Still Single: Vol. 4, No. 2
Fast, wacky hardcore quartet from upstate NY returns with a second single. There’s a lot to like here, as well as a good bit to gloss over. They play the sense of humor card, which works both for and against them. I like the vocalist’s tone and overall sense of timing, and their ideas come across unblurred but kind of stale, frozen in that AOD/Angry Samoans mindset. And again – there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not turning my crank. Points might be deducted for the “dub” side of this record, too. 420 on green (cough), the remaining on black, for a total of 1500 copies.
Another two-piece band shows its hand, showcasing the limitations of cliché-ridden hard rock instead of the more flea-bitten concept of a guitar/drums duo. In that sense, The Ax do quite well, figuring on how to undercut a fleet-footed, busy rock sound with some of the tension of post-hardcore (in the Fugazi/UOA sense), and succeeding most of the time. But the lyrics are dumb as dirt, and lay on the sense of a dead end direction in rock, one that a lot of bands in the ‘90s tried a hand at and failed. Reminds me a bit of another duo, a British band called Winnebago Deal that was meant to be somebody’s next big thing. Clearly we see where that went. Hopefully these kids take an ax to what they know about rock ‘n’ roll, and use what they have going for them to right these painful wrongs. 500 copies, first 100 on blue.
More scenic documentation from the Kill Shaman camp. I may have been hard on this label in the past, as a lot of their releases that crossed this path have been lacking on ideas or in some cases actual production values, like that Silver Daggers/Blue Silk Sutures split that was mastered at 39 RPM or some such untenable speed. But I’ve kept an eye on them and their works, and I gotta give them props where due: they didn’t quit when things got tough; they’ve actively portrayed a glimpse of a worthwhile local scene (L.A., the Smell, and the vicinity of such doings); they’ve propped up everyone who’s ever helped them out; they seem to have been an inspiration for other labels like Not Not Fun and PPM to strive for greatness. These are all extremely admirable qualities, and in these pursuits a label like Kill Shaman is entirely necessary to the operations of an independent, vinyl-centric music culture. They set the bar, not in the sense of a Mendoza line for the cause, but that, good or bad, this is what’s happening where they are, and they feel that it deserves to get out there. This is what moves them, even if it doesn’t move you or me. This relentless passion for the document is revived once again here. You may likely never hear of Bipolar Bear or Watusi Zombie again, or you may have heard x number of bands like them, but so what? Both groups are noisy, mid-tempo, punk-fueled melodic affairs, slashing away with noise and an internal logic that satisfies. Really, that’s all that matters: these folks can sit back, say “I made this,” and not feel embarrassed or stifled. Only a few hundred copies of this one were pressed.
Milquetoast home studio “wiz” vagabond man, traveling from the US to New Zealand to Tokyo and offering up a lot of sappy, sensitive hooey in his path. Interpolate this down to a very real emotional center and you might have a young Mark Hollis, but it’s so surface and trite that the core radiates a rotten, unrespectable aura of perceived depth and false agency throughout. A total bummer. And dude, we get it – “escalade” has a real, Oxford English Dictionary meaning to you, but to the rest of us, it’s a crisis on the face of the Earth. Firestorm, purify this awful single.
Dark, brooding, mid-tempo punk rock with a mean streak. Low-slung and direct, Kim Phuc throws back hard to the bleakness of ‘80s post-hardcore, forlorn British yowls from the pit of humanity, maybe even some more overtly Gothic elements throughout. Lyrics match the sentiments in plowing, minor-chord dirge riffs that cement all four tracks into the same twisted, lurching stew of anger and social commentary. They’re also a representation of three generations of a scene commingling on the same stage – vocalist Rob Henry was in Direct Action, one of Pittsburgh’s first hardcore bands, Corey from Aus-Rotten and Caustic Christ is on bass, and the rest of the band is filled out, and was founded by, the kids who grew up under their direct influence. That’s something you don’t see all too often, and while it doesn’t have that much to do with the music at hand, it’s pretty cool to see in effect. Grows more bitter and fascinating with repeat spins. 300 copies, black vinyl – not gonna be around for long.
Not-so-chilled out chill-out psychedelia from out in the Bay. The sounds are in place, but the mood is off, probably due to the focus of songwriting taking its cues from a rebirthed, stylized idea of what hazy, druggy, groovin’ music might be, rather than any one particular phase or notion of psych on its timeline. You have a group that’s wearing the clothes, but there’s a fundamental insecurity at play within that never lets its music take off as needed. Everything’s just idling along, like a Black Angels with half the conviction, or a Jessamine that’s unwilling to wander. Not a good time. Kind of a fake time. I’m bummed out. 500 copies, clear vinyl.
Basement black metal man Athenar found some common ground with Seattle basement party punk band the Spits, and decided to summarily cover four of their songs. It’s a rager! Shit-encrusted metallic blasts of fast, three-chord punk with unholy screams for vocals. So much more intense than you’d expect that it completely transcends the novelty factor and becomes a righteous and crushing endeavor. Paste-on, maybe even taped-on sleeves. A must-have.
Outgoing, warm, long-form electro disco tracks, with an emphasis on disco. These could have easily come out of 1978, or maybe 1991, with acid vibes reaching all the way down into a boomy moonbounce of bass and lively percussion. Can’t really decide which one wins for me, as their charms are both immediate and satisfying, but this is a keeper, and one that won’t likely expire after a few spins.
Modern Lovers meets “Gloria” on the A-side. Respectably fun Camper van Beethoven rip on the flip. I have other records to review and here I sit, having played this one about two dozen times since Saturday night. Had I heard it in 2007, it would have easily topped out my list of best singles for the year. Since it’s 2008, it’ll have to make do now, while all of you scramble to find whatever copies have made it out there. Ridiculously great songs, and at 90 seconds for “I Don’t Wanna,” not a moment is wasted. Watch these guys get signed by mid-year. Watch Pitchfork gently take this band into their (collectively just experienced enough to make the whole act a little off-putting) mouth. What I hope is that they shun all of that and do it on their own. But I can’t blame them if they choose not to, because when you have a song as good as either of these, people can’t help but fall over themselves to get behind and push. I’ll be back there too. You will as well, most likely. Bands like Tyvek now have some serious competition. I hope they’re ready.
Decent, catchy, serviceable power pop action which woulda fit well in the middle of a bill on the Sunset Strip way back when. Really solid, unsurprising arrangements make sure you can follow the script. Nothing to run into traffic over, but also nothing you’d really wanna slam either. Not offensive. Kinda cute. I prefer “Over and Over” as my radio does not need to be smashed. 500 copies, black vinyl.
Second single, new guitarist, pretty different approach overall, but Social Circkle still treads on. Gone is the clean guitar of the demo, and abated are the straight lines and the slower, more Anglophilic notions of the first EP. Here the Crickle plows straight into more modern hardcore territory, blazing through four new tracks with almost no room for breath until the more solid, piecemeal riffage of closer “I Don’t Want” takes hold. Still pretty great, just different than before; makes me wonder how their ideas might translate to a full-length. 2000 copies, first 200 on clear. A good complement to this would be the Brain Handle LP, which I covered last year and No Way just issued in a non-tour, not-as-limited pressing.
Sturdy but bafflingly run-of-the-mill deep, percussive house tracks from inside the DFA compound. Insipid, minimalist piano melodies will have you tearing your hair out. It’s not often that a release out of these stables has me scratching my head, but there’s not a whole lot to recommend here.
Pulsating, foreboding analog synth spar that drags listeners away from the shore and into increasingly dangerous water, then strands them out in deep water with no life jacket. Conrad Capistran and Joshua Burkett are its makers, and together they create an eerie, unsettling mass of wobbling waveforms, endeavoring to smother all things in their path with unshakeable dread. Beware! Edition of 300 numbered copies, with anachronistically riotous, colorful sleeve art by George Myers.
You’d think with the level of hype handed to these British kids, they not even of legal drinking age in America, that they’d cured acne or something a little more noble than having stayed up for five days in a row in a loft in Paris, penning a repetitive quarter-hour of post-punk for a Hedi Slimane fashion show. Given all that, this song of theirs really is quite good for the times and place that spawned it, and the intellect behind its conceding guitar angles and steady vocalisms fascinate mildly. Squint your ears and you’ll hear the same logic at work in another sidelong single breakthrough, This Heat’s “Health & Efficiency.” If anything, “Navigate, Navigate” urged me to dig out that aforementioned 12” after years on the shelf. No contest between the two, of course, but you hear the same manner of slowly unfolding, stuck in repeat songcycling at play, something that These New Puritans take on with steady-nerved aplomb. Tim Goldsworthy’s Loving Hand remix on the flip merely juggles a handful of the track’s original elements with some well-placed beats and additional synth, boiling down the notion of this sizable track as dancefloor-ready as anyone could hope for. Older folks may have heard all of this before, but hopefully the kids will have some doors opened.
Second coming of Bikini Kill? Man, I don’t know, but this record rips. Young-sounding kids from Vancouver get everything right, seemingly at the limits of their abilities – bratty, loud, but tuneful and direct vocals, scrappy punk riffs, and a good, clear recording that pushes the noise up front, where it belongs. Simple conceits in the songwriting, but this is the sort of sound – Riot Grill, natch – that is either second-nature to flense out to something usable and past the traps of nostalgia, or completely possible to fuck up in every way. That Vapid comes out of nowhere and absolutely nails it is part of why we’re all digging through singles so fervently these days. Grab it a la L’Trimm. 312 copies, clear vinyl.
After a fifteen-year slumber, Breathilizor returns to goof around amiably for the few. Last seen on the flip side of a split single with Faxed Head, these dudes are probably better known for having played in Sockeye, for running the Wheelchair Full of Old Men tape label, and generally for poking their heads out whenever it’s seen fit to make jokes which have only become funnier over the years. Above-standard-issue basement metal, played with competence and a sense of humor honed on ‘80s UHF television broadcasts, junk food, Dr. Pepper, and too much free time to devote to middle-school level humor. Anecdote time: friends of mine went to high school with this mentally challenged kid who was obsessed with heavy metal and horror movies. This kid would sit in his room, singing lyrics into a tape recorder that he’d give to his fellow classmates, all about how he was Freddy Krueger, or Jason Voorhees, and was coming to kill them. Breathilizor plays on that level, albeit more professionally (and yes, I realize the absurdity of such a statement). It’s the sort of thing that you can’t take seriously, an outsider perspective that was never asked for, but works due to the harmless absurdity of it all. Heavily obsessed with Lovecraft, drug abuse, “Silver Spoons” and Leslie Nielsen, music like this is something I’m really glad has stuck around for the long haul. Back when Sockeye was active in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, many people found their shtick to be distracting, a bunch of lowbrow academics taking the piss on an environment of independent music that really couldn’t afford to lose ground. Now it’s hard to imagine a world without it, as these guys were never hacks, and their constancy is as admirable as it is necessary, an anti-commercial tonic to overly serious crud and ladder-scaling pomposity. I love it. If you hate it, sorry boutcha.
Iron Lung might exist to prove everyone wrong about bands as gimmicks. They’re a guitar/drums duo who play powerviolence-inflectec metallic punk/HC, and all of their songs are about disease, medical technology, procedures, and the entropic response of living bodies to their incipient failures. You’d think this sort of strict, unbending take on an already narrow genre wouldn’t be able to sustain past the initial joke, or maybe a few singles, but Jon Kortland and Jensen Ward have been swinging this sledge for several years, across multiple tours, albums, singles and splits. Sexless//No Sex represents their biggest step forward yet, an absolutely unrelenting monster of frantic hardcore that lurches forward and back between blinding speed and thickened sludge dropouts with hydraulic precision. At times I’m reminded by this record of things that I’m not reminded of often enough: Dutch instrumental trio Gore, a relentless and dumb bruiser of a metal band from the ‘80s; and the Dazzlingkillmen’s swan song The Face of Collapse. Iron Lung easily demonstrate the lunkheaded ferocity of the former and the needle-jab precision of the latter, with an unhealthy dose of fury in between. This album would decimate about 95% of any modern metal or heavy acts in a head-to-head competition without so much as lifting a finger. Impeccably recorded, easily their best batch of songs to date, and housed in cover art drawn by (Motherfucking) NICK BLINKO. The total package; one of the best Prank releases to date, and a record that will be remembered for years to come, one of the most sterling marriages of technical ability to tooth-loosening insanity I’ve ever heard. Screenprinted tour edition and blue vinyl pressings are likely long gone, but look around anyway. A must-own record for anyone who cares about heaviness in a post-Reign in Blood, post-Man is the Bastard world.
Rediscovered folk treasure from 1985, as unlikely a year as any for such a deep, multi-level work to surface. There’s no information on Robert Martin easily locatable, save the florid one-sheet blurb provided by Mr. Wand (aloha) that you’ll find in various distro descriptions. I guess it’s as good as any, and it works, but only captures part what will surely be a story long-unfolding when this one starts hitting a public concerned with such lost sounds. Acoustic guitar and vocals are all that’s here, captured crumbling across four-track reels. Martin’s no guitar innovator at the outset, though maybe he is; distracting, hard-plucked single-note wanderings are overdubbed over plangent chords and his melting, double-tracked voice, which evinces a weary, cantor-esque quality that’s tough to pin down. It would seem that the random synapse-firings of the “lead” guitar would come at odds with the gentle, moving folk beneath, but instead it imbues a spiky character into the material that encourages deeper listening through distraction. Many of the songs, especially “The Third Time” and “Love Has No Pride,” hang heavily in the air long after they’ve ended, tied off into Moebius strip hymns of personal longing and shaken yet confident hope. A stunning prize, unearthed for a conscious present.
San Francisco Water Cooler
Two ex-Residual Echoes guys play schizoid pop (in the cult/commune sense) psychedelic haze melodies that run aground of some nasty lo-fi noise burn that leverages those sweet sensations with harsh incongruities. It’s not an easy listen; sounds like a couple of more-or-less finished ideas surfaced around last year’s pot harvest and things kinda took their course from there. A-side for budz – great smoke, B-side all stems. But there’s enough promise in here to stoke the embers of creativity, and will keep folks like me eager for the next go-round. I think Sic Alps fans, and not necessarily the business hippie choads who sell tie-dye Jerry Garcia t-shirts on eBay whilst flipping $90 copies of that 12” I never got on the side, might understand the alien language spoken here. 490 copies, silkscreened covers.
Yours must be a single (or vinyl-only album) pressed on any size of vinyl. CD-Rs of singles will not be reviewed; they will be destroyed. We need the artifact here with original artwork, not some duplicate/digital copy. Only records released within the past six months will qualify for a review.
Still Single now runs bi-monthly, so there is no deadline for submission. I will do my best to make sure that records are reviewed in the order in which they are received.
ANY genre of music will do - don't hesitate to send punk, hardcore, metal, goth, pop, rock, country, hip hop, electronic, experimental, dub and reggae … all genres accepted and welcome.
Information on your pressing (quantity pressed, color vinyl, etc.) should be included if at all possible.
Submissions can be sent to:
Records need to be shipped securely in sturdy mailing materials and marked FRAGILE because the post office will destroy them otherwise.
Keep sending in submissions, please!
By Doug Mosurock