Adjowa 8 Ball 12″ (Happy Skull)
I loved the Systems Of Desire 12″ that came out on Happy Skull so damn much that I picked up this Adjowa EP solely because it’s the second release from that label. Now that I’ve heard it a few times, I can confidently confirm that it didn’t toss me against the wall like Systems Of Desire did, but it’s still a healthy, blood-pumping slab of sleek and modern dance music. “8 Ball” feels like a more house-inflected version of something out of the Night Slugs camp, like an Egyptrixx track if Egyptrixx was willing to turn off the weird for a few minutes. Sophisticated and sleek without feeling remotely pretentious, and you can dance to it at any moment. The flipside screws with me a bit, in that the Funkineven remix of “Red Leather” precedes the original version – some sort of deeply-rooted anal neurosis makes me uncomfortable when presented with this backwards order. Even though I am currently sweating and shaking, I will adhere to Adjowa’s ordering system and tell you that the Funkineven remix is a solid if unexciting “club tool”, like a lull between Alden Tyrell and Sebastian Tellier tracks on some fancypants Fabric mix, while the original version that follows is a dramatically different trip, sounding like you’re stepping in some fresh sand at a Sandals resort that hasn’t had its carpet updated since it was first installed in 1983. Pretty nice trio of grooves here, and certainly enough to leave me eager for whatever Happy Skull #3 ends up being.

Angie Turning LP (Easter Bilby)
Angie is the diva-fied moniker of Angela Bermuda, a modern-day Aussie rock goddess who features (and featured) prominently in Circle Pit, Straight Arrows, Southern Comfort and Ruined Fortune, along with surely more projects I am omitting. Circle Pit will always hold a special place in my heart, so I was excited to experience the Angie side of life, but I dunno… I’m not really feeling Turning. Mostly all music sounds better when slowed down a bit, but I’m not sure garage-rock is a genre where that’s the case – at the sluggish pace many of these tracks roll, I just find myself getting bored and antsy for something else. It’s not like there’s any righteous groove to settle into, or powerful riffing I can slowly raise my fists to, sadly. The cover art looks cool and all, she’s all tortured and depressed and her guitar is the only thing saving her from certain doom, but the recording isn’t grabbing me, and neither are the songs. I didn’t dig Turning at first, tried sticking with it, and it’s still as much of a chore to listen to as it was the first time. Oh well! I’m just going to politely forget this album exists and continue to eagerly anticipate whatever Angela Bermuda kicks up next.

Axis:Sova Past The Edge / Grading On A Curve 7″ (Richie)
Richie Records doesn’t usually release music by artists in lackluster-cheesesteak territory (you know, anywhere outside of greater metropolitan Philadelphia), but the label’s A&R team clearly knows no bounds when it comes to bare-knuckle rock n’ roll. That’s how we got this Axis:Sova single, a dude from Chicago who is not afraid to objectify the female body (just check the dudely cover art). “Past The Edge” is a lo-fi riff-rocker somewhere in Human Eye’s orbit, driving on a drum machine beat and perfect for one of those scenes in an ’80s movie where teenagers are skateboarding through a city center together, ruffling the feathers of adults and pigeons alike. “Grading On A Curve” veers into Not Not Fun and Blues Control territory with its gooey haze, like you’re just feeling the echoed effects of a Cheap Trick stadium gig from across town, riding your bike in its general direction. I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised this one is on Richie, and probably the label’s weakest 2013 offering, not because it sucks (it doesn’t), but because the competition was stiff. Really gonna need to hear some more Axis:Sova to fully cast my vote, I just hope he leaves his Playboy collection at home next time…

Basic House Oats LP (Alter)
Seems like so many people are throwing around the word ‘house’ in their project or label name these days while deliberately not sounding like house music – is this the electronic equivalent to all those garage-rock bands calling themselves ‘(Something) Girls’ even though they’re all dudes? Whatever, I’m not hating, as I dig the name “Basic House” and the sandblasted noiseworks of Oats. For as non-musical as Emptyset and Andy Stott and Kerridge are, Basic House one-ups them on the extreme abstract-noise quotient, essentially forgoing any chance at making someone move their body thanks to its elongated static shock, industrial malfunctions and unsanitary electronic waste – it’s almost like a musical journey into the birth of the iPhone you are currently sexting with. Loops factor into Oats on more than one occasion, and I suppose you might be expected to bob your head to the pace of a track like “B.G. Feathers”, but I’ve seen videos of people bobbing their heads to Vomir performances – it’s 2014, all bets are off. Basic House is maximal industrial-technoise for the non-music Kye set, and I am delighted to have made its acquaintance.

Burial Rival Dealer 12″ (Hyperdub)
Just like 2012, Burial sneaks an EP into the end of the year. To think of it, no one has ever seen Burial and Santa in the same room at the same time! Kinda makes you wonder… anyway, this new one is really fantastic. Three tracks, mostly following Burial’s recent extended-mix approach to production, and I swear he leaves the “rain” sound effect on for the entirety of this EP – there should be a flood warning by the time it wraps up. “Rival Dealer” has a propulsive, almost nasty beat when it gets down to it, working those beautiful Burial-ized vocals on a nearly hardcore rhythm – had he called this track “Jack To The Groove (Matrix Mix)” no one would complain. “Hiders” is an uplifting ambient skyscape, and “Come Down To Us” is like five movies in one, all cinematic and beautiful and surprising on more than one occasion. The two longer cuts almost play out similarly to Madlib’s production style, jumping from one idea to the next with an occasionally jarring transition, but it’s all so provocative and alien-sounding and immersive that it’s like you are witnessing a dramatic piece of art, rather than waiting to bounce or shake to the groove. Even as Ableton software starts coming with Burial pre-sets, the originator remains as original and fantastic as ever. See you next Christmas?

Chaos Channel (Magic Bullet) – That Works To Feed The Pig 7″ (SPHC)
I only know a handful of people that have been beaten by cops, and don’t know anyone personally affected by nuclear war, so while those classic punk tropes are still meaningful to me, a song like Chaos Channel’s “New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn’t Fucking Work” is an anthem. I’ll pump my fist and push the guy in front of me in the crowd if any band decides to play this tune at a show I’m attending, it’s just that relatably infuriating. That’s the b-side of this single, the a-side being the less electrifying “The Birds, Singing At Non-Reality”, which features some of the most technically-precise little drum-fills I’ve ever heard, to the point where I have to question if it’s an actual human behind the kit and not just King Diamond’s Snowy Shaw (that’s my code for “it’s a drum machine”). Anyway, Chaos Channel sound like generic poppy noise-crust ala The Wankys (or, umm, The Swankys too), complete with a strained Johnny Rotten vocalist and television-static guitars. Apparently they released a few records in the mid-’90s, then came back in 2010? I honestly have no idea where SPHC finds their bands – I am constantly boggled as to where any of them come from, and more importantly, how SPHC manages to find them. I like to think I’m unstumpable when it comes to obscure punk rock, but SPHC often leaves me feeling like a dork in baggy cargo shorts and a Bad Religion t-shirt at my first show whilst I peruse their catalog. Well done, sir!

Matthew De Gennaro Chuang Tzu Motherfucker LP (Soft Abuse)
Just some regular guy’s name doing an album for the Soft Abuse label… it could be field recordings of dolphins or digital grind-core, you just never know with Soft Abuse, which of course is part of the fun. Turns out De Gennaro just jams on guitar and violin (or some other stringed instrument that you can rub a bow across – I’m no maestro, I don’t know), and it’s often amazingly beautiful. These tracks generally feel like loosely structured songs, but who’s to say besides De Gennaro himself – the way his notes float and flutter in the air, it’s like watching two butterflies deep in a mating ritual, their movements just as likely to be specific dance moves as reactions to the breeze. Serious springtime meadow vibes, which is not what I usually associate with avant-garde solo violin, and that might be why it feels so nice, particularly as I am currently located in the center of a polar vortex. It’s still weird enough for Soft Abuse (especially when De Gennaro feels the need to speak), but I could see him tagging along with Steve Gunn for a weekend in an Appalachian cabin and making more organic musical magic.

E.A.T.E.R. Doomsday Troops – 5-SpÃ¥rs E.P. 7″ (Loud Punk)
Hard to go wrong with Swedish hardcore punk circa 1983, and this reissue of Ernst And The Edsholm Rebels’ 7″ (let’s just call them E.A.T.E.R.) is no exception to the rule. The cover looks cool (I will never not love when punk kids got together to pose in front of a brick wall for their back cover shot), and just like the art, E.A.T.E.R. get the music right too. Somewhere between the bristles-and-spikes punk rock of No Future records and the Euro-hardcore assault of The Headcleaners and Kaaos do Ernst And The Edsholm Rebels fall, with punchy drums, gang-vocal choruses and a singer who probably got kicked out of class on a frequent basis. The songs have titles like “Violence” and “Religion”, and I dunno, what else do you want me to say? After a while with these classic hardcore and punk 7″ reissues, it feels like I’m trying to write a description for someone who has never eaten a chocolate chip cookie – just eat one, you idiot! What’s your problem!

Exorcisms Love Gone Bad / Two With Half 7″ (Exorcisms)
The band name, along with the cover shot of the group performing live in a murky green haze, had me wondering who would win this comparison challenge, Robert Smith or Ian Curtis, but nope! Exorcisms side-step the nu-goth-gaze I was expecting for something far more unexpected. Let me explain – for all the writing in their one-sheet about garage-rock, Black Flag, The Gories, Funkadelic (?), and Golden Earring (???), “Love Gone Bad” is straight up ’50s sock-hop rock, the sort of mid-set slow-dance that gives Fonzie and his poodle-skirt-wearing partner a quick breather. Why would anyone willingly write a song like this in 2013 or whatever? I can only admire their chutzpah. I was waiting for “Two With Half” to peel back my skull, and while it’s certainly faster, it’s like a guitar-school mix of “Hot For Teacher” and “Strutter”, the sort of music that routinely hits the stage at your least favorite bar or club in the town you live. I truly don’t get what would possess this band to share these songs in vinyl form, or how multiple people would be willing to commit such a crime of taste – someone like Jandek should sit up and take note. If you really wanna screw with someone’s head, tell them you are punk and then go out and sound like Exorcisms instead.

James Ferraro NYC, Hell 3:00 AM 2xLP (Hippos In Tanks)
The world would be a duller place without James Ferraro in it, that much is clear. I have laughed at more of his cover imagery than any other recent artist I can think of, and I never feel like I’m laughing at him – there is clearly a demonic, fried mind (penetrated by both drugs and ’90s Nickelodeon) at work here, and he has a willingness to do something that clearly sucks, even in the face of the rest of the world saying “stop doing that – it sucks”. Far Side Virtual sucked in a way that the whole underground had to stop what they were doing and take notice, a real colorful regurgitation of today’s Bluetooth-connected world, and this new one, NYC, Hell 3:00 AM is a less stupid, “better” work, and I am glad to say in this particular case, being “good” works in Ferraro’s favor. I presume from the title that I am supposed to picture a modern-day Manhattan at night, consisting of darkness, neon ads, lonely strangers and the occasional loud R&B thumping out of a passing car that guides you to your destination. The music mostly follows a modern sort of post-dubstep / post-radio-pop sadness template (not too far from what Hype Williams or oOoOO were doing), filled with dejected loops and autotuned vocals crooning about whatever. There is really no good reason for me to not be sick of amateurish auto-tuned pop-diva vocals at this point, of which Ferraro is frequently guilty here, yet I could pop this record on at any time and find myself enjoying it. I love art that is either fascinating or really stupid or both, and that has proven to be Ferraro’s signature recipe.

Full Ugly Drove Down / Back Shed 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
Full Ugly seems like an inappropriate name for a band that creates such pretty music. It’s the sort of band name that should be reserved for an Antiseen side project, not a band that writes songs like “Drove Down”, a wistful little indie tune that jumps the gap from REM to The Clean, picking up some Sarah Records dust along the way. Feels like two nerds on a date in the rain, just as the clouds part and the sun starts peeking through. “Back Shed” feels similar, reminding me of Seapony (although I fear that I may be the only person who ever really listened to Seapony) or maybe if Boomgates had a bookish, wimpy sibling, shuffling some jazzy moves toward the end. Pretty pleasant stuff all around from Full Ugly, although I do hope Bedroom Suck finds it in their heart to put out some more punk records soon. Wait, I guess they just did a Per Purpose album that I missed… sorry Full Ugly, you’re cool and all but I have other things to worry about.

Peter Gutteridge Pure 2xLP (540 / Xpressway)
Two things that don’t really intrigue me are reissues of obscure cassettes from the ’80s and that whole Xpressway / Flying Nun scene, so needless to say, I wasn’t tearing away at the shrinkwrap on Peter Gutteridge’s Pure like a madman or anything – I calmly opened it as thought it were another cable bill. Perhaps that was the perfect disinterested mindset to give Mr. Gutteridge a spin, though, as this is a pretty righteous album after all. Throughout the numerous songs on here, Gutteridge finds the missing thread between Lou Reed and Bruce Haack, the thread that never quite left the bedroom but was too comfortable under the covers anyway. Lots of light strumming with too-cool vocals, weird keyboards and jacked synths, guitars that sound like they are distorted through tiny amps, all sorts of cool stuff that works best as one large collection (of which this is). Pure can swing from a diet Suicide to a decade-early prediction of Floating Di Morel with ease – there’s really nothing to dislike about the clumsy pop and understated experiments that fill up this record. Shame on me for having any doubts!

Laurel Halo Chance Of Rain LP (Hyperdub)
Laurel Halo has been one of the biggest breakthrough techno artists of the past couple years (you know, breaking through from mental techno obscurists to a broader indie realm), and I’d say it’s been pretty justified – her music is usually engaging, often brilliant and always unique. I dug her last one, Quarantine, particularly for its weird vocal presentation, all up-close and unaffected, with many of the lyrics in the form of blunt, uncomfortable sentences I don’t wish to hear in public. It’s cool that she decided to drop that approach entirely for Chance Of Rain though, an instrumental record that pulls from a few disparate schools of music. In between these breezy, delightful little slices of CTI-brand jazz (Deodato or Stanley Turrentine would be proud), Halo has crafted mysterious chunks of shape-shifting techno, somewhere between Shackleton’s alien landscapes and the most recent Ricardo Villalobos records (the ones that human ears are yet to successfully decode, like his Re:ECM collaboration and the sprawling Dependent And Happy). I swear a track like “Oneiroi” even feels like the newest Burial EP at times, at least in atmosphere and tension if not tempo and rhythm. Chance Of Rain is a great experimental techno album, in that it mystifies as much as it pleases, and avoids the biggest pitfall of the genre – it’s never boring.

Heatsick Re-Engineering LP (Pan)
So I recently interviewed Heatsick, and he was charming and cool and all, but I hadn’t heard Re-Engineering at the time of the interview, and you know, what if it somehow sucked? That’s not a feeling I wanted to experience! Well, I must’ve listened to Re-Engineering about twenty times by now, and let me tell you that not only does it not suck, it is absolutely marvelous! It’s pretty much everything I liked about Heatsick before, but amplified: there are left-field slow-techno beats, hilarious deadpan vocals (and excellent lyrics), acidic techno from parts unknown, and a distinct playfulness that is quickly becoming Heatsick’s trademark. “Re-Engineering” opens the record, and sets the tone perfectly… it’s a rich stew of ’80s electro-funk, Future Times-style freakiness, a crisp DFA-style production and lyrics delivered by an automated checkout robot – the flow of the phrases “black power” and “gay Google” are so stupid and slick, it nearly brings a tear to my eye. I could write a colorful descriptive paragraph for each track here, but let me just summarize by saying there’s a great track wherein Heatsick has a one-way telephone conversation, an interlude where someone capably covers Oasis on an acoustic guitar, and a track of a few dozen exotic birds chirping away, among many notable techno jaunts. Sure, the damn thing costs $30 no matter where you are buying it, but it offers a wealth of musical enjoyment far beyond any human form of currency.

Insect Ark Long Arms 10″ (Geweih Ritual Documents)
This Insect Ark 10″ comes in a black art-paper sleeve that folds over into a snug little flap, the sort of packaging that should contain blueprints for how to rob a casino, or a date and time for a cocaine shipment that you plan on intercepting. It’s a good fit for the music of Insect Ark, who play a sort of sleazy, slow-tempo post-rock with the gusto and seediness of an old motel outside of Vegas. While I don’t think it’s the case, I can’t help but picture Insect Ark as a bunch of white guys in their 50s wearing fedoras, dress shirts buttoned half-way and big cigars dangling off their lips while “Long Arms” is played, and if the bassist ended up being George Clooney, I’d only be partially surprised. “Lift Off” has a similar vibe, but veers closer to modern-day Swans or Nick Cave due to the heavier sound, and “Symbols” wraps it all up with a post-rock sunset that wouldn’t be out of place on that weird Moin EP that the Raime guys did not too long ago. Not really a record I’ll be reaching for often, particular as its ten-inch size likes to hide in my bins, but the next time I need to settle a gambling debt with some ex-CIA meth-addict across town, I’ll be putting on Long Arms to psych myself up.

Joe Punters Step Out / Club Scared 12″ (Hemlock)
Joe has been pretty active lately, and each new 12″ is a treat – the song titles are usually curious (or downright funny), and as for the music, well who the hell knows what Joe has in store. I absolutely loved his recent Slope / Maximum Busy Muscle, a surprisingly club-oriented banger duo, and well, this new one certainly isn’t that. But I love it anyway, because why not? “Punters Step Out” is of minimal construction, and its most prominent feature is what sounds like a circus organ slowly running out of battery power, then springing back to life. I often wonder how and when Joe picks his source material, and “Punters Step Out” is no exception. “Club Scared” is closer to what I’d consider the ‘traditional’ Joe sound, rapidly ponging between wood-block claps and sprung rubber… it hits pretty hard for Joe. Then of course, the ridiculous vocal sample comes in, almost mocking you for seriously engaging with “Club Scared”. I don’t mind feeling stupid when it’s Joe that’s making me feel that way, though – I don’t understand where his brain is at, or where he gets his inspiration, and I hope I never do.

Joint D≠ Satan Is Real Again, Again, Or: Feeling Good About Feeling Good About Bad Thoughts LP (Sorry State)
I’m not a fan of long album titles, and I am getting kinda tired of old album titles being repurposed by new bands (that really should’ve started and ended with Clockcleaner’s Nevermind), so let’s just pretend this is a self-titled affair from Joint D≠, okay? After all, if you can get past all their baiting (lest we forget, their ASCII-based band name came about after a war against Juggalos), they’re a pretty satisfying melodic hardcore band that doesn’t neglect the hardcore end of the equation. First of all, it’s mostly all fast – their drummer does a pretty good Crazy Spirit-style locomotive beat when he wants, and many of these songs share the frenzied urgency of Neos. Within that sort of hectic, early Gang Green-style chaos, many of these songs share the melodic intention of Agent Orange or, dare I say it, Fucked Up. The singer has a nicely distorted boy-next-door holler, and even if I have trouble telling specific tracks apart (this album often feels like a rolling, unimpeded series of ‘parts’), there’s really no faulting what Joint D≠ are doing. Just do us all a favor and call your next album America Goes To Hell or Nuclear Cop-Killing Explosion, something punk and simple that we don’t have to think too hard about, okay?

J.T. IV Cosmic Lightning LP (Drag City / Galactic Zoo Dossier)
I missed this J.T. IV collection when it first popped up in 2008, perhaps kicking off Drag City’s modern-day role as an archaeologist of bozo-punk, proto-sleaze and hard rock of the finest quality (thanks for the Dwarr!). I guess this is pretty old news now, but Cosmic Lightning has been reissued in a nice tip-on sleeve, and for anyone else who somehow avoided hearing this five years ago, it’s a fun, catchy and confident collection of strange rock n’ roll. I might even use the word ‘radical’ to describe some of these songs, but I’d be using Bart Simpson’s definition, which wasn’t around back when J.T. IV were bugging their friends to come see them play. It’s great to imagine a time where you can do a parody of a Velvet Underground song before busting into some proto-metal jammers and then a weird acoustic ballad or two. J.T. IV and his band (other people played on this besides John Henry Timmis IV, right?) are talented musicians, and clearly didn’t get the memo that there were specific styles of rock music that bands were expected to adhere to. I remember hearing about how Fudge Tunnel got death-threat letters when they signed to Earache for not being metal enough in the ’90s, so I can only imagine the hassle it must’ve been for J.T. IV back in the day to navigate the politics of being an artist with so many stylistic jumps. The world is finally catching up to him.

Ketamines So Hot! 7″ (Hosehead)
This Ketamines single is apparently the third single of four in the “Ketamines Singles Series”, kind of a bold move for a band who ostensibly doesn’t have a very rabid following. Though if people are willing to pay money to release them, why not, I guess? “So Hot!” is kind of weirdly funky and off-kilter neo-garage, like a thrown-away demo from a collaboration between Beck and Ariel Pink which never actually existed. I flipped it over and got “New Skull Tattoo”, which has a very Dean Spunt-y vocal hopping on a chintzy carnival ride, barely making it past the height requirement. “Summer Mothers” rounds it out in a power-poppy fashion, with a quaintly amateurish delivery that belies the fact that Blink 182 could easily play these same riffs. Not really feeling Ketamines, although I certainly hold no ill will toward them – 7″ singles are cool, and if you have already completed the NOFX and Rancid 7″ singles series, Ketamines are quietly waiting to join them on your shelf.

The Love Triangle Clever Clever LP (Static Shock / Sorry State)
I had written The Love Triangle off before Clever Clever ever hit my turntable… I swore I previously heard some middling “psychedelic” rock by this group, and I dunno, I just wasn’t in the mood. I can’t tell you how quickly my day turned from bad to good when I actually did put it on though, because this record is great! Must’ve just been the generic band name, maybe I heard some other bad Love Triangle, because this is taut, rapid-fire punk rock that truly rips. I am distinctly reminded of the earliest Total Control records (before they went synth shopping) as well as the first Clorox Girls album – highly simple and fast rhythms, played with furious down-picking, fairly clean-sounding guitars (you know, for punk rock), and a vocalist whose too-cool distance and accent puts him closer to The Victims (the Aussie one) than I thought was humanly possible in 2013 (or 2014, or 2044 for that matter). You could say they sound like a mix of Red Cross and The Victims and I would smirk in agreement. I love this style of music so much, and while it’s simple, so few get it right like The Love Triangle do. More, please!

Merx 20000 Sq Ft Under The Sea LP (Permanent)
20,000 square feet is a lot of real estate for one lonely Ian Curtis impersonator and his variety of drum machines, rhythm boxes and noisemakers, don’t you think? Normally this type of guy would only need like, the mess hall of a sunken ship to set up his gear and morosely jam for a handful of anemones and an eel or two. Getting to the music, Merx is okay, if fairly typical for the modern underground – deep and unintelligible vocals, minimalist electronic exposition ala Chris & Cosey and Suicide, chiming reverb on the guitar, even a few moments of vaguely industrial clamor (complete with screamed vocals). Merx doesn’t commit to anything in particular, so much as kinda just throws it all into a casserole and hopes that, with enough salt, it’ll taste fine. (The title track, which fully consumes the b-side, particularly feels like a soft slurry of the aforementioned similar artists.) I’d say that it generally does taste pretty good – nothing really to fault here, unless you are the type of person who gets angry at any artist or band that isn’t at the top of their genre, as if music is a competition that must be won (it ain’t!). While the album title might suggest otherwise, Merx is somewhere in the middle of the current underground shift from noise to beat-oriented electronics.

Mr. Oizo Amicalement 12″ (Ed Banger)
Mr. Oizo is looking more and more like Zach Galifianakis’ Hangover character, from the looks of this cover, and that is an aesthetic decision I can get behind. Honestly, if Galifianakis was French, I’d expect him to make techno like this – energetic to the point of a tantrum, simple and effective, darkly humorous and contagiously fun. This EP almost feels like a punk single in its brevity (four tracks, only one over three minutes long), and it’s a decent if non-essential addition to Oizo’s colorful discography. Three of the tracks are standard club-work, like peak-time Boys Noize, but the one that caught my interest (and probably everyone else’s) is “Solid”, which features a choppy vocal hook courtesy of none other than Marilyn Manson. Honestly, I was a little disappointed that it’s just the one vocal line over and over again (“You look like shit when you dance”, in case you don’t feel like Googling a YouTube clip) – Manson’s voice is kind of perfect for ecstatic Ed Banger-style techno, and I really just want a whole album of Manson singing random crap over top, rather than a short sample for the hook. If not Mr. Oizo, maybe Luomo could lure Manson for his next album? Please don’t make me learn Ableton just to make this myself. Anyone got any the stems for Mechanical Animals they can WeTransfer to me?

Nah Difficult LP (Ranch)
One of the fun things about writing about random records I would’ve otherwise never heard is when I am not just turned on to something I hadn’t heard before, but I’m also surprised by it. I probably should’ve investigated the liner notes to Nah’s Difficult before putting it on, because from the label it’s on and the beardy-chinned drummer on the cover, I was expecting more No Idea Records-ish, heart-on-sleeve emo-punk. Nuts to that – Nah is just one dude, carrying an intensely focused art-mind and his drum kit, presumably with unlimited practice space access. Difficult is almost all drums, with random sounds and effects replicating bass and treble here and there, and it’s pretty killer. The opening track is intensely similar to This Heat’s “Testcard”, to the point that some might get riled up, but I get the feeling that Nah’s Michael Kuhn came to his own musical conclusions, even if coincidentally quite similar to This Heat’s. There’s a definite This Heat / early DAF vibe throughout, with lots of strange rhythms, heavy stops and starts, technical fury and a clear celebration of the post-production process. Boring as that could be, Difficult is really quite engaging, and it always feels realized, not like I’m just listening to a practice tape of semi-considered ideas. An anomalous record in more ways than one, which is why Nah has been a delightful musical surprise.

Nervous Talk Introductions 7″ (Mammoth Cave Recording Co.)
I kinda knew I’d dig this Nervous Talk single the first time I set my eyes on it – just something about it, I guess. It didn’t hurt when they kicked into “Introductions”, either – this is some classic power-pop by way of ’90s teen sitcoms. I’m picturing Zack Morris and A.C. Slater performing “Introductions”, with Screech’s cousin from out of town on vocals. Very friendly, fun, easy-going rock. Nervous Talk kick it into overdrive on “Shut It Off”, veering closer to Teengenerate than Bayside High, which is kinda good because I can only digest so much high-fructose corn syrup in a sitting. And “Hit The Town” wraps it up, splitting the tempo difference between the other two, which oddly resembles mid-’90s Screeching Weasel. I can guarantee your head won’t explode from Introductions, but I’ll enjoy a good poppy punk band any day of the week – I’ve just slated Nervous Talk for next Wednesday.

Norms Norms 7″ (Permaculture)
Finally, the world’s first Cheers-themed hardcore band! I always would’ve figured it would’ve had to do more with Woody… anyway, now that I got that out of the way, Norms are a hardcore group from Budapest, and they seem to toe the line between Youth Attack-inspired porn-mag misanthropy and regular screamy hardcore-punk. I can’t imagine what it’s like being punk in Budapest, probably not as easy as it is here in the States (although they’ve got the same internet as us, right? So Execute flexis and Tapeworm singles are just as easy to download?), so I wanna give Norms a little more leeway for sounding average, which they pretty much do. They’re good, though – the songs are full of energy and the drumming seems like it involves three hands at times, and if the singer isn’t jumping into people and flailing about when they play these songs live, they need to find a replacement. I’m not gonna recommend any of you go out and buy this 7″, it falls on the lower side of average on my hardcorometer, but if you find yourself with a trip to Budapest and want to know where the actual cool stuff goes down, you should probably find Norms on Facebook and send them a message – they seem like the type of band that’d happily show you around and compromise your conservative Eastern values in the process.

Nubs Little Billy’s Burning / Job 7″ (Last Laugh)
Last Laugh continue their streak of high quality, near-exact replicas of classic and obscure punk singles with this Nubs EP, which features the true Killed By Death classic “Job”. Unlike The Cartoons and The Joe Hebert Band, I am already intimately familiar with the punk rock greatness of both of these tracks, “Job” in particular, with its stop-start rhythm and nihilistic approach calling to mind The Crucifucks before they existed. The cover art is nearly exact (although thankfully no longer oversized), and I don’t know, what else can I tell you? Just type “Nubs Job” into Google and you’ll instantly see (and hear) what I mean. I often feel like reviews of these classic punk reissues are more like minor advertisements telling you “hey, this exists now!” than any sort of meaningful musical criticism, because really, what can you say about a killer punk single that came out over 30 years ago, near-identically reproduced? I can safely predict that they won’t become stars and that this will be their only 7″ release. Now if only Last Laugh would stop promo-izing all the stuff they send me with clipped corners and marked-up labels – I get paid zero dollars to do this, and pay for the web hosting myself, and you wanna go out of your way to make sure that I don’t get $1 back at the record shop when I trade it in? Can we at least pretend like I deserve some dignity?

The #1s Sharon Shouldn’t 7″ (Sorry State / Alien Snatch)
If you were an Exploding Hearts fan, their sad and untimely demise probably had you presuming they were the last great power-pop group that would ever exist – how can any new group come close, not just in sound, style and songwriting, but all three? Well, The #1s are the closest thing I’ve heard to the authentic punky power-pop 45 RPM 7″ single style than anyone in a long time (sorry Gentleman Jesse, you never quite pulled it off as I had hoped you would). “Sharon Shouldn’t” is the song to hear, highly Exploding Hearts-y in both recording quality and overall vibe (the chorus’s bounce and the singer’s voice are more than a little similar), and yet it’s just so sweet and perfect and vulnerable and catchy that I don’t care who The #1s may or may not be biting. The b-side features a song called “Boy” and a song called “Girl”, “Boy” being the upbeat walk through back-alleys with your punky friends and “Girl” being the long kiss under the bleachers you’ve been waiting all semester for. I’m as surprised as you are to say that this is a pretty flawless single – all the parts are perfectly in place, and while none of these songs are the catchiest things I’ve ever heard, they are close enough that I’m delighted to put it on my turntable again and again. Way to go, guys!

Pampers Pampers LP (In The Red)
Gotta hand it to these guys for calling themselves Pampers – in a world of self-deprecating band names, they take it one step further to self-defecating. It’s simple and embarrassing and effective, and after blasting their debut album on more than one occasion, I can’t imagine this band being named anything else. Instantly, I’m reminded of the heavy-fuzz assault of Mayyors and the laconic stomp of Lamps, bands that took a reductionist / speaker-blowing approach to garage-punk (for which the world is forever grateful). Pampers might be a bit rowdier and raunchier than either of those two, though, as their songs occasionally flow into free-form freakouts, although I’m referring to floor-falling, amp-toppling sweat-fest freakouts, not any sort of musical wizardry or soloing. They play fast, and fast is never a bad thing in my book. Oh, and all their song titles are short little spurts like “Monkey Drip”, “Purple Brain” and “Sack Attack”, which also reads like a list of band names they’d probably share the stage with. The picture of them holding their instruments wrong on the insert is subtly hilarious, and I dunno, Pampers seem to get everything pretty much right. Looking forward to seeing them live later this month!

Permanent Ruin Más Allá De La Muerte 7″ (Warthog Speak)
It only took one 7″ for Permanent Ruin to become one of 2013’s finest purveyors of hardcore, so I wasted no time grabbing this new one. Surprise surprise, it’s a full-steam rager too! The drumming switches on a dime from blast-beat to galloping thrash, and the guitars and vocals all manage to keep up, almost inciting the song to move faster. Five songs might seem like a sizable portion of music for some groups, but I swear I am getting back up to flip Más Allá De La Muerte mere seconds after sitting down (I like to saunter from turntable to chair). It’s kinda funny that Permanent Ruin take a fairly aggressive stance toward whoever is listening to their music and reading their insert (I am called a “shit head” and threatened with a fight before I even fully unfold the insert), which is kind of interesting because Permanent Ruin seem to be one of the most unanimously beloved hardcore groups active today – either they are just really ungrateful or their harsh words are aimed elsewhere. I’m not complaining, though – some of my favorite groups have songs that threaten my well-being for talking behind their backs, so while no one I know has said a discouraging word about this fine band, Permanent Ruin might as well stay vigilant on that matter. Great EP!

Ruleta Rusa Aqui No Es LP (Sorry State / Trabuc)
In a world of punk record covers where demon skeletons get around on automobile or horseback, the cover rendering of this evil reaper traveling by steam locomotive is refreshing. Ruleta Rusa are not afraid to think vintage when it comes to their means of transportation as well as their punk rock sound, which mixes the classic downtrodden Wipers sound with the first wave of European hardcore punk. Sure, you could say they sound like a mix of The Observers and Invasion if you are thinking of more modern times, but Ruleta Rusa seem less poppy and more pessimistic – think early Funeral Oration rather than late. All the songs are in Spanish, and the vocalist’s gruff delivery works well with riffs that are just a little too complex and refined to appear in an Aus Rotten song. This isn’t my favorite style of punk, I’ll be honest, it’s just a little too “mid-paced” in both ragingness and intensity, but Ruleta Rusa do nothing to besmirch the decades-long tradition in which they are participating – not that I ever doubted Sorry State’s curatorial eye anyway.

Sapphire Slows Allegoria LP (Not Not Fun)
Sapphire Slows are one of those artists that wobble between Not Not Fun weirdness and 100% Silk club-access (or probably more accurately, she swings both ways, having released records on each label). I suppose Allegoria is a bit more refined and sounds more experienced than previous releases, but it’s definitely still the same ultimate premise as before: cozy, effervescent techno-gaze with cooing vocal fog. Every song is like opening a fresh pack of Trident, each flavor more intricate and decadent than the last (I swear I’m chewing some Tropical Blue-Raspberry Margarita before the a-side is even finished). Occasionally the vibe drifts off into a more self-reflective melancholia, but generally Allegoria is poppy synthetic fun, like jumping into one of those big inflatable ball-pits inside the recreational wing of the space station in which you live and work. Or maybe the soundtrack to an erotic Pokémon video game? It’s cool and entirely unbothersome, but ultimately I wish Sapphire Slows would focus on a more compelling, less-echoed vocal performance, or music that does more than just fill up space with a familiar form of tech-pop warmth. I’m definitely in the mood for one of those ball-pits now, though… or at least some gum.

Slag Slag 7″ (Hesitation Wound)
Had this 7″ came out in 2001, the cover art would’ve featured an angry skateboarding skeleton, perhaps grinding across the skull of a particularly feeble George W. Bush. Since it came out in 2013, though, the band name’s logo is a withered, black metal-esque form of Old English lettering, and the cover art is a creepy surgery scene. I make this comment to point out that for all the ways that the outer appearance changes, mid-paced, ferocious hardcore never really changes, as Slag sound pretty much like Tear It Up, The Snobs and The Rites, that time when thrash-core was in full force and moshing was still done in a circular fashion (what’s up with all the side-to-side slams these days?). Nothing too special about Slag, but all the parts are firmly in place, and I will admit, the back cover made me giggle (whoever thought up women holding up signs that say “420 Liar” and “I Huff Worms Dad” needs their own comic book deal). It’s a little bold of them to actually name a song “Death Side”; it’s like the owner of a suburban boxing gym naming it the Mike Tyson Arena, but whatever, I can appreciate Slag’s interest in button-pushing. Maybe you can, too!

Stable Boys Attitudes 7″ (Ranch / Evil Weevil)
If you asked me back in 1998 how long I thought gruffly-screamed pop-punk would remain popular, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that it’d be going strong into 2014. I guess for as long as there are young men in college who decide to stop shaving, there will be room for bands like Stable Boys. They remind me of Animal City, Snowing, Hot Water Music, maybe a touch of Lifetime if you don’t consider the vocals, and Algernon Cadwallader, whom with they apparently share some members. Poppy and uplifting, probably played in basements to a crowd consisting of slightly nerdier replicas of Stable Boys, everyone singing along when it’s appropriate and just generally having a good time, even if some light moshing breaks out. I can’t fault this sort of thing in any way whatsoever, even if I have personally had my share some years ago. Maybe this music means something to you? I don’t want to stop Stable Boys from changing your life if I can help it.

Stink Bugs Supernatural / The Mountain 7″ (Swashbuckling Hobo)
I generally look forward to a new Swashbuckling Hobo release with the vigor of a dentist appointment, but I try to keep an open mind, you know? Like hey, this Stink Bugs single is pretty good! “Supernatural” is an acid-fried garage ripper that can only be played by older dudes who’ve got nothing to lose, no Scion or Sketchers money on the table that they have to bend over backwards for. I’m a nerd of many things, but ‘guitar nerd’ isn’t one of them, and yet I can still appreciate the craftsmanship that surely went into the psychedelic guitar leads (not the melody so much as the searing tone). “The Mountain” is enough to wake the ghost of Man’s Ruin, a very simple garage tune that The Original Sins, The 13th Floor Elevators and a million other bands have written (open up a Melody Maker from 1964 through 1989 and you’ll find one of these bands inside), but it still feels good and manages to keep “generic” from being a pejorative. Either that, or I’ve finally been fully swashbuckled and my ears are no longer of any use to me.

Sulphur Lights Cowboy 7″ (no label)
Did Clint Eastwood just walk into my saloon with vengeance on his mind, or am I just listening to the new Sulphur Lights single? I couldn’t have named the a-side track better myself, as “Cowboy” twangs, hoots and hollers like there are bullets aimed at its boots. “Nothing” and “Beat You Up” are two more mean-spirited, classically fuzzy garage-rock stompers, and they share the b-side. The vocalist is perfectly half-drunk for the recording, “Beat You Up” ends in a total equipment tumble, and while there is certainly nothing exceptional (or even particularly notable) about these songs, I can’t envision a world where I’d remove the needle prematurely. They’re a lo-fi garage-punk band from Brisbane who offer very little information with their records (neither of their two EPs even has their name on the cover), and that’s fine, because you’re either spiritually programmed to enjoy this sort of rock n’ roll or you simply never will.

Torn Hawk Bad Deadlift 12″ (L.I.E.S.)
The L.I.E.S. keep flowing at such a quick pace that it’s hard to even know exactly what’s been coming out. For example, had I heard this Torn Hawk 12″ a couple months ago, it may have ended up on my 2013 best-of list – it’s killer! Four tracks on here, each inhabiting their own weird zone. “Bad Deadlift” kicks things off with a Kassem Mosse-seque house track, built upon a stutter-step skip and some seriously druggy sounds. It’s followed by “Trap Door”, which feels like it’s just gonna be some weird loop collage made from failed ’80s TV theme-songs, but instead blossoms into a beautiful and huge tune that feels like a 50/50 mix of U2 and James Ferraro (there’s no singing or Bono presence, so maybe 40/60). “Money Becomes Only Itself” is almost as bizarre as its title, feeling like Oneohtrix Point Never’s recent material remixed by Actress or Bandshell, and “Put That Crotchless Thing On, Then Save My Life” feels like you are exiting a ’90s hip-hop club through its plumbing system. I’ll admit, I was expecting some cool lo-fi techno constructions from Torn Hawk, but these four tracks kinda blew my mind. The hunt for all other Torn Hawk begins!

Sven Weisemann Inner Motions 3xLP (Mojuba)
For as much as I usually don’t gravitate to the somber, introspective emo-house that Sven Weisemann produces, I’ve listened to a variety of his records quite a bit. I’m just a sucker for cloying melancholia when done a certain way, and Weisemann really hits that sweet spot for me. Inner Motions is certainly chock full of that bittersweet sense of longing and sadness, too, but it’s a bit more lively (by Weisemann standards), and possibly my favorite work of his yet. The whole thing feels like one warm, tender deep-house womb, where dub-techno drums give way to soaring strings, twinkly piano riffs and a club-ready production. You can easily tune it out, or you can stick your whole head in and let Weisemann guide you through fog and ice to your estranged lover’s doorstep. He also throws these private-diary vocal samples here and there, which took me by surprise in a good way – nice to know Weisemann isn’t afraid to really intensify the vibe he’s created. Not sure this record is for everyone, but I for one always wondered what it’d be like if Basic Channel did an album of Sigur Rós and A Silver Mt. Zion remixes, a question solved by Inner Motions.