Affkt & Danny Fiddo El Prólogo Remixes 12″ (Barraca Music)
Not to be outdone in the record label game, famed Spanish club Barraca starts their own label wisely – with a 12″ of Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano remixes. It’s kind of like starting a sneaker company with a LeBron James endorsement. Villalobos mixes “Points” in his more repetitive-minimal style. Not a heck of a lot of thump here, instead Villalobos focuses on some pretty succinct percussion and a spoken Spanish vocal loop that sounds less like words and more like an auditory hallucination after ten minutes or so. All the parts are there, but this remix doesn’t grab me by the collar like a Villalobos original (or that incredible track “Baile” with Los Updates. Song of the year!). “Points”, however, still treads in the “Dance Music For Airports” style of Vasco. Luciano’s take on “Cartas Para Gheisa” is pretty par for his course, too: throbbing acid bass spurts, weirdly-filtered drum hits, sprinklings of xylophone, the occasional peak and valley. Like Villalobos on here, Luciano bumps out just what everyone would’ve expected, which leaves me slightly unsatisfied from these two masters of the unpredictable.

Billy Bao May08 LP (Parts Unknown)
I didn’t check out May08 the moment it came out because, while I’ve enjoyed all the other Billy Bao records to varying degrees, after last year’s Dialectics of Shit I was afraid Mattin may have run out of ideas with this project or “persona”. May08 seems to take delight in confirming my fears, as this is Billy Bao at his least inspired. The first five cuts are standard-issue Billy Bao minus the riffs, interesting vocals or intriguing behavior that had me saying “yes, I’d be delighted to pay $11 for this imported single!”. He might chop up the different sounds in one track, or play a jazz sample in the middle of another, but the antagonist approaches here come across as lazy and old. Really dull, uninteresting music that isn’t even annoying in the way previous BB records have been. The last track is sixteen minutes and opens with generic bassy guitar noise and buried vocals, and continued for a good eight minutes or so before I decided to make dinner. If you make it all the way through and something interesting happens, let me know. I have to wonder if the only reason Billy Bao currently exists is because people are still asking him to put out new records. Mattin seems better suited as a noisy avant-garde collaborator than a rock musician releasing multiple albums. Maybe the joke is just on us.

Black Pus Black Pus 7″ (Corleone / Skulltones)
One thing that seems to be a little lost with today’s underground trends is the determination to create something the rest of us physically or mentally cannot. Lightning Bolt were kind of the epitome of that in the early 00s, surely because of the innovative bass heroics of Brian Gibson, but mostly due to the insane octopus-armed drumming of Brian Chippendale, whose Black Pus project gets its first 7″ release here. Black Pus is more musical than Mindflayer, and less epic than Lightning Bolt; kind of a distilled pop-song version of the latter, as whatever synths and triggers he is able to turn on and off with his feet or mouth fill the room with enough sound to cushion his whirlwind of percussion. I’ve seen this guy eat and it blew my mind that his body didn’t require five turkey dinners a night with the energy he releases. Chippendale hasn’t gone soft, instead he’s focused on writing wild rock songs that could only be his.

Brackles LHC 12″ (Planet Mu)
LHC is the quite possibly the best possible thing I could’ve hoped to get out of a dubstep record on Planet Mu. It’s overloaded with cross-cutting rhythms and soggy bass, circuits nicely jammed, but Brackles manages to never lose the beat or over-saturate his sound as is sometimes the Planet Mu style. I enjoyed Brackles’ Apple Pips 12″, but “LHC” and “Sutorîtâ Faitâ” (aided by Shortstuff) are the type of cuts that help my brain differentiate him from the rest of the pack. Very rhythmically intense, to our benefit. The main rhythm on “LHC” is like something out of Venetian Snares’ playbook attached to the appropriate leash and “Sutorîtâ Faitâ” is even gutsy enough to work a Biggie sample into the fray. Good record to play for your buddy into Squarepusher who makes fun of dance music all the time. Show him a thing or two.

Cold Cave Love Comes Close LP (Heartworm)
Wasting no time, Cold Cave put together Love Comes Close, surely the best chilly synth-pop record I’ll hear all year. Wesley Eisold and his gang have looked past the earliest, noisiest Cold Cave material, eschewing the harsh static and crackles that once shrouded the melodies, now proudly front and center. For completists, Love Comes Close includes the entire Edsel & Ruby 12″ as well as “The Trees Grew Emotions And Died”, and while the lack of all-exclusive material might bug some people, their inclusion works excellently here (especially for those too slow to grab an Edsel & Ruby, of which I know there are many). These four old tunes are the best I had previously heard from Cold Cave and they fit seamlessly with the five new ones. And what a five they are! “Life Magazine” is all Caralee McElroy echo-vocal and guitar melody that could just as easily advertise an iPod as it could completely break my heart. “The Laurels of Erotomania” is just as fun but Wes skulks around all creepy-like, ready to rip off the sheets at a moment’s notice. My favorite is really “Youth and Lust” though, working out the loose Italo ends from “The Trees Grew Emotions And Died” into something infinitely catchier and more satisfying. Once Caralee’s icy vocals fade out and Wes takes over the chorus, my limbs start acting on their own accord and I feel naked without wearing a cape. How Cold Cave have gotten so good so quickly, I’ll never know.

Ducktails Backyard CD (Release The Bats)
No better time than now for a collection of mostly out-of-print cassettes from Ducktails, right? The name that launched a thousand groans is the moniker of Matthew Mondanile, and throughout these 21 tracks he gets super-sloppy over guitar, drum machine, and whatever else he was able to turn on in his shed. Sometimes he gets mellow with an acoustic guitar, sometimes the drum machine wants you to rap, sometimes there’s no discerning what’s going on at all. Most of Backyards seems like a fine meeting point between the eight-minute-long warp zones Blues Control made famous and the 45-second acoustic/drone pieces Kurt Vile likes to intersperse wherever he can. It’s weird that this sort of thing is catching on, but if you simply must sit down with your Fender and four-track in your parent’s basement, I’d almost certainly prefer this to a black metal project. You can just tell from listening that he was wearing shorts when most of this was recorded and I like that.

Extortion Extortion 7″ (Fifth Column / Stained Circles)
So the Australians have nearly perfected punk rock over the years, can’t they leave hardcore to the rest of the world? Sure, Rupture have released some classics (although that’s bound to happen when you’ve got a hundred records out), but with Straightjacket Nation and Extortion, I am worried there is no rock-based genre the Aussies will leave unconquered. This eleven-song 7″ rips like Infest’s No Man’s Slave, toeing the line between classic hardcore (SSD, Negative Approach) and the first dozen Slap A Ham bands (Crossed Out, Capitalist Casualties). All of the playing is so tight and furious that it’s to the point where Extortion renders many contemporary bands of this style obsolete. The singer has a great snarl, there’s a goofy band picture on the b-side label, there’s a cartoon of an axe murderer on the cover. Sold.

Factorymen Shitman LP (Richie)
Shitman is the end result of one man having too easy an access to recording equipment, so that the twisted and lunkheaded non sequiturs that would normally float in and out of one’s brain are forever documented here on vinyl. The a-side is where you’ll find most of the songs, very isolated and creepy tunes that would’ve had Ralph Records second-guessing their mission statement. One of the few understandable lyrics is “then he sprays her with cream”, if that helps. Even when I hear an actual rock tune or two, the head-space is really too fractured to channel the Blank Dogs comparison that the phrase “solo lo-fi post-punk bedroom project” cannot avoid. It’s the b-side where things really take off though, to the point where any semblance of normalcy is unceremoniously stuffed under the carpet. It’s like watching an episode of Tim and Eric Awesome Show while blindfolded, as if you’re deprived of a necessary sense and under attack by a bunch of irritating jokes that make little sense to the performer and even less to you. I always thought Steve’s Homostupids grammar was kind of a put-on, with his “here is our music record songs for you and suck” routine, but Shitman makes me think he may need therapy after all.

Howie B Vs. Casino Royale Royale Sound (Ramadanman Remixes) 12″ (Howie’s)
The original “Royale Sound” is an awesome party track, a dubby, modern reggae cut you can serve drinks to (allow me to recommend the pomegranate mojito). On this white-label 12″, Ramadanman ushers “Royale Sound” from the bar to the smoke-covered dancefloor, as his “refix” is a pretty straightforward house groove, the type of remix I’d expect out of Luciano, not a guy known for his jittery dubstep tendencies such as Ramadanman. That’s not a bad thing though, because his version of “Royale Sound” is no minor-leaguer; it’s hard to not get sweaty to this, and it makes me wonder why Ramadanman hasn’t put together a minimal techno record yet himself (or is that what Pearson Sound is going to do?). My only gripe is that these two versions of Ramadanman’s remix are nearly identical, and there are a number of other great “Royale Sound” remixes that highlight different aspects of the original, like Radioactive Man’s weird interpretation, which would’ve easily fit on this 12″. Maybe next time, Howie’s.

Jana Hunter / Inoculist split 7″ (Heartbreakbeat)
First off, I feel good just from reading Jana Hunter’s song title: “Two Cocks Waving Wildly At Each Other Across A Vast, Open Space, A Dark, Icy Tundra”. If Fiona Apple isn’t jealous, she should be. Excellent title aside, the song itself is a languid, slowly-unfolding dirge; no wildly-waving cocks to be found here, unless that’s what the wild flute playing at the end represents. Inoculist is Jana’s brother John’s band, and this apple doesn’t fall too far from, umm, the other apple – another soft and dreary tune that takes its time wandering through the woods. Reminds me of Espers with the synced male/female vocals. Just kind of weird that they decided to make a split EP, as I feel like each artist would need at least one side of a 12″ to make any sort of statement. Can’t imagine overhearing “hey, play me a good split 7″, man” at the neo-folk party down the street. That’s not how they roll.

Mi Ami Techno 1.1 12″ (Hoss)
If you enjoyed the more subtle, introspective Mi Ami material, you’d do well by Techno 1.1. Pushing wider the door they opened with “Clear Light” on their debut 12″, the two cuts of “Towers Fall” (loosely based around the Shackleton cut of the same name) provide for an excellent blurring of the dance and rock worlds. Damon’s stylish drumming is particularly laid back on here, accompanied by pulsing synths and chilled house beats, swapping their Mars vibe for an Omar S one. Daniel talks his way through this one too, rocking the baby to sleep instead of shattering glass with his falsetto. It’s a pretty unique style, as the “techno” of Mi Ami is actually a far more subdued and headphone-friendly experience than their guitar-based songs. I don’t think the world knows what to do with songs like these just yet, this is serious future music.

Pearson Sound Plsn / Wad 12″ (Hessle Audio)
Never heard of the curiously-named Pearson Sound before, but after the first spin, I had to furiously Google this guy, as both tracks on here are some of the most unique and inspiring techno I’ve heard all year. Turns out, Pearson Sound is none other than Ramadanman under a different name, and I really hope this isn’t the last we hear of this alias. “Plsn” works some woodpecker percussion into spiraling patterns, matched expertly with a post-dubstep lurch, really great song that could fit into a dozen electronic subgenres or none of them at all. “Wad” really had me falling out of my chair though; it sounds like five street-percussionists jamming with that woodpecker from “Plsn”, completely locked in a groove that would make Ricardo Villalobos’ brain itch. A nicely sliced female vocal hook shows up and at this point, confetti is shooting out of my speakers. I spend lots of time listening to mediocre techno so that you don’t have to – go out and buy this one today.

The Pheromoans Savoury Days 7″ (Savoury Days)
The first Pheromoans single was one of the few post-punk singles from 2009 that spun in its own orbit. Savoury Days kind of steps away from that peculiar universe and into a more standard set of moves, like The Fall covering any one of those less-exciting Tyvek singles (along with a “weird” last track that ended up being my favorite of the bunch). It’s still a fine listen, the type of thing I’d love to hear on my local college radio accidentally, but even when played next to the old Good Missionaries single I picked up from the label, it’s clear that this is a step down from their debut. Packaging looks as scruffy and great as anything that wound up on a Messthetics CD-r though, and I know their hearts are in it, so I’ve still got faith in these guys.

Ramadanman & Appleblim Justify 12″ (Apple Pips)
How many times can I say “Ramandanman” on here? It’s addicting, and at the current level of quality he’s been dishing, I hope to never find a reason to stop. I am not even following the dozens of new dubstep singles every week but it’s already clear to me that there are thousands of dudes steamrolling this sound into the mud (I’m looking at you, Taz Buckfaster and Rob Sparx). Maybe that’s why guys like Ramadanman and Appleblim are moving out of that crowded room and into a world where weird new filters and shape-changing loops are the weapons of choice. “Justify” starts off on a rolling news ticker and then morphs into a freshly-waxed, crawling beat. Very soft sounds, a nice antacid to the ton-of-bricks bass I might’ve found on some of these two gents’ earlier works. They probably go the Luomo route and sip herbal tea while making this sort of music; I can’t imagine a 5-Hour Energy shot was anywhere in sight. B-side is a club-friendly remix of “Justify”, the type of thing that they no longer have to approach Villalobos at a club and give him a CD-r for him to play it. He probably grabbed a copy of this record before I did.

The Tyrell Corporation Together Alone 12″ (Clone West Coast Series)
No one makes modern Italo like Alden Tyrell, but sadly, far too many make bland New Order re-treads like The Tyrell Corporation. I guess I wasn’t expecting the different name to mean that Tyrell started a band, but the three cuts here are all danceable, guitar-based new-wave, as exhilarating as my morning cereal (Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs). “Together Alone” has serious Joy Division bass but lacks the interesting melody to carry it. It’s like he wants to write an actual rock song, but stops before finishing any ideas. “Loose The Hero Get Back To Zero” (sic) has the lady from ADULT. singing in an annoyingly effervescent way over a diet NWOBHM riff and I could probably only enjoy “The Hunt For Gollem” during the credits of a local news show. The record sounds huge, it’s mastered really loud and the recording is about as pumped-up and appropriate as it could be, but the actual melodies and riffs are so pedestrian and lame that I start to wonder if I saved the receipt (maybe my local shop does returns?).

The UV Race Malaria 7″ (SS)
On this new SS Records single, The UV Race seem to have smartened up their act a bit. Sure, there’s still a goofy pencil-drawn cover (punk-rock sun guy making out with a mosquito) and essentially only one musical thought per song, but something about their playing or the recording quality seems to have tightened up since their debut. “Malaria” is based around a buzzing synth sound and “Mash” steps up the pace, working up a fever that could get garage purists shaking their wigs. “Money” out-Tyveks Tyvek, probably my favorite cut on here. “Cosmic Man” finds an infant crawling across the keyboard before channeling the modern Siltbreeze punk sound through their unavoidable Aussie punk heritage in roughly a minute’s time. It’s a cool single, short and fun, although I kind of wish it came out in 1998 instead, as it’s the perfect $3.00 ppd record. Sure, everything costs more these days, but something about paying like $6.50 ppd for this just doesn’t feel right.

Warm Streams Camo Babies 7″ (Borox)
Great debut 7″ from Warm Streams, a Pacific Northwest punk band that seems to operate on word of mouth. Wild and raw garage punk, relying on attitude and grit to leave an impression. It really reminds me of The Jabbers, very dumb and gnarly, yet tuneful enough that I can actually recall the song I just heard. Coupled with the unmistakable violent squawk of one Joshua Plague (Behead the Prophet, Mukilteo Fairies), Warm Streams could find their way to the top of the record pile at any decent punk house this year. Could be tough for people to find out though, since I get the impression this isn’t the type of band that updates MySpace every time the guitarist changes strings, and I heard they are breaking up soon (only the good die young). Seems like Plague took a similar trajectory to Lean Steve’s jump from Nine Shocks Terror to Homostupids. And judging by the cruddy childish artwork here, both of those guys would probably get along great at a party.

Zola Jesus The Spoils LP (Sacred Bones)
With all those various singles, comp tracks and EPs under her belt, it was high time for a proper full-length from Zola Jesus, which has arrived with the exquisite presentation it warrants. Even with all my previous admiration, I was still kind of blown away after running through The Spoils – Zola Jesus has totally stepped up her game and put together not just a great collection of songs but a carefully-prepared album. First and foremost, her same harrowing Diamanda Danzig voice is here, this time backed with the confidence of a woman who has already paralyzed record critics and live audiences many times over, not just her hometown friends. She soars through the air with it, layers it with 4AD melancholy and punches you in the throat with it, sometimes all in the same song. The biggest difference from her previous material is certainly an upgrade: Zola’s beat-making skills have improved significantly, as the drum machines and synths are still cold to touch, but work with a level of intricacy previously absent. Instead of just a raw, plodding beat, she is supported with Test Dept mechanisms, EBM tempos and 4:00 am club fires. ZJ has clearly moved from singles artist to franchise player in this turbulent basement scene. Hey Sacred Bones, stop releasing like ten records a month and invest some of that capital in Zola Jesus by buying her some more synths or a personal assistant or a new wardrobe or whatever she wants.