Search results for: bow & spear

Reviews – March 2018

Agnes 012016002001 12″ (Chained Library)
Yet another non-female techno artist opting for a female pseudonym. I have to wonder if it’s kinda like how they name tropical storms at this point – is there some sort of Techno Name Authority where you submit your tracks and they tell you if you’re Ethel or Jennifer? Thankfully the groaning, endless monotony that inhabits both sides of this record was just the fix I needed to snap my brain out of any such philosophical thought. Agnes gets right to the heart of the matter, essentially locking into two corrosive grooves and remaining there with only the slightest of textural changes for each track’s duration. If Vomir is doing “harsh noise wall”, I’d consider this “harsh techno wall”: the a-side’s speedy clatter is at once soothing, transcendent and maddening. One could conceivably dance to the a-side, too, but the b-side (I don’t believe either track is titled) flutters at a speed somewhere between a helicopter and a hummingbird, nearly (but never quite) flattening into a drone as the creak of unsustainable metallic pressure is the only aspect that confirms it’s not actually a locked groove. Plenty of industrial-techno experimentalists are pushing things to the extreme but the singularly-minded and minimal approach of Agnes is distinctly gnarly.

The And Band Outhern LP (Spacecase / Selection)
Go on, shout the phrase “late ’70s New Zealand DIY” and see if I don’t come running over, or at least pick up my gait a bit. The And Band’s split 7″ with Perfect Strangers has been sitting on my want-list for a good number of years now (little help anyone?), so it was a nice surprise to find out that they also actually released a cassette called Outhern back in 1981, now put to vinyl for modern consumption. It’s pretty much right in line with the scattershot pre-punk / post-punk DIY music of that era, mostly avoiding punk in favor of unique musical circumstances and unusual instrumentation. Through these fifteen tracks, one will encounter freewheeling guitar jangle, unplugged and re-plugged electronics, unorthodox percussion, a nicely buzzing Farfisa, the occasional eruption of an autoharp and a cello played more than one way. There’s a surprising amount of tenderness in these songs, replacing the more frequent tones of bitterness, rage and sarcasm that one might find in their early ’80s DIY underground groups – maybe that’s just New Zealand for you? If This Heat grew up among bright green lagoons and cuddly kiwis instead of London’s unwelcoming factory grime, I wouldn’t be surprised if their turmoil morphed into the loosely melodious clatter that comprises Outhern.

Bodykit / Drippy Inputs split 7″ (Acid Etch)
I’m not a record shop, but a split 7″ that comes without a cover or insert, just a stamped dust sleeve, strikes me as a particularly hard sell in today’s vinyl economy. Most shops don’t even have a section for new 7″s anymore, it seems, and while that breaks my heart, I have to wonder how Acid Etch are going to make it through with this design model. The power of online sales? I certainly wish them luck, as they seem to be exploring a specific strain of underground, punk-orbiting, DIY electronic dance music, and it’s generally pretty cool. I dug Bodykit’s debut LP from not too long ago, and this track maintains a similar pace, bleeping and blooping like a Nintendo cartridge on the fritz with more of Rich Ivey’s sneered vocals commanding center stage. It goes by pretty quickly and makes me want to throw on that Bodykit album again, so that’s a good thing. Drippy Inputs are new to me, and they’re traditionally acid by comparison, reminiscent of a poor-quality live bootleg of Jeff Mills or Robert Hood circa 1993. I perused the rest of the Drippy Inputs discography and it has that sort of raw, weird-techno aesthetic going on, not unlike Animal Disguise Records, and I kinda wish I would’ve seen some of that art here. The Drippy Inputs track on this split didn’t interest me enough to actually buy a tape, but it came close!

Bow & Spear Bad At Fun LP (What’s For Breakfast?)
This Bow & Spear LP arrived at the YGR compound with label-penned comparisons to Fugazi, My Bloody Valentine, grunge, Unwound and post-punk. Those descriptions always make me a little nervous – imagine someone saying “try this, it’s like tacos, pho, Thanksgiving turkey and smoked salmon!” before handing you a home-cooked dish. I guess it can happen when artists (and labels) don’t want to feel pigeonholed, but at the same time, unless you actually are reinventing music in a stark new configuration, those wide-ranging comparison lists doesn’t seem overly enticing (to me at least). Thankfully, the music of Bow & Spear is so distinct and clear, all those other comparisons melt away. I’ve simplified it for you: imagine a Stone Temple Pilots / Hum side-project album from 1995 produced by Billy Corgan and boom, you’ve mentally created Bad At Fun. Now I don’t know about you, but I am a big fan of Core and Purple, not to mention Siamese Dream, and Bow & Spear wear it well, dipping into the moodier side of ’90s major-label grunge via extended guitar effects and appropriately portioned loud/heavy trade-off. They don’t have a ton of memorable hooks, but they’ve got a few, and the title track feels like some Columbia House-funded cocktail of Sponge and Jeff Buckley (in music, not voice). I’m trying to grow a soul patch so it’ll sound even better.

Des Demonas Des Demonas LP (In The Red)
DC really seems to have one of the most vibrant underground music scenes today – there’s the “new wave of DC hardcore”, the Sister Polygon empire and all associated activities, the Future Times crew and their various future-disco offshoots, and that’s just off the top of my head without going to the library to research further! Maybe the abundance of great music from DC is my excuse for not having heard of Des Demonas, although I take it that they’re a fairly new group. They play a pretty traditional form of organ-guided garage-rock; not the sort of thing I’d associate with DC until I remember that The Make Up and Chain & The Gang are DC stalwarts, and Des Demonas would be a fine touring companion to either. Des Demonas have a powerful vocalist in Jacky Cougar, towering over bandmates and audience and shaking one of those sticks with jingle bells as though performing an exorcism, while the rest of the group press onward through their Back From The Grave-esque numbers. And as is often par for the DC course, Des Demonas fill their music with overt political messaging, such as opener “The South Will Never Rise Again”, and the grueling strut of “There Are No Vampires In Africa”, recalling a Fat White Family that was hooked on anti-imperialist politics instead of street drugs. Like I always say, “if I can’t skank to it, it’s not my revolution!”

DJ Lycox Sonhos & Pesadelos LP (Príncipe)
I’ve always admired the Príncipe label and its associated artists for their stark refusal to cater to mainstream dance sounds, European or otherwise. Rather than smooth things out for the lowest common denominator, they’ll gladly inject their beats with all sorts of wild clatter, or test the limits of post-punk dub through their distinctly Portuguese mindset. DJ Lycox is an integral part of the crew, and on his debut full-length, he leans the closest to main-stage dance music that any Príncipe release has yet, all without sacrificing his unique approach and flavor. Sonhos & Pesadelos is full of acoustic percussion loops, shimmering keys and hypnotic bass. I’m hearing Fatima Al Qadiri in some of the synth tones and melodic progressions, and Kyle Hall in the way the beats leap forward precariously, as though it could all fall apart and out of time at any second, but there’s really no misplacing any of these tracks as the work of anyone else. I’m a big fan of the “DJ Lycox!” shout-out that occurs in essentially every track, too – at first, I thought it was “bring in the drums!” said in a heavy Portuguese accent, but the meaning and intent seem to be the same either way.

Exek Ahead Of Two Thoughts LP (W.25th)
Exek’s first album snapped my head around back in 2016, and I’m happy to say that their follow-up is even more tantalizing. Here’s the formula: heavy-dub bass and drums interplay (almost directly cribbed from the playbook of Anika), a sneering vocalist somewhere between Native Cats’ Chloe Escott and a sleepy John Lydon, feebly piercing guitars and a small selection of stunningly appropriate sonic accoutrements. It’s mighty cool, but the first lyrics of opening track “U Mop” are “I’m sick / Of every bit / Of your shit / You mop”, in case you had any concern that Exek were all pretentiousness, no fun. Whatever level of pretentiousness Exek have, I’d say they’ve earned the right to it, as Ahead Of Two Thoughts is a fantastic entry into the overstuffed world of post-punk (particularly modern post-punk). They work out a variety of motifs, from numbing repetition to dare-I-say-energetic rhythms, and it all works so smashingly well… “Punishment” could be an Interpol arena hit if they wanted, followed by the soaking wet dub of “Weight Loss (Henry’s Dream)”, recalling an alternate history wherein Nick Cave sought punk-dub powerhouse Mark Stewart as his muse instead of Blixa Bargeld in 1984. Whatever the case, Exek are a true gem and I share this record with the highest recommendation!

Girl Ray Earl Grey LP (Moshi Moshi)
Had I discovered this North London indie-pop trio’s debut album last year when it came out, it surely would’ve placed among my year-end favorites, but I was late on the draw. I’m too enamored with Earl Grey to feel bad though, as it’s a fantastic album I’m glad to have heard at all, a record full of sweet and tender songs that instantly connect, as if they’ve always been a part of our musical vocabulary, merely waiting to be revealed. They’re a guitar / bass / drums trio, and their sound is undeniably British indie-pop, drawing distinct similarities to Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Allo Darlin’. But whereas there is a distant majesty to groups like Belle & Sebastian and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, who almost seem like impenetrable orchestras of musicians that inhabit some different form of society, Girl Ray are approachable and relatable, people you would expect to be familiar with cool local demo tapes and the minuscule DJ nights at which to play them, putting them in closer lineage to Marine Girls or DIY indie-punk. The songs are great, but it’s the voice of Poppy Hankin (how British is that name) that confirms Earl Grey‘s instant-classic status, her soothing tone and advanced melismatic abilities combining as successfully as Nutella and chocolate. Only difference is, you can consume Girl Ray at mass quantities without any possibility of stomachache.

Governess Governess LP (Radical Empathy)
It’s pretty cool how Governess got together as a band – the three of them met while organizing a preschool co-op for their kids! It’s never too late to rock, and I’d actually argue that it’s often far too early to rock (I’m looking at you, teenaged millennials). Anyway, this self-titled debut was originally released on cassette care of the wonderful Sister Polygon label in 2016, now given an attractive vinyl upgrade. Musically, it’s mostly mid-tempo indie-rock that finds a nice contrast through airy, harmonized vocals, beefy guitars and tom-heavy drums. Very moody tunes, dare I say bordering on goth if it weren’t for their angelic gang vocals and the surfy twang of the guitar. One might think a group of women who get to escape parenthood via playing in a band together would opt for harsh grind or free-noise as their aesthetic of choice (okay maybe I’m projecting), but the songs here are quite tuneful and analgesic, useful as bedtime lullabies if lowered to the proper volume. It’s evident that these songs come from an honest and immediate place, and I hope they’ve got more on the way.

Gaute Granli Animalskt LP (Drid Machine)
Fans of unattractive anti-musical nonsense, you’re in luck! I stumbled upon this Gaute Granli on the strong recommendation of mysterious WordPress fanatic Roland Woodbe, he a master of all unappealing musics, and I want to spread the good word to you, too. From what I gather, Granli is a Norwegian artist who may or may not have played in a group called Freddy The Dyke (uhh), and I may have to investigate that soon because Animalskt is really doing it for me. The opening cut is a long-dwindling guitar note with some muttered accompaniment, and it leads into a track that sounds like a broken accordion brutalized in rhythm, at least until the electronics show up, if you want to call their appearance “showing up”. I’m hearing something between the lonesome guitar-led misery of Jandek, the foolhardy electronic antagonism of Null & Void and Severed Heads, the alternate-dimension approach of Reynols, and the single-minded lunacy of Kraus and Hartley C. White, although Gaute Granli is clearly beholden only to his own particular whims. Not much of an emphasis on rhythm or percussion through the album, but rather a focus on the strained insistence of continuing forward with these songs, bilious and fragile as they may be. For all the singing, I can’t understand a word, but I get the impression that even if I was a native Norwegian I still wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s eating Gaute Granli.

Job Sifre Bestaan 12″ (Knekelhuis)
Amsterdam’s Knekelhuis label has really been tickling my fancy lately (records by EYE and As Longitude in particular), and this new one by Job Sifre might be my favorite of all. It’s delirious, dungeon-friendly EBM, uncomplicated by design and gracefully striking all the right notes. It’s kind of amazing to think that Galakthorrö hasn’t scooped them up yet, as the aesthetics are a near direct match (maybe the disqualifying trait is the color-printed record jacket?), but a bright future awaits, or a dark and gloomy one if preferred. “Bestaan” is a wonderful slog, complete with male vocals bellowing in German, and it’s the hit, no doubt. I can picture the zombies from the “Thriller” video marching in half-time to this one, loving every minute of it. “Zodiak” is another standout, strongly recalling the sticky-wet synth from Matthew Dear’s “You Put A Smell On Me”, and the rest of the EP works similar motifs – picture Beau Wanzer in black pleather pants and a ruffly pirate shirt listening to Clock DVA on headphones and the vibe of Bestaan will reveal itself. The EP culminates with the nine-minute “At Least We Try”, another barely-conscious electro-groove that twists down narrow darkened hallways, a maze I hope to never escape.

Kundan Lal Periodic Perciotic LP (YNFND)
I’ve been trying to piece together some info on Kundan Lal, so that I might provide you with an informed review of his debut album Periodic Perciotic, but the internet isn’t giving me much to go on, and I have a feeling my local research facility would offer even less. What I can tell you is that this album comes from the German experimental / techno label YNFND, and the music of Kundan Lal is distinctly Indian, or at least initially borne of Indian music (although my suspicions are that it’s the work of a white German guy). Ragas are chopped into head-bobbable beats, as upbeat Bollywood dance numbers rub shoulders with forlorn banjos, dusty tablas and indeterminate sounds, all mingling over coasting tempos. Tracks are relatively short, averaging at three minutes or so, each with a specific musical idea, like a Sublime Frequencies compilation chopped and screwed (many of these tracks are just waiting for an excitable rapper to spit bars upon). The cultural tourism vibe is pretty strong here – a track like “Driver” recalls WWE wrestler Jinder Mahal’s theme song – so if that leaves a sour taste in your mouth, I noticed it too, but if you’re willing to take these tunes merely on face value, Kundan Lal’s knack for looping beautiful and mysterious samples is undeniable.

Mouton / Prahnas split 7″ (Wee Rock)
Intriguing split 7″ here, with cover art that reveals no obvious genre association, so let’s dig in! Mouton are obvious and enjoyable from the very start – it sounds like Julian Casablancas singing over The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner”, but for kids (although I guess there’s really nothing that would prevent children from enjoying such a collaboration in the first place). Mouton’s other track has a similar “Strokes for kids” vibe, circa Is This It of course, and it’s a sound I generally always enjoy, Mouton included. Prahnas are a fitting partner, similarly chugging on archetypal down-picked melodies but with flange pedals cranked, adding a fun nauseous twist. Prahnas’ vocalist opts for more of an everyman singing tone, oddly buried in the mix but nonetheless self-assured across these three tracks and tempos. Mouton are from Springfield, MO and Prahnas are from Fayetteville, AR, and now I know who to casually namedrop if I ever find myself at a hip cafe in either of those sure-to-be prepossessing towns.

Original Pranksta Off The Hook LP (Almost Ready)
Wanna take this moment to thank Almost Ready for providing this website with a long overdue first: finally, a crank call album! Not sure who Original Pranksta is, but Off The Hook is pretty quintessential prank call material, stuffed with angry characters who do their best to keep their unwitting victims on the line for as long as possible. Misconstrued want-ads are a typical conceit: black guy responds to “black metal guitarist wanted” ad and proceeds to berate the white guy for not being evil enough; old guy calls escort service to come clean his garage instead of engage sexually; dumb guy answers ad to host a “sex toy party” and completely misunderstands the concept. When properly executed, this form of comedy never gets old, and Original Pranksta is quick enough on his (their?) feet to keep things moving in bizarre and often hilarious directions, although not every track is a certified side-splitter (the “gay guy who wants to put a hamster in his butt” gag would’ve been better left in the previous century). If it’s the work of just one guy, his ability to change voices is impressive, although I get the impression Original Pranksta is a small crew of dudes, Jerky Boys style. Can a Longmont Potion Castle box-set on Last Laugh be far behind?

Pendant Make Me Know You Sweet 2xLP (West Mineral Ltd.)
Crossover techno/ambient guru Huerco S. has undergone a metamorphosis into 2018, shedding the name Huerco S. (I can understand how a person might get sick of having to introduce themselves as “Huerco S.”) for the tidy new moniker Pendant. Surprisingly to me, Huerco S. kinda blew up for a minute with 2016’s ambient opus For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), and he continues that momentum with the airy electro-ambient that inhabits these two slabs of wax, full of both natural and artificial flavor. There hasn’t been any shortage of ambient drone music over the past couple decades, but Pendant is playing it how I personally like it best: long unfurling shades of harmonized drone sprinkled with unusual glitches and faint hints of rhythm, deeply rinsed with textural washes and left to move with the casual nature of jellyfish, either mildly contracting some internal muscle or simply drifting along with the greater current. I’m reminded of some of the Pop Ambient comps that came out in the mid ’00s, but Pendant is less sentimental and baroque, more pleasantly tweaked and susceptible to the gravitational pull of dub. I only need a new record like this once every two years or so, so now I’m good ’til at least 2020, assuming humanity makes it that far.

Preening Greasetrap Frisbee 7″ (Ever/Never)
Never thought of a 7″ record as a “greasetrap frisbee” before, but Preening found a poetic new way to self-depricate, and I dig it. Ever/Never was wise to reach across the US to squeeze a few new tunes out of them, just in time for some sort of US tour this spring (because nothing supports continental automobile travel quite like the sale of a 7″ EP!), and as much as I enjoyed their debut, I think I like this one even more. Five songs here, still the work of drums, bass guitar and saxophone, but with a little more fire in their belly, finding not just the misshapen angles of no-wave but the explosive aggression, too. Lyrics are often gang-shouted, and feature topics that I’m certain drummer Sam Lefebvre knows all too well (“P.O. Box” and “Associated Press”), with some agitated moves that would almost be Load Records-appropriate, like a spiky young cousin of Tropical Trash more interested in patterns of social movement and exposing fascism than acid and weed. That’s not to say it doesn’t still have the awkward delivery of classic The Cranium, which Preening thoughtfully freshen up for our current unfortunate reality. My copy came with a small poster, and I bet yours will too!

Profligate Somewhere Else LP (Wharf Cat)
Profligate (aka Noah Anthony) has years of banging, manic, live-action techno under his belt, the sort of thing that sort of blends together after a while but is irresistible nonetheless. I thought that Wharf Cat was an interesting fit for him, and scooped up this new album, only to be thrust into an alternate dimension, far, far away from any disco lights or thumping sub-woofers – Somewhere Else indeed! Rather, this is a record of quietly brooding electronics, filled with patient, breathy vocals, a melancholic sense of melody and a magnetic charm, which is a feat considering how depressing the music frequently sounds. I feel like he’s really breaking new ground here, not just for himself but for anyone making weird personal electronic music, and it’s quite fantastic. I’m reminded of the electro-infused slow-core of the ’90s, groups like Duster and Her Space Holiday, given a rotten jolt of early ’80s industrial ala Nocturnal Emissions or Zoviet France. The pensive mood unites those two disparate musical cultures, with the soft churn of industrial patterns giving way to hushed melodic vocals (from both Anthony himself as well as poet and musician Elaine Kahn). I really can’t get over how good this is, how it can be so menacing and sinister while also so sweet and disarming, not to mention that Profligate traveled into previously uncharted aesthetic territory and struck gold. Really hope he continues in this direction, but even if not, Somewhere Else is a gorgeous gem worth coveting.

Rik & The Pigs A Child’s Gator LP (Total Punk)
Rik & The Pigs have been tearing up the punk underground for a couple years now, throwing out 7″s like shuriken into the heads of jerks, cops, squares, adults, whoever, really. I’ve even got another new single in the bin waiting for some attention, but I’ve been too busy enjoying the debut LP by Rik & The Pigs, A Child’s Gator, to give it enough time. Their singles are great, but if you haven’t already tapped into this audacious punk outfit, this is where you should start, and start you should! They’re a great band, honing in on the nihilistic goofball / endless-detention vibe of early punk rock, bands of teenagers that would rather flick a booger on the principal’s forehead than shoot up heroin or smash the state. Rik is particularly suited for the role of front-person, as he truly brings these songs into vibrant technicolor, his voice comical and sneering, like a nerd who freaks out the jocks by laughing even after he’s beaten to a pulp. I’m reminded of Doc Dart as well as the semi-fake vocals that inhabit Peer Pressure’s That’s Why They Call ‘Em Moms 7″ (a teen-punk essential), but Rik is steadily carving out his own signature squeak, full of constant chattering and bizarre asides. I’d gladly watch a new animated series starring Rik and his misadventures with the Pigs… I’m picturing a reverse Scooby Doo, where each episode ends with Rik unmasked and thrown in jail.

Schlammpeitziger Damenbartblick Auf Pregnant Hill LP (Bureau B)
Casually surpassing twenty-five years of existence, Schlammpeitziger marches onward, the work of Köln-based Jo Zimmermann. I’ve heard a few but not all of Schlammpeitziger’s albums to date (one of which was even featured on a “cheap Discogs finds” feature here!), and while he’s by no means an everyday listen, sometimes Schlammpeitziger is just what the doctor ordered. This new one, Damenbartblick Auf Pregnant Hill is particularly intriguing, located in a sparsely-inhabited corner of contemporary electronic music, far from any prevailing trends. Rather, this record sounds like if Kraftwerk were tasked with soundtracking a G-rated Playstation 2 game back in 2000, full of artificial colors, sanitized computer rhythms and a deeply plastic form of happiness. These mostly-instrumental tracks reach a “powerwalking through the mall” tempo, floating with the unsettling optimism of James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, but in a distinctly German way. My favorites are the vocal tracks, like “Ekirlu Kong”, wherein the vocalist casually flirts with an imagined “girl” in English, using lines like “your hair is like a hazelnut helmet” for presumably intentional humorous effect. It’s a great mix, certainly a palate cleanser from all the industrial techno and ambient cold-wave everyone else is pumping out, a casual reminder that right now someone, somewhere, just reached a new high score in Animal Crossing while neglecting their real human relationships.

Straight Arrows Out & Down 7″ (Spacecase)
Sydney garage-rock stalwarts Straight Arrows haven’t done an album in a few years, but they pop out new singles on occasion, like this sprightly two-songer. “Out & Down” flips the old phrase around, and while the meaning mostly remains the same, you wouldn’t know that Straight Arrows were having a hard time from the way they pump through this tune. The drums are skipping briskly, the guitars are ringing out, and it comes with a nice choral refrain (I’ll let you guess the words), taking their bad luck as cause to celebrate rather than sulk. “Franchisee” is even more pumped-up, a chant-along anthem about, well, franchising a business, it seems? Easily the best financially-minded punk song I’ve heard in a while, although I can’t recall any other recent competition. Which one of you is gonna step up and write the first cryptocurrency-based punk song? Why do I even have to ask?

Swiftumz Game Six / Honey 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
No, it’s not a vegan laxative, Swiftumz is a Bay Area indie-pop act, sometimes a full-on band with various guitars and synths and live drums, and sometimes just Christopher McVicker tracking it himself. You get a little bit of both on this new 7″, and I can’t imagine either variety will let you down, so long as happy-mellow grooves and softly shy vocals tickle your fancy. “Game Six” appears on an uplifting melody, a familiar up-and-down riff that sounds particularly pleasant through this mixture of acoustic and electric guitars and the remaining integral parts of a rock band doing the heavy lifting. “Honey” slows things down considerably, still ostensibly “indie-pop” but sounding a lot like The Band or The Flying Burrito Brothers or something else you may have pulled out of your parents’ records because you liked the cover art. All this along with a striking painting of a famous dunk on the cover, just in case you were on the fence about taking one home.

Very Mental Misconstrued 7″ (Total Punk)
How mental, you ask? C’mon fool, this is Total Punk, you know they don’t skimp! Very Mental are a newish punk group outta Olympia, and unlike much of the Olympia punk/hardcore scene that prides itself on being so incredibly extra, Very Mental are pretty sturdy and time-tested in their sonic approach… no frills, as opposed to frills. “Misconstrued” sounds as if hardcore never happened in LA, but rather Masque punk turned immediately into glam-rock, or something like that. You can’t really pogo or slam to it, unless you really wanted. Maybe we could classify it as post-Sheer Mag punk? “In The Morning” is a little harder and sassier, like one of Sin 34’s mid-tempo bangers or the New York Dolls at their absolute toughest. Pretty cool stuff, although I can’t help but shake the suspicion that Very Mental is more of a side-project group for musicians focused on their other projects, or at least that’s how these songs feel. It’s possible I’m just suffering from punk fatigue, but Very Mental didn’t even come up with some crude drawing or random collage for their cover art. Maybe they’re saving that stuff for their other bands.

Beau Wanzer Issue No. Twenty 12″ (Jealous God)
I’d been feeling like some new Beau Wanzer was overdue, so I approached this new 12″ on the chic Jealous God label like the arrival of an old friend. It’s really quite great, and the perfect record for someone first acclimating themselves to the sound of Beau Wanzer as well as hardened fans (like me). There are six tracks here, and they are particularly grody, even by Wanzer’s already-filthy standards. Synth-lines buzz deep into the red, drum machines utilize only the rhythmic necessities (kick, snare, chain, whip), and the tempos remain perfect for dance-floor flexing and dungeon lurking. Most notably, Wanzer’s vocals are a constant presence, and they’re processed beautifully, somewhere between an ’80s cartoon villain, Robocop and Attila Csihar. I’m painting a bleak and industrial image here, and while that’s entirely appropriate, there’s plenty of barbed-wire funk here too: “In One Ear” is like an exhumed Cybotron cut, whereas opener “Speaker Sisters” resembles a Mantronix album melted in the lab. All crucial listening for my home and presumably yours as well.

Whip Whip 7″ (Neck Chop)
Whip are yet another punk band from some frozen Canadian province (in this case, Winnipeg) who are making their vinyl debut care of Neck Chop Records. Like most of the recent Neck Chop batch, Whip are quite enjoyable, saving up their best cuts for this 7″ EP after numerous demo tapes dating back to 2015. When it comes to their namesake, they’re more “Cool” than “leather”, offering a spunky, hyper take on juvenile punk. No mosh parts, the guitar is mixed way up front, and the songs follow the same instinctual patterns of punk rock that have been there since the beginning. Kind of a charming early Mystic Records sound, but you can replace the casual teenage-boy sexism and homophobia of that time and era with the righteous messages that are in focus today: bosses are awful, horrible dudes suck, women are paid too little and forced to put up with too much. Sounds pretty good with single-string guitar leads and no-frills drumming, although I really could’ve gone for an anti-ice hockey / anti-maple syrup song, too. Maybe those’ll be on the follow-up record.

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Reviews – November 2023

An-i Rabble EP 12″ (Cititrax)
The almighty An-i returns after an eight year solo hiatus with Rabble, released by Cititrax in the same manner as his prior EPs: on contaminated neon vinyl. Since the last solo An-i outing, the underground techno zeitgeist has moved on from ballistic techno-industrial, but thankfully An-i hasn’t softened with the trends; this EP picks up right where he left off and even manages to steps up the intensity, which is startling considering the heft of his previous work. “Rabble” arrives on a morse-code speed bag, consistently hulking up into a roid-raging industrial clamor. That same rhythmic pattern persists with the properties of liquid steel, operating in a similar manner as Objekt at his ugliest and Regis at his most antagonistic. “Rubble” is a minimalist redux of “Rabble” – still quite stirring, if offering a little more breathing room – and “Chapel Perilous” takes that same sound palette into the galactic nightmare zone, like an astronaut realizing his cord to the docking station somehow came untethered. Very tense stuff, perfectly suited to a graphic fight scene in some blood-soaked metropolitan catacomb, or you can dance to it with your eyes rolled in the back of your head as your phone battery dies. I didn’t get to setting up a haunted house for the neighborhood kids this year, but you can rest assured I blasted Rabble out my window on multiple occasions to much the same effect.

A.S.O. A.S.O. LP (Low Lying)
The debut album from Berlin-based duo A.S.O. has me wondering, can a project be both fully-formed and a total pastiche? I think that with A.S.O., it can! This self-titled debut is unabashedly retro trip-hop, almost over the top in its sonic caricatures, and that’s also partly why it’s been so much fun to listen to. Melbourne-raised house producer Tornado Wallace provides the beats, all of which pay direct homage to Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Air, Jamiroquai’s track on the 1998 Godzilla soundtrack, JNCO jeans with an alien on the back pocket, seeing The Matrix in the theater in baggy PVC pants… you know the vibe! When I first heard “Rain Down”, I could hardly believe the gratuitous theft of that unmistakeable synth-line from the Sopranos‘ theme, but like anything sweet that’s unhealthy, I immediately developed a taste for it and wanted to hear it all the time. Aussie-born vocalist Alia Seror-O’Neill has a fantastic voice for the job, appropriately chameleonic in that she can channel Hope Sandoval, Stevie Nicks, Beth Gibbons or even Evanescence’s Amy Lee when feeling so inspired, and it comes in handy as these songs conjure different downtempo moods throughout, extrapolating on the theme rather than repeating it. I’m busting on the extremely pinpointed nostalgia of it all, but A.S.O. back up the aesthetic with some highly-repeatable tunes. Of all the ’90s subcultures that haven’t already been picked clean, why not trip-hop, and why not A.S.O.?

Cheval De Frise Fresques Sur Les Parois Secrètes Du Crâne LP (Computer Students)
There’s no shortage of reasons as to why a digital-only listening experience is depressing, but the fact that all songs are packaged the exact same – basic band/title information with a tiny digital square of “album art” – feels like a particularly important loss. When everything is flattened to the same smartphone interface, you lose out on the chance for an experience like this, the insanely lavish and thoughtful reissue of French math-rock duo Cheval De Frise’s 2003 compact disc release. With this package, you get a heavy-duty gatefold sleeve, art booklet, inner sleeve with more art and even a glossy 8×10 photograph of the band(!), all wrapped up in a Computer Students-trademarked electro-static oversized foil bag. The quality of care and attention to detail is overwhelming, and as such, positions the music of Cheval De Frise to be taken with utmost seriousness, as if this is the best post-Flamenco math-rock reissue you’ll hear this year (which it is, of course). Much like the Computer Students reissue of Cheval De Frise’s debut full-length, Fresques Sur Les Parois Secrètes Du Crâne sounds like the ’90s Chicago indie-outré scene transposed over a Renaissance-era European piazza, somewhere near Gastr Del Sol, Hella and Slint but carving its own space entirely. Presented as one of the many Bandcamp Friday pay-what-you-wish offerings, I’d gloss right over it, but sitting here with it spinning on my turntable, my table covered in its various bags, booklets and sleeves, I’m enthralled.

Collate Generative Systems LP (Domestic Departure)
More of that Y2K-era dance-punk redux here from Portland’s Collate on their newest full-length excursion. The office clip-art, ’70s-looking kid on the cover and chipboard-with-pasted-on-image design elements all reek of Troubleman Unlimited, Gravity and the various labels that found similar inspiration in the earliest of aughts, right when disco beats and Gang Of Four records were coming to prominence for a new, younger audience. That’s the clear vibe of Collate, and their music fits it to a tee, with fundamental post-punk drumming, a bass-guitar to drive the melodies, a guitar to punctuate and exclaim, and disaffected vocals bemoaning the many bemoanable aspects of our current societal mess. It’s a queasy funk sound, clearly influenced by punk while ensuring that their skeletal beats and restless moans are inhospitable to moshing. Maybe it’s because I just finished reading that excellent retrospective Black Eyes zine, but Collate seem to embody that same sort of out-punk spirit, seeking community via DIY engagement and scrappy, loose-limbed post-punk music. Had Collate been around in 2003, they probably would’ve played together, but now that Black Eyes are (kinda) back together in 2023, maybe it’s still in the cards?

Consec Wheel Of Pain LP (Not For The Weak)
Rollin’ with the gosh-darn Wheel Of Pain over here! Consec might not be the greatest hardcore-punk band from Athens, GA of all time, but they also very well might? This is my first experience with them and it’s really fantastic, A+ no notes, hardcore that rages at an incredibly high level without respite. Imagine the meanest and scariest that the ’80s had to offer, stuff like Mecht Mensch and Die Kreuzen and Septic Death, infused with at least an awareness of power-violence and the speeds that can rightly be obtained through it, the oily grossness of Cult Ritual and at least a few obvious pile-on crowd pleasers. (“Quick To Forget” in particular has me up and out of my lounge chair, ready to Goldberg-spear the first person in my line of vision.) The bass-line to opener “Powder Keg” is pure neuroses-as-music, way too fast and furious, like if DRI were on X-Claim! or something. See what I mean? This is top-shelf stuff, not sloppy but not tight in a technical sense either, invoking that same thrilling sensation you had when you first heard hardcore-punk this fast and visceral. Apparently a good number of the LPs came on “random color” vinyl, and I swear my copy matches the vibe perfectly, a polluted-pond yellow with some chunky brown glops, not looking like one of these annoying typical “limited colorways” so much as a naturally abhorrent mess. The music is a perfect fit!

Anla Courtis & Vomir Sin Comentarios LP (L’Eau Des Fleurs)
Two high-ranking names in the international bizarre-noise circuit collide here, the sort of collaboration that seems both randomly pulled out of a hat yet also a savvy pairing. You surely know Anla Courtis from his work in the legendary genre-exploding group Reynols, and Vomir is the French noise guy who plays unwavering walls of harsh static while wearing (and urging his audience to wear) a black bag on his head. What could go wrong! Two side-long extended noise-scapes are on offer here, the first side favoring a high-end, bristly scrape. It’s a constant, extended sound, though there’s activity to be found in the overcast static, with feedback-y tones whistling through a corroded tunnel. Courtis is credited with “electromagnetic sources, objects, tapes and wind field recordings”, and I don’t doubt it for a second, as this certainly sounds like an electromagnetic wind storm. Vomir is curiously credited with something called “acousquantics noise” – his own proprietary blend? – and alongside Courtis, his constant pummel takes a little longer to enter the low-visibility swirl of the second side. There’s more of a rumbling hum to it as well, almost as if you’re listening to the toxic storm-system of the a-side through the unfinished concrete walls of a below-ground bunker. Appropriate (non-)music for our times played by two gentlemen of high regard.

Cuticles Pavlova EP 7″ (Wormwood Grasshopper)
It’s gotta be a great feeling for a shambolic indie troupe to receive a Siltbreeze co-sign – any of these groups that would aspire to anything higher probably aren’t to be trusted, anyway. Cuticles come from Oamaru, New Zealand, a place that we probably all wish we were from on some level, and they do a great job of dressing up the difficult behavior of Mad Nanna with the chutzpah of Swell Maps on this Wormwood Grasshopper EP (released more or less simultaneously alongside a Siltbreeze full-length). Which is to say, they are playing fairly straightforward Kiwi-pop in a roughed-up way with plenty of oddball personality. And you can sing along to it! “Mattress 2” opens with the impassioned line “I think I’m slowly / falling in love with a mattress”, sounding like Kitchen’s Floor on ecstasy – still on suicide watch, but with a big wet grin on their faces. I love(d) The Trendees, another fairly recent New Zealand indie group (who shares vocalist/guitarist Matt Plunkett with Cuticles!), but whereas their unhinged etiquette bled over into the song structures (or lack thereof), I can see more people sticking around to the end of a Cuticles set. The Trendees were too good for this messed-up world anyway, but seeing as Cuticles have me singing along to loving my bed, perhaps it’s their time to shine.

Dragnet The Accession LP (Spoilsport / Polaks)
I’m cautious to say “hey, heard your new album, it’s great!” to any given Australian punker, as it seems likely that anything older than two months will have already been followed-up by an even newer one. Okay, that’s probably not entirely true, but it sure feels that way! In this particular case, we have the newest full-length from upbeat indie / post-punk group Dragnet, featuring vocalist/guitarist Jack Cherry (who also sings for Vintage Crop). I’m trying to discern a clear stylistic distinction between the two groups, and I suppose Vintage Crop are a little more aggressive, with maybe a tad more brutishness to their riffs and drums, but from a macroscopic view they are two poppy, garage-y post-punk groups with the same singer singing the same way. Dragnet are a little more likely to turn on a synth here and there, but Cherry’s vocal recitations maintains the same level of grievance for both groups; Dragnet get a little feral here and there as well, in that same descendents-of-The-Fall way. It’s alright! There is clearly no shortage of this stuff happening in Melbourne, bands with overlapping members putting out new records in one form or another at a near-constant pace, so if you’re a big fan you’ll have endless fun connecting the dots and collecting ’em all, but if you’re only looking for the cream of the (vintage) crop, you’re gonna need some extra caffeine to sort through it all.

Christopher Alan Durham & The Peacetime Consumers Kicks Or Macabre LP (Soft Abuse)
First vinyl album from Chris Durham under the name printed on his birth certificate, backed up by an affable band of easy-rockin’ pals, The Peacetime Consumers. You might know his appealingly-fried guitar music from groups like Roachclip and The Bibs, and Kicks Or Macabre certainly exists within that same musical universe, laid-back dirt-guys hitching rides to wherever. It kinda sounds like proto-punk without the punk, as if the late ’70s arrived and everyone just kinda flopped back down onto the couch instead of shaving their heads and safety-pinning their noses. Very Acid Archives in that way, though Durham’s music falls on the, um, peaceful side of things, never getting out of hand or remotely heavy. I sense ties to weirder stuff like Vertical Slit or even Television Personalities, but at the same time, it occasionally sounds like the absolute earliest KISS demos from before they even considered picking up a tub of greasepaint. Weirdo city-rat music from before all the sub-genres were so codified and strict, and you could just kinda screw off with your friends and not think too hard about the future. Sounded nice then and Durham & Co. make it sound nice now.

The Gabys The Gabys 7″ (Fruits & Flowers)
The Fruits & Flowers Bandcamp pages describes The Gabys as an “almost totally anonymous UK duo”. Ahem, we already clearly know their first names at least! Anyway, they’ve got that DIY amateur dream-pop thing going on: one lightly-fuzzed guitar strumming open chords seemingly beamed in from some distant radio station, and vocals as polite as they are mellow harmonizing over top. No sonic variation, just that downy bliss-out guitar-fuzz and a tender voice to accompany it. I hope they’re actually a Sleaford Mods-style duo, where one person sings and plays guitar and the other simply vibes out, maybe sipping some Yorkshire tea and looking through ’70s decor magazines while her friend performs her bedroom songs, though only a scant few are bold enough to consider themselves a member of a band without contributing a sound. (It’s something to consider.) Theirs is a distinctively throwback style we’ve all heard before, from Fruits & Flowers as well in fact, but if you love this stuff (and many do), I don’t see how you could avoid falling for the rudimentary charm of The Gabys. What if it turns out they were actually Daft Punk all along?

Gee Gee Decorator Gee Gee Decorator LP (Coq Au Vinyl)
“Unhinged” doesn’t begin to describe the madness within this sole long-player from something called Gee Gee Decorator, originally released sometime in the early ’80s (specific date unverified) and now once again on this grey-market reissue. Sleuths placed the group somewhere in the Newark, NJ area based on the original pressing’s center labels – no cover was ever issued – and little else is known about the people involved in this cuckoo recording. Surely it was little more than a few non-musicians making a mockery of music in a studio back when it occurred, but I’ll be damned if this sort of zero-talent noise-rock madness isn’t an absolute hoot. Drums, percussion, noise-guitars and vocals conjure some sort of mangled funk, like a Meters record discarded on the subway tracks, on par with the grimiest Danny & The Dressmakers material and flimsiest ESG rhythms. Ideas are conjured in the moment, repeated, and probably forgotten, thankfully surviving the last few decades in a scant number of thrift-store copies until now. It’s so gloriously inept and wild that I’ve seen accusations online that Gee Gee Decorator are a new project masquerading as an old band, an account that has been more or less disproven by the existence of the original pressing. Such is the caliber of this forgotten trash-rock masterpiece, on par with the very worst (best) of Demo Moe, Menstruation Sisters, Pussy Galore, Instant Automatons and Mountain Cult.

Goat Joy In Fear LP (Nakid)
No, not that Goat – or the other Goat – this Goat is the mind-melting Japanese one. If you’re not familiar, and understandably so as there’s only so many Goats a person can be reasonably expected to know, I’m excited to tell you about them! “Math-rock” is often a lacking term, but if we want to work on those terms, this isn’t algebra or even geometry, this is PhD advanced calculus dissertation defense level stuff, with the “rock” aspect left far in the rear view. If you told me their music was completely crafted on Aphex Twin’s laptop, I’d still be impressed, but the extreme levels of pointillist precision on display here are the product of human hands on drums, bass, guitar, saxophone, percussion and flutes. It’s the final-boss composite of gamelan, Zach Hill, Zs and Moin, enthralling not only for the Japan’s Got Talent!-level feats at hand, but also the fact that this nearly-impossible music is captivating on a sonic level, even when ignoring the physicality necessary to produce it. Listeners aren’t as siloed in their individual musical genres as they used to be, so fans of Emptyset and Autechre would find as much to enjoy here as Damon Che or Tortoise obsessives. I am starting to think that this Goat might be the GOAT Goat.

Gruuel Nobody’s Daughter / Dust With Legs 7″ (Trevor)
Beau Wanzer collaborating with James Vinciguerra of Total Control is one of those things I’d daydream about, and yet here we are in late 2023 and the dang thing happened! That’s what Gruuel is, with Wanzer lending some of his crabbiest drum machines and Vinciguerra providing the absolutely demented vocals. Props to Vinciguerra, as you’d think such a deft master of rhythms would want to pursue something a lil more complex, but nope, this is extremely uncomplicated sewer-electronics with unnerving spoken word. I’m not sure what Vinciguerra does with his voice on “Nobody’s Daughter”, but it sounds like maybe he spoke extra slow, sped it up and then pitched it down, or modified the decay in real time? It truly sounds like he’s a drunken comb-over uncle whose face is slowly disintegrating (aka the Beau Wanzer official logo), so bravo. Wanzer’s beat for “Dust With Legs” is even more sparse, and Vinciguerra’s recited story is only lightly dub-affected, so that it can be more or less followed by anyone willing to pay a reasonable amount of attention. Kinda feels like the whole thing was done in three seconds, and yet I can’t stop spinning it – what does that say about them, or me?

Chris Korda Not My Problem, I’ll Be Dead 12″ (Yoyaku)
How about some minimalist techno… filled with unbridled, righteous hate?? Chris Korda has been a transgressive genius for decades now, pushing uncomfortable truths and a sincerely nihilist perspective (please read up on her Church of Euthanasia) alongside patented techno grooves. This new one, if the title wasn’t a hint, skewers the carelessness of our aristocrats with a political viciousness that exceeds the majority of what’s happening in the allegedly subversive subculture of hardcore-punk. Quoting real-life business-psychos on “Baby Batter Bingo”, the track sounds like a stripped-down tech-house track until you realize what’s being said by the disturbingly-neutral cyborg voice. RuPaul meets Rand Paul? It makes me think of some sort of Google murder-robot that comes to your door to carry out your termination, calmly unaware of the terror it brings. The other three tracks work in similar ways (though not as savagely as “Baby Batter Bingo”), with “Awesome On Mars” making another fine argument as to why Elon Musk’s neck should be first on the guillotine. And you can dance to it! With other releases on Perlon, Mental Groove and International Dee Jay Gigolo, you know her pedigree is top-notch from a technical perspective, but as an artist of political agitation, she’s unparalleled.

Lewsberg Out And About LP (12XU)
Lewsberg, the hardest working band in Rotterdam, continue their outstanding run of full-lengths with Out And About. They’re a testament to the practice of making rock music with obvious and glaring precedents and growing it into its own beautiful thing entirely. In this particular case, The Velvet Underground is the obvious bedrock, but as I listen to Out And About it’s so clearly the work of the one and only Lewsberg, far from one of the numerous indie VU clones that have come and gone. I loved Lewsberg before, and I love them even more now! These songs are maybe a little more introspective and low-key than previous outings, though this was always a bookish group, deploying their precious and significant little tunes with only the most necessary of parts to keep it running – a floor tom, a solid bass-guitar melody, one guitar to chime and another to jangle. These songs are some of their strongest, and the album is perfectly sequenced; the soft confessional of “A Different View” leads right into “Going Places”, whose skip-step bass-line you’ll be humming in your sleep. Lewsberg just completed a lengthy US tour (and, having witnessed them, am happy to share that these songs sounded fantastic live), playing small (or “intimate”) rooms, and I hope for their sake that the gobs of Jens Lekman and Belle & Sebastian fans seeking some new form of sophisticated-yet-humble guitar pop get hipped to Lewsberg sooner than later.

LLL Sunda School III 12″ (Porridge Bullet)
Been loving the weird techno emanating from Estonia’s Porridge Bullet label, particularly the “Sunda School” series of which this twelve-inch is the third installment. Certain Porridge Bullet releases conjure an aesthetic connection to the Wah Wah Wino crew over in Dublin, favoring slowed-down grooves and a playful, kitchen-sink omnivorousness. LLL’s contribution to the Sunda School series is ‘floor-oriented but it never loses that adventurous spirit. “Friday Rituals” features my favorite trick – a rollicking tech-house groove with some distorted voice talking over top – and it’s followed by the half-time dub of “92”, splashing like a particularly fat and oily seal on the shore. The b-side opens with the lo-fi hardware dance-chasm “Yyyeah Exactly” and the even more nocturnal “Valu-e”, both tracks as grotty and underground as Ron Morelli’s recent Heart Stopper album with the mischievousness I’ve come to expect from the label that brought me a project based on an imagined sequel to a 1961 sci-fi film (that’d be Amphibian Man II). Expert stuff from folks that don’t act like experts… these porridge bullets don’t miss!

Monolog Jern 12″ (I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free)
Long-running Danish-born, Berlin-stationed techno artist Monolog contributes to the Ukraine benefit label I Shall Sing Until My Land Is Free with an EP full of hard-edged contrasts. For me, it’s all about that the opener “Trailing”, as I simply can’t get enough of the commingling of doom-metal guitars and modern sound-design, particularly when it comes from the electronic camp. This track sounds like Black Mayonnaise and Thrones inside an art gallery on the moon, doing their impression of heavy metal crushed by elephants. It’s kind of a tease, really, as “Trailing” is the only track that sounds like that here. “Decent Of Ares” and “Drinking Tea With Killers” exist on the opposite end of the tempo spectrum, two ripping drum n’ bass tracks full of grey-scale distortion with the occasional sound of cryogenic chambers opening. Someone with the dated moniker of “Kid Atari” reworks “Drinking Tea With Killers” to more cinematic ends, and “Forgotten Circle 10” offers a soft-yet-desolate finale, a mood piece with the sound of war in the distance, made all the more unsettling by the circumstances of the responsible label.

Mother’s Milk Render Void At Gate LP (State Laughter)
Can’t go wrong with a trio that looks like slight variants of the same person. Hanging on the cover of their album, Atlanta’s Mother’s Milk look like triplets with slightly different hair and glasses, and I appreciate the physical unity. A strong bond between band members will surely help fend off the repeated question of “did you name your band after the Red Hot Chili Peppers?”, a question that would tear down a weaker band, though the songs of Render Void At Gate certainly help dispel any freaky-styley behavior. On further investigation, the group appears to be led by one Crane Fortune (of GG King, Glittering Insects, Wymyns Prysyn and so on), and Mother’s Milk is his chance to explore the moodier side of post-grunge art-punk. These songs are heavily indebted to Sonic Youth, as the guitars vacillate between 120 Minutes grunge-pop and noisy pedal-chain deconstructions, often in the same song if applicable. It clearly comes from a hardcore-punk background, rather than a commercial/indie mindset, which is probably why it’s more cynical- and tough-sounding than the many moneyed college-graduates who have attempted a similar sound as of late. Apparently in the wake of Render Void At Gate, the group has ballooned into a septet, though I’m not sure what those other people are doing – more guitars, maybe some electronics? It’s ambitious, negative and vaguely druggy, a combination which has served underground rock extremely well throughout the years.

Nurse Nurse 12″ (State Laughter)
Fine new twelve-inch slab from Atlanta’s Nurse, a sinister hardcore group who take their time with things. This is the first we’ve heard from them since their excellent 2017 seven-inch, and I can’t help but assume they’ve been busy lurking in the shadows and writing blood-stained ransom notes (or, maybe just playing in other cool bands, as it seems like all of Atlanta’s punk musicians are in at least three bands). They’ve got a cool thing going, a vibrant combination of negative-mindset aesthetics: the vocalist sounds like Jake Sayles of Filth trying out for a black-metal group, the riffs are spindly and evil, and the tempos are fast and/or menacing. Rikk Agnew melodies meet No Trend inside that big waste pipe on the edge of town where some kids allegedly died years ago. It hits a real sweet spot for me, but I can see how a larger form of underground popularity might elude Nurse, as the songs here that behave similarly to Gag and Gel are too weird for your average hardcore Zoomer, goth kids might be turned off by the aggressive hardcore-punk songwriting, and the whole thing is too visceral and screamy for any garage-rock turkeys who might otherwise appreciate the jumpy riffs and leather-jacket attitude. If you are less inclined to seek out by-the-numbers punk, however, Nurse extend their hand to you, wrinkled and grey with long pointy nails.

OK EG Rivulets 2xLP (Kalahari Oyster Cult)
Nothing but straightforward techno quality from the Kalahari crew, though I associate the label with twelve-inch singles, not double-LP full-lengths. They must’ve liked what they heard from Melbourne duo OK EG, and I’m right there with them, as Rivulets is an impressive collection of pristine techno construction. Go ahead, give it the white glove test and you won’t find a single dust mite on its glossy surface, so thoroughly sterilized and slick are these spare trance grooves. Even the microscopic traces of ASMR in “Flow Regime” feel like they were freshly unwrapped from a laboratory desk. OK EG’s sound borrows heavily from ’90s progressive-rave culture, the sort of mind-melding synth-lines that are inherently psychedelic with or without a pill on your tongue, with the less-is-more attitude favored by much of the seminal dub/minimal tech-house contingent. Hard not to picture Wolfgang Voigt, PSI and The Orb up in the booth, reducing track after track to their most essential parts with a contemporary range of software. It can be hard to make a style this established sound fresh, but as I sit here with “Rivulets” on full blast, it feels as timelessly exhilarating as standing under a waterfall, even one of those little man-made ones in an overpriced spa resort.

Pharma See? 7″ (Big Neck)
Pharma had one shot at using this pun-based title, and I’m glad they took the opportunity here on this fairly blistering five-song EP. I associate Big Neck with bloozy garage-punk of varying levels of quality, so I was surprised to hear that Pharma are firmly hardcore-punk, not far off from quintessential (and fellow Detroit-stationed) ragers Negative Approach. These songs hit that sweet spot of too fast for comfort – drummer Krystian Quint sounds like he’s whooped just from playing the intro of “End Of Days”, yet he presses on, getting even faster on “Blasphemy”. The level of bile raised by Pharma reminds me of one of my anti-social NYHC faves, Nihilistics, with vocalist Charles Stahl penetrating drywall with his throat and the rest of the band pushing each song to its meanest possible form. The guitar seems to be fueled by a hatred of its enemies, squealing out very active forms of feedback at any moment the main riff isn’t being hammered into the floor. Refreshing to find some brutal, speedy, no-nonsense, untrendy hardcore-punk when I wasn’t expecting it! It’s like walking into a pane of glass you thought was empty space.

PLO Man Anonymousmaterial 12″ (Acting Press)
Berlin’s PLO Man sets phasers to stun on this righteous new EP of uncompromising dub-techno. While Anonymousmaterial makes no attempt at uncharted territory or some exciting new path forward for electronic dance music, it does provide four ripping cuts of cloud-parting techno. His general move is to lock a rhythm into some sort of airtight container, then jostle it about, sometimes chopping up the pavement with bulldozers, sometimes applying a fresh smooth layer of cement. The sonic properties are very much dub-techno, but more aggressive and active than that label can sometimes infer; “Fig. 001” volleys multiple interlocking patterns and “Fig. 015” opens with a few minutes of pure “crash cymbal in a washing machine” bliss. I fondly recall going to the Hardwax site, reading some sort of barely-coherent description and taking a chance based on an appealing project name or some connection to a label/artist I already dug, and nearly blowing my speakers on the rich German grooves I purchased, as finely engineered as a Porsche. PLO Man is taking me to that special place once again.

Pretty Sneaky Koldd LP (Marionette)
For some people, extended atmospheric drones provide soothing ambient comfort, but when I’m seeking that sort of sonic weighted-blanket feel, I reach for soft-touch arpeggios, of which Pretty Sneaky’s Koldd is chock full. This is slow-motion ambient electronica that navigates the drift while hooked to delicate synth patterns, like a seahorse with its little tail wrapped up in some kelp as the tide pushes it back and forth. Almost all of these tracks open with some sort of bird-song or natural sounds (the third track references wind in the title and definitely ends on the sound of it), but it’s the plush synth pads and unhurried pace of the melodies that has me coming back to it over and over. A track like “Entering Theme” picks up the pace in a manner redolent of Yu Su, but falls back to serene, soothing mannerisms on the next cut, “Desert Theme”. The sounds are varied but the vibe is all early-morning hygge, the afterlife of a rave when only the sleepiest, most turtle-paced harmonies are still out lingering on the grounds.

Puffer Puffer EP 7″ (Roachleg)
Hard to go wrong with boutique Brooklyn hardcore-punk label Roachleg, so while I am unsure if this new Montreal-based group is referencing coats or fish with their name, I’m down for a spin. They carry a pretty contemporary aesthetic mixture on their debut, a future where punks and skins have finally attained unity (sorry herberts – it’s just not your time) and it’s not only okay to like heavy metal but actively encouraged. Which is to say, their music is like 70% Riot City, 20% NWOBHM and 10% Chiswick. The vocalist has a gorilla-throat in the same genus as Steve Clark of 86 Mentality, with the benefit of songwriting that values hooks over attitude; these are songs for a crowd well into advanced drinking age. The b-side tracks are my favorites: “Sister Marie” sounds like The Damned if they crash-landed on Headache Records in the early ’90s and were forced to share beer with Wretched Ones, whereas “Hard Way To Go” sounds like that great first Vanity album if it was co-produced by Fizzy and Ace Frehley. In this time of fractured social networks and general insanity, anything is possible, especially in New York, and probably even Montreal.

Salenta + Topu Moon Set, Moon Rise LP (Futura Resistenza)
We all know what Brooklyn sounds like now (Olivia Rodrigo playing out of a bluetooth speaker attached to a food-app delivery bicycle), but this fine release from the Brooklyn-based duo of pianist Salenta Baisden and cellist Topu Lyo has me imagining the Brooklyn of my great-great-grandparents on a particularly boozed-up, candlelit night. The piano sounds pre-World War One, what with the creaky room sounds, and Lyo’s cello adds a tentative pluck or mournful rub even when Baisden is feeling particularly jaunty. These songs seem to be improvisations, or at least very loosely structured, but Moon Set, Moon Rise is clearly rooted in melody, both playful and exploratory, as opposed to wild atonal scuffles. Not sure if “domestic-spiritual” is a thing, but I’d feel comfortable filing this album into that micro-genre in the record store that lives in my head. For as inquisitive and conversational as it is, there’s a richness to these songs that burns late into the evening, perhaps in part to the clear intimacy happening between the two players. Feels lucky to be a silent voyeur peering into their proceedings, because I’m sure the floorboards in their Bedstuy walk-up would be groaning the moment I opened the door.

Sharp Pins Turtle Rock LP (Tall Texan)
Intriguing find here from Tall Texan, the solo / plays-all-the-instruments-himself project of Kai Slater, perhaps best known as a member of up-and-coming indie trio Lifeguard. He’s young enough where you can do a full-time, going-for-it indie band and record an album yourself of fully-realized songs, which is the case of Turtle Rock. Lifeguard I’m lukewarm on – no hate, just haven’t really connected with ’em – but Sharp Pins is pretty ace! As I listen, I’m picturing Homosexuals if they had the advantage/disadvantage of existing with the knowledge of ’90s alt-rock. Which is to say, the songs themselves are splendidly lo-fi and odd and reach for some sort of Big Star / T. Rex glamour in spite of their sonic limitations, but they also sound like they could’ve come from the Elephant 6 collective in 1994, or within the lost demos of The Shins or Jay Reatard. Even a Siltbreeze connection would make some sort of sonic/aesthetic sense! The songs themselves take precedence to style, but Slater’s appealing vocal warble and the shaggy recording add to the overall charm. A sleeper hit, the sort of record that has annoyingly sold out by the time you find out about it from reading those end of the year best-of lists, so go on, beat the holiday rush!

Shela TV Songs LP (Discrepant)
I don’t think that when I started this website back in 2008 that I expected to find myself surrounded by records of solo piano with random household noises some fifteen years later, yet that’s one of the many joys of music – no one’s personal journey is set in stone. Shela’s TV Songs is yet another entry into this ever-growing field, one that I am certain I will eventually find myself exhausted by (and, like all sub-sub-genres, probably will have some obvious shark-jumpers that we’ll look back upon head-scratchingly years from now), but I keep not reaching that point. Or maybe TV Songs is just a pretty record, trend or no trend? Lisbon pianist João “Shela” Pereira recorded these songs at home with the television on, and unlike many of the other domestic-ambient artists who use the piano as another found-object to poke and prod, Shela’s music is more song than sketch. These melodies are mournful and romantic, veering on sleepy jazz or rain-dappled classical, and their inherent beauty (alongside the very light coating of TV sounds) shines through, succeeding on the strength of their melodies and progressions rather than the boldness of messy avant-garde collage. Imperfect and noble enough that I’ll probably tolerate lesser examples of this genre for at least a little while longer.

Slutavverkning Levande Charader LP (Feral Cuts)
It’s sometimes a little embarrassing to only speak or really understand English, but at the same time, I’m able to enjoy a record like Levande Charader by Swedish noise-rockers Slutavverkning in my state of quasi-illiteracy. Just look at that saw-blade on the cover and imagine what it’s like to say “Slutavverkning” out loud and you won’t need a mastery of the language to pick up the vibe. Their songs are both brutal and brutalist, built like squares and rectangles of repetitive rhythmic thud, a proud dearth of melodies and a vocalist who seems to be screaming beyond his capabilities, the sort of throat-scorch that only Junko of Hijokaidan can sustain for years. Taking that Swans Filth template and juicing it with the energy of hardcore, Slutavverkning would sufficiently damage ears based on their rhythm section alone, but they take it a step further with the frequent saxophones and clarinets, deployed in a perpetual squeal. The “free jazz” tag might be used, but this doesn’t feel free so much as an intentional act of savagery. The result sounds like Brainbombs at twice the speed (and as far as I can tell, none of the depraved sexual violence), or if that recent Oxbow collaboration with Peter Brötzmann was in perpetual full-on attack mode instead of smoker’s lounge jazz.

World I Hate Years Of Lead LP (War)
You’d think the experience of listening to great new hardcore would get progressively less exhilarating over time, and while that’s probably true in a general sense for me, Years Of Lead fired me up instantly. World I Hate are a Milwaukee hardcore band, but rather than doing the trendy beatdown thing, they clearly take inspiration from the burliest of fast-core / power-violence ragers. I’m hearing Infest, Mind Eraser, Vile Gash and Think I Care (whose band name and typeface they resemble) in their sound, a cavalcade of stop-on-a-dime blasts that grind up against grueling breakdowns and furious (yet precise) thrash. There’s a tasteful hint of crowd-killing in some of their mosh parts – as is the parlance of the day – but the music errs on the side of blazing hardcore-grind. The recording is clean without surface shine, never feeling too “pro” without the diminished heaviness that a lo-fi aesthetic can bring. You can get by on this style without a noteworthy singer, but I really love what vocalist Hal Crossno brings to the table here, a rapid delivery somewhere between Ban Reilly and Bob Kasitz of Lack Of Interest. He goes absolutely bananas on “Safer In Jail”, like a grindcore Twista going buckwild before the riff even kicks in! Not sure I can get off the couch without using my hands these days, yet I have the violent urge to catapult myself over a stranger’s shoulders when Years Of Lead comes on.

Yellowcake Can You See The Future? 7″ (Not For The Weak / Suicide Of A Species)
It’s not often that a hardcore band-name makes me hungry, but I’m over here having Betty Crocker visions as the pitch-perfect d-beat warfare of this Phoenix group explodes from my speakers. Turns out the name references some sort of nuclear by-product, but I don’t care, I’m still appetized by both the name and their true-to-form, classic Swede-inspired hardcore-punk. The drums and bass are locked-in and fluid, even in these high-tempo situations, the guitar is an agitated hornet’s nest, and the vocals are delivered in brief sentence fragments in the precise manner that Discharge and Shitlickers taught us. There’s even a metallic edge to some of these tunes, but they work that into the stew nicely, never entering crossover territory so much as fancying up their impressively menacing d-beat sound. It’s funny, I’ll get other genre-conventional records and be bothered by their uniformity and lack of imagination, but in the case of Yellowcake, who don’t remotely deviate from their established d-beat genre, I love it. Could be that d-beat just rules in general, or that Yellowcake are particularly adept, but I’m thinking it’s a little of both.