe even Nobunny that has me slightly concerned. Either way, The Outdoorsmen definitely lived up to my expectations, and now I need to go seek out their other wonderfully ignorant singles, so that I might quell the neanderthal that dwells deep inside me.

Per Purpose Implicating More Than One 12″ (Bedroom Suck)
Per Purpose’s excellent debut 7″ came with six songs, and this new 12″ EP has six as well. They tore through their tunes on the 7″ like sugared-up children, so I was a little wary that the extended vinyl space might be the result of an unfortunate “maturation” here. Foolish me for ever questioning an Australian group’s intentions, as Per Purpose have certainly expanded their sound without losing hold of the feverish energy that made their debut so infectious. Along with the earlier hardcore-punk influences on their debut, I’m reminded of some of the more interesting hardcore groups of the early ’90s here – Universal Order Of Armageddon, Clikatat Ikatowi and maybe even Born Against show signs of extended life within Per Purpose’s grooves. It sounds like Per Purpose spent a lot of time working and re-working these songs until they were just right, but maybe the band is just talented enough that these longer hardcore missives with quick changes and intricate bass-lines come naturally. Either way, it can be a tough sound to breathe life into, but Per Purpose do a good job of making all these retro-hardcore re-enactors seem a little pointless by comparison.

Pop. 1280 Thirteen Steps / Dead Hand 7″ (Blind Prophet)
Another Pop. 1280 record, another television capture broadcast from Hell for the cover art. Can’t go wrong with that. The Grid really made me re-evaluate what a contemporary noise-rock band can do, and it really blew me away, but Pop. 1280 seem to pull away a little from the gritty sewer drain they claimed as home on The Grid with “Thirteen Steps”, a steadily-worsening fever dream built on a couple solid notes and an almost krautrock-ish throb. They wake up eventually, but with a dead hand on the b-side, an awful feeling I know all too well from my imminent carpal tunnel syndrome. “Dead Hand” evokes that mild terror well, with horn bleats straight from Children Of God-era Swans and a Killing Joke-ish stammer through the alley. Cool single for sure, and one I need to keep spinning, but they set the bar so damn high with The Grid that I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed. Pretty sure an album on Sacred Bones is on the horizon, and I certainly look forward to whatever ugly pictures they’ve been painting for that.

Rustie Glass Swords 2xLP (Warp)
There’s nothing quite like a good dose of clinical, lifeless, minimal techno, but sometimes it’s fun to go the other way. Rustie’s Glass Swords could easily define “maximal techno”, the cover art’s artisanal dildos glistening in another universe’s sun with the majesty and power they deserve. Rustie is not just a master of his synths, but an experienced melodicist as well – he blends modern American hip-hop production with UK bass music, looks back to the ’80s with one eye and deep into the future with the other, and puts it all together in these precise songs that explode with joy and color. Hell, he even makes Seinfeld bass a vibrant, prescient concern (“Hover Traps” hits it hard). Rustie could’ve easily gone the pop route and found a bunch of hot vocalists to add a layer of radio-pop catnip to the mix, and while I wouldn’t write that possibility off in the future, his Glass Swords instrumentals are catchy as hell on their own. I can’t imagine the sheer number of hours Rustie spent in the glow of his computer screen, tweaking and re-working these songs until they were finished, but his effort wasn’t wasted. If I was young, Glass Swords would be on repeat, soundtracking my many late-night parties and life mistakes; instead, I’ll just keep on playing it anyway, pretending I am still young enough that it doesn’t hurt when I fall off my skateboard.

The Sceptres Childsplay / Job Centre Plus 7″ (Dire)
Not quite sure what to make of this Sceptres single. You know how some bands clearly sound like each member is an extension of the same brain, all fighting for the same goal? The Sceptres are the opposite of that – it’s like each member had a different idea of what the band should sound like. “Childsplay” has this clean, reverb-y guitar, played like it has Cramps and Alien Sex Fiend stickers on it, with a slow-rolling bass groove, and a singer who belts over it like she’s finally confessing a crime after hours of interrogation. The riff is a strange one, and I can’t tell if they are trying to be goth or peace-punk or something-abilly or what. Was hoping “Job Centre Plus” would illuminate things, but the singer is howling like she’s fronting Icon Gallery, but the music still wants to be Crime & The City Solution wearing a cowboy hat or something of that moody nature. Maybe if there was some oomph to the recording, or a slightly narrowed focus, The Sceptres could be cool, but this particular single is a bit too jumbled and incongruous to create a satisfying experience.

Scraps Classic Shits 2006 – 2009 LP (Bedroom Suck)
Seems like the Bedroom Suck / Negative Guest List / R.I.P Society Axis of Fun has been on a raw-guitar / noise-rock kick lately, and with a name like “Scraps” and a title like Classic Shits 2006 – 2009, I had my sights set on a “Drunks With Guns parties with David Yow at Rusted Shut’s house” experience. Couldn’t be further from what Scraps are all about, though – this is cutesy bedroom Casio-pop with schoolyard-limerick singing. Threw me off guard at first, but once I was willing to wear the candy necklace Scraps held over my head, these songs felt pretty good, as Scraps’ Laura Hill clearly knows her way around a melody or two (frequently at the same time). Kinda like a random old K Records or Slumberland 7″ you find for a dollar and end up cherishing forever, and not without its own little attitude, like Tweety Bird flipping the finger. What’s not to like?

Skoal Kodiak Kryptonym Bodliak LP (Load)
Few band names have triggered such an intense scent-memory for me as Skoal Kodiak, the latest offering from Load. Kinda had me expecting TAD-style redneck-rock, or a disc Cabela’s would sell in their music section (that has to exist, right?), but Skoal Kodiak are their own messy endeavor, if equally unsophisticated. Most of Kryptonym Bodliak sounds like Unholy Swill remixed by Eats Tapes, resulting in a crude electronic dance-party with an angry voice coming from the TV screen, the deformed progeny of El Duce and Max Headroom hollering at you even after unplugging the power supply. They’re a pretty perfect fit for Load, culling together various influences both artsy and ballsy and creating something Mat Brinkman would base a cartoon on (if he hasn’t already). If there’s a specific dance that involves dislocating ones own limbs, this is the music for it. Heard Skoal Kodiak really bring it live too, which I can completely picture after jamming Kryptonym Bodliak, and plan to experience first-hand as soon as I can. Just hope they leave that damn wintergreen smell at home.

The Soft Moon Total Decay EP 12″ (Captured Tracks)
Glad to see a new EP by The Soft Moon, one of the more astringent and mechanical guitar-led groups to throw their card in the cold-wave game. Four tracks on this EP, and while none of The Soft Moon’s debut album bored me, the brevity of the EP format works in their favor – these four quick stabs are in and out before an icicle can form on the tip of your nose. Opener “Repetition” sets the tone nicely – a super-simple riff chugs away while the squeals of a feral synth take turns with a wild pack of bongos. Almost reminds me of bits of Trans Am’s The Red Line, although without any cynical wink or ironic intent. Bits of Nine Inch Nails (check “Alive”‘s percussion) and the occasional Skinny Puppy overtone bleed though too, but it’s still wave-ish enough to spook Duran Duran without frightening them out of the room entirely. My only prior criticism with The Soft Moon remains, though: these songs would be even better with a vocalist, as the only vocals here are occasional whispers, screeches or moans… just give me a call, Soft Moon dude, I would love to sing for your band. You should see my wardrobe.

State Champion Deep Shit LP (Sophomore Lounge)
What’s that, fireworks at the township carnival from the hood of your Ford with your prom date by your side? Nope, it’s just the new State Champion LP, a record as rich in blue-collar Americana as any of Kid Rock’s country hits. John Cougar Springsteen, the moment in Varsity Blues where Dawson says “I don’t want your life!”, Wilco, corn on the cob, it’s all here in Deep Shit, an inappropriately vulgar title for a soothingly red, white and blue record. Pretty sure the main State Champion guy runs the Sophomore Lounge label, and I can kinda hear that in their music, running from the guitar-fueled testosterone of Wishgift to the indie-optimism of Animal City to the bearded prairies of Bonnie “Prince” Billy… it’s all in there somewhere. I’ll admit, I’d usually rather hear a Swedish guy’s electronic misery or a British woman’s party-anthem than an American roots-rock celebration, but State Champion grease the wheels so smoothly that I never feel the changing of the gears.

Tile Tobacco Spiders / Calculated Agenda 7″ (Burning Hell)
A new Burning Hell Records box set came out recently, of which this new Tile 7″ was included. Glad I got my hands on a copy of Tile’s contribution, as Tile are one of the least appreciated groups making heavy melodic rock today, which just ain’t right. Floor is clearly an inspiration, and early Jesu a decent comparison, but I swear I heard notes of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins in their live set too, as Tile manage to make their down-tuned, sludgy guitars sound hopeful and even sweet at times. These two songs are a little meaner, though – definitely the sort of thing Bovine Records would’ve jumped to release in 1994, or at least thrown on a compilation with Greenmachine and Thug. Of the two, “Calculated Agenda” has a particularly strong lurch. I think Tile would appeal to a lot of people into this sort of thing, I just wish there was an easier way for them to find a copy, rather than shelling out fifty bucks for a box set. Maybe write the band? Sometimes, the good stuff is worth the effort.

Vaccuum 2nd EP 7″ (Irukandji)
Been meaning to check out San Francisco’s Vaccuum, based on their noisy-punk reputation and a friend’s description of their second cassette as “space-rock weirdness” (I really still need to hear that). When this new EP came out in a nice deluxe edition (screened fold-over cover, colored vinyl), I knew the time was right for me to finally dig in. People like to use the term “pissraw” sometimes, and if I was a vulgar person, I’d use it here, as Vaccuum are a gnarly, Japanese-inspired hardcore group. Think Contrast Attitude, Zyanose, Kriegshög, any of those heavy-hitters that turned the d-beat into something monstrous, but with less of a sense of musical purpose, as if Vaccuum only used vague song templates to guide their thunderous bashing, as opposed to actual structured timing. Don’t get me wrong, they play “songs”, but who really cares either way? These five blasts have been captured in a perfectly blown-out recording, and they’re great. I want to feel like a dragon burped in my face after listening to raw n’ noisy hardcore punk, and Vaccuum have certainly singed my noise hairs with this one. Well done, folks.

Water Borders Harbored Mantras LP (Tri Angle)
At this point, I am down to check out any Tri Angle release. Holy Other is exceptional, Balam Acab is great, so why not see what Water Borders are all about? Unlike their Tri Angle peers, Water Borders push the vocals to the front, offering a creepy master of ceremonies to guide their electro-tribal fetish music. Reminds me of Excepter, with some of Coil’s mystical-sexual moves… very hazy, barely-awake beats and synth patches on the edge of periphery and vaguely industrial overtones with a weird guy (or occasionally, a weird woman) singing about water or God knows what with great affectation. I can’t help but imagine a bunch of middle-class art students taking a submarine down to Drexciya’s undersea utopia and gentrifying its cheapest neighborhood when I listen to Harbored Mantras. It’s got that funk, but not without a whole lot of posturing and artistry (which, let’s face it, can be an excellent thing in the right set of hands). I admire Water Borders’ musical chutzpah, as well as their willingness to title songs “Waldenpond.com” and “Feasting On Mongeese”. Probably my favorite dose of electronic weirdness I’ve had this month, in fact.

Whatever Brains Whatever Brains LP (Sorry State)
‘Bout time for a Whatever Brains album, as this Raleigh, NC group’s singles have been tickling my turntable for a year or so now. It seems like fewer and fewer punk groups put out records like this anymore, but I wish more would – effort was clearly put into the details, from the sturdy gatefold sleeve to the newsprint lyric booklet, perhaps only outdone by the music therein. They’re still a snotty, post-indie rock group, with a vocalist somewhere between Doc Dart and Fred Thomas (or the guy from Boba Fett Youth – remember them?), but these songs seem to be built with an album in mind, shifting tempos and yanking my collar through Whatever Brains‘s duration. You’ve got the silly swing of “Gross Urge”, and “Blues Lawyer”‘s slinky bass groove, and the a-side’s only halfway through. It’s as if The Intelligence condensed their last five albums into one, and spent all that time perfecting it. Whatever Brains pack in a lot of songs here, but no moment (neither theirs nor mine) feels wasted – I’ve come to expect and love the various twists Whatever Brains has to offer.

White Crime White Crime 7″ (Bummer Tapes)
Seems like “White (anything)” is an appropriate band name these days, even if it’ll always come in second to “Black” band names on the coolness scale. Houston seems like as good a city as any other for hot-wired punk rock, the stuff that White Crime are peddling, but this seven-track EP doesn’t offer much support. The opaque orange vinyl is nice, but they would’ve been better off putting that extra cash toward a proper mastering, or at least a brand-new Maxell to record on – these songs come across so flat, tinny and compressed that they can only make White Crime sound worse than they must actually be. Hardcore is the sport of muscular, youthful bodies, whereas this 7″ sounds straight up brittle and arthritic. Not much really doing in the songs department, either, just your run-of-the-mill snotty, cheap-beer garage-punk, but they could be the greatest band in the world and I’d never know it from this record. Vinyl is a precious natural resource and I hate to see it squandered prematurely like this.

Xray Eyeballs Sundae / Deja Vu 7″ (Hardly Art)
Another two-fer from Xray Eyeballs, a Brooklyn indie-garage side project that’s as sure to be a fun commotion live as they are to be completely forgotten about in a couple years’ time. Much like their recent Hozac single, both of these tracks aren’t cause for much excitement, but they don’t bug me like many of their contemporaries do – I think it’s probably because Xray Eyeballs are pretty confident in their music, even if it’s a style that I admittedly have little interest in. It’s poppy, there’s a synth somewhere beneath the chiming guitars, and while they probably don’t use a drum machine, the drummer clearly isn’t paid by the number of rolls he or she hits. I could spin these songs twenty times a day without hating them, just as I’d be perfectly happy to have never heard them in the first place. You know what I mean? This sort of fashion-forward, scripted “crazy garage punk” thing can be fun, even though there are endless amounts of hipster-hopefuls and trendy bloggers cramming up the gears of a band like Xray Eyeballs, where the final goal is momentary fame and free clothes and beer, rather than sonic redemption. It’s not bad – there’s just so damn much of it going around these days.