Animal City Bump Head Go Home LP (Sophomore Lounge)
Bump Head Go Home is the third Animal City album, and it’s also the third one reviewed in these pages – it’s like we’ve grown up together, just a bunch of rag-tag boys trying to make it in this crazy mixed-up world. They’re not a band I listen to very often, but on those special occasions, I can’t help but wonder why I don’t do it more often (which echoes my feelings on wearing sweatpants). They’ve got a knack for writing casual-fit, country/blues-tinged indie-rock songs, heavy on the witty wordplay and optimistic-yet-exhausted vibe. It’s as if they know they are gentrifying the part of town they live in, and they feel bad about that on some level, but they’ve still gotta find a way to pay rent and play in a band, right? Maybe I’m just projecting. Anyway, a lot of these songs have to do with booze or drugs, but in lighthearted and humorous ways, as if these tantalizing depressants are merely enjoyable nuisances that kill the time, like Facebook or Instagram. A stark contrast to the shameful poison that Youth Of Today taught me about. Fun tunes for sure, with a nice mix of forlorn and upbeat melodies. Hope to hear from them again in 2017, presuming their Sophomore Lounge contract is renewed.

Anxiety Hammer What Stands Between Us 7″ (Curtain Fire)
Not sure if an Anxiety Hammer is one that smashes nervousness or if it finds the idea of partying with the rest of the tools prohibitively uncomfortable, but lets not dwell on such foolishness when this band is anything but. Five songs of refreshingly classic hardcore, in that Anxiety Hammer don’t seem particularly beholden to any specific micro-genre so much as anything that is heavy, pissed and tough. Among various strands of early American hardcore and early Scandinavian hardcore, I’m picking up a sort of early youth-crew brutishness that is in short supply today. Anxiety Hammer are one of the few bands playing hardcore who sound like they spin the first Turning Point EP as much if not more than any Anti-Cimex rarity (not to mention that the title What Stands Between Us seems ripped directly from the back of a Bold tee). It teeters on that edge nicely, meaner and gnarlier than any youth-crew revivalists but musically accessible for those who proudly leave the house in well-worn Champion hoodies. I like it for sure!

Autre Ne Veut Age Of Transparency 2xLP (Downtown)
The opening track on Autre Ne Veut’s third and fanciest album is one that I want all of you to hear – it’s absolutely stunning. Through five-plus minutes, he goes full diva against a backdrop of what sounds like smooth jazz remixed by Negativland, with strings falling in and out of tune, keys cutting into digital distortion and even his own voice warped and filtered at unexpected points throughout. The song commanded my presence immediately, pushing into this bold and insane new direction of which I couldn’t wait to hear more. Unfortunately, following this breathtaking moment, Autre Ne Veut settles into his most traditional, radio-ready R&B-pop presentation yet, putting his unhinged emotional state and cracked vocalizing aside for something you could squeeze into a pop-radio block with four Diplo productions and a Lorde cut. And while that would be okay, it’s not until “Switch Hitter” that I find any of Age Of Transparency‘s hooks lodging themselves in my brain, I’m sad to report. Still, it’s all fairly enjoyable for what it is, although I can’t help but come back to “On And On (Reprise)” over and over again, one of my favorite songs of the year, and pray that there is more of this stashed somewhere, waiting to be heard.

Babysitter Babysitter LP (Psychic Handshake Recordings)
The striking cover art for Babysitter’s self-titled album looks like one of those Adult Swim cartoons I hear good things about but never actually watch, so I already found myself somewhat attracted to this Canadian group before listening to a note. The opening track “Exploding Youth” is a jolt: it’s like a particularly constipated Eddie Vedder fronting some sort of Farm Aid all-star cover-band. No sooner am I settling into this fate when the next track sounds like some sort of practical joke Pere Ubu are playing on The Fall, and then the one after that is like Neil Hamburger fronting Swell Maps, which in turn is followed by a slow instrumental jam that just sounds like a lame excuse for the horns to attempt some sort of “free jazz” freak-out. If you were drinking a glass of milk while reading that last sentence, I apologize for sending it through your nose! Throw in a little John Cale and a little Ty Segall on top of all that, and you’ve essentially got the whole record covered, which is to say there is no distinct aesthetic choice made by Babysitter, just a whole lot of rock garbage collected off the streets. And as it turns out, Babysitter is pretty damn enjoyable after all, and has me coming back to that Swell Maps comparison in the way that both groups are able to lampoon all sorts of rock styles while simultaneously kinda kicking ass, a sort of tongue-in-cheek homage whose level of seriousness can never be fully determined. I’m in.

Beat Detectives Climate Change LP (Not Not Fun)
I could stare at the wobbly, MC Escher-esque lettering on the cover of Beat Detectives’ debut album all day, and while doing so, I might as well spin the vinyl inside, as it makes for the perfect soundtrack to such extended moments of pleasurable confusion. The group seems to be a couple folks on, umm, beats, and a vocalist, one of whom has possibly the most Californian first name ever, Oakley Tapola (heir to the sunglasses fortune, perhaps?). Anyway, their music has me imagining an alternate universe where Excepter tried their hardest to do an album suited for release on L.I.E.S., as they roll out various incongruous beats and rhythmic motifs, with the lackadaisical presence of an echoed vocalist somewhere off in the corner. Beat Detectives don’t aim for extended hypnosis, though, instead busting through fourteen tracks on a single LP, a quantity far greater than your average underground vaguely-techno artist. It’s pretty tight for sure, hustling through all sorts of strange presets with gusto and undoubtedly detecting the beat and all the joy that a good one can create.

Cave Curse Stoned & Dethroned / Out Of Time 7″ (Volar)
C’mon, you can get this bootleg bloody Chanel logo on a t-shirt or beanie at any Hot Topic or Spencer’s Gifts at this point, do you really want your band to be represented by contemporary teenage mall fashion? I guess if you are going with the name “Cave Curse” for your solo synth-pop project, the idea of any sort of unique creative vision is out the window anyway. Cave Curse is the work of Bobby Hussy, of The Hussy fame, and he continues to rack up the random side projects as though he’s trying to follow in Jay Reatard’s footsteps. Any reasonable person would admit that Reatard, wildly talented though he was, released a ton of crap among the gems, and in that respect Hussy is following appropriately, as this is a pretty goofy no-brainer of bedroom synth-pop that Sacred Bones and HoZac both would’ve surely passed on, even in Blank Dogs’ heyday. “Stoned & Dethroned” sounds like a keyboard remix of some generic Burger Records garage-pop, and “Out Of Time” is a very basic Gary Numan-esque haunted house amusement. If this 7″ offered me a ride home, even on a rainy night, I’d probably just walk instead.

Century Palm White Light / New Creation 7″ (Symbolic Capital Industries)
As promised, here’s the other Century Palm 7″ single that came out recently, this on what I believe to be the band’s own label, with similar design and artwork care of Michael George Haddad. It’s still pretty good, blending nods to ’90s indie-rock with early ’80s major-label new-wave (you might call it college-rock), like some sort of inoffensive mash-up of Yazoo and Yo La Tengo. “White Light” surely is aware of its inherent Velvet Underground reference, but it bops along as though Brian Eno and Mikey Young got in an argument at the mixing desk and both stormed off with the band having to pick up the pieces. “New Creation” has a similarly driving beat, like REM doing OMD, let’s say. I think I like this single more than the other, although it’s all still a bit too polished and safe for my tastes, as though this is a band where everyone is putting in a concerted effort to stop messing around playing opening gigs and headline their own damn club tour, so they’re sticking with a more conservative songwriting style to help achieve that. It’s all speculation on my end though, almost entirely unfounded, but hey, what are you reading this for anyway, scientific truths or hilarious opinions?

Mike Cooper Fratello Mare LP (Room40)
Mike Cooper is older than my dad. His discography spans half a century, and yet this is my first time listening to his music. If it’s any small consolation, I’ve probably met at least half a dozen Mike Coopers in my life, but at this point he is the only Mike Cooper for me, as this album is some of the most stunningly strange music I’ve heard this year or any. Essentially, Fratello Mare is wonderfully dreamlike, if you’ve ever had a dream that you were in a pet store off the coast of Maui Beach when you looked out the window only to realize you weren’t actually on Earth at all, but rather the Moon, staring down that big blue marble across a black sky. Seriously, give it a listen! Cooper does unspeakable things to his guitar (I’ve seen it dubbed “post-exotica”), looping it upside-down and tweaking it uncomfortably, while various rhythmic and arrhythmic processes work themselves in the background, along with a peppering of birds and other exotic pets casually chirping. It’s utterly captivating stuff, and I find myself transported to Cooper’s unique warp-zone each time I put it on, which has honestly been about once a day now. Can they grow millet and groats in space, do you think?

Dead Bod EP 7″ (Menial Fare)
Try as I might to read it properly, I keep looking at this record and thinking the band is “Dad Bod”, with images of robust hairy bellies, chicken legs and hunched shoulders dancing through my head. The fact that they have a song called “Dad’s Bag” doesn’t help matters either. Anyway, I look forward to the existence of Dad Bod, whenever they might form, and I’m enjoying Dead Bod as well. They play charged-up garage-punk in a very ’90s way: guitars are fast and upbeat, the vocalist is snarling and constantly on the verge of falling over, and I can’t help but picture the discographies of Estrus, Rip Off and Goner while listening. Dead Bod offer four tracks of that stuff here, the sort of music you expect to cause serious commotion at a small Midwestern drinking establishment on a Wednesday night, pool tables getting splashed by Miller Lite as the five-person mosh pit veers out of control. Dead Bod certainly don’t reinvent the wheel, or even improve upon its circularity, but I look upon their music much as I look upon the American bison: I don’t really care about them all that much, but if we were to lose them for good, I would be deeply, irrevocably sad.

The Dead C Palisades 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
While it’s fun checking out I Dischi Del Barone’s parade of obscure weirdos I would’ve never otherwise encountered, it’s nice to see an old reliable face like The Dead C joining the imprint’s roster. They need no introduction, of course, and these two songs are solid and reliable if unspooling guitar, loose flaps of feedback and psychic drumming are your thing. I also appreciate the vocals here, sort of a Graham Lambkin-esque sleepy narration that comes and goes, giving these two cuts a sensation as though you are sleepwalking through a house with precarious staircases right outside your bedroom door. Lovely single! It’s also worth noting that there is a supplemental zine released by I Dischi Del Barone entitled Fördämning which is a fantastic little journal that goes deep into the minutiae of noise and experimental musics, tackling entire artist discographies with gusto, all with a genuinely-excited attitude that is quite contagious. Get yourself a new Dead C single, the most recent ish of Fördämning and a king-size Nutrageous and you’ve got one hell of an evening planned, pal.

Aïsha Devi Of Matter And Spirit 2xLP (Houndstooth)
Aïsha Devi is a Swiss-Nepalese producer of electronic music, although if you sat down with Of Matter And Spirit on a full moon, I wouldn’t blame you for assuming she is actually some sort of omniscient phantom cackling at our human foibles. It’s really out there, and not quite like anyone else – sure, she is using Arca’s grotesquely-modern sound bank and launching rippling arpeggios into cold metallic caverns ala Egyptrixx’s latest album, but Of Matter And Spirit is far more playful and emotional than either of them, plus more danceable (albeit slightly). And of course, there’s her voice, which I have to assume is pitch-shifted into the elastic, high-pitched howls she elicits, language (if any) unspecified, like some sort of electronic amalgam of Björk and Yolandi Visser. The whole thing is invigorating and strange, and somehow feels indebted to gritty Belgian nu-beat, even if Devi seems entirely unconcerned with causing other people to move. Of Matter And Spirit is her show entirely, and it’s so entrancing you won’t notice anyone else in the room anyway.

Beatrice Dillon Face A/B 12″ (Where To Now?)
I’ll just cut to the chase: I love everything about this record. From the pale, barely-there cover art of a couple pairs of legs tripping to the music within, it’s exactly the sort of record I want to keep in my home, leave on a table, play frequently, stare at, whatever. Allow me to explain further: Beatrice Dillon plays a form of tech-house that is infused with awkward and experimental ideas, resulting in slightly off-kilter grooves that I can’t get out of my head. “Face A” and “Face B” have me imagining Powell remixing one of those numbered Maurizio 12″s while Paul Flaherty is rehearsing in the studio next door. A saxophone skronks unexpectedly among stuttering dub-techno beats and a bumblebee-emulating synth, like a subtle piece of dark chocolate infused with some nut you’d never expect (Marcona almonds, let’s say). “Sonnier (Walk Into The Light)” takes a different turn, tunneling underground through abandoned bunkers as though you’re playing a hacked version of Wolfenstein 3D that has no bad guys, just endless hallways and color-coordinated doors. I’m not sure which side I like best, but thankfully I don’t have to choose, so long as my arms are capable of flipping this 12″ over and over. I can’t think of a better way to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome anyway.

DJ Richard Grind 2xLP (Dial)
Alongside Galcher Lustwerk, DJ Richard has made the White Material label / posse such a fascinating entity, and as I had read nothing but high praise for his debut album Grind, my hopes were admittedly high. I’ve listened to it now at least half a dozen times, and I have to say… I’m still trying to figure out what could inspire a listener or critic to offer anything more than an acknowledging head-nod. DJ Richard’s most recent 12″, Nailed To The Floor, was as body-moving as it was bizarre, and he seems to purposely subvert that here, offering familiar house beats, skittering atmospheres and a general sense of indifference, like playing poker with your friends without anyone wagering any actual money. At its busiest, I’m reminded of tracks that Omar S saves for his albums or Levon Vincent’s self-produced Fabric mix, and when Grind turns away from the dancefloor, it feels like a less foreboding Shadowlust, or something Terekke would’ve dropped on a L.I.E.S. white-label. It’s all well and good, but short on the unexpected turn-of-phrase, undeniable groove or combination of both that had me anticipating Grind like it was a Discogs purchase from irescreams. It’s perfectly fine for casual daytime background music, and I’ve enjoyed it for that, but Grind is kind of like watching Zach LaVine run some layups instead of slamming it home.

Donato Dozzy The Loud Silence LP (Further)
Donato Dozzy is one of my favorite techno producers, possibly because he’s always transcended the genre. This is a man who seems to be guided solely by a love of sound and the emotion that he inextricably links with it. Such is the case with his new solo album, The Loud Silence, whose sorta-cheesy title belies the sincere beauty that lies within. Essentially, this is an album of Dozzy finding new ways to record, process and develop the mouth harp, smoothing it out into a bouncy meditation, casting it into nature as though the crickets in the field and birds in the sky are its session players, and eventually shining it up like it might someday grow up to become techno. There’s a nice long essay on the insert that explains his process, which certainly makes a strong case for why we should all steep some herbal tea, turn off our phones and offer Dozzy and his mouth harp our full attention for thirty minutes. You certainly need to bend to Dozzy’s will at least a little bit here, as no one is going to casually hear a minute-long snippet of The Loud Silence and find themselves enamored – this is a record that demands you operate under its conditions, and those who are willing will surely enjoy Dozzy’s trip down memory lane, a little Italian boy with his mouth harp and a mind spinning with imagination.

Emptyset Signal 12″ (Subtext)
When I heard that there was a new Emptyset 12″ coming out, I was ecstatic, and when I found out it’s just the amplified sound of radio interference over massive antennae and the sonic interference those antennae receive, that excitement notably diminished. I certainly prefer Emptyset when they are bludgeoning the listener with extreme thrusts of distortion and untuned bass, as though they were using drum machines far larger and more menacing than anything anyone else had access to. On Signals, though, their music is far more subdued and absent, and by its very nature (I believe these tracks came from some sort of live installation earlier this year), the music isn’t composed or precise so much as the results of a moderately interesting experiment. The first side opens with slow tides of pale feedback before coating itself in overlapping layers of the same frequency… not bad. The second side has a little more hustle n’ bustle at the start, sounding more like the radio interference the tracks are allegedly made of, before drifting off into what sounds like endlessly large slabs of sheet metal being gently massaged by mallets. It’s a cool concept, and calls to mind Alvin Lucier, in that these guys are all clearly awesome experimental geniuses – it’s just that I don’t always want to hear their finished musical product so much as simply think and read about it.

Exhaustion Phased Out 12″ (12XU)
Not a day goes by that I don’t long for a new Ooga Boogas record, but Exhaustion’s activity has been a pretty solid consolation prize. I know there’s at least one ‘Booga in here, drummer Per Byström, and his talents are put to use on this new 12″ EP pretty much immediately: he busts out a hyper-speed beat not entirely different from Nine Inch Nails’ “March Of The Pigs”, with the rest of the band ramming their one-way riffs full force down the pipeline. The second track, “Colleague”, is just as single-minded and heavy, as if Keiji Haino was in charge of Mayyors for a weekend. Bravo! Flip it over for two remixes, the first coming from future Prime Minister of Australia Mikey Young, who essentially rewrites “Phased Out” as some sort of antiseptic synth tune not unlike Robert Rental or Voice Farm. Rites Wild remixes “Colleague” in a similar fashion, tossing some blurry vocal(?) snippets over a menacing John Carpenter arpeggio. I could’ve just done for a full EP of Exhaustion originals, but clearly they want me to spend some time dancing too, so I’ll do as they say.

Exit Order Exit Order 7″ (Side Two)
Eight-song EP from this new Boston hardcore-punk outfit, featuring members of previous Boston hardcore bands (don’t they all!). Someone could make a map of Boston’s hardcore scene in the past ten years and it would be more complex and tangled than a diagram of Facebook user statistics in the Boston area, I swear. Anyway, Exit Order kick ass, as their hardcore sound is overly flanged, strongly influenced by UK82 and plenty raw, not unlike one of the lesser names on Cleanse The Bacteria or P.E.A.C.E. (and let’s face it, those bands were just as responsible for making those comps classics as Septic Death or 7 Seconds). There’s a definite “flavor of the month” vibe to this sound, though, as I feel like underground hardcore is collectively moving toward this one-two one-two drum beat / chorus-pedal guitars / echoed vocals sound (although to be fair, vocalist Anna Cataldo refuses to turn on the delay pedal here). That said, like pretty much all styles of hardcore, there’s really no room to complain if it’s done with gusto and competence, and Exit Order have plenty of both.

Fevers Febriphobia 7″ (Febriphobia)
Kenny Chesney has a great song about reminiscing about the good ol’ days called “I Go Back”, when you return to your humble roots and are smacked with a hearty dose of misty-eyed nostalgia. That’s what this Fevers 7″ is doing for me now, because I used to love this stuff – music that mixes the most frantic aspects of screamo and grindcore, like Combatwoundedveteran, the first Daughters record, that bizarre -Tion 7″ EP, hell even The Locust’s debut album (which actually sounds positively quaint some fifteen years later). That’s what Fevers do across eight songs on here, flailing through split-second Arab On Radar riffs into train-wreck breakdowns and Pig Destroyer blast-beats, the sort of fall-on-the-floor screamo that caused Antioch Arrow to soak through through their turtlenecks in the mid ’90s. I didn’t know anyone besides HIRS was still playing this sort of music, as any strain of underground music is generally at its lowest appreciated moment in history some ten to twelve years after its creative peak (as is the case with screamo), but I’m not one to follow market value so much as my heart. With Fevers riding shotgun, I go back… I go back.

GAM Eiszeit LP (Dirty Knobby)
GAM is a random late-’70s recording endeavor of Günter Schickert and a couple friends, and while I’m always down for a good Schick-sesh, part of me is a little wistful that an inspired and strange label like Dirty Knobby has fallen into the underground release pattern of reissuing rare and obscure European kraut-rock / folk / what-have-you. Has our contemporary weirdo scene really dried up to the point where our desire to put out records has to be quenched by repressings of German rarities? Or are all you music listeners to blame, refusing to actually buy new records anymore, only gatefold 180 gram reissues to display on your wall? Regardless of this troubling predicament, Eiszeit is a pretty sweet late entry into the ’70s kraut-rock canon, almost bordering on the weird downtown NYC avant-garde rock that was happening at that time (Talking Heads, Material, that sort of thing) while still rippling out cyclical guitar lines deep into the horizon. I certainly prefer the more spiritual-sounding rock epics to the slightly funky, falsetto-vocaled cuts, but taken as a whole it’s a fine album to enjoy. At the very least, Dirty Knobby saved Eiszeit from its CD-only prison (somehow, Eiszeit was only ever previously released on CD in 2005), which features some of the absolute ugliest typesetting / font-work I’ve ever seen. No need to hang a skeleton and a bat in your window on Halloween, just dangle that jewel case to really give your neighbors a fright.

G.L.O.S.S. Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit 7″ (Total Negativity / Nervous Nelly)
Right off the bat, G.L.O.S.S. deliver the most ferocious hardcore-punk spoken-word intro since Crucifix’s “Annihilation”, following suit with five raging tracks of early ’00s-inspired hardcore (I’m hearing Cut The Shit, Knife Fight and Tear It Up to name but a few). These songs are on the faster end of moderately-paced, and come equipped with plenty of pit-clearing breakdowns and sing-along choruses (as well as perhaps the finest punk drummer in the game, Corey Rose Evans). Sounds good for sure, but as I’m sure you are already well aware (unless of course you don’t have internet access and you have a friend who prints Yellow Green Red out on paper for you), G.L.O.S.S. are without a doubt one of 2015’s most pivotal hardcore groups, loudly claiming space for femmes, trans-folk, queers and minorities in what has always been (and sadly still is) a music scene dominated by white guys. Their message is righteous and unflinching, and if you’re one of those sorry suckers who finds themselves uncomfortable by G.L.O.S.S.’s presence or some of their more vocal fans to be too impolite, perhaps you’re truly One Of Them and part of the reason why G.L.O.S.S. are so powerful, inspiring and necessary.

Heaven’s Gate Woman At Night LP (Dull Tools)
Seemed like only a matter of time before a band called themselves Heaven’s Gate; I’m just surprised it wasn’t a harsh power-electronics unit, but rather a five-piece rock band out of Brooklyn, NY. Anyway, this group plays an emotionally-intense form of cloudy indie-rock, utilizing death-rock chord progressions and shoegaze guitar processing as their main (dull) tools. As far as contemporaries go, Pleasure Leftists are perhaps the most similar, although Heaven’s Gate feel thicker and looser, as their songs seem to leave plenty of room for errant notes or missed beats as it all kind of swirls together sonically. The tension comes from vocalist Jess Paps, who howls through various registers with aplomb, her lyrics essentially unintelligible in performance but stark and resonant when read in the liner notes, bringing the darkly-dreamy music down to a harsh reality with her words. Overall, the final product is a little too blurry and unmemorable to really stick to my chops, and maybe there’s still a part of me that wishes Heaven’s Gate was two leather-clad sadists screaming over a broken mixer’s feedback, but I still enjoyed Woman At Night while it hummed through my stereo.

Krube. Untitled 7″ (I Dischi Del Barone)
Not sure if it’s genius or idiocy behind the fact that the paper sleeve that this Krube. 7″ came in is actually larger than its cardboard pocket cover – it’s a record destined to never spend any time inside its own sleeve. I suppose either way, that sort of anti-logic is at play within Krube.’s music as well, a tasty melange of shaped noise. The a-side sounds like an industrial-grade balloon being stretched over a backhoe, all while a nearby clown threatens passersby with his over-sized bicycle horn. Nice! The b-side, “Untitled II”, sounds like a dirtbike circling your picnic on a deserted patch of beach-side property, at least until the rain sends everybody inside. Definite Schmipfluch vibes here, although not necessarily as manic, and another welcome entry to the ever-growing I Dischi Del Barone family.

Night Court Law & Order LP (Not Not Fun)
Yep, the group is called Night Court. I swear, the entire TV Land programming schedule has been re-appropriated as band names (there’s gotta be a band called Saved By The Bell that has a tape on Not Not Fun by now, right?), and I’m not sure how I feel about my memories of idle time sitting in a beanbag watching TV as I wait for dinner all turning into indie-noise projects, but that’s life. Anyway, this Night Court is kinda cool, and certainly very specific. Law & Order is filled with murky electronics and bumped-and-dented synths, like a pile of John Carpenter soundtracks that you found in the back of a Salvation Army, the covers waterlogged and moldy and the vinyl dusty and scratched. Throughout, various news segments are broadcast, with various witnesses stuttering through their testimony and newscasters following their cue cards with professional enunciation. There’s a strong feel of James Ferraro and his ilk here, sort of re-processing second-hand television memories through a haze of retro synths and automated rhythms, but the music manages to be more than an afterthought in the overall execution, strutting through mutant funk and collapsing on kraut-ish beats with flair, practically turning into a “real band” at times. Definitely not the sort of project I can imagine putting out albums years into the future, but they are certainly deserving of at least this one, if any justice is to be served.

Richard Papiercuts If LP (Ever/Never)
There are certain little details you can pick out that confirm underground music culture is in trouble, like the fact that I’ve never heard anyone I know (or don’t know) talk about Richard Papiercuts (besides myself, late at night, into a mirror). I sure as hell can’t even begin to figure out what this guy’s deal is, if he is some art-prankster dedicated to the long con, an oblivious weirdo or simply an enthusiastic music fan – I feel like he’s as close to Wesley Willis as he is to Frank Sinatra, and that’s a long stretch of land in-between. His second album, If, builds upon the out-pop buffet of A Sudden Shift with a newfound clarity of song, these ten tracks distinct yet unified. It opens with a Wooden Shjips-y one-lane highway, and quickly spins you around like a GPS-torturing New Jersey intersection. Mr. Papiercuts offers the distinct scents of Bryan Ferry, Chuck Berry and Mark Perry (and maybe a little Luke Perry) throughout, sweating through his suit to high-energy glam-rock, twinkling his eyes through paisley psychedelia, or confidently crooning to new-wave as if he was trying out for lead vocal on The Pineapples’ “Come On Closer”. The actual single here is “Sorrow Of Faith”, a diabolical slice of ’80s lounge pop, but my money goes to “Peanut Butter Is Back”, a hand-swaying show-stopper that has me hankering for a big sticky spoonful each time I hear it (or even think about it, which happens quite often thanks to the insanely catchy sing-along chorus). And if that’s Papiercuts himself on the back cover, photographed mid-sneeze, he resembles a natural cross between Kid Creole and Dracula, out-doing whatever look you may have fantasized this singer to maintain. Just as Bad Religion warned us, Papiercuts’ truth is stranger than fiction.

Perc Gob 12″ (Perc Trax)
Perc has been producing techno music for a dozen years or so, but Gob is my first experience hearing any of it. The title of this one also belongs to one of my favorite Reno-based noise-rock units, and while I refuse to admit that that’s the reason I checked this EP out, I’m glad I did, as it features three tracks of the most merciless techno I’ve ever heard. Seriously, I can’t believe how utterly unrelenting and forceful this EP is – Perc utterly pummels, running full-force in a straight line, stopping only when he’s good and ready. The beats are rudimentary and just shy of gabber’s frantic pace, and Perc infuses them with insane electric shocks that would be perfectly comfortable on a record by The Rita or Bloodyminded. “Gruel” in particular is euphoric in its sense of ecstatic menace, the way that Perc twists harsh noise into a melodic loop you can raise your hands to. It’s like you’re dancing with all your might, knowing full well there are fallen power-lines at your feet and one wrong step could smoke you to kingdom come. Thrilling and extreme, Perc’s Gob is not for everyone, but it is absolutely 100% for me.

Powell Insomniac / Should’ve Become A Drummer 12″ (XL Recordings)
Boosted by the click-baiting “Steve Albini grumps about techno” headlines, Powell’s second XL 12″ of the year is here, two more cuts of his distinctive form of beat-driven electronics. It should be clear at this point that I love the music of Powell dearly, from his earliest attempts at chopping and screwing no-wave to his recent molten-hot 8-bit Nintendo style, of which he demonstrates here. These two tracks are inarguably tight, and yet I can’t help but find myself a little underwhelmed, as they seem to follow the design of his Sylvester Stallone tracks to a T: a thick and fuzzy synth dances on a loop, the percussion struts alongside, static electricity has your hair standing at a funny angle, and a vocal sample juts in and out, generally out of place with the rest of the proceedings. That’s exactly what “Sylvester Stallone” was all about, and “Insomniac” comes across like a slightly less-inspired version of it, with the b-side “Should’ve Become A Drummer” sounding as though it received even less consideration. Both tracks feel a little longer than necessary for the ideas they are communicating, and as one of Powell’s greatest musical assets has been his element of surprise, the only surprising thing about Insomniac is how unsurprising it is. Still a huge Powell fan for sure, but I’m hoping he continues to push himself toward new and exciting moments of “what the fuck?” brilliance rather than repeating himself, crotchety old producers be damned.

Royal Headache High LP (What’s Your Rupture?)
The first Royal Headache album struck me as an instant classic and it seems like the rest of the vaguely-punk underground felt similarly. It was the sort of instantaneously great and out-of-nowhere debut I’d file along The Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic and Iceage’s New Brigade, still played frequently in my household. I had read somewhere that the band was done, but apparently they realized they had lots to live for, resulting in this great follow-up. Naturally, we all know what they’re about now, so their speedy, simplistic, power-poppy punk fronted by a Grease cast member doesn’t shock so much as it calmly satisfies. While maintaining their sound for sure, they also mix it up a bit, slowing down a number of tracks, trying on some different musical moods (including one excellent song wherein vocalist Shogun repeatedly refers to a person as garbage) and ultimately succeeding at not repeating themselves while not straying from the template that made them so great in the first place. They’re like the alternate universe Green Day who never got popular, just bitter and angry and wasted. I’d gladly step through the wormhole that sends me to a world where American Idiot was never written, come to think of it.

Sex Church Flowers 12″ (Limited Appeal)
After a number of albums and singles, Sex Church quietly called it a day back in 2014, but they recorded one final album, now available on vinyl with an attractive chipboard sleeve and pretty artwork. I always thought Sex Church were cool, perhaps peaking on their Load Records album, and I was all set to enjoy Flowers as well, but I dunno, it’s not really doing much for me. They’ve gotten so dreary and morose at this point, strumming between sad major chords, that it provokes emotions I am not really looking for in my music (namely, listlessness and boredom). Even when they turn it up (the second track has a punchy Roky Erikson groove), it doesn’t feel like their hearts are fully in it, although that could simply be the inadequate recording quality that is unintentionally masking some intensity (or even more likely, the fact that they knew they’d be breaking up). I liked Sex Church best when they were like some sort of apocalyptic-country take on “Sister Ray”, but they kinda just sound like a punk version of The Black Heart Procession here, filling up coffee mugs with male tears. Maybe that’s just the sound of a band that knows it isn’t long for the world, and maybe I shouldn’t have listened to the first Mob 47 EP right before the last time I spun Flowers (I wouldn’t want my music to have to follow that either), but whatever the case, Sex Church’s legacy remains intact.

Toxin III Six Song EP 7″ (Jeth-Row)
Hey look, even Jeth-Row is getting in the classic punk reissue game; with the chance to pass along a stone-cold stunner like Toxin III’s 1982 beauty, who could blame them? From the barely-printable cover art to the fact that there are not two or four but six killer tunes, this EP has been a want-list staple of American punk connoisseurs for decades now, and for good reason, as this group really knew how to do it. The thick guitar is front and center, the drums are frenetic and slightly faster than punk but not quite hardcore, and the vocalist does his best nonchalant Iggy Pop holler in all the right ways. All this and a beautiful illustration of Felix the Cat brandishing a switchblade on the back cover. I’m still hunting for an original Vinyl Solution copy (perhaps this EP offers the first instance of the phrase “Vinyl Solution” entering the punk lexicon?), so hopefully this tidy repressing tides over some of my competition in the hunt.

White Poppy Natural Phenomena LP (Not Not Fun)
The gasoline-stained pinks, blues and yellows that color Natural Phenomena‘s jacket are impeccably chosen, as these are the shades I associate with music as airy, whimsical and passively psychedelic as this. On this album, White Poppy sound like Peaking Lights sharing the same hot tub as Cocteau Twins with a Spiritualized CD playing over the intercom, the two groups passing around a bottle of Prosecco and ending the night as great friends. Simplistic, dub-conscious rhythms give plenty of space to the endless shimmering of the synths and guitars and whatever else is reverbed into infinity (maybe a vocal, or simply the amplified sound of a swan taking flight from a pond in slow motion). It’s zero-calorie music, so of course it has that weird chemical after-taste, but you get used to it quickly. White Poppy’s sense of comfortable bliss is never too pretentious or overly serious, so I’m left with a dozen reasons why I should enjoy Natural Phenomena and zero reasons why I shouldn’t.