Still Single: Vol. 5, No. 3
Hey, I’m back. Sorry for the delay. We are working out a stopgap measure for getting reviews up and around in a more timely manner. Check out http://still-single.tumblr.com and you’ll see what I mean. If you’re subscribed to the Twitter (@stillsingle), you will probably be seeing posts from the blog anyway, so you’re covered.
Some content will be exclusive to this column, and some will be exclusive to the blog, but expect overlap galore. And thanks to everyone who continues to support this endeavor, either by sending in records or words of support, or by buying these releases from the artists and labels filling out the front lines and back pages of music.
We’re also going to start reorganizing these alphabetically. Deal with it.
Art af Oryx
Ambitious German avant-cabaret outfit, pitched somewhere in between Kip Hanrahan’s jazz voyages into the personal and tense, cathartic rock a la Oxbow, Slint, or Enablers. Working from a mix of traditional and electronic instrumentation, the five piece ensemble lays down the setting for a dark night of the soul on a city street after the rain, neon lights blazing. Requires a certain mood to get into, but if you’re there, and have been bored of downtown for some time, this might snap your mindset back to a more adventurous place. Gets intense and discomfortingly loud in spots, and will probably make you feel embarrassed in others, but such is life. Points for the group attempting to establish a voice. Gatefold sleeve, excellent presentation.
My problem with most modern black metal is that a growing number of its participants seem to forget the metal part entirely, choosing instead to focus on feelings and bullshit. Ash Pool’s new single makes up for dozens of pathetic examples in the genre with a fury missing outright from much of the day’s output. Dominick Fernow (Prurient, also guitarist and vocalist of Ash Pool) also remembered to bring along some head-banging breakdowns that infuse the otherwise monochromatic blasts of rhythm and torture with snarling guitar work and a tough, evil exterior. I don’t want to hear the sounds of a haunted house, I just want to hear people losing their fucking minds to sick riffs. Somewhere down deep, so do you. These two tracks, of dubious political nature (“Origin of Man” and “Origin of AIDS”), rip through the night with maniacal, curb-stomping abandon. It’s a great, cathartic release, where so many others are a waste of time. Blue vinyl, probably out of print soon, if not by now.
Archaeological reissue. Home studio recordings from a Runcorn, UK DIY outfit, barely known in their day and having had released two singles, both limited to 250 copies apiece, in their time. This isn’t an exact reissue, but rather compiles four of the five tracks from their Last Thoughts EP, some as alternate takes from the originals. Goes by pretty quickly but if you need those rarefied Syd Barrett hometaper sounds and you need them now, the $11 this will cost you gets you far enough along. “This Atmosphere” pre-supposes the space in between Barrett, the Clean, the Vaselines and early drum-machine Echo & the Bunnymen (without the drum machine, of course … without any drums at all). If that doesn’t sell you on it, I’m not sure what would. Polite enough to get out of the way, and quickly. 300 copies, nearly gone.
More like Eric Gaffney’s diary! Two sides of temper tantrum and microphonic feedback from two young party dudes who kept it somewhat together on their first LP, Judy’s Dust. The concept of restraint is somewhat lost on them here, Daniel DiMaggio and David Sutton instead deciding to inflict pain – pain boged down with emotion – on anyone who dares check in on them. Could have been a field recording of a child psychologist examining some very sad teenagers. Salo was easier to get through. 200 copies, paste-on sleeve.
Small-press label convinces the Cheater Slicks to do a jam record. There’s actual rock on here coming through the improvisation, which is played in a way that removes a lot of the mystique from it, then partly obscured with gouts of cyclical feedback. This band has become particularly angry and more aggressive over their past couple of albums, having fully removed itself from their “pop” phase of Forgive Thee and gained a whole new fanbase in the process, one that loves them so much that it all but demanded an album of these guys dicking around for a few hours. It is heavy, though, and rockin’ (particularly the second passage), and while it’s not the first record of theirs that you should check out, it shows these guys have an appreciation for their position, and triumphantly turn another corner in their career. Hell, most of this record is near-drumless, or the drums are mixed down so low that they are drowned out by the guitar and analog synth. Great times. 300 copies (100 were on green) with silkscreened, hand-numbered covers – sold out in a day! Repress is coming soon.
Straight Arrows side project of a guy and girl in Sydney, Australia, rockin’ in a vaguely neon Mick & Keef sleaze sorta way. “Total Waste” is inept enough in the guitar lead and confident enough in the vocal shouts and rhythmic authority that it could almost be a lost Huggy Bear track, though that’s not what it seems they’re going for. “Everybody Left” is a bit more straightforward, and more of an obvious nod to Royal Trux, which is what they’re probably going for. The way it plays out, though, they’re either geniuses on the level of Black Time, or just really boring, dumb coke rock. I leave it up to you to decide what’s what. 500 copies, silkscreened sleeves.
Young kids living in NYC playing on a vaguely garage/rockabilly/wavo twitch, with heavy synth and sampler use. There’s reverb on everything (and it’s “lo-fi” with a lowercase “l”), playing up drama wherever there’s room, be it on the strobing Numanoid break on “Electric Car” or the shit-kickin’ Birthday Party cowpunk bend on “Cage Those Pythons.” It’s clear these guys want to be popular, and want it to happen fast. They’re clearly learning the ropes as they go along, which is admirable, but you might want to check back when they’ve figured out how they want to sound. 200 copies, silkscreened sleeves.
More agonizing shred from the Michael Berdan Blues Explosion, sounding more like a torture session than a rock band in all the ways that would improve upon that lazy description. Kristy Greene produces riffs that transmute noise and borderline industrial chaos into early metal and heavy blues. The three vectors of performance in the band (guitar, vocals, and drums) are intense enough on their own to blast one another apart, but Drunkdriver is figuring out a balance to their sound that most extreme rock/noise artists never find. They’ve learned a language that works for them, and it will be exciting to see how far it can go. 500 copies.
Well-constructed, deeply layered Center City computer crash from a Philadelphia artist with an ear towards the past and a thing or two to say about class warfare (“Resident Beardo” with its Caucasian guilt screed, fills more of a bill than anyone had thought to ask for). Decent effort, no matter how foreboding it comes across in execution – these are short, tightly-crafted blasts of disaffection, accumulating on the brim of personal trouble. It’s a noise record. 300 copies, silkscreened chipboard sleeve.
Four more tracks of historical re-enactment late ‘70s/early ‘80s DIY art-punk from Texas ladies Finally Punk. It’s difficult for me to determine what exactly makes these songs their own, aside from the fact that the band members ostensibly wrote and played them. They take so much from, say, old Girls At Our Best or Kleenex records that there’s not a whole lot left for themselves to claim. But they are a fun band, in a purely punk-archival sort of way. Nice-looking glued pocket sleeve. Some copies on white vinyl.
Deeply expressive minimal melancholy from Irisarri, whose fluid style on the cello and ability with a particularly sad computer both work out in his favor. Cold, slow, bright compositions of intense emotional depth, in a very settling, pleasing way. Pretty special stuff here, both pieces turning on their individual axes instead of going anywhere, allowing the light to catch their most striking facets. Those of you enamored with guys like Johann Johannsson may want to look in this direction.
Less the gold-leaf and resin glory of their last single, Scalping the Guru offers up a moody wander through spacey psychedelic effects, flashing lights, and riffs stretched out into songs. This isn’t the kind of album I expected from the band that made that stupendous 7” for CDR’s singles club. But perhaps this works into some greater scheme, a purging of ideas to make new for the new ones. Dingy and weird, but not without charms, or a very well-done silkscreened sleeve (it’s got both). 300 copies.
Grad student black metal abstractions, likening to those who would draw its label logo on the toilet seat in the mens’ room of the bar I like to go to, so that’s a bummer right there. That kvlt/graffiti kid crossover you didn’t want peaks around the corner as one Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (…) produces six cuts of prissy overtone bullshit that only takes flight when you drop it down from the suggested 45rpm dummycrush to an even stupider 33rpm. Here’s where all the hairs and crystals are, down in the shake. You won’t even recognize what a poor idea it was to perform a cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “No More Sorry” in this style; it simply sounds like spastic teenagers trying to cover Lush by way of Jerome’s Dream, with an amplified sprinkler system for the drum machine. But it’s like 12% better played slower. If my turntable went down to 16rpm I might even love this. Clear vinyl.
Two more platters from the prolific Dan Melchior, cranking out dozens of unique releases a year, but with all the requisite expectations of his sound – lonely cynicism set to a classic post-punk/folk/garage swing – full intact. I don’t know how he manages to keep up the level of quality, but I can speak for at least one of these following suit with the past. “The Post Office Line” single is not that one, but rather a frustrated noise explosion, given a bit of breathing room on the B-side “Tourists” but suffocating and immense on the title track. Hammering drum machine, reverbed vocals, and overdriven organ/bass combo tones provide an unsettling, flooded sound that’s more Metal Urbain than (not the) Medway Sound. However, it does adequately express the frustration I feel towards my local post office, so I can sympathize. Much more enjoyable is “Mr Oblivian,” still leaning on the handful-of-instruments sound but paying more attention towards creating a melody instead of sensory obliteration. And “Piledriver Nitemare #2” closes the gap between these two styles, with a big filthy Cramps kick and passionate late-night grind. Two more singles and a double LP are on the way, and probably more where that came from as well. Even when not firing on all six cylinders, Melchior can coax out something that’s at least interesting to listen to, and of a particular style, and that’s what keeps him on as a constant in this otherwise dank, uncertain realm of music. Singles Club release is on red vinyl in an edition of 250, most of whom are going to peoples’ mailboxes whether they like it or not; the other one is a pressing of 600, with full-color sleeve.
All you minimal synth freakers out there working on your seventh album, pay attention. This is how you’re supposed to be doing it. Make it weird and sinister, not geeky and diffuse. Figure out your gear, get your shit straight and gain a mastery of your setup. Disregard everything. Sound unhinged, unemployable, and fucked up. Play like you’ve actually had sex with the partner of your choice in the past few weeks. Fuck with everything visual so that your artwork is alternately memorable and mundane. And be sure to put a locked groove at the end of each side. Maybe then you could stand up to Pillow Talk, who’s made the best electronic/synth/punk/drug jammer for since Spider. Finding records like this is the reason I keep writing through all the lousy ones. Scorching. SHOCKING. A must-own. Hurry up. 500 copies.
Techy, nerdy, strident alt-rock of the stick-n-move mid ‘90s variety and transplanted into the now: wound up Mission of Burma worship with like half the ideas and none of the sensibility. Plenty of parts that aren’t memorable, slammed into one another under the guise of art. Doesn’t really work, and the talkin’ guy vocals don’t help either, no matter how furious they pound away at it. At points “Better Off Not Seen” reminded me of that post-Quicksand band Rival Schools (you had to be there, I guess), but even that didn’t really hold my interest long enough before it ended. Green vinyl, silkscreened sleeve, and a copyright date of 2007, leading me to believe there’s a bunch of these under their bassist’s bed.
Second full-length by these Columbus punk freeloaders, making a tattered mess of country, folk, psych, and Velvets-aware pop that starts good, like some lost Fuzzhead outtake, and only gets better over the course of side one. These first four songs are their most mature material to date, nuanced like some long-lost ‘70s major label rediscovery, like alternate universe Neil Young records downloaded from a satellite. On “Like a Dan Shearer Over Troubled Water” they got so much soul, definitely not what you’d expect for a band stuck in the rings of their less-defined lo-fi/lo-ability counterparts, and if they keep playing like this (and not in the flatulent style of the three cuts on the B-side, stagnant with post-punk rudiments that don’t really work), they are going to turn a lot of heads. 500 copies, strongest A-side material I’ve heard in a bit. You should probably get one now.
Shep and Me
Needed to review this one pronto as it’s been stinking up my office – the sleeve was printed on the backside of an LP jacket that probably lived in a moldy basement for 40 years. There’s no funk at all on the record itself, just some thin, pleasant parlor folk jangle and austere instrumentals. There’s even some noise at the end, but it’s all shopworn ideas, with barely an attempt to engage the listener. Lord, how I suffer.
Six speedy, efficient, energetic blasts of punk from this new Spanish outfit. Co-ed shouted/sung vocals are spit out over top fast, bassless riffage and gang choruses, all sung in the group’s native tongue. Slightly reminiscent of Gorilla Angreb but perhaps with more of a ‘90s/New Bomb Turks turbo-garage approach than any sort of Exene/John Doe worship. All the same, it’s wound up tight and extremely listenable. Good times.
Hefty caber toss hardcore from Pittsburgh. Used to be a two-piece belonging to the Kasunic brothers, but this debut 7” reveals a full band with gruff vocalist. Given their propensity towards good-time chaotic riffage, they remind me of a sloppier, dirgier version of Brain Handle, another great hardcore band from the Steel City. “Coping Mechanism” is a big bopper. New one is coming soon and I’m looking forward to it. 500 copies, 70 on black and the rest on blue.
Repress featuring the long-gone Spider 7” tracks from their Hozac single, plus three unreleased ones recorded at the same time. Still rulin’ after a few years. “Witch Cookie” remains a reason to keep digging through all these weird lo-fi home studio/synth/oddball projects, just in the hopes that another song as good as it will turn up. The newer songs are a bit more formulaic, but in that display, Spider shows a more traditional side, even a vague ambition towards Siouxsie Sioux on “If I Were You.” Great record, yet again. 300 copies with silkscreened sleeves.
Lonely country lass twang, featuring an ex-Black Lip in the back and produced in Berlin by King Khan. It’s pretty excellent, the sound of a 4am blacktop run, the feeling of a cold nose and the knowledge that you can’t go to sleep just yet. Spare without sounding intentional; sounds as if it was recorded through a tin can telephone, though with enough fidelity to define all the elements that need it. I keep thinking of the Renderers, but quiet, as one of the only comparisons that makes sense. Excellent stuff from a pretty great label overall. Not many copies, but there’s a “hardcover” edition made with a wooden sleeve as well as the regular version I got. 250 copies altogether, with CDR and on gold vinyl.
I like to let some of these Hozac releases marinate for a little while before listening with my good ear. I also think there are enough one-man garage bands out there that Hozac will have us covered in until the Day of Reckoning. But Subtle Turnhips produced one of their most grating releases to date, and I caught myself thinking about it months after the record turned up at my house. This one even flummoxed my sometimes-intern, Josh Figgleman, who sheepishly returned it along with two dozen other random punk singles in a gesture of failure, unreviewed. The title track is the sort of aimless, irrational punk rock churn this corner of Dusted was designed for, a breathless sprint through one lyric and a relentless, zipperheaded riff. DIY destruction at its finest, a real wrecking ball. This is only the fourth release for this French bunch in nearly 20 years (there was a long hiatus in between their single from 1990 and a full-length from 2002, neither of which I’ve heard). They’re not giving much away about themselves (B-sides sound like sprightly Subway Sect/TVPs outtakes) but they have made a really exciting record with “Fuck the People, etc.” and I urge you to seek it out. 600 copies, 150 on gold, worst looking sleeve you could think of too on the gold edition (the regular one looks really good).
Is this “tropical”? There’s palm trees and shit on the cover. Does it matter? No. Hadn’t heard this bunch before but now, given the chance, I’d like to check out more. Chilled out longform sesh pieces for guitar and rhythm, adrift on a gentle current of reverb and healthy blonde hair. Impossible without a grant of inspiration from Animal Collective, of course, but it’s a pretty fucking righteous ride, especially how closer “Bridal Filly” reconstructs the humble majesty of Crispy Ambulance’s “The Presence” out of an entirely new cloth. Sun Araw-t on, man. Lovin’ it. First press of 420 copies (heh), second press of 250.
Unearthed, unissued late ‘70s recordings from this female-led Toronto punk band, having only appeared previously on the No Pedestrians comp. Their track from that one, “Back Off Baby,” is here in rougher form, along with four other tracks, all presumably practice space demos and sounding about as rough. That quality adds a level of thrills that a piece like this needs to succeed, and while the band might have tried to cover too much ground – Blondie-esque drama, tuff Ramones/Sham-style riffs, fragmented messes like “Johnny” and glam-dangerous hooks inside the taut “Revenge” – its ambitions were grounded by their overall tightness and ability to sound exciting. Thousands of miles away, the Avengers were mining this same territory with equal success. Great discovery here, and any fans of girl-punk should be excited about its existence. 500 copies.
Pretty funny that it took Sub Pop (and $75 from 1500 of us) to get Tyvek to commit to releasing some new songs. “Duck Blinds” pushes their nervous geek pop right to the fore, maybe a minute or so of yelping, silly garage rock bop, while “Pamphlet” moves an abstract cluster of chords, mounted around a riff tantrum, vocal samples and keyboards trying desperately to pull its distress signal under. It’s a good one, but for as long as we had to wait for these guys to make up their minds about what they want to do, it’s only fair that it should be. I haven’t thought about these songs too much in the past few days. Rust brown/clear swirl vinyl. Image courtesy of eBay.
It’s another lo-fi pop band from Portland … wait, where are you going? The Whines are an austere new trio, led by bassist/vocalist Kariane, which plays comfortably from minimal Galaxie 500-style pop laments, bratty Riot Grrrl slogs through developing musical skills, and dead-eyed, bedbug-infested garage-blues arrogance. Kariane’s somewhat bratty delivery plays off nicely against the band’s relatively somber, grit-laden music that’s just great all around, combining ideas with a net wide enough to capture the Yips’ Gilmore Tamny, Jean Smith from Mecca Normal, and Courtney Love (the person, not the band) and harness the best of their ideas. Each of their four song sounds like the product of a slightly different band (I hear G500, Bikini Kill, Dead Moon, and Hole, respectively), and yet they play through the familiarities as if they were their own, the preferred method of transcending influences into a personal statement. They had me at the first song. 300 copies, hand-stamped sleeves, and touring the West Coast with Eat Skull this month. Looks like it’s outta print and being repressed in May.
Evanescence meets gnarled black metal for a compromise that does not sound good. Heavy gamer/stage crew drama club vibes here, which makes me wonder if these people are Evergreen grads. Needs more mithril, higher charisma, anything. People are into some dumb shit. Fancy packaging includes stamped-foil sleeves and a painting that sort of looks someone was moving around an illustration from an old issue of Creepy under a still camera.
By Doug Mosurock