Still Single: Vol. 6, No. 3
Dull Knife reissues this cassette release by local-to-them Houston band Balaclavas, done to call attention to their first album Roman Holiday, due out just about now. They’ve been covered in these pages before, but the songs here predate that second release, finding a much moodier band, draped over antique furniture and howling at the moon. Most of the tracks feature saxophone, courtesy of no less that Ralf Armin of Culturcide, and his contributions add sticky character to a band that’s approaching the appreciation of post-punk in all its forms, by understanding its essence and avoiding the cut-n-paste notions of blatant, careless forgeries that have kind of ruined everyone’s idea of a Casio on a stage again. These songs ascribe to be more, and one in particular—the estimable “Deranged”—finds a way to capture the creep of decades full of creeps, slouching towards sunset and transcending the tackiness that bands like Morphine had over mood music. These guys sound genuinely sultry and create palpable tension, which hardly anyone can do. Frontman Tyler Morris’ vocals are that of a new, unique voice, so stop trying to determine who he sounds like. He sounds like Tyler Morris. It’s crazy that pressing sizes are shrinking and labels and artists can afford to go private again, while the quality of much of the music is skyrocketing past the stagnation of the past couple of years, so by knowing that there’s but a mere 103 copies for this Earth which are all accounted for, the words “never” or “forget it” are bound to pop up soon. The gradual shift of singles to longer releases has not been lost on those of us who’ve been paying attention, and this year promises to be a pretty big deal for Dull Knife. Stick around. (http://www.dullkniferecords.com)
Weird pop that tries so hard it negates any substance that might have been lingering around at some stage of the creative process. A yelled, yelped, done-to-death style of vocals favored by young guys, and a much too forced “all over the place” song construction based around blipping, burping, farting, and wheezing keyboards, the occasional guitar freak-out, and varying tempos kept by live and electronic drums. Most reviewers will refer to this as “post-punk,” touting Banned Books’ “unpredictability” or “restlessness” because music writing has devolved into promo-fluff bullshit specially designed push this exact type of passionless claptrap. Not a memorable second passes during the entire ordeal. Banned Books, you’re gonna have to do a lot better than this. What am I saying? This could be huge! (http://stumparumper.com)
Australian pit-rock flail (pit can either be a quarry or a basement full of armpit stink, you make the call, or the La Brea Tar Pits, or the Dead C’s studio My Pit, but not Brad Pitt, or Mr. Pitt from “Seinfeld,” or the Pitt Panthers, or Pagoda’s Michael Pitt, or Eddy Current Suppression Pit). One side sounds like a Trapdoor Fucking Exit outtake, and the other follows the mechanical sci-fi pack in the Beverly Hillbillies’ car, skiffling and oscillating along the way. It ain’t often that things like this just happen, especially considering the label only made 100 of this one, and went so far as to attack with a hole punch the white dust sleeve that serves as the record’s only protection against the world. This one’s only got a few ideas, but they are expansive in these hands, and really all they need. Would you pay $16 for it? Seventy-two of you will be answering that question pretty soon. (http://www.greatdividing.com)
As an obvious (though don’t ask me why) debut 7”, this one caused an almost déjà vu feeling until it became clear that Hot Guts released a 7” with the power to do what so few (obvious debut) 7”s do these days: Make the listener uncontrollably jump on the “other woman” (as my lady likes to call my laptop) and search for the possibility of additional releases…especially a full length! 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. “The Ballad of Joe Simon” was particularly striking right off the bat, and it must be placed on the table that this is not the type of “great” in which there’s no hint whatsoever as to how it relates to the band’s record collection. Definite Swans-love happening here, both in the pummel and the Gira-deep vocals, and this is tastefully if not predictably matched with some other industrial/early-noise creep-o’s like Chrome and the venerable Throbbing Gristle. I heard early Killing Joke and Nick Cave, too, but to drive home an adage that can’t be driven hard enough, it’s all what you do with the source material. Now, looking at that layer of Hot Guts, and no, I have never heard anything like this, ever, and thankfully, it’s a good thing this time. (http://www.badmasterrecords.com)
Four tracks of beautiful and cold ethereal float. The instrumentation is synths, piano, strings, cooing female vocals, and a huge wash of reverb over everything. Comparisons could be made to This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance at their least precious, Opal, Valet, and the more melodic end of New Zealand’s Xpressway label roster. The simple and memorable melodies of these songs prevent them from drifting into either Goth territory or just becoming background atmosphere. It’s also a great sounding record most likely due to the loud and clear mastering job by Berlin’s Dubplates and Mastering, and the presentation suggests great care and specific, second-to-none taste. There are many majestic moments spread across this 10" and it’s a recommended record. 500 numbered copies. (http://discalcula.com)
The force that is Mi Ami has been given a second shot, as their early singles went straight to those who knew, only to have their LP virtually disappear upon the collapse of the Touch & Go family of labels. Their confidence is building beyond the jostling they give the listener, which “Cut Men” leverages with a predilection for soloing. They’re getting to the stage where the rhythm section is on autopilot heavy, giving Daniel Martin-McCormick the chance to cut sheet metal with his guitar tone, and actually split his yelping, breathless vocalizing with aggression from another vector. “Out at Night” plays as their most subdued track yet, with Damon Palermo’s cowbell rack and synth pads getting a beatdown while the bass cools things down against the anxious, spare template of the track overall. Exciting times from this San Francisco trio, and overall I am pleased with how dance music out of the rock/indie/post-punk community is starting to rebuild itself after overexposure to glamour. We’re all in the shit now; might as well get down. 750 copies, silkscreened sleeve. Their next record is called Steal Your Face and has a picture of Bob Marley on the cover, which actually takes real guts, and hopefully nets them a new and open-minded audience in the handful of humans who will buy it, mistaking it for a new pressing of Legend. (http://www.thrilljockey.com)
Two out of the park by the Suicide Tax / Badmaster camp, Hot Guts and this one. Both have been out for a while, without reaching the end of a 300 print run. Even if you don’t spend any money at the Badmaster site, at least read all of the release descriptions. Cuzz is on the level. My Mind is the only band influenced by They Might Be Giants that one might need, or need to have locked-and-loaded when needed. The songs are very short and the whole burrito runs at an approx 50% real-hook rate, which is a damn fine effort. In closing, the TMBG didn’t jump out all the time (tons, or maybe just eleven tiny throbbers on this one) and My Mind are more damaged but at the same time, a lot catchier than the standard-issue “look how bent and stinky we are!” dirt-pop that earns spins only through review assignments. This is the good fight, right here. A tiny strike against the enemy, but a strike nonetheless. And kudos for the inclusion of the content on a intricately-packaged 3” CD (eye-pleasing and nicely thought-out packaging all around). (http://www.badmasterrecords.com)
On Lost, Polish-born Ela Orleans sings some songs, assembling them via creaking guitar circles, keyboards, violin and samples. These elements are blended into a soupy haze that suggests 16mm film flicker, sweet candy and lost loves. As a sometimes-member of Hasslehound, Orleans is no stranger to samples and processing, but in her solo work everything is smoothed over by the songcraft. Her weird, slightly timid voice ghosts over everything rather unconventionally, but there’s beauty in hesitation. Moments of sentimentality are undercut by strange hybrids; guest guitarist Wende K. Blass absolutely shreds on "Yes, Of Course" and "Barry Lyndon", getting into traditional Spanish/flamenco forms laid over smoldering embers. The lyrics are assembled from various poems and short stories (penned by herself and others, as well as a Bill Withers cover) but somehow feel like Moe Tucker’s proto-twee moments. It’s a fine style for the music, which is occasionally quite dark, and always busy. I found myself wondering how much the cover art played in my interpretation of the sounds—a blurry, monochrome photograph, with physical damage quite evident. Orleans’s arrangements are lush, yet monochromatic as well; not black and white, necessarily, but a palette that revolves around only one musical hue. It’s a splendid one, though. (http://lastationradar.com)
One maddeningly ignored attribute of both shoegaze, indie-pop, or a hybrid of both, is that any supposed “revivals” over the past 20 years exist only in minds that haven’t been paying attention. Since the mythical ’93/’94 “downfall”, and depending on the opinion (an opinion that’s hard-wired into the number of times one leaves the house each day), OG shoegaze bands did one of these things: one, broke up; two, strapped on the kneepads and got turned out by the Britpop movement; or three, transformed “techno” into “electronic” but didn’t stop until the Sci-Fi Channel-worthy morphing yielded stomach-turning terms (“IDM” and “Laptronica”) that kept a certain breed of man in damp trousers all day long. The truth is elsewhere, however, and it’s simple. Topical progenitors of the craft have been active the whole time; the loving embrace of fans, “fans,” writers, and “writers” has assumed the role of the finicky deadbeat dad … coming and going every few years—Flying Saucer Attack, Autolux, and other bands too cool to admit a blatant debt to the noise, shoegaze, shamble-tamble, and twee forbearers. As time speeds on, there’s enough in the game to split the players between the good and the Warlocks, and now, Pure at Heart’ers that pounce onto the scene just as quickly as they inevitably nosedive into the starting-bid-of-$1.99-but-no-takers abyss. And like their disposable precursors, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart necessitate the use of this handy decoder key: In 2007, 2008, 2009, or this hopefully superior year, if a writer namedrops Psychocandy, Loveless, Souvlaki, The Pastels, early Lush, or anything rocking inspiration, the reader can translate this into “it sounds like The Cranberries but edgier.” This single is one of three or four or five with identical art in but different colors, which hoodwinks the target audience into tongue-wagging this visual aesthetic as a masterstroke. This writer is here to help readers translate THAT into “an excuse for laziness”… or “dearth of ideas” will do, too. “Come Saturday” and its b-side are assembled so that they resemble a 90’s indie pop version of a pre-teen’s model airplane with incredibly easy instructions. Live shows are guaranteed to audibly mirror an evening at home with the band’s records at a moderately-high volume, and the crowd should be gazing at musician footwear, wondering if there might be glue affixing each pair to the stage. With this (and everything else) in mind, the band’s moniker contains a word that doesn’t belong within 50 miles of the whole package. A hint: It’s not ‘the,’ or ‘pains’; neither ‘of’, nor ‘being’, and especially not ‘pure’ or ‘at.’ An unknown number pressed on green vinyl. (http://www.slumberlandrecords.com)
This should’ve been titled From The Recesses Of My External Hard Drive Because I Promised Someone A Single Three Years Ago, or something that trumps my cruel speculation with accuracy, like “Bro, I can’t believe Thee Oh Sees didn’t want these songs!” And that’s the key point…these two tracks DO sound and feel like rejects, and every reader is encouraged to imagine just how unremarkable a song has to be for it to never show up on an Thee Oh Sees release. To snuff out any confusion, this 7” has nothing to do with Thee Oh Sees, other than the air being thick with the inescapable sound of someone aggressively phoning it in. Adam Payne’s full LP on Holy Mountain is much, much better than this. 300 copies. (http://www.maltduckrecords.com)
Mike Petillo (ex-Navies) and Aaron Leitko (DC area scribe, ex-Manhunter) are part of a group that came of age in our nation’s capital, starting out in rock and punk but forging its own course into heavy rhythms, and continues to do so wherever it spreads (see also Mi Ami, whose ground-force post punk was honed there). As Protect-U, they make kaleidoscopic house with kosmiche flourishes. The jittery bassline at the end of ginormous, liberating slow builder “Double Rainbow” closes out a runway full of synths come down this warped cowbell percussion track, the ideas in each part mutating into the next. You get the sense that E2-E4 was thoroughly digested by these guys, both in process and in spirit. “Toughen Up” skulks around in back, near that dimly-lit parking lot that provides a crucial plot point in whatever Charles Bronson movie from the ‘80s release played a big part in its inspiration. American gigolos, night men, hear the clarion call. Really great single from one of the more inspired, musically integrated scenes in the world right now. These guys own it and call it. (http://www.futuretimes.org)
Not one, but three Dutch labels came together to unleash this 7" of what I believe is called "chiptune" music upon the world, which for the most part sounds like vintage video game background music. The insert that came with the record describes these bands as "diy.noisy.postpunk.disco.beat.superheroes", but this record doesn’t really conjure any of those images up in my mind, and instead makes me feel like I’m 12 years old again playing Legend of Zelda parent’s living room except the tube on the TV is broken and I can’t actually see the video game I’m playing. The tracks on both sides of this record are cut up in an ADD manner where no part of a track stays for long enough to really sink in. The sides aren’t labeled, but one of the bands is pure cut up video game music, and the other band breaks it up with some occasional guitar and vocals, but there isn’t much of a difference in sound or approach between these acts. I try to be positive in these reviews, but I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be irritated by the sounds on this record. (http://www.steakauzoo.com/shop)
What the hell is going on here? Two confusing split 7"s that sound like a mish mash of the more out Not Not Fun records artists like Non-Horse and Odd Clouds, Blank Dogs-ish synth pop, Caroliner Rainbow nausea inducing ramble, and primitive minimal techno . The Skeleton Warrior/Preaux Breaus Geauxld split is more on the electronic side of things and the Skeleton Warrior/Pharoah Faucett split has more sped up and slowed down tapes and guitar bashing, but they both have the same unfocused feel. There are a couple compelling moments throughout the rambling and bashing on these records, but it’s hardly worth the effort of sifting through it all. There is potential here and if these bands picked one direction and went with it, they could make some listenable or even good records. These records are proof that having all music in the world available for free is not necessarily a good thing. (http://rooflessrex.blogspot.com)
Typically, if you told me, “Andrew, without any protection from the elements, you have to make 100 burritos outdoors during a heavy storm then eat a large house plant at gun point, or listen to the underground hip-hop version of Black Dice,” I would choose the former. Wait, I’ve already chosen the latter, or I wouldn’t be writing this review, you might be thinking. And you’d be right, but you’d be wrong by guessing I disliked this record (I’m surprised, too). It’s the most abstract hip-hop I’ve ever heard, (I’m no head), and I generally despise anything remotely related to what people consider the “underground” variety, firmly believing it’s the worst thing that’s happened to the backpack since suicide bombers. “Underground” hip-hop sucks more ways than a small review can communicate, but the quasi-intellectual, humorless, and preachy tendencies are ones I can loathe from far away. Oh yeah, “underground” hip-hop usually sounds like word “tedious” or “safe” should sound if the dictionary came with sound-clips. What? It does? Anyway, Youth:Kill, who could be cool-kid hardcore if the packaging was judged alone, have made a record so flat-out fucked that I must hand it to them based on that alone, and nothing should retain merit based on how flat-out fucked it is … except when the two parent genres (the aforementioned strain of hip-hop and PG-13 experimentalism) are especially merit-challenged, per the case in front of us. The recording is low and gravelly, so the “rapping” is almost inaudible. After listening hard, I was floored to find it akin to that rock-gargler in New Kingdom, one of the more criminally unsung purveyors of GREAT abstract hip-hop from the past 20 years (if you don’t have their two albums…). It would be comedy gold to refer to these rhythms as “beats” though I’m sure someone does, and this harsh mess wouldn’t appeal to your garden variety Coup fan unless they were suffering from a 104 degree fever. Unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Approach with caution! (http://www.thesecretlifeofsound.com)
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By Dusted Magazine