Still Single: Vol. 5, No. 6
Here is the latest roundup. Thanks to Andrew, Grant, Herbie, Joe, and the incomparable Killedbyjeff for their contributions.
You can also see reviews, listening recaps and lists of records I’ve scored at http://still-single.tumblr.com, and you’ll be able to keep up with the blog, as well as links to purchase new and limited edition releases, via the Still Single Twitter-feed (@stillsingle). Keep sending ‘em in, we’ll keep knockin’ them out.
In the hands of a band that knows that lower speeds are, as David Yow told me in an interview, “more like getting beaten up,” mid-tempo is my tempo. Acephalix should leave you dazed, bleeding and wondering if you still have to pay your bar tab if your teeth are missing. Anvil-heavy metallic-ish punk from former members of (deep breath) Defiance, Depressor, Deathcharge, Poison Idea and the Riffs. Note that several of those bands begin with “De-,” so don’t be too surprised that two of these four burners use the dreaded d-beat, a rhythm as eye-rolling in its own way as ska. Quick-fire opener “Nothing” does park a wicked, Ginn-y (or is it wicked-Ginny?) solo in there, which does wonders. Well-executed all the way around, an excellent opening move. Their demo (some of which has been remastered for this EP) is floating around the Internet. Word has it some Killing Joke steez will show up on the LP. I am pro-, you might be against. A few hundred copies of the pressing are on white vinyl.
Given the cover art, I wasn’t expecting the music. Looking like something you might find on Not Not Fun or Post-Present Medium, the Beluga 7” instead offers two straightforward songs of Brooklyn bar rock. This is not the bar rock of by-gone eras; no boogie or blues to be found here. Instead, this is the non-specific rock that lives between punk and something a bit more mundane. Beluga is comprised of four girls and a guy, and readily available online videos show a reasonably charismatic female singer who will strut and roll about the stage, while her instrument-burdened band mates chill and hold a steady beat behind. As such, the music is competent and clearly recorded, with vocals vaguely reminiscent of Mika Miko or even X, though without the flair or hooks of either band’s best moments. Lots of “baby” and “honey” and “bitch” in the lyrics, not much bite to back it up though.
“Well, maybe the next time around, they’ll push themselves to make a better album.” Only the most idealistic (a.k.a. inexperienced or terrified of an ass-kicking) music writer would offer this sort of pipe-dream when justifying an overtly negative review. Oddly enough, Black Panda’s Shake Me 7” EP (4-songs) does this fairytale duty by existing and providing other bands with a model to avoid when crafting their respective recordings. That is, of course, if they can remember anything about Black Panda after this aggressively-forgettable EP makes its one and only visit to the turntable. Hailing from the land of too many damned bands (Austin, TX), Black Panda is but a few minutes extracted from the Goner Records blooper reel. Each track features vocals barked/sung in a boring place equidistant from both Brit-snotty and Japanese-unintelligible, along with the particular neutering of riffs, beats, and tempo that’s mired garage-punk ever since Estrus, Norton, Crypt, and Sympathy launched an early-to-mid-’90s campaign to choke the genre with filler. Savvy listeners will be scared off by the combined primary color AND zoological/naturalist qualities of the band name, but the chosen audience is known for pathological acceptance of like-minded tedium or whatever is recommended by the demographic’s upper 10% (the founders + some great bands). When folks form bands after learning how to mimic their heroes instead of learning what was special about them in the first place, the world gets clutter like Black Panda. Not coming to an eBay auction any time soon. 300 copies.
If American punk has one icon to be proud of past the glory days, it’s Tony Erba (ex-9 Shocks Terror), a Cleveland man who’s name is synonymous with flying, flaming, garbage. One of my favorite show memories is of Tony choke-slamming some kid through a folding table and flattening Mark Pesci with a folding chair during Gordon Solie Motherfuckers’ set at Chicagofest 2001, shortly before the cops broke the whole thing up. Tony packed in GSMF for his health, but not before being knocked out cold in the middle of their last show. Clearly hardcore is a higher calling, and musically Cheap Tragedies picks up where GSMF left off. They’ve refined the hooks and added some of Erba’s other bands, Stepsister and Amps II Eleven. The mid paced songs have a pumped up Detroit punk edge, that remind me of the Hookers’ second LP or early Hellacopters, with Erba hollowing like a mad preacher. The drums and bass need to sound a bit more bombastic next time around. It’s anomalous these days, with hardcore racing down the Swan’s nihilism hole, but you can just hear Tony grinning through the blood.
I feel like there is a formula or ratio for missing or additional consonants in band names and the quality of music, and the result of those equations is always negative. I haven’t wracked my brain too hard to think of exceptions to this, but Clipd Beaks are unfortunately not one of them. Though they came highly recommended, I am not particularly swayed by their brand of modern tribal psychedelia. It seems there are many bands treading similar ground these days, very spread out, delay-drenched, exercises in dynamics-building that probably come off a lot better live than they do in the constraints of seven or twelve inches. I would probably check this band out live and hope the caterwauling, freemo vocals were kept to a minimum, but something tells me that is wishful thinking.
Italian Raveonettes clone (a clone of a clone … vhat a clon), less refined but every bit as catchy. Really, what more can be said? Some kids discovered the Jesus & Mary Chain again and are worshipfully feeding back. Plenty worse things could happen, like the following: NYC Cravings food truck running out of chicken; stepping in gum or poop; calling a prescription in by phone; elliptical trainers at the gym are full up; drinking a diet soda; paying late fees; trip to the museum leaving you a little bummed out; someone sitting directly behind you in an empty movie theater; having to be awake an hour earlier than usual; using the subway to transport anything unwieldy; picking hairs and crumbs out of your laptop keyboard; errant car alarms; pissing away your day doing nothing. I smell things every day that are far, far worse than any record I receive. THINGS ARE NOT THAT BAD OVER HERE, particularly since there’s no more room for bands like these (somebody let the Crocodiles know, game’s over). Little over 100 copies pressed (you heard right), silkscreened sleeves, hope you find one if you’re lookin’. Still doesn’t beat a nice day spent outdoors, but you tell me what does.
Perfect! I’ve been waiting years as a June of 44 fan to some use, when along comes the third Enablers full-length (followed by an assignment to review it). How else would I be able to point out that not only does Tundra recall June of 44 more so than did previous Enablers releases, the San Francisco quartet even packaged this one as a giant matchbook…just like JO44’s Anatomy of Sharks mini-album from 1997! In reality, Tundra‘s packaging made it such a royal pain in the ass to access the vinyl (without permanent damage to the otherwise gorgeous idea) that I was practicing “Nope, must’ve sent that one to someone else” in the mirror. It’s easy to forget, and even easier for younger readers to never realize in the first place, that June of 44 represented the better (and earlier) end of what indie rock did to Slint. This was commonly tagged as “math rock” when it kept the metal riffage then “post-rock” when the metal-riffage was replaced with someone’s idea of jazz, which lasted for a couple of Tortoise records before the whole mess can be historically understood as “post-good.” Instrumentally, Tundra resembles “still-heavy” June of 44, a period when the band fired on all cylinders, that more or less came to an end after the above-mentioned EP. To be honest, hearing this sound again is a nice surprise, complete with the loud/soft dynamics and snaky guitars that we grew so tired with back then. Enablers does it well and with enough of a unique take to distract (somewhat) from the delivery of poet Pete Simonelli’s spoken lyrics. He really does sound like Ken Nordine, a hilarious antithesis of the emo-savvy singing/shouting that the underlying rockings were largely associated with during the petering-out stretch of this subgenre in the late ‘90s. Still, we’re not talking Mike Patton here, so the vocal-sensitive can rest easy and rest of you can get off your asses, because this pretty little thing is limited to 400 hand-numbered copies.
Since it’s 2009, garage bands that DON’T make me want to grab the nearest mixtape for something that sound like it interacts with the world outside rather than the Joe Meek studio in one’s head are rare as hen’s teeth. I consider the Fresh and Onlys ability to sell me on putting the needle back at the beginning of the single up there with the invention of GPS and smoked salmon. Two slices of garage pop awash in sturdy amp fuzz, strummy guitar and reverbed vocals. Sounds dull as laundry day, I know, but their way around a choon wins out, as it often does. First song really does land on that coveted “sounds like a lost Nugget!” sound – sharp organ, vocals are sweat, not snot, the works. “I saw you” busts out some miracle deep focus harmonies from the land of wind and ghosts cir. ‘65. The b-side, “500 Snakes,” is a little odder, dronier, chuggier, a bit more menace (such as it is). Viva la freakbeat; who knew? Expect them to get very famous to a small number of people.
Once again (and no less refreshing this time around), band name, vintage calculator graphics, plus the use of “Port Side” and “Starboard Side” complete another bundle of aesthetic red flags promptly brushed aside by four distinct electro-pop ditties that, for lack of a better summary, are impossible to dislike. Of course, this stuff has been done to death since Eno discovered hooks, but anything done to death will always be worth doing right. It’s plausible that Hindutronic doesn’t know Blank Dogs from The English Dogs, but still makes sense of approachable Isolationism or the idea of an Anticon stable without the abstract pretentions. Side A’s “Solitude” and “The Paradox” are low on dynamics but remain pop-song electronica, like a courteous Boards of Canada or late-90’s Magnetic Fields sans the asshole factor. Side-B opener “Hangover Cure” is more trad pop; dynamics arrive via audibly-separated instrumentation and the chorus sticks in the head like an irritating jingle (in the best way). Sign-off “Among the Boys and Girls” revisits the atmosphere established on the other side but not at the expense of through-and-through hum-ability. In the end, it’s nice to hear electronic pop from Brooklyn with barely concealed wide-eyed/small-town optimism instead of one that reinforces negative expectations.
Transcontinential split between Blacksburg, Virginia and Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s wrapped in some really nice graphic design but where are the song titles? I have to assume members of The House Floor are Virginia Tech music students. They pull off some pretty impressive jazz chops, applying them to driving indie rock similar to Karate. The double-tracked vocals are very reminiscent of Cursive or even the more straight moments of Xiu Xiu, especially in the last minute after the track shifts. It’s driving but rather than bubbling over, it just simmers for the duration of the side. Convoj go even further in the Cursive direction, both musically and with the soaring vocals. The single-note piano line in the middle is a nice touch and the band benefits from good chunky mid-fi production. This band would probably be big on the US DIY touring circuit but I have no idea how they fit into the Gothenburg, which seems like the indie pop capital of Europe. Not bad.
Michael Hurtt and His Haunted Hearts
Perhaps there’s purity to his or her day-to-day execution, as if we’re in an era other than present day. The present, after all, is no picnic, sitting cocked and loaded, waiting for a minor misstep or gullible mood so that every concievable type of GRADE-A awfulness can be thrown at our feet. Mike Hurtt is a NOLA garage/roots fixture primarily known as the front man for that town’s premiere ‘50s-’70s revivalists, The Royal Pendletons. He’s also a serious head when it comes to first-wave rockabilly and rockabilly/country crossover (also first-wave but heading into the early-’60’s), namely what poured from Memphis and Jackson (Tennessee…home of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for a reason) when 45s could be purchased in hotel lobbies and full-blown songs were recorded upstairs in the rooms. Aside from a little splitting of fidelity hairs and the fact that the record lacks decades of wear, Hurtt original “Lonely Mardi Gras” sounds like an old Satellite A-side (meaning, it’s up-tempo) and “Orbit Twist” probably sounds like the slow, obscure ballad that the crack band is covering. With disrespectful plagiarism infecting every corner of rock and roll today, it matters little if Hurtt sees punk rock as a musical Book of Revelations or if the walk-he-walks and talk-he-talks mirrors a time some fifty years in the past. There’s something to be said for an artistic copyist flexing a creative mind this dedicated to the chosen source material.
Joey Casio is one of the growing crop of hometapers who embrace both Crass and drum machines, and think they can unite the two. I was impressed by a live performance in Milwaukee a few years ago, but “Share the Cup” is fairly substandard indie dance poetry. “Come and join in this endless chorus, and hear the waves singing godless hymns.” What is he talking about? It’s actually telling that the best part of the track is the breakdown. Joey Casio could benefit from cutting back bit and letting the beat speak for itself. The B side is an inessential remix by Selector Dub Narcotic (Calvin J.), mostly removing the vocals and messing around with things like melodica and reverb on top of the beat.
Split EP from two sets of Euros doing their best take on Level Plane circa-2001 indie-screamo. Kids Explode lay down some tricky dual guitar work and anthemic vocals coming across like Meneguar Jr. “Hotel Rooms” has some catchy hooks and is pleasant enough, but “Yards and Remixes” (a remix by Icon) flips the coin to provide some the worst sort of Spawn soundtrack-inspired rock-techno mashup, especially in the latter half of the track. The Solemn League comes out the winner on this split. They have also studied the era heavily, but “Give the Cat a Name” delivers a song that is worthy of many spins, with dual guitars, pounding drums, and memorable melodies. Maybe it’s unfair to pick a “winner” between two bands of a split 7” but when they sound so similar it’s hard not to compare. 500 pressed.
Back to the ‘90s for some kids who probably weren’t there the way you and me might have been, but I think they’re better for it. I recall being nonplussed by this band’s 7” from last year, but this LP has been getting more than its fair share of plays around here, particularly because it never lets up. Recorded as a four-piece in Athens, GA (the remaining three members now live and play under the same name in San Francisco), Long Legged Woman rolls around on a hyper, noisy, striking palette of sounds once brought to this world by Sonic Youth, then roughed up and personalized by bands like Unwound, Lync, and Harriet the Spy, outfits that turned their malaise outwards and used it to stare holes through their surroundings. In these youngsters’ approach, however, the concept that sticks out the most is that employed by Glaswegian noise rockers Part Chimp: a full-forward saturation of the headspace, drums right up front, cymbals splashing and toms rolling while voices scream and guitars churn. There’s no room for breath, and most importantly, no quiet parts. You’d think this would make for a tiring listen, and in others’ hands, it can, but what LLW sacrifices in fidelity, they make up for with catchy, jagged choons, albeit ones rendered through Magic Eye painting confusion. Best cuts here land right in the middle of the album, with the unglued “Bath House” crashing into a lazy “Psych Jam” that culminates with about five minutes of slow blast beats while the guitars and bass slowly build to frenzy, and “While I Was Asleep” kicking off side two with a heaviness that balances their melodic chaos. Shameless revivalism it may be, but Nobody Knows This Is Nowhere stands out as one of the better efforts to peek out of this era of lowered expectations and a paucity of results. Look, sometimes all it takes is the right source material to cop, and the enthusiasm to make it sound new again. Listen to these guys get it done. Handwritten, silkscreened oversized chipboard sleeve, edition of 300. XL T-shirts, board shorts, Vans, pukka shells and an occasional trip to (and at) a rave. Taste them again for the first time; it’s not the SmartDrink repeating on you.
The latest empty gesture by Man Man is proof positive that Generation Lemming will gobble up every steaming coil approved by the board of tastemakers, whoever that happens to be this week. The Mysterious Tastemaker Machine is not such a mystery, to be honest. Man Man’s pointless and random cluster-you-know-what of sonic elements is no more adventurous than the equally accepted and popular Crocodiles’ status as the 291st band adding a big fat nothing to the fifth Jesus and Mary Chain album. “Little Torments” is an impossibly-perfect amalgam of what college-aged pot smokers have been programmed to get all hot and bothered over: faux-gypsy culture, Tom Waits (a sound that no one actually enjoys), Tin Pan Alley, waltz, skiffle (a sound that Generation Lemming doesn’t historically understand), and off-kilter instrumentation (spoon-fed example of “going against the grain”). Criticizing Man Man is never a case of “not getting it,” nor is it comparable to the first time John Lydon heard a Japanese grind band … or Bill Cosby a Too Short song. Throwing a bunch of crap at the wall in an attention-grabbing manner is very easy to understand, namely when it’s done without a hint of heart. It is a white lie when one claims to feel something after listening to this for-the-sake-of-it, ham-fisted deviation of what is incorrectly perceived as underground music. “Snakehandling” is a noisy rave-up from an alternate universe in which Oneida somehow became a super-irritating fourteen-piece in a perpetual trap opening for MGMT. Check please!
Not to be outdone by garage bloggers with release diarrhea, Dan Melchior launches another three releases out on the open market. On both the singles (Convulsive’s noisy, boppin’ hometaper affair, and Dull Knife’s more traditional blues/garage-blastin’ rock effort), Melchior does what you expect of him, delivering vinegar truths while bending one or two traditions of rock & roll, with biting sincerity. On the new double album Thankyou Very Much, the sheer volume of material overwhelms, leaving a somewhat lackadaisical memory of someone who’s capable of much more. There’s one album’s worth of great material here, even the divisive “Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” where everything is fake (and where Melchior would play at least once a month earlier in this decade), but there’s too much sad old man vibe to wander through to get to the worthwhile stuff. Specs: a numbered 300 of the Dull Knife one, in Arigato paks, screenprinted and mounted with one of three photographs; 500 of the Convulsive single, and 1000 of the 2xLP.
You think you got problems? I got this Mom 7” and it’s killing me. Perfect for the abject non-commercial radio circuit – and I say this in the nicest way, this was tailor-made for WFMU – Mom appears to be a young lady who went to art school and promptly lost it. Her shtick is as follows: moan and cuss through a pitch shifter (think the one used on the long track from Hairway to Steven) over reheated dance loops of Gorch-styled rock, ‘50s lounge, essentially the music used in “Pink Flamingos.” A cute formula for a while, it’s repeated across eight songs with names like “Boner Party (Tonite)” and “The World (A Piece of Shit).” “Mom” herself is depicted through artist’s renderings as a Mouseketeer gone jihad, face obscured by what look like panties and perched on a tan toilet with bugs swarming out of her crotch. Careful boys, this one’s on fire! Weird for weirdness’ sake, and I hear it was used to drive the Taliban out of the Swat Valley last month. All the way live (lice?) from Sacramento, and I’ll bet Soriano is tugging at his collar every time this one gets mentioned.
The brainchild of one Jason Boyer, this here’s a nice, six-tune dead-fi channelling of the two aspects of the Velvets that nobody talks about enough: the hard strumming garage thing and the R&B/doo-wop pop-craft thing. Well, the first is well known (hi, Mr. Wareham!) Unca Lou, Aunt Mo and cousins Cale and Sterling managed to misinterpret the latter in a completely different way than, say, the Stones and came up w/ something just as game-changing. Indeed, take away the ultra-reverbed vox on “Ccrawll” and you have a totally credible VU demo from about ‘66. “Missing Persons” hits a hungover-mope vibe as cleanly as possible while being half awake. Points added: a) mercifully not being as Mary Chainish as hype had warned (that bits all in the reverb), and b) from being from Richmond, VA, which I recall from mercifully limited encounters in the mid-’90s as one of the worst cities in the States with one of the best scenes (peace to Sliang Laos, Breadwinner, Hose.got.cable, Food, etc.) Unless it turns into Brooklyn or something, decent music will come from that hideous burg forever. Limited to 500 copies.
Is everyone sitting down? Within that sub-genre that no writer should have ever tried to name (thanks, Brits, now go boil an omelet or something), Sacred Bones has released the pinnacle recording. Nice Face’s perfect A-side and no less powerful B-side combine for the first flat-out 100% solid release to come out of, well, to come out of “it” in the alarmingly short time “it” has taken to rise to prominence. That’s right, this 7” locks Blank Dogs in the pound, erases “Psychedelic” from “Psychedelic Horseshit”, makes purses and boots out of Crocodiles, and, oh I don’t know…makes a puddle out of Wavves? If listeners can promptly forget about reading the previous sentence, they might want to be concerned with the sharply-angled downhill nature of things to come (excepting further releases by Nice Face, ‘natch). This twofer (wow…up next…a traffic report!) will turn negative opinions positive and pretty much silence all of the naysayers lurking in this shadows, waiting to fill deaf ears with tales of how this band and that band did this stuff first and did it better back in the mid-to-late-90’s (note: These folks are identifiable by their tendency to hit on YOUR woman, and most importantly, age range between 30 and 40). So what makes this 7” so special? Hooks, hooks, and hooks. Well, just one hook per song, but each is a whopper. Also, it helps that the pulsating distortion comes with some real teeth and the B-side (“Situation is Facing…”) lets loose with clumsily Hendrix-ish fretboard-burning solo not unlike Robert Smith’s occasional surprise attacks on very early Cure tracks. Finding this on eBay will be like trying to find a used VW Golf … no one parts with quality!
A crucial difference between the lo-fi ‘90’s and the lo-fi double 0s is that an artist must now pay someone (or at the very least make a concerted effort) to produce a recording that sounds like shit. With the tools available to a precocious eight-year-old, these two songs could’ve packed a serious mindfuck with the many layers of busy psych goodness, but Outer Spacist opted instead to suffocate the party with blanket of impenetrable crap, thus feeding a tired epidemic that will heretofore been known as “Faux-Fi”. Outer Spacist’s variation of garage-psych is of structural public domain; these are chord progressions Eric Burdon or Roger McGuinn would have laughed out of the room in 1967. The reverb-raped vocals are delivered in standard “unhinged nutjob” form. Appropriately, Outer Spacist is based in Faux-Fi ground zero, otherwise known as “Ohio” to parents, bank tellers, squares, and girlfriends toiling in the real world. In fact, Columbus’ Outer Spacist have been around for as long as Faux-Fi has been a fad (two or three years), but not as long as their tired style of visual/thematic quirk has been blowing noggins when not spreading yawns. They are of outer space origin. They rock Mormon-based pseudonyms. They are on a mission to build a giant Mormon resort (see, that’s SORT OF funny). They wear half-ass thrift shop bric-a-brac costumes. If the previous sentence, or two, or three, didn’t put readers to sleep, it’s worth noting that the band’s energy tells of a band that follows the Faux-Fi rulebook in the arena of playing live, where that blanket of impenetrable crap can’t stop an exuberant performance.
It wasn’t THAT long ago that Out Hud was coasting on a handful of lofty or gorgeous songs and touring with Hella, so why does “Indie Dance” seem like another planet? Because yet again the story arc has us deeply embedded in a rockist world, the front line ready to hand out preapproved credit lines. Former garage-punks reinvent as poorly-recorded O.M.D. Jam-band hippies, peddling one-ninth the inspiration found in a water-damaged box of Shrimper cassettes, somehow manage to get exalted labels to come out of hiatus and release music they wouldn’t have touched with a 50-foot pole in the mid-to-late-’90s. So yes, it’s a confusing day for the shiny beats and sampled femme-vox of Pictureplane’s “New World,” a track so similar to authentic techno that it undeniably reminds some listeners of trolling certain bars for stepped-on cocaine, their favorite Spits t-shirt bringing much laughter from the well-dressed regulars. Only by getting messy does clarity emerge with “Trance Doll (Post-World Dub)” on the flip, a nice meeting point for inconsistent drum ‘n’ bass, beautiful keyboard swells and repeated vocal coos (male and female, sampled and sung), and nicely-contained electronic disturbances that make sense of the Lovepump United imprint (Aids Wolf, HEALTH, Genghis Tron).
It all boils down to mood and whether or not a noise/improv/free-whatever record can fill the room with it. When one of this kind of record lacks mood, it forces an opinion I’ve never been proud of: Anyone can do what I’ve just heard. I always feel like my mom when I get on this trip, but could the Dead C.’s Operation of the Sonne or Gate’s “Prophet”/“Rebel” 7” have been recorded by “just anyone”? Nope, but anyone could have made the 7” at the center of this review. This is an unstudied, short-sighted opinion, of course, but it will have to do until someone points out the emotion, charisma, and talent in rubbing a contact mic across the surface of a football, tossing in some pitch-shifted samples of “authentic” blues harmonica/field recordings, plus adding other pointless sounds (rips and tears and zippers and howls and groans), then bringing the anti-procession to an abrupt end w/out so much as a skree climax or fade-out. By the way, the previous description applies for both sides of this 7”. I bet several pairs of terminally-stained size XXXL whitey-tighties are in knots right now because I haven’t even ID’d these two artists who (I can’t believe I’m reading this on the label’s site) ARE COVERING EACH OTHER’S PIECES! Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase is the nom-de-noise of Chris Cooper (Fat Worm of Error and other noisenik units without clever monikers) and Bhob Rainey is a Boston-based musique concrete of some note to readers still lamenting the disappearance of Bananafish Magazine (no slight to hilarious and painfully-clever editor, “Seymour Glass”). When disagreeing with this review, ask yourself why you’d never play this when females are present. Though I find it a little frustrating that the ladies don’t dig more extreme or “adventurous” metal, the other gender is invariably dead-on in their collective hatred of this small-scale hoodwink. Thankfully, every other review of “Journey to the Center…” will consist of properly over-intellectualized, densely-theorized, or wildly-academic (re: life-snuffing) writing and there will always be someone deeming identical works worthy of catalogue numbers, as I just spent $100 at the pawn shop after firing up an MP3 blog for my new musical outlet, Vacuum Cleaner Bag Dashboard Compass.
Younger Canadian punks cranked up on sugar, New Bomb Turks, Registrators records, and, uh … affordable national health care? This record compiles two different sessions. Side A is newer material, a focused garage attack with sharp cymbals, frenetic guitar, and barked chorus that at its best recalls a Savage-era Teengenerate; the singer is clear and rough-voiced, but no Fink. Who is, though? The recording is raw, but bright and loud. Side B is from a year prior, and isn’t as nicely unrefined as the flip, closing with a slinky “1970” (song not year)-inspired blues jam. A strong vinyl debut, and hopefully they can maintain the positive deconstruction. Scum Stats: 300 black vinyl, 100 orange, 100 purple.
You know, I am starting to think there is a Bilderberg Group-type conspiracy going on in the independent music world, where like 98% of the bands and labels out there decided they would commit every single sound made by anyone with an instrument to some sort of format and release it. There is almost no other explanation for the amount of records that come out nowadays, with zero filters on quality control. Actually, the reality is that it is part of a long tradition of tons of records being released at all levels of music. I have dug through enough bins of cast-off detritus of past decades and generations to know this much is true. There will always be a yes-person with enough money in his/her wallet to bankroll the most disposable records imaginable. Which brings me to Scribbler. WHY? Have there not been enough lo-fi, quasi-acoustic, mumbling, directionless records released? No? Well here’s another, with one of the worst vinyl mastering jobs ever, and half the five songs sounding like they were recorded live, at practice, or made up on the spot. Ten or so minutes of my life I can’t get back. 300 copies, numbered, with scribbled (get it?) art, hand-written labels. Make that 299.
On the plus side, I have never heard anything like this before. Then again, I am unsure if I needed to. Mark Evan Burden, who some may know from a split with Growing, has teamed with vocalist August Alston of Walls/Pig Heart Transplant, etc. to offer three varied compositions using drums, piano and vocals as the only tools. The end result is bizarre, the first impression being of a senior project for a music composition program where the student is into some shit the professors are not, so he can get away with doing something with which they are unfamiliar. It’s kind of like when I wrote my undergrad women’s studies thesis on Riot Grrl: I could have said anything, they had no idea what I was talking about. That is kind of the case for even me listening to this, as classical piano is coupled with proficient, tech-metal drumming, and Alston’s characteristic throat-lacerating screams, creating something I bet would be huge with the Ipecac/Hydrahead crowd (certainly the intersection of those crowds), but doesn’t go far ‘round these parts. The austere sleeve design enhances the sterility and controlled chaos of this release; a bit too clean for my tastes, although at least a well-executed effort in trying something different.
Exactly what I needed: five quality, hard-to-find demos and alternate mixes from all sides of the Spacemen 3’s career. “These Blues” is an unreleased one, redone by Jason Pierce for Spiritualized’s Pure Phase album, but presented here in rougher form, with a good bit more feeling. “Transparent Radiation” surfaces with double-tracked violin that pushes this already blissful blues into Canterbury folk territory. Brief delay pedal test “Modulated Tones” gives way to a particularly robust mix of Recurring‘s “I Love You,” the soundtrack to 2000 ravers having sex in the same room, and a particularly rousing version of needling blissout “Ecstatic Symphony.” Even beginners will appreciate this one, as it gives a great deal of insight to the more sensitive side of this (yes) legendary group without skipping over any of the important stuff, and even turning over a couple of stones. 1000 copies, clear vinyl.
If I chose a random sample of records released in the solo garage/bedroom/loft/random small space world in recent years, I would have to conclude that Joy Division is the most important and influential band ever. Some of these bands would have you believe their inspirations are more obscure or esoteric, but let’s be real. It’s not something to be ashamed of. That said, Spirit Photography mine a bit more stripped down territory, but still lives in the kingdom of early Factory Records. Comprised of a member of Christmas Island, Spirit Photography has a cool name and artwork fitting to its namesake, but there is a divide here between music and image. I honestly don’t know how many more solo projects with programmed drums, discordant ethereal guitars and Valium vocals we need. Taking a look at Sacred Bones’ numerous upcoming releases, it would appear that someone needs them.
Suetta existed in Moscow, PA (yeah, I had to a look on a map, too – fucking SCRANTON is two hours away) for about two years, a four piece that kicked around while the dudes were putting up with high school. They played some shows, hit the studio before breaking up and moved on with their lives. They sounded an awful lot like that one Sonic Youth song that got a little popular and Unwound (since that seemed to be the default sound for a lot of small bore crews around this time, which is in no way a knock; man alive, that shit has aged well) and whatever bits of DC punk came over the transom. This LP, released by one of the guys in the band, collects the studio session on one side and a live show on the other. The B-side has an ode to chewing tabaccky called “I Wish I Had Tins” set to Noise Addict’s “I Wish I Was Him,” which is pretty genius even if Ben Lee made your eyes roll even then. The whole thing surges and rolls with old school indie rock basement frenzy, is absurdly entertaining and makes you fondly recall those heady odd days without ever wishing you were that age again, which is a neat trick. Of course, the best thing about it is the idea that Moscow, PAs all over the country might have had their own Suetta, that there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of tapes waiting to be dislodged. Limited to 100 copies, which sounds about right. Four cover selections available, as well as the album on cassette.
Everything about “Loveshines II” is HUGE. Recorded live as a band and then overdubbed with another live recording, the song sounds about three miles high, pairing a piercing, staccato feel with a grandiose Brian Wilson-esque vision (not to mention harmonies). It’s lazy but noisy, booming but sparse, and a hell of an accomplishment. Hopefully it’s not a fluke because Sunset’s Bill Baird could be this era’s Kurt Heasley, with his Ray Davies-as-filtered-through-Kevin Shields method. “I’m Not a Perfect Person (Looked Like I Fucked Up Again)” does not come close to touching the A side, but what could? It’s mostly acoustic (and noisy, but not lo-fi) and a fitting compliment in this two-song statement. Great 7”, track it down and go see this Austin band on tour.
What I’d hoped would have happened with Lafayette, Indiana’s TV Ghost, has. They’ve tightened up enough to bring some menace, precisely what their UHF Saturday afternoon horrorshow needed. “The Fiend” bops along with panicked sine waves, frenetic vocals, fast tribal drumming and surf licks, an unsightly hair projecting from Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s eternal nose. “Prodrome” is the slow cooker, seasick reverb beset by air raid guitars and a whole lot of low end. Produced by Cheater Slick Tom Shannon, this one owns up to the promise I was always told of with this young Indiana bunch, but rarely witnessed myself. 250 copies, Singles Club release.
Tyvek, once seemingly the darlings of the elite message board circuit, have suddenly become a very polarizing entity. A lot of the complaints have to do with the number of releases that repeat songs from others, or are merely the same material in a new format. Is the band to blame for not saying no enough, or the labels who release all of this on a competitive and completist underground? Chicken/egg; also, who cares. The newest, and of course limited, Euro tour-only EP doesn’t help alleviate the pressure, as its b-side (“Summer Things”) is also the second track on their new LP. Fortunately, it is one of their best songs yet, with a decent a-side to match. This is certainly a much better and more available 7” than the recent Sub Pop 7”, easily their worst effort. A nice companion to the LP, on white vinyl, limited to 600. You already know if you like this band or not, unless you haven’t heard them, in which case I would recommend this record as a jumping off point. Frantic, frenetic, deconstructed Detroit take on punk, perfect for the decaying city they call home.
Welcome Home Walker: three guys with power pop haircuts from Portland, OR. “Don’t Let Me Go” sounds a lot like the Exploding Hearts. A whole lot. I love the Exploding Hearts but the song doesn’t have a whole lot to grab onto. It’s too slow, too start and stop, too paint-by-numbers to match up with even the worst Exploding Hearts track. The intro actually sounds like “Shortnin’ Bread,” which is pretty amusing. The B side “Second Hand Store” picks up a lot of the slack, but again sounds too plainly like the band’s influences (this time it’s The Jam). But at least this time it’s more upbeat with the harmonies and catchy chorus propelling the song into something more memorable. These songs were recorded about a year and a half ago, so it’s likely that this band has some new and better tunes at this point. Check it out if you have a mod belt buckle.
Trapped in a prison of sparking noise arc and dealing with a horizon that is slowly rolling the third dimension flat, xpr/gtr veteran Youngs helps to kickoff a singer-songwriter series for Dull Knife. “High Sun Energy” and “States of Time” both play within the same fluid, claustrophobic space, pushing static swells and overmodulated vocals up and around the shape of their container. “High Sun Energy” soars with falsetto vocals (thank the Tokens for that) and a close, neon-lit intensity; “States of Time” leverages hope with bad vibes and clatter, the point where you stop struggling with the new environment this record has placed you in, left to mutter quietly. 300 copies in silkscreened, photo-mounted Arigato paks, less than 10 left at the source, go get ‘em boys.
Detroit’s particular brands of urban decay, economic disintegration, political corruption, science fiction-worthy crime have individually, or as a whole, made for magazine-filling, CNN headline-grabbing content for some time now. For a statement like Shiftless Decay to really work, the element of surprise is a necessity, and regardless of the shrinking population or prevalent watch-your-back/bootknife-required environments, it is not surprising that these twelve bands came from an urban area of 900,000+ people, especially a known producer of underground rock that’s been the subject of several high-profile surveys within the past decade (remember SPIN Magazine’s White Stripes/Dirtbombs-fueled feature?). If Newark, Cincinnati, or Indianapolis generated a similar comp, it’d be a different story. Furthermore, 85% of Shiftless Decay could have emerged from any midsized city boasting a healthy Terminal Boredom/Horizontal Action support network, which is just about any one town in 2009. The socio-economic trappings of Shiftless Decay will no doubt distance it from the glut of comps choking the sub-genre at hand here, but the Let Them Eat Jellybeans or Bands that Could be God of deregulated garage-punk it’s not.
Unsurprisingly, Shiftless Decay is worth a look for the underdogs and more challenging fare. Human Eye pulled the post-punk instruction manual out of the garbage and illogically bled forth the legally-insane “Fix Me First, Universe Nurse,” a scarily cathartic break-shit/throw-chairs exercise that sends a loud and clear message of negation to any and all future bands considering Chrome as a possible influence. The much-touted Frustrations disappoint, as does the early Tyvek contribution, but Terrible Twos’ “Negative Drip” burns circles around the rest of the comp with what sounds like garage rocking a power-violence obsession. Little Claw’s “Feeding You Your New Home” is another amazing and unbelievably noisy spazz-out that poor THTX are made to follow with an underwhelming Echo and the Bunnymen/Television by way of a Ponys rip titled “Monorails to Nowhere”. The same can be said for Heroes and Villains’ “SDWC”. The Mahonies and Fontana burn decently somewhere between the forgettable and unforgettable displayed elsewhere. Tentacle Lizardo and Johnny Ill Band show a tendency towards serviceable post-punk garage that didn’t get the Human Eye memo in time, and spacey closers Odd Clouds put a painful strain on the powers of recall. Remember, what looks bad on paper for a proper album (three killers and two strong contenders out of twelve) is a fine score for a compilation.
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By Dusted Magazine