American Snakeskin Turquoise For Hello 12″ (Janitor’s Closet)
American Snakeskin were yet another short-lived group that came out of that whole Cult Ritual / Merchandise axis of Tampa-based punk rock weirdness. Sad to know I’ll never get a chance to see American Snakeskin grow up (they left us far too early!), as they managed to carve a distinct little sound for themselves on this EP… it’s like if cold-wave sat around watching Breaking Bad all day. They play slow because it’s just too hot and arid to move fast, the guitars jangle like Slaves with a Morricone fetish, and the singer speaks with a quiet toughness that belies his age – I can picture the boy from Blood Meridian playing his part. But no, it’s actually one of those Cult Ritual guys instead. Maybe even Moss Icon fans would dig this (or one of those weirder Vermin Scum one-offs), if they allowed the hippie-dippiness to be consumed with fear of nature’s violence. Snakeskin is cool to look at, but it was shed from an animal that could very well poison you, and American Snakeskin seem well aware of that fact. These folks have probably already started and stopped four other cool bands since Turquoise For Hello was released, and I hope to find out about all those, too.

Bandshell Dust March 12″ (Hessle Audio)
I hope someone besides me is paying serious attention to what Hessle Audio’s been doing lately, because it’s going to take more than one brain to make sense of what has become one of the most fascinating modern electronic labels. I suppose they’re still releasing dance music, and not necessarily in the avant / Raster Noton-esque electronic experimentation sense, but this Bandshell EP is a great example of how unique Hessle Audio has become. “Dust March”, in particular, drives that point home – it’s a slow, barely-there dirge of radio interference and clanging bottles. The track is at once distant and direct, like part of “Dust March” is happening a mile away while the rest is an inch from your face. This could’ve just as likely come out on Vanity Records in 1980; it’s that hard to classify, and it’s great. The three following tracks, meanwhile, could actually be considered some species of dance music. They work familiar dubstep rhythms, but are equipped with a sound palate that consists of air, murmurs, accidental percussion and fuzz. Freaky stuff. Really fantastic EP that doesn’t just run up to the edge of dance music, it falls off into the unknown void beneath. Check out “Dust March” and tell me I’m wrong!

Blues Control Valley Tangents LP (Drag City)
Been excited to hear this new Blues Control album for a while, after being teased by live performances of some of these songs for the past few months. It’s finally here though, and in fine fashion: the art is beautiful (and completely hand-crafted by Blues Control themselves), housed in a back-flapped Euro 12″-style sleeve that they personally designed (not just the art – the actual sleeve itself!). I truly appreciate all this attention to detail, but it wouldn’t mean diddly if the music didn’t back it up. Lucky for us, Valley Tangents is an excellent album, pushing the sound of Blues Control forward into a genre that doesn’t yet exist. The ingredients remain the same (tapes, guitar and keyboard), but they seem to have gotten so comfortable and skillful in this particular set-up that both Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho find various moments to peacock through these tracks, sharing the spotlight they’ve created. Gotta give the victory to Cho, though – her piano playing is both loose and mathematical, no matter if she’s grooving Peanuts-style or slaying like Eddie Van Halen with his eyes rolled in the back of his head. It all results in something that feels like Keith Jarrett or some other soft AM jazz, but sounds like an undiscovered kraut-rock or Actuel gem that came from the future. I know that Blues Control spent a lot of time making this record, and it was all worth it, as however long they spent making it, I am sure I will find myself grooving to it far, far longer.

Charles Sharp 6 Exits LP (Empty Cellar)
When you’re an avant-jazz sextet, you can either blow it out ’til the windows burst, sit quietly while one of you softly sucks a reed, or compose something interestingly in-between. Charles Sharp 6 take the middle road, weaving entertaining musical personalities into each of these jazz-based instrumentals. Their music generally moves with such purpose and direction that I’d presume most of Exits was predetermined, reminding me a hell of a lot of Barnacled’s last album, Charles (coincidence?). If I ever organized an egg hunt, I’d probably want to put on Exits, as this record sounds like it’s geared toward the sensation of pleasant surprise, the group’s various horns croaking and squawking with the delight of discovery as the basses (there’s two of them) impishly wander the field. Sometimes a dose of playful jazz like this reminds me that tempo changes and hundreds of musical notes can hit the spot just as well as a static black-and-white beat.

Chook Race Chook Race 7″ (no label)
Can’t even begin to guess what a “chook” is, let alone a chook race, but it’s a name that’s stuck with me, and that’s the whole point of a band name, right? I mean how boring would it be if these guys were “The Brood” or “The Veins” instead? Anyway, I’m sad to report that Chook Race’s name is the most exciting thing about them at the moment, as the three tunes on this self-released single don’t do a whole lot. They kinda do that popular Television Personalities crossed with Nuggets style, and while that’s fine with me, none of these songs are particularly memorable. They try out mid-paced, upbeat and slow tempos here, and all three directions are performed fine, if unremarkably so. It’s recorded decently enough, and the singer has an alright voice… there is just nothing here that I’ve remembered after a handful of listens, or would want to tell a friend about. Still, I’d never tell a band named Chook Race to hang it up, just practice and get better, as I’m waiting for the day when I can wear a Chook Race back-patch with pride.

The Christmas Bride Planet Earth’s Motto: Someone Just Shit Out A Perfect Sphere LP (Sophomore Lounge)
So the band is called The Christmas Bride and have kind of a Christmas-themed metallic band logo, with a cover image of an oil-covered guy about to get cleaned by two guys with Youthbrushes on the beach, and then there’s that ridiculous title… there has to be at least fifty inside jokes that just flew past my head and I haven’t even listened yet. The music is far less wacky than the packaging, mercifully – this is poppy punk rock that occasionally swings all the way back to the late ’70s but generally sticks to the ’90s for inspiration. Maybe if The Ultimate Fakebook or The Impossibles were on a “modern punk bands cover classic punk songs!” compilation CD it’d sound like this. I kinda miss the days of crappy melodic-punk sampler CDs, and while The Christmas Bride know better than to ape that sound specifically, their upbeat attitude and quirky music isn’t out of place with that vibe. Songs like “Hey, He Thinks I’m Experimental Gay” and “Ge Rm Ans” (“The Germans are my favorite Nazi punk band” – what?) are Ween-ishly crass, and I guess that’s probably the point. Figure it’s gotta be kinda hard to sell this one to anyone outside of The Christmas Bride’s social circle, but I admire Sophomore Lounge’s gumption in trying.

Confines Some Sick Joke 7″ (Labor Of Love / Side Two)
Confines are back with another well-designed 7″, continuing to wear their political conscience proudly as they put a darkly cynical spin on the usual war-atrocity montage. Wasn’t expecting “Some Sick Joke”, though – it pretty much sounds like Chokehold covering Black Flag, for real. I can picture size XXL t-shirts with sentence-long slogans and baggy Dockers flailing in the pit to this one, neck-beads and all, brought into 2012 only by the gnarly guitar improv and eventual conclusion of the song (the second half speeds up into your standard modern-day brutal hardcore-punk). Kinda wish the whole 7″ was as slow as that first part, but the two ragers on the b-side are great too… the riffs are just complex enough to be unique, and the drumming is machine-precise, rifling through songs that are as musically indebted to No Comment as Urban Waste. I’ve come to expect Confines to do things their own way, and it’s appreciated now more than ever.

Crazy Spirit Crazy Spirit LP (Toxic State)
Now we’re talking, the first official full-length album from New York’s Crazy Spirit. Just as the cover art is essentially the exact same as all their other records, the music of Crazy Spirit isn’t going to convert any non-believers, but for those of us who’ve answered their call, it’s another fantastic slab of raging, snotty hardcore-punk. Some might complain about the use of samples that interfere between songs, but I dig it – from The Crucifucks to Zoinks!, all sorts of punk bands have woven weird/annoying/funny samples into their albums, and Crazy Spirit add themselves to that lineage here, forcing you to wait through random crackly talking and radio static to get to their tunes. I’ve enjoyed the entire experience, as nearly all their songs still feature that locomotive drum beat, and the vocalist still has the voice of a honey badger talented enough to sing along with the melodies of the riffs. They even branch out a little weirder toward the end – I appreciate their occasional use of acoustic guitars (and the insane “I Become A Man”). It’s different, but still undeniably Crazy Spirit, who have quickly become one of 2012’s hardcore groups least likely to be forgotten by 2022. Bravo!

Cynarae Cynarae 12″ (A389 Recordings)
Many might associate the Pacific Northwest with grunge and wimpy indie-rock, but I swear there’s a specific strain of metallic hardcore just as deep in the soil out there. Cynarae are the latest to plow that field, skipping out on the frills of tricky time-changes and intricate guitar solos for a pretty standard serving of angry metal-core. It’s down-tuned, thick, and workmanlike, somewhere between The Swarm, Brutal Truth and early Converge, but without the recognizability of those three. Grind parts to satisfy the heshers, and karate-worthy breakdowns for the Eminem-lookalikes in the pit. Perhaps the most notable thing about Cynarae is the weird trick they’ve played with the b-side, where you can hear to the entire a-side backwards (and nothing else). I usually appreciate frivolous wastes of vinyl, but this one kinda irked me, because really, who is gonna want to hear that for even ten seconds? It’s just a waste. A decent EP overall, just not a particularly memorable one – the genre has pretty much been perfected at this point, after all. Cynarae are gonna need more than a gimmicky b-side to stick out from the rest of the crowd.

Dragon Turtle & Eric De Jesus Dragon Turtle & Eric De Jesus 7″ (La Société Expéditionnaire)
Nice little collaboration single between two Eastern PA notables, the ambient-improv group Dragon Turtle and punk-rock hippie artist Eric De Jesus. On this 7″ single, the group slowly swirl up some loop-pedaled bliss, like a homespun Emeralds, or perhaps a Pennsylvanian Dutch answer to the Pop Ambient compilation series, while De Jesus talks about West Philadelphia in the late ’80s over top, an era that seems to have so deeply affected him that he manages to bring it up in nearly every conversation he has. His calm delivery kinda makes it sound like some sort of alternate-universe emo, as if Moonraker or Don Martin Three found inner peace through heavy meditation. I kinda wish De Jesus’s voice was louder in the mix, as it’s frequently difficult to follow his words among the pastel swirl of Dragon Turtle, and I enjoyed his prose when I went to the label’s website to read it. Even so, I can feel the dandelion seeds blowing freely in the air when I put this record on, which will never not feel good.

Exit Hippies Part 2 7″ (Detonate)
So damn pissed to find out that I missed Part 1 before realizing it even existed, and trust me, I try hard to keep up on new Exit Hippies happenings. I guess Detonate only pressed 100 of each part so far, and damn if I don’t feel like a big enough Exit Hippies fan where I should be entitled to have the chance to at least purchase their records. Angry complaining aside, it’s music like Part 2 that has me so riled up in the first place – there is only one Exit Hippies, and they somehow seem to be getting better with age. Two songs on the a-side, “Check Your Motherfucker” and “Register”, and they sound like tenth-generation dubs of the SOA’s No Policy and the Napalm Death / SOB split blasted inside a metal tank, so trebly and fuzzy that my ears grew more hair in an attempt to protect themselves. B-side “Butchers”, on the other hand, sounds like Atari Teenage Riot’s first practice, assuming they broke up within the first five minutes and in their haste forgot to turn the machines off. This is aesthetic perfection, and I will make it my mission to be even more vigilant so that no new Exit Hippies material escapes my grasp.

Father Murphy Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It LP (Aagoo)
Before I’m even finished reading the wordy song titles to Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It, there’s a tension in the air. They’re just one of those groups that aim to provide discomfort, the musical equivalent of being cramped in an airplane’s middle seat. Minor chords are creepily strummed, schizophrenic vocals take issue with your presence, and some songs spiral out of control while others only hint at the madness they conceal. I’ve read that Father Murphy tour with Xiu Xiu, and while the similarities are glaring, I’m not sure I’d want to see more than one band do this sort of crazed delirium in the same evening. I’m not even really sure I want to hear Father Murphy too often anyway, as there is little explanation or apparent reasoning for the high drama of their music, and without an understanding of why Father Murphy are so unhinged, some of their outbursts (songs) are too random to leave any residual impact. Still, I’ve only read the lyric sheet once, and there are surely some people who live to crack the code of bands like this. Not a bad listen, particularly for anyone who enjoys the occasional pebble in their sock.

Daughn Gibson Lite Me Up / The Mark Of A Man 7″ (Dull Knife)
You might as well trust my review of Daughn Gibson like you’d trust a mother’s review of her eight year-old daughter’s piano recital, but I didn’t release this record, I just loved it since the day it was born. 2013 is gonna be Daughn Gibson’s year, but before all the big stuff really pops off, he casually dropped the official summer jam of 2012. That’d be “Lite Me Up”, a sexy waltz that sounds like Chris Isaak throwing an orgy DJed by Jimmy Buffett, the moist moment recorded and looped in Ableton. Daughn’s horny, and it’s a salacious track that no mortal can resist, man, woman or any conceivable combination of the two. The b-side’s also about sex, but from the naive view of a bumbling virgin son – Gibson plays out the scene with the comedy and tenderness it demands, the music softly shuffling along and playing the part of the protagonist’s winking father perfectly. It’s a quick single, showcasing two more sides of what Daughn Gibson has to offer, and I truly feel sorrow for any American deprived of hearing “Lite Me Up” before the pools close for the season. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Girl Unit Club Rez EP 12″ (Night Slugs)
Girl Unit put the Night Slugs label on the map with his streetwise combo of thuggish American hip-hop bangers and brainy European house music. Tracks like “Wut” and “IRL” nearly had me appreciating Internet-speak, as they are instantly recognizable hits among a sea of Girl Unit contemporaries. I was excited for some new rousing bangers on Club Rez, but Girl Unit doesn’t make it so easy for me – through these six cuts, Girl Unit prefers to tease me with the beat rather than drop it on my skull, anvil-style. Opener “Ensemble (Club Mix)” is the closest thing this EP gets to a populist hit, taking its “do you remember the ’80s?” vibe and plowing a line through the room with club-ready bass. The rest of the EP is Girl Unit messing with unintuitive beats and irregular patterns, like Oval remixing DAF and Billy Ocean or something. It’s cool, but I don’t come to Girl Unit for post-modern experimentation, I want to hear something that Diplo would blast at a festival hosted by P Diddy. Maybe Club Rez is just Girl Unit playing with new ideas, and that’s fine… I just can’t wait until he gets back to writing music that sounds like Lil Jon’s “Get Low” as performed by The Egyptian Lover.

Hissey Miyake / Terrible Truths split 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
Very appropriate pairing of two dancey post-punk groups, sort of a modern answer to the Slits / Pop Group split from way back when. Hissey Miyake reference a fashion designer, feature “Mai Gryffydd” and “Lei Gryffydd” on bass, guitar and shared vocal duties, and offer a pleasant-if-simple take on a funky, early-Rough Trade sound. Maybe if The Rogers Sisters listened to a lot of Pigbag? They’ve certainly got cool names going for them. I was more excited for new Terrible Truths material, and while a novice ear might think this 7″ featured the same group on both sides, Terrible Truths aren’t as taut and minimal as Hissey Miyake. The tunes are still geared for dancing, but the guitar swings loosely, and their vocal interplay is more advanced, sounding real sweet with that dubbed-out bass groove. Cool split for sure, but I’m just getting antsy for a Terrible Truths album at this point. Can’t be too long, right?

Hoax 2nd EP 7″ (Youth Attack)
After a notable debut EP, Hoax are back on the prowl with this much-delayed follow-up. It’s every bit worth the wait though, as these four songs (initially available as a West Coast tour EP that my lonely East Coast self was unable to procure) are just as memorable and mean as anything off the first, even “Faget”. The opening riff in “Down”, for example, is one of those hardcore moments that will withstand any hype and eventually be considered classic – it sounds like bruises, and if you saw the singer live, it looks like them too. Hoax have really come into their own sound here, stomping through proto-black metal riffs (think Von or early Hellhammer) and playing them with the marching pace of classic street-punk and violent hardcore. And somehow, even though the vocals are entirely barked or growled, I’m able to understand the lyrics, which has led to singing along with lines like “suicide pact / pull the fucking trigger” and “skills / death / skills or death” in the comfort of my own home. I recognized these tracks from their live show, which speaks to the catchiness of their grim and nasty hardcore-punk. Hopefully Hoax are getting paid big-time for this release, so that the singer can finally buy the helmet he so desperately needs.

K9 Sniffies Rawsonville / The Mask 7″ (Urinal Cake)
You ever try coming up with band names, agree with your bandmates on something good, only to later research it and realize there’s already a band using that name? That’s a disappointment I can’t imagine the K9 Sniffies ever faced. I dig their sound, though – “Rawsonville” is dare I say what Mayyors would’ve sounded like if they attempted big heavy psych-rock. The drums flail in a locked groove, guitars burn and lift-off like Spacemen 3, and the vocalist hollers unintelligibly with long breaks in between phrases (he sounds like he just ate a full meal prior to recording, so I can’t blame him). It’s over in what feels like an instant, so I raced to “The Mask” on the flip, which is probably the best Jim Carrey-inspired punk song I’ve ever heard (just kidding, I don’t know for sure – no lyric sheet). It’s just as thunderous, but maybe a little punker, to say that pogoing wouldn’t be an inappropriate audience response (unless you’re the only one doing it). Both songs essentially take one riff and pound it out for two minutes or so, and while it’s hard to really go wrong doing that, K9 Sniffies do it really right. Another tasty urinal cake indeed.

Mad Macka Adidas Tracksuit 7″ (Swashbuckling Hobo)
Real strange single here that I still don’t really understand… it’s like everything about it is a joke, except for the music. The band name and logo recall No Limit Records circa 2001, but then there’s a funny guy in, well, an Adidas tracksuit ready to fight on the cover, while the back cover is a Photoshop nightmare brimming with bad font choices… I’m already exhausted trying to make heads or tails of Mad Macka and I haven’t even spun the record yet. Surprisingly, “Adidas Tracksuit” is a pretty fun rock song, like The Scientists covering The New York Dolls, hi-fi garage rock that welcomes everybody into the room. Their interesting “aah-dee-DAAHS” pronunciation has stuck with me too, although I’m still pretty sure the way I’ve always said it is right. The b-side is called “Bored!@rics”, and while I’m annoyed that text-message typing is seeping its way into rock n’ roll song titles, it sounds like The Scientists moved on to covering Turbonegro here, which honestly also sounds pretty good to me. If these guys release their next 7″ with just a plain white dust sleeve, not even their band name on it, I’d probably dig that one a lot, but for now I’m not sure I can take any more of their non-musical creative ideas. Good band but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Mauser Isolation EP 12″ (Vinyl Rites)
Seems like there’s at least one quality Japanese-inspired hardcore band within 100 miles of any major metropolitan area these days, and that’s no complaint! Mauser are the Southeast US affiliate of this sound, and like Nomad and Brain Killer and Bloodkrow Butcher and Vaccuum and about a dozen other good-to-great hardcore bands currently in existence, they bring a thunderous d-beat backline to noise-laced guitars and throaty vocals. The cover art reminds me of something Crow would use, with the picture of a spiky-jacket punk with a horse skull in lieu of a human head, and that image basically fits their sound and style, too. I appreciate the usage of the 12″ EP format here, as seven songs and an intro is pretty much the perfect length for a release of this kind, and the spacious vinyl real-estate allows the needle to properly soak up all that bass and rumble. I don’t hear anything in Mauser that particularly sets them apart from the pack, but I’m not necessarily in need of a group to re-invent heavy noisy crust; sometimes it’s best to stick to the script, and Mauser execute it with excellence.

Meat Thump Box Of Wine / Feel Good 7″ (Negative Guest List)
It’s impossible to listen to Meat Thump without considering the sad and untimely passing of its leader (and Negative Guest List editor-in-chief) Brendon Annesley, but I’m gonna try my best to judge this single on the merit of its music, just as I’m sure Annesley would’ve wanted. This is my first time hearing Meat Thump, and while the name had me expecting some sort of shambolic Brainbombs-esque punk band, Meat Thump are a far more relaxed affair. The name’s only one word off from Meat Puppets, and the music’s not too far off either… “Box Of Wine” sounds like it could’ve been an outtake from Nirvana’s Unplugged In New York, if one of the stage-hands grabbed the mic and started muttering his way through it. Contrary to its title, “Feel Good” on the b-side is even bleaker, as if this sextet was either about to fall asleep or just waking up during its performance and pleased with neither condition. You can tell that Pink Reason left an impression on these guys, just the way all these instruments moan and groan somewhere between a grunge ballad and a Vertical Slit demo. There’s an undeniable sadness here, on multiple levels, only mitigated by the peaceful feeling Meat Thump have left behind.

Neon Blud Discotheque Deathbed 12″ (Vinyl Rites)
My only prior exposure to Neon Blud was their Whipps EP, which I found to be a fine, unremarkable serving of noisy indie-punk. They’ve done a lot since then (even a VHS?), and now I’m concerned I need to do some serious backtracking, as Discotheque Deathbed is a killer EP, and one of the most unique things I’ve heard out of the punk underground this year. It’s hard to describe, but how about this: Public Image release their debut album on Gravity Records, with John Lydon replaced by some nervous talker who runs his voice through a broken Echoplex. It’s as if Antioch Arrow went on to release a fourth album, still obsessed with vampires and Bauhaus, but now messing with disco beats and even longer songs, too. I was expecting these tracks to fly by, but it’s a pretty long EP – Neon Blud sound great, and are in no rush to blaze through it, burning up riffs and simmering hypnotic dub in equal measure. I probably would’ve crapped my pants if I heard Discotheque Deathbed ten years ago, but even in 2012 I had to quickly rush to the restroom. Recommended!

Pleasant Living Pleasant Living 7″ (A389 Recordings)
From various long-standing Maryland hardcore groups comes Pleasant Living. The “ex-members of Trapped Under Ice” listing certainly perked me up a bit, but there’s nothing trapped under ice about Pleasant Living – this is Warped Tour-style punk with a slight street-punk edge. Basically, take any of Good Riddance’s slower songs, add at least 800 pounds of gang vocals over every chorus (tunefully song, not shouted), and you’ve got the perfect group to open for modern-day DYS when they come through town. The Dropkick Murphys clearly resonated with a lot of people, and it seems like Pleasant Living are going for a similar deal – Fat Wreck Chords-esque pop-punk concealed by the fact that legit tough-guys are playing it, with songs about being down on your luck and drinking at the bar (or both). I don’t spend much time with this sound, and it’s probably the height of uncool for some of you YGR readers out there, but Pleasant Living do a fine enough job with it. Some dock worker in Baltimore no longer has to look to a Boston group for inspiration and guidance, so that’s something, right?

Protect-U Motorbike 12″ (Planet Mu)
Like many of their electronic friends, Protect-U jump from their DIY empire Future Times to greater fame and fortune with Planet Mu. Been waiting for a new one from Protect-U for a while now, but this isn’t a group that rushes things – they’re more likely to obsess over a certain snare clap for six weeks, then delete the whole track in a moment of anguish, than to dish out a couple EPs a month like some other producers out there. I admire their stringent level of quality, as it shows on a track like “Motorbike”, wherein a Jan Hammer beat intercepts a psychedelic moan to create a sharp and nimble groove. It also features Protect-U’s trademark rhythmic quality – the kick never quite falls where you expect it, or the rhythm completely shifts gears upon the introduction of a new loop or drum machine. Their music is frequently unintuitive, but you can always shuffle your hips to it. It’s amazing that they are able to perform the bulk of their tracks in real time (they even bob heads to the music while all four hands race between keyboards!), but it wouldn’t be as impressive if the music didn’t groove as hard as “Lawndog” does, a joyous and inclusive dance track that feels like Luciano, were he to try his hand at synth-pop. Another great EP from one of the most distinctive voices in American techno music.

Rat Columns Sceptre Hole LP (Smart Guy)
Once the solo project of David West (Rank/Xerox, Burning Sensation, and others I can’t instantly recall), he’s now fleshed the project out to a full band on Sceptre Hole, locking the bedroom door behind him and stepping out into a proper recording studio. After enjoying the various styles Rat Columns previously dabbled in (post-punk, new-wave, ambient, collage, rock, indie, etc), I was ready for anything, but this album still took me by surprise – for the most part, Sceptre Hole sounds like a mid-’90s Midwestern emo-pop record. Take “Ashes Of A Rose” and “Opaque Eyes”, for example: if West’s vocals were strained instead of calm, one could easily mistake these songs for The Get Up Kids or Hey Mercedes. There are still a few melancholy instrumentals here and there, but ultimately this is a poppy emo-rock record that I’d anticipate fans of Mineral and early Jimmy Eat World enjoying. Weird, I know! I suppose you could try to make the distinction that it sounds kinda like something from the Creation Records scene of late ’80s Euro cool-kid pop, but I can’t shake how perfect Rat Columns would be opening for the recently reunited The Promise Ring. It’s 2012, nothing is crazy anymore.

Ruined Fortune Bulls Eye 7″ (R.I.P Society)
If your band is called Ruined Fortune, your 7″ cover might as well look like part of an old treasure map, which is exactly what you get here. The music is cool too: the a-side title track is a mid-paced, sullen rocker that calls to mind a more garage-y Circle Pit (they do that same disgusted-sounding vocal melody) or an early Black Lips tune without the antics. B-side “Hope Diamond” is pretty similar… moderately irritated garage-rock with a big black cloud coming in over the horizon. Not much in the way of hooks here, so much as presence of sound, which is usually bad news for me, but something about the simple cover art and disinterested vibe of Ruined Fortune has led me to give it a thumbs up. By no means a necessity, but if you’re having an R.I.P Society Records night at home, you might as well add this to the stack.

Sensate Focus Sensate Focus 5 12″ (Sensate Focus)
Sensate Focus quickly returns after its debut, stepping down five paces from Sensate Focus 10, although by my ears, both releases deserve the same rating. Imagine Luomo putting together tracks for a Swamp 81 release, and that’s kinda where Sensate Focus is at – shiny, lush keyboards geared for major-label house music edited in the manner of Ramadanman or Boddika, jumping the beat around without ever falling out of pace. As with the first EP, both tracks are named “X” and “Y” (Sensate Focus refuses to make it easy for us, huh) – “X” chops a female vocal into an emotional goo that adheres to the track’s rhythmic base, while “Y” opts for some muffled conversation as its only vocal. “Y”‘s trick is that it ends with over a minute of one single arpeggio effect, ringing in and out as though Sensate Focus was truly fascinated by the simplest of his(?) abilities. This 12” didn’t grab me as tight as the first Sensate Focus release, if mainly because I already knew what to expect, and this is essentially more of the same. Even so, a unique sound is being developed here (even if a good number of modern reference points exist)… I’m happy to continue following along as Sensate Focus slowly counts backward to zero.

Seven Sisters Of Sleep Seven Sisters Of Sleep 7″ & CD (A389 Recordings)
More sludgy metallic hardcore from the A389 label, who seem to be pumping it out at a factory’s pace. I always thought Sleep was pretty hot, so I was excited to see their seven sisters, but there’s nothing really to write home about here – this 7″ sounds like Coalesce, Turmoil, Disembodied and a million similar acts. They’re perfectly fine – the guitars are heavy, the riffs are either stoner-ish or grinding, and the vocals are barked somewhere between Dwid and Rick Ta Life… I just can’t think of any reason to specifically recall Seven Sisters of Sleep from any other lesser-known metalcore group. The gatefold 7″ sleeve with patch, poster and CD insert is a nice touch, but it kinda seems like overkill for a band that is hard to get excited about musically. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone for digging this, I just won’t be seeking out Seven Sisters Of Sleep any further.

Siamese Twins In A Box / Strutter 7″ (Labor Of Love)
Labor Of Love have bestowed upon us those fine Confines 7″s, and as Siamese Twins feature member(s) of Confines along with Ampere and Libyans, I expected the rage level of Siamese Twins to fall somewhere between a 7.8 and a 9.1. As usual, I was wrong, as Siamese Twins are moody, keyboard-free cold-wave with melodic vocals and chiming guitars. Reminds me of The Cure if you want to go big, or Bernthöler if you prefer an obscure reference, but really the Mexican Summer label alone has probably released fifty different bands that all kinda sound like Siamese Twins in the past two years. I’m a fan of the style, and Siamese Twins bring the songwriting to the forefront, with sweet hooks and delicately spooky vocals that almost make up for the lack of a KISS cover on the b-side. They might need to figure out a way to really stand out if and when they release an album, but for now I’ll happily file this single away in my black, velvet-lined, fake cobweb-covered 7″ box (a quick trip to and A.C. Moore and voila!).

Silent Land Time Machine I Am No Longer Alone With Myself And Can Only Artificially Recall The Scary And Beautiful Feeling Of Solitude EP 12″ (Indian Queen)
That title, jeez… everyone’s a poet! I’ll let Silent Land Time Machine get away with that one though, as there aren’t any lyrics to be heard on this 12″ clear-vinyl EP, just a whole lot of sprawling bucolic sadness. The a-side starts off with the soundtrack to a farm-dog mercy killing, real sad and weepy stuff, which slowly fades into the sound of a distant neighbor mowing his lawn. There’s a lot of empty space on this EP, lots of moments where there’s just dust blowing through dying grass, but it works in the confines of a one-man GY!BE-style project. The b-side starts off like someone freely improvising an AM radio dial inside an old cabin, or some sort of ancient turntablism using only 78s, and it too eventually drifts into a wash of ambient mountain sounds and the rustling of nature’s decay. Just keep reading the title over and over out-loud as the record spins, and see if you don’t fall into some sort of homeopathic trance after a while.

D. Vassalotti Book Of Ghosts LP (Vinyl Rites)
David Vassalotti is one of the two brains behind Merchandise, plays (played?) in Neon Blud, did that solo “()” record on Katorga Works, plays drums for the hardcore group Church Whip, and he still found time to put together Book Of Ghosts, his debut solo LP. If he’s going to school he’s gotta be failing out, and if he’s working it’s gotta be a temp job, as no one can create this much music with any sort of meaningful responsibility in his or her life. And like the rest of the music Vassalotti’s involved in, Book Of Ghosts is an intriguing and thoughtful collection, and certainly more confessional and private than anything else in his catalog. Within these grooves, he offers sad acoustic-pop, drum-machine beats, blurry collage-pieces and upbeat punk rock, and while that smorgasbord seems like the standard formula for most “solo project” LPs these days (pulling at a different home-taped direction for each track), Vassalotti comes at the idea of the solo album from his own peculiar angle, invoking all sorts of obscure literary references and anchoring the whole thing with an exhausted sadness. Songs like “L’incipit” and “L’ange De L’assassinat” are beautifully morose pop songs with hooks that could easily fit in on a Merchandise record, as Vassalotti’s meek warble leads us through his troubled times. I find myself coming back to this one a lot, and even though I enjoy it, that’s not exactly the reason why – Book Of Ghosts is full of secrets and unexplained meaning, ones that I wish to find out even if the truth is horrifying.

Vatican Shadow September Cell 12″ (Bed Of Nails)
It’s easy to tell what project Dom Fernow is most psyched on at the current moment – it’s the one that he released five new things by in that particular month. Right now, Vatican Shadow seems to be his priority, and I can’t blame him, as his rigid and machine-driven industrial techno has been hitting a sweet spot for a lot of people lately, myself included. On September Cell, the first release on his new Bed of Nails imprint (why do so many labels need a separate imprint to release dance music? Why?), Vatican Shadow steps out from the basement grit and into a modern-day studio bunker, revealing a techno sound that’s slicker than any of his previous work. Like all other Vatican Shadow, the songs start and end with the same beat in progress, but these four cuts come with a glossy sheen, feeling more like something that Sandwell District would actually release rather than the many noisy techno artists that claim Sandwell District as inspiration. There’s always some sort of plaintive synth in the background, and the beats in question aren’t just 4/4 thump – they curl like a snake’s skeleton, sharp fangs exposed at one end. I hope Vatican Shadow continues with its hurried release schedule, and that Fernow sticks with the studio where September Cell was born, as with this 12″ he’s showing more than just a knack for predetermining underground trends but a keen musical ability as well.

Ricardo Villalobos Any Ideas 12″ (Perlon)
A new Ricardo Villalobos 12″ on Perlon is always hard to resist, even in light of my growing disinterest in his recent production style. All those recent remixes with Max Loderbauer were a bit too high-brow and arrhythmic for my tastes… I enjoy a good snap crackle and pop here and there, but not over the course of an hour, with seemingly no direction or purpose beyond testing the limits of computer software. Thankfully, Any Ideas sounds like a Villalobos EP that belongs on Perlon. The title track is pretty much his signature sound circa 2007: a swinging, bubbly beat weaves through more sine-waves and hand-crafted tones than I probably realize, somehow constantly changing yet remaining fiercely repetitive. I like it a lot, but it definitely sounds like something towards the end of Fabric 36, where most of his most brilliant ideas were already used, and the party started to ease out of ecstasy’s grip. B-side “Emilio (2nd Minimoonstar)” had me expecting something like the first Minimoonstar, a strange electronic exercise geared for headphone listening, but right from the start “Emilio” plugs in a standard 4/4 beat and lets it roll. It’s not an immediate jam, but I think this might be my favorite of the two, as the sounds Villalobos uses here are just so alien – there’s some sort of tiny robot running across a laminate floor, a futuristic espresso machine is piping up, and I’m envisioning an airport Starbucks in the year 2099 (at least before the track slowly shifts into Sim City sleep-screen music). Villalobos manages to mix his avant-genius with a populist groove again, the reason I felt so strongly about him in the first place. I’m hoping he sticks with this recipe for at least another full-length, but no matter how far my taste drifts from his, I’ll always love him. How can you not?

Vladislav Delay Espoo 12″ (Raster-Noton)
I’ve found myself slowly losing interest in Sasu Ripatti’s output as Vladislav Delay, but kept paying attention anyway. You never know when he’ll clock you with a curveball under any of his numerous guises, and he does just that here with the scatalogically-titled Espoo. The two main tracks are unusually rhythmic for the Vladislav Delay name, but they ain’t no average techno, either. A-side “Olari” is built on a delayed stutter-step groove, like a regular house track refracted through a prism. Ripatti forces the track to evolve, but its lurching structure remains firmly in place, resulting in a captivating near-groove that defies any genre you might try to file it under. “Kolari” on the flip is even crazier – it’s got a gabber beat that must be pushing 170 bpm, pulsing like a strobe that emits sound rather than light, and it builds to a violent rave (I’m picturing a red-faced Klaus Schulze as guest DJ). There are “versions” of each track on here as well, softening their edges into more “regular” dub techno, and they are swell too, but the originals are some of the most original techno I’ve heard in a while. Very glad I checked it out!

Weird Party The Secret Lives Of Men 7″ (Twistworthy)
At first I thought Weird Party released a split 7″ with that short-lived Ray Romano show, and I was kind of excited to hear what his band would sound like (I was expecting a mix of Barenaked Ladies and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones). This one’s all Weird Party though, and they’re pretty fired up – the a-side kicks off with a Comets On Fire-sized blast of noise before they dig into their Southern-fried garage-punk. Maybe if Whatever Brains had an older brother who moved to Austin for college and ended up bartending for the next decade instead of getting a real job, that’d be Weird Party – the songs are thoughtfully constructed, cleanly recorded and filled with frantic swagger. They’d probably crawl over the tables and knock over your beer if the songs ever slowed down, but it’s all so speedy that Weird Party remain on stage, gesticulating wildly. Four tracks here, all good stuff (even the maniacal laughter is well placed), and I’m glad to have once again been invited.

Chris Weisman Fresh Sip 2xLP (Feeding Tube)
Chris Weisman’s Fresh Sip was originally released as a cassette back in 2010, and it’s now received a fine vinyl issue courtesy of Feeding Tube. I like it a lot, and feel like Fresh Sip might not be as good if it was originally intended to be a vinyl LP. There’s something about recording for a cassette that reduces any sort of artistic pressure… who really cares what goes on a tape, you know? Maybe it doesn’t matter to Weisman either way, but over these nineteen tracks he pretty much tries whatever style he wants with careless abandon, and it all sounds really nice and unforced. I had to read up on him to find out that he played in Happy Birthday with King Tuff, and that résumé makes sense, as there’s an undeniable pop charm to Weisman’s songs, sometimes cute and sometimes witty, no matter if he’s strumming an acoustic guitar solo, plinking on a keyboard or jamming in a compact-sized rock band (all instruments handled himself). Tracks like “Saved In Chats” and “Fresh Sip” are instantly memorable fun, but if you let either of these LPs play out there are numerous other moments of pop ingenuity to be discovered. Looking forward to the next double album!

Hank Wood & The Hammerheads Go Home LP (Toxic State)
Of all the Toxic State bands, I’ve always heard that Hank Wood is the one to avoid. Go Home is my first experience with them, and I honestly can’t see why any punk with two fists and a chipped tooth wouldn’t love them. This album is full of mean, explosive hardcore garage, like that live Oblivians record, or if you actually went and saw Candy Snatchers on stage in 1995 (their records could be a little too clean). Mr. Wood sounds downright incensed through these twelve songs, rarely using more than a couple lines of lyrics per song to make his frustration felt. That’s really all he needs – “It’s Hard On The Street” sounds like it could’ve been one of the first Estrus releases or on NYC Hardcore: The Way It Is. How many songs can you say that about? The Hammerheads really do sound like a gang of thugs looking to steal their meals from corner-store snack shelves, and for whatever reason, they decided on blustery garage-punk to get their message across. Maybe if Le Shok weren’t skinny hairless weaklings, but instead calloused Alaskan loggers, they’d sound like this. Seriously, who isn’t on board with Go Home? I love it.

Minutes In Ice compilation CD (Frozen Border)
Nice debut release from Frozen Border here, showcasing the dark and lifeless tundra ecosystem that certain strains of techno thrive within. I wasn’t familiar with many of the names here, but that’s the fun thing about compilations – I mean who would’ve heard of Autistic Behavior or Maniax if not for Get Off My Back and No So Quiet On The Western Front? Some of the more ambient tracks here drift without maintaining my interest, but the bulk of Minutes In Ice is quality Sandwell District / Ostgut Ton-style techno, relying on heavy rhythms, dark synth-pads and relentless motion. I even loved a track by someone named “Funksta”, a name that my brain is programmed to forcibly reject, and tracks by Dean Cole, Skirt and #.4.26 all hit nocturnal techno’s sweet spot too. The shining moment comes as the last track though, from Blawan, the only artist I had already heard – he comes storming through the gate with ten angry typewriters racheting out suicide notes and world domination manifestos, just completely raging and built on a tank-like 4/4 beat. It’s utterly fantastic, and I tip my hat to any artist willing to pass such a strong track on to a brand new label’s compilation. Indeed, a fine reward for anyone who gives Minutes In Ice all the time it deserves.