Mosurock and friends catch up on more than 150 LPs, 12"s, 10"s and 7"s.
Still Single: Vol. 9, No. 1
Still Single Submission Guidelines
Send vinyl (and only vinyl) with information about your pressing (quantity pressed, color vinyl, etc.) to:
Doug MosurockPO Box 3087
New York, NY 10185-3087
Hello, and welcome to this long-belated Dusted issue of Still Single. Truth be told, I had one ready to run at the end of January, then I wanted to add more to it … then me and Otis both forgot to deal with this. The reviews piled up against us, so now there are 40,000+ words in the hopper, covering a huge stack of records released over the past six months or more. A few titles (the Connections LP review by Andrew Earles, the Endless Boogie writeup by Elizabeth Murphy, and my coverage of Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys’ Ready For Boredom) were excised as official reviews of these already ran on Dusted. Of course you can get those, as well as all the rest as soon as they’re published at http://still-single.tumblr.com, though I’ve made some addendums throughout these versions that might be of interest to consumers and labels alike. And I’ve always maintained that this is the most fun to read in one big, indigestible chunk. You might not agree, but I’m sure you’ll see some things in here that you missed the first time. Hopefully these words encourage you to purchase at least one record. Let’s keep things moving in 2013.
Black Night Burning LP
I have similar feelings towards both the artist Antony Milton and the label that issued his latest record. Both are involved with a number of projects, and it’s sometimes hard to see brilliance, or even a reason for existing, for some of them, but when they hit, it’s a stinger for sure. Black Night Burning follows up both some memorable darkened skree and difficult wallow in earlier releases by the New Zealand-born guitarist covered in these pages, as Glory Fckn Sun, Sunken, and Mrtyu, and titles from this Irish avant-cherrypicker label that’s skimmed some memorable moments from outfits like Black to Comm, and some much less so from projects like White Hills and Cloudland Canyon. But both outlets intrigue enough to bring me back, and the alignment of power and prescience across Black Night Burning remind me why. Seven tracks of fully-dilated unholy guitar scuzz obliteration are underpinned by a pulsing, electronic rumble – synths, drum machine, bass, samples – that root the material in both an extreme/nihilist noise position and a sort of meandering search for warm humanity (or drunken NSA action with some stranger) under nighttime neon lights. Picture, like, one of the Yellow Tears dudes, alone at their high school reunion, or maybe Mark Morgan from Sightings in the back bench of an SUV with guys he played lacrosse with in prep school, and you’re getting at the levels of chaotic dissonance jutting up against the relatively normal sentiments of business casual/light beer/happenstance hookups that are proffered within this work. There is a recent example of a record that functions on these terms, possibly as well, but its name and maker are escaping me right now (oh wait, the Andy Stott 2x12s from last year, perhaps?), but I’ll gladly hand it to Milton for finding ways to subvert both the Suicide and Portishead/Geoff Barrow-as-musical director tropes and creating a work that shatters conventional expectations even as it embraces them. The more accessible elements of Black Night Burning make their way through after a handful of spins, but thankfully Milton puts all of his sack into the preparations here, and the results are absolutely blinding, even essential. Had I not come up with a 2012 best-of list, this one very well might’ve made it, but most people who didn’t pre-order this aren’t gonna know about it until 2013 anyway, so this beauty on opaque midnight blue vinyl may have to earn its due in the new year. As with most Trensmat titles, this won’t be readily available, so if you haven’t already missed your chance on this one, then you’re almost about to.
Let’s Barbeque 7” EP
Adrenalin O.D. was part of a likeminded cadre of bands that, over a few years in the 1980s, upped the speed ante well out of hardcore punk’s comfort zone. Psychic Volt comes through with this reissue of their first EP, remastered for a level of clarity far and beyond the scratchy version you’ve downloaded from that blog. Here we get six tightly wound tracks of cheerfully snotty hardcore with all the key ingredients done properly recorded in a single 15-minute take, as the cover sticker prominently notes. Later releases would find them taking a more shambolic, frenzied turn that was just as cool, but here we have the sounds of four Jersey kids enthusiastically discovering what they can do. On revisiting, one can hear where NOFX and countless other pop-punk speedsters borrowed a few tricks from; also I’m left wondering now if the chuggy joke-thrash of “Trans Am” inspired Nuclear Assault’s infamous 1986 Vince Neil dis-track, “Butt Fuck,” as well as it did the Dead Milkmen’s “Bitchin’ Camaro.” The deep red vinyl pressing has a healthy heft to it, and it’s available in an unspecified “limited edition.”
Tough To Kill LP
(Retrograde Tapes/Cylindrical Habit Modules)
Matthew Akers is one more in line to worshipfully reproduce the foreboding, electronic soundtrack of the ‘80s genre film, all synths, all mystery. Because his intentions seem to lean, stylistically, to the works of Alan Howarth and John Carpenter, right down to the typeface Carpenter used on the credits of many of his films, he’s got to work harder than some lesser light like Umberto or Xander Harris, as he’s set the bar quite high. Luckily he got Tough To Kill out in time to beat the Death Waltz reissues to market – nothing beats the real thing, after all – but this one is better than most because Akers has the understanding required to hold back when necessary, and to work on allowing more space and less of an obviousness about his approach. The record boogies along, scoring imaginary films of unforgettable style, in a lean manner that doesn’t overdo all that needs to be accomplished here. Even Akers would tell you that the shovel is out in the shed and not in his hands, trying to break ground through a concrete patio like most of these schmucks. Nice, thick silkscreened cover, individually “weathered” as if that were a selling point (most likely the black ink broke off around the spines). (http://retrogradetapes.blogspot.com)
Tetuzi Akiyama/Che Chen
Cold Soup LP
With his wide brimmed hat and laconic demeanor, Tetuzi Akiyama often gives off the vibe of a spaghetti western protagonist. Listen to his solo acoustic records or his playing with the Scandinavian-Japanese improv unit Koboku Senju and you can imagine him sitting behind the table, picking his teeth, seeming not to move no matter what threatening activity occurs around him. But then there’s the Akiyama who named a record Don’t Forget To Boogie and totally owned it, the guy who bridged the gap between Sterno-chugging blues and strict minimalist discipline. That’s the Akiyama who showed up to play with Che Chen on the two Tokyo gigs represented on this LP. Chen is a New Yorker who has thumped out no wave with the True Primes, explored centuries-spanning improvisation with Heresy Of The Free Spirit, and engaged in diverse microtonal explorations in his duos with Robbie Lee and as a solo performer.
A bad-ass gunslinger spirit pervades this record, even though it never sounds much like anything I’ve heard in any Western. But the way the two men face off feels epic, as though they had acres of space, not the tiny Tokyo stage depicted on the black and silver sleeve, around them. Chen can play any number of instruments, but here he sticks to violin and sine wave generators. On the side-long title track he plucks out short, bluesy pizzicato figures and shorter bow-slashes that prod at Akiyama’s musical space like the town’s not big enough for both of them. Akiyama in turn lets loose feedback lines that twist and fatten like they were sky-written over some mesa of doom, and coughs out stuttering chords like a man who is trying to expel aspirated chunks of rock. Flip the record over and there are three shorter pieces that shift between who’ll draw first starkness and bar fight tangling. Chen draws more from his microtonal bag here in a way that makes me think it’s a damned shame that the Velvet Underground was the end rather than the beginning of John Cale’s efforts to combine minimalism and rock. But then I think it’s not a shame at all; who needs him when we have Chen? Black vinyl, 350 records pressed.
Relay 1 split 7” EP
This record kicks off Smeraldina-Rima’s Relay series, for which the Belgian label’s staff will pick one artist to fill one side of a 7” and the contributor will pick someone else to handle the other side. Running the first leg is Jack Allett, an English guitarist and electronics player formerly known as Spoono. Based purely on nomenclature, one can say that the man’s decision-making is getting better. His musical contribution, “Lost,” goes easy on the ears; by pairing overdubbed, acoustic fingerpicking with slow sweeps of the knob, he keeps from sounding too much like his obvious American Primitive predecessors. I’m not so sure about the company he keeps, though. Kalbakken is an Anglo-Norwegian, brother-sister duo, bolstered here by a percussionist, which seems to aspire to the same degree of witchiness as Spires That In The Sunset Rise. The peg-legged progression of their fiddle and guitar jig is fine to follow, but it throws Kirsty Birchall Nyhuus’s attempts to ride it with wordless vocals with the inevitability of an annoyed pony bucking a first-time rider off its back. It is, in two words, eminently resistible; in a few more, quite underserving of the excellent production values that are Smeraldina-Rima’s usual practice. Screen-printed sleeve, pressed on clean black vinyl in an edition of 200.
s/t 7” EP
Jersey HC upstarts who stay in the lines, providing fodder for the mindless mosh for the Katorga kontingent. Sturdy and reliable little EP here from which nothing new can be added to the genus of hardcore except for a few more minutes. It’s a big tell that they have a track called “Ask A Punk” in which the singer bemoans how hard it is to find info on where shows are and the like. Whatever happened to making your own scene, not to mention hiding it from the cops? If these guys are so eager to latch onto the rest of Punk I, all they gotta do is go out to Bushwick and break some windows until someone in a Goosebumps shirt notices you. The keys to Punk II shall remain out of reach for them, however, no matter how many Scharpling & Wurster clips get tacked onto their records. Hopefully their next one features some sort of signifier of uniqueness.
The Altered States of the United Snakes
Pagan Altar Swing Band LP
(Lost Treasures of the Underworld)
Played this once a while back and learned that it was Columbus guys who’d used this name back in the ‘90s, and are now reconvening for a full-length largely in the spirit of Jim Shepard’s musical legacy. Songs and vocals are very reminiscent of the meatier side of V-3, except for a little hollowness which Shepard’s spirit would have filled in his own band. It’s nothing to worry about, though, as this one is a worthwhile listen of patently overeducated, well-read Ohio males in the demeanor and delivery expected from that town’s bands. Songs take a lot of left turns in the name of coupon-clipping profundity, and these guys make that sort of turbulent sound with a natural touch. They share a member with Guinea Worms and in a way Pagan Altar Swing Band plays as the aggravating afternoon to that band’s blackout drunk late night at the bar. Don’t let this perceived lack of enthusiasm steer you away from this record; it’s a good one, but I’m having trouble piecing together why, apart from who made it, where and when. If you are after Ohio rock that is a few cuts above, this’ll be it. Comes in a hand-painted/screened/written-on sleeve and looks really good in a very sloppy sort of way, though that split-second pause between tracks will not go away once you hear it. 300 copies.
s/t 7” EP
(Shock to the System)
Interpreted as a kind of crude longitudinal sample of the issues on the minds of young people in this fucked society of ours, the subject matter covered by a decade’s worth of anarcho/crust punk records leads one to the depressing conclusion that the same problems the Crass camp railed against some thirty years ago are the ones we are still left with today. The old standbys of violence, U.S. global hegemony at any cost, the Sisyphean consumer/producer paradigm, societal pressure to conform, and just about whatever else ya got are all targets for Ancient Filth’s cynical and morose invectives set to crust-tinged thrash. There are some moments, but otherwise there’s not a whole lot here that you (a punk) haven’t heard before, though the uncredited vocalist’s reedy yelp does a lot to make it all sound more vicious, like encountering a cornered wolverine. There are a few venal sins - namely, the dialogue samples (thought that Aus Rotten more or less sewed that gimmick up once and for all with “The System Works For Them”) – but they are offset with a handful of left-field moments, like the nimble blues licks that pepper the Poison Idea bash of “Fore Fathers of the Apocalypse,” and the dissonant teeter-totter riff in the groupthink-slashing “Punks are Norms.” The lengthy essays on the meanings of the lyrics and their own name, the list of suggested reading (Slavoj Zizek and Carl Sagan among them) and clipart-and-Kinko’s-collage asserts these kids are in a good progressive-minded if not “Occupy” headspace, though the uncomfortable truth about the heavier end of political punk like this remains. Much like those ills it condemns, the idiom hasn’t changed much at all over the past 20 years. Moreover, in the year 2013, chart-topping pop singers and Hollywood starlets are sporting crust and punk patches as fashion accessories; don’t write this trend off as innocuous irony. The master is appropriating a set of tools that will henceforth do little to dismantle his house – some new ideas are well in order. Comes with a logo transparency for your screen-printing/graffito convenience.
Artificial Memory Trace
Boto [Encantado] LP
Studious, minimal drone cycle centered around field recordings of the pink river dolphins of the Amazon, from echolocation sounds to some manner of evidence of the animals’ suspected transformative properties. Sounds that are very much not what we expect from dolphins come at you in the quiet, hissing space of these recordings, manipulated by artist Slavek Kwi, in attempts to brand them as the real-life natural equivalent of sirens, those mythical creatures that lured sailors to a rocky doom. No such doom is found here, really, unless you want there to be; merely watery sounds and a number of surprises to keep the listener attuned. Hold the two-sided Xeroxed insert up to a mirror for more details. 250 numbered copies.
Guys from Delaware/SEPA aim for Karp but get distracted at the buffet, and miss by a lot. It happens. De nada. They earn a few points for naming a song “Social Punishment Theory” even though it barely scratches the surface of this hideous, inevitable phenomenon. 100 copies.
Asva & Philippe Petit
Empires Should Burn LP
The old masters of so-called “extreme doom” continue to come of age in intriguing ways. Stephen O’Malley’s Khanate gradually abandoned feedback and throaty riffage for the disintegrating anti-structures of its last few records; now he’s exploring further abstractions with a host of newer projects. O’Malley’s old Burning Witch compadre Stuart Dahlquist continues on a kindred career track with Asva’s latest chronicle, which finds him and multi-instrumentalist Philippe Petit tracing the peripheries of a pitch-black environment far out of the orbit of anything remotely “rock”. Dispensing with a larger cast of cohorts (which in the past have included Toby Driver of Kayo Dot and Trey Spruance of Secret Chiefs 3 and Mr. Bungle) the duo round out each track with performances from a guest vocalist. Edward Ka-spel of the Legendary Pink Dots makes an appearance as narrator on the side-long opener, “And Empires Will Burn,” his devious, accented pronouncements complementing the baleful ambience of droning reed organ and scraggly eruptions of microtonal clusters from Petit’s cymbalum. In many ways the track prefigures what’s to come over the rest of the record: “Sweet Dreams Asshole,” is the first of four briefer tracks on the flip, an instrumental wherein piercing attack-less tones (a la Phill Niblock) hover like noxious clouds, as incidental sounds and distant throat singing sound in the distance. “A Vision,” with whispered vocals about some kind of apocalyptic prophecy to a suite of ringing tones both organic and electronic. Former Swan Jarboe steps in to stage-whisper some similarly infernal texts on “The Star Implodes,” otherwise driven by metal scrapings and a desolate, three-note mantra from Dahlquist’s chord organ. The parties involved really succeed at sustaining a dismal atmosphere with such comparatively spare instrumentation and loose arrangements, making for an unsettling record that is simply the next logical step in low mood music.
Entkopplung OST LP
The musical trajectory of actress/entrepreneur/adult film star/noise fan Sasha Grey has been a divisive one at best, and a sizable void within her burgeoning, non-sex-work-oriented creative output at worst. Entkopplung changes all that, a soundtrack for a yet-to-be-released science fiction film for which few details could be obtained. Here, at last, aTelecine finds a voice, something to play off of (in this case, the movie’s sprawling screenplay and a section of dailies), creating a distant yet absorbing sound profile somewhere between the Hafler Trio and Emeralds under the boiling, oppressive atmosphere of the planet Venus. Maybe this has something to to with the supposed absence of Ms. Grey from this session? Tracks seem to melt into one another, with few profiles of melody to get in the way of the insect colony buzz, low-end thrum and percussive fractals on play here, which have a way of burrowing into the music rather than spreading out into themes. It’s a very compelling work that doesn’t immediately sound like anything else going right now, but at least like something recognizably musical – a big step forward for aTelecine, and an even bigger one if you were as confused by their earlier releases as I was.
New Era Hope Colony 12” EP
First and foremost, RIP to Sarah Kirsch. You went through a lot in your life, and you accomplished just about as much, and gave inspiration and positivity to so many in the punk and hardcore circles. Her last band, Baader Brains, was forever shattering molds, no more so than on this EP, which alternates between sci-fi/Logan’s Run style utopia/dystopia concepts and blasting late ‘90s style HC, some of which achieves orbit and begins to push the genre ahead for the first time in a long while. How they cleared that T. Rex sample I’ll never know (my guess is they didn’t) but this is a record full of energy and inspiration towards ideals that may have a heart in fantasy but seem like they could almost be real if you imagined as hard as these folks did. Blue vinyl.
“Moonlight Mile” b/w “Places” 7”
The first single off the Babies’ second LP, Our House On the Hill, “Moonlight Mile” has that record’s fullness, with organ swirls, a bigger bass sound, and some spooky “oooo” backing vocals by Cassie Ramone. I’m perhaps alone in thinking that this moodier, bigger sound suits the band’s strengths less than the humbler B-side, “Places,” which shuffles on a country, and Ramone’s guitar lead guitar work plays off of Kevin Morby’s major-key strumming rather than sounding ancillary, as it does on “Moonlight Mile.” The song, about the difficulties inherent both in leaving home and in returning to it, has the total lack of pretension and the genuine warmth that made the Babies’ self-titled LP so winning.
The Jungle He Told Me LP
The Pan Records graphic approach, in which a heavyweight, printed PVC sleeve becomes part of the graphic design is starting to catch on. The Belgian Smeraldina-Rima label employs it on this LP, which is the first unaccompanied solo effort by clarinet and tenor sax player Joachim Badenhorst. That’s one way to separate yourself from the legions of jazz musicians elbowing for space on the Clean Feed release schedule! Smeraldina-Rima is no stranger to the quality demanded by vinyl collectors, and they don’t disappoint here. The black vinyl (pressing size 400) is satisfyingly heavy, the sound reproduction so detailed that you can hear the individual keys click, and there’s a download coupon so you can play it through your headset and discomfit your neighbors on the train or in the cubicle.
My recommendation isn’t based on the mere fact that Badenhorst’s circular breathing-driven ribbons of woody sound and abraded multiphonics might freak out your average listener; hell, you can do that just by mentioning that Beyoncé lip-synchs. Nor is the fact that he commands extended technique enough, since a whole generation of players (Badenhorst is 31) have come of age knowing that it’s just part of the game. No, what makes this a record worth getting to know is his unflappable integration of a half-century of jazz and improvised music, from Jimmy Giuffre right up through John Butcher and Joe McPhee. Badenhorst has contributed to both the New York and Amsterdam scenes as well as that of his native country, and he’s learned not just the versatility that has helped him to fit in with players as diverse as Thomas Heberer and C. Spencer Yeh, but to stand poised upon a patch of stylistic land he can call his own.
Sun People 7” EP
Who names their band Bad Indians? Is it a Gun Club allusion? The Gun Club also have a song called “Watermelon Man” but I hope to God no one’s calling their band that. I do not know if any members of Michigan-based Bad Indians identify as First Nations or as South Asian; if so, it the name’s kind of misguided, and if not, it’s casually racist. Just … the next time you’re naming a band and any kind of race or ethnic terminology come up, say no. In any case, this is a fine 7”; the two songs on the B-side have a heavier psych vibe than the more interesting A-side, which has a gentler K Records meets late ‘60s outsider-y feel: sing-songy vocals, clean arpeggios, quiet organ.
Are On The Other Side LP
From somewhere in Michigan comes this unfortunately-named outfit (I fully agree with Talya Cooper’s earlier assessment of their handle from the review of their seven inch, just above here). This debut album is pretty long on ‘60s “Teenage Shutdown” styled garage psych affectation, and not as long on good ideas – the best songs here, like the twee-minded “She Is Gone,” the throbbing “Hate” and the shambling closer “Babydoll” sound like they were written for another bands. Mostly Bad Indians stick to garage orthodoxy, particularly in their instrument tones, like the roller rink organ and over-reliance on twangy reverb guitar. Amid all the unfortunate marketing shtick that’s gone into calling music “psychedelic” when it really isn’t, Bad Indians pass the test – they sound authentically like a number of bands from a very specific moment in early psych/acid rock history, so they’re not “fake psych”. But the best latter-day psych bands trade on how unobvious they are in their approaches. A band like Prince Rupert’s Drops has a lot going on, more fully-digested influences, and minds that truly go beyond the stencils. Apache Dropout is another example – they hew closely to a lot of stylistic signposts of psychedelia, but they play with such reckless abandon, even in their more recent poppy moments, that such worries are not their concern. Bad Indians have a few moments here and there but they really need to worry about making more of those, and less about the pursuit of affectations.
In Color LP
This is such a delightful record, and it really caught me off guard. NYC-based indie pop band with a strong lineage (the backline of Bill Cosby And His White Puddin Pops, or more explicitly, Serge Pinky and Nick Curtin from the German Measles, JB from Crystal Stilts, Nick’s sister Emily from long-gone local stiff band Swiss Dot, and a woman named Carmelle who I don’t think I’ve met, though if she’s traveling with this bunch she must be alright). Tremendous fun times await, especially if you like the smell of the New England sea and consider that your beach. Recorded by Gary Olson in the birthplace of local pop, their M.O. seems to be screeching, nails-to-chalkboard brat pop freedom, undercut with dubs, synths, wonderful melodies and the sort of spirit that drove Girls At Our Best to the winners’ circle back in 1980. Musicianship is tight enough all around, which I credit to JB, because German Measles always sounded like they were ready to collapse. Just one listen had a song like “Chilly Kisses” sticking out of my head like the nail in Richard Kiel’s skull in Happy Gilmore. Nick didn’t even bother to tell me about this band the last time I ran into him, so what gives? Maybe I should’ve known as they had a Captured Tracks 7” years back, just after when I stopped paying that label any mind. Guest appearances by Alex Curtin (Cause Co-Motion) and Juan Wauters of the Beets. It’s great stuff, and if you’re a fan of playful pop or anything mentioned above, you are probably going to love this. Cool-looking handpainted sleeve, with informative insert.
‘78 style Spanish punk rockers living in the now, nailing the sound (and in their singer’s case, the look), down to exacting specifics. There’s some heat here for sure, someplace between the Avengers, Penis Envy-era Crass, Scream-era Siouxsie, and likely a number of specialist influences too arcane and numerous to post. This sort of group stays just above the tiring nature of punk historical reenactment by being able to play pretty well and writing decent songs. Their hearts and minds seem completely dedicated, and while I’m not gonna listen to this any more than I would an American example like Arctic Flowers, I will maintain respect for them in going out there and making it happen, even though they don’t budge the needle at all.
Big Time LP
Australian folk-pop from some of the Kitchen’s Floor crew. Some of the worst singing to surface in a long time, like if Dan Treacy really lost full control over the high notes in any Television Personalities song that would have them, but it grew on me over time. Lots of acoustic guitar, songs about everyday things, and that shambling sort of presence that makes it more lovable than rockin’, but that’s good sometimes as well. The list of things that serves as the insert, paragraphs long and relatable to anyone who might own this record, plays as a collection of grand accomplishments, from having a baby to the better Australian and Tasmanian albums of the past few years. It’s a testament to the celebration of life, and the good things to enjoy in it while you’re still a part of Western civilization, and may it crawl onwards. I didn’t have a great feeling about this record but a few months into it and it feels like Jerry Seinfeld’s old T-shirt, “Yellow Boy.” And he’s listed in this thing as well.
Side project of one member of CAVE and one member of Mahjongg. I don’t really recall the latter – these last few years have been tough on my brain; I guess they were/are from Chicago and on K Records, two realms I don’t often fuck with – and the former I guess is doing pretty well, but last I had checked in on them they were still processing Oneida, and understandably so, because that band is beast, but it is all the same hard not to notice when a new group of musicians step into a dinosaur footprint with little more than a few pairs of Payless. So I wasn’t surprised when I dropped the needle on these two long jams and got what was coming to me: a strict interpretation of Krautrock formalism, one which extends all the way back to the rotary dial precision and humble, brainy funk of the first two Kraftwerk LPs. Synths, guitars, drums … however they’re doing this, they got it locked. Loc’d after dark, even, just perfectly-executed gear/sprocket tongue-in-groove meshing of body and machine, rhythm and purpose. It’s so hard going into something like this, because it could be a career-long whiffer like Moon Duo, or some other outfit that’s infatuated with this sort of music to the point where they don’t fully understand that, yes, there is a line between good and bad that they have blissfully ignored, because they are on the wrong side of it. But this one is well worth your time, a fascinating look at what happens when you get beyond the point of knowing what you’re doing so that it sounds second nature, and understanding how much force needs to be applied when the changes come into the track to make everyone’s ears stand at attention. Quite a relief here, and definitely worth a closer look; in their case, it’s more fun to repeat.
Bits of Shit
Cut Sleeves LP
Grimy 1st/2nd-gen soundalike punk from a Melbourne band that gargles the fuzznuts with a kind of mad enthusiasm usually reserved for the incarcerated. This thing sounds as their namesake would have you believe, like shit. When the vocals kick in, the snot begins to run, and that’s the one thing that sets them up against “ROCK IS BACK” outfits like the Hellacopters of yore. This is a case where punk gnarliness and just plain gnarliness come to blows, and it’s a stalemate, a record and a band that could be doing better but is settling for just fine. God their name, it’s so gross. Record cover targets the coveted furry demographic (Mick Collins not available for comment).
The Larval Tuning Fork and Other Visions LP
Quality free improvisation that doesn’t rely upon A) daisy-chains of guitar effect pedals B) extended instrumental techniques and C) harsh noise copouts remains in short supply. Fledgling noiseniks, listen and learn as Blood Stereo brings to the table yet another pair of essential skills here: the effective juxtaposition of found elements, and knowing when to switch up a theme before indulgence sets in. This duo mainly incorporates environmental recordings augmented by all manner of detritus (as pictured on the obligatory noise-gear table insert photo), to create an intensely varied and dynamic abstraction. The opening strains of side A’s “The Larval Tuning Fork” creaks, squeaks, crunches and clatters away like an update of Harry Smith’s “Heaven and Earth Magic” soundtrack or some lost ESP Disk fuckery in the vein of the Godz or Cromagnon. Primitive tape loops of foreign language phonemes, close-breathing sounds, thumb piano processed to sound like bubbling liquid, chattering tape segments and vinyl noise, Scottish kids singing creepy songs, are but few of the ingredients that bob by like the contents of a polluted stream. Side B’s “I Prayed to an Egg” briskly devolves into some kind of primal scream therapy that could accompany the Aktionist Afterschool Special. A crush of non-rhythmic junk percussion – as if the inmates, bored with the asylum, have taken over the Foley studio next door – cuts to a dense fog of chord organ clusters and a cacophony of howling, before strange and resonant tones of undeterminable origin, a tangle of bestial sonics on tape gradually overtake the mix to the track’s end. There’s a lot more here, obviously, than any review could do justice to – this is confounding, intricate, humorous, and smartly played stuff, enough to warrant repeat listenings with new discoveries every spin.
3rd 7” EP
Times are more trying now than ever. Ipso facto, fast and ferocious, politically aware d-beat-inflected crust should have but a single imperative: to get faster and more ferocious. In that spirit, Brain Killer lobs an extreme noise pipebomb with this release, incorporating harsh sonics into ripping crust to devastating effects. “War” wastes no time, launching through the speakers like a jet-propelled bulldozer, while invoking the barely contained chaos of Disrupt, Destroy, Hiatus, et al. By “Protest” one gets to notice Brain Killer’s unique selling point: a constant, squealing chorus of background feedback, probably several tracks’ worth, making this all the more “DIS-orienting” (sorry). Things get really weird on side B, opening with “Controlled Reality.” The midtempo thrasher’s interlude disintegrates into more piercing microphonic feedback, as a bizarre low-register machine noise fades in and rises in volume enough to nearly obliterate the rhythm section pounding away beneath. “Desperation” gets the most out of the dual-vocaled lineup, with both frontmen frothing like attack dogs yet barely audible over the sleetstorm of feedback. This is no mid-90s crust punk time capsule relic, but a forward-looking, politically scathing display not heard since the chaos punk/free-jazz/no-wave hybrid that was Chicago’s excellent Service Anxiety. It’s kind of insane how brutal this record is; leave it to their hometown of Boston to continue to incubate some of the more deformed and difficult visionaries of extreme hardcore.
I’m Back LP
I showed this record to a friend of mine who looked at the cover and said “oh, great, is this a band called Brunch?” We laughed, but Bruch’s sort of drowsy cabaret smoothness masquerading as Viennese post-punk is more boring than standing outside somewhere in the cold for an hour, waiting to pay $20 for eggs benedict.
Gambler’s Ecstasy LP
Journeyman musician Chris Brokaw (repeating his past history once more for those who can’t focus on much: Come, Codeine, The New Year, Consonant, many others) doesn’t release music in any one style, at least not anymore. There are enough guys with guitars out there pushing in solitary vectors for the enlightenment of no one for him to follow suit, so you shouldn’t be surprised that he’s built a solo career almost entirely out of left turns and wilted expectations, favoring improv and extended wanderings over any notions of direction, at least the kind you could explain to a coworker. His efforts as a solo songwriter are particularly sparse, and while I’m not as versed in his body of work as some others, it is being made known that Gambler’s Ecstasy is to electric guitar what 2005’s Incredible Love was to the acoustic. With this understanding, it’s still difficult to compare the two: Love had this really grand sweep about it, a record you could easily get lost in. Gambler’s Ecstasy is more content to kick around in the dirt and dust, the aforementioned turns bending the album into crossed purposes at times. It’s more of a collection of songs based around the electric guitar – and even then, not entirely so – than an album that clicks as a whole, front to back. Or maybe it does, and I’m just not at the point in my experience with the record to figure out how it rolls. On a song-by-song basis, though, this one is a keeper all the way, with one of the finest post-Silkworm moments in rock music not made by any members of Silkworm in “Danny Borracho,” an excellent, long exercise in tension called “The Appetites” that runs up through the major scales and back down in the minors enough times to recall a glorious bender, and stunning, ruminant blues-folk forms in “Anacordia” that stare into one’s soul. The rest of this is a great time, though these are the songs that stuck with me through multiple go-rounds. Were that thread between the tracks a bit more evident, we could be looking at an outstanding record instead of a merely great one, but in a year utterly lousy with great records but very few commonalities between them and no real artists that unite listeners, we are all left to our own devices as to what we wish to consume. Pity the public, for they have driven themselves away from their own tastes. Chris Brokaw is left singing to the faithful. May they meet, pair off, raise more like themselves and save us all in the next generation. And may those of you taking cues from reading Impose on the reg fumble your smartphones into toilet water over and over.
Agonal Harvest LP
Album number two for metal/mechanized doom project Brown Angel, who spent a good four years or so from recording their debut to releasing it. Hey, they’re busy (drummer John Roman keeps time in Microwaves, and guitarist/vocalist Adam MacGregor, when he’s not busy saving the world from itself, and writing reviews for this very publication, recently departed Pittsburgh for Beijing), busy enough to have drawn Agonal Harvest as their final effort. Even moreso than on their debut, they are channeling a pure strain of Justin Broadrick worship, these seven new tracks borrowing heavily from the tones and moods of the earlier days of both Godflesh and Jesu, albeit with live drums. Roman’s inventiveness as a drummer undercuts Broadrick’s common use of drum machines with trickery, like using two snares, that relegates the man as a machine of sorts, grimly pounding on, the tension never breaking. The spell is lifted, somewhat, on the final two tracks; both “I Fell” and “Humiliation Day” ring out with a buzzing angst not necessarily reflected in the tracks before them, veering dangerously towards catchy riffage amidst all that downpicking and brown-black exhaust being belched out across the rest of the record. Still, there is very little to complain about here. They certainly picked the right guy as an influence, and knowing them as people, it is easier to hear the ways that they changed in their tenuous existence, and with it, the music as well. With ponderous, self-flagellating lyrics, mapped out in songs with names like “Did You Ever Even Need Me” and “Days of Vagrancy,” there is a heavy, heavy heart beating itself in vain beneath all of this, the narrative of a failed, useless man whose expectations of life have been sharply pulled out from under him. Indeed, he fell. Silkscreened sleeve, and includes a CD-R combining both of their albums.
Witch Molecules LP
Very weird noise rock/throat rip duo from Harrisonburg, VA, uniting young and old, obscured purpose and odd intent. This thing kicks off with a song called “Dead Rats” which instantly gave me the vision of a “Classic Albums: Wolf Eyes’Dread” and those dudes sitting down and isolating the tracks from the recording to discuss exactly how they got there. The vocals are similar to theirs, the claustrophobic approach not too dissimilar, but it sounds like half of what Wolf Eyes accomplished. As the record crawls on, the intensity never dials down, though the approach changes; there’s synth here as well as a drum machine that sounds as if someone programmed the box to play like it was holding brushes in a jazz stance. Little about this one makes sense, but it’s a raw and unique listen that may take more than a few spins to make any lasting impact. Still, I defy you to find any band that sounds like this one, apart from the one mentioned, and even then that’s not a constant thing. Unsurprisingly, they have a lot of fans in West Philly.
Winter Gardens LP
John Butcher’s music isn’t an obvious match to the vinyl medium. His saxophone playing can leap from quiet whispers to harsh barks in a second, and there’s enough silence and room sound in his playing to show up the flaws in any pressing. But Kukuruku, a London-based label with Greek roots, has done the job quite nicely; flawless black vinyl, three-dimensional sound with an impressively lofty pitch ceiling, and elegant sleeve design (with a nicely grotesque illustration) to boot.
Now, on to the music, which is even more worthy of note. This record is drawn from two performances recorded during the shorter months; an acoustic concert at a London church in December 2011, and an amplified one in Milwaukee at the end of October 2011. If that seems to be stretching the definition of winter, I can only say that when I saw Butcher in Chicago the next week, the weather was cold, dark, and shitty enough to feel like winter to any Western European. But there’s no gloom in this music, just single-minded engagement. Butcher’s not the guy to dictate emotional responses; rather, he invites excitement by making music that changes so quickly, and making it out of sounds that can still surprise a person who has been listening to Butcher for many years. He’s not one to stand still, and there are segments where his amplified tenor sax sounds more like an electronic percussion ensemble realizing some hitherto unperformed Xenakis score. The acoustic passages dart and swoop like swallows negotiating a funnel cloud, yet even at speed they retain such poise that they might inspire a Zen master to jealousy.
It must be said – Butcher has oodles of solo albums out, and while this one is pretty great, so are Resonant Spaces, Invisible Ear, and Fixations (14), to name a few. If you already have some, you might fairly ask if you need another typically great record. But we’re talking about buying records; it’s not about need, it’s about want. Winter Gardens does advance the documentation of his vocabulary, it preserves a pair of excellent performances in sterling sound, and it’s the only one on vinyl. If that’s not enough to make you want it, so be it.
s/t 7” EP
What’s shorter than Tony Molina’s record? How about this Tony Molina-fronted EP? Caged Animal is self-proclaimed ignorant hardcore from the Bay Area, completely ridiculous and over the top lunkheaded East Coast style aggression. It’s been made here by dudes who are not exactly hard the way that Freddy Madball is hard (Jackson from Yi, Gladys from Violent Change, Mike from Catholic Guilt Records), but does it matter when the result is the same? Little dudes thugging out this way fucking rules. Keep your heads up, dogs. Seven tracks that are gone in an instant, topped with an intro and shoutout by rapper Antwon and DJ Eons One (Dan Lactose from Spazz). Shit just got real. Tony sounds like he’s 6’1, 250 and ready to fuck you up in the pit. Right on. 330 copies outta print, repress on the way. Mine’s on green vinyl.
“Love Everlasting” b/w “Hallelujah Kid” 7”
Two more from Brooklyn singer-songwriter Cale, who has hit his stride and continues to burn along. If there were one complaint, it’s that these two new songs don’t seem to break the trend of any of the micro-adjustments to his style and repertoire from his last album, the winning Noise of Welcome. With that out of the way, he is certainly a talent as a composer and lyricist, his reedy, hangdog style supported by songs that are pure class. When the rest of the world will take notice is anyone’s guess, but this music will wait for you all to catch up. 300 copies.
Call of the Wild
“The Call” b/w “Tightrope” 7”
If Venom had taken their professed Van Halen fandom to heart, we might have had something like Call of the Wild on our hands some 30 years earlier. But then we wouldn’t really have had Venom, so let’s leave well enough alone shall we? Over two wild and wooly cuts, Call of the Wild keeps their arsenal simple but deadly blunt: grimy, NWOBHM-nicked riffs, vocalist Johnny Coolatti’s lewd and throaty bray that’s equal parts Cronos and Jim Henson, and drummer Allison Busch’s lean playing, unencumbered by fills for the most part, which somehow makes the sidelong tracks seem even longer than they are. “The Call” is a terse, boneheaded jammer whose vaguely Maiden-esque guitar motif (thankfully) doesn’t quite save it from the realm of the lowbrow: the audio equivalent of a greasy cheeseburger served open-face with a Marlboro ground out into the patty. “Tightrope” throws down a commanding swagger with a neck-whipping two-note riff and a hook that will hang around for days. This is a heavy, fun record with roots (and warts) in the right places, apparently from a band that – though they don’t take themselves so bloody seriously – stops well short of the mustache-rock comedy section. Edition of 300.
Tears Of Stone 12” EP
Hard, bloozy rockin’ from four Pittsburgh longhairs who those around town know from being one about town, mostly of local band provenance (and drummer Jake Leger’s reasonable resume, particularly as the drummer of the Karl Hendricks Trio). It’s a decent, steel-hardened attempt, the best of three being the sidelong “Tears of Stone,” 12 minutes on 12 inches of vinyl siding, sliding between a slow, hungover blues and a somewhat progressive section that fills up the middle. Something here sounds kinda stiff throughout; in an era where both Mount Carmel and Endless Boogie exist live/on record, any band daring to step in the early ‘70s model proto-metal expressive blues choogle mode is going to have to come up strong, but Carousel has a great, charismatic vocalist in Dave Wheeler, and these songs were recorded about 18 months ago, so it’d be cool to hear what they have cookin’ now. There’s potential here for sure, mainly if they’ve got more swing/Bill Wardisms in them now and less of the blockheaded math rock that dominates the fills and locks away the expressiveness that should be coming through in music like this. Striking one-color silkscreened sleeve, looks really nice. I used to go to a bar in Pittsburgh near Kennywood Park called the Carousel but no one ever talked about it so we could keep the punishers from finding out where it was and ruining it like they do everything else. I think it is closed down, sadly.
Indian Giver 10” EP
Noisy, at times violent explosion of indie rock and screamo tropes from a long ago age – the music of this currently one-man band jumps right out of this 10”, the bastard offspring of Antioch Arrow’s In Love With Jetts and Brainiac’s Bonsai Superstar, sounds too far apart on the spectrum to have been assembled in the times which both existed – and aren’t exactly replicated/split here – though the spasms of the former and the boner-rubbing-through-polyester angst of the latter are very much present. Maybe the shock will wear off a bit when I come to terms with the realization that yes, there are solo acts that willfully eschew the whole garage/reverb lament thing and are just sticking everything they know up on the wall in hopes that someone will understand. But after sorting through dozens of genre exercises it is great to hear something that punches through the wall the way Chaka has on this EP. I never really liked At The Drive-In, but if someone were to play three copies of one of their releases simultaneously, and juggle two of them in an MPC along with Bay Area bike messenger punk from the ‘90s a la Bakamono, so it sounds really spontaneous and strange, the end product might be something like this: breathless vocals, mad energy, kitchen-sink production and feverish intent. 250 copies.
“Other Stories” b/w “In This World” 7”
Like Cheap Time’s recent full-length Wallpaper Music, this single’s songs summon the ghost of the New York Dolls, while the band’s Nashville comrades seem more apt to mine either the Back From the Grave comps or KBD obscurities. The sound, anchored in Jeffrey Novak’s sneering yelps, isn’t the only thing that sets them apart from the rest of their garage peers; a few listens reveal to a listener how well-structured these songs are, with deft changes in the riffs or beats, or a solo in an unexpected place. Their musicianship – and their clear attempts to escape formulae while still cranking out bangers like these – shows through. Newcomers to the band should definitely seek out the LP, but fans will find this single pleasingly complementary.
Reality Is A Grape LP
Live Vol. 2 2010 LP
It is very hard to figure out how the Cheater Slicks do it, again and again. They have never made anything but great records, and each one seems to be better than the one before it, though not quantitatively. Without any specific nods towards reinvention, they perform the transformative act each go-round. Those who’ve followed a long time notice patterns in their development – I would hesitate to call it evolution, because they show none of their hands until the records spin to a close or the amps ring out before the inevitable switch-off; nor do they trumpet any of their efforts as some radical departure or change in experience, even when, like Bats in the Dead Trees, they really are.
Perhaps no other rock band of their stripe has lasted as long at such a high-performing level of output that, by all outward appearances, seems lower than low. How they do it is a mystery unto themselves, and it’s not like they’ve received any appreciable amount of dues for the thankless work they’ve done in keeping rock music alive, so don’t expect a reveal. But there is a pattern here, one reaching back to the not-completely-destroyed soul search of a pinnacle Slicks release, the double-CD Forgive Thee. The world-weariness, the indelible qualities that linger inside their music, have not come to the forefront in any releases since that as it does in this one. It’s a downer, but what a downer, the kind that only the Cheater Slicks could make, insistent and filthy and throttled with a possessed, shaking visage out of the ken of average men. Imagine waking up tired to grey skies and flatness on the horizon. That’s what I think of when I think of the kind of person who has these sort of messages to convey, to expel from their person, only to drink ‘em back in and repeat it at the end of the day. So it may not be the party record you might’ve wanted (rely on the 2010 live album for that, if only to hear them shake down “Go Go Gorilla” into “Murder” at the end … holy shit).
The Cheater Slicks are the only truth in a rock history filled with lies. They are the line in the sand, and they stand there, no bass player in sight, staring you down from behind. Failure to recognize this comes at the cost of your own credibility. I wouldn’t extend such words on just any band; if you don’t get this, you either don’t care about rock (whatever), you’re jealous of these old men, or you are a liar. If you claim to love rock music but haven’t heard of this band, or worse, have and try to write them off, please stay away from me. I’m done trying to explain this shit to you. This is a goddamn PEARL. Both of ‘em are. They all are. Every last record they’ve made, every last time you could’ve seen them play near you. They’re the end of the line for rock & roll … though before you get to that station, you’ll pass the Guinea Worms, whose latest LP on CDR, Smiles, is their best to date, but more on that under separate cover.
Circuit Des Yeux
CDY3 10” EP
This is years since, and a long, far cry from seeing a high school-aged Haley Fohr knelt over a pedal board on a floor coated in dried beer doing god-knows-what, and unlike her LPs for Destiji, you shouldn’t need a decoder ring to figure out what’s going on with her music at this stage. She’s fronting an atmospheric rock trio on this EP, with Greg Simpson on second guitar and Clarke Joyner on drums and something electronic. She’s also dropped her voice down to serious registers, or maybe left the processing units from Sirenum at her parents’ house, opting instead for rock dirge delirium of a more familiar stripe. I believe she’s covered Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” before, but here it is again, a slow crawl directly into the funeral pyre, with “Lithonia” the teaser to that moment. For a moment it seems like B-side “Helen, You Bitch” is going to lapse back into the mysterious vapors of her early work, but the drums kick in and you realize it was somewhat of a precursor. This isn’t bad by any stretch, but where the challenge in CDY records used to be, one wonders if this direction is as right as the ones that preceded it.
Sun Boxes 7”
Colorusso presents two sides’ worth of recordings of his “Sun Boxes” – an outdoor environmental installation consisting of 20 solar-powered speaker boxes, each set to play a looped guitar note continuously, and together sounding a B-flat chord. The varying lengths of the loops among the chorus of units create a gentle phasing effect, not unlike the sound of a set of Tibetan singing bowls or wind chimes (sans any attack). The tones drift mesmerizingly across the stereo field, swelling and waning without much variation to speak of. The sound of someone or something moving toward the end of the track freaked me out on first listen in an empty house, so don’t chill too hard. “Grassy Field” is much more on the new-age nature-sounds tip, with the chirping of crickets and other early evening insects clearly audible. Experiencing this piece in its intended environment (pictured with the record insert is the collection of boxes stationed throughout a forest clearing) clearly would make for the ideal experience, but even divorced from that concept, it works well as a minimalist, totally automated chance piece. However, it all does beg the interesting question of whether the original solar-powered, field-placed concept is still totally relevant and/or necessary in context of this isolated recording, but let’s leave that for you artist types to debate. Pressed on attractive and appropriate deep-green swirl vinyl with a download card.
Some Sick Joke 7” EP
(Labor of Love/Side Two)
Confines plies a brand of grime-streaked anti-statist, anti-war hardcore that would have probably flourished at large under a Romney presidency. As drone strikes and civilian casualties continue to mount in the global War on Terror, however, so shall the well of their discontent continue to yield jagged, Black Flag-sized chunks of fury.“Mediocrity Rules” plows along with a lunkheaded “Police Story” riff and a hoarse invective against U.S. jingoism and political complacency. The blistering “Mission Creep” is propelled by fleet-handed snare rolls and righteous squalls of guitar out of the Greg Ginn playbook. The flip comprises “Some Sick Joke,” a “My War”-side-B-creepy crawl punctuated with uptempo fits and starts, and tortured, atonal guitar scrawls. Your typical soldiers-and-skulls cover art collage includes a hideous, heartbreaking inner-sleeve photo of a plaintive-looking child missing an eye thanks to a bomb raid. In context of weaker content, it might seem exploitive; but here if it leads to even one person becoming at least worldlier aware if not politically engaged, mission accomplished.
A Fire one-sided 12” EP
Good things come to those who wait. Recorded at the Rotunda in Philadelphia late in 2010, this record has been on the horizon for a couple years, a fact that is betrayed by the hand-modified as well as hand-numbered sleeve. But it’s not like Loren Connors’ music has a short shelf life; this music is built to last, even though it ponders impermanence. On this one-sided, 33 rpm LP, Connors gets back to basics. There’s no singer or instrumentalist to accompany him, no tape layering to thicken the sound, no overdubbing — just Connors, his electric guitar, and whatever he plays it through (a delay pedal and a tube amp, I’m guessing). The title of this suite references world-changing volcanic eruptions, but for much of its length the music isn’t particularly explosive. Why should it? If you take the world’s view, species come and species go, and a few centuries of hot magma or ashy chill are nothing when you’ve been around for billions of years and have a few billion more to go. Instead Connors traces stately, churchy melodies that sound like they hit a few walls during their trip from amp to microphone, accumulating a layer of distance from the present with each impact. The Rotunda’s natural reverb exerts a profound influence upon the sound. Some musicians — John Butcher and Mats Gustafsson come to mind — treat such acoustics like a player to be reckoned with, but Connors uses it more like an enhancement that amplifies the already-present tremble in his signal chain. Some might complain about paying full LP price for 23 minutes of music, but keep in mind that it’s nothing new for Connors to just use one side of a record. He’s all about concentration of content and clarity of expression, and he achieves both here. If it’s any consolation, the screen printing on the matchbook style fold-over is as ghostly as the music, and the quality of the 180-gram pressing (350 copies, black vinyl) outdoes any previous vinyl I’ve heard from Family Vineyard.
Gong/Ear: Dance-ing, 1 & 2 LP
It’s 1989 in NYC. Public Enemy is winding them up for “Fight the Power” and Philip Corner is elsewhere, with dancers. He bangs a gong and they get it on. Two long, meditative tracks of nothing but gong and the stray om chant, but what a sound this makes – these are ostensibly cassette recordings but they explore the resonant frequencies of Corner’s favored Paiste tam-tam within the kind of loft space that artists in the city can’t get anymore. These documents allow you to access, against the tension of tape hiss, the entire surface of the instrument, the physicality of playing it and the measurement of that response. Here’s where I’d tell you about Corner’s history in the arts but let’s skip that for now and concentrate on the gong show at hand, a beatific sound that seems to go beyond the realm of meditative and into the connections between our atoms. You can feel this. Edition of 305 with a metal gong mounted on the cover with silkscreened calligraphy. Seriously, you need to experience this.
Anla Courtis/Okkyung Lee/C. Spencer Yeh/Jon Wesseltoft
String-driven thing for sure here, harmonious harmonium/violin/string/electric guitar drone sides from a team that knows its way around the field of avant-leaning brain surgery. Of the two I’m leaning towards the B-side, “On Mercator’s Projection,” as my pick, as it heads to darker territories that the opener “Celestial Ancestry” is positioned as a guide towards. A full and busy work.
“Private View” b/w “Y.C.C.T.” 7”
(Ride the Snake)
Cuffs play bright, ‘60s-inflected indie pop with significant chops and good enough humor to sell what might otherwise be a pretty dime-a-dozen sound. Based in Boston, Cuffs comprises two-thirds of the now-disbanded Pants Yell! (and on this record, Ian Drennan of Big Troubles), but dispense with some of that band’s rougher edges in favor of cleaner-cut U.S. indie rock sounds and tidy production. Each side of the record has a sparkling moment: the A-side’s infectious wordless backing vocal, the B-side’s opening and closing riff. The lyrics plumb genre-appropriate narrative terrain of boy/girl/job/apartment. Songs that seemingly try hard to earn the adjective “catchy” prove featherweight or grating much of the time, but these two are winning enough to merit it.
“Violet Stains Red” b/w “Absent And Erotic Lives” 7”
It’s some sort of minor miracle that two songs by Dadamah, the great, short-lived New Zealand psych-drone project, had escaped detection and release for the past 20 years. Their CD on Kranky comped all of the known tracks from this phenomenal group, all released into the void courtesy of the Majora label (Sun City Girls, Gate, Total), but it took Grouper’s Yellow Electric imprint, who released this alongside a rare full-length by member Roy Montgomery, to find these two stragglers and issue them to a handful of people for $11 a pop. The verdict, as is sadly often the case, is that these tracks don’t necessarily build on the Dadamah legend, though what a legend it was, a band that connected Montgomery of the Pin Group and Peter Stapleton of the Terminals with singer-bassist Kim Pieters and keyboard player Janine Stagg for experiments in the haze, a drifting, druggy lilt that tied together the Kiwi Underground with the Paisley Underground, then held them both underwater until they moved with the current. Stapleton and Pieters would continue on in various capacities, like Flies Inside The Sun, once Dadamah disbanded, and perhaps the band’s impact was most greatly felt after they were no longer. “Violet Stains Red” is a Roy-led number that capitalizes on their sound circa the album, though maybe a little perkier, or as upbeat as any of Roy’s music would ever get. It starts out in simple, languid repetition and builds up a wall of clouds that turn increasingly gray. “Absent and Erotic Lives” is nothing more than a riff and another riff, plucked out and thumped away on a cardboard box, Pieters’ bell-clear alto the most redeeming thing about it. These songs aren’t bad, but they don’t show us any sides of Dadamah that we hadn’t already seen. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why they split. 300 copies, red/violet splatter vinyl.
Drown 7” EP
If you thought you’d heard enough 4th tier grunge back in the ‘90s, wait’ll you hear the modern equivalent. Right down to their name, Wisconsin’s Dharma Dogs lower all expectations across three songs of slamhounded slop, with mid-sized, unresolved riffs and a messy demeanor that wins no favors outside of the terminally besotted. Very poor, but hey, they have the right to exist too.
Underground Economy LP (Rickety)
Following years and years of lingering, trouble and experience, Pittsburgh’s Dirty Faces finally made a dent in a worldwide sense, when longtime fans from Oneida decided to sign ‘em up to their Brah label and release two albums in a planned trilogy. That happened, and as expected, the Faces stayed put, teeming with lineup changes and drama, enough to have delayed the release of the final point in the triangle by a good five years. I’ll spare you all the stories; you don’t care and they probably don’t either, at least not anymore. But the band is a shining example of what time and changes can do to bring people together and push them apart, and when they wanted to, play extraordinary, othering rock ‘n’ roll, greasy and unseemly, in any number of configurations – even once or twice without frontman T. Glitter. Underground Economy continues in the thematic direction of 2005’s Superamerican (politics) and 2006’s Get Right With God (religion) – it’s the least jagged and most consistent record of the band’s 15 years of existence, and while some of the highlights of previous releases don’t see a counterpart here, this is an excellent means to dig backwards and surprise yourself. Guest appearances by Turn To Crime/Awesome Color’s Derek Stanton and Oneida’s Shahin Motia speckle the dirty laundry landscape of this peachified, penny-colored remnant of fiduciary struggle, realized in the peak of the Great Inflection and dragged out, much like said event has been, to the now. Things are only gonna get worse, so dig your heels in and blast this Ron Wood-inspired slick through the corridors of your office. You ain’t goin’ nowhere. While you’re at it, purchase as much of the Rickety catalogue as you can; when shit really goes down, you’re gonna want this music in your go bag – it will show you how to thrive in bleak conditions, and power your being enough to make you want to stay alive, and plant worthwhile seeds once things settle down again.
Axel Dörner/Jassem Hindi
Not often am I seeing a 45rpm 12” in the jazz/improv/avant direction, so credit where due to the Corvo folks for knowing when to squeeze that particular fruit in service of better sound. This is a very intricate, careful endeavor, two side-long pieces from trumpeter Dörner and everything-else guy Hindi. Recorded in Stockholm and Berlin, this is a meeting of minds not so much focused on what you’ve heard before, and any efforts Dörner spits forth on his horn are countered by a bunch of mics, objects, no-input electronics and field hustle by Hindi. Dog ears may be required to consume some of this, but what you can hear – headphones strongly recommended to do so, by the way – are challenging, disparate sounds, flickering past your ear like gnats in the humid American summer. Interesting if not something you’d jam regularly. Clear vinyl and an impressive three-panel foldout sleeve, 300 numbered copies.
Distant, cold, dirty, intentionally discordant post-punk garage from Austria. Very hit and miss but there are some really wonderful songs on here when they find the right balance of clashing riffs and mechanical monotony. Spoken-sung co-ed vocals are almost a given, and do not disappoint. If you were to tell me this was a product of the Seattle A Frames/Love Tan/Factums camp faking Germanic accents I would not be surprised in the slightest. Ends with a treatment of the second half of Roxy Music’s “If There Is Something.” I think overall I like this record, though the ubiquity of its sounds won’t necessarily have me rushing back for more listens. I wish they would stop using the random number generator and zero in on what makes songs like “Alan Vega” or “Jahre” as special as they are – big, sharp, casually vicious and potent as fuck, with chest-rattling bass and an at-moments expert sense of timing.
Hits 7” EP
There hasn’t been a new Double Neg record in a while that matches its current lineup, and today I learned that this one is now outdated by two: drummer Bobby Michaud joins the ranks of the band’s former members, along with original drummer Brian Walsby and singer Kevin Collins. How you would go about replacing Walsby was no mean feat, but Michaud proved here and in the live setting that he is one of the best drummers in punk rock. How you’d replace a vocalist is a different story, but they did that too, with Cameron Craig from Logic Problem. This record reflects the next to current lineup with both Collins and Michaud with constants Epic Warfare on guitar and Kampf Tapes on bass. Enough with the details: this is the best -/- record to date, and they’ve made quite a few great ones. Their formula of reckless hardcore with weird spots is tempered enough here to create memorable songs that last longer than the five or so minutes this record takes to finish listening to. “Suicide Suicide,” with its doubled-up cowpunk beat, races along into something more lasting and palatable than some of their knotted, prog-minded past efforts, with interesting lyrics that may or may not be about the dead (figurative, perhaps) rising up to reclaim their earthly possessions. Michaud plows straight through, adding touches like some very quick, gingerly hits on the ride cymbal, and an eventual shift into time-sig wackiness in the song’s closing seconds. The other two tracks are great as well, but I can’t get enough of this guy’s drumming. Rest assured that the record is more interesting than just these parts, but seeing them play in this formation ripped my scalp back a good bit, and I’m sad that it won’t happen again. I hope that the rest of the band soldiers on and I don’t doubt they’ll get someone just as intense, but you don’t hear songs like these lodged into the current understanding of the genre in which they inhabit. Pink smoke vinyl, pocket sleeve, download card, and if you have to have one DN record, this’ll be that.
Hardcore Confusion Volume 3 & 4 7” EP
Potentially sensing financial ruin in issuing two more two-song 7”s with runtimes of under five minutes, to say nothing of the lineup changes that’ve rocked -/- in the last year or so, Sorry State decides to issue the final two installments of the band’s Hardcore Confusion series as one single, in a dual-pocket gatefold sleeve, so as to preserve the artist’s intent of laying out all three of them and staring at a spot-varnished representation of the band’s logo. This is the first Double Neg to feature the vocals of Cameron Craig, formerly of Logic Problem, and the last appearance of drummer Bobby Michaud, who they will have a tough time trying to replace; that guy is incredible. Cameron doesn’t sound all that different to these ears than Kevin Collins did, and the band launches into four songs totally worthy of the rest of their catalogue, maybe a bit faster and punked out than the material on Hits but with no degree of complexity shed. This band seems incapable of making nothing but ragers, and it’s our hope that they get someone on the throne immediately and keep pushing forward. Comes with a silkscreened mini-poster, lyrics and a download card; first 100 copies have a stamped dust sleeve.
drcarlsonalbion and the Hackney Lass
Modern English Folklore Volume One: Hackney 2x7” EP
Dylan Carlson, of Earth (the music group, and ostensibly, the planet) provides the stern and beauteous guitar melodies beneath the spoken word of Rosie Knight, ostensibly the Hackney Lass and “a young spoken word poet and activist” (so sayeth the liner notes). Her voice intermingles with Carlson’s guitar in appealing and very real ways, as the two stories she reads – tales of petty crime, generations of loss and despair, and the poetic beauty in its sorrowful justice – unfold against his guitar. Knight only appears on the first record of this double 7” set; the other one is reserved for Carlson’s instrumental tracks, should Knight’s words not appeal to you. To me, it sounds like he got away with using the same recording across all four sides, and the overall presentation – even a gatefold pocket sleeve – seems a bit excessive. But there is beauty within, and beauty must be regarded. Classy stuff.
Bait An Orchard LP
LP number two for this Brooklyn trio finds less bashing as compared to their debut The Dreebs The Dream and more of a motorik/industrial churn, high-strung and set forth to sand all the burrs off of their sound. Surprisingly, where it is least effective is when the group – vocals, violin, prepared electric guitar, and drums – goes into full-on flail mode, as in “White Lies,” when there is certainly a more intricate path they could have taken. With requirements this specific, and obviously rehearsed to push the limits of their sound into new and possibly threatening directions, hearing them launch into ‘80s Swans date-bait is kind of disconcerting. That’s really my sole criticism of what is otherwise a step forward from a group that actually seems to want to do just that, attempting to avoid classification while existing in the dimension of Williamsburg rock bands good and bad, large and small, important and trivial, trying to get people to listen to what they have to say. Here you can find elements of drone, of shoegaze, of Gira-esque grind and wail, of abject beauty, but processed through the vocabulary of their setup. Maybe expectations for music are so low right now that to hear a band that’s taken the time to figure out a sound through non-traditional means qualifies outright as a higher art, but whatever these guys are on, I’ll take it. Purple vinyl, nicely silkscreened sleeve.
Here we posit the notion of whether ambient music can be at once both threatening and relaxing with – as the title suggests – a brief pair of exploratory psychoacoustic dives in a slowly sinking bathysphere. The A-side’s “Wassermond” is an alien dreamscape in the vein of Organum, based upon what could be the sound of turbulent wind or water. Three minutes into the first side and you get the sense of being gently keelhauled beneath a transpacific container ship, a distant shimmering whir nosing periodically above the deep-sea rumble. “Wassertank” on the flip offers a bit more of a static exercise: sounds of breaking waves intermingle with the slowly modulating, low-frequency burble of an analog synth. This kind of material might actually benefit from a longer-playing format, but what’s here is captivating enough. Each of this edition of 300 (a re-release from 2007) is presented on translucent pale green vinyl that seems to spin at 33-1/3; play at either speed for maximum return on investment.
Disaster 7” EP
The “bummer band” of Scott Miller, Sacramento pop ingénue (Bananas, Nar, Bright Ideas, Bagpipe Operation). These three songs are killer, as would be expected from Miller – no filler, all diller. These three songs sound like the jagged line between the dour, isolated themes behind many of the best Television Personalities songs and the poppy punk/punky pop you’d expect from one of Scott’s bands. They’re all upbeat and hummingly memorable, even if the sadness and frustration of the themes behind them push a cold front in beneath the sun. Top notch single here.
Word around these parts is that this Seattle four-piece – one which features the two members of the A Frames that didn’t let fame get in the way, that Yves/Son/Ace guy, and one other – have already parted ways, and are administering their brand of damp handshakes under new management. That this is probably the best thing I’ve heard out of any of them since the first A Frames album makes this news somewhat of a bummer, though one that’s kind of been expected. I shouldn’t have to go through resumes here to show you that these are dudes walking to their own beat, sometimes to the detriment of their art on its own, but Evening Meetings trumps their 7” by a fair amount here, with ten very catchy, somewhat heavy, repetitive rock songs that could stand up to almost anything in its genre this calendar year. For once, these men don’t have to hang some sort of defense against one’s desire to boogie to the sleaze they’re peddling, and though the monochromatic nature of the records’s lookfeel and the thematic circle some/all of these songs walk in may remind you of the lesser lights in their respective careers, let it be known that this one is all beef and no sawdust, esoteric temperaments checked at the door and lined up patiently at the bar with strong purpose and flawless execution. This is one fine slab of post-punkish dissatisfaction, rooted in the Fall but reaching towards a more modern ideal, and whenever someone asks you why you smoke weed every day, you can show them this record and let them know that productive members of society walk around rattling like a can of Krylon each and every day, and that they don’t have to huff it to get by. This one’s on clear vinyl.
Everyone Asked About You
Let’s Be Enemies LP
Since 1999, this has basically been what indie rock has been about: part (scr)e(a)mo knuckle-shuffle nonnynonny, hoarse and shouty and anthemic, part cinematic experiential miscue a la the Arcade Fire. Whose heart doesn’t want to swell? Who doesn’t want to be covered in fucking glitter when they open a record? Anyone been missing the Rainer Maria or bands in that orbit? Sign up here. I’ll stand apart from you. 307 numbered copies, aqua/purple swirl vinyl (cool effect, gotta admit, looks iridescent).
I, Commander 7” EP
I love a good second act, and that’s exactly what this little three-song burner hints at. There are two great things about this 7”: one, pretty much what was just stated, though it is augmented by the simple tossing of it out there, sans a lot of chit-chat about where the band has been or what they’ve been through, which will undoubtedly be mired in bullshit that has nothing to do with great music if great music is the goal for the future. Two, the title track is the best thing they’ve ever done, therefore it doesn’t matter when they “did” it, especially considering that Evil Army is playing again, doing some of that playing outside of hometown Memphis (the importance of which many of our local bands still can’t seem to grasp), and the horse’s mouth has informed that the plan is to put a new full-length album into motion (recording-wise) mid-year. It took one listen to floor me … the mid-song tempo-slice/breakdown is perfect and the accompanying shred/solo/lead has, dare I say, a lot of fucking heart. That’s ineffable stuff, and I, Commander is worth every last one of the six hundred and sixty-six pennies Hell’s Headbangers is charging for it. It is also recommended that interested parties move fast, as the remainder of the band’s discography is out-of-print on vinyl and this label isn’t known for saturating the market with massive pressings. Some on green vinyl and some on black. Really, really recommended. Duh.
I’m not sure what kind of drought conditions would have to exist in the arena of garage rock that would foist upon you something this dire. Ex-Cult – formerly Sex Cult until another operating entity placed the legal smackdown on them – are a Memphis outfit who would seem calculated if anyone was actually crunching the numbers to figure out how to write and sound like crap, and I’m guessing that someone at Goner conflated their constant local presence with something good. Perhaps they were worn down? Quotas to fill? Unstoppable live band? Was this released under duress? Because it sure sounds like it was recorded that way (in San Francisco, in mono, by fucking Ty Segall). He and Eric Bauer half-assed this one big time, and they also did the Rank/Xerox record, so how come that one sounds alright and this one so compressed and flattened? The songs don’t help. Members were (are?) in that flash-in-the-pan band Magic Kids, with a vocalist from hardcore band Vile Nation, and it seems like they’ve landed themselves another non-starter: the only things memorable about this 12-track set is how grating the vocalist is, and how little dynamic range they manage to squeeze out of a five-piece lineup. It’s monochromatic music with very little personality or style, and might be the worst Goner release I’ve encountered by a good margin. If you photocopy an image enough times it will eventually look like a gray chunk of nothing, a shape, an outline with no subtleties or character. That’s what this one is.
Future Eaters LP
The best of the recent spate of super-limited, expensive Australian imports I’ve had to track down on my own, Exhaustion ties together the fortunes of three Melbourne guys (Jensen Tjhung of Lower Plenty and Deaf Wish on bass, Per Byström of the Ooga Boogas on drums, and Duncan Blachford from the Witch Hats on guitar/vox detail) into a space you’d know was more familiar to many Australian bands of previous decades: the big sleazy, the groin throb practiced by the Cramps and the Birthday Party along with all acolytes, maybe the dirty repetition that the Fall could always muster. These are roads in need of service, well-worn like the broken seams of Tracy Pew’s leather trousers. What Exhaustion does with these ideas is where the magic resides, and it’s something anyone could have done, but they’re here now so let’s address it. These chestnuts are roasted to fucking oblivion in an impressionable production treatment where reverb is the uncredited fourth member. Future Eaters sounds hot, dusty, and totally immense, like they were born inside a grain silo. A lot of bands try to condense this sound rather than give it the big room it needs to linger and menace. This is most noticeable in the album’s two longest (and best) tracks. “Old Mickey,” the standout of a record filled with true crime anecdotes and Jim Thompson-esque night terrors, creeps on in two minutes of exposition before Tjhung pretty much sticks his cock all the way through the body of his bass guitar and starts humping away, breaking free into the hottest death disco you’re gonna find in the Southern Hemisphere this year (barring Andy Gibb shadow dancing out of the grave). And “No Place For a Holiday” soldiers on for over 10 minutes, turning into one of those Swell Maps-style strafing missions a la “Helicopter Spies,” Blachford extending his lowing croon across measures of marching rhythms and booming soundscapes that collapse into a coda of phased harmonic field disruptions that honestly could go on for another 15 minutes or so without incident. There’s a bit of innovation here and there too, particularly in doo-wop cover “Moon Out Tonight,” where the snare drum is replaced by Blachford kicking the reverb tank in his amp, but in an overcrowded field, Exhaustion does what needs to be done to distance themselves from the pack. 250 copies. Yes I know there is a new Ooga Boogas LP to be covered as well. Review’s coming.
“Stats” b/w “The Programme” 7”
If you could plot out some arcane constellation made up of the Rock in Opposition movement, 20th century composition, David Lynch’s modus operandi and English folk music, the mutant quasar that is Tom Fazzini (The man? The band? See the weird liner notes for the source of this confusion) would pulse right along handily. These two numbers are classic art-rock, presented free from the distracting instrumental pyrotechnics of prog, in the erudite and measured strokes of 1970s Eno or, more recently, Jim O’Rourke at his most obtuse. “Stats’” fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure flirts with atonality, creating a bracing backdrop for a hoarsely muttered (and frankly, creepy) vocal. Jabs of musique concrete, strange clanks, and swatches of feedback lacerate the calm before a nearly incongruous swell of Uillean pipes and Celtic percussion kicks in near the end. “The Programme” backs more simple electric guitar pluckings with a sustained ringing ambience, like clusters of notes sounding on a glass organ. Here, the vocal is much more on the UK-prog tip (kind of like any of the three early King Crimson singers who sounded more or less alike), complemented toward the middle by a chorus of recorders. Both songs seem to be unfinished, a pair of surreal, exquisitely inked cocktail-napkin sketches that leave you with more questions than answers. Aforementioned weird story on the insert explains the mystery identity of one Tom Fazzini, making the package and the idea of this project all the more apocryphal. A very strange record indeed, and one that seems out of time and place in the best possible way. Limited to 200 copies.
“The Devil’s Cradle” b/w “What’s The Meaning Of Love” 7”
I’ve been known to follow the blindfolded taste-test/invisible jukebox approach when the pending review pile gets out of hand. It’s a good way to wake up the creative juices and have some fun while weathering the occupational hazard of having to endure epically-shitty music. What I’m getting at is that I only knew a couple of things about Forward when I was just getting to know the record: They are Japanese, and that the label on the record isn’t exactly known for lacking quality control.
Now, before I’m buried under a terminal heap of misread or misunderstood wrong turns on my part, I will say that Forward, like an astonishing number of their fellow countrymen who also truck in hardcore, are better at it than the vast majority of collective hardcore endeavor from every other part of the globe. Of course, balancing this out is the Japanese tendency to get all Mr. Bungle on some hardcore/metal/grind/death/whatever, but you will hear no hints of Songwriting Escape Plan, iwrestledanurgetocalmthefuckdownonce, The [InsertIronicallyFunnyWashedUpActorThatWillBeProcessedAsPowerfulHumorByAllOfOurTargetAudience] Tap Dance Extravaganza or the many other magnificent failures that make this subgenre the second detrimental (an) albatross hanging around heavy music’s neck, right behind unwise vocalizing decisions. Parlaying the hardcore perfection of the members’ previous bands (Death Side, Systematic Death) into a melodic and slightly thrashy imperative, Forward make it feel as though the traditional aspect of their hardcore is the secret weapon. I’d say it’s similar to how Louie C.K. and Paul F. Tompkins take plain-as-day standup comedy and spin it into gold, though I found it impossible to back up the comparison beyond those surface commonalities. This 7” is good enough to now have me checking the Paypal balance and perusing the websites of a label that has released Forward’s full-length albums.
We’re Breaking Through The Hymen! 7” EP
The cover art, the EP title and the label name conspired to chase me off of this one for a while, but these Australians have a brilliant, repellent sound that challenges a lot of notions one might have against such an introduction. I had to laugh when I took the single out of its sleeve and looked at the label art – winged buttocks with the center hole positioned just where you’d think, and a red circle sticker with a slit carefully cut into the middle placed over it. Two women and two men conspire to make these five discordant, miserable blasts of detuned, mid-tempo punk anger, like Huggy Bear collaborating with Los Llamarada or Teenage Jesus & the Jerks or something like that; you get the sense that they may have started from more traditional directions, but something went gloriously wrong, and all the frustration and misunderstanding from that event dominates this band’s sound. At times it sounds like they’re forgetting how to play as the songs go on, but the record is never boring or too detached to maintain interest. Get over the gross vibes and step inside their blistered sulk.
Round and Round LP
Looking through this band’s press packet, I started reading something familiar … then realized it was my review of Glen Iris’ 7” from 2009. So strange when that happens. It’s taken a while for an album to shake out of that, but here it is – hard rock with a low ceiling from Georgia, vocals not exactly up to the task (more shouty/annoying man style than the sort of metal dude you’d anticipate in front of this sort of thing). They can play, for sure, and they do, though on the stringy side of palatable, like something you might find near a Gone record or something from the feast-before-famine years of SST. There’s a lot going on in this record that pulls away from the band’s imperative to rock, which is kind of unfortunate, as they don’t have enough production to fill out the ambitions – a string section on one track sounds more like someone playing the radio in another room. With a little more effort, this could have contended.
Go Genre Everything
Domestic Dreams and Robots 7” EP
Australia’s answer to Plan-It-X style folk/bike punk, as played by a gang of cruppets (Crust MuppetsTM) who play right into the sort of happy nonsense that fuels that crowd. Two songs about domestic dreams are followed by two about robots, and not a hint of surprise escapes. Even for such a thing, a thing of which I have never wanted any part of, this feels like an extremely punishing example, and it’s all because of the vocal stylings of one member – she (he?) sounds like Edith Bunker with her fingers trapped in the power window of an ‘80s land yacht, and as a result I haven’t been driven away from songs this quickly in a very long time. The other recent Vacant Valley releases are OK, but this one you can forget.
s/t 7” EP
London’s Good Throb have created a 7” that sounds like what dunking your head, eyes open, into a tub of vinegar must feel like. Snarling, sneering mid-tempo punker sounds out of three women and a man (with credentials I won’t trouble you with listing, so primal and urgent is the sound that this quartet pushes through) deals with issues like chauvinism, emotional/sexual repression, hygiene and the drudgeries of life in the service industry with the kind of piss-raw anger response you’d hoped for. “Feminazi” has this great chorus where singer Ellie barks “PISS ON THEIR CHIPS” in response to so-called progressive punks telling her to keep her opinions to herself, delivered with such force that you can very nearly smell the coagulating mixture of spreading urine and fry grease as they commingle. It gets even better from there, and the cover art, all ink drawings of oozing pores, crooked teeth and phallic symbols, completes this incredible package, and you get the sense that there hasn’t been a band this righteously crude in so long that there might as well have never been any in the first place. 350 copies, six-panel foldout sleeve, holy fuck, buy a bunch and watch your so-called friends back away from you. Their new single Culture Vulture is out now and should be making its way around the States this week, in domestic and import versions.
There are no words on the sleeve or labels of this record, and despite spending months listening to it I’ve found it damned hard to put its effect into words. It should not be so hard. I’ve been listening to Mats Gustafsson’s music, solo saxophone performances included, for nigh on a decade and a half, and if I really needed to crib, there are plenty of words in Thomas Millroth’s essay on the insert tucked into the sleeve. But there’s something not just intimate, but vulnerable about the two side-long performances that comprise Bengt, which stand apart from the vast preponderance of the Swedish saxophonist’s music, and make me feel like I’m breaching confidentiality by doing something so base as writing about it.
Gustafsson is no stranger to expressed emotion, from manic glee to twisted anguish; likewise his solo recordings run the gamut from sublime (Windows, a Steve Lacy tribute on Blue Chopsticks) to ridiculous (Slide, a CD for Firework that tries and fails to transcend the profound limits of the rarely played slide saxophone). But the tenderness on display throughout Bengt is not something you hear much in the man’s discography, which only amplifies its effect. The LP is conceived as a tribute to another Swedish saxophonist, Bengt “Frippe” Nordstrom, who is pretty much a footnote in most jazz histories for putting out Albert Ayler’s first record. He never made a splash outside of Scandinavia with his own music, which was not nearly so coarse and extreme as Ayler’s, but he made a personal impact on Gustafsson. So Mats hoisted a plastic Grafton alto much like his mentor’s, and played two improvisations that run a bit short of 20 minutes. The first one entirely avoids the sax-as-drum and sax-as-lethal weapon modes that the artist has explored so completely throughout his career, and instead offers up the instrument as a tool of devotion and confession. He whispers, he sighs, he breaks and quietly cries; when he finally starts to vocalize through the horn halfway through side two, the mix of grunted voice and abraded notes feels like one man arguing with himself, saying things no one should hear. But if you persevere, you hear him quiet down at the end and turn that old Ayler-esque vibrato into something as fragile as blown glass. The nakedness of the performance is both discomfiting and beautiful. Utech has given this record a deluxe treatment, with a colorful sleeve, sturdy insert, white vinyl with black labels, and a CD stuffed inside should you feel like shedding tears on the drive to work. Pressing of 500.
Shake Harder Boy LP
People talk these days about when their favorite sub-subgenre of punk/HC/metal is going to come back in style. The truth is that it probably never will, but there is relief in that nowadays, the pendulum is starting to come to rest; there will be more of every kind of punk band from here on out, until there is no more electricity or means to listen to recorded music. Harkonen’sSimpsons-referencing Shake Harder Boy comes from a time when the pendulum was beginning its long, slow ascent back to the middle. Originally released on Hydra Head in the early ‘00s, this is one of those snaggletoothed jawns that borders on amazingcore, predates a few current bands’ sounds by tapping a seam considered then to be outside the norm (this is probably the most fluorescent link in the chain between Karp and Floor), but with the sort of creep validation (“Baristas Get Stalked”), casual violence (“Your Name Is Shit”) and general patronizing, beating-off-in-public vibe (“Easy Prey,” “Smile Pretty”) that makes me regret ever investigating this long-dead Seattle trio in the first place. Here’s where you start to see all the work done in the ‘90s towards restorative social justice come undone, because dudes thought the rules were oppressing them and decided to make it all some sort of joke. Memes followed, as did MySpace and Reddit, but here’s the germ, or one of them, a troubling and callous pile of shit you’d do best to step around. People want these days to come back – dudes, mostly – but the truth is, sadly, that it’s never left, just moved into the domain of those who know they never need to care about anyone but themselves. It’s not even that catchy of a record. This thing would have been better off left in the dust of time, and one would hope that its makers have learned a few things in the past ten years. It’s easy to think that they didn’t know any better, and they didn’t, but some people might like to know what they’re buying into when they pick this one up, and it’s less than beautiful. This copy is on fashionable blue/yellow split vinyl and I’m sure anyone obsessing over “colorways” of records is nut-busting right now, but keep it in your pants, guys.
s/t 10” EP
(Texas Is Funny)
Blatant Torche soundalike, hailing from New Orleans, maybe a little soft in the center, but that’s one band I’d say we are in short supply of – one in the crosshairs of both Karp’s surly, hernia-busting low-end menace and Chavez’s upmarket, buttoned-down wail, which is where both Torche and Heat Dust seem to reside. Five songs, all keepers. Cool shit buddy. Clear vinyl with a puddle of black in the center. Would love to hear more from these dudes.
“Trust And Order” b/w “The Time I Played With My Puppy” 7”
When is two too much? When they do some things so well that the iffy parts really stand out. That’s how it is with The Hecks, a two-piece from Chicago. Musically, they’re onto something. Guitarist Zach Hebert has a trebly attack and an instinct for making a little seem like a lot, and drummer Andrew Mosiman makes up in confidence and precisions what he mercifully lacks in flash. If “Trust and Order” were an instrumental, I’d say it’s a swell melding of Sonic Youth’s tunings and Swell Maps’ pith. Hebert’s singing doesn’t exactly get in the way, especially since it’s mixed low, but it doesn’t add anything either. Flip it over, though, and the best thing you can say about his recitation about canine recreation is that it’s over in about fifteen seconds. That leaves plenty of time for him to switch from early acoustic faux-hick Fall strum to electric soundscape, where he layers feedback and space, feedback and space, feedback and a bit of radio chatter. The music is so swell, I want them either to get as good at singing, put away the microphone, or get another singer. Small hole, 100 pressed on white vinyl, 200 pressed on black vinyl.
Free Association Backfires 7” EP
A pleasantly Creation Records-y EP, recorded on tape with a jumpy tambourine that pops out of the mix, this record packs in six songs, one of which cuts off very abruptly, I think, on purpose. On songs like “Hands of Fate” and “Climbs Like a Loaded Gun,” Honey Radar sound like a low-budget Clientele, all major-key arpeggios somewhere between psych and Felt. Lead singer Jason Henn’s gentle voice even elides consonants in a convincingly British-seeming way, though Honey Radar comes from Indiana. This 7” really brings back the vibe of early 2000s indie-pop tape-trading culture: lovely, modest songs made in a bedroom for other folks making songs in their bedrooms.
s/t 7” EP
(Queen of Swords)
A click-in and this record tears into action with a rare ferocity, singer Sam Chaplin high-pitched and angry, yelling with the clear diction of Henry Rollins embellished with occasional “V.G.I.” sarcasm. Honeysuck attack worthy punk themes; they stand in staunch opposition to rules, arrogant assholes, and, especially, their boring hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts. Like so much of the best early USHC, Honeysuck seethe with angry boredom but still laugh about their current lot in life. “I’m rolling my eyes now,” says Chaplin over and over in “No Hope,” seemingly derisive as much of their shitty town as of the fact that she’s seriously singing a raging punk song about how they can’t start a party because everyone’s in college. A thin, fuzzy guitar and a massive bass and clean production and this record just gets so many things right. “Snake Pit” starts out with more than a high chromatic guitar noodle, but the exact placement of the lyrics “vacation in the valley/vacation in the snake pit” over the riff lodges the song irrevocably in a listener’s head. Each of this record’s six (punk!) songs has its own hook and a singular, infectious energy. Honeysuck’s Internet presence indicates a long dormancy or perhaps a disbandment (bassist Ally Einbinder and drummer Marc Candilore also play in a number of other Western Mass bands) but I hope they give it another shot.
Hot & Cold
Border Area LP
Moniker has officially cornered the market on small-footprint artists with drum machines. Apart from the Lazy single, which is weird in other ways, not a thing has come out on this erstwhile Chicago imprint that wasn’t the kind of music you’d find yourself backing away from in some cases. Everything here is so wingnutty, sometimes to a fault, other times in a way that makes you appreciate the approach. Hot & Cold fares better than, like, Stacian or Rollin Hunt, but under Kraus, and maybe just on par with Trailblazer. It’s two guys living in Beijing, promoting a spartan sound and lifestyle of bass, keys, drum machine and monotone vocals, and kind of sounds like a stripped-down, unadorned Religious Knives in the After Dark era. Replacing that group’s hypnotic exuberance with such austerity shows the overall sturdiness of the formula, but in response I’d say the band’s name is only half-right: this music is cold.
Back in that shit-heap of a year that was 2010, the first two Hot Guts titles entered my world by way of an earlier Still Singlereview package. Now that I’m done choosing, then assembling, a fancy way to let readers know that this will be “Hot Guts Review #3” in my body of work as a writer, let’s take a look at an excerpt from “Hot Guts Review #1,” from my review of their debut 7” EP “The Ballad of Joe Simon” that went live on January 27, 2010:
“As of this writing, not only does this band not have a full length, they seem to lack a bit of respect on the Philly streets. If I ran a label like Badmaster and the notion of a label party or showcase popped into my brilliant head, the flyer would not close with this: “…and Hot Guts.” If a band called Hot Guts gave me these three songs for a future 7”, the flyer for my label blowout would instead begin with “HOT GUTS ARE THE FUTURE OF HEAVY MUSIC AND THEY WILL BE PLAYING WHENEVER AND HOWEVER THEY PLEASE!” I do not toss around this sort of language in a casual, daily fashion. Hot Guts earned it with the mystery greatness spread thick across each song.”
See, I attempted to do a little research on this band that was blowing me away and amongst the scant bits of available info there appeared a local show flyer that presented Hot Guts as an afterthought … or so I assumed for my purposes, naturally. And after summing up the subsequently-released Hot Guts/Pop. 1280 split (also on Badmaster) in September of that year, I had under my belt two reviews of praise and supportive calls-to-action (addressed to the world) that basically “went there” TWICE (look it up or take my word re: the review of the split) for Hot Guts, and those songs deserved it. Despite how rare such treatment might be, relative to what I usually write for this outlet, tonight will also be marked by my “going there” in review form, and this might not be a revelation considering how much I loved the earlier stuff by this band. But it is at this time that I will act responsibly and clarify that while I will indeed be “going there” tonight, it will be on behalf of another record by another band.
The material that made it onto 2009’s “The Ballad of Joe Simon” was recorded between 2003 and 2006, an instance of timeframe-dissonance of which I must have been unaware, though it now makes total sense in the context of Hot Guts’ tragic reinvention. You know that horror/paranoia film device typified by a character weeping through some blubbery realization that the aliens or STD-zombies (a la Cronenburg) or suited-up conspiratorial evildoers or werewolves “got Robert, too!” before narrowly escaping their own demise? Well, “they got Hot Guts, too,” and by “they” I am referring to the befuddling mass of forgotten-by-February bands who are unknowingly impersonating $1 Mission U.K. and Gene Loves Jezebel cutout LPs because of the unhappy accident of someone in a position of something (not a musician) realizing that “cool” audiences have been in a state of suspended animation for the last few years, allowing for the act of trying to squeeze a little more mileage out of 80’s unremembered nostalgia. It’s hard to say if the music fuels the morons or if the whole debacle is reversed, but that’s a chicken-or-the-egg debate that leads nowhere but straight to the couch … in time for a “Forensic Files” marathon. I think that both parties are historically illiterate re: basic rock history, yet what we have here is a repeat of bad history, due to the creators and fans totally unaware that this cyclic cesspool has been churning nonstop for 15-20 years. Those who don’t know about those who didn’t know about those who didn’t know about those who didn’t know about those who didn’t know about musical history … that’s who is running the part of the show that swept this band’s former potential under the terminal rug. Black vinyl.
Hounds of Hate
No Redemption 7” EP
Unwaveringly bleak and all but devoid of metal/crossover influence, Braddock, PA’s Hounds of Hate serves up five brief sXe ragers in the headkicking style of the NYHC master class: Bold, SOIA, Youth of Today, Cro-Mags. Gruff vocals, a huge reverbed-out drum sound, and clear, In-Effect records-style production values make for an invigorating trip in the wayback machine. The bracing “Intro/No Redemption” sets the tone for a program that is well-executed and more or less by the numbers, breakdowns and gang vocals all placed properly. There are some touches of flash here and there, but nothing that strays too far outside of hardcore convention: “Blood from a Stone” is driven by churning toms when not cruising at a Motörhead clip, and “Cast Out” employs a series of rollercoaster tempo shifts. “Evil that Men Do” lets up if only slightly with an open-sounding Husker Du chord scheme before again ratcheting into high gear. Nothing new is required or desirable with this familiar idiom, and lyrics like “You’re gonna get yours, you two-faced fuck” sum up the general “us vs. them, unity ‘til the end” sentiment presented. If you’re hankering for a mean, unpretentious offering that picks up and charges ahead rhino-like where 1989 left off, you could do much worse. Sold out from the label; check distros and/or download if you must at (http://katorgaworks.bigcartel.com)
Bardamu 10” EP
(Suitors Club/Quote Unquote)
Every time I hear a “work sucks/looking for work sucks” song like Mike Huguenor’s “Agues,” I get the sense that there are people out there who feel their art is enough, that they shouldn’t have to do anything else. After listening to this six-song EP, I’d say this emo pipsqueak should keep hitting the pavement, pawn his guitar, and focus enough to get good at something, anything, other than music, which will prove to be his undoing, just as it has so many other angry-earnest “nice guy” s-sw’s that’ve come before him and failed as well. Writing songs like these in the wake of the “horrors of late capitalism” is no excuse, and while I’m not a bootstraps kind of guy in the slightest, I am no fan of contrived music, which is exactly what Huguenor makes these songs out to be. He’s got good ideas in terms of how to structure a song – the chorus of said dumper is catchy enough, though that’s not nearly enough to sustain a career on, at least anymore – but literally everything else about this music has been done before, and better, without the sense of personal entitlement espoused in the little zine that comes with this record. You get a job because you know someone, and you keep a job by not being a fuckup, and definitely by being careful of telling your coworkers that you just made a not-so-good, oversharing batch of songs that they can download somewhere.
Passin’ Time LP
Folky strum jangle with either a harmonium (nah) or a Casio (more like it) stumbling along in an overmodulated recording environment. This comes dangerously close to folk/bike punk, and has a rough stick-n-poke tattoo quality to it that is unwavering and constant, bearing down on anyone who comes within earshot with requests for spare change and evidence of petty larceny. Not sure what qualifies this as a “Hot Release” given the quality of many of the other records on this imprint, but there you have it.
“Passer-By” b/w “Joseph Spring” 7”
Some not-so-dynamic truths from this lite-Goth Bloomington band, who booted their keyboard player in between releases and now stand as four men, alone. “Passer-By” sounds like the Police playing “Truth Hits Everybody” into a pillow. It is begging for a raw or even frayed edge the band seems to actively suppress. “Joseph Spring” finds its whispy nature dulled by a slower, more brooding walk down that same skinny-tie corridor.
Night Within LP
One hell of a calling card, this one – a debut work from British composers Daniel Lea and Matthew Waters, heavily indebted to the deepest of film soundtracks (and Bark Psychosis), who’ve assembled a top-flight cast to make this musicial vision in black come to life, a dour, Anglo-Saxon counterpoint to Kip Hanrahan’s sultry New York escapades. That’s none other than David Sylvian crooning on the opening track “Nothing Is Happening Everywhere,” alongside Daniel O’Sullivan (Guapo, Miracle, Aethenor) on piano, Paul Cook (!) on drums – yes, that Paul Cook, Alexander Tucker and members of his band, Duke Garwood, and Ben Frost pushing the bass up hard at the mixing desk. The movie in your mind that plays along with this jazz-minded, forcefully photorealistic sound somewhere between ambient, rock, and dreams is arguably better than any visuals that would likely be set to it, and Night Within, all stirring striations of horns, million-dollar gloss (more likely the strength of the pound sterling in Iceland’s compromised economic environment, which in this case pays off big time) and unmistakable intent, seeks to move the needle on imaginary cinema scores away from the synth-led ghetto it’s fallen prey to, and up the ante for everyone in the field. Alluring even from a distance, this is a terrifically realized package, appointed in a black silkscreened sleeve on fine matte cardstock. This is the kind of record that should be sold at a high-end boutique, and you’d do well to find a copy on your own if any of this interests you at all. Sold out from the source, so keep looking.
Last Year’s Men
“Clawless Paw” b/w “What I Can Get” 7”
Garage rock band hung up on refinements, in this case a vocalist who’s going after the lung-busting emote of the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser. You get the sense that the members of this band had been trying other, less direct forms of music and decided to give this loud, modern sound a go. It’s fine and all, but the seams are showing, and there isn’t much of a reason for something like this to be around in quantity, not without showing that they have something more to offer than what you can readily obtain elsewhere.
Party City 7” EP
I can’t separate my feelings towards Kansas City from what I experienced when I first “partied” there – essentially I got used as a punching bag and dragged across a floor by police academy cadets, who then sprayed everyone chased out to the sidewalk with pepper spray. Later on I got to witness some people who had just graduated art school smash up their loft in some barren downtown industrial area. The haves and the have-nots, the busters and the busted; that’s what the city taught me. I’ve been back, and things were somewhat better, but the tension and desolation were again stacked on top of one another, a precarious balance that you’d stare at for a while and wonder how one was supporting the other. Lazy’s seven-inch single for Moniker captures both states (ha!) of their hometown with a manic energy and ear to the dollar bin. All three tracks skirt the divide between punk and new wave, with “Party City” blaring the klaxons of law enforcement, “Silence in Crisis” moshing itself into the closet and “Boys in the Girlsroom” playing as a frantic blast of pee-urgent, illicit activity. Not like most Moniker bands, unless the drummer has two circuit-bent Casios for arms or something like that. This is a fun time and hopefully more is on the way. As for the rest of the last Moniker package, there is an Ono LP and a reissue of Kraus’ Supreme Commander tape on vinyl, padded with a few extra tracks. Reviews forthcoming. Think of it as a belated gesture of goodwill, Robert, extending the lifespan of your releases.
The Lost Domain
An Unnatural Act LP
(Negative Guest List)
From beyond the ether, the Negative Guest List label continues to operate (actually its heavy release roster was allegedly divvied up between concerned parties who keep it alive, from what I gathered). Few others would have thought to re(?)-release this monster, a 1990 recording by long-gone Australian noise/improv/fuck life outfit, in memory of their late founder, guitarist David Mac Kinnon (going here as one John Henry Calvinist), who passed on last year. Unlike that sprawling, somewhat lost in its own right double-album that NGL put out, this one is the sort of excavatory gem you hope to find in search of past attacks: visceral scuzz, twisted languages of their own device, thoroughly blasted/fucked/reconstituted guitar destruction of a stripe I cannot really fathom. It sounds at times like the first Bill Orcutt LP played through clouds of radio interference (the aptly-titled “Radio I,” throwing Beckett under the same bus for good measure), others like the sort of xpr taper violence of a bygone era, Jojo from Hijokaidan bodysurfing on a wave of spilled Cooper’s Sparkling Ale into whatever choked inlet these folks operated out of. Throughout it all you get the sense that this was a lesson passed down from elsewhere, that there wasn’t anything here that wasn’t learned, which further substantiates the following thought: that I really didn’t expect much out of any sort of understanding of “the blues” from any Australians, let alone one so thoroughly destroyed and depleted, yet ultimately “right,” but here you go, early contender for reissue of the year and a record that could legit damage your insides given prolonged exposure – like gin, but more, uh, certain, like the drinks menu of Freddie Quell. Good lord. Rest In Power, David.
“Someone’s Got It In For Me” b/w “But There Has To Be More” 7”
Let me just start off on the wrong foot here with all my unapologetic cards on the table: In the recent and not-so-recent past, I have donated valuable time to giving Iceage a leg up re: what they seem to do for every other person on this planet, but the band has failed to meet the objective, time and time again. I cannot help it that a lot of the music that changed my life circa “little shit” period makes Iceage sound like fucking Vandenberg.
Lower come from the same scene (one that people hilariously tag with “hardcore”) as Iceage, just to clear up any confusion, but they are a totally different proposal and one that I can really get behind. For starters, this 7” doesn’t really “rock” like Lower does elsewhere in its body of work, though it is sort of heavy. And my initial cluelessness as to where this band came from or what they were about had me thinking “what if [don’t even think about asking what band I wanted to put here] were actually good?!?” Thank Debra Winger’s dirty laundry that the fourth or fifth spin was to begin the unleashing of Lower’s subtleties, and this is a band made great by their subtleties. You know that goth/darkwave bullshit that still seems to be permeating every corner of better genres? Lower reign a little of that in and do it correctly, in that it is barely perceptible but adds a positive element to everything. These songs are powerful, catchy, paranoid, and churn with a rolling urgency. On incredibly thick vinyl for a 7”, just like all of the little records on this fine label.
Lust For Youth
Growing Seeds LP
Saluting Rome 12” EP
There’s plenty wrong with Hannes Norrvide’s primitive, first-cut stabs at entry into the minimal synth canon here, but sometimes there’s something so right about some of these songs that I can’t help but feel I’ve got the problem and not him. As Lust For Youth (LFY to the record covers overseas), he’s gotten himself signed to Sacred Bones, that barometer of all things cold on the surface, barricaded in his bedroom with synths and drum machines and a mic, a setup which reveals truths less and less these days. Still, when the hooks are right and the energy and lights flash just so, there is no denial in the supreme joys of a track like “Champagne” from Growing Seeds, or the title track to its follow-up EP, Saluting Rome. This music is poised at a generational divide which seems more confrontational from the side of the youth than it does my partnered, child-rearing mid-30s. We can blame technology for that, with people like myself sitting at the far end of the divide, and the youth cursing what we’ve squandered for them, things we take for granted. What am I getting at here? Not much, I suppose, except that these records are a lot better than I thought they’d be, despite the influence-on-sleeve presence across much of the songs. Norrvide lives in Copenhagen now and is near to the Posh Isolation/Iceage scene, one which even with direct exposure to, I don’t fully understand. But there’s warmth in many of these tracks that can’t be ignored, dance beats that can’t be denied, and LFY’s strides towards melodic resolution through repetitive riffs works astoundingly well. It may take sorting through a number of ideas to get to the gold, but there is some within. I guess you have to decide what gold means to you.
Mad Monk & Apache Dropout
My Wild Life 7” EP
Indiana mainstay John Terrill, the Mad Monk (and former Dancing Cigarette, almost a lifetime ago) works out a couple of new songs with the estimable backing of Bloomington’s Apache Dropout. I’ve got no problems with that group’s current state of heaviness, even though I think they think I do. But it’s a record like this – rendered in mono, giving Terrill a lot of headspace for his vocals – that I feel as if they’re softening up, even though they’re just giving the man what he asked for: respect. The two originals here are SO Midwestern, with Terrill’s dusty, raspy demeanor and the boys’ sweet vocal harmonies reminisce about the years past, and the comforts of booze. Won’t blow your hair back, but the flip might, a cover of the rediscovered-by-bootleg Velvet Underground song “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.” Here’s where things get a little more shook, right down to a replication of Cale’s viola grinding out in the lock groove. Clusterbombs of nasty feedback go off in the back, and they just nail it really hard. Good stuff from a reliable group.
I Can Feel the Heat 12” EP
UPDATE: Went to my mailbox today and there was a Not Not Fun package waiting there. This is strange, since I published this complaint today. I think they have a backdoor trojan horse e-virus into my laptop. STOP FUCKING READING MY MIND
Why I Don’t Always Review Dance Music a/k/a Why Not Not Fun and 100% Silk Stopped Sending Me Records:
So I have a pile of submissions, and a pile of stuff I bought. The dance stuff (L.I.E.S., Future Times, etc.) usually resides in the latter pile. I also feel like there is a shelf life on 90% of dance records that I can’t keep up with even if I love it, and if someone is very clearly doing something that’s part of some noticeable trend, or reviving a style without adding much to it, but it’s still a fun record, what am I to say? Do you want me to get critical on music that’s likely sold out at the source and everywhere else by the time I get around to saying something about it? If you can move to it, does anyone care? I’ll leave that to Dope Jams and try to do what I can when I can; it’s not like anyone is rushing me on this anyway, and feelings get, y’know, hurt, and harshing on music designed only to promote a good time, with little to no personal statements, seems like an empty gesture. Unless you know better, which in most cases I clearly don’t and will gladly sidestep it for the pros to judge. Anyway this is an earlier, guest-star-studded work from Mi Ami’s Damon Palermo, the most overt gesture to the dance floor out of that somewhat imploded trio, especially in the absence of bassist and rock/dub anchor Jacob Long, as Mi Ami’s phase III duo recordings will attest. This is Palermo’s nod at disco, it seems – “I Can Feel The Heat” coming on in stages, like the good kinds of pills, and my long lost bro Josh Anzano contributes some “Soul Makossa” style guitar to the beginning parts, which dissipate into a too-fast synth/beats reverie crossing up the streams with house music. It’s cool but I’d pitch it down. ”Clubhouse” features Honey Owens (Valet, Miracles Club), though to what degree I would like to know, as this sounds like a housier, more urban spin on the ‘89 house sound of the latter project. The EP ends with a quick, busy drum edit. Is anyone still dancing to this record? It would seem like they should be.
“Cat Food” b/w “Treehouse” 7”
Holy Shiite Militias! “Cat Food” is a rager for the ages, and in the context of music that has come out of Memphis, TN since Blood Visions, it is THE rager for the ages. If you are not one of the three or four people who have read more than a handful of things I’ve written over the last fourteen years, it bears mentioning that I would never carelessly toss around such a claim…ESPECIALLY WHERE I DO MY DIRT! “Treehouse” is fine, but Criminal Minds is also “fine” if you watch it after The Wire. Either the song is sung through the eyes and mind of Abe’s (longtime member of The Oscars) cat, or he’s trying to tell the world that cat food isn’t just for old people anymore. Shit, he could be singing that the HAARP weather-control ray is about to level Memphis with a 9.7 on the Richter and put me and mine in a FEMA coffin, so long as it was couched in top-shelf rocker that demands to be immediately played each and every time I walk into the house. Root Beer-colored vinyl (when held up to the light).
“Face” b/w “Eat Toast” 7”
Short, delirious bursts of enjoyment in the post-punk/NZ pop dynasty vein, from folks who’ve been in that scene longer than most (Denise Roughan from the 3Ds, Greg Cairns from Sferic Experiment/The Renderers/Constant Pain, Jeremy Coubrough from Tlaotlon, Mark Williams from Bad Statistics and Real Life Tragedies), and who take this opportunity to go apeshit in fine style. “Face” rides the roller-rink organ so familiar in Kiwi music to a maddeningly joyful run, the band leaping all over the place in ecstatic, punked-up glee at the opportunity to cut loose. “Eat Toast” probably has more to do with the gaudily-colored marmite-style spreads being shoveled in by the band members on the cover, and its discordant, atonal riff doesn’t pose too much of a threat, because this band seems to be all about FUN, at least where this record is concerned (I managed to cop their Roughan-less earlier LP Fowl Swoop for a fiver off Discogs, and it’s as good, a bit different, maybe even better, as the first four songs, categorically in the style of this single, give way to literate, louche balladry a la The Auteurs). I’m so used to much of the good music of New Zealand being of this sort of somber, well-constructed artifice that to hear something this immediate (in the vein of the Swell Maps 7”s – obviously, given their namesake – or Pere Ubu’s more in-your-face early material, a la “Non-Alignment Pact”) caught me off guard. It’s always great to be surprised. From the label that brought you that now long-gone Maxine Funke LP, and pressed in a similarly scant edition of 100 numbered copies. For fans of that country’s rich musical legacy, it’d be worth your while to seek this one out.
Woo 12” EP (RVNG Intl.)
Orgies of the Hemp Eaters 12” EP (Future Times)
Everyday 12” EP (L.I.E.S.)
The last few years proved to be busy ones for many East Coast dance music purveyors, not the least of which is the bearded wonder known as Max Dunnie, with three releases on a slate of exciting imprints, including his own. The L.I.E.S. white label, now laughably gone jacked up in price by shameless Eurocuz, is suitably the rawest of the bunch but also the most casual sounding, and cut so hot it knocked the needle out of the grooves when played on my backup turntable; Hemp Eaters features a wonderfully muted remix by Terekke that concentrates on vocal grunts and subtleties like Robert Ashley mixed up for a serious sound system; the RVNG one a teaser for his next full-length House of Woo and getting it up and out there in fine style. These three 12”s are of a piece with one another primarily due to a pronounced elasticity in Max D’s style, lots of bouncy bass and barebones arrangements that fit tongue-in-groove with one another and hang well. Even the track “Shampoo” off of Woo, ostensibly nothing but stems, works well, the balance of being and nothingness snapping off the end-of-nite dancefloor into cars and bikes and new wonderment. He’s one of our most durable talents in the field right now and it’s great that more people are going to get the chance to find out why.
The Backward Path LP
“There’s nothing really happening/except the things that are.” Well, there it is, one of the tightest descriptions of long-term illness you’re ever gonna see. When it’s not actively kickin’ your ass, these illnesses occupy your life, both as constant background noise and in the Occupy sit-in sense: it is always there.
Dan Melchior should know. His wife, Letha, is still struggling with cancer after a diagnosis in 2010, and The Backward Path is for her and about that struggle, seven songs and seven obtuse, instrumental link tracks on the ways that sickness shapes and deforms and changes a couple and the way they view the world. “Friends are kind/keeping you in mind” on the one hand, yet “everyone with any brains has already given up hope” on the other. “Relentless hours, relentless weeks.” And that shit gets old. All of it gets old.
Framing the songs with strummy acoustic guitar, Melchior goes sincere on this one, which might come as a shock to folks used to his general wiseacre steez on Broke Revue records. Guests stop by and bring sounds rather than casseroles – C. Spencer Yeh’s violin and various keyboards from Anthony Allman and Ela Orleans play especially prominent roles. “I have filled my time with useless stuff.” Of course it hasn’t been useless, but the ugly perspective shift that life-or-death forces can sure make it feel like that. A highlight of 2012 that we are only getting to now, but there is a timeliness here. The Melchior family could still use your help, at least until Obama’s health care plan kick in ca. 2014. Here is the link: http://melchiorfund.blogspot.com. Letha’s birthday is January 25th and a few benefits are happening around then. We wish the Melchior family luck and are pulling for her to see many more. (Dan’s latest, entitled C.C.D.E. Music, is in the pile and out on Little Big Chief – some words on that are forthcoming. –Ed.)
Jacob Milstein/Thomas Macfie
Graduation Songs/Circle Country split LP
This came in the mail with a quote from my buddy Matt’s blog Yellow Green Red written on the mailer, directly under my address, but I wasn’t sure why. The quote read: “I’m certainly intrigued as to how such a record came to be, but I will set it aside and leave it to a more daring person to investigate further.” Was it a challenge? Surely these artists aren’t trying to pit us against one another? (They weren’t; the deed was done by a friend of the band, who didn’t try to contact me but instead told someone else about it. I detect a pattern! In any event, it pushed this record to the top of the pile, something that not many have been able to do lately, so good job, Mac.) Matt’s a pretty daring fellow; he takes his shirt off in front of people without embarrassment. I wouldn’t do that. And after listening to both sides of this curious, Montana-sourced split LP, I’m sure the only challenge is trying to get through all fifteen harrowing minutes of Thomas Macfie’s “Circle Country,” a longform poem with a rumbling sound collage beneath it. The subject matter is esoteric – Macfie begins with a soliloquy of a snake sliding down someone’s throat – and his ceaseless demeanor and monotone, slightly nasal delivery makes it feel like he’s got you captive. It’s an unpleasant listen, not without its rewards – his words fit in on the fringes of a Jon Vance or Daniel Higgs in terms of content and delivery – but at its length it becomes someone of a trial to get through. Much easier to endure is Milstein’s side, five stark, folk-rooted compositions for guitar, vocals, and occasional drum program that depict stillborn, endless lonely times. Obvious reference points would be Leonard Cohen, also Josh T. Pearson (without the ego), or the Omaha contingent of singer-songwriters with greatly depressive streaks (Simon Joyner, L. Eugene Methe). Milstein goes from ballroom to four-track to a rehearsal tape recorded in a clothing boutique, the last piece here and also the biggest departure in sound quality, but there is a certain bare lightbulb swinging from the ceiling/end-of-days notion about it all that makes it hard to shake off. You wanted a difficult, private-press record? Here you go. The rewards may be tough to see at first, but with proper excavation the darkness from these sides will fill your listening environment, and spill out into your interactions with the world. Edition of 200, silkscreened sleeves and colorful, tactile fabric-bound spines which will make this one very easy to locate within your collection.
Dissed and Dismissed LP
Part of the slew of really great guitar-based pop music coming out of the punk/”indie orthodox” community this year. Imagine these dudes kickin’ it in a place of worship for like five hours on a Sunday morning. Yeah I can’t either. But I can hype you on THE KID Tony Molina, late of regarded but unrewarded Bay Area band Ovens for many years, and now striking out on his own (alongside appearances on the new Violent Change LP as well as fronting totally monstrous-sounding hardcore crew Caged Animal).Dissed and Dismissed is not too far off from the Ovens CD on Tumult; these songs could have come from the same session because Tony has a style that he’s sticking to: sweet riffs, heavy guitar crunch/palm mute/triple-double tracked guitar, stoned-n-lonely singing, no songs over 90 seconds and most getting it finished in half that. Why drag it out? You have a verse, you have a chorus, run ‘em through once, that’s enough. Everyone has been comparing this record to Weezer ca. Pinkerton, as well as early Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr and Thin Lizzy, and if you can’t hear those directly in the 12 songs and 14 minutes it’ll take you to run through Dissed and Dismissed then you haven’t heard those bands, but even such basic guideposts aren’t needed to get where he needs you to be to enjoy this record. I’ve played this for a number of people now and they’ve all been into it. It’s kind of a no-brainer to appreciate, but may give you pause when you think about how many bands are stuck in their own rhetoric, and how free and effortless Dissed and Dismissed rolls off, one great chunk of song after another, and a sweet, tender version of Guided By Voices “Wondering Boy Poet” to boot. Tony’s got it.
Thread Bare 7” EP
More needless evidence of how low the improv-noise bar has dropped over the past 15 years. This Moffarfarrah gurgles, baby talks, and vocal-fries his way through two sides of pointless microphone, digital delay pedal and voice improv that sounds like it was recorded clandestinely, at a whispery “don’t-wake-the-roommate” volume level. Just because it’s easy for everyone to record a noise EP doesn’t mean everyone should. To attempt to create something new and engaging with simple tools is an art not to be taken lightly. There are few winners, and everyone does not get a gold star for participating. In whatever case, this shit has all been done before, and a three-second Google search for Demetrios Stratos or Phil Minton might have pre-empted this record. Say what you will, but Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice was so much more compelling in concept and execution; Nondor Nevai’s A Capella Cantatainfinitely more entertaining on all conceivable levels. Presented to you on thicker vinyl than it deserves, wrapped in a poorly folded 8.5x11 sheet of paper with illegible text, and “dedicated to everyone who has lived.” Mercifully limited to 300 copies.
(Little Big Chief)
Like a box of video game cartridges found in garbage juice at the bottom of someone else’s trash, Mountain Cult attracted only specious attention during its brief existence, sending out their self-released 7” single to anyone who could help them move along their monomaniacal goals of “success.” I’m not sure they’d know what to do with it if they did find it, or at least I know they would do the wrong thing, patently, over and over. We’ll never know, though the guitarist has something new bubbling up. But we can examine this album, eight songs of idle, ponderous noise guitar and barely-competent drumming and bass playing, slopped together into something approximating blues-rock. The record doesn’t play like it was made up as it went along, but I’d guess that the whole album was recorded at practice. Vocals sound like Stevie from Malcolm in the Middleafter a wheelchair race, wheezing his last breaths through a RAT pedal. The carelessness of the entire affair underscores the moments where they inexplicably latch onto something more, though I’m sure that would depend on what your definition of “more” is. The group will be remembered as accidental outsiders who squandered opportunity, as this sort of thing is the sort of lesson that’s only cute once per lifetime.
That being said, couple tracks for sure, particularly on the B-side.
A Message of Love LP
Recreational rock trio from Austin, featuring guys from other bands – a Flesh Light, a Dead Space dogg, and Thor the beast drummer from Shearwater and the current incarnation of Swans, to get specific – playing the rare breed of side project rock that is always welcome, sporty Midwestern-style rock that would have been found on Touch & Go or from one of that label’s acolytes – some of this reminds me of the singles by bands like Speedking, or more recently, last year’s record by Multicult. Whatever value there is in playing this sort of music is certainly bolstered by Thor Harris’ skill behind the kit; playing music like this with a guy like him must be incredibly fun, and his ability to throw in tasteful fills and do much more than provide a backbeat for such shenanigans elevates this record a great deal. There doesn’t seem to be much more at stake here than a good time, and so these songs aren’t overwritten (“Stop” has a big stop in it; of course it does) but performed and buffed to a showroom gloss. Yeah their name is dumb, but it’s no Negro Spirituals or Bad Indians. 300 copies.
“Black Garden” b/w “Ancient Trees” 7”
(A Wicked Company)
Here is the first release from A Wicked Company, a new label started by my colleague Tony, who was one of the people responsible for Vertical Records back in the late ‘80s, and as such had a heavy hand in getting the debut EPs by Royal Trux, Cop Shoot Cop and Sebadoh out into the world. That’s a hell of a list for any era and would push Vertical into the history books, were more people under the age of 40 enlightened enough to remember. To start such an adventure again would require a foresight unheard of in today’s busy marketplace, but it would almost certainly come at the expense of missing this side project of Wisconsin bands Tenement and Technicolor Teeth.
One really must question the wisdom of three white guys calling their band Negro Spirituals in 2013; we live in a world with standards and reason, compassion and intellect, but above all, different people of all races, creeds, genders, faith, and national origin. I’m sure these guys have come up with their own logic that absolves them of any sort of sociocultural responsibility regarding their decision (“dude, it’s not gospel music” b/w “this is spiritual music for our darkened, Goth-tinged souls”), but I’ve been to Wisconsin – home of fast-food restaurants both staffed and patronized exclusively by white people – and will hedge my bet that this band’s hometown of Appleton isn’t like some magical small-town Rainbow Coalition. Maybe we don’t live in the same world; in mine I’d have probably named this band Interpol With Amp Grounding Issues, but I guess that doesn’t have the same ring to it? I can’t be the only one who has this problem where it becomes difficult to appreciate a band’s music once their transgressions, no matter how slight – if they affect me, they’re transgressive enough – overshadows anything they have to do artistically. This really isn’t the worst thing in the world, musically or otherwise, but I feel confident that the people in the band Negro Spirituals have had very little to answer for with regards to their name in the bubble where they exist, and are not thinking of the baggage that their name carries.
And no, I’m not going to throw out my Joy Division records or do whatever people on the losing end of an argument would suggest, for two reasons: one, because I can address the members of bands currently active and ask them what they thought their actions would accomplish; and two: if someone tells me I’ve wronged them on objective grounds, my first instinct is not to lash out, or try to point out the hypocrisy of the accusation leveled against me with some other unrelated argument that somehow makes me no better than the person I’ve started a dialogue with. It’s sad that such conversations are usually followed with said parties stumbling over themselves, wringing their hands over being singled out, and doing anything other than addressing the question at hand, but again, I’m ready to be enlightened by those who realize that some arguments aren’t about winning or losing, but rather understanding in the hopes of creating a slightly better world than where we left it. Next up for A Wicked Company is a G.Green single, which, unless it contains something upsetting along the lines of a referendum against abortions, or enables another public labor union to be dismantled, will not come under the same scrutiny. 500 copies.
EPILOGUE: Boy, did this review upset five people in Wisconsin. I’ll admit, I pushed some buttons. I’ll take the credit that I was a bit insensitive here about judging Wisconsin’s ethnic background from my random sampling of visits the handful of times I’ve been to the state. Still, I saw what I saw, these guys saw something else, and somewhere in between (and confusingly, because of the Hmong refugee population of Appleton?) they still thought that, as white people, it gave them credence to name their band on the backs on the plight of African-Americans. And they did all the fingerpointing as expected, though it didn’t work, because at the end of the day, it was all coming from the members and supporters of a band called Negro Spirituals, who apparently had never been taken to task for their namesake. Word was they were going to change their name to just Spirituals, but I’m not sure anyone’s cared enough. I had to have some chats with Tony to help him realize my sentiment, and I’m not sure if he’s over it or not, but I’m not going to apologize for dinging the sales of something I found far too flimsy and entitled to wear the badge they placed upon themselves. He’s already done better on the next one.
Sound A Sleep Sound LP
Wet synths (not Synthesizer Patel-style water synths, but close enough) create a dreamlike atmosphere of tumultuous beauty from wielder Zac Nelson, wrapping and winding and drifting around the stratosphere over these two long sides of gold/orange 12” vinyl. These are big, graceful and absorbent sounds all through “Cloud Mine,” a wavering bed of bassy tones and organ-like swirl on top of which elastic tones plunk down like rain, or meteors. It’s strong enough to support anything Nelson throws atop it, and kind of reminds me of the memory foam topper we just put on our shitty mattress, which has made it like a new bed. “Nomess” aims for a deeper region but follows a similar formula, so you’ll have to listen harder, but the approach is just as pleasing. Better than Xanax!
The New Season
s/t 12” EP
Vacant Valley the label isn’t on the same track as some of the other Australian imprints of today. They’re releasing new music but don’t seem constrained to genre, or for that matter, timeliness. The New Season was a band around in the early part of the ‘00s, an indie rock trio with a lot of gain on the guitar, decent production, and the sort of tension one needs to bring this music across to an audience. These six songs were released as a CD-R in 2003, possibly in pursuit of a record deal that never surfaced. I’m reminded vaguely of Sonic Youth’s more straightforward tracks, or maybe Archers of Loaf, and a little bit of Kurt Vile in the drawling vocals of guitarist Jarrod Quarrell, currently of the new Hardly Art signing Lost Animal. These six songs make an impression that doesn’t linger; you get the sense that this was what the band could do at the time, with no inkling of progression, and that particular sound was at the end of its long tail at the time in which it was made. Much worse music thrived in this era, and it takes some guts to dig up music from bands that have no intention of reforming, just for the feeling that you were able to preserve it for a newer generation to discover. Nothing here is going to flip the world over, but I’m sure these songs will impress those who seek out the congested, noisy headspace these guys trafficked in. 300 copies.
New Grave LP
Here lies the end of the Goth revival, a record so spare on originality and even musicianship that it may inspire actual Goths – you know, the kind that aren’t in hardcore bands, the kid who didn’t hear this sort of music for the first time in the past three years – to raise torches and burn these fuckers alive. A friend of mine warned me that Night Sins lift entire verses of lyrics verbatim from Sisters of Mercy records. I was laughing too hard through the unbelievable levels of contrivance at play here to dwell on plagiarism, but anywhere you drop the needle on this black vinyl turd, you’ll be beset by morose vocals from a journal confiscated by concerned parents and handed over to a child psychiatrist in a display of mistrust and dishonestly nearly as large as the music on the record itself. I don’t identify as Goth, not outwardly anyway, but it is hard not to feel something close to pity at a band that cannot get it right no matter how many candles they light or graveyards they squat. Their label compares them to The Mission UK in their one-sheet, too, which is the funniest thing I’ve read in 2013 (OK, the year is young, but it’s going to be very hard to top that. Do you evenwant to sell records, guy?) Can’t wait for the next trend to come along so these guys can start that band, too. Dreadfully awful inside and out.
s/t 7” EP
(Katorga Works/Toxic State)
Like Portland’s Atrocious Madness before them, Brooklyn’s NOMAD draws considerable inspiration from 90s Japanese crust punk of the “crasher” variety (Confuse, Gai, Exit Hippies, or even newer entries like Zyanose) though it lacks a little of the off-the-rails quality that makes those bands such a volatile listen. What we do get are four tracks of one- to two-riff ripsaw guitar and d-beat jams, nothing fancy and all totally saturated with feedback and noise. Belting out lyrics in Japanese through a heavy syrup of reverb, the uncredited vocalist sounds a bit like the late, great Kevin Mahoney of Siege on their classic dirge “Grim Reaper.” Good stuff, and not a bad gateway to the real McCoy. It’s sold out according to the label, though it can be downloaded via their website here (if you cannot FIRST find it at your friendly neighborhood distro, thanks):
Survival Tricks LP
Ingredient-rich RIO acolytes, residing in both NYC and Philly, explode forth in a clatter of neoclassically-trained, compositionally agitated, yet detailed and well-versed rock/anti-rock/nein-wavo pummel and scrape. Loads of ideas in here, all executed with tact and vigor; this is the line where the aggression of the beautifully untrained musician intersects with discipline, punk/anti-establishment ideals plugged into a mainframe and shot through a Silly Straw. Every time I thought some intractable cabaret-borne notion was about to foist itself on me (via tracks with names like “Grimy Super Soaker” and “Cultural Uppercut”), Normal Love surprised again and again with a hint of wisdom and an intensity that will wrap around both your mind and your throat. Not too many challenges have been awaiting me in the review pile, but even if it were, this one would get a very high recommendation.
When considered next to new music that scares and depresses me, Sundowning shouldn’t logically exist. It’s almost too good for this world. The band name is maddeningly contemporary/relative to music that sucks, and it’s almost as if they are purposely named what they are named so that their utter greatness can take my harping-on and hating-this-and-that … take that shit down a few notches. So, that band name and a cover slapped with a big photo of a David Allen Coe lookalike contest winner from Shithole U.S.A. almost had the verdict completely reached sound unheard. In fact, it was the other decision-maker in the house that had votes on this member of a recent buy-stack, so home it came because I was all excited about the new Witchcraft album that turned out to be a fatal bore.
When this band came ripping out of the stereo, I was schooled immediately. Who the fuck do these people think they are, flailing harder than my favorite purveyors of flail (Frogs “Adam and Steve” 7”, Part Chimp, Walls, Slices, etc.) and sounding like they MEAN IT. This album doesn’t really let up for more than a minute, if that, and awards bands like Iceage and The Men slots hosting amateur hour. Not that Nu Sensae have all that much to do with hardcore sonically; this is closer to Mudhoney, L7 and Team Dresch if all three rocked ten times as hard while coming apart at the seams. The lyrics are indecipherable but the sheet proves them to be partially-abstract vitriol, a dynamic that turns out perfect, like the rest of this record, band and everything associated with such. Album of the year? I’m thinking so … and thinking it hard. Clear vinyl.
Thee Open Sex
Conceptually, the guitar army is a good idea; the concept usually fails once it gets put into practice. Not too many bands can pull off having three guitarists, let alone the four that are packed into the wide-format Indiana ensemble Thee Open Sex. When you get to a count larger than two, the concepts of a rhythm and a lead have to be abandoned in order to address deeper structural issues, like if it even makes sense to have multiple rhythm guitarists, if multiple members are going to be playing the same thing, how it might play out in the studio … you get it. It seems like very few of these ideas were taken into consideration on Thee Open Sex’s seven-song debut album, and yet this thing is righteous enough as an opening salvo that such concerns aren’t really justified. These songs are simple, the recording is a bit muddy (there’s no telling that all four guitarists listed in the credits are actually playing on each track, and the gritted-out headspace of the recording maintains the sonic pokerface described herein), and the genres of garage, surf and psychedelic rock are smeared into a mess. And for once it doesn’t matter. Singer Rachel Miss-Mess cuts above the fray like a shackled-down siren in the eye of a tornado, and her brassy alto brings your attention front and center to her, the centrifugal pull towards the center of this maelstrom. She kind of sounds like Diane Duncan from the Vivians channeling a bit more Grace Slick, or maybe one of the later vocalists for Major Stars, who happen to be the band that Thee Open Sex seems to share a kinship with, in terms of high body-count psych overload spectacle. The rhythm section holds everyone involved accountable, not least of which being Circuits Des Yeux’s Haley Fohr as one of the guitarists, and the record chugs along on their authority. It’s good, and then on the last two songs, particularly the single-chorded, wordlessly-sung “Live Dead,” it becomes something really, really good. The Magnetic South imprint indicates some sort of affiliation with Apache Dropout, and while I don’t believe the two groups share any members, they coexist as wild, burning fires on both sides of Bloomington, racing towards the university to see who can claim the most souls in the eternal flames of rock and roll in the Hoosier State. May they both win.
Light Up Gold LP
Gen X-to-millenial summit time. Parquet Courts find themselves in a New York City that means something a lot different than it did at any other time in human history. To be here, and idle, is an act more worthy of derision from a faceless public than at any point in my life. Even some of those who are finding ways to thrive in niche economies – flea market food vendors, Kickstarted moguls, technocrat activists, professional Tweeters and the like – are scorned by caricatures resembling Statler & Waldorf without the punchlines. 20-25 years ago, many of these same people would have been considered pioneers, staking out commercial space near Bedford Ave. or running the conjoined gauntlets of Alphabet City and the Lower East Side. Does being older somehow qualify you as more legitimate?
These questions run through my head as I sit on the sidelines between these two generations, trying to analyze the current and at the same time trying to keep the past free of romantic notions of bohemia and some new kind of freedom. The tension of that argument is felt all throughout this sterling debut by Parquet Courts, a NYC band of the now, fronted by Andrew Savage (Teenage Cool Kids, Fergus & Geronimo) and the most believable of indie rock revivals to come down in a while. Savage and company (including his younger brother on drums) leave the keyboards at home, and play a stoned, aggravated brand of jangle-pop that’s crisp around the edges, at the point where Pavement’s slack meets Tyvek’s paranoia, the thousand-yard stare and relentless drive of Crazy Rhythms-era Feelies and the bandolero political tragedies of select Minutemen tracks. Breathless, sometimes-yelped-sometimes-sung vocals tell stories of civic/religious disappointment (“Donuts Only”), neo-yuppie disillusionment (“Master Of My Craft”), dystopian spins for the military preying on small-town teens (Careers in Combat”), and universal tales of marijuana-addled indecision (“ßtoned and ßtarving”). The Savages moved to NYC from Texas, and the contrarian spirit of some of that state’s residents, for better or worse, finds itself confronted with modern metropolitan problems and the backdrop of gentrification, market-driven events often decried by the very people who enjoy their benefits. So this record could portray a therapy session. You may find yourself agreeing with Andrew’s message more than not, when you’re not being jarred awake by the muted, tight drumming, the bendy post-punk guitars and the gear-grinding meshwork when it all comes together. This is a great record made by people who are doing something that could be confused for nothing by those not looking carefully enough, or otherwise too embroiled in fantasies about what our country should look like. If we had the right to dream in decades past, and the time to figure out lives that work for us, we certainly still reserve that right, no matter how bleak the outlook, and Light Up Gold seems to offer that message above all. Soon to be reissued on What’s Your Rupture, with another full-length in the wings. As for this one, put it on the books as one of 2012’s best.
Newly Wed Nearly Dead LP
This thing needs to be prosecuted outside of its only unit-shifting factor: Permanent Collection began as a solo project for a Young Prisms member (“Fuck it, I can make even more forgettable music with Permanent Collection … I mean, there’s some stuff that’s so insipid that it doesn’t even fit with Young Prisms”). Here we go: One full-length album and it’s nothing but a big scary problem. There was a time, not that long ago, when I had successfully convinced myself that a great hook was a great hook regardless of what sonic and stylistic sandwich it happened to be found in.
Those days of optimism have passed, and they have nothing to do with getting older, or more jaded/bitter, or an increase in cynicism on my part. It is a statistical truth that there is less innovation-via-inspiration and forward-movement than ever before in rock-based music originating from the actual underground and its increasingly-present partner in crime, the underground of inaccurate assumption. Otherwise, logic would automatically and naturally keep a band like Permanent Collection from reaching any stage of development beyond that of a 10th-grader’s pipe dream. 2012 is in its final month, which means that the Jesus and Mary Chain have retro-robotically and faux-nostalgically saturated the fields as a primary impetus for band-creation, starting with turds like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Warlocks (or “Borelocks” as my drunken ass got ejected from a club for yelling bak’n’da’day) more than a decade ago. Shoegaze has been a fervent throwback concern even as the original bands of that era were winding down fifteen years ago, and in each calendar year since, its range of representation has swollen and shrunk between bedroom concerns and genuine movements enough times to damage the very foundation of the sound itself. It’s come close to the margins but has never really vanished.
I’m really trying my hardest, but as we creep towards 2013, I cannot fathom why any band operating within the socio-cultural parameters at hand would consciously desire to spit up something that sounds like JAMC, Spacemen 3 (one of the most overrated bands of all time), first-wave shoegaze, or C86-oriented toothy jangle. Whatever fills the void, these starting lines should remain off-limits for an indefinite amount of time. In fact, if I found myself as the man on Shot-Caller Mountain, any band that forms and releases an album that owes a noticeable debt to any of the aforementioned would be committing an offense punishable by gear confiscation and a forced career move into a non-musical field. I’d go ahead and cut out the 5-to-10 year middleman of creative bankruptcy and give them positions where they were going to end up anyway. “But I’m not interested in being a social worker!” Ok, I got bartending and “Small Green Business Owner”… whatever that is.
And this band is from San Francisco. Whoever is running the show there, the source of whatever fills the void where “the fire in the belly” or inspiration or “the coming from the right place” and all that, can probably swing a bat and hit whoever is accepting free Bricolage CDs as payment for filling mail orders at Slumberland. Shit, probably lives with ‘em. It could be the bass player! Remember those quotes inOur Band Could Be Your Life in which a prominent source relates at career juncture defined by “we couldn’t believe SST knew who we were and wanted to put out our record”? Here, then, is the band that’s not waiting for a call from Scion, not waiting for a reachout from Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr about TV spot bed music, but constantly hitting refresh on their inbox for worf from the label that has survived the last seven years by taking such a “ride hard, put away wet” approach to every meaningful morsel that somehow remained in shoegaze/dream-pop/noise-pop that the shit might as well be public domain at this point. How is such a stats-driven musical concept even possible? Oh, by the way … HATED IT!!! Clear vinyl.
Hell is Real 7” EP
HOLY FUCKING SHIT
That’s out of the way, so let’s talk about the debut Permanent Ruin EP. This is INSANE – breakneck thrash with huge divebombs and red-eyed intensity. The first scream singer Mariam lets off on opener “Legacy” sounds like it’s going to jump off of the record and wrap itself around your throat. Six tracks and it never lets up for a moment, Perm Cru ratcheting up the tension significantly from their demo/flexi covered here a few months ago, with each track running so fast it sounds like they’re trying to get away from themselves, lest their own asses be kicked. That’ll never go down, though. Maybe it didn’t take eight years of Republican bullshit to really get political punk kicked back into gear, but rather the five years and counting of misery that followed. Boot’s still down on your throat. The breakdown at the end of “Unwasted” is the perfect capper to such a vicious and relentless record. Can’t wait for their next one.
Ona 7” EP
From England comes this band of mid-tempo hardcore thrashers, pushing forth an agenda of warped, defeated, miserable rage. Since they’re not American, you don’t get the maniacal claustrophobia of Sex/Vid or the smashing self-implosion of Hoax’s best material, though you can hear elements of both within, particularly how chords meander about and fall against the drumming and harsh vocals. Still, this is a reasonable EP, much more interesting than a lot of the connect-the-dots HC that’s been floated as the standards over here for the past year or so. Lyrics are sharp (topics include pestilence, calling out abusers of women and drunks) and it seems like the band is a step or two away from turning the crank on HC evolution another notch forward. It’ll be interesting to see where that ends up. Gray marble vinyl.
The Pickle Factory
Our Anthems LP
An extensive discography is like a sack of potatoes (or in this case, maybe cucumbers) in that there’s a dud or two in every batch. The Pickle Factory includes members of the far more inspired Idea Fire Company, but at its fleeting best what we have here comes off like a Snakefinger/early-80s Residents outtake – and at its worst, like a go-nowhere soundtrack to a Tim & Eric skit. What decent ideas occasionally surface (a skronky guitar on “Compass”, an oddly jaunty organ motif on “Take out Pistol”) are undermined by a penchant for stock synth patches and repetition of uninteresting vamps that don’t quite work as minimalist, but rather cry out for resolutions that never come. In fairness, this mothballed release from 1996 rings different enough from IFC to indicate an experimental spirit, but the experiment fails to produce anything other than dull results. For completists only - may this be their sole Cold Lake.
Demo 7” EP
This is Pissed Jeans’ first demo, from 2004 or whenever, pressed up on vinyl for the first time thanks to Sub Pop, who’ve included it as a value-added bonus for those who preordered their newest album Honeys. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard any of these songs, and I have fonder memories of those which were found on official releases (their first 7”, covered in the very first edition of Still Single back in 2005, and “Ashamed of My Cum,” from Shallow). Two more songs that didn’t make it to future Pissed Jeans product, the brief “Wish I Never” and the moderately fun “MTV,” are slotted in here too. I’m told that this isn’t the same demo as the one made by Unrequired Hard-On, the band that immediately preceded Pissed Jeans, even though some of the songs here made it to both. Expect poor-to-middling sound quality and a sparse, barely-adorned sleeve which features a guest appearance by the steamed turd mascor from Yocco’s, a hot dog restaurant chain in northeastern Pennsylvania. Honeys is quite an accomplishment for the Jeans, and getting a free record certainly isn’t a bad thing, but the refinements between where they started out and where they are now may be too much for most to handle.
Places We Slept
Sad, Stoned and Horny one-sided 12” EP
The kind of low-fidelity fuzz jammer we always hope to get in over here, all yelping young man angst and weed-addled melodies, sprawling and noisy and immediate. The title may say enough, but the music, restless and inspired as it is, manages to say even more, lost souls of the Midwest scraping resin and dreams out of a part-time lifestyle. May their flail never end. Silkscreened sleeve.
Like Dirty Projectors dragged back into the conservatory, here’s a very rhythm-oriented vocal exercise from dreamers, aligned with some trained musicians (cello and vibes, electric guitars and percussion) and a number of voices, from the mundane to the ecstatic (Nini Julia Bang in particular has crazy chops and a breathy, jazz-like delivery that sometimes approaches Bjork). A rigorous work of whimsy, made by dreamers and travelers alike, the music is a bit upsold from the label’s hype; it could stand on its own, and the various stories of each musician, though they are in some way integral to the work itself, serve as a distraction from the pleasant, wide-reaching affair at play here. A total surprise; this really isn’t my kind of thing, but the record really moved me.
Eg Ottast Ingen/The Early Years split 7”
(Le Petit Mignon)
Harking back to a time when what you saw on the cover and insert was what you got out of a noise record, the sick Berliner fucks in Pokemachine and Tree People present a “Faces of Death”-grade gross-out montage for your viewing enjoyment: decaying, skeletal soldier corpse beset upon by spiders on front; on the inside, smashed/exploded roadkill and a squatting nude demonstrating Kegel technique with a live mic. Transgressive content, check – and hoo boy, it’s in 3-D (glasses included)! Pokemachine sustains a drumkit/synth/skipping CD player noise assault, Gatling gun tempos captured in the fine, blown-the-fuck-out tradition of ‘90s Japanoise and indeed sounding like a lost track from the Come Again II comp. The howled vocals are kind of inconsequential and the only weak link in a track that otherwise accomplishes what it sets out to. Tree People lumbers to life with a subdued buzz that leads into a cataclysm of feedback and overmodulated metallic crashing, somehow derived from only guitar, percussion and a turntable. Contact-mic everything in the trash compactor and fire up the Boss Metal Zone. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this Tree People is no relation whatsoever to Doug Martsch’s pre-Built to Spill outfit, or the Portland folk project from the late ‘70s – sick move taking that name, though The conviction and panache with which this kind of bedlam is presented by both parties is duly noted. Edition of 320.
Orilla Oscura LP
Black Mesa, the last Jon Porras solo record, nailed the desert noir thing he does with Barn Owl so well that it might be time to move on. Maybe he has; rumor has it that the new stuff that he and fellow owl Evan Caminiti are recording leans heavy on the synths, and Vallens, Porras’s latest pseudonymous tangent, is an electronic beats excursion that sounds like it was made after a cross-continental train ride with nothing by Andy Stott and Wolfgang Voigt in the earphones. But if the guy’s getting set to pawn his guitars, Orilla Oscura closes out his affair with the instrument on a strong note. It’s a typically focused affair, organized around a particular way of working, and presented so that the visual and sonic elements complement each other. Porras uses slowed-down and otherwise processed cassettes as the music’s foundation. Best as I can tell, the cassettes mostly contain guitar playing, although “Holy Hex” definitely has some monkish chanting, and “Awake In Moonlight” layers amp hiss and tape hiss into a background babel that’ll mess with your pet snake’s head. Over that he’s layered more electric guitar, unmodified beyond whatever pedal chain conduced the sounds from instrument to amp. The figures he plays are more ruminative, less pointed than those onBlack Mesa, but similarly vision-inducing; if that record was meant to accompany a black and white spirit quest of the mind, this one soundtracks an inky night’s look into the soul. Porras, like Caminiti, seems to be emulating the sonic psycho-geographical focus of Roy Montgomery’s instrumental work, and there are parts where the slow-building growls just beg to be accompanied by the sound of a film projector. Close your eyes and dream it, or just bask in the rich three-dimensionality of the sound. The record’s cut at 45, which can’t have hurt the music’s depth of field. The muted colors of the gatefold sleeve are a fitting analog to the sound. Black vinyl, unnumbered pressing, comes with a download coupon.
Prince Rupert’s Drops
Run Slow LP
(Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)
True story: I was working at Kim’s Video in 2002 in an assistant managerial capacity. My boss went on tour with Andrew W.K., leaving me to run the second floor for a month on my own. One day in, and I was told to fire two of my employees on the grounds that they were stealing from shop inventory. They weren’t the most pleasant people to work with, and I will never forget the confrontation that I had to moderate between one of them and the store’s notorious owner, Yong-Man Kim, who broke his perp from defiant and argumentative to sobbing like a toddler inside of five minutes, due in part to Kim smashing a shelled walnut open with his bare hands in front of said supplicant. Do you know how hard it was to stifle my laughter at the absurdity of all this? Either way, it meant that I had to hire and train two new people straight away, or else work their shifts myself. Pulling 11 hours at Kim’s is not recommended, then or now, so I literally chose the first person who came in with a resume – one Leslie Stein, then-art school undergrad, now Fantagraphics-published cartoonist, and the frontwoman of the band Prince Rupert’s Drops. Were I not to have hired her, would she have started this band? Would any of us had the good fortune to know her at all?
PRD initially started out under the name The Woods, just as ex-Meneguar fellows Woods rose to prominence, so these folks – ostensibly the remnants of the Broke Revue following their dismissal by Dan Melchior – conceded, with a late ‘60s sounding name and a very promising demo, from which two ofRun Slow‘s eight tracks were sourced. That was 2006 or so, and following a record deal gone sour, we finally have a release by this fine Brooklyn outfit. I throw the term “fake psych” around here a great deal, because it is warranted, and for all I can tell, the remainder of the releases on this East Village Radio-spawned record label BBiB will fit that bill (NOTE: THEY DO), but their inaugural platter is inarguably the real thing, a verytrippy, slightly uneven work with an astounding pedigree and ear for the past. You don’t hear bands these days flying the freak flag while so ably melding the nuances of the Small Faces, Fairport epics and Crazy Horse in their own brand of magic. Their provenance of starting out where the Broke Revue left off proves how much of an effect guitarist Bruno Meyrick-Jones had on that group’s sound after all, and the songs written in the intervening years, amidst some lineup changes and added instrumentation to fill out their sound, seem to take that direction and merge it with the large-format acid country stompers of erstwhile Brooklynites Oakley Hall. Here’s a band where you can actually hear the record collections of its members coming through in fully digested, non-obvious ways, the result of years of influence filtering down into some really wonderful songs. Run Slow finishes out a little less strongly than it starts, but continuity aside, this is a wonderful, organic, human sounding record, and I dare anyone to step up with a song as deeply tripped out and disturbingly engaged as “Plague Ride.”
”Videotape” b/w “Conditioning Trench” 12”
(Not Not Fun)
“Oh, it’s like soundtracky synth stuff, precisely the kind of thing Mosurock hates.” NOPE. There may well be nothing to Profligate but one guy in a room with a computer or a handful of synths and a sequencer, but these two tracks have more in common with both Krauty New Age-isms and driving, New Romantic electro/dark dance trax than any music wedged in the horror VHS shelf of yesteryear. I can kinda see where the comment might hold water on “Videotape” (I mean, come on) but this side establishes mood with an energetic, syncopated rhythm/delay track, pulsating and static-brushing its way into a dual lead that builds up, breaks down and surfaces again, albeit within the confines of the beat itself. It’s chase music and fairly exhilarating at that. “Conditioning Trench” adds a drum computer, monotone vocals and sibilance, with a little high-end sizzle burning off like drops of water in a hot skillet. This one’s a good club-oriented number, and both tracks have enough length to allow the interesting themes within to develop. Unless you don’t care for synths, in which case there is nothing here for you, here is a strong example of how to keep a well-worn idea in vogue and at attention.
Dreads 85 84 7” EP
Protomartyr’s first 7” kicks off with a thematic side that takes as its topic two well-known ‘80s Michigander losers: champion dog King Boots, who was neutered and defanged after causing a 97-year-old woman’s death, and Bubba Helms, whose louche pose for the cameras in front of a burning car when Detroiters rioted after the 1984 World Series became a symbol of the city’s decline. The sound fits the mood here, kind of like “Nervous Breakdown” meets someone who wants to start a band that rips off Wire but is way too stoned. Singer Alex has a burlier-than-Mark E. Smith shout that reaches near-anthemic heights, as when he yelps “they took your teeth out, BOOTS!” on “King Boots.” The record’s B-side sprawls out into post-punkier territory that brings to mind Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s more epic moments. I think it’s about a pair of glasses? Protomartyr’s catchy songwriting and hazy je ne sais quoi (too slow for punk, too punk for garage, too crunchy for post-punk) propel this record to the top of the stack. Tyvek guitarist, Kevin Boyer, whose band has a similar lo-fi party vibe, makes occasional appearances as a member of Protomartyr. They’ve released two subsequent records, a 7” and a 12”, both similarly worthy of attention. (Note: I have the Protomartyr LP right here, as well as another 7”. Do you want me to cover them? I should, even though Treneff got to the album on Dusted before I could. – Ed.)
Bit Tongue Prik 12” EP
This Australian noise-rock trio celebrated the release of this EP by breaking up. Or rather they’d broken up, reactivated just long enough to do one tour in it, then folded up again. Seems like its members are busy with other acts right now (bassist Glen Schenau is the vocalist in Per Purpose), but this Brisbane trio takes us through a quick, enjoyable walk into the minds of men who are probably a lot scrawnier than their music would suggest, and isn’t that always the way? Heavy bass, scraping guitar, lots of yelling and drama, songs implying issues with other people’s appearances (“Bingo Wings”). This is all par for the course, but it’s a course that many of you like to run over and over, so there is some value in this being released after all.
This is RAD 7” EP
RAD’s clamorous brand of ‘80s youth-attack thrashcore (from the sound of it, recorded live in one studio take), blasts by with nary a deviation from its stylistic forbearers. Seems to me this stuff is made-to-spec for a Red Bull-fueled afternoon at the skate park. Aside from the more crossover-revivalist dealings of their fellow Sacramentalists Trash Talk, the late ‘90s heyday of the so-called bandana thrash scene was the last time that a handful of California outfits flipped up their brims and dialed up the tempos to these levels. Here, it seems a little less vicious, more playful even, but competently executed by folks who are instrumentally proficient beyond their years. Shouter Lory belts out condemnations of hipster grandma couture (“Geekanomics”), Warped Tour phonies (“90s Punk”), and offers helpful hints to her hardcore sisterhood in “Cover Your Tits in the Pit,” taking the piss in a wiseassed lyrical style not unlike that of Pittsburgh’s late, great Crucial Unit. The barreling thrash has some occasional moments – the crisp stop/start riffing of “90s Punk” and surges of Cryptic Slaughter intensity here and there. Not bad, not genius, “B+” for enthusiastic delivery and a demonstration that they have been digging into the right tuff. Now let’s see what they can really do to push this forward on the next record. It’s a nice near camo-pattern green, this vinyl, but mystifyingly, the program repeats on side B. Why not cut it at 45 and split the program for a less-crackly sound?
Räjäyttäjät Räjäyttää! 7” EP
Another one that escaped me for a while was this single, a bunch of Finnish guys wielding Roky Erickson and Don Nix covers along with originals like they were a cardboard box and transistor radio take on Gaseneta in 1978, pickled in liquor and unruly to their very core. I sat on the review for a while, because what would you say about it other than that? This record isn’t as crazy as you think – it’s more. Tinny, in-your-face, balls literally hanging out punk rock, sung in their native tongue, even the covers. This might be the kind of band you cross the street to avoid in person, but with a 4000+ mile flight between me and them, I’ll probably never know. Lots of fun, irresponsible rockin’ is found here.
“New News” b/w “The Water” 7”
Here we have some garage rock out of Nashville, recorded with particularly cavernous reverb. The guitars twang slightly, and the vocals have a Black Lips snottiness, but without that band’s louche attitude; B-side “The Water” throws in some campy analog FX. This forgettable but perfectly likeable effort comes on orange marble vinyl, which you don’t see too often.
Sceptre Hole LP
Oh, man. So close. A pal once coined the term “scrumptiously overratable” to describe a record that really was at the time and I never forgot it and I expect many (or, uh, some) will deploy it here. I can’t quite get there. Oz is killing it right now, home to more excellent records that you could listen to in a month, but damned if I am having trouble wedging this one into the Great column possibly b/c only one of the players actually hails from Down Under and possibly because it never quite comes together. Multiple listens now and nothing is “sticking” like I hoped it would based on the pedigree. San Francisco-based trio: one Australian (David West of Rank/Xerox, Burning Senation and Total Control) and two Americans (Violent Change’s Matt Bleyle on guitar and drums and Jon Young slappin – ok, not really – da bass). The pieces are all there, really there, almost exactly what any and all lovers of primo indie/NZ strum could want: full-force jangle-urk, feedback here and there, deep focus, middle distance vocals a la Bailterspace. You wanna grab them all and make ‘em just refine the recording or songwriting just a tiny little bit, just another week of work to go from Decent-not-Great to Approaching “Tally Ho!” It hath neither the transcendence of the Clean nor the bubble-gum-n-bailing-wire shamble of, say, the Axemen. He also might be trying for something a bit more experimental than I originally assumed. I know that this one may be a grower. It may yet grow on me. I also know that life is short. Then again, it might work to see where we are in a month or so. Cuz that’s how art works sometimes.
“Cross Eyed Delights” b/w “Way After Midnight” 7”
Right down to the thin production, Rochester’s Rational Animals continue to emulate the scales on Amphetamine Reptile’s back. It’s still kind of odd to figure how they fit into any modern hardcore mindset (apart from the obvious Ginn worship, one of the main ways RA deviates from the AmRep strain of noise rock scum past … say whatever you want about Tom Hazelmyer and the bands he chose to work with, but none of them were fucking hippies, at least not outwardly so.) If anything, a band like this illustrates how the last few generations’ culture wars ended in a draw. People get tired of fighting, and there are both good and bad sides to that lack of action.
20th Century Bricolage 7” EP
Ratsak features a bunch of Australians from other bands (Kromosom, Circle Pit, Southern Comfort, and True Radical Miracle among ‘em), plying those disparate backgrounds in the service of punk ‘n’ roll that approaches Fucked Up’s stadium mosh from the vantage point of the Hellacopters’ Detroit-to-Scandinavia chunnel project. This makes things sound not all that Australian, but perhaps that’s the point. Anyway, it’s an OK effort, raw enough and rockin’ enough to turn a few heads.
s/t 7” flexi
(Radical Punks Never Die)
Ah fuck, this is a ripper for sure. Repress of a demo cassette from this Bay Area thrash outfit – three women up front and B. from No Statik on drums. Non-complicated, tight, single-minded riffs, explosive drumming, way gnarled and aggro bass and vocals delivered from the depths of one very hoarse throat. It’s way more metallic than a lot of bands in this area have been leaning, and that’s part of what makes it stand out, but the overall air of collar-squeezing fury that comes off of this thing is very hard to ignore, and lofts this l’il floppy disk near the front of the pack for hardcore punk of the moment. 250 copies w/ a sticker. P.S.: Replica’s debut 7” on Prank just came in, and will be covered here very soon.
Joanne Robertson, Tom Greenwood, & David Cunningham
“Maybelle” b/w “Metal Rims” 7”
A collaboration between folk singer Joanne Robertson, Jackie-O MF’s Greenwood, and known quantity/sound artist Cunningham, these two songs fuse gentle, folk/country inclinations with smooth, bubbly FX processing. “Maybelle” adapts two prison work songs, with languorous, drawling vocals by Robertson and Greenwood. The superior B-side, the fluttery instrumental “Metal Rims,” recalls Greg Davis’ mid-’00s folkified electronica.
Steve Roden/Luminance Ratio
The Seven Inch Series Vol. 1 split 7”
(Fratto9 Under the Sky/Kinky Gabber)
File under ambient-improv done right. Italy’s Luminance Ratio deftly launches a series of collaborative, colored-vinyl EPs with this first installment, a split with L.A.-based sound artist Steve Roden. Roden’s “Marvelous is Flairs” offers a Keith Rowe-esque scrape of guitar strings that loop and phase in and out with one another; a muffled “clunk” that might originate from the field recordings he’s credited with serves as the only percussion. His breathy, high-register vocal melody founders along to a weird chatter of digital artifacts near the close of the track. The medium’s brevity suits this piece well, and it’s over well before your attention span. The four-member Luminance Ratio responds in kind with “Reoccuring Dreams,” a soundtrack-ready piece that unfolds like an electroacoustic origami sculpture, with sparse bell-like guitar chording and electronic tones that crescendo and cascade gently into a chorus of friction against resonant metals. But here, we have the opposite problem, where the piece fades to silence (perhaps edited for this EP?) just as things are getting interesting. Oh well, always leave ‘em wanting more. As well you should, from this intriguing ensemble. Swell sounds that sound swell on deep blue vinyl at 33rpm, and in an edition of 200.
I’ve never been interested in or irritated with what I’ve heard from this label. I almost fell for the glorified Interpol/Editors toss-off flotsam of Blacklist but utilized the Internet first and was saved both monetary and mental grief. I get it, everything they’ve sputtered out over the years … as much as the personalities behind the festivities want to believe I don’t. And I get Rosenkopf, but the big difference with this trio is that they’re excellent at what they do and what they do is mix up a few sources of inspiration in the right way, heavy modern industrial informed by early Christian Death and mid-period Swans, with some Sonic Youth and Pornography-era Cure (can’t go wrong there) tossed in. Really, this is a great record, it’s just not the type of great record that excites me enough that I think about listening to it while I’m buying crap at Target or running to the post office or digging around in record piles that don’t contain anything released by Wierd Records. Black vinyl.
Purple On Purple Makes Purple LP
Gtr/drms (and sometimes keys) duo exchange from a couple of veteran basement (show) dwellers based in Portland, Ore., namely Geoff Soule (Fuck) and Elizabeth Venable (Tara Jane O’Neil, Naysayer). On first blush, more or less, we have one foot in listening to What Makes a Man Start Fires? over and over (love the spoken chatter on “Sure You Do”) and one foot in Northwestern punk circa the International Pop Underground fest. Which means their pants look fantastic, at the very least. “Take It” splits the diff between riot grrl and Patty Donhue to these addled ears, the sort of wonderful bleat that one finds a better comparison for like a week after the review is in. Fourteen songs inside of 20 minutes – quick-fire ideas executed then everyone moves on – including a smarter-than-you-might-assume-yet-goofball cover of Andrew Hill’s “Grass Roots.” It is only for an accident of history that this isn’t on K or Kill Rock Stars, would in no way be surprised to see the next one on a bigger label, if they wanna go that route.
Shearer has a mopey sort of voice and an ear for the country, or at least the ideas sprung forth by rock-based singer-songwriters of the past. The songs are as sad as his hangdog tone, like Jim Morrison fronting the Red House Painters. An acquired taste, for sure.
Danish jazz collective Shiggajon made this record a few years back called Asconema that was part of a movement of musicians (like UK outfit Chora) that found a way to elevate Euro-free jazz improvisation into an ayahuasca ceremony of stirred souls and spiritual possession/surrender so pure and wild-eyed it almost didn’t seem real. There were a bunch of CD-Rs and cassettes which preceded it that I’ll probably never hear (and seven cheap copies of Asconema sitting on Discogs as of press time … wtf are you waiting for), but Dansen is their second vinyl release, and takes to the ground instead of the skies, willing an unspeakable dark light out of the ground. The ensemble has shifted in size, personnel and instrumentation this time around, with a number of members switching over to hand drums and floor toms – three drummers in all, with one member on double-bass and violin, one vocalist in wordless, ecstatic repose, and a lead tenor sax providing most of the dialogue. Like the last one, Dansen is comprised of two side-long pieces. “Om Morgenom” has a backbone of drum circle rhythms pounding out a background for conversational sax, and a thrumming bed of bass and vocals that comes to a simmer but never truly boils over. The voodoo in this track could be stronger, but it’s telling that they hold back. Those congas return after an unsteady pause for steadying-to-seasick violin on “Om Aftonen,” the beats for the beasts now wholly warmed up and ready to transcend. It doesn’t quite get there, the violin trading off for a somewhat lighter sax session and the communication between the two instruments lost in the haze of patchouli and bongo that rings out. Overall I’m pleased with this – I personally don’t get too much jazz in the box anymore – and the group’s last effort was so strong that some of that goodwill carries over here. It falls just slightly short of greatness, perhaps because there really isn’t as much going on in the session, and as Americans we kind of have a stigma against the sort of granola beats offered up here. But it’s still worth checking out for the longer of hair among you. 210 copies, silkscreened sleeve. Please buy up those copies of Asconema at once.
s/t one-sided 12” EP
The original Modey Lemon duo of Phil Boyd and Paul Quattrone returns with one Sara McElheney for stylistically wild, sweet times in the loamy confines of a Pittsburgh ravine. Roles are a little bit reversed here; Phil’s now playing the drums, while Paul (the current drummer of !!!) and Sara are out front, riding samplers. There’s a bit of an electronic renaissance going on around there, probably due to what a dude Girl Talk is and that a lot more people there have realized what you can do with some outboard gear since I last roamed those fields (almost 13 years to the day, even), which puts this new trio somewhere in the vicinity of another great local group called Raw Blow, except Shockwave Riderz aren’t lifting huge chunks of familiar oldies riffs straight off of 3WS-FM; instead, they use the devices to get the best parts out of practice/recording riffing and build a full band sound out of two boxes that could fit inside the bass drum. And what a great sound it is, too, pitched somewhere more exciting than where they are, hinged between a commercial Suicide, an agreeable Big Stick, Accelerator-era Royal Trux and the Raveonettes. Everyone sings, and it winds up being an excellent way to spend 10 minutes, particularly on the opening track “Pittsburgh PA’s Motor Speedway,” all lingering triggers, echoed percussion, and faded photographs. You could argue that the group is a bit late to the party, but it seems like there’s always room for another band in this vein. At the end of the day, it’s just good pop music that pulls from the right places. That’s all it’s gotta be.
No Fashion 7” EP
Sick Thr!lls are another unit that use their Killed By Death/Bloodstains comps as a blueprint for 10 tracks that belch a gassy, post-Reatard “who gives a fuck?” right in your face. The prevailing feel is 1980 punk-n-roll that bashes headlong down the nearest flight of stairs, though some inventive dual-guitar flash counters any notion of an exercise in nostalgia. To wit, the classic Alice Cooper band trills on the title cut and “Ready for Dead,” dissonant chords (“Reaction) and catchy licks that season the bouncy “Do What You Want” and “Sick Sick Sick.” Other titles like “Fuck Force 5,” Drugz” and “Let’s Get Fucked” offer hints at the lyrical prurience within. But, although the vocals are pretty unhinged, they’re also pretty buried in the mix, so hints they shall remain. Unfortunately, an out-of-phase hissing produced by a slight mastering or pressing error interferes with side B’s “Do What You Want,” hopefully marring only this review copy. A decent effort that gets under your fingernails and stays. 150 copies.
Silent Land Time Machine
I Am No Longer Alone With Myself And Can Only Artificially Recall The Scary And Beautiful Feeling Of Solitude 12” EP
Violin-led, heavily structured soundscapes of a very specific and timely sense of beauty and decay, the end product of Kid A and The Disintegration Loops having soaked into the groundwater and having been absorbed by latter-day post-everything musicians. Points provided to the man behind SLTM for playing it close to the vest, for not cutesying it up and falling prey to whimsy and wonder, and for actually obscuring his lead instrument effectively enough to make this whole ordeal a mystery and a wonder. Not exactly my thing but the appeal is definitely not lost on this publication or its readers.
Painless Nights LP
Ricky Williams’ hypnotic, lush turn-of-the-’80s rock outfit the Sleepers get the reissue treatment via the dependable Superior Viaduct imprint, starting with their sole full-length, originally released on Adolescent in 1981. They first came to my attention in the late ‘90s at a show I had booked for The In Out, whose drummer Nick Blakey furiously explained them to me via some crazy formula scrawled on a cocktail napkin. It was enough to put me on their scent. Painless Nights isn’t an easy listen, despite the verdant production qualities and dusky, backlit ambiance. This band, or maybe the late Williams, seemed from this distance out to make people feel uncomfortable, like you’d need to make sure someone didn’t roll you as they passed by. The music itself isn’t violent in ways you’d expect from music in the original punk/post-punk era, but Williams played his frontman role every inch the provocateur, delving into lyrics that laid the creep on heavy enough to crack like dustbowl soil when stretched. It’s said that he was asked to vacate his role as the original lead singer of Flipper because he did too many drugs. Let that sink in while examining the louche, troubled presence he brings to this band, one with an allure that seemed to go with junk territory, but also one rarely propped up by such a classy, forward-thinking ensemble, particularly through the finesse of Tuxedomoon guitarist Michael Belfer. If Williams was the presence, he was the secret weapon, and threaded this band’s work very finely away from easy categorization into Goth, new wave, or typical recorded outsider roles (thinking of Armand Schaubroeck for some reason), though from a distance it would seem like the record could fit into them all. Hardly anyone outside of SF got to witness this band’s greatness, and now the Sleepers’ music is whispered about rather than broadcast in clinics and places of worship. The album would prove to be the end of the road for the group (though Williams would turn up not long after in the incredible and underrated Toiling Midgets), but listening to the record now, one wonders what else they had left to show the world. These recordings haven’t been in print for over 15 years, when dubious label Tim/Kerr Records decided to copy all the Sleepers’ recordings from vinyl to a CD compilation called The Less An Object, which to its credit had more informative, V.Vale-penned liner notes than Joe Carducci’s acerbic screed (imagine, dissing Cabaret Voltaire like that) but comes with a great concert poster which paired them and Cab Volt with Young Marble Giants – seriously, imagine being at that show. And if this excites you (or doesn’t), you’ll want to check out SV’s reish of the group’s 1978 debut EP Seventh World, one of the best Bay Area punk records of all time. More outstanding reviews of more outstanding Superior Viaduct reissues by German Shepherds, 100 Flowers and Martin Rev are coming, never you fret. (http://www.superiorviaduct.com)
People Climb Out Of Time LP
(Eastern Watts/Pinzy Merton Productions)
Underwater-sounding (presumably) one-man kitchen-sink fare that alternates between shoegaze, piano balladry, beats, general weirdness and you get the picture. I can’t outright dismiss this record because my one-man’s-mediacrity-is-another-man’s-genius-is-another-man’s-proof-of-future-potential…..mental alarm is getting tripped by this one. Still, I really wish I had more to say about People Climb Out of Time, because I feel like there’s more here, but you don’t want to read me trying to fish for “more to say”… I promise. 100 copies.
Source of Yellow
People like to knock a group like Tortoise these days, because for some the music doesn’t hold up, or they grew out of a post-rock/jazz fusion moment and find themselves a little taken back by what they once enjoyed, under the guise of the music being “new” or whathaveyou. But when you listen to a group like Brooklyn’s Source of Yellow, who do little more than some rudimentary free-jazz putzing around with the kind of backbeat you’d find on a Can record, something amazing happens: you start to recognize the strides towards originality, towards viewing fusion as an inseparable marriage of disparate forms shouldered by the group’s forefathers, and how it is virtually absent in the record at hand. I’m not going to comment on the levels of musical proficiency here (they’re present) but the whole “let’s take A and add it to B” mentality present in Source of Yellow’s sound does the music no favors, and reveals all of the seams in a really sloppy formula, just hanging out there for listeners to tire of.
Steven R. Smith
Old Skete LP
Relatively straightforward instrumental folk-rock cliff faces from guitarist Smith, abandoning the Jewelled Antler brand of mischief for something you can drink whiskey and grow older to. This one’s been sitting in the box for a while, though it’s not something that’s too good to be discovered; it’s just been a busy year. Smith deserves more notice than that. This one’s a keeper if you like the guitar, and the notion that a man can come along and tell a story with it, and that the story doesn’t need to have a happy ending (movement 3, for instance, clarifies that point). Lovely, tough stuff. 500 copies.
Death Trumps Romance 12” EP
We haven’t heard from Perth’s Soviet Valves since their great 7” on SmartGuy way back in 2005. And there’s a reason for that: they broke up just before the record was released. Funny then that their single effectively foreshadowed the ascent of Australian rock/punk bands to the forefront of the world’s most starved audience for exactly what they put forward. This posthumous release comes from a different session than the previous record, and the song “Crossover Angst” is repeated on both, though it didn’t seem like such a worry was ever on the Valves’ minds, though anxiety of other kinds certainly was. This band’s intent seemed to be speed and speed alone, the kind of punk velocity that a bass player would only slow down, the kind that melody embellishes to sound manic and desperate in the right ways. These songs pogo right off the turntable, taking a Buzzcocks style bent and getting more and more aggravated with it as the record goes on. “Throne” is the breaking point; with the maddening runs up and down the scale, singer Milos yelling about “wearing dark suits under white lights” and the high-intensity drumming of James Vinciguerra (now playing in Total Control and Lace Curtain), it’s no wonder that the last two cuts sound as if they are somewhat deflated and open-chorded as a remedy to all the stress built up within. Soviet Valves had it all figured out and gave up before the floodgates opened. Other more recent AUS bands sound loose and shambling by comparison. Most are still pretty good but this one deserves to be remembered.
Austin rockers from a few other bands (When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, Dikes of Holland) deliver on their LP for S-S, following two 7”s. I’m not certain if it was because of the scarcity or the demand – people liking this stuff and needing to own it, or the shreds of the market-driven vinyl speculator, now confined to Record Store Day and pre-order miseries – but both Spray Paint 7”s vanished quickly. I don’t much follow anything that S-S does anymore, apart from a newsletter that comes through my inbox wherein Scott Soriano tells the world how poorly everything is going for his label. Join the club! I used to get S-S records to review because I bought things of interest that he was selling, but since we both pretty much receive the same records now I don’t often, if ever, need to do that, and he decided that it wasn’t worth the press I might give him anymore to submit records to Still Single (that or more likely some other ethical debates we’ve been on opposite ends of, which has generated a tension that no one wants to address directly). I have also read what Scott thinks of my writing, and assuming that his stance hasn’t changed, this is more about his expectations of me than mine of him.
Scott’s not the only one who stopped sending in physical releases; I lost the Siltbreeze account last year (which is understandable and has been explained, no hard feelings whatsoever), along with a number of others who’ve decided to give up on the possibilities of having their music evaluated by the team over here. The crux of the issue is that how we learn about records today is complicated by there being far too many out now trying to play the game of five-six years past; too many bands deciding that 300 copies of whatever they’ve come up with is a suitable figure, who then sell like 50 of them, give the music away on a Bandcamp and find that the combination of not-so-greatness and ubiquity of performers in their very shoes have contributed to the glut of unmarketable product. It used to be that I really needed to be on the ball with covering new records, and sometimes I still am, but some other yob is going to get to it before I do (and likely gush all over it, further devaluing the status of opinions for whatever perceived psychic reward comes after essentially doing something for nothing). While it’s gotten no less enjoyable to discover new music – somehow, I’ve avoided complete burnout, thanks to people still doing it well – the race to be first has turned into a race for the bottom, as everyone is carrying the same records to the point of market saturation, there’s far too much interference from the sidelines, and it’s become a lot less exciting to chase things down. Anyone else remember this happening in 1996? Great music is getting lost in the shuffle more than ever before, and it’s being manufactured almost to appease its makers that it should exist, just because so much bad shit is out there, vying for our attention and money, that to make it so becomes an entitlement in and of itself. And with the cost of overseas postage skyrocketing, we can all expect things to get a lot worse. Now who’s got the bad news?
This vinyl edition of Spray Paint’s album came from within the band, which is why it’s being covered here. I was not a fan of their 7”s – there’s only so many ways you can frame the semantics of the trebly two-guitar/no-bass rock trio, and the Urinals covered most of them, even with a bass – and was hoping for a better impression here. I got it, I suppose: the first three tracks on this record are a good bit of fun, rancorous males stomping around on the shaky floorboards of post-punk/DIY rattle. After that, I forgot I was listening to a record and just sort of went on about my day. This happened several times in my attempts to evaluate Spray Paint’s music, so either it’s all me, or it’s all them. What really seems to be happening here is these guys bumping their heads on the low ceiling they’ve created for themselves, repeatedly; there’s not a whole lot of personality or room to breathe in their sound, despite how hollow it rings due to the lack of low end, or moreover the sense of what to do within the confines of their lineup. Spray Paint doesn’t really achieve greatness or uniqueness here, and at this point those aren’t even qualities that would shut out a new band from an overall greatness that reaches beyond their limits. They play up the monotony and self-satisfaction rather than the ideas or their execution, and wind up defeating themselves. I doubt that’s what’s going to move 500 copies of this, but I’m ready to be surprised. If only there were less bands and labels out there!
UPDATE! The initial publication of this review netted me some bitter (and factually incorrect) responses from Mr. S-S. Yes, Scott, I want a cookie. I want one of those big Mrs. Fields cookies that they write on with frosting with some more of your insults on it. I’m sure you’ll feel better telling me off yet again, and me, I’ll have this big cookie to share with my friends. You have my mailing address, chief.
Songs For Cadets LP
This LP didn’t do much for me at first, but after putting on “Orbit” directly after those Lust For Youth records, it appears that Stacian is on an identical trajectory, one of mid-fi resolution and ceaseless electronic pulsebeats to frame loneliness and isolation in an eternal tomb of synths and plastic. The records are damn near interchangeable to my ears at the basis of that track. Elsewhere it’s hardly the same story, Dania/Stacian relying on trickier rhythms and stock theatrical moves that take away from the mindless dance imperative sold by LFY. Is it unfair to judge one record against another? Do you know how many records I need to get through here today? Come on. When this one succeeds (“Orbit,” “Absentia”) there is a lot of goodwill to spread around. Otherwise it sounds a bit flat, though it thankfully never steers in the red velvet cabaret direction that Zola Jesus or Amanda Palmer might’ve earlier on. It’s a better than OK synth-pop cloak that could have been even better. How is up for discussion but yeah.
Stay Cold LP
If someone told me, at any point prior to January of 2013, that a new record (by a “new band”) carrying an obvious Springsteen element would be recommendable, I believe the outcome to be termed as “laughed out of the room” … in the parlance of, say, Mo Ostin. But aside from that invisible ingredient that made the “rock” part of “indie-rock” something to live for about 20 years ago, the other arch reference point is The Boss. And this is a stellar, no-thrills, seasoning-salt-of-the-earth presentation for those with the capacity to appreciate exactly what this little record review is trying to get across. This is their second LP of, as the label summation so deftly handles, “heartfelt Canadian post-hardcore”… and I will end with this: I knew this band was from Canada before I knew this band was from Canada. Don’t act like you don’t know precisely what I am referring to.
Songs In the Key of Survival LP
Something for the avant set here and perhaps beyond, the sort of piano phrasing/difficult compositions that have come about since Gastr Del Sol wound things down. Svirsky sings along to his playing, something that wasn’t necessarily expected in this sphere of creative output, but which may open it up to audiences outside of the academic/improvised expectations. “Sell yourself until you can’t afford/To buy yourself back,” he sings, across a building narrative that lies amid the fistfuls of keys and Nancarrow-esque speed runs across the keys. It’s tough out there to make a living at your art, and here is a work that’s unafraid to address that, despite studious objectioneers. We only have a handful of decades in the grand scheme of things to get it together. If you need inspiration as to why, here you go. Buy this and you and the artist will both benefit.
Pickup Lines LP
Decent enough power-pop rocker from an Austin-based crew that counts one of the Mind Spiders among its membership. Any band of this caliber is only as good as the first song on their record, and Sweet Talk has got a doozy in “Take You Right Back,” one that kinda makes you wonder where they’re going, with a slow and somewhat stumbling drunken bar crawl. But boy does it ever snap to – when they get to the chorus of “right back!,” the band and the song both come alive as if someone had plugged them into a power strip by their pinky toes. It’s one of the more memorable starts to a record of its kind that I can think of, and even though some of what follows is a little too standard to hold up, at least they don’t dip into that writing-shitty-songs-to-fill-this-record-out-itis that I hear is coming in the next revision to the DSM-V, along with a picture of Phil Seymour frowning in a purple shirt.
s/t 7” EP
When this single showed up in the mail, for the first time in a very long while, I got nervous handling it at my Post Office, worried about it falling out of the mailer at my office on the way home, anxious about having it someplace where others could see it. The artwork is as gruesome as the subject matter, and as serious as the people who made it and the intentions behind it. If you want to see but a sampling of the fallout from Mexico’s drug wars, here it is, in the form of bodies mutilated and heads severed, all over the artwork and booklet for Tercer Mundo’s debut EP, their usage here not exploitative but used to underscore the reality that people in our neighboring country have to live with now. It is piss raw punk, a two-piece of drummer Alex Marga (Margaritos) and screamer/guitarist Dave Rata (Ratas Del Vaticano), punks from or near Monterrey who’ve been affected, like almost everyone in their country by the violence and degradation brought on by the cartels’ campaigns of terror – spurred on by the insatiable drug lust of the free world. It is impossible to listen to this single and not feel the anger and pain reflected in the music. I live in a place that is definitely more a problem for guys like Alex and Dave than a solution, a place where punk is increasingly more a badge or a haircut, a line snorted and a bottle thrown in apathy, and not an outcry for human rights the way it is here. Like the insert says, “MEXICO 2012 – 60,000 HUMAN BEINGS DEAD. NOW GO PARTY AND SCORE SOME COCAINE.” The irony isn’t lost on them, nor should it be for you. Let’s choose to be on the right side of both history and human rights.
(email to cintaspepe at gmail dot com)
Thousand Foot Whale Claw
Dope Moons Volume One LP
More grist for the VHS horror synth soundtrack tribute mills, and the outmoded tech-obsessed who lust after them. This is well entrenched in Carpenter land, though not as lean as the last thing I heard in this vein (the M. Akers album). Kinda makes you wonder when it’s all gonna end, especially since the actual John Carpenter/Alan Howarth soundtracks sit in the same bins as record like this once again. Didn’t leave much of an impression; with a name like Thousand Foot Whale Claw, I was expecting a Caroliner-style band. We all were.
Three Man Band
Heavy Music For John Terrill one-sided 12” EP
Someone in the Apache Dropout camp dropped a tape in the mail for me by Knoxville, TN’s Three Man Band a while back, and the first song on it, called “Do My Drugs,” blew my hair back, one of the best modern examples of completely balls-out hard rock I can think of. I only played it once, too, for fear that any repeat listens would remove its power or make me second-guess myself. That’s probably bad news for a band waiting for a review but sometimes music is like that: good enough that you want to get selfish about it and keep it all to yourself. Now that 3MB has put out something in The King’s Format (one-sided, 45rpm 12” EP), I can say that if you’re looking for a good party rocker to burn down a house to, this one will do just fine. They’ve got a rhythm section (former New Brutalism drummer Carey Balch and longtime pal/Red Scare bassist Abby Wintker) that lays down a carpet thick enough to lose your keys in, and a Southern wild man/gtr slasher in frontman Wm. Johnson, and they buzz and bop along in the fires of hell across these five songs, with great titles like “I Sit In Beer For Nothing.” Sense of humor is switched on, record is fun, and Magnetic South cracks off one that’s surprisingly higher in fidelity than I thought possible from them. Maybe I’d just been listening to the Dropout for too long. Cool band, decent record of strong provenance. It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever heard but if you need a buzz it’ll get you there.
Odds & ends collection from this Finnish fella. Electronic confusion done up in a rainbow swirl, as always, but with no real guiding principles to hold your hand through the funhouse this time. Spasms of unpredictable mania surge throughout, with an energy that crosses the streams into mind-numbing exhaustion well before the first side is over.
“Scene From A Marriage” b/w “Contract” 7”
If only because it is a wonderful thing to watch a band grow, this new Total Control single is a fine example of the medium this year. The only “song” song between their pair of recent releases (an import 12” EP on a different label is mostly remixes), “Scene From A Marriage” finds them sawing away at a more somber, measured approach, with a lengthy acoustic/string trio prologue that follows its way into the meat of the song, a downpicked downer in the style of Mission of Burma’s “Trem Two,” Comsat’s Sleep No More, or most anything in the Obits playbook. “Do what you want with me/That’s the first mistake you made,” Stewart warns, the sound of a man who’s lost something, as his song rises up around him, ready to strike. This is not a band I ever imagined having string arrangements, but there you go, and in a way they provide the same sort of droning, flatpacked quality that the horns did to Rocket From The Crypt, and the song sounds like it’s going to topple over at any second but never does. There’s an electronic/lo-bit dubby remix on side B as “Contract,” but put that one down to 33rpm and it gets even more awesome, an end-of-night/low & slow bass bumper with melting vocal snippets and a guitar lick that’s been burnt at both ends. Undoubtedly there are going to be people who say that this is the record where Total Control went wrong, but it’s their keen ability to subvert expectations that’s made most of their efforts stand out.
Live At The Gluepot 1980 2xLP
This is pretty crazy – a very respectable sounding board tape of Toy Love’s final shows, almost three decades after the fact. They had started in Auckland and moved to Sydney upon signing a record deal, and were gaining traction as a popular punk/new wave/rock band when they decided that it wasn’t worth it anymore. This came after an estimated 400 gigs, TV appearances, radio play and relentless touring all over both countries, a true feat for a band that was only together for about two years. Their lone LP suffers from dated production, but the songs are all there, and this live recording proves it. At 29 songs, this thing just whips right past, a blinder of a band comprised of a veritable branch unto itself of New Zealand pop music based on membership alone (singer Chris Knox and guitarist Alec Bathgate would go on to form the gloriously eccentric Tall Dwarfs). Any of the songs here could have fit into an of-the-moment gestalt that included the Subway Sect, the good Only Ones records, the Vibrators, the Undertones, maybe even Graham Parker, but Toy Love proves on Live At The Gluepot that their material was as consistently excellent, if not more so, than any of them. This band is fucking wound up on here, having decided weeks earlier on the road that these shows would be their last, and they let it all loose to a hometown crowd, smashing their way through a 29-song set compiled from the two gigs at the end of the line. It would be remiss not to draw some sort of connection between this music and that of Ty Segall or the late Jay Reatard, which may explain the Goner stamp of approval, but there isn’t anything wrong with hero worship, properly applied. By the time they get to “Pull Down The Shades” at the very end they are playing harder and faster than any of them would likely play again (singer Chris Knox and guitarist Alec Bathgate slowed down and weirded out a great deal more in the gloriously eccentric Tall Dwarfs), but it is incredible, and somehow unfathomable, that these versions of these songs had escaped detection for so long. It’s an incredible discovery, and the first chance that many Americans have to discover the Toy Love that those who were there knew they could be.
Pyper Kub LP
(One Kind Favor/Faux-Pas/Hot Releases/L’Animaux Tryst (Field) Recordings/Turned Word/Canada Goose/Feeding Tube)
Seven labels bear the pain of birthing this no-effort shit-fi wonder upon the Earth, and on white vinyl no less. I like how this record looks. How it sounds is another story, some Shaggs-level folk/wah-wah jangle, interspersed with some syncopated bass and a sample from “Cheers.” Really, between Tracey’s innocent Rainbow Child voice and the answering machine-like quality of the recording, you will either be charmed (if you’re easily so) or tormented, but do give this a listen if it surfaces on Bandcamp. I don’t like it but I can’t forget it, and there is at least one really good song on here (“Life Is Like A Goose”). 700 copies.
Wacky Past Is Now 7” EP
Teenagers brought Doc Martens back into vogue a couple years ago, but some of their elders had been wearing their own Docs for the past 20 years or more. Some gingerly pulled old pairs from their teenage closets at their parents’ houses when the boots came back into vogue, and people bought brand-new, shiny pairs to relive old stomping days. The members of Troubled Sleep probably did not experience the music they replicate so precisely firsthand, and for those of us who did, it’s hard to know whether to respond with excitement or with skepticism. In the day, a punk would have called this record emo and an indie rocker would recognize a kinship with bands like Tsunami or Versus. Singer Mary has a strong, unadorned voice, and the group plays well, but everything from the production to the start-stop-followed-by-bright-arpeggios (or alternately, a muted guitar lead) sounds familiar and evokes a catalog of remembered moments of forgotten songs. Me, I love this shit, as well as the heartfelt lyrics that address the bogusness of everyday adulthood—vacations as artificial meaning-making, day jobs as soul-crushers to be escaped (“everything not compulsory is forbidden/pay to live or die, that’s the deal”). At the same time, I want guitar rock to remain a vital, useful vehicle for feelings of frustration and for the expression of urges to tear down the norm world that faces you, but records like this fill me with a premonition of its inevitable, spiraling demise. Oh well, I haven’t read that Simon Reynolds book but presumably that’s what it’s about, and fans of Simple Machines records or the Hated or early K Records, even, will really enjoy Troubled Sleep.
Like Sunburned Snowflakes 12” EP
Sometimes a small slice of cake hits the spot and a bigger one just makes you queasy. That may be one reason why this five-track EP succeeds where the Hudson, NY-based 12-string guitarist’s long players have not. Another factor in this record’s avoidance of sugar overload is that he’s gotten better at isolating the most compelling grain of sound in the patterns of harmonics that make up his compositions. Instead of throwing off a Michael Hedges-like wide-spectrum glare, he’s focused his beam to a point your cat will not be able to resist chasing. This music is still pretty enough to play for your crystal-loving uncle who still talks about his past life regression therapy, but vigorous and defined enough to keep you listening when you pour yourself a stiff one after the Valerian root tea has knocked him out. VHF says this is a limited edition release, but they haven’t publicized the pressing size; the immaculate sound of my copy is all the more impressive given that it’s on splendidly psychedelic blue and white vinyl. The record’s cut at 45 for maximum vividness, and it works like a charm.
Två För Tommy
Dry, twiggy Euro/NY-esque free skidoo from Sweden on clarinet, xylophone and double-bass, the latter two used just as much for melodic counterpoint as they are for percussive duties. The ‘phone, in particular, has a nice thwack to it, as it’s struck in convivial tones that clash with the reed-shriek and low-end thumps that about on pieces like “Muswell Hill” and “Sideways Forward.” I remember a time when my life was full of music just like this, so the mellow, autumnal tones presented here are finding a welcome home. 350 numbered copies.
The Midnite Plowboy LP
(Mighty Mouth Music)
Upon first, second, third and 673rd glance, The Midnite Plowboy‘s presentation pummels the peepers with all of the hallmarks of that most loathsome of concerns: Outsider Music. A fucking UFO included in the cover art, the gaping void of quirk that is the album’s title, the label being a safe-house for a lot of reissues/unearthed “gems” that irritate the piss out of me, etc. But that’s why I get served every now and again. Recorded in 1977 but unreleased until now (as many of you reading are already aware due to my extremely tardy review), the music contained herein is heartfelt and astonishingly-REAL sounding/feeling country-folk. Sometimes beautiful, often catchy, and never overbearing (despite the packaging), this is recommended to those who like this sort of thing and to those who don’t. I fall into the latter, though I really have a fondness for this record.
The Unholy Two
“Cut The Music (I’m The Nightstalker)” b/w “Razor” 7”
Having had located some garbage that I wrote about these guys on the one-sheet for this single – writing I do not remember, as I am on autopilot like 90% of the time when it comes to these reviews – I am now tasked with backing up said assertions, while trying to find something new to write about Lutzko’s Lieutenants over here. Chris and the gang have made it easy by showcasing a progression from the disintegrated guitar/torture DDTs they dropped on me three times since in the live setting. They have added a third guitarist (a woman, a recent photo reveals), and all three have been given their freedom from the crude fidelity of all previous releases, so now you can discern whoever is soloing while the others churn beneath. The drumming has evolved towards the constant kick and swing steamroller patterns of the Unsane’s late Charlie Ondras, a feat which few if any percussionists have even bothered to emulate. Put these factors together and it sounds less like a new band than it does the product of one that has learned how to train its once-sloppy haymakers into a dependable, reusable weapon. I’m as tired of serial killer imagery/worship and the self-denigrating nature of most HC/punk/noise/no wave music as everyone else who hasn’t realized it yet, and that sort of thing is on display with both tracks here, but it’s still so difficult to pick out what Lutzko is singing that it may not even matter to some of you. Either way I’m not as tired of Scott Hall, for some reason (“HEY, YO”), so “Razor” errs on the side of redemption. Musically, this is the best work of the band to date, two shattering sides of dense, compacted fury that’s only a slight bit more tasteful than their past efforts. Anyone looking for a successor to Harry Pussy’s abdicated throne may want to check this out.
V Vecker Ensemble
In The Tower LP
The bassist and guitarist for the estimable Nu Sensae are part of the V Vecker Ensemble, and so are other people who have primary concerns that I don’t like or don’t know (Von Bingen, No Gold, Hildegard, Sex Negatives, and other random Hi & Lois-lites from the Vancouver scene – Ed.). The latest Nu Sensae record? Now I am into that piece of sound … no two ways about it. This one, though … I got screwed over on dozens of these types of affairs in the ‘90s, so I can’t see the point. V (no dot) Vecker is a person, and the ensemble is such in that intangibly irritating Canadian fashion. Vecker played in one of Glenn Branca’s more recent guitar experiments, which could have been 5,872 guitar players equipped with only AXL, Rogue, Daisy Rock, Laguna, Maestro and Hadean Guitars and 10-watt Gorilla amps performing in JC Penney employee break rooms for all I know or care. Whatever it entailed, the inspiration for this record can be straight-lined to Vecker’s participation, despite the fact that the man plays a (RED FLAG!!! RED FLAG!!! ALERT!!! RED FLAG!!!) church organ here. Readers approaching the age of 20 who recently emerged from abject rural poverty and bad taste to university, or at least the housing near one, will find In The Tower whelming-to-overwhelming, and a possible gateway to stuff that was knocking my dick off when I was that age (Krautrock, all manner of drone, other genres that make rock cry and somehow continue to blow minds), but don’t buy the talk of bombast and a climactic build that the one-sheet espouses, as there are no explosions, no rocking, nothing tingling to be found on this record. I’m assuming that anyone who gets one of these will also get the somewhat entertaining (I’m sorry, once again, I mean that IN A BAD WAY) one-sheet, seeing as how only 350 were pressed. But hey, it’s on four-hundred pound vinyl. Or something. And you’ll need an asshole full of money to come to this party. Perhaps that’s just the strapped me writing that.
Adult Problems LP
Jayson Green has been a solid bro for going on 13 years so I wouldn’t be able to critique this, but I will give it five out of five OFF! hats. It is a record that is available for sale.
Suck On The Gun 7” EP
Bent safety pins and hand-assembled cover art screams “PUNK! I’M PUNK! LOOKAMEE!” and that’s valid. The members of this band are probable punks in other outfits, but the only example of such a sound here – the band’s titular theme – sounds like hardcore made at the end of a long day of work, and just a little quiet so as not to disturb the people across the street who gotta get up for a goddamn job. There may even be a little punk in “Suck On The Gun,” though there’s a lot more dollar-store Southern rock to mess with there. That leaves two small masterpieces on this record. “Feeding in the Dark” and “Southern Agrarians” ring out with big chords and the comfort of a cat sitting in a sunbeam. These could be some of the best examples of this sort of fidelity-challenged pop this side of GBV in ‘92 or ‘93, and I could use about 24 more of them to get me through the rest of the year. You should check it out. Ex-members of Sopors too, who weren’t half bad either.
“The Life I Rent” b/w “Recover” 7”
Another biscuit of alienation and melancholy by ex-Silk Flowers vocalist/synthesis Aviram Cohen, again striking out on his own as Volunteers Park. This isn’t a big step away from much of the Silk Flowers material, though it lacks the hopefulness that peeked through LTD. Form now and again; mostly it’s Cohen, sing-chanting about the injustices that his neighbors face in (I’m assuming) New York’s Chinatown, and the pressures of having to experience their woe secondhand, in “The Life I Rent.” He adds a woozy instrumental in “Recover,” and you get the sense that he is continuing to perfect this channel of expression, and is making it all his own, despite the relative cover of anonymity that electronics and brooding often provide.
“Clear The Sky” b/w “Joni’s Tune” 7”
Originality only gets you so far; a record as derivative as this one might still take you someplace you want to go. Ryley Walker is a young guy who lives in Chicago, but to hear this single, you’d think he lived in London 45 years ago. Not so much swinging London, but whichever parts of London Bert Jansch and Davey Graham were squatting and playing in. If he were alive back then, I suppose he’d be following those guys from club to club, watching them, cribbing their licks, and no one would pay much attention. But nowadays there’s no one else who sounds quite like they did, and Walker has nailed the sound. His fingerpicking has that same blend of harmonic density, jazz-rooted swing, and discursiveness justified by skilled development that made Jansch and Graham’s early work sound so great. Every tangent not only justifies itself, but makes you wish it lasted longer. This is especially true on “Clear The Sky,” where Walker’s not-quite-bluesy singing (just like Graham, who always sounded much more suave than what he was singing about) gives way to acoustic trio excursions that twist, turn, and wind up at that pub in the sky where John Martyn swigs pints while he waits for Danny Thompson to show up. Why listen to this stuff when it has already been done, you ask? For the same reason you might own a copy of Foghat Liveand still go see Endless Boogie; we’re not dead yet, man! And when Walker’s following his melodies into the past and back again, I feel pretty good that we’re both still breathing. Big hole, 100 copies on gold and 500 copies on black vinyl, and it comes with a download coupon.
Paul Foreman, late of Chicago-area acts like the Saturday Nights and Soft Speaker, teams up with his #1 supporter Carl Saff (mostly known for his mastering work, and for those who’ve skipped a generation, one half of the excellent sample-driven electrofunk act Emperor Penguin), to channel his inner Thom Yorke/Postal Service fixations. Those are the influences that first surface when most people decide to put on this record, the duo’s first activity as The Warmth in a number of years, but closer attention will reveal that there is a lot more going on beneath the surface, though maybe not enough for some to get past the presentation. Foreman croons and moans, fragile and scathed, amid Saff’s various detached production flourishes, which often register as surprising only after the fact in their depth and inventiveness. You gotta want to listen to something like this, but these guys should be commended for taking the long way around such easy touchstones of modern sound. Clear vinyl in one of those hard plastic sleeves that will get destroyed all too quickly.
s/t 12” EP
Reissue of the Smack-Based cassette on Negative Guest List. Everything said here, minus the corny tone and phrasing, still holds true: this is a fucking basher of a record. Long OOP of course. 300 copies, 50 of which came with an outer sleeve and were meant for Australian sale only (as above), but I found one on Discogs. Glad this got cut to vinyl, it is a beast for real. Rest In Power, Brendon. You never would have stapled a record into its sleeve.
Credit goes to Jimi Kritzler, White Hex’s guitarist, for Heat‘s most arresting moment: the abrupt end of “Nothing Comes” where he slides his fingers off the strings. The noise concludes the song with a harsh burst that makes you realize how thoroughly you’d been lulled by the previous side of the 12”. Lately, the “minimal post-punk” epithet attaches itself to just about any record that a critic can’t blame on the grunge revival; of all bands, White Hex deserve that initial “minimal.” Tara Green’s murmured vocal lines barely form melodies, and Kritzler (also of Slug Guts) plays simple, repetitive riffs with almost a blues tone, reverby with just a touch of distortion. If Tamaryn and her collaborator Rex John Shelverton had hunkered down in a frigid Berlin basement (as White Hex did) to record this year’s Tender New Signs rather than whatever be-palmed paradise they chose, the result might have emerged like this, echoing and dark, a sense of space created by a kind of claustrophobic plain-spokenness rather than a dense wall of noise. Though no single song emerges as a standout, the overall effect’s success sets White Hex—for now—apart from 2012’s other vaguely-goth gloom-and-doomers.
split 7” EP
Bands like the ones represented on this split bring to mind the more threatening part of high school; not the torment meted out by jocks against punks, but that menace represented by punks to the student body at large. In my suburb, this was perpetrated by the speed-snorting, class-bunking antisocial personality disorder: the vandal that used to smear smokeless tobacco spit on the buttons of Coke machines and break out ceiling tiles in unused classrooms in order to sit atop the masonry walls and smoke cigarettes. These perverse teenage delights and more are distilled by Buffalo NY’s White Whale and Mallwalkers (great name). Manic, reverb-drenched guitar drives WW’s pair of nod-along jammers that follow a ‘90s garage punk path tamped down by the New Bomb Turks. “No Fun” is the hooky standout, punctuated with a Buzzcocks-esque volley of upper-register guitar chords that sneer from atop an Arabic bass flourish. Mallwalkers trade up some of their colleagues’ convention by enlisting a pair of saxophones that, on “Won’t You Dance with Me?”, do little else than bleat in unison in a 7th grade pep band fashion as guitar and vocal duke it out for a spot on the lunkhead varsity team. The stumbling “Lo-Fi Losers” reimagines a 1960s frat party rave up complete with wheezing chord organ and more of those ridiculous saxes. This is a fun trip back to nowhere with the delinquents in the back of the bus – there’s an Aqua Net pump bottle filled with Canadian Club being passed around, so move right in.
“Mob Reality” b/w “U.B.M.” 7”
A refreshing break from cruster buttflap-patch convention, Whores channels traces of Swans’ Filth-era brutality over two side-long crushers. “Mob Reality” stumbles into being with a sullen, twangy riff swathed in feedback, a plodding, lopsided clatter of drums, vocals reduced to a totally unintelligible, strangled roar. The desolate “U.B.M.” trades up side A’s “complexity,” as detuned toms underpin a two-riff endurance test in 3/4 time, augmented by shrieking alto sax. This is vile noise not music that appears to have swapped out the stock foundation of UK/Swedish/Japanese crust for one based upon no-wave/early industrial abrasion. Steam-sterilize your needle after playing, lest your other records catch what they have.
The Myth of Man LP
John Read finally cracks off his album as The Wiggins, long after the fanfare for a one-man Cramps worship project has died off. It’s still better than most, and maybe his most affected work to date, the 8-bit drum machine noise shedding ones and zeroes all over his Texan-via-Cleveland twang and aggressively strange vocal stylings. There isn’t anywhere for music like this to go, so it continues to polish itself down to the grain, buzzing and weird and alive. It’ll always have a home.
Teatro Negro LP
The first XYX single was one of the nicer surprises of Still Single‘s early days, an athletic and primal coed bass/drums combo out of Monterrey, Mexico who worked from the hyper-punctuated template punched out earlier by Melt-Banana or Naked City at their most violent, but with eyes and ears finding ways to break out of the constrictions such a lineup could offer. They did a second single and I was fortunate enough to catch them live in Austin at a Chaos in Tejas some years ago, where their minimal setup, underscored by a table full of effects pedals, delivered on their promise. Then, nothing; from what I had heard, playing in public and other basic freedoms of life in punk had become untenable for them due to the drug war. They didn’t tour much/at all (thanks, terrorism and overzealous militiamen in local government), and from what it seemed like didn’t even live in the same city anymore after a while, as half the band was able to relocate to the States. They left us this full-length, laid down in 2009, then redone and tinkered with up until its release last year, which at once sounds like a rhythm section record and then doesn’t at all. Both musicians are incredibly skilled at their respective instruments, and Teatro Negro is a full and complete work with range and direction and a wider scope than the straight line afforded to most bands trying to show up in this now-hackneyed position. Plenty of overdubbing and delay help their case tremendously; so do some tricks borrowed from Lightning Bolt, at least in terms of how to make a snare sound in such a space, but not their exact same sound. The heaviness you’d expect from an overdriven duo is here, but given room to breathe so it can do something other than crush skulls at 50 yards (because it’s not as hard as you’d think to just be heavy, and they do it anyway, so there you go), at the same time reviving some hard-to-fathom post-punk/post-rock influences, like the ear-stabbing boxiness of Tweez, as well as some mind-bent vistas that are too real and resonant to get labeled with the “psychedelic” moniker, even though it’s appropriate to use in other cases. I think a lot of these songs were played when I saw them, as I didn’t recognize a lot of their set, but it didn’t matter then and it doesn’t now. XYX may have been stopped by forces outside of their control, but they extended their music beyond where almost any band in their weight class had dared to go. They make it seem so easy, and make so many others look downright foolish and bereft of ideas that to listen to this one even once could cause you to curse the circumstances of life in this world. Furthermore, they didn’t drag their feet with how these songs turned out – the record is just long enough to leave you wanting to play it again, over and over. This is a band that should have gone on to greater things, but if this record is all they had left to say, that’d be plenty. 300 copies, gatefold silkscreened sleeve with a full-color booklet; looks beautiful. Buy up the rest of the pressing.
Zummo With An X LP
The Optimo guys are rabid Arthur Russell fans, and Russell played cello and vocalized on this mid-’80s work, along with frequent NYC downtown composer/trombonist Peter Zummo, as his name was on it, after all. This seems like one of those New Music Distribution Service style releases from the looks of it, Zummo flexing his writing chops here while meeting Russell in the middle of his oceanic expanse of vibes. The sticker on the front cover promises the sidelong “Song IV” to be “possibly one of the most radiant, bewitching pieces of music that will ever grace your ears,” and if you are a fan of Russell’s body of work, this will certainly come close. He sets the pace with some buffeting of the bow on the strings, eventually diving into slow, long strokes and some multi-layered bridging of the two styles. Zummo’s horn plays along the contours of this staccato rhythm (abetted by Bill Ruyle’s workmanlike tabla), eventually soaring up for a subdued, casual melody, one more breathy than brassy, that injects likeminded humanity into this quietly ecstatic, precise-sounding, meditative piece – no surprise that it was commissioned as part of a song cycle for a modern dance troupe. Zummo was a student of Roswell Rudd’s at Wesleyan back in the ‘70s, and there are elements of his technique at play here. Funny enough, even the clicking of the runout groove in the dead wax seems to emulate the rhythm posed throughout “Song IV.” The pieces on Side A, seven movements of a composition entitled Instruments, were written and recorded at the turn of the ‘80s, and though the core trio of “Song IV” remains (with Ruyle switching to marimba, and Rik Albani joining in on trumpet), very little of the peace achieved on the flip comes forth here – it’s a somewhat stodgy, chamber-fied “new music,” and won’t be finding its way to the end-of-the-night jam like it’s partner here anytime soon. Still, props to Keith and Jonnie for respecting the artist’s work and leaving it intact instead of reissuing the money shot as a 12”.
Hans Trapp 7” EP
(Le Petit Mignon/Re:Surgo!)
41 ten-second tracks by as many artists on one orange vinyl 7” in a six-panel silkscreened foldout poster sleeve is what this record is. All the sounds on it are fairly extreme, in the noise/breakcore/dark ambient/Eurozone weirdness mindset, but all I keep thinking about is who needs to own something like this? There are 300 copies, so I gather the artists who participated all got their cut, maybe, and then you have the completists, people who need to own all the Stephen O’Malley or Government Alpha or Lucky Dragons records out there and are desperate enough to stoop down and pick up shards left over from other recording sessions. Then who else? The Internet was meant to erase efforts like this, because surely no one is coming at this single to find out what any of these acts sound like. Listing out all of the participants would be futile; you can go to Discogs for that. As far as the content is concerned: yeah, it’s out there. So what? As soon as you’ve acclimated to one set of sounds, another one begins. This has been done so many times (twice on Slap-A-Ham via their Bllleeeeaaauuurrrrgghhh! compilations, which at least kept the conventions strictly to grindcore and powerviolence tracks, and thrice by RRRon Lessard, who upped the ante by making all of the tracks locked grooves), and the novelty is well worn out. I can’t imagine that the effort expended to solicit all of these tracks, then to EQ them all and cut them to vinyl, was worth whatever rewards its creators thought they were going to get out of it. It’d be more interesting to see a list of the artists who turned down participation in this project than to play this record again.
By Dusted Magazine