Doug Mosurock and his crew produce a column that you could measure with a yardstick. Includes "recommended" records by Shoppers, Household, Balaclavas and a host of other artists trying to keep it real.
Still Single: Vol. 8, No. 1
Welcome to 2012. Still Single hasn’t published on Dusted since November 2011. This is a HUGE backlog and if you’ve been following along on the blog, you’ve read just about all of this already. It’s a staggering amount of reviews, and the pile just keeps getting larger.
So here you go, two months’ worth of reviews, with more to come. Nonstop action. Some question the logic of these Dusted reprints. It’s not that I like to keep Otis busy, but there is some evergreen charm about a big unfiltered list of bands like this. Seeing these reviews all categorized, A to Z (or in this installment’s case, A to X), gives off somewhat of a calming, panoptic vibe, one in which the similarities between all these disparate/desperate artists are more plainly put into perspective, not to mention the sheer volume of submissions pouring into my hovel. What’s in a name? Look at the reviews of Heavy Chains next to Heavy Seals, and you’ll realize there’s not much difference at all.
Still, to make this a bit easier on everyone, we’ve implemented a stopgap. Look for the word RECOMMENDED at the beginning of a review to indicate that a release has our tacit approval as something worth owning. Otherwise, this is just one enormous wall of text, punctuated with two rants from Earles about why a lot of bands shouldn’t bother to press up a release to vinyl. Which, at this point, is a given.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy it, and keep those records coming in. My eyes, ears, and hands haven’t given out yet.
- Doug Mosurock
“Roaches” b/w “Dirt” 7”
Chicago’s Æges offer a couple cuts of competent if not terribly groundbreaking sludge-power pop in the vein of Torche, or that band’s forbearer, Floor. “Roaches” opens with chiming guitars that give way to a meatheadbanger riff and good-cop-bad-cop vocals, and earns a +1 for dispensing with a guitar solo in favor of the extruded, echoed-outnoodle that fades in and out of the mix in its stead. The pop-grunge of “Dirt” shows early promise, with guitars sweet and heavy like a fudge-soaked brownie; but by the half-time/triplet-feel chorus sung by the “nice guys next door,” we’ve wandered into the heavily mined territory of what passed for emo circa the mid ‘90s, and it’s here that I take the point back. A buzzy, guitar-driven double-kick bridge/breakdown goes on to fully telegraph a heavy alt-rock influence – maybe a superfluous component that would have been better left by these guys in the cutout bin. Carapace-coordinated brown vinyl with a digital download card.
“Promise of Rest” b/w “Dynasty” 7”
Ten to thirteen years ago, the bar for this sort of thing was set by Botch, a band so great they could turn a twee-popper’s scowl into a look of awe and wonder. Though no twee-popper by any stretch of the imagination, I was nonetheless enough of an all-over-the-board’er that I would go searching for other bands as adept at elevating their chosen agenda to that of the sublime. Guess where that got me? No, really…please guess, cuz I have no idea other than “armed with bad news for Ambassador Gun at the close of 2011” or what others might simply say is cynicism. The undeniable presence of non-Botch influences here is not worth a roll-call, as they are just like Ambassador Gun, but with more exposure and more years as keepers of Botch’s shadow … a shadow that will never be vacant. The only direct reference to Ambassador Gun’s sound I can muster comes in the form of a joke with a punch line and no lead-up. So as not to leave you hanging, that punch line is “bad cop and worse cop vocals” and I am outta here. Black vinyl in a hand-numbered edition of 500.
“Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” b/w “The Devil You Know” 7”
Being knocked on my dick by that Corrosion of Conformity 7” on Southern Lord had an unfortunate impact on me: Give me some brand new vinyl by a metal or heavy band that shouldn’t be worth a quickly-raised eyebrow and I will gamble on getting the same wallop as “Your Tomorrow,” regardless of how the two sonic footprints dance with one another. In short, this Anthrax 7” made me the prompt recipient of decently-heavy riffing that remains devoid of that special spark, so when the locker-room-assault-rock vocals blindsided me, I blindsided this record with terminal turntable blacklisting and a free one-way ticket on the information highway, all the way to a brand new owner who doesn’t know of their good fortune as of yet. Released when the new Anthrax full-length was announced a few months back, there are copies on Megaforce and copies on Nuclear Blast. There are green copies and blue copies and possibly more colors. There are high quality riffs ruined by dumber-than-normal (meaning: “duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh…..” as opposed to “Oh wow, Anthrax did a pretty badass Husker Du cover in the 90’s!!”) vocals and now there is a longer-than-needed review that will never be mistaken for a ringing endorsement by anyone in its future readership of strictly finite numbers.
Static Crash LP
Released on CD-R in 2003, then on cassette, and now in a limited edition vinyl pressing, the “grad thesis” of sorts by North Carolina’s Ashrae Fax is nothing short of incredible. It’s a goth/ethereal/synth pop record with a homemade quality that belies serious musicianship and establishment of themes in a Siouxsie/Cocteau Twins/Kate Bush opiate gauze sort of way, wholly a part of the ‘80s and ‘90s movements that spawned such music, and with a pedigree that goes back long enough to actually connect to those times. There are both the presence of expected, traditional instrumentation (guitars, synths and drum machines), handled like they should be, and the performers’ ability to operate completely within the identity that such music requires, providing a gravity to these eight songs that allows the performers to master the mood and contours of their sound. In a time where even the most basic and sloppy deconstruction of the music from this era is permitted, where your self-identification with a movement automatically makes you a member of it, there aren’t that many acts with a “total sound” as like what is presented here, a narcotic collection of songs activated by the bewitching vocals of Renee Mendoza Haran. Static Crash is a complete statement; it stands with its face towards the sea on some rocky cliff, swathed in black, wind-whipped, vivid and alluring. Next time you’re wrapped up in a cocoon on your bed, lost in a vortex of animated GIFs and drifting into the reliable vapors of chemistry, reach for this one before you pass out. 300 copies.
Three Rockets Thicken 7” EP
The sleeve image of a bushel full of Swiss Army knives defies utility, and the music does much the same on this three song, 33 rpm single. Spidery guitars embedded in whooshing synths with well-caffeinated tablas pattering underneath, it’s not for dancing, nor for spacing; it just is. Once you get over that, it’s pretty pleasant, and if you want more, it comes with a download option that includes an extra 20-minute track – try fitting that on a single.
Guns & Gold 7” EP
Four excellent tracks of total shit-on-the-walls from folks previously serving in the H-100’s and Pigeon Religion (I think). Per usual, the meatier the riff-cut, the nicer the song-steak and these are all juicy cuts. Hardcore bands always get to at least second base with me with mid-tempo noise, so the opener “Cyanide Lactater,” all random feedback, randomer pick slides and almost casual skin-pound under the Germsy rant-style, kicks it all off nicely. But the burners are also hook-rich, especially “Quality Programming” which breaks down into a rant about 1970s and 80s, both incorporated here without “TK worship” being needed in the catalog description. Closer “Power Failure” slows and speeds with the inner logic of a stomach revolting after that last double Don Julio you shouldn’t have had. An absolute highlight of 2011 and hell yes we await the LP. Price jacked up by classy foil-stamped jacket emphasizing commodity fetishism rooted in said object mitigated by fact it is hella easy to download for free, w/ band permission, all over the web.
Fossils of Our Kind 10” EP
Two dudes from the NW with an octave pedal and plenty of hubris approach the guitar/drum duo from known vistas, doubling down on the “Hassan chop” of Karp/Big Biz style fuzz riffage, and putting a guy on vocals who could be the voice of Chester Cheetah, all cool and detached. Much like you’d expected, this really gets them nowhere except maybe at the bottom of a four-band bill, but they take the mantle of such responsibility with serious determination. 400 numbered copies with download card.
Three Virgins Three Versions Three Visions 2xLP
“Nutsack” b/w “Nut Shack Redemption Song” 7”
(Negative Guest List)
Three Virgins surfaced in 1986, the first studio double LP (minding the Fall’s In a Hole, technically a bootleg) to be released by the Flying Nun label of ChCh, NZ, and passed around as a well-kept secret until about the early ‘90s, when the last copies went out of circulation. It’s a little known landmark of free/wild punk-folk-art splatter, a towering achievement that sobers and besots all at once, the collective protest of a then-young Stevie McCabe, Stu Kowalski and Bob Brannigan using your entire being like some sort of metaphysical dialysis machine. Expect to find bits and pieces of their leftover materials lodged inside your psyche’s sieve immediately after diving into this 88-minute morass of four-track freedom, the collective expunging of the artists’ conscience through fuzz pedals, manhandled acoustic strum, broken gear, barking mad displays of showmanship, and the rambunctious zeal required to produce a monster in any medium. Not much comes close, but you, as others have, can draw a line to this and a double album one level of abstraction removed (Twin Infinitives), as well as one overtly defined and weeded out (The Pod) a handful of years later. It’s hard to get your arms around Three Virgins enough to summarize, but it’s the kind of record that’ll leave you feeling delirious, like you just woke up from being passed out at your desk, papers stuck to your face, disoriented and off your kilter. It’s also all for the best, because never again would freedom and ideas, within such a jagged framework, one that finds a bond between corrosion and glee, coexist so righteously across two pieces of vinyl.
Maybe it was the Siltbreeze reissue series, of which Three Virgins is the third and possibly final edition, that triggered the Axemen back into commission. The wizard(s) at Negative Guest List have stepped in to support the band’s recent/did-it-already-happen Australian tour with a two-song 7” par excellence. “Nutsack” and “Nut Shack” are in ways nothing more than exercises to see how many times they can insert the titular word into these songs. Recorded at WFMU on their 2009 American tour, there are more overt attempts at melody here, but the same shambles that powered Three Virgins never went away, and blesses these two tracks with a demented, grinning glee that evaporates once the songs generate their own steam, and you’re left singing “nutsack” to total strangers at inopportune times. You’ll notice I didn’t try to describe what these songs are like any further. What’s the point? They rule. Lawyer up!
Snake People LP
Houston’s dark riders return and remind the rest of the nation/world/cosmos that They Are Not Fucking Around. Snake People is the trio’s second full-length, and the eight songs within use the rest of Balaclavas’ roomy, drunk/demented back catalog as a springboard to dive even deeper into the still, opaque waters of dread and mystery. It’s quite impressive how the group wrangles dub elements, like the thick bass that initially poked out here and there on previous efforts, beyond window dressing into heavy, ominous moods, worthy to stand at least next to first-gen miscegenators like PiL or the Slits. There is a real sense of invention all the way through the record, as the Bali Boys have their way with a humid, almost-oppressive mix of Gothic overtones, mid-to-late ‘90s Sta-Prest/black hair dye creepin’ vamp, trashy moves, and supple electronics work, which can range anywhere from smart-ass cage rattling (“Legs Control,” “Down and Loose”) to something akin to long lost Crispy Ambulance sides (“Hard Pose,” “Shit Meridian”) to out-and-out spaghetti Western-meets-razorblades sulk (“Wrong Side of the Bars”). The title track is nine minutes of feverish delirium, howling at a slow and liberating transformation, which can only be topped by the divebombing synths and industrial club menace of “Standard Channels.” The venom buried within these tracks is non-fatal and slow-acting – and closer “Find Out For Yourself” certainly helps it to go down smooth – but there is no cure, no resolution for what might happen if and when you fall under Balaclavas’ sinister spell. Each song here could be the work of a slightly different band, with enough going for it to spin off an entire album’s worth of material. Outstanding work from an outfit that’s not content with its past.
Maw 12” EP
(The Broadway to Boundary)
It’s often said that it’s not who got there first, it’s who gets their second that makes the biggest splash. But what if you’re coming in ninth? Or seventeenth? What then? These are good questions to ask of Basketball, a multicult electro-pop-dance outfit from Vancouver or someplace near there. They get the samplers running, they reappropriate all manner of Asian and Saharan music, add beats, and quantize everything so it all adds up. When M.I.A. and Diplo did this, it was kind of inspiring and still pretty gully. When Chucha Santamaria y Usted sent in their record for review, it was found to be along those lines, if a bit more focused and realistic about its purpose and presentation. This four-song EP is about as cohesive as someone spilling a sack of coffee beans all over the floor, rocking the same vibes as the two aforementioned records in a blaring, sentiment-free statement of action that goes nowhere. You won’t remember these songs after they’re done bludgeoning you with rhythms and politics because there’s nothing that sticks out. It s a blur, and it should adequately illustrate what not to do when trying to stake your rep on sounding like a style of music that’s still making the rounds, and not trying to add anything to it.
Earnest, tattooed acoustic bike/trainhopper folk-pop-punk out of Tennessee or some similar dried out holler. A copy of a copy of a copy, and it still smells as bad.
Birds of America
“Now I See It” b/w “Nitewalker” 7”
First signs of life in some six odd years from Nathaniel Russell’s Birds of America, a pair of nimble, strummed pop numbers in an Athens circa mid-’90s mold with three chords between them. Both rest on a backdrop of shaker with little more than a steady near-clean guitar and Russell’s voice to carry the way. The flipside “Nitewalker” is the stronger of the two, surprisingly sturdy for something with shaker as its sole source of percussion. “Now I See It” falls on a repeated, double-tracked vocal refrain that was probably a bit more work than effort. Russell’s main gig is poster and record sleeve design for Vetiver and reissue label Water, among others, so it’s no surprise the record’s strength is in the visuals: multiple, hand-screened sleeves with one of Russell’s Nitewalker drawings on back, a folded insert featuring 8-foot-11-inch Robert Wadlow. Chances are high that Russell slapped these tunes together as an excuse to whip up this package, and who can blame him?
Sir Richard Bishop
Graviton Polarity Detector LP
Sir Rick presents a full-length for Mike McGonigal’s Social Music series, which goes way off the spectrum of his more recent material for Drag City. Given the heavy sci-fi notions of the title, the music sets off on a similarly doomed tangent, half thick, Xenakis-style guitar/organ drone orgies of discordant, hellish demeanor, and the other half all over the place. Very little folk guitar is on display here, though the depth of skill Bishop has used on the instrument is not lost, and maybe even intensified through the extremity of this work. One of his noisiest and least-friendly offerings, and a good change of pace. It’ll burn the hair off your arms. Limited to 350 copies.
Love God – Love One Another LP
First release off a new reissue label dedicated to presenting punk and raw/wavo outliers of the Bay Area in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who’ve announced a reissue of Tuxedomoon’s earliest and best releases, as well as an unearthed full-length by drums/vocals protest outfit Noh Mercy (track down their instigating anthem “Caucasian Guilt” on the Earcom 3 2x7” … even if you don’t like that, you still get two of the Middle Class’s best songs). But those shouldn’t overshadow this monstrous 1982 effort from Black Humor, the product of societal frustration and truly antagonistic lifestyles as meted out by two like-minded provocateurs unleashing their nihilistic agenda on the already dark template laid out by SF punk. Heavy punk dirge and tape loop gremlins provide a sturdy background for the misandry within, like a box of chocolates with its contents replaced by a big, smelly shit wrapped in pink tissue paper. The name Black Humor all but lays out what you’re going to need in order to get through a track like “Kill Them,” in which a long list of ethnic stereotypes and homophobic epithets are rolled out, the chorus inviting the demise of them all. But the reality of it is that artists Dan Houser and George Miller were likely well-aware of their privilege, laying out their ideas in a sarcastic fashion meant to shake up the staid atmosphere of the times through invective and First Amendment-guaranteed triggered/triggering response, the brainstem kneejerk that a lot of men go through when notions of political correctness don’t sit well with them. Almost everything about the record is designed to mash all of your buttons down at once, in a very easy and obvious way, down to the redesigned cover art of Reagan holding a crucifix behind an American flag where the starts are made of swastikas Original copies were reclaimed album sleeves from other artists, and occasionally a clump of dirt and some feathers from Houser’s pet parrot and constant companion, Rocker, but both editions feature some “LOLZERZ, 1S J0K3S” liner notes, which expect you to be in on the joke with them, with some new thoughts for the reissue (defense of the record’s contents/context from an early issue of MRR, engineer Tom Mallon describes the Black Humor studio session, where a friend of the band was beaten up by Houser, who was wearing roller skates and carrying a parrot around on his shoulder, as was his wont). It’s a funny story and underscores what I perceive to be the main shift of the album – “shock yourself out of your bubble with our wild and spiteful ideas, you fucking hippies” – but it seems that if Black Humor are going to be remembered at all, it’s going to be on even more divisive terms than when they were first around. 500 numbered copies, excellent work.
James Blackshaw’s efforts to grow beyond his early ascendance to the throne of boy king of the tremolo twelve-string guitar fantasia have yielded decidedly mixed results. For every moment of panoramic beauty, there are a couple others that plod under the burden of not-yet-unpacked influence. He takes a step back on Holly‘s two tracks, and it might be just the thing he needs to do to find his way forward. “Boo Forever” opens with a gambit that is vintage Blackshaw circa Sunshrine, all graceful flow and glistening twelve-string resonance, then segues into a woodwind-voiced theme that wears its soundtracky prettiness with dignity and ease. The title tune is a more layered construction, with discrete cycles of nylon string guitar, piano, and clarinet spinning one on top of another so that their individual muted colors blur into a brighter whole. This isn’t a breakthrough, but it’s the most consistent thing Blackshaw has released since The Cloud Of Unknowing. Clear vinyl, gorgeous matte print job on the sleeve.
s/t 7” EP
If Sex Vid were 1/8th of the band they were, and released a 7” of material performed on a newly-tarred roof somewhere near the equator, and all of the members wore parkas while suffering from walking pneumonia, well…I have no idea what that would sound like, but I am convinced it would stomp all over the misleadingly-named Bloody Gears, who probably want to stomp all over me right now. Because Sex Vid were a special band, even something worse than the fictionally-altered version unpacked above has a pinch of potential. Additionally, this is exactly the type of little EP that precedes one of those major leaps in quality that comes courtesy of a debut full-length, thus putting my ass in its place. Rather than write a call-to-action for fans (“AVOID THIS RECORD!!!”), which would not be the right thing to do, as there are folks out there who will enjoy this release, this is a call-to-action for the band. Prove me to be full-of-shit and knock one out of the park with that debut LP. On white vinyl.
Sleep Rough LP
Punkish/”punkhouse” bands that decide to head in a more amped up rock ‘n’ roll direction are still a thing, and still usually not a good idea, the problem being the impatience that punk rock can bring along, along with the insistence that whatever rock music the participants are making should lean towards a known quantity. Not every band that makes the transition is necessarily at fault for this, but plenty are, and listening to a lot of them makes it seem like they traded in one barrel to lump themselves in with another. Brain F≠, a North Carolina band with roots in the Piedmont HC/punk rota, can’t blame the group living mindmeld at fault, as the liner notes state that the album title came out of most of the band being “without a home … for various amounts of time when we couldn’t live at the house on the (album) cover anymore.” I hope that life didn’t deal these kids too much of a shit sandwich, though it seems like it might’ve, and Sleep Rough sounds like they didn’t get much sleep at all while making the record. The instruments are all rendered on top of one another, encrusted with a layer of distortion and relieved of any dimension or texture, kinda like that weird layer of visual fuzz you get after pulling an all-nighter. So there’s riffin’ galore, but it sounds jammed into the same channel as the bass and the drums, and all the ambient noise picked up by the mics into one big jagged pile. Singer Elise Anderson’s drawly, unhurried vocals trade off with guitarist Nick Cooke’s burly bellowing in ways that don’t necessarily seem fitting with one another. If this band gave itself any room to breathe, its ideas could have come across a lot better. But it might not’ve been up to them. Hope they’re doing OK now.
Saturdays and the Turning Tide LP
Way back in the fall of 2006 I covered a Bright Ideas single for this column, the product of Sacramento songwriter Scott Miller (the other one, not the Game Theory guy, but the dude from Nar) and a couple buds rounding out the ideal pop trio for these days. Saturdays was apparently released on CD in 2005; its appearance on vinyl, years after the fact, is perplexing but very welcome, the sort of thing you hope someone with the taste and wherewithal to release records by dead bands would rediscover someday. Most would lump this in with indie pop – my wife, the Girl Detective, came in here just now and asked me why I was listening to that old Elephant 6 band Beulah. But the riffs and drive of decent garage rock are there, if softened and jangled to the point where it just started to break a little bit. There’s eight songs here, every one of them a winner, but especially “Falling Down,” ending side A with a rambunctious glory that is too rarely heard around here. I’d position them as a more mature Cause Co-Motion, with the occasional sit under Felt’s shade trees, but would have to insist that you pick this up really soon, or at least stream it from the release’s Bandcamp page. It’s a really good time.
“Blockader” b/w “Granite Grandma” 7”
(Private Leisure Industries)
You would think that Goth and garage rock would mix well together, even under the pressures that have already married those two genres (Cramps, guys who still use pomade and the girls who inexplicably flock to these chain smokers – won’t be as funny in 20-30 years when they’re all like “The Gorch” with emphysema). We’re not out of those woods yet; saw a Deadbolt reunion listed somewhere, which means that this Christmas, sales of Revell brand Rat Fink dragster scale model car sets with a couple extra tubes of Testors glue in the bag should keep moving off the hobby store shelves. Buffalo Bangers, a band from Atlanta with a name that sounds like it came off the menu at TGI Fridays, is an unlikely candidate for trying to remove the greasy, abusive stigma of late night TV movies and comb-carrying sociopaths from the best notions of both spooky and twangy music. Their approach is kind of austere, a very roomy and somewhat dead recording which locks in drums, bass and guitars played a half mile away from one another, while vocalist Lindsey Elcessor dons a commendable Siouxsie-meets-peace punk wail, romping around the stage with a clothespin on her nose. Her delivery is impassioned, but the results don’t quite add up; with a better recording, the vocals might not obliterate the overall delicacy of the band, as what goes down on “Granite Grandma.” Locals tell me this band can pack some heat, but it remains to be seen from the record.
(Tic Tac Totally)
Useless garage/Ramones twaddle from three guys, who represent themselves with a fellow in a blonde wig cradling a blow up doll, and doing Whip-Its in bed. This works along the lines of Hunx & His Punx, total punk rock tourism/boredom release with embarrassing results. Actually Hunx is way better than this. This just blows. Waste of my time and yours.
A Farout Indian LP
I keep thinking about that latest Louis C.K. special whenever this one comes up (“Wait, you’re not Indians? AHHHHH, you’re Indians!”) and it really ruins whatever spirit this record can dredge up. The loose concept here – a literal Native American caricature, lost in Michigan – is represented through flashy, artificial electro-funk, ready for the frat houses of Ann Arbor, that’ll make your genitals atrophy in embarrassment over whitey pulling another fast one. RUINER. This college campus Chromeo bullshit can go get fucked in the eye.
An assemblage of Genesis P-Orridge, playing the piano at the HoHo Funhouse in Hull, 1974, accompanied by an assortment of noisemaking devices (radio? Victrola?) breaking up in the background. Gen wrenches buckets of beauty out of two junkyard uprights, one dubbed “hyperbolic” due to its inability to stay in tune and borderline unusable condition, and a nicer one found and placed next to it, painted entirely blue. Gen plays with the hint of some formal training somewhere earlier in life, and the additional accompaniment involved here eventually pulls this into TG related orbits, but it is also a wonderfully eccentric and melancholy collection of piano playing, somewhere between freedom and something more. You’ll find moments of beauty you wouldn’t think possible here, a minor but necessary refinement in a catalog of planned or spontaneous malevolence. Inspiring and awesome record, with liner notes that are worth the cost of the vinyl alone. Out of print from the source but likely still available in finer shops around the world.
Modern Day 7” EP
Austin’s Creamers hork up five songs of proto-hardcore, like the TX KBD heavies, or late ‘70s Flag without the forced Ginnisms, which is probably a good thing. They’d call it snotty if not for Kyle’s throaty bellowing, but there is always enough actual song at the heart of these to be memorable, particularly the drill instructor sound off and nervous beat of the title track. There is still room to inject a bit more flamboyance here, which would elevate their good star. If there is one aspect of hardcore in America that has gotten lost to the sands of time, it’s unique vocals. Don’t be afraid to get stylish, people. White vinyl.
Negative World LP
Austin punk trio trades up scrappy punk noise for a fuller, nearly bulletproof production on their debut LP. Negative World finds Cruddy (current/ex Total Abuse, Best Fwends, others) extending their reach out of the garage and into – well, into another part of the house, as the Young’s Hans Zimmerman ably captures a band making reaches for higher branches in the punk tree, out of the squats and into the esteemed circle of early Meat Puppets (kinda), faster Big Boys (sorta) and the Suicide Commandos, whose “Burn It Down” gets a decent reworking here. This soundalike activity changes from track to track, and while nothing really slows down or breaks character, there’s evidence of a band learning what to do next, and making a good case for following them now. Singer yells himself hoarse bassist plods away, drummer bangs on her kit until it breaks. Easily discernible artwork means you’ll be able to spot this one from far away. And you should, because there aren’t a lot of punk bands with an eye out for somewhere. They’re past the discovery stage and into creating their own slivers of mid-fast punk/HC gestalt. Commendable and rockin’. 500 copies (first 100 on red vinyl).
“Privilege” b/w “Archer” 7”
(Ride the Snake)
Boston’s Cuffs are an All Star northeastern supergroup, featuring members of Pants Yell!, Big Trouble, and Reports teaming up to thoughtfully present some twee, twee, indie pop for gentlemen (of all genders). The gentle sweetness of “Privilege” is normally something far outside my purview, but Cuffs exhibit a dignified exuberance that roped me in. The spindly, layered guitar lines have a sweet hook, and despite sounding a bit like Braid for post-graduates, those qualities are balanced with guilelessness, and a rough-enough recording to keep it comfortably outside of Sea and Cake territory. “Archer” has a delicate center bookended by some punchy, rambunctious instrumental, that adds up to more than its initial sweetness. In fact, both songs manage to balance the soft with the hard (as they’d say on Project Runway), and these nice guys have won me over. They’d probably even tidy up your kitchen if you let them stay over on tour. Limited to 300 copies on 3 different “colorways” all of which are sold out from the fine folks at Ride the Snake, but the odd copy lurks in distros for the time being.
Cult of Youth
The Devil’s Coals 7” EP
First post-touring output from Sean Ragon’s Cult of Youth shows marked refinement from the self-titled release from earlier this year. Even if the vibe remains very removed from where I want to be, it would be difficult to deny that they’ve honed themselves into a tightly functioning unit. The recording quality plays a large role – as the furiously strummed guitar is pushed back, the thundering drums are magnified, while the violin lines snake above. While the decision to render Martial Canterel’s “Sidestreets” synthless and pale is a surprising one, the real pulp here is in the title track. Existing somewhere in that transition between Swans and Angels of Light, the song is a high point for the band. For those put off by the neo-folk airs, this shortened dose is much easier to swallow.
The Australian goodwill committee(s) keep turnin’ and burnin’, mostly in a garage/punk sorta way, but occasionally in darker recesses, much like what’s found here, with two heretofore unseen acts presenting two unnamed offerings. The cover art sets up some intense expectations – one side depicts a redhaired man about to flog an electric guitar with a length of rusty chain, while the other finds an artist taking an electric drill to a denuded lamb’s skull in front of a bunch of amps and pedals. Cured Pink’s side certainly rattles the chains as expected, a death march of single-chord electric guitar, mournfully strummed amid stormy ambiance and some hard-to-discern, shouted vocals. Seems like more of a mood-setting device than anything else, but it’s effectively creepy. Penguins’ side is a bit more realized, with militaristic drumming and a formidable hedge wall of guitar that is tough enough to withstand the start-stop chug of the track, along with the various menacing bits of brass and shrieking going on around it. It’s reminiscent of Godflesh if they had a chance encounter with a new music ensemble, wanted to focus on a single directive or two, and ran with it. While that animal dome isn’t really spoken for by such sounds, it’s a good piece all the same. White vinyl, black dust sleeve, color jacket. Looks really nice, and for a rando one-man runoff, it’s got a lot of potential.
Two (2) Song E.P. 7”
Five (5) guys that sound like two (2) guys release two (2) songs, and one (1) more on the included digital download. This is one of the stronger selections to come through in a while, just based on the lyric sheet: “Let Them Eat Bikes” in particular is a worthwhile response to gentrification, greenways, and the colonialist tendencies of the unaware, well-meaning left, particularly in the inner city (“Why can’t I take my lifestyle everywhere?“) But there aren’t really good answers provided by these guys, only a complaint, shouted out like some sort of boho D. Boon on the A-side, and completing the Minutemen comparison with frantic rhythm guitar strum. Then they’re crooned like an off-off-Broadway Glenn Danzig on “The Reverse Broken Window (Part 1),” another punk/crust diatribe set to a slow, dumb dirge and snarling back to life like Girls Against Boys tuning up towards the end. I don’t like the delivery of this, but the band could get better. I would assume they’re all down at Occupy Wall Street right now, if they’re not playing the basement at Lit.
“Out the Door” b/w “Never Enough” 7”
More rock from Australia, who have seriously kicked into gear with regards to making good music and getting it out around the world. It’s a veritable rock & roll palace down there, minus the bush and the ecological collapse.Or maybe for those reasons. Dead Farmers seems to have more in common with brawny rock bands from down under circa the ‘80s, crossing up two common strains of native rock – the sunshiney, coastal, lure-of-the-surf twang and hyper-melodic delivery, and the fist-in-the-dirt power of more landlocked concerns. This turns out a bit ugly on “Out the Door,” which at first listen came across like a Social Distortion tribute, but evened out with some tough, yet winsome delivery and a frenzied pound towards the end that removed the “a-billy” from the proceedings right quick. Flip side was decent as well. Maybe not the best Australian single I’ve heard in recent times, but even the OK material I’ve been getting out of there beats most of what America’s been showing up with.
Meanwhile … in the Midwest LP
Dude who blew his first shot in the Mystery Artist Subtrend of 2007-08 by making legit boring music (and working on some of the earlier Zola Jesus records) now changes outfits into the lone gunman with a reverb unit. His accessory to this crime is a young woman who plays the tambourine, and together the two of them try to capture a Brian Jonestown Massacre Unplugged sort of thing, all twangy, cut-out Sunset Strip psych and the sort of sleaze that goes along with such a ruse. Pretty much anything that sounds like this these days carries with it an incredibly dishonest, impersonal feel that makes the music very difficult to enjoy on its own merits or any others. Altogether, more like Braindead Luke.
Death By Steamship
S.S. Endurance LP
Horrid design caps off some stormy indie rock, quite undistinguishable from the pieces and parts that comprise the band’s sound. No headturning here, just turning it down/off.
Decimus 1 LP
Decimus 5 LP
Two offerings out of a projected dozen albums for the 2011-12 season (seven have already been released) from NNCK/Malkuth man Pat Murano. The music from these 12 albums is meant to serve as meditations on the zodiac calendar as described by Latin poet Decimus Ausonius. Murano has no beef with heading straight into the overbearing realm of darkness, with longform, claustrophobic, pressurized drones and rhythmic patterns that extend to a forced horizon, vibrating with a form of secular hostility not known in the artist’s other endeavors. Strange, hyper-present sound that you will probably have to meet halfway. Stenciled sleeves on these two; have not seen the other ten albums but many more are around now than just these two. (email email@example.com)
Squirrel Gulch LP
Tepid, jazzy guitar instrumental trio with moments of outburst that just flatten any redeeming qualities or discipline to a saddening halt. Comes with a 16 page booklet of full-color artwork that probably cost more than the records themselves. 500 copies, two colors of vinyl, silkscreened sleeve.
Dikes of Holland/Daniel Francis Doyle
split one-sided 10” EP
After a fine LP, Dikes of Holland reveal a truer nature, kind of a drunken Austinite version of the Thinking Fellers, the hyperliteracy of that band replaced with the invisible codicil of a day out in the sun, swimming, then getting blitzed in the evening hours. In their tendencies to floor it through busy, curiously strange forms of punk bar/garage rock, they find a kindred spirit in one-man band Doyle, whose laconic vocal delivery sets against the manic, LoopStation-informed prog-pop music. For people who like getting drunk to a skipping CD, this is the record that will make you look and feel normal again. Silkscreened B-side, looks nice.
“Sex Drive” b/w “Patio Set” 7”
Now here is something: the Embos’ highly desirable debut single, one which somehow rolls the joys of punk, new wave and power pop all into one, had one unforgettable flaw. It was pressed off-center. You know how much that sucks? A lot! That off-centeredness found its way onto the band’s discography, Heyday, as well. Warbling unsteadily, “Sex Drive” still punched well above its weight, four guys in Wichita writing the rules while most of America – and almost anyone else where they were, for hundreds of miles – disco napped through the turn of the ‘80s. Even at its five minute runtime, it excites throughout, as it builds and surges through tinny guitars, shoebox drumming, and clicking rhythms into high-tach repression spilling out in shuddering release. My point is, the fellow behind Last Laugh was able to track down the band and the original master tapes, and press up an exact repro reissue that’s completely balanced. It’s the best representation to date of this landmark track, and it kicks off a series of vinyl represses from the Embarrassment’s vault in fine and long-sought-after style. “Patio Set” is no slouch either. If ever there were a must-own record from the era, this would be it.
Envelope & Jacoti Sommes
This Could Go Either Way 12” EP
(Palais du Pomeroi)
Stoned, downbeat hiphop from the Midwest, produced at the Columbus Discount studios. Gets to the issues right after it gets through this bottle of DXM. Redolent of late ‘90s action, but with the crushing weight of the past decade breaking its back. It’s a good tack to take. Silkscreened sleeve. Not to be confused with Gerard Cosloy’s late lamented rock & roll band.
Two Different Ways 12”
Previous releases have shown us a number of sides of this exciting London band, but it wasn’t until I caught them playing live at ATP NJ that the Factory Floor puzzle really fit together. It’s a game of interfering/interlocking rhythms between a live drummer and a synth/sampler player, with some guitar noise and additional effects on top. That really oversimplifies it, though; they were one of the best bands I saw all year, one which has figured out how to use the energy of rock music in the service of making fractal, acid-bombed techno into something that gets right on top of you and blacks out the sun. That example here, which they played, and sent the crowd into an orgiastic trance with, is a four-note/five-beat synth pattern against a 4/4 beat, recalling both progressive rock and the more adventurous New Age offerings of the late ‘70s, abetted with crisp drum patterns and ambient textures/treated vocals that soothe the rough edges while illustrating newer ones. Two variations of the same track illustrate their more methodical, experimental side (“Original,”), and a slicker, more pop-oriented take (“Second Way”) which is still sharp enough to perform LASIK on anyone who dare gets near it. It’s good that Factory Floor’s experimental tendencies aren’t falling away, and I even grew to love their last 12”, which was initially slagged on a bit here – the trick was to play it at 33 +8 or so, get it down to Donna Summer tempo, and it became a revelation. Outstanding work, and one of the few dance 12”s that non-dance DJs or aficionados really need to own from 2011 (the Andy Stott 2x12”s would be the others). Can’t wait to experience this band again.
Fat History Month
A Gorilla 7” EP
(Sweaters & Pearls)
Fat History Month: the early days. Four pre-LP tracks from that embryonic time when the history of obesity had only a week to celebrate. And a dreary time was had by all. Probably being thrown off by the goofiness of the name, but would never expect this band to be as bleak as it is. No major problems with the music, just desolate, mid tempo indie rock of a mid ‘90s vintage, dirty, reverb heavy guitar, here and there bent out of tune, a strand of droning feedback hung throughout. There are probably folks out there still wanting more records like this who won’t hear it because of the name. It’s nothing a good image consultant couldn’t fix. On banana yellow vinyl because the first track is titled “Gorilla.”
Fat History Month
Fucking Despair LP
Boston duo plays the greatest hits of early, moody post-rock up through its fruition, from wacky shit like Tweez up through A Minor Forest. I get that there is a market for this sort of thing from people who couldn’t be there, and truth be told I’ll probably attend a Bitch Magnet reunion show should one happen near me. It’s not too much fun to relive the self-deprecating music that accompanied my own depreciation period, but I can see why others would want to hold onto this sort of stuff. It extends the monologue of this stripe of Gen X indie rock without necessarily advancing it, or changing its tenor. One sheet proclaims the band’s influences include “great songs that sound shitty the first few times you hear them,” but they don’t necessarily sound great after years and years of the same thing. On the perplexing Sophomore Lounge label, which seems to release records that call back to the ‘90s and don’t hear much of a response.
The womb-warm memories that analog synths evoke of a more hopeful time, when progress seemed like a possibility, go out the window when you add a “Chariots of Fire”-style drum machine track. Plug that in and listeners of a certain age will remember why it seemed like a good idea to pawn your keyboards in order to get a guitar and a paisley shirt. Bernardino Femminielli’s “Chauffeur” might still have attained redemption if his croon had any charisma. Ostensibly a split single, the side by Arraignée turns out to be more of the same, with Femminielli abetted by another like-minded synth revivalist. Perversely the download-only bonus track, a pleasantly squishy, vocal and beats-free instrumental, is much better than either tune on the single. I’d much rather watch a dressing room fight between these guys and Outer Space, in which Cleveland’s finest first beat these Quebecois at circuit diagram trivia, then pour cheap beer on Femminielli’s white bucks, than ever listen to this record again. 300 copies, black vinyl.
“Reverb” b/w “Ancient Videotape” 7”
A coin toss decided one of two ways to handle this 7” … to process it as an earnest endeavor. Honestly, neither of the two music fans who live under this roof could get away from the possibility that this is a prank; created to bait reviewers like myself while deftly commenting on its scene of origin. If this is a serious creative statement, I strongly suggest all readers block out a few days in the immediate future and dig a bunker in the backyard. The ooga-booga of 2012 is nothing short of an eventual reality when a bands/artist puts a song called “Reverb” on a debut 7” and it doesn’t appear to be a critical or humorous sentiment. I would’ve used the phrase “writes a song” if Feral Children had actually written “Reverb” instead of singing over pitch-shifted music that someone else made (one music fan in the house convinced the other that it might very well be a slowed-down Fall song providing the bed and backing music). The end result, quite predictably, sounds like a rougher Panda Bear and the B-side is a dead-ringer for Atlas Sound. Here’s the kicker: The “insert” was a note handwritten on the back of a HoZaC catalog…repurposed from its life inside a record released on the label this outfit pines to be on. So what is more loathsome? Introducing yourself to the world behind a tribute to the one most commonly used tool when a band has to cover up a complete lack of songwriting skills? Or aspiring to be on HoZaC, which the moniker also supports (forgettable reverb-abusers with names that could belong to a noisenik, noise-rock or deregulated metal band)? We can always look at it this way: If the latter transpires, at least Feral Children will vanish within a confusing, impossible-to-navigate label discography. Dismal stuff. 300 pressed on black vinyl.
split 12” EP
Fielded’s 7” got lost when one of my reviewers decided to peace out, but if it was anything like this material, we didn’t miss much, just another entry in the Grouper/Zola J contest, emoting like Kate Bush in radically forced perspective. Very hard to take. Alex Barnett has signed up for the Umberto/Xander Harris game, and tells the world with these two long cuts that he’s absorbed a bunch of Italian horror films on VHS as well.
Isolation 7” EP
After 35 years, the oft-discussed but rarely seen Fingers 45 finally gets the reissue treatment. As the story goes, the Fingers were a band formed in Pittsburgh sometime in the mid-late Seventies all in an effort to cash in on the recent explosion of the Ramones and Dead Boys. The band’s manager at the time decided to press up a whopping 25 copies of the record to send out to “famous clubs in New York so they could make it big.” Some things in Pittsburgh never change. Fast forward three decades and two or three Killed By Deathfrenzies later, and someone decides to step up and bring this platter to the masses. What follows is exactly what one would expect: simplistic four chord verses, three chord choruses and nasally, reverbed Joey Ramone-esque vocals. The unfortunate part to this equation is that the choruses aren’t terribly memorable, the vocals sit too far down in the mix, and the riffs do not bang. What you do have is an OK time with three songs of catchy, easily digestible, and rare ‘70s punk that walks the line between New York and Cleveland pretty well, with the song “Work It Out” being the high point of the record.
s/t 12” EP
(Agenda del Mondo)
Mystery record from 2010, combining a dense, downtown rubbery Laswell/Ronald Shannon Jackson disco kinda thing that goes beyond mere groove into language itself. Brothers Joe and Tom Waltz play guitar and bass in collaboration with Cibo Matto drummer Timo Ellis and samchillian inventor Leon Gruenbaum. Frippery abounds, the rhythms patched together on “Nonno’s Scattone” slowing and speeding within a few beats of one another in a disorienting and multi-textural sphere of musical thought. They don’t stay with an idea for longer than 30 seconds without jettisoning it in favor of a more advanced groove, with closer “Supersong” allowing Gruenbaum to bend the entire output of the track to the robotic relativity of his synth. This record turns up a bunch of dead leads, its creators’ Soundcloud all but barren, and only one Youtube video floating around to verify that they exist. The label URL on the back of the sleeve leads to a dead page, and the name Frattura-Waltz turns uo in conjunction with a merit scholarship offered at a Catholic school in New Jersey. Big money, no whammies, stop. Two googly eyes are glued to the outer sleeve in a bizarre, slick, and weighty package. 180g vinyl, three songs, and includes a CD version with the aforementioned video cut, “DFYS.” Weird. Will you ever find one, and what will you do with it once that happens?
Some Easy Magic LP
More listless strum from the Hozac factory farm. Very little consideration given to sound or presentation, on a record that looks like other records. I don’t like to let music make me feel this beat down.
Hot We Are Funk We Play LP
Another corner of once-popular underground music – this time, the agitpunk bodywork of early ‘80s postpunk as it forced its way onto the dancefloor – is tackled by the Grande Triple Alliance, the so-tight-it’s-loose patronage of French musicians affiliated with the Feeling of Love, Scorpion Violente, the Anals, the Dreams, and a small handful of other latter-day Francopunx/Pussy Galore worshippers out of Metz. If you can get through to their efforts as Funk Police, it’s probably because you weren’t listening too closely. Recorded two years ago, these guys effectively take the face off of the genre they traffick in, and it makes for a rough and uneasy listen, even though the music on this one is among the most exuberant-sounding these guys have ever played. No hooded menace with a synth and matching cockring/vocoder combo, no slide guitar. One side sounds like a lesser Pop Group, and the other akin to a modern-era Fall with no inspiration or invective. This isn’t exciting, but I remember 10-12 years ago when a little band you might remember called Gogogoairheart was doing the same things, and making it sound hotwired and alive. Plus they had the common sense not to name one of their songs “Horsefag.” 350 exclusive copies.
Water’s Edge 12” EP
Oberlin-to-Brooklyn synth duo (some manner of polyphonic keyboard is issued to graduates with their diplomas) kick out the measured, modulated jams for drone-n-drive nights on the nation’s darkened highways. Stylistically this is right in between traditionally New Age works of the late ‘70s (Froese/T. Dream, M. Hoenig), the red-eyed dawnwork of Honey Owens’ Valet, and a methodology-free take on tape-centric duos like Blues Control and Peaking Lights. Pretty nice, though it may take a few spins for this one to astral project its faces on your wall. The record is only three tracks long, but it comes with a download card which, when redeemed, reveals three more. These ones are as good, if not better than, the ones that made it to vinyl. What gives?
Western Problems LP
Above-average pop-punk out of Tennessee, with leans into the bike/folk direction (Plan-It-X South?!?) as well as some dips into the power-pop/private press/stars in their eyes types of the late ‘70s. It’s well listenable, with decent production and the kind of songs that make more of an impression than they let on. Lyrics provided in both English and Spanish. If you’re a fan of the genre, give it a look.
Space Case Vol. 2 7”
Round two from Pittsburgher Sam Pace (of the excellent Centipede E’est) under the guise of Gangwish, his catch-all to document his journey to pair drums and electronics through the magic of electronic triggers. Pace surely possesses some Yogi-level patience and serenity as I’m sure this is infuriatingly frustrating to execute live. Live drums are scaled back on “Live Drummer Found Dead”, replaced with fluttering butterfly synth pads weaving around a skittering drum machine bounce. “Your Left Ear as a Souvenir” comes closer to the expectations set out by the project on paper, lumbering rhythms brimming with oscillator gunk and the scattered lazer zap. A real headscratcher that’s probably even more baffling in person. Only the second in a series of four, so keep them eyes peeled.
Ghost Aquarium/Josh Dobbs and His Deficit of Dream
Ghost Aquarium released one of my favorite 7”s of 2008, and if you want to hear it, the first pressing of 300 is still in print from this very label. In fact, the seven inch was the first title I reviewed for Still Single. While basking in the meaninglessness of this, I just realized the lack of impact exacted by my genuine effort to recommend a great 7” to complete strangers. That was three fucking years ago, and chances are, you missed out on an anomalous wonder released against Thee Oh Sees/Sic Alps/Vivian Girls coup of that summer. What I mean by that is that you could have heard some on-the-level guitar-quickening possessive of a feel unlike anything flooding from the cool club, for which you might have affected “blown away” status but at the end of the day, pined for that feeling of being blown away. I highly recommend that 7”, or I wouldn’t have let the subject of it take this review hostage.
The two Ghost Aquarium tracks on this split don’t stand up to that debut. Do I recommend them? Without pause. G.A. may have broken up this year (a 2001 to 2011 CD is available), leaving behind one and a half 7”s and one discography-spanning CD. The accolades directed at G.A. number in the realm of garden-variety “local rock” and the shameful ignorance, combined with a priority-list placement near the bottom re: the creative force, is a cultural crime that will go unpunished.
The Josh Dobbs tracks were glossed over for a reason.
Go Rydell/Grey Area
split 7” EP
Again with a “what does it say about the state of things” intro sentence: This is straight-up melodic hardcore or suitably-fast and tough pop-punk that most likely has more than 500 fans to justify second pressing after this one of 500 is depleted (this is one of the 250 blue copies). So, with that ready to exit your noodle … (drum roll or dramatic pause) … WHAT DOES IT SAY when the impulsive, double-response of both my fiancée and myself was “hey, this is pretty catchy” in the backhanded surprise sort of way? OK, it says that we found it to be pretty catchy, but you know what I mean … what does it say about the state of what we’re supposed to be listening to according to the marketing department of Volcom or Scion? Bless their hearts, this came out last June (2011) and the damn thing is still in print. If it was a prank phone call LP, that’d be no surprise from any corner. I guess melodic hardcore of this stripe has its underdogs, too. Hey, don’t forget: It’s catchy.
God Equals Genocide/Libyans
split 7” EP
(Shock To The System/Dirt Cult)
Split single with three songs apiece by two female-fronted punk bands of note. I enjoy the basement-borne aggression and prescient lyrics of both, and figure God Equals Genocide to be the scrappy undergrad going to Libyans’ office hours. You might too, and there’s no denying that Libyans is the more accomplished of the two bands here. But if you like one, you’ll probably like both, and the way the vocals cut through on the G.E.G. side is phenomenal. Want to hear more from that bunch, for sure. Libyans, too, though I’m guessing the band is doing that thing where punk bands get together to tour Europe and write songs on occasion since members have decamped from their hometown of Boston. Regardless, there’s plenty of Libyans records out there for you to jam down on – though this one is the first in a post-Qaddafi era, and I think the liberation shows on both fronts. Good stuff.
Is Rez Punk 7” EP/CDR
I do believe there is more shit and garbage clogging up things than ever before, and I believe this because it is statistically true. Proof? You’ll have to get in touch, ask about my claim, and I will give you proof. Then I will post our correspondence on my blog. While nowhere near the mountain that is the aforementioned “proof,” the following sentiment easily adheres to it or moves from it to my brain: It isn’t a positive reflection of our rock landscape when I immediately think “Thank God I get to give something a positive review” upon noticing an as-yet-unheard band has a sound that would plaster a grimace across the face of a former Altered Zones “writer” (arr-eye-pee, bee-tee-dbl-u). Yes, I love writing positive reviews. I love it for the challenge (it is generally harder to write positive) and because I love hearing great music coming out of what one would call THE NEW or out of the massive canyon known as “contemporary rock-based music I have yet to hear” because no one really follows the maxim that JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE CAN, DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE SHOULD.
So before I finally get to this poorly-named band, it should be noted that immediately AFTER I have the thought quoted above, common sense kicks in to remind me that it also must be GOOD and it must issue that positive FEELING via rock-endorphins…like all good inaugural listens. So, what does GODDAMNITBOYHOWDY sound like? I hear a lot of Gaunt that flirts with Big Business on occasion…or maybe I hear blue-collar punk that flirts with the chunkiness of metal … again, on occasion. I also hear one song (“Hands Down”) that is charming in a dark way, and it also packs a HUGE hook. That alone justifies whatever the price of admission may be for those who did not have this EP sent to them in the name of promotion. One stellar song out of four? Well, here we are again with a little ratio that speaks to an immense problem with music at large, and I hope to hell that I, in no indirect way whatsoever, come off like I am encouraging bands to shoot for only one great song out of four or less. If you make music, you should be shooting for greatness each and every time you lift a finger. The other three tracks are not bad, the vocals are not annoying like they so easily could have been because this does rub up against the outer boundary of what I consider to be heavy music.
OK, I’m really late for verdict-issuing time … GODDAMNITBOYHOWDY might release a great record in the future, and I hear plenty of bands that will never do that. If your scope of input grants admission to fairly heavy pop-punk and you don’t, say, talking really loud about Sun Araw in the record store so everyone in attendance knows you are into “cool” stuff … look past moniker choice so these guys can get past the trappings of being a terminally local band. On blue vinyl and pressed in an edition of 250. Hand-numbered.
“Mine” b/w “Like You” Edits 12”
Someone got the bright idea to resurrect two tracks by Gramme, a band to watch from the late ‘90s when they were signed to Trevor Jackson’s Output label. Their LP never surfaced, and they were maybe heard from in other projects, but let’s face it – a lot of tracks from that era are completely lost to time. These ones deserve to be resurrected, though; post-punk with a thick, rubbery backbone and rhythmic prowess only matched by LCD in contemporary circles. Their best efforts are like a giant animatronic dinosaur wiping out the club with one errant flick of the tail. “Mine” maybe goes a little too far into 99 Records/Pop Group weirdness, and is a little too fast to really click. But “Like You” will destroy any room you play it to, with its overpowering bass lines and squeaky Beth Gibbons-meets-male falsetto-style vocals that swirl around dense, funky hi-hat work and a just-in-the-red production motif that drops these weird, wild tracks right into your lap. Both cuts have been gently edited by Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard for maximum percussive impact. Can’t tell you where to find one, but buy two on sight.
The Great Society Mind Destroyers
Spirit Smoke LP
If your day job puts you in the same office as the man behind Immune Recordings, the gauntlet’s thrown down; if you’re going to start a label, you better make your records right. From the production side, Slow Knife has it down; beautiful multi-color sleeve, heavy glossy insert, heavier and more colorful vinyl (tie-died yellow and orange) that sounds great and gives up nary a pop or click. So what about the music? Can’t say my mind is destroyed, but I’ll settle for pleasantly but vigorously massaged. The two guitarists seem to think that you should only let up on your wah-wah pedal in order to push it down hard again, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When they let go and flow with the rhythm section, which prioritizes swing and velocity over heaviosity, things are swell. The singing sounds a mite wan, but it’s just there to be echoed into oblivion anyway. All in and all, a strong start for band and label.
A Very Real Hell 12” EP
(The Broadway To Boundary)
The bassist and vocalist of Nu Sensae, the drummer of White Lung, and the guitarist from departed Vancouver outfit Mutators come together for a side project that’s less than the sum of its reliable parts. Promotional materials (including some praise from another publication that looks disturbingly like a bad copy of something I’ve written) try to tar this quick, slight seven-song EP with the sort of burly edginess of bands like the Brainbombs, or Albini’s Rapeman project, but rest assured, you won’t find much along those lines here. I’ve been quite keen on a lot of the Vancouver talent but I feel like some of these bands are starting to slide into a bit of a rut (Nu Sensae especially – not sure how I made it through their set over the summer), leaning back on a poor copy of the grunge motif present in that region, or at least nearby, 20+ years ago. Andrea Lukic screeches through some FX pedals, some chords are banged out, nothing really sticks. This thing is growin’ mold.
Neurotic Asphyxiation 7” EP
Eight obtuse sketches at hardcore length and meandering collage speed from noted ear poker John Wiese, Gossip guitarist Brace Paine playing anything but and the absurdly alluring Yasmine Kittles of Tearist and Vice fashion fame. (none of these folks are on the sleeve, sadly). I seem to recall their album “Jazz Bust” from a few years back being more of the panicked waves/blasts of shit variety. This lil thing works with isolated sounds rather than all of them at once, middle distance clap, some sort of machine plowing thing, breathing, coughing, laughing, slaps, “HUTZ!,” snaps, half-second distortion blast and a whole lot of silence stapled in a chain rather than running concurrently. You already know if you want this. 115 made, so, uh, hurry?
Empire Art Gallery Pt. 1 10” EP
Back under his solo guise, Phil Boyd (Modey Lemon guitarist) heads back towards the same electronic pools of mercury as found on his recent single as TM Eye on the same label. Previous Hidden Twin releases concentrated on folk-tinged sounds, but here Boyd goes full on early ‘80s AOR, with songs like “Kill Clock” and “Alright to Claw” abstractly channeling the same glowing circuitry of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” or Billy Squier or some similar android-takeover fare from the early days of MTV. It’s certainly a sound that Boyd’s home of Pittsburgh is familiar with (classic rock radio there is pervasive, and frozen in time), and given the treatments presented here, it’s a fairly strong case for a lost moment in commercial pop. Nice work.
Spirit of the West LP
The dream of the ‘90s is alive in Oakland. High Castle follows up their high-velocity one-sided 12” with a more methodical, historically steeped full-length, ringing out those ‘90s platitudes of militant-style vocals (singer Erin Allen sounds like he’s auditioning for Spitboy, or maybe The Ex), discordant post-HC punk that hangs around like the Fugazi and Unwound acolytes of the day (or maybe Rank/Xerox today … further evidence of a distinct ‘90s influence in another band from the area). Allen’s vocals fix your attention on him, but the music he and his bandmates are playing behind them rattles and bangs its way out of its container, with straight guitar lines and the sort of uphill climb and determination this kind of music has always thrived upon. They never break character, never snap out of the trance, and that’s pretty awesome that anyone can stay so connected to a sound these days. Seasick, maybe; righteous, all the way. Good stuff, not to be overlooked.
Hiss Golden Messenger
Poor Moon LP
(Paradise of Bachelors)
Some of the most accomplished country-rock I’ve heard in some time is on this record. HGM frontman M.C. Taylor is versatile enough to be able to project both weathered ballads and soulful crooning, right at the lip of “hot country” tropes, as well as your country royalty (Hank, George, Townes, etc.) but mostly passionate-sounding, his laconic demeanor positioned well in a five-piece rock combo, with plenty of soul, and an understated hand that brings out the best in his songs. It’s not hard to see this guy playing the lothario in some roadhouse, with secrets he keeps tucked in his denim jacket. There are a number of guys in this vein right now (D. Charles Speer and Zachary Cale comes to mind, albeit from slightly more specific directions), and Taylor and co. are among the best. For fans of the genre, this can’t be beat. 500 numbered copies.
s/t 7” EP
Not to bum out anyone involved in this record, because it’s really solid, but this is a crust record. From the black and white cover art, to the handwritten, slightly obscured lyrics all the way to the bass driven mix, this is a crust record that could have come out in the ‘90s. The record starts off strong with the brilliantly titled, anti-homophobic rant “Fagget” that takes on a rocked out Celtic Frost pace to tear into the ripping and direct “End Game.” The record is mixed with the bass driving the car, guitar and drums chill in the back seat. The vocals sound like the singer is gargling broken glass kinda like mid ‘90s metalcore masters Abnegation. Fans of Under the Knife-era Hatebreed would be wise to pick this up.
Wary the Mind LP
Immediate apologies to Amen Absen for not reviewing their second release, an LP by Von Bingen – ‘twas absconded with by a contributor and never recovered. And now onto Hobo Sonn, one young man from Brighton named Ian Murphy, who couples various musical and less-obviously musical sound sources in sidelong micro-orchestras of idyllic decay and drift. Headphones are strongly recommended to pick up on the subtleties present along both sides, both bulwarks in zero gravity colliding into one another. I find that records like this can be strangely soothing to listen to, and of course the feel of discovery in anything music-related at this point cannot be understated. The methods Hobo Sonn employs on these works has been done before, but the artist clearly claims his own corner, performing avant-garde landscapes upon the piles of ash that we will all join one day. 330 copies, of which 120 were packaged with a 3” CD-R of extra material.
Way far out on the L train, Brooklyn’s Household made one really great, honest, personal record – this one – then promptly stopped playing out by the time it was released. This happens, and the challenge remains in trying to find a band on hiatus a home with listeners. So please spread the word about Household, three women who pulled together a range of influences, filled them with their own personalities, and showered them with respect. There is a feeling that runs through these nine songs of restlessness for change and living with the disappointments that sometimes bubble up in life, but not wanting (or having) to accept them. Seasoned listeners would place the band’s sound somewhere in the vicinity of the Billotte sisters, the Kill Rock Stars catalogue (then and before-then), Salem 66, Glass Eye, maybe even the good side of early ‘80s UK postpunk a la Delta 5 or the Marine Girls, and their strummy counterparts of America (the Feelies, Chalk Circle). These songs run on their own logic, guitar and bass strummed away, free of distortion, against rhythms that spring off in every which direction – the drums, the guitars, the varied cadences of the lyrics, meeting in handmade irregularity and occupying its own space for the time and place. The dual vocals of guitarist/Dusted scribe Talya Cooper and drummer Jenna Weiss-Berman fits right in there, one low register and the other high, even pulling off a nodding tribute to Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie on the chorus of “Phases.” The spare, reserved sound of the recording plays well with this batch of songs, each one ready to bolt out the door with inquisitive energy. My favorite here is closer “Cold Hands,” a tale of waiting for someone to come around who never does, taking the sour grapes that result and making wine. Sometimes you have to reveal your inner dissatisfaction to move on. The songs on Items, neatly and exactly, signify these thoughts. 500 copies.
Saving Lady/Pauline 7” EP
Textures and hints of ideas (some of which really deserve further development than is settled for here) dominate this murky offering from Human Resources. The unsettling “Saving Lady/Pauline” plods along, driven by a loop that sounds a little like heavy breathing, dips into ‘60s Brit-psych territory, then ends with a weird synth scrawl. Vocals are obfuscated under echo and delivered in either a faraway mumble or a nerdy sneer; effected instruments founder in and out of the mix, which for some reason lacks the authentic “grit” of a lo-fi recording done with cheap and cruddy gear. On the B-side we get some stumbling Residents-esque rhythms, chord organ blurts overlaid with disembodied and backward-masked vocal fragments. “Extra Lives” comes close to being a standout track with its tap-dance percussion and general vibe that evokes the folk-psych weirdness of the soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s “Puce Moment.” Whether intended or not, there is something to be said for music that resists instant “likeability” like this does. The packaging likewise aims high but just misses the mark: Crystal-clear vinyl in a clear plastic jacket sure look classy, but the bits of ink that flake off the inlay artwork (also printed on clear acetate) and adhere to the record’s playing surface will surely discourage repeat listens.
“Criminal” b/w “Castle of Nothing” 7”
Some bedroom guitar cooing a la early Atlas Sound gets into a rude meetup with a sampler, which messes with the rhythms, the timbre of voice, and all sorts of other wackiness across both sides of this 7”. “Criminal” at least has its blue-eyed “Stand By Me” sorta earnestness about it, but the flip “Castle of Nothing” plays more like an experiment to see if this setup will work, and does not stick around long in the mind. I felt none of the alien vibes I thought were due to me from all the hype on this one, just a guy with a few song fragments trying to stretch them out with technology. Don’t put too much sawdust into those meatballs, kid – the customers know.
The In Out
The Venal Column LP
This Boston band has been puttering around in various lineups and occupations since the ‘90s, when they had an affected swagger that sounded a lot like the Fall, but just as much like a bunch of guys who knew a good bit about post-punk’s darker/more acrid/well-brined recesses, and liked to crawl in and out whenever convenient. It’s probably not much the surprise that they’ve been hanging on this long, The Venal Column being their first official release in about six years. The band has settled during shipment, dropping the overt references (MES, Jonathan Richman), or at least rounding them off to a level of comfort that would allow such distance to pass between efforts. It kinda sounds like a nights-and-weekends type thing (which it probably is), and for what vague grievances they sing about (food, others, going home with bad people), it’s just enough to hold your attention. Bass player Nick Blakey is alright, and is the guy who first told me about the Sleepers, a band I love, so that’s always stayed with me. He’s also one of the few who have found any level of success in the thankless task of booking rock clubs in Boston, so it’s cool that they are back up and around and getting out there again. It’s probably best for local use only, but hey, live a little, eh? 200 copies.
John Henry West
Door Bolted Shut LP+CD
Out of nowhere, and beating the race to 20 years since the band was active, Ebullition re-emerges as a label to release a discography of Bay Area ‘90s hardcore band John Henry West. This was Mike Kirsch’s project after Fuel and before Navio Forge, and featured Cory Lindstrum from End of the Line on vocals; they released one 7” on Gravity (one of the only releases on the label not to get repressed so many times) and blew through 50 shows in less than a year before moving on. They struck a very critical balance between full-on screamo/intensity/reciting extemporaneous statements between songs, and melodic punk/HC, fully conceding to one while working in upbeat riffs. None of this gets to be too heavy, which is fine – it was the youthquake personified, emanating from five guys who, as the liners state, “gotten most everything they needed out of the experience” of being a band, and then broke up without making a big deal out of it. The vinyl (purple marbled, even) fits in all of the studio tracks, including comp appearances and two unreleased outtakes, while the CD presents their demo, their last show at Gilman from 1993, and a radio set from a month prior. Each piece of media contains its own separate songs, so MP3 bloggers are going to have to do their work on this one. All three sets of tracks on the CD sound as if they could have been recorded on an answering machine, but you get the picture, and if you don’t, listen to Lindstrum’s speech before “Sell Yourself,” where he stakes the claim that this band was doing it because it had to be done, not for the money. I self-identify with that statement. It’s a blast of raucous, positive energy and it’s something I really miss in music. Guessing there are between 10 and 20,000 of these pressed. How far off am I?
Things Are Different Here LP
Kentucky outsider/avant/expansive rock-based mentality here, impaled on Popol Vuh’s formidable axis. You get Teutonic expansion, drone, synth burble, and brooding rock bubblings up, all of which is performed with a semblance of identity and tact. With a few spins it’ll grow on you.
The June Brides
London, England 1984-1986 LP
Fan-curated collection of sides from short-lived, bright-burning British pop band the June Brides. Led by one Phil Wilson, who has resurfaced on Slumberland in the past few years as a solo artist, the Brides were around for the C86 days, and in one of several key mishaps and poorly-timed decisions in the band’s history, they are said to have declined an offer to appear on said compilation. The group achieved some success all the same, with a chart-topping EP (that I used to own and now cannot locate), tour dates opening for the Smiths, and the like. But it all makes sense, in a way – the almost-famous sounds of Vic Godard & the Subway Sect’s first album What’s the Matter Boy? drape themselves in favorable light over the songs selected here, as do the wild and innocent sounds of New Zealand bands like the Clean, the Chills, and later, the Bats. Wilson’s got quite a gift for turning a phrase, and it helped to push the June Brides into a rare and seldom-visited corner for pop songs which are smart, charming, and personal without falling for cliché or obvious appropriations. Many a buttoned-up, bookish young man or woman could easily turn guarded romantic, and just a little bit sour, under the influence of these mannered yet bright tunes. Having only heard Big Flame’s flooring-it take on the band’s best-known single “Every Conversation,” the brass section and lazy tempo of the original took some getting used to. But collection assembler Mike McGonigal wisely puts it at the end of the record, allowing the band’s more strident work to take more immediate positions. Wonderful stuff, recommended to any fans of indie pop then and now.
On any given night when they’re playing (usually in Pittsburgh, because these guys don’t seem to like to travel much), Kim Phuc is easily within the top three to five greatest punk bands in the States, maybe the world. They play minor-chord, tough, mid-tempo rock that sound like the product of a broken home, brooding, maybe on its way to jail, or to a playground to beat on some kids. The angry, knobby stumps of goth and death rock are here, but played on chunky, downtuned rhythm guitars with dead-eyed precision, completely devoid of affect, basically there to piledriver you while vocalist Rob Henry’s air-slicing holler – somewhere in the span of Jello and Doc Dart – blasts you with paranoid conspiracies and intractable judgements against the world we are forced to live in. The band’s membership spans a few decades of southwestern Pennsylvania punk involvement (and to keep it on the level, guitarist Ben Smartnick occasionally reviews records here), and this debut album has taken a long time to coalesce. At the proper volume, Copsucker will replicate some of the thrills of standing in front of this band, the songs menacing enough on their own, and sounding far more rehearsed than on their previous singles. It’s a good one that’ll grow on you, and the latest in a line of flawless releases from the band/label Iron Lung in recent times (Dead Language, Total Control, Slices). Kim Phuc manages to sound efficient while loud, and this record leaves a mark; it is the opposite of “emo” anything, a mechanized downer that grays the skies and salts the Earth. Go nuts trying to find a copy on gray marbled vinyl.
Love LP (Dais)
Tonight’s Special Death LP
Someone has to have thought of cross-pollinating Pagan and country folk before King Dude (Seattle’s TJ Cowgill) turned up, but his trajectory is a lot more exciting to witness. In the span of two albums – 2010’s Tonight’s Special Death and 2011’s Love – Cowgill has pulled together a refinement of the form that stands up to most any challenge you could throw at it. Despite the hokeyness and sentimentality that can taint efforts that pioneer one mode of expression through another, Cowgill has no issues portraying the grim mortalities of neo-folk with a strummy, cult-like, near-winsome sensibility. A more austere presentation wins out on Tonight’s Special Death, but it makes a good companion to the more recent album, just to witness how far Cowgill has come in the process, with a striking, spare ballad in “Please Stay (In the Shadow of My Grave)” worthy of being canonized by David Lynch, and the irresistibly hooky, sinister singalong “Lucifer’s the Light of the World.” Both albums are getting scarce, so if you’re interested (and you should be), act soon. Excellent die-cut sleeve art on Love adds to an already striking work, King Dude being every inch (unfortunate name withstanding) the balladeer who can turn to smoke.
(Wintage Records & Tapes)
After dozen upon dozen of CD-R and tape releases, Canada’s Knurl finally receives a document on vinyl, and it’s no less punishing than the Nervescrap CD I remember from the new bin at WRCT, my old college radio station, back in 1995. Artist Alan Bloor has been busy in the interim, remaining on the harsh noise axis, and achieving his ear-splitting results by micing and manipulating actual metal sculptures. The six tracks here, made on these works as well as violin, deliver on the industrial clank and rough handling that all but overshadowed the power electronics/harsh experimental reign of years past; violent sound which all but provokes a violent response. It made my needle jump more than a few times, and will break your concentration towards anything other than itself while it’s spinning. Refreshing to hear this type of noise again, and removed from any other imagery that audiences might push towards it. It’s like being lashed to a post on a boat out at sea during a storm. I think. 300 numbered copies.
A Journey Through the First Dimension with Kraus 7” EP
Following a much-loved full-length, New Zealander Kraus (Klaus, drummer of Futurians, member of Olympus with Stefan Neville) really brings the goods on this four-song outing of pure Martian stomp. Analog synths, gritty low-end rhythm tracks, tangled/stumbled guitar melodies and above all DETERMINATION to get something done really push this one along in a way that the Kraus LP really didn’t (or didn’t need to, as these recordings may predate that work). These songs sound like progress, and it’s a doubly amazing feat as there aren’t really songs here; more like a bunch of low-tech machines set forth to follow a complex pattern, and listening to them complete it over and over is fascinating enough. It’s like having a half-mile of slot car track, infinite terrain options, and the will to build something huge to scale. Also reminds me of those film clips of “The World’s Biggest Domino Rally” that would get shows at the back end of local news or human interest shows on TV back in the ‘80s, where a bunch of dudes in a big room set off a huge chain reaction, patterns, etc. Really dig this one a lot. Fusetron might have copies if you’re looking. No direct link to the label’s Web presence, though if you look hard enough on Facebook you can find a picture of a guy holding a copy of this single between his teeth.
Lab Coast/Extra Happy Ghost
split 7” EP
(Saved By Vinyl)
split 7” EP
Lab Coast either inaugurated a vast improvement or suffered a drastic drop in quality before or after they created the content for the split with Friendo, but that record cover utilizes barely-visible text and this record reviewer won’t be able to sleep tonight after recommended to the public a band that made a conscious choice to use the moniker “Lab Coast” to give the world a sonic footnote that the world needed like a bookstore needs more oral histories (the reality TV of music journalism/rock-writing) in the music section. Ok folks, if anyone needs to use the restroom, have a smoke or sneak out and create some music that fucking matters, we’ll see you back here in fifteen minutes for a discussion of the next Lab Coast release.
OK, we’re back. Wow, another band that believes “minimal synth” to be an actual point in music’s progression of the last four decades. And no, I’m not saying that minimal synth was garbage that doesn’t belong in the same sentence as the word “progression”… I’m saying that minimal synth never happened. In case Simon Reynolds’ Retromania has failed to be an important text in your life, I should say that the previous theory is one I have been espousing to four or five confidants, only to read Reynolds’ assessment with electric joy. Lab Coasts have songs in there somewhere, but you have to get past the Neon Pink plagiarism and moniker association that should be punished, harshly, by any cultural watchdog that gets to the band first. Friendo sounded different from Lab Coasts but ultimately the same when taken in the context of the ongoing detritus-deluge. Normally, I might become visibly angered at the invisible text and cover design that makes info-input impossible, but there’s nothing of importance to be processed here.
Land of Blood and Sunshine
Phlegm Realm 7” EP
Iowa is a state I don’t know anything about, but a tendency towards cultist psych pop seems likely enough. Doug gasfaced the other Whoa! Boat record, but Land of Blood and Sunshine are doing it for me. Four varied songs that communicate some corn-fed warnings of dark and forgotten territories, which manage to walk a line between sinister/outsider obscurity and catchy exteriors. Clever and mixed instrumentation, built around rhythmic pounding (the hallmark of any good cult) and a swelling chorus of voices, all of which sounds genuinely old, and recorded in a tin shed. They deftly avoid the snoozeville of freak folk and sound like the kind of hippies you need to avoid, rather than just want to avoid. Label art looks like a cartoonish drawing of Father Yod. That sounds about right. Points deducted for Phlegm Realm being a gross name.
Wretch 7” EP
Most drastic terrible name/excellent music ratio in the game? Entirely possible. Leather’s third single moves further away from post-everything hardcore to something almost as fast and still woozier that the excellent Sterile EP that appeared earlier this year. Alex Agran’s voice sounds ragged like hour eight of rehearsal when the guitarist yells, “Hey, I have a few new ones I wanna try,” that point in the workday when all you wanna do is flip on the TV and/or drunk dial yr ex. Yeah, there’s some ‘89-era Seattle in there (“Idolator” might make you look for a C/Z catalog number), not to mention drums that get almost math-frantic here and there (Math-garage, now there’s a genre mash up nobody has ever tried). Still, and probably for the foreseeable, you’re with me, Leather.
Liquor Store/Natural Child
Hey there slackers and mustache enthusiasts, I’ve got a record here that you might shrug slightly less at. One of those splits where bands I’ve never heard before cover each other songs. It makes for an odd introduction, because you never know how much of which band you’re hearing. Despite the off putting modern trappings and aesthetic detritus, both songs are undeniably catchy in the current garage-cum-pop punk way. Nashville’s Natural Child, covers Liquor Store’s “Gas Station” (really?) and they do a solid Black Lips impression, with some shredding buried deep in the back. Jersey’s Liquor Store is more jumped-up, with a real snappy drum sound, and they pull out some soaring guitar harmonies. It’s ultimately a lot better than all its smirking and winking. I liked Liquor Store’s side more, so does that mean I really prefer Natural Child? I don’t need any more of that style in my life, so I’ll just ride this one down the internet K-hole, bros. Also, the stock image Liquor Store used makes me laugh, so you guys win that one too.
“Dort Ist Der Weg” b/w “Frozen In Ash” 7”
(Flingco Sound System)
In which we come to that one 7” in the stack that will follow me to the grave … strong words I rarely stand by in the long (or short) run. Liner notes claim that the best side is influenced by Popol Vuh, but David Copperfield couldn’t turn what I’m hearing into Krautrock. Maybe some of you know that feeling when a Kranky release doesn’t have the teeth that you had hoped for. This is the record you wanted to experience. A-side is truly heavy, and the flip is balls-out noisy AND employs “voice” to do so. It’s a miracle the parts created a sum that I’m trying to sell to readers…but for fuck’s sake, this is a solid and forward-looking little record and I just read an equally-confusing review of their full-length in the latest Decibel. Get excited. On black vinyl, letterpressed sleeves, edition of 500.
Scuttlebutt on this band throughout 2011 was quite intense, like a second coming of the greatest deathrock outfit you could hope for, scuzzy Richmondites doing poppers at their shows and getting lost in the visual effects. Naturally, they’ve been built up to some degree to be better than anyone could possibly hope (or God forbid, someone who doesn’t really know that much about punk proclaiming them to be the most important band of this time and place), particularly in the confines of a sense of songcraft that is by turns still wet behind the ears and almost entirely style-based. This is a decent, thrashy dark punk record with peace- and crust-centric leanings. It pulls a lot of punches, takes few chances – the keyboardist (credited as JK, as in “JK I don’t know how to play this thing”) sounds as if only one of his fingers works, the singer barks and growls through two coats of vocal effects, and while the guitar/bass/drum tracks sound authentically thin, they play without flash or much personality. I hate to cast aspersions on a band that sounds like they could be a lot of fun, but I also know tourism when I hear it, and while I don’t know any of these people, that’s what their whole thing feels like from my distance, just like it is to the people who are used to seeing bands in someone’s loft comes out to see them and are dazzled by the fog machine and the lighting rig and the dress-up crowd. This music calls for a moment that never quite existed, someplace where raindrops are black, everyone is gaunt and pale, and society functions somewhat like the Art of Noise “Close to the Edit” video. There is promise in Lost Tribe despite all that, and good people backing them, but this record might’ve made a great demo for something even better, and hopefully their next one discovers someplace new.
Siblings & Sevens LP
Catchy, well-worn, pop/emo-oriented rock anthems from Philly band, with a good ear for a chorus. Really not bad in the scheme of things – full sound, passionate delivery, inventive/memorable choruses and melodic progressions. Think the Get Up Kids at one end and Fall Out Boy on the other, and these guys being the sincere part of the continuum between them. Luther keeps things at an even pace and pushes all the right buttons at all the right moments. Record’s just fine, and I know a lot of you like this sort of band, so here you go. Sometimes it’s a nice surprise to hear a formula done right. White vinyl.
Music for How Mata Hari Lost Her Head and Found Her Body 7” EP
What would Martin Denny say? Julian Lynch has swapped lo-fi naïve pop for lo-rent exotica on this soundtrack for a short film by Amy Ruhl, which you can check out on her Vimeo page. Similarly brief, the record’s four tracks (five on the accompanying free download) are short enough to permit a rotation of 45 revolutions per minute. Can’t say I’ve had much time for his song-oriented work, so the paucity of singing feels like a good idea. But what we get instead is amateur hour on the gamelan overlaid with airy flutes, a humid clarinet, and some theremin set to “instant nostalgia.” I know, the things don’t have pre-sets, but they’ve got a history.
“I’ve Been Talking” b/w “I Made Blood Better” 7”
(Little Big Chief)
“I’ve Been Talking,” someone in Mad Nanna moans, and he sounds rather apologetic about the fact. He needn’t be. Sure, this Australian outfit sounds like someone captured Michael Morley fronting a couple less-enabled Hanley brothers with a classic tin-cans-and-shoelace recording set-up, but you gotta give ‘em credit – they used virgin laces. “I Made Blood Better” isn’t so fancy; wayward yawp, bluesy guitar scrub, stolid beat, and a laugh at the end that says they don’t care what we think. They’re right not to care. 300 copies, turns at 33 RPMs, looks like the sleeve was photocopied but I’m not sure that it was. Nowadays this kind of scuzz isn’t necessary – it’s a statement. Consider yourself schooled.
Eat ‘Em All 7” EP
Not that I have to point this out, but this IS NOT the valuable release on Cass Records, the one that exits eBay for the price of a 1996 Camry with low miles. Thank me now or thank me later for that bit of investment advice. You can also thank me by understanding that hot dogs are the new boom-box in a world that assigns a “comedy gold” status to spoofing the cover of the most overrated Metallica album (sounds like fast classic rock and should have been erased from relevance by the three albums that followed it) and turning “Napoleon Dynamite” into a cartoon isn’t vetoed for its gross belatedness. Oh, this has 10 songs about stupid shit and will tickle fans of M.O.T.O., stupid shit, laughing at what isn’t funny because you believe you’re supposed to and other forms of terminal settling. Number pressed? I have no idea, but I can state with confidence that however many there are out there, it’s that number too many.
“Ben Nevis” b/w “Jakoda” 7”
This was a Record Store Day release pretty much confined to one store (Mind Cure Records of Pittsburgh). It’s Tony the Gentleman, drummer of Zombi and a few others, further exploring the linear brutalism of the modern synth-cinema with his project Majeure. These are two short solo arpeggiated tracks that sound almost like stems for something bigger, which kind of diminished it against his other, fuller releases, and there’s no percussion on either. It took a while to figure this one out, but once I listened through headphones, and allowed the understated sounds to bounce between my ears, that it all made sense: this is head music, and while you could use it as a builder or break in a techno context, it does just fine rattling around in there alone. The appropriated Vertigo spiral logo on the labels kinda spells it out. Both me and Tony grew up in roughly the same time and place, and had probably been exposed to a lot of TV at a very early age. And YouTube had revealed that a lot of the music beds for commercials and interstitials of the day’s broadcasts (late ‘70s, early ‘80s) were these little geometric-sounding snippets of synth-driven new age records, like Synergy or Michael Hoenig’s Departure from the Northern Wasteland. I have to wonder if this didn’t rub off on Mr. Majeure in some positive way, because this music surely inundated us both with its multi-faceted tones and elaborate, speedy structure. Which makes this one a nice li’l beeper, and the store had copies as late as June of this year, so try your luck. 150 pressed.
Trois 12” EP
This record came in from up north with a bunch of full-color party fliers proclaiming “Montreal’s Biggest Postpunk Party” or some bullshit like that, with members of this band modeling on them. I cannot imagine what hell that would be like, if it were anything similar to the music on this record. They are a band attempting to find their own voice – here being slow, dirge-like, guttural songs glossed up for show, more or less succeeding, but also being like 99% repellent and depressing to listen to. The deliberate nature of this music all but lays out that them playing slow is supposed to be sexy or dangerous or something, but in the end it’s all just dress-up. You can sense that they are relishing in being smart enough to try something new – and yeah, there haven’t been any records quite like this one for some time – but none of it succeeds in a compelling way. It’s foreground music that relegates itself to the background, and you won’t believe how easy it is to not pay attention to it, even as it’s playing. What a waste! Features some nearly naked band members lounging on back, slices of white bread strategically placed. Priorities…
The Hunter 2xLP
Because this wasn’t released on a proper metal label, there are two versions, with the 2xLP gatefold treatment rocking the 45 RPM “audiophile” vinyl and more than double the price of admission. It’s not just majors that make us pay extra for our metal to come in packaging we should get for the normal sticker, but this isn’t really another telling fact that the biz is laying skid marks in its underwear any more so than normal … relative to the last 5-10 years. Additionally, labels like Hydra Head, Southern Lord, Prosthetic, Profound Lore and the whole gang don’t need me in their corner spouting off about their pristine attention to detail and immense care reserved for presentation/packaging/bang-for-buck, especially after I let Mastodon bend me over a table and stab me into the land of regret once again.
Sound unheard, pre-acquisition, I always read a fair amount about each new Mastodon record. Without fail, I always think “this is the one” in regards to a perfect marriage of heavy and hook, and I’m always fucked over by vocals on the wrong side of passable and a lack of hook (hey, “hook” probably means something different to me than it does to many readers … I’ve heard great hooks in songs by Pig Destroyer, Withered and Brutal Truth … it can be an emotional intensity or mood … it doesn’t have to come by way of vocals or choruses or what is traditionally known as a hook). And these are not dumb guys. Still, too much of Mastodon remains tethered to the dumb-dumb domain, because that’s where the franchise finds its most reliable support. Jesu, Torche, Zoroaster, Brutal Truth and many others are forging a path forward and I will stand by claim that the next meaningful, inspired musical movement will use heavy music as its Trojan Horse, and the glut of HoZaK Homogeny (one of several signs of a possible apocalypse) will be justifiably erased. Mastodon could be right there with the great messengers, and maybe they will with the next record. Until then, I will transfer this record to “The Bin” and it will re-enter the record-hustling underground economy.
The Grey Lynn Homeless Set 7”
The first three records in Emerald Cocoon’s Alone/Together series of solo performances were all by women. The male gender, as represented by a New Zealander named Mark Sadgrove who reputedly works as a physicist, finally gets its say on the fourth installment, and what does he have to say? Over the course of four untitled tracks apparently recorded on the cheapest available tape and gear, something about being “fucking angry,” but not much else. Rude sounds predominate – blurting synth, rarely-tuned guitar, someone knocking the cassette recorder. It’s all rather reminiscent of old Gate, but where Gate records go on and on… and on and on… these tracks are over before you have time to fashion a response. That’s one way to win an argument. The guitar sound on side two, which is coarse enough to unplug your pipes, is another. You win, guy. The pressing, on black vinyl, is satisfyingly thick but rather crackly, not that that matters with a record that sounds like this. 300 copies.
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard opening my mail as I did the day this record arrived. Once you see a copy in the buff (and if you think dick jokes are as funny as I do), you care gonna lose it. The music therein on Micro_Penis’s second full-length is just about as rude and esoteric, the sound of four people – a few of which had been hospitalized prior to recording this record, so sayeth the promo spiel – letting go in humorous fashion, with slowed down vocal samples, confused saxophone, and organic/unstable moments amid the synth torture. If the statement about their condition is true, I hope they’re OK; if making a noise/improvisational fart like this (or early Boredoms) is grounds to get you a nice, long stay in a facility somewhere, perhaps we’d all best remain on our toes. Tolvek is Alsatian dialect for “moron,” and I’m part Alsatian, so maybe it’s time I did some heritage studies and recognized what other harsh words exist in my father tongue. 300 copies which come with some sort of “sexual rubber beast” toy; don’t buy one if it doesn’t include this little flexible wonder.
“Staring Contest” b/w “Trip Commander” 7”
Now that Parts & Labor has wound down, Dan Friel is back to jamming econo, playing rudimentary instrumentals with a cheapo keyboard and maybe a toy raygun. The beat that drives “Staring Contest” sounds like a recording of his heart played back through a blown speaker, and there’s nothing in its catchy tune that a one-handed man couldn’t play. “Trip Commander” digs deeper, like an earwig that only eats brain tissue, and its pumping groove is so simple that even a drunken ant could dance to it. It’s hard to know what Mincemeat or Tenspeed contributed to this record, since it’s so simple that one man could have played it. Some might complain that Friel has abandoned his denunciations of the powers that be right when we need them most; I say bring on the buzz. 300 copies, blue vinyl.
Monkey Power Trio
Who Cares What the Vultures Want? 7” EP
The liners state that the Monkey Power Trio gets together one day per year to play, record what they play and release it on a 7”. It’s also revealed that this, recorded in October of 2009, represents their 15th year of doing so. One listen proves that these folks are not in any other bands. It’s a worthless gesture of inept, charm-free fucking around and thinking about this clogging up the process, if you will, depresses the living shit out of me. If I had the money, I’d pull a Bill Drummond and buy up every remaining copy of this one, just to keep it out of your way. Next year, guys, do some charity work, or clean out your garage or something. Number pressed? See the Mahonies review.
Ghostwalking 12” EP
From the Australian rock scene you don’t hear about comes New War, playing one long, ample-sounding post-punk whiner, filled with one-chord synth stabs that feel like someone kicking your seat, some thoughtful rim clicks and tomwork, moaning vocals, and thick bass. It’s way too moody and dour to dance to on its own, and too long by half – the dub action in the second half of the tracks opens up no new revelations to the listener who just spent five minutes getting there. Remixes by the Gossip (added drum machine + vocal tracks) and HTRK (filtered percussion hits, canned presentation of everything else) do nothing to help the track’s danceability. Feels like someone forgot they can’t polish turds and just went at it anyway. Hope they washed it off.
Tea Swamp Park 7” EP
Bass and drum duos are just something that doesn’t seem to work for me, Agents of Satan being the rare exception. It’s tough for me to believe that most such combos have made such great use of the space, that nothing could improve it, and the sparseness becomes distracting. Though I have faith in the Records Nominal roster, this time via Portland’s Fast Weapons, Nu Sensae give it a righteous try, with some success, but ultimately not escaping my reservations. “Tea Swamp Park” is a moody opener that would seem to be part of a larger piece, but ends right as it’s about to get where it’s going. “Gumbo” makes solid use of Andrea’s searing voice and pulsing bass, but is still not quite there. It’s a stripped down and urgent punk song, but it’s missing something, the obvious guitar. “Dust” is more successful thanks to a bit of fuzz, vocal trading which balances Andrea’s screaming with Daniel’s singing, and some clever arrangement. I’m sorry guys, it’s not you, it’s me.
The OBN IIIs
The One and Only LP
(Tic Tac Totally)
After a number of singles of varying degrees of quality/interest, Orville Neeley III and his OBN IIIs hit one out HARD, making the kind of record most garage punk outfits couldn’t even fathom. Neeley and the band swagger all over this thing from the get-go, which happens to be one of my favorite songs of the year, a call-and-response takedown of fashion entitled “If The Shit Fits,” the singer strutting all over the room while his band tears out attitude-laden rocknfuknroll right behind. “If the shit fits/Fuckin’ wear it, alright!“ I could listen to these guys do a set of nothing but this song, on and on, but the rest of the album maintains more than almost any record in the genre this year, apart from the Apache Dropout LP or maybe the Video record (though that’s different enough that it probably shouldn’t count), and definitely the purest, hardest, and most strut-worthy of the three. If it were this easy to write great songs and make them sound like a tour bus crashing into Altamont, averting the tragedies that happened at the speedway on that fateful day, you’d think everyone would be doing it. It all boils down to what you have inside, how much you understand the work that needs to be done. We’re in an era where it’s easier to act and show off without consideration of whether those actions are worth the attitude behind them. I have a pile of records sitting here that tell me this, and then The One and Only, which lets us know that at least these five people understand the futility of such thoughts, and the righteousness of being able to kick it tunefully and with sucker-punching, tooth-loosening power. And here it is. Don’t miss it. It’s certainly better than this crappy review!
Thee Oh Sees/Total Control
split 12” EP
A fun takeaway from the recent tour these guys have been on together, but we all know what kind of sausage gets made on splits, and that goes doubly for tour splits. Still, four unreleased tracks apiece. Thee Oh Sees at least keep the energy up, like they can just churn this sort of shit out at will and is just grandstanding now. It’s really not bad and doesn’t bum me out like most of their records. Total Control’s songs sound like outliers from any of their other efforts, to the point where it’s kind of a surprise, and not in a great way. The first and last songs are slower and moodier and more anonymous sounding, while the middle two are clearly in the Henge Beat mold but just not there, not as manic or as memorable as anything on that album. Should be around for a while, but a yellow/clear split version of this record is out there and fetching coin.
Old Man Lady Luck
No words left for serious/tuff instrumental rock. Really. These guys say it all, they say so much. Actually recorded at Electrical by Steve Albini. They’ve been given their sound, and dummy up in typical ‘90s fashion. Ponderous in many ways, not all of them related to the music therein. RIYL Fat History Month.
Opéra Mort/Decapitated Hed
It took three nations to put together three hundred little black records of synth abuse, but this is one UN effort that should not be dismissed out of hand. Baltimore-based Decapitated Hed’s side is all in the wrists; they twist knobs, not arms, and the flickering locked groove at the end signifies their eagerness for you to leave. This track could have come out in 1981 with a picture of something that somebody believe Genesis P-Orridge would spooge over and someone would be paying big money for it – why not give it a spin now? The Franco-Belgian duo Opéra Mort is mercifully less silly than their name; give ‘em a more persistent beat and they’d sound like really early Cabaret Voltaire.
I’m So Proud of Him 12” EP
Hardcore from some dudes out in Portland. Their claim to the name of a well-known Void song as their bandsake should have been put up to a popular vote, because these guys are pretty far off the mark, though still respectable. They’re a little sloppy but how could they not be, farming these fields of pissed off “GNYYAAHHHH!” sounding hardcore, a bit like a band that’d open for Trash Talk at some VFW in the middle of nowhere. Lyrics are all pretty lunkheaded manfeelings personified (hate everything, kill people, anger issues, meth, stabbed me in the back) which in a strange way mirrors what Odd Future is rapping about, minus the specific hatred of women. As a 2nd tier angry American hardcore band, they are pretty good, and they meet all the measurements required. I’m quite surprised by this in retrospect, as it seems that Dave Neeson from Harriet the Spy is a member of this band, and this would have been the kind of thing he’d have made fun of from onstage at a fest in the late ‘90s.
In the Age of Batteries LP
Another album from Philly-area guitarist Panella, who’s getting better at his tack of advancing singer-songwriter material with brainy, anectodal lyrics and the sort of extended, flowing style of play on guitar that’s been favored by guys like Jim O’Rourke or maybe Josh Pearson, but which calls to mind a deconstructed take on SST underdogs Slovenly, and their follow-up band Overpass. There’s definitely more than a few studied qualities about Panella’s stance, which he ably delivers through wrong notes and clashing chord changes that quickly resolve into a greater narrative. Working with another person on writing the lyrics for all the originals here, Marco Panella has opened that narrative even wider, delivering long-form, poetic tales of a wildly fantastic (“Jack Ruby’s Dog”), and even an erotic bent (“Levi,” with a showtune-ready chorus, details the young narrator’s tryst with an older man as they work together in an airplane hangar). You’d probably have to dress up in at least business casual to fit in at this guy’s shows, but once you hear the accomplishments present on In the Age of Batteries, you might not mind so much. Just leave the pleated pants back at the store where they belong.
“You Decide” b/w “Big Bird” 7”
split 12” EP
And so we bid farewell to Part Chimp, who just did their last string of U.S. shows before returning home, presumably, to implode. These Scottish lads carried heavy heavy rock, and the resulting hypertension, for most of their homeland when the others couldn’t be arsed, and fortunately for us, they had fun with it – probably the most fun heavy load of their kind since Karp, or the Whip (RIP Scotty in either case). They abused volume first and foremost, and kicked up a big thick cloud when called upon to do so, but more importantly, they did some good work in determining what to do when heavy meets fast tempos, like on “Bring Back the Sound” from their second album I Am Come. While they weren’t kicking into Warhead-style hardcore by any means, these guys were able to figure out how to get both powers working in their favor without sacrificing one for the other, as so many are forced to do, and they figured out the way to do that is by writing a riff that locks the whole thing in place. That’s exactly what happens on “You Decide,” a single I picked up at the band’s NYC appearance last week, and I reckon one of the best songs they’ve done. “Big Bird” over on the other side slows it down a bit, but not to the levels you might expect from most of their output, and that one kicks just as hard. Woulda been a great AmRep single, this. But the big hoo-rah is coming over this split 12” with Torche, a band I quite enjoy in the live setting and have a mixed reaction to on record, save Meanderthal, a colossal slab I fear they may never be able to outdo. Pairing these bands makes sense, as did the short tour to support the release, or vice versa. But what you’re gonna get on this ‘un is a bit more of the ol’ dead sludge courtesy of “Dr. Horse” and a slowed-down take on Hawkwind’s “The Watcher.” We all know how bands like to put throwaways on these sorts of records, and Torche gets the credit not only for revitalizing a throwaway idea (covering another band’s songs, in this case Guided By Voices), but in showing us how well their thrash-pop sounds blend with GBV’s two-minute anthems, particularly “Exit Flagger,” a singalong in any context, and one which can withstand the punishment dealt here. Both records are fun, but you only need to own one of ‘em. Times are tight. Choose wisely.
The Party Girls/The Mack
(Louisville Is For Lovers)
One of these bands has dissolved since this split’s release last year. I know which one (because I do my research!!) but my refusal to include that info has little to do with games and everything to do with a lack of importance regarding the matter. Primarily due to a similarity demographic girth when it comes to music-scene properties, Louisville shares some negative aspects with my town (Memphis). What lazily shuffles and buzzes from my speakers at the moment is one reason I gradually did away with 95% of my house-party attendance. That has nothing to do with a party’s featured live music for the evening and everything to do with parties being choked with the type of human found making this type of music: dudes so deficient of common sense that they ask a certain kind of question when speaking to label-heads, resident music-writers, anyone around that happens to have ovaries and anyone in control of venue-booking. It goes like this: “So, what did you think of [my band/the set/other personal creative endeavor]?” If you’ve ever asked someone this question … someone you were not related to or were not fucking, I have a little news for you: Silence means you suck. And that question means you are insecure. What we have here is Provincial-Delusion, evident via the label and its product. This infects small-to-midsize scenes until you get labels that release music based on nothing other than a shared regional proximity. Do not support music from your town. Support good music. 100% of sides A and B contain a genre known as Terminal Opening Rock or Local Rock. Deep-down and never admitted, it’s a self-made, proud classification.
What gives it away? Well, it’s nothing other than the sheer terror these types have towards the reality of getting in a van and being a real band. I have not shown a journalistic crime by depriving the reader of any descriptive language up until this point, and none will be committed when the review ends without enlightening anyone as to how this record sounds or precisely what form of music can be found here. I care deeply for the health of underground music. I listen to music all fucking day long and have an advanced method of processing what I hear. I am a record-person and have been for over twenty years, for better or worse, and this has awarded me with a sense of things that IS IMPORTANT thanks to the unseen and silent hand of NEW PAYOLA, otherwise known as the flat-out WRONG influence and power currently wielded by anyone with the ability to advertise or send out pre-release FIRSTY-FOOD to bloggers and online music-writing venues. I may ultimately lose, but I will nonetheless fight to change what music discovery and intake has turned into: One big grocery-store on Saturday … tons of samples that ultimately annihilate the practice of proper processing or savoring or enjoyment or educated distaste while promoting a stunted, transparent, fickle and just fucking DUMB frame of musical reference.
There is some scary stuff behind all of this, my friends. I’m good for either total befuddlement or “Guess what? Others can see or hear that statement…” when presented with any dipshit from which the following statement emanates: “Why should I listen to some older, out of touch, failed-musician who tries to tell me what is and what isn’t good when I can listen to it for myself and form my own opinion!?!” I don’t want to think about how much amazing music I dismissed upon early consideration without the benefit of a navigator when I initiated the unstoppable drive to plow through band after band on a quest for greatness (that continues in a slightly different fashion to this day). My opinion was very often something just south of complete garbage when I was young, and if I didn’t have certain writings in the pages of Conflict, Forced Exposure or Your Flesh (to name a few) to at least decrease the overload of frustrating gambles, you wouldn’t be reading what I write and I wouldn’t be in love with a lot of the music I am in love with. I’m not here to issue a calls-to-action as far as checking out or not checking out certain bands, as that isn’t my place.
Conversely, I know enough to state with complete confidence that this record shouldn’t have crossed my desk, something I’m writing not from an “isn’t my thing” place. I am studied enough to know what is happening here, and what is happening here should not exist. Bringing it down to a local level, each time a stagnating or backwards-pulling 7” is allowed to come into being, the next Coliseum is somehow robbed of the opportunity to give the world its own inaugural sonic blip. I’m not sure how this particular law of things works, but I’m certain that it’s in place.
Implicating More Than One 12” EP
Aggressive/progressive dealings from a Brisbane trio (including Bedroom Suck CEO and current Kitchen’s Floor drummer Joe Alexander), playing the kind of complex, exciting, hyperbolic p-rock compartmentalized in the ‘90s. Though they have the post-HC flare with lots of yelling and stormy musicianship, there’s some really obtuse logic behind these songs, and where they go is less reminiscent of the Minutemen/Big Flame comparisons they got for their single, and more in line with Spasm Smash-era Trumans Water, all the guitar lines careening sharply upwards, the vocal delivery stressful and panicked, the nuts/bolts holding these songs together wound so tightly they’re about to strip the threads. Six longish songs that trade in memorable riffs for memorable, precarious construction, thoroughly angry but pleasantly free of the stock macho-man moves that tend to dominate this mode of expression. Another plus in the Australian column.
s/t 7” EP
The Disclose tour of 2004 hit American punx like a bomb blast, forever closing the door on Profane Existence-modeled political dirge and grind crust, letting the Japanese raw style spread across Myspace like wildfire. In 2011, Myspace is tossed to the wolves (and low-quality teens), while New York DIY hardcore is in full revival. Crazy Spirit is probably the best known of the bands leading this charge, but Perdition are the standard bearers for NY’s noise. This is their 2010 7”, 2nd EP of 4, including a split with Nerveskade. We’ve got 6 tracks of ferocious and burly Framtid-style distortion, controlled enough to make out the riffs, and enough “song” coming through to keep me interested, though I wish the drums were a bit more front and center. No insert or lyrics, but with song titles of “Room 101,” “Crude,” and “Devour,” I’ll just assume this is a tribute to ‘90s Japanese bands and labels.
Delirium 12” EP
And this shall be the last chillwave/Mary Chain copy. We can only hope, right? Five songs by someone who used to be in Young Prisms which are so overdone that they collapse beneath all that reverb. 100% treatment and style, and any substance is squeezed to death in its suffocating atmosphere. This must be what it’s like to eat a can of thawing orange juice concentrate with a spoon. Green vinyl.
Peter & Craig/Erode and Disappear
split 7” EP
Peter & Craig (their real names) revisit the time-honored indie rock guitar/drums/tuneless vocal format, plowing through unintentional odd meters and fIREHOSE- or Phantom Tollbooth-style stops and starts with slop and gusto. But the silly in-joke lyrics of tunes like “Rocky” (about the movie “Rocky”) and “Peter & Craig Practice Today” (about Peter and Craig practicing today) inevitably date songs that are otherwise brief and catchy enough to remain interesting. They’ll learn. Regardless, this would probably be a fun band to see in the context of a basement or warehouse show, where the scent of potluck vegan food commingles with patchouli and BO from a throng of dancing bike punks. No information as to Erode and Disappear’s membership is provided, but it sounds like two bassists and a drummer augmented with electronics that simmer and squiggle just above the noise floor. The side-long “Fire on the Wind” swings hard with its throaty double basslines and a vocal that vacillates from stentorian to crazed. We award extra points for correct use of a fadeout on the modal riff as catchy as any of those extended codas that Sabbath padded their earlier records with. The thick purple/lavender marble vinyl is rad and the two-color screen print cover sharply illustrated; but c’mon son, among at least five guys involved in this release did no one think to include any contact info? 500 copies.
Bar-Rock 12” EP
Haven’t really kept up with this bunch, which seems like a mistake on my part – the Pheromoans, a young British post-punk/folk/xpr concern, with a few labels and a bunch of releases under them in just a few years. It sounds to me like they are rewriting the playbook on their own terms, giving a specific personality to their racket which sounds as if it was inspired by the kinds of bands that did that sort of thing well in the past (the Fall, the Shadow Ring, the Dead C., Country Teasers/The Rebel, Swell Maps, TVPs). These seven songs get you a little further along the way, dourly strummed and unusually serious for as shambling and affected it is. Think Crystal Stilts in a heavily deconstructive phase (maybe their very earliest years) and that’s kind of the non-team-player vibe that Bar-Rock spits out, like me if anyone feeds me celery, or black licorice. Need to do some backtracking on this band. How hard is it to get the “Shark Fucks” 6” lathe cut record? 300 copies.
Ants on the Golden Cone LP
Remember seeing this name around towards the end of the big tape/CD-R boom of 2008. Might’ve been a 7” too, but I don’t recall it sounding much like this longform slice of pastoral noise. Gentle field recordings get blissed out and bent with effects pedals and the occasional melodic narrative, accumulating in presence, then just as easily drifting apart. Good if you absolutely need background music that’s gotta calm you down.
“Thirteen Steps” b/w “Dead Hand” 7”
Constant comparisons to The Birthday Party put this record to the top of the listening pile when I received this in the mail. Despite being put behind the 8 ball with that reference, the band fleshes out something a bit different. What you get instead is a tight, focused and repetitive song in “Thirteen Steps,” reminiscent of something from the late ‘90s Dischord catalog. Tight, drilling, almost Karp-sounding guitar and on-time drumming move the song along, but the vocals are buried under reverb and mixed so low that any snarl that could have been added to the foray is lost completely. The B-side actually steps it up a bit with “Dead Hand,” bringing the lurch up a bit with a slowed-down and looser bass driven performance.
Northren Psych LP
No arguments from this corner – the biggest unheralded event of rock music in 2011 was that there were two new Ron House-related projects released this year: an archival Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments 7”, all the way from Australia, and a full-length for the new band that he fronts, Psandwich. I’ll go ahead and claim this to be the best band Ron has sang for, definitely the most accomplished and virtuosic, seemingly the most attuned to what we can only assume is going on inside his mind, and ready as he is to accept some flash in their overall demeanor. That is probably because the band members are all significantly younger than Ron, and approach the opportunity with both reverence and vigor. Northren Psych doesn’t wither listeners like the TJSA could; it doesn’t play the professional rock musician card that Great Plains did, and it doesn’t try to work a spare or contemplative angle like his solo recordings did. The band here, all Columbus guys who’ve done time in other bands, hammer this thing with high-energy rock, flashy where it needs to be, articulate and just plain loud, driving these songs home. “I’m the most dangerous kind of 50-year-old!” exclaims House on “Something to Prove,” and as eye-rolling a statement to the youngins as that may warrant, he’s right. He’s usually right, in my experience – this is a shitkicker, front to back, and the band knows how to push its star player into the realm of exuberance that only he has been able to occupy for lo these many years. Even so, one of the most striking moments here is a cover of the Sixth Station’s “Gone Before the Snowfall,” a private press nug of Midwestern Christian rock downer par excellence. House and co. grab onto this thing like it’s the Poppy Family and let the tears flow and the pills pop, with a rugged sound that bolsters the Neil Young-ish twang of the original. It’s so great to have one of the smartest people I’ve ever met back in the frame, even as he puts boot-sized divots into the matte board. Why don’t you own this yet?
Dark, hard-charging modern rock from a Philadelphia trio that lays into the wall of noise with the sort of mechanical, militaristic gusto you might have expected out of a band in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. Their bio rounds them out as great guys who like a wide variety of music, and therefore have opened for Goth bands, metal bands, and prog/indie bands in their hometown. It’s fitting that their sound is more pastiche than innovation; it’s large, kinda sporty, and falls more into a moody mire as the album progresses. The burst of black metal trashwater riffage in opener “YUNG” notwithstanding (all the songs have some three or four letter word/abbreviation as titles, and from this one you can tell that they are indeed Philly residents), these guys could have been any number of bands in our past, from Arcwelder (“KIRA”) to some bizarre Sisters of Mercy/Clockcleaner hybrid (anything on side two). The seven songs here are so damned agreeable that it’s hard not to enjoy this somewhat, but the facelessness of the whole operation is troublesome – the parts are certainly all there, and hopefully future outings will make something more of them. Decent enough, though, and if you’re on the East Coast I’m sure you’ll see them warming up for another band soon enough. White vinyl, big white X decal on the dust sleeve.
“Till The Stroke Of Dawn” b/w “See The Girl” 7”
(Mighty Mouth Music)
The Psychopaths have a catchy name, but it’s misleading. Not that truth would have gotten them very far; neither in 1967, when this record was originally recorded, nor in our age of over-sharing and self-knowledge, would “The Nice Earnest Young Men” garner many listeners. Singer Richard Arvedon sings about waiting for his baby until the stroke of dawn, but let’s be real, when does anyone capable of being diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder wait, let alone fret about how the girl leaving him to go across the sea never really loved him. Where’s the narcissistic rage? 1967 yielded a lot of great music, but this isn’t it; this single isn’t bad, but it was passed over for a reason. A lot of things have changed since then, but its essential ordinariness isn’t one of them. Big hole, black vinyl, no picture sleeve, just like they did back in the day.
“Mucky Pup” b/w “You Can’t Rock & Roll (In a Council Flat)” 7”
And now, an explosive cocktail of snot-nosed angst and avant-absurdity that surely weirded out the pub-rock/proto-peace punk set of its day. With 1977’s “Mucky Pup,” Puncture took what was then a tried-and-true formula and tweaked it to an extremity not heard until a few years later among no-wavers across the pond. Barely diminished after 30+ years is the puerile energy of lyrics like “I pick my nose/then I eat it up,” spat through a busted-tooth sneer, as a shambolic bassline thuds away under that ridiculous synthesizer, squeaking like Styrofoam worked against a wet bottle. “You Can’t Rock & Roll (In a Council Flat)” steers into bouncier near-skiffle territory, really sounding nothing like the absolutely classic A-side but by no means a throwaway. Thankfully, the lyrics are reproduced in their sardonic entirety on the back of the sleeve of this lovingly prepared official reissue. This is highly exciting, highly recommended if not essential – the Exploited thought so, and if you know what’s good for you, so will you.
s/t 7” EP
The Australian import onslaught continues, with this latest deviation from David West (culled from a cassette reviewed on Still Single in early 2011). Breaking with his more explosive projects Rank/Xerox, and Burning Sensation, Rat Columns is quiet, melancholy, expansive pop songs occasionally buried in hiss. Whit it shares with his other bands is the art of crafting a good song, regardless of the aesthetics. “I Wonder” is repurposed from the Burning Sensation LP, where it is the Wipers track on the first Husker Du LP. Here West makes use of space with a lush lo-fi bass, memorable guitar hooks, pulsing synth to turn the song into a Darklands-era pondering. “Keep Waiting” & “Glass Coffin” are more explicitly experimental, with the former seeming like a fuzz wash deconstruction of “I Wonder,” more slowly moving and buried in static, with vocals recorded a room; the latter is an exercise in percussion and loops. “Darkness,” featuring James Vinciguerra from Australia’s latest darlings Total Control on drums, sounds like Rank/Xerox gone pop, with sparse guitar tweaks slowly building towards an abrupt end. Always try to leave them wanting more. Ultimately Rat Columns continues to show West has a lot of great ideas, and can deftly meld the experimental with the ability to write a compelling song.
“Tear It In Two” b/w “Pinckney St.” 7”
Three minutes of Power Pop perfection from Minneapolis, a town obviously known for its ability to channel vintage New Zealand (of course). Real Numbers hit all the right notes, without sounding precious, or like the overstuffed ponces that often make up their paint by numbers genre. The recording is thin, rough and earnest enough to keep it out of the glossy, cloying territory. Packed with hooks and over in a blink, both songs are infectious and memorable, bursting with an earnest charm, and driven by bouncy, driving, bass lines. With all power pop you’ll know immediately if you want to keep it or not, and I keep flipping this. This single is a good step up from their worthy LP, and I look forward to anything to come. Get it.
Dinamo Cambridge LP
(Ride the Snake)
Back from a prolonged absence, the collection of professional certificates, lineup changes and general shifts in attitude, the new (or at least more recent) Reports sound is noisier and more compact, with a pleasant melody-to-static density streaking through an updated, stronger sound. There’s a bit more garage influence, cemented down with stern drumming and manic focus, particularly across the title track, 12+ minutes of burnishing a sturdy collection of riffs along the autobahn, some wise marriage of Oneida’s endless rhythm rockers, the Monks’ skeletal stomp, and the precision and purity of Unrest. The poppier numbers like “Sub-Toucher” and “Puncher’s Chance” play like a scrappy, older relative of young kid bands like Real Estate or Big Troubles, or a rougher/readier foil to Cuffs, the ex-Pants Yell! band that some of these guys split their time in. Boston cube farmers lifting one to the sky. Gotta love this band, and the progress they’ve made through the years. 150 copies, paste-on silkscreened sleeve, and the grapevine told me that there are less than 50 left.
Alasdair Roberts & Karine Polwart/Drew Wright
(Twos & Fews/Drag City)
This split single is a contemporary tie-in with the release of Whaur the Pig Gaed On A Spree, on the Drag City sublabel Twos & Fews. That collection of Alan Lomax recordings made over fifty years ago in Scotland reveals the way Irish folk music sounded before rural electrification came to the Emerald Isle; these two songs show how it sounds in the Internet era. The Roberts/Polwart side conforms to folk music conventions – it’s performed with two voices and one acoustic instrument – but the quickness of their tempo betrays rootedness in a world where you know that your audience will check their cell phone if you don’t hold their attention. They needn’t worry about keeping it, as this is a thoroughly charming performance, but the real weight lies on the flipside. Drew Wright accompanies himself with a shruti box, the same sort of harmonium Allen Ginsberg used to play. Slow-paced and doom-laden, his baritone voice merges with his instrument’s time-stopping drone to amplify the tragedy of the song’s lyric. It’s a tale of bad-assed bravado vs. patriarchal protectionism in which nobody wins, but there’s not a whiff of contemporary commentary or critique in Wright’s version of the ballad. Rather, it sounds like he’s condemning a world in which anyone would rather watch Cheaters or play Angry Birds than sit on a hard bench and listen all night to stories about dudes hacking each other up. He has a point.
After a while of digging new trenches to skeins of DIY music, it becomes hard not to wonder if there are/were any real world parallels to the handful of genius singer-songwriters who rode the rails of DIY culture – guys who might make you think of a Nudge Squidfish or Jim Shepard or Fred Cole, but with even less exposure. This belated compilation of songs by Flint, MI based guitarist Dan Russell certainly would fit the profile; he had been playing out in his hometown, as well as in Chicago and Portland, from 1971 through his recent passing, heading up a slew of outfits no one had heard (The Need – not that one, The Bumps – also not that one, Fer Cryin’ Out Loud, Stabbitty Stabbitty Stab-Stab Stab!, Uncle Daddy, Sissyfist, Brass Knuckles, and a whole bunch more you missed if you weren’t literally in the room with the guy), and without a single vinyl release to his credit. This collection, spanning output of Russell’s from 1983 through 1999, and either recorded on a 4-track or live, is as all over the map as you might expect, but still contains signature touches that can only come from the mind of someone who’s played long enough to develop an original voice that is strong enough to cut through the trappings of genre. Glam, then new wave, show that they can’t survive on their own terms when pushed through Russell’s unfiltered ways of hearing, as respective openers “Granite Man” and “Knuckle Sandwich” (both by The Rub) display: here’s a guy who is comfortable blowing oout the midsection of a grandiose, synth-led pop track with uncompromising strangeness, a guy whose view up at the rest of the world afforded him a lot of what-the-fuck moments that respectable musicians would have passed on; for example, a chorus of “I shit my pants” abutting the bucolic and sincere wander of the ballad “I Don’t Sleep” (which itself ends in a maddening prog-rock coda). Russell finally gets near the paranoia his music had been hinting at with two tracks from Fer Cryin’ Out Loud, resembling a blasted clone of Nomeansno, but the remainder of the tracks offered here find a balance between the possibly-commercial aspects that records on the private press circuit often hint at, and the realities of a musician too willfully far gone to play by the assigned rules. This guy lived in Flint as it died, then came back to rest inside the city’s bones. Put that into context with the music presented here, and it’s no wonder none of this really got out into the world when it could have done Russell some good. Thankfully, it’s here now, and worth exploring if any of the words above make sense to you. And let this be a lesson to all the fools who too quickly show their hand by releasing a physical record right away. Dues are still a thing, they still have to be paid, and at the end of the day, what you make may not belong to you anymore, but will serve as a reflection of you and your level of talent and insight into making music. Sure, there are plenty of other ways to publicly embarrass yourself these days that don’t involve such a strain on valuable resources as well. Dan Russell could blow most of you away, and yet we have to wait to commemorate his thankless life’s work (he’s credited by his brother and former bandmate Tom as the guy who “started the Flint, MI underground music scene”) to get to what made him special. I’m not saying you should take a queue and off yourselves, not by any means – I’m just saying, think about it. I’m also not pulling that right-wing “you’re not a special snowflake” mantra (even if you really aren’t). I’m just saying: what is it that you do, why do you do it, and could you possibly distance yourself from your ego long enough to know if you could do it better? Also, could you cut as striking a figure as Russell, playing live in his underpants? Case = rested. (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Technical Virginity LP
Frustrated prog-metal that’s sounds as if its transitioning from just knowing creeps to being creepy itself. Not a lot of people are gonna be able to hang with the slippery dildo of a song like “The Rites of Sodomy,” because the overlap between fans of wacky math thrash somewhere between Angel Dust and Dazzlingkillmen and those who want to hear about “lubrication” is not going to be too big. These guys never really bother to develop any structure beyond repetition of long curlicue guitar leads and drumming that can’t possibly keep up and instead breaks into free jazz sorta codas. I think I’ve outgrown bands like this, or maybe there’s no point in pushing this millstone around anymore until someone can think of something new to do with it.
Classic Shits 2006-2009 LP
Cabaret Casio tunes from Brisbane’s Laura Hill, and kind of a far cry from the other Bedroom Suck releases thus far (Kitchen’s Floor, Blank Realm, Per Purpose, Slug Guts). The sounds coming off of Classic Shits may be digital and fragile, but the sentiment behind them surely isn’t, Ms. Hill pushing a very personal-sounding, confident, exploratory agenda into real human feelings, propped up against secondhand consumer electronics and the dingy shine they so often produce. The songcraft and lyricism here connects the invisible dots between the Marine Girls, Danielle Dax, Gilmore Tamny and Suckdog, a four sided shape stretching to the beat with a believable vulnerability and dreamlike stature. It’s a good one, a record that defies classic sensibilities, and showcases an artist well in control of her own expressive tendencies.
Toad Blinker picture disk LP
Duo of electronics and live animations present their second album for Dekorder. Spacey electro/chop skiffle races past/through/melds with clouds of interference and rhythmic sound effects, documenting a sprightly and constantly mutating particle of individuality against a sea of other. Kind of like WALL-E, this music portrays business as usual for the rogue unit in a dead world, free to go about and do what it wants, forever. These tracks run at 45rpm on a picture disk with artwork that would animate with a 25fps strobe, two conditions emblematic of its whole purpose: fast and busy. But Toad Blinkerdoesn’t sound rushed; it’s exuberant as much as is it realistic, leveraging the micro-funk with boundless energy, and provoking your sense of wonder as you try to keep up with it. Very exciting!
Seems I touched a nerve with coverage of that Angels in America album on this label. Muffy and Buffy and their friends were none too pleased! Secret Secrets, a duo of women on drums and guitar, bass and synths, mix up tribal percussion patterns against drone elements, chanting and moaning. On the slower tracks, the disadvantages of that approach start to take hold – it’s just a lot of space for one instrument to fill while everything else seeps into the cracks. The tracks where such logic is abandoned for building a groove (the seamy “Down in the Valley,” confrontational closer “Threshold Consciousness”) fare much better, and from the mechanics at work here, it seems as if this band came to the sometimes heavy, engaging music on their own without going through the heavy rock it can be deconstructed into.
If Mike Shiflet were a sensible sort, he would start cranking out sound-alikes of last year’s gorgeous Lanos and ride its beauty-buried-in-noise to the top of drone mountain like an express ski lift, where he would rip the VIP lift ticket from Fennesz’s parka. But he’s headed somewhere else, with a destination no more evident to the casual listener than the exact treatment he used on the found medical recordings that kick off this LP (500 copies, some on transparent bottle-green vinyl, the rest in basic black), or exactly what its music has to do with the Bounty Killer lyric printed on the label. Best just to settle in for the bumpy ride, which seems to locate a hitherto unknown vertical dimension of time. As the record plays, you listen through the layers of rumble and hum and crackle and whine. Each element feels like it could stretch to the temporal horizon, but what do you get when you stack several potential forevers on top of each other and press hard? Something pretty heavy. Non-vinyl partisans and late arrivers might be interested to know that Shiflet is also selling download-only extended mixes that stretch the playing time and frequency range.
Silver Year LP
(Drugged Conscience/Feeble Minds)
I hope I get this right, because to not give Silver Year the praise it deserves would cheat us all. It’s the kind of record that brings the notions of a few decades’ worth of music back to square one, pushing an underheard message of strength and the release of rage from singer Meredith Graves, through a carcrash of blistered noise crumbling apart atop a mile-long bed of hot coals. She is easily one of the most gifted lyricists I’ve read in I can’t remember how long, enunciating tales of the struggle to exist in a world currently in the process of its most dominant groups of humans losing power, and trying to assert themselves wherever they can. Themes of alcoholism, surviving abuse/sexual assault, and social dynamics are balanced with words of strength and reinvention over bristly, churning guitar riffs, a tool-and-die style rhythm section that pushes things along at whatever speed is asked of it, and production that sounds like 100 transistor radios chained under the hood of an American muscle car revving into fourth gear. Don’t worry, there’s like 49 great riffs buried in that atmosphere, and none of them are wasted. It’s taken me a few listens just to get to the bottom of this sound, which is incredibly exciting in and of itself, but I gave in to realizing that everything about this record and band is exciting, and reminds me of why I got into this kind of music in the first place. They play with so few rules but create so much energy and possibility within that space. Time will only tell if they have written a new page in punk rock, but it seems possible.
Our Future Selves LP
(Parks and Records)
Toothless indie rock with gentle Death Cab-style vocals and a crisp recording. These are the guys you work with, probably starting a band as a night away from their wives and kids, who either make enough cash to bankroll a vanity pressing of an LP, or else guilted everyone they know into a Kickstarter campaign to get these meandering songs cut to vinyl as soon as possible. Green vinyl, letterpressed hand-numbered sleeve, and a library card pocket/bookmark which contains all the lyrics. Impressed?
You Are Not Going to Heaven 10” EP
Impeccably recorded, hermetically sealed, thoroughly terminal indie rock from this Boston trio, about as evocative and exciting as its namesake. Stays within all the lines, then draws some more for extra safety. Some feelings are probably going to get hurt over this review, from a label that was pleading with me to review a goddamn CD SINGLE, but the real question is why would anyone who didn’t know or work with the people involved actually care?
Wiped Clean 12” EP
Second record from this Olympia, WA band, and one of the most interesting and consistent punk scenes in this country, parts of which has been well-represented by local label Perennial. Everything they’ve released so far KILLS, and this Son Skull EP is no exception, the band growing further out of the reckless, raspy, rusty sounds of their debut into some surprising and sensitive directions (“Weeping Hole,” with its folk-style vocal and separated, spare guitar, sounds like it could be found in between Greg Sage’s Straight Ahead and the Pearl Jam documentary), while giving guitarist Hayes Waring the chance to open up on fuzz wah solo rippage elsewhere, like on the title track. Son Skull definitely shares a lot of the qualities of some of the other records reviewed here on this day, December 20, 2011 – a sense of picking up and gently fucking with the continuum of punk and underground music as it’s existed for years and years, and getting the requisite kicks out hard. But the promise of new direction evident on Wiped Clean brings with it a level of anticipation, of this whole scene shifting into something bigger and truthful than had existed before. Way rockin’ and worth your while.
Tropics of Holland LP
Back in the early aughts, when Adam Busch recorded under the name Manishevitz, he seemed to take on a new guise every time he made a record. You might get shut-in acoustic strum or strutting Roxy Music redux, but at least you wouldn’t get the same album twice. Nowadays he records nearly under the radar with Sonoi, a trio that also includes ex-Manishevitz bassist Ryan Hembrey and drummer Pierce Doerr, and all that style-hopping has been melted into an alloy stronger than anything he used to do. It helps that he’s gotten his voice completely under control, corralling his once-wayward hiccups into the same harness with a well-developed croon that rolls effortlessly through econo-Verlaine guitar fills, creaky keys, and pleasantly hollow electronics. Michael Krassner, who has added vertiginous depth to some of Califone’s records, stirs a weightier, less psychedelic sense of space into the mix. Not much pop glides like this these days. The 180-gram LP comes with a download.
This is a Wolf Eyes side project and it sounds like those guys are dialing down the attack to the kind of levels that would be more apropos of a coffeehouse or small community jazz venue and performance space. I might be the only person who listens to these noise hippies and hears the Violent Femmes, but the upright acoustic bass and the “GNYAHHH!” style vocals are too in line with the post-beatnik ‘80s black turtleneck set … oh my, here’s a saxophone. Gonna have to pass on this.
Passed Me By 2x12” EP
We Stay Together 2x12” EP
Figure I had to weigh in on these two before the end of the year: you need ‘em, and you need ‘em on vinyl to feel their full impact (though the double-pack CD that just came out would be a good substitute, and has bonus tracks). It’s said that Mr. Stott’s output prior to these two recent releases wouldn’t necessarily point to the developments (he claims “mastery of software” or something to that extent in an exclusive Yellow Green Red interview). Eliminate any knowledge or even the existence of dubstep or grime, what it was or what it is now, and instead focus on the gutter-to-penthouse allegory of Andy Stott’s slow/slower manipulations of samples against permanent-press cycle rhythms, throbbing bass beats, and layers of murk and swamp gas rising from the cuts as they progress. Passed Me By, being the first of the records, actually experiments with slightly more normal-sounding tracks on the first of the two records, the one pressed at 45 RPM. By the end of the second record, when things have dropped down to 33, the hex is on you, and stays on you through the entirety of We Stay Together, in my opinion a sharper refinement of the ideals presented by this artist; noisier, more mysterious, bent beyond recognition of most of the music you’ve known as “techno.” You’ve heard the chopped-up R&B samples, seen the backlit neon and concrete walls, pushed your way up to the bar and waited for a really long time to get served. You even waited in the bathroom line for what felt like four hours. Now the depth and subsonic frenzy of “Dark Details” is getting to you – the rest of the ride, as well as all of the material on We Stay Together, capitalizes on this feel. The entire club is filling with brackish, dirty, if somewhat neutral-smelling fluid and you start wondering where your head is as everything around you slows down. Up to your ankles, up to your knees, up to your waist and you’re never gonna be able to wear these clothes again. The music gets louder and slows down, becoming more forceful as it becomes harder to move, harder to breathe. You may never get out of here. Why haven’t you drowned? Why is it so cold? Nautical sirens blast in the distance; you can feel them. Everyone around you is thrashing about in time to the throb, shaking it in a cloudy, unsettled muck. Life is different now. Life will always be different from here on out, the night that the sprinkler room finally devoured LOVE on MacDougal, preserving partygoers in some kind of occult mold aspic in an attempt to mutate the patrons and prepare them for what’s coming next. You can be there or you can choose to ignore it, but the music of Andy Stott from this year past will be hard to forget either way.
“Paris Effect” b/w “Neat in the Street” 7”
While most of Supercluster has Elephant 6 credentials, the draw here is vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay, who once sang in the mighty Pylon. “Paris Effect” leans closer to E6 winsomeness and standard ‘90s indie rock chug than Pylon’s stark, indisputable throb; I doubt that James Murphy will be dropping it into his DJ sets any time soon. A proliferation of acoustic strings adds padding but little interest, and it falls to Hay’s hearty delivery to make this tune at all memorable. “Neat in the Street” has more bite, which behooves a song about being left behind as fall-out kills off mankind. Turns out it was written by the Side Effects, who shared the bill when R.E.M. played their first gig. Does that count for anything at this point?
The Super Vacations/The Ceiling Stares
split 7” EP
(Velocity of Sound/Sweaters & Pearls)
Dullsville Friend Rock split by people I’m not friends with. The Super Vacations play standard modern variant of slouching mid-paced garage, without frills or charm. Their unremarkable riffs churn through the motions by rote and the singer’s delivery is monotonous like a supermarket white label version of Crystal Stilts dude, minus the swagger. You don’t need melody to make this work, but in lieu of that, the dissonance better be compelling, and Super Vacations manage neither. Ceiling Stares fare somewhat better by recycling a song they released on another EP. Side long poppy indie rock that despite its organ and full group vocal harmonies never quite reach what you’d call lush. “A Tunnel through the Air” takes some nice melodic turns, but not five minutes’ worth. It might fare better on its own record, which luckily for you Dear Reader is available, so desperate for new songs in these release starved times. Pretty teal vinyl. Limited to 500.
All-female, middle-aged surf instrumentals with a deep, somewhat spiritual regard to the genre. Songs play out as such; beyond competent and with signature moves from Ms. SurfTone on lead guitar all over it. Features a long and bewildering cover of “Riders on the Storm.” Pretty deep into the private-press surf/mystic scene, should you want to go there; Ms. SurfTone has enjoyed a long career on labels outside of the United States, and this appears to be her first vinyl release.
Don’t Trip LP
Goddamn great pop music from West Coaster Chris McVicker. Some might say these ten songs have a bedroom mentality but Swiftumz seems to be the type who’d build a bedroom in the recording studio instead, and do his sleeping and late night eating and his drug consumption in there for a few weeks until it got the funk of his life all over it; only then could the music on Don’t Trip feel this lived in and this subtly winning. He’s got the conviction and the confidence to sell this music. While it’s built of the trappings of today (mid-fi home recording quality, dependence on synthesizers, kinda ‘gazey and understated), the songs he’s written here stand with some of the finest that’ve sat on this turntable in some time. The hazy, yet melodically grounded “Angelita” is a small miracle, and his guitar-led tracks on side B firm this thing up between Creation/Sarah Records fantasia, the Cannibal Holocaust soundtrack, and a worthwhile garage-pop sound. McVicker has come up with, between Tweets, a case for himself as a songwriter to notice. He’s also provided his phone number on sealed copies of the album, so you can get at him Mike Jones style.
Mood Ring LP
Extremely formulaic pop on the twee/garbage axis. Not very charming, with simple-minded lyrics and obvious rhyming schemes, but a lot of bands start this way – they usually don’t press up wacky splatter vinyl and do a big booklet and silkscreened sleeve like this is important somehow. Definitely ahead of themselves. Baby steps, get on Bandcamp. Baby steps, get better. Doctor! Leo! Marvin! Numbered out of 300 copies.
World of Shit LP
No need to review this one again – did it here, still holds – but there is a lot to be said (and a lot that shouldn’t have to be said, at all) about the presentation of this reissue. World of Shit was originally a picture disk, the B-side of which depicted some massive (and probably real) lines of cocaine. This edition comes in a much more tasteful gatefold sleeve, with a simple, discofied layout, and a bunch of pictures of Jay Reatard candidly smiling, pouting, or playing guitar on some stage in the layout – things which go against the harshness of this record, and which I seriously doubt would have been depicted as such were he still alive. Without making any judgments on deathstyle, etc. whatsoever, I think it’s a total bluff to cover up the persona that made these records now that he’s gone, so close to it happening. I guess there will never be the kind of “greatest hits” activity over a guy who crammed so much recording into a dozen or so years, and that we essentially have the good times to remember of those who no longer with us, but I’m against things which could be construed as altering Jay’s public image, for whatever reason. What do you think? Contains two bonus tracks from a 7” single, and two unreleased songs.
Give Health999 LP
Project out of the same warehouse that birthed the band Nihiti, but maybe not – assuming some of the same members trying out a theoretical rehydrating of safe musical styles (jazz guitar, folk chorals, militaristic rhythms, earth drone) through a ton of effects processing and field recordings, and let the whole thing take on a more rarefied air as a result. It works as much as you want it to, really – very easy to both find value and be critical of a work like this. Probably depends on how much you’ve heard, but if you’re still in the small minority of people who want to be surprised by music, even when you can see the seams between ideas, you may want to check it out. Gets really oppressive at the end of “Flying Zonogons,” too, and on a whole it extends some of the experiments that Nihiti wisely reined in for the sake of their last album. Check out some wild architectural renderings at the following URL:
“Tunnels” b/w “An Irish Orphan” 7”
Ambitious but raw alt-country, and for a genre I don’t expressly care about, the Union Electric manages to do a reliable job of delivering the odd record I can enjoy. They have a general vibe of “effort” which is a pleasant variation from our typical slouching garage dreck. Your mileage may vary. Tim Rakehell’s grizzled voice and fuzzed guitar makes this a good record for you busker shitpunks looking to graduate from the junior leagues of endless variant color vinyl to some serious Americana. “Tunnels” is your obligatory coal miners’ ballad, with some sweet pedal steel touches and female harmonies that provide some polish and class. “Irish Orphan” is the story of Roger Casement, Irish consulate and human rights activist stripped of his position for reasons of homosexual sex tourism rumors that surfaced on Wikipedia. Here they ditch the pedal steel and Melinda Cooper’s vocals in favor of an organ or possibly accordion, and it must have been recorded after a long night in the tunnels because Tim sounds just guttural on this one. A solid genre effort that presupposes your like or dislike of it.
Leather Leather LP
KILLER effort here from another card in the spokes of the Wax Museums’/Silver Shampoo’s/Wiccans’ Huffy Desperado, and dare I say it surpasses the others by a good bit. Monochromatic/stencil diecut sleeve contains music that can stand up to such a look, really cool wavo punk (think the Ralphs, maybeBloodstains Across Texas) that’s spare and economical, tailored to collapse from sleek sniper rifle to contents of a briefcase in 20 seconds and played with that sort of detached, deadly accuracy. They get the bleak, muted, pissed off/pissed-on vibes down right away, charging through some jagged territory with a little bit of rolling badass bass action now and again, edging up on new wave and Goth without crossing the line, and most importantly, without using keyboards. Sounds tuff, even when singer TV’s Daniel brags about wanting to go to prison and the like – he’s a lot better off with rhetorical platitudes like “Didja think/it could get/any worse?” Not a moment is wasted. Total knockout record, get one soon.
Pleasant split harkening three decades back, each side drawing on previously released album tracks. NY trio Violens (good to see someone else inspired by the lyrics sheet from Pearl Jam’sVs.) offers “It Couldn’t Be Perceived,” in slightly modified form from their Amoralfull length, with what would have easily passed for well-studied, 4AD-style dream pop, were it not for that disco beat during the closing minutes. Erika Spring’s first non-Au Revoir Simone output isn’t a far cry from that group; Spring’s very pretty voice and tinkling keyboard phrases are underscored by washes of synth strings, blurry effects and tom-heavy drumming from Violens member Jorge Elbrecht. Those who know who Spring is will be pleased as pie.
“Saturday Night Again” b/w “Voytek Party” 7”
Perfect party record, because unless there is a DJ, no one at a party pays any significant amount of attention the chosen tunes, and that’s an exact match for the attention this record will command in the comfort and relative simplicity of one’s own home. It is best to think that each time a record like this is manufactured, another record of beauty, inspiration and invention is robbed of the right to exist. Mediocrity: Start The Violence.
“Die With Dignity” b/w “Leave Me Alone” 7”
Two Thrills 7”
(Negative Guest List)
Local rock that Aquarius Records would have shit twice as hard over if only they realized who is in the band. Four rowdy blue collar ones for when the dockworkers mix it up with the Thirsty Thursday set, headlined by the unforgettable “Die With Dignity.” Featuring songs by the Cramps (“New Kind of Kick”) and Lou Reed (“Leave Me Alone”) that fulfill their contracts with the local musicians’ union. Now with Big Dan on bass. They’re best when they’re hammering away at one chord, and they do it on both originals. One good chord is all you need anyway, and you will find it on “A Condom,” where Richard tells you what he is and isn’t gonna put in his bag. Massive, all-basement vibes and some of the truest mid-digital ingrown hair/possible MRSA spuzz since Drunks with Guns, but actually concerned with paying rent and staying out of trouble, the former’s charismatic nihilism and irresponsibility replaced with a seething contempt for humanity, teeming over the sides. SOUNDS LIKE SKULL MUSIC TO ME! Siltbreeze single came with a DVD-R labeled “Team America World Police.” What will yours include?
(True Panther Sounds)
Agreeable indie pop-rock from the Bay Area, responsible for a decent 7” not too long ago. I had them pegged for some level of success, but the response to this album has been a bit quiet. It seems like Wet Illustrated have come a bit late to the game, more accomplished in sound and production than some contemporaries (Nodzzz springs to mind), maybe a bit more traditional or old-fashioned in nature (pitching more towards a tune-concise Modest Mouse than something like what the Fresh & Onlys are up to right now). The fact that the band can only attribute to its sound a range of outside influences that stretches back to late 70s/early 80s postpunk tension (Feelies, etc.) reminds of the commonalities at stake here, not sounds kind of common, despite some bright moments. It doesn’t stand out, but it’s fine; the kind of new record that’s becoming all too common: the one that is cognizant of the frustration we feel at having the whole of musical output very easy to find and not knowing where to go with it. It’s music that’s already ripe for rediscovery 10-15 years down the line rather than in the congestion of the moment.
“Measured Energy” b/w “The Uncommon Parallel That Resides Between Your Fingertips” 7”
Rather than offer their most immediate material on the short format, White Hills go for their most abstract. And like Sammy Johns once sang, that’s all right with me. “Measured Energy” sounds like a video-game approximation of Cluster jamming with a digeridoo improv ace, while a shortwave radio in the background gives up its tenuous hold on being in tune to any station. The flip is a big, echo-laden bit of guitar racket that sounds like it could only have been realized by smacking the sound against both walls of a very large room. Dark purple vinyl and sleeve images of obscured eyes only enhance the notion that this is psychedelia, but not psychedelic rock. The much longer bonus tune that comes with the download (not sure if it’ll continue to be available that-away once the records dry up) is much closer to the long-form, none-too-hasty rock that White Hills provides on longer formats. Brevity may be the soul of their wit.
Forgotten Lovers LP
Gary Wilson is a fixed frequency on the spectrum of life, and tuning to that channel provides a constant and unswerving presence: shag carpet, sandalwood incense, leisure suits, and in the midst of it all a dressed-up man in the throes of romantic failure. The distance between his late ‘70s real people classic You Think You Really Know Me and the new Forgotten Lovers is negligible: his backing band has become a bit flashier and more professional, and Gary sounds more confident, but it is as just as bizarre and personal a trip, maybe even more so now that the artist has found a balance between his output and its eventual reception by a committed group of listeners, and has entered somewhat of a comfort zone in terms of how he’ll be received. Very nice silkscreened sleeve on this pressing.
Wreck of the Zephyr
For Helen LP/book
(Pass the Fist)
Humiliating facsimile of Titus Andronicus, with more swollen passages that recall the Arcade Fire. Nothing new or exciting going on here, just faceless, facile yelling and easy ideas presented as vital ones. “Hey, they’re doin’ good at it, how ‘bout us?” Moved from Boston to LA to live the dream, and now are toiling with boxes of this heavy, easily-damaged product wherever they may go. Gatefold, hardbound book with record sleeve attached to the back, meaning the record is going to tear through the bottom seam of the package without fail.
X Ray Eyeballs
“Sundae” b/w “Déjà Vu” 7”
Christmas trees. Who needs them? Assholes do: they are a horrible, senseless waste. If you kill a perfectly good cow, you can process it into hamburgers and cowboy boots. You chop down a redwood tree, and you can use the lumber to make a methadone clinic with enough left over to print a pornographic magazine. But Christmas trees are a glorified stand to hang overpriced ornaments on honor the birth of someone that didn’t exist to impress children. There is an entire industry of people growing Christmas trees just to kill to and discard before even having the common decency setting them on fire. Even the mouthiest environmentally sensitive moss-eating, bike-riding gasbag will chop down a tree to stuff in their living quarters. Why? Tradition. Tradition is not a valid reason. Tradition is why horrors like slavery, female genital mutilation, and sacrificing a child to some non-existent god. Aping the Jesus and Mary Chain is apparently also a tradition, though not one as heinous. Lots of dead strangers (or for that matter, live acquaintances) doing something doesn’t make it a good idea. Speaking of Christmas trees and tradition, this record reminds me of Christmas Island, who I like. It’s the voice; it’s what a tenor probably sounds like if I bothered to do my research. But unlike Christmas Island, who have a way of parrying around normal arrangements in an interesting fashion, X Ray Eyeballs shucked the whole “interesting” approach for the far-too-common relentless monotony of the thump crack thump crack drum drone and the “let’s just not fucking go anywhere” school of arranging. The people at Pitchfork like them, and I don’t. Who do you trust?
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By Dusted Magazine