Reviews

Corby Plumb

The Drin Down River in the Distance LP

I reviewed the last DRIN release, and when the opportunity came up to review this one, I was interested in hearing what this mysterious project has come up with next. Down River in the Distance cranks up the murk and expands the bleak, dubby spaciousness. The drums take a big step forward in the mix, the bass providing more of a felt frequency. The prettier strummed chords and more melancholy minors are replaced with fuzz-fracked brittle guitars that crackle as if coming from a shortwave radio. It’s psychedelic, but with a color palette that’s only swirling with muddy grays.

Dr. Sure’s Unusual Practice Scomo Goes to Hawaii / While Aus Burns LP

Most of the songs on this Australian group’s record straddles the Present Day Post-Punk Partyline of minimalism, herky-jerky guitar parts, and thumpy ruled-out basslines keeping the erector set rhythms together, but the transistorized burble of synths gives this record character. The closer “10 Million Acres” is the standout track on this, a downcast but moving meditation on the cataclysmic bushfires of 2019, and the layers of loss involved. That song is an absolute must-listen if you want to hear anything from this.

Agentss Agentss 12″

A reissue of the two EPs from this São Paulo, Brazil new wave synth group. Folks may be familiar with this band from opening the Não Wave comp of Brazilian post-punk that came out in 2005, which, along with the Sexual Life of the Savages comp, really introduced me to this whole scene (the latter specifically to the amazing AS MERCENÁRIAS). AGENTSS were apparently the first synth band in Brazil, forming after their lead singer/keyboardist Kodiak Bachine visited America and discovered records by, among others, the CURE, GARY NUMAN, and KRAFTWERK, groups whose influence is obvious on the four songs here. The guitars are drenched in chorus and delay, the synth zooms and glides through the soundscape, and the mood is more robotic and nervy than somber or dramatic. Short but landmark, it would make a good deep-cut DJ bin-filler for your goth bar set.

Chronophage Chronophage LP

CHRONOPHAGE is a band that slowly wooed me. I’ll fully admit I wasn’t open to embrace their first two releases What is the Mystery of Love? and Prolog For Tomorrow—something about the lo-fi production of the first didn’t light up my enthusiasm for the second, and I couldn’t break through it. But it was Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album that was the skeleton key that opened up everything for me. I love having my mind changed by a band, especially if they’re not being pushed on my plate. I could tell there was some true songwriting happening in this band, unhindered by aesthetic tropes or genre. This new LP is another progressive step, with influences I can only hint at. There are sounds that are familiar to the ear and on the tip of my tongue, but I’ll avoid embarrassment by incorrectly guessing. Written and recorded as the pandemic waged on in uncertainty, the songs seem to reflect the dismal nature of the outside world, and the warm light and strength found in the internal worlds of friendship and love. The production and arrangement of the first three songs suggest fighting through some sort of dense depressive fog, the songs floating in a milky pool of feeling, melodies, and verses, but without any resolution. That’s when “Summer to Fall” kicks in with that instantaneously hooky descending bassline, twanging bites of power pop guitar, the keyboards humbly humming harmony underneath while the vocal ascends with that simple but resonantly tender line “You woke me up at midnight / To tell me you were scared.” The structure of it gives you one perfect hit of dopamine and excitement after another—a trickling sunshower of piano, a clashing call-and-response bridge, back to the undeniable chorus, with a spoken word closer coda. It’s a completely Perfect Pop Song. “Black Cloud” is a similarly strong statement, skeletonized with doomsday jangle and sweetened with synth string stabs, lyrics that sound like viewing scenes of desolation and desperation from a car window, moving through it but never away from it. From this point on the record, the murkiness found on the A-side dissipates, and the closers “Burst the Shell” (a slow-burning blue beauty) and “Fear Agony” (a sharp-tipped rocker with an ecstatically messy fuzzy climax of a guitar solo) conclude the record like you have (or it has) woken from a dream with total clarity. CHRONOPHAGE is one of the few bands currently going for whom I’m excited to see how they grow creatively and sonically. Their music is imagining a better brighter world while still fighting the dysfunctional and doomed one we still reside in.

MIT The Male Idiot Theory cassette

Limited-run tape edition of this Belgian band’s album, combining roboto drum programming and guitars full of angle and jangle. The songs are tight and hooky, the vocals distorted and shouty, and the mechanical rhythms, maniacal tempos, and often odd structures clothesline you in a way that no human drummer could. I would say that with 13 songs in 32 minutes, I got a bit of ear fatigue halfway through—there’s a few unnecessary instrumentals, but mostly I think it’s the unrelenting boom-boom-tat of the drum machine so loud in the mix and starting off every song. The best tunes on here, like “Rainy Sunday,” “Not Reliable,” and “Cancel Today” are catchy and crammed with ideas, and a more tightly edited EP would highlight those best.

Warboy Futile Living EP

A 7” reissue of a demo by this one-and-done Portland hardcore band from 1983. Not a lot of info on ‘em, besides their lineup featuring members of LOCKJAW and SADO-NATION. Eleven songs of classic American hardcore, unrefined, fast and furious. Big blocky barre chords over oompa drums (the cymbals as prominent in the mix as the guitar), blubbaduh blubbaduh bass and bored yelling about cops, injustice, war, and snickering at anarchists. A choice disc for Portland ‘core completists.

Smegma Dives Headfirst Into Punk Rock 1978/79 CD

SMEGMA were the true freaks of Portland punk’s first wave. A gang of mutant anti-musicians originally from Pasadena, CA and involved in the Los Angeles Free Music Society, SMEGMA moved to Portland in the mid-’70s and found themselves swept up in the freedom of the early punk movement. While the group gigged with the WIPERS, NEO BOYS, and ICE 9, and even had a young Jerry A. from POISON IDEA in their lineup, they weren’t exactly playing three-chord rockers. This compilation is an expanded edition of a 2015 tape and documents those early years, through live and home studio recordings, also including the rare 7”s Disco Diarrhea and Flashcards. While songs like “Front Row Lloyd” and “Get Away” come closest (while still being miles away) to doctrine “punk rock,” chugging away monotonously on furiously out-of-tune riffs, most of the music documented on this is droning, skronking, screeching, strange, creeping, cacophonic, freeform, improvised, and id-driven. While rooted in the punk rock history of Portland, SMEGMA were massively important in creating space for noise and experimental music in the city, and I’d declare them to be just as influential to the legacy of DIY independent music-making as DEAD MOON.

Grasping at Pieces We Are GAP, Not JFA CD

From the title and cover art, one could assume that this was some long-lost ’80s skate punk demo, but GRASPING AT PIECES is a nowadays Alabama band of teen punks who can’t be any older than sixteen. It’s exactly what punk should sound like when you’re that age, and it’s exactly what I remember high school punk bands sounding like when I was that age. They got turned on by whatever their gateway band was, got a guitar, learned a power chord and how to play it fast, found some friends to play drums and bass, and ran with it. Every song on here is fast, snotty and less than a minute, and the titles tell you everything: “Don’t Touch My Vans,” “Puke,” “Bible Belt.”

The Nightingales Hysterics 2xLP reissue

An expanded reissue of the second album by these John Peel favorites, and an unknown quantity to these ears. I feel like I’m fairly literate in British post-punk, but somehow I have not heard any of the NIGHTINGALES’ albums. I acquainted myself with their first record Pigs on Purpose before heading into Hysterics, and between both I found a distinctive sound. The drums dominate their songs, never playing a straight beat but instead creating an unsettling base of rollicking toms and accenting snips of hi-hat for the guitar and bass to sway seasick upon. The rhythmic unease is offset by what I hear as a distinctively English folk presence being experimented with on this album. A violin sidles in mystically on the second track, and on the third, the group somehow merges a funky break with banjo plucking. Lead singer Robert Lloyd has a huge sonorous voice, confident in its everyman timbre. I’d say this is jangly and melodic enough for a fan of the MONOCHROME SET, JOSEF K, or ORANGE JUICE, but with enough upside-down experimental quirk for you to listen to next to DOG FACED HERMANS, the RAINCOATS, or GLAXO BABIES.

Malflora Mama I’m Bad cassette

Drone zone NOLA now wave descending upon your mind. Each song rides a pulsing wave of repetition, the guitar slicing through humid hallucinations, while the bass and drums roll over you like millstones, grinding you to a fine dust. In an alternate dimension, I’m holding the director’s cut of this as a double-LP, as I want each song to grow three times their size, transforming the album into a blackhole that will engulf you with brain-searing sonics. I want this, especially on “Emergent,” where the vocals urge us to “Imagine the possibilities / Redefine the barriers.” It’s psychedelic but wasn’t made for you to bliss out on, and it’s heavy without pummeling you into submission. It’s music made to firmly meditate on a powerful upward revolution and an outward future for Black and Brown people.

Sado-Nation Disruptive Pattern LP reissue

For some reason SADO NATION has never gotten the same cult caché as fellow Portland first-wavers the WIPERS, the RATS, or the NEO BOYS. Hell, even avant noiseniks SMEGMA have more of a worldwide following for their demented mutant freewave than SADO NATION has received for their catchy, energetic punk rock. This is the band that kicked off the legendary 10-29-79 compilation, but people seem to talk more about the sole recordings by the even more unknown LO TEK than SADO’s ripping “Johnny Paranoid” that opens the album. But it seems the tide is changing on this, as their triple-digit Killed By Death collector wrecker records have been slowly seeing legit reissues. Disruptive Patterns is interesting, as it is an unreleased 1981 album that has now been issued twice by two different labels with two different covers in the last ten years. This version is by Puke n Vomit, and contains the original nine-song LP as well as three unreleased demo tracks from 1983, along with liner notes by members Leesa Nation (vocals), David Corboy (guitar/vocals), as well as Portland punk notables Jerry A. and Mark Sten. Musically, it’s high-powered punk of the time, fast and straightahead rockers, not dissimilar from anything in the West Coast first wave before hardcore reared its shaved head. The guitar fires off amped-up CHUCK BERRY riffage while the drums crash and tumble in full 4/4 force. Leesa and David trade off vocals from song to song, with Leesa more spit and sneer desperation and David’s voice a more melodic rock’n’roll shout. While not as much of a stone Portland punk classic as Is This Real?, Pick Your King, or In a Desperate Red, it’s still a document of the early Portland scene for any regional completists.

Satan’s Rats What a Bunch of Rodents LP

Of the skadillion bands that emerged in the wake of the first wave of British punk, few got out more than a single, usually on a small regional label or on their own dime (er, quid?). I have quite a few of my favorites, but there’s still always more of them to hear. Put out by Overground (to whom I will always be grateful for reissuing a large chunk of the CRAVATS catalog), this compiles all the recordings SATAN’S RATS put together in their short lifetime, with most of it gone unreleased at the time. Notably the band got an opening slot for the SEX PISTOLS, got shit on by Bob Geldof in his review of their first single (“Exceptional only for its mediocrity,” Sir Bob writ, presumably miffed at another band with a RATS band name), and then the second and third singles promptly went nowhere. The singer quit, and the rest of the band went new wave as the PHOTOS and got a hit album from it. Them’s the breaks, as they say. But was it fair? The songs on here are rockin’ and melodic, definitely showing the influence of GENERATION X or BUZZCOCKS. But I wouldn’t say any of these have the big pop hooks or catchy choruses of a “Ready Steady Go” or “What Do I Get?”—if you’re a ’77 Brit punk fanatic, this could be for you, but I don’t think this is anywhere near an unearthed trove of classics.

Crime San Francisco’s Doomed LP reissue

I hold CRIME on high as one of the platonic ideals of late ’70s punk who, on top of being the first on the West Coast with a record, also seemed to come out fully formed, conceptually and aesthetically superior from the jump. Dressed up alternately like slick, sleazy gangsters or crooked beat cops, CRIME sounded like the distillation of everything crude, delinquent, stupid, and degenerant-ly fun about rock’n’roll—from the gnarled amphetamine twang of rockabilly to the primitive, pimple-faced stomp of garage rock—cooked down dirty and shot up with the amplifiers on ten. The music roars out lean, mean, and loud, with a white-hot attack of volume and attitude. The guitars sound like a souped-up muscle car revving its engine, with unhinged and untuned leads, while the rhythm section runs you down, swerving and careening, ending every song like a flipped-out ten-car pile-up. Following the mindblowing record-and-DVD live set San Francisco’s First and Only Rock n’ Roll Band: Live 1978, this is Superior Viaduct’s reissue of the original LP of then-unreleased recordings put out in the ’90s by UK label Solar Lodge. This was also subsequently reissued by Swami in the 2000s as San Francisco’s Still Doomed, which is where I first heard it. While I haven’t been nearly nerdy enough to A/B it side by side, this Superior Viaduct version seems to sound just slightly more cleaned up compared to the Swami one. But there isn’t much you can do to really clean up CRIME, and these recordings remain a perfectly raw and high energy document of the band at their best.

Fastidio Fastidio cassette

Dreamy, drum-machine-powered post-punk from Argentina. I imagine a lot of JESUS AND MARY CHAIN and SUICIDE worship with this duo. The synth has moments of “Cheree” and “Dream Baby Dream,” and the “Just Like Honey” drum sound gets a go-round, but I prefer when the band programs a more danceable beat like on “La Antena,” or something harder and more synthetic like on “Tifus.” They win points with a SERGE GAINSBOURG cover, and if you’re in the mood for the gloomy, swoony, and reverb-drenched, FASTIDIO may fulfill your needs.

D. Sablu Odds & Ends cassette

D. SABLU is on a streak lately, recording wild, weird one-man-and-drum-machine tunes at home before taking it to the stage and fronting a shit-hot live band, playing the most economical but explosive sweat-stained garage punk. I’ve yet to see him live, but I can feel the perspiration already. But when, oh when, will we get a proper D. SABLU record? These short tape releases are just not enough! Taken By Sleep, the first release under the D. SABLU name, was a sleeper hit in the chaotic year of 2020, and has been followed up by two more cassette releases of demos and live sets. This one follows the same path, with two at-home demos of David and a drum machine, along with a recent live set, with the band tearing into a cover of RUDIMENTARY PENI’s “A Blissful Myth.” Now which one of you cowards is gonna put out a record for them?!

V/A Radio Dood LP

An LP reissue of a long out-of-print 1986 compilation tape of Dutch hardcore, used to raise money for the all-punk, by punks, and for punks radio station Radio Dood. Notably, this tape contained the final recordings of LÄRM before those eventually found their way on the band’s discography CD. This sounds like a tape from 1986 pressed to vinyl, so unless you are a Dutch HC completist and you love tape hiss and blown-out low end, I’d say this release works better as a historical document than as a home audio experience.

Almen T.N.T. ¿A Donde Vamos Hoy? 7″ reissue

This is a Munster reissue of the first independent Spanish punk single from 1979. After getting assigned it, I realized my knowledge of punk in Spain was pretty minimal, basically having only heard the LOS PUNK ROCKERS knock-off album of SEX PISTOLS covers, the fiery LAS VULPESS, and the brief punky bits seen in the cult film Arrebato. Punk in Spain got a delayed start, bubbling up in the years following the fall of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, with a slow trickling of glam-inspired, proto-punk-ish hard rock. ALMEN T.N.T. was essentially just Manolo Almen, a Barcelona anarcho-hippie protest singer who saw folk on the wane and latched onto the harder rock sound he was beginning to hear. This 7” would be the only thing they would produce, and the leftist politics are up front and center. The A-side translates to “No One Believes in Revolution Anymore,” a song criticizing the consumer capitalist culture that developed in the years after Franco, starting with a sound collage of explosions, police sirens, and gunfire zinging before a heavy fuzz riff charges through the fray. The music on both sides is similar to the post-psych proto-punk street rock of the PINK FAIRIES, while a bit generically bluesy in the leads. The fast evolution of Spanish punk sorta left this in the dust as punks from Madrid to Barcelona dove into the subgenre undergrounds of hardcore and varying strains of post-punk. Its historical importance outweighs its musical significance, but a very cool artifact nonetheless.

The Faction Room 101 and Growing Pains LP

Notable not only as one of the first skate punk bands, but also as a skate punk band with an actual pro skater in their lineup. As can be surmised from the title, these are demo versions that would eventually appear on their first two releases: fast songs about skating, cops harassing them about skating, etc. They’re legends of the style and if you’re a diehard for it, you’re already picking this up. I haven’t ever successfully stood on a skateboard, so skate punk never endeared itself to me. This music usually just reminds me of shitty older dudes at shows I went to growing up, who love to use pejorative slurs and say charming shit like “If you dont wanna get hit, get out of the pit.”

Liquid Lunch Come Again! cassette

Writing this review took me far longer than the tape itself takes to play, because it put me in another existential mood about genre and style. I just really don’t know what more can be written about this kind of music. If you’ve listened to CHERRY CHEEKS, RESEARCH REACTOR CORP, the current crop of Lumpy bands, etc. etc., then you have a clue to what this LIQUID LUNCH tape sounds like: stiff rhythms (with manic militancy on the hi-hat and snare) played at ultracore tempos, protractor and T-square guitar riffs played with pinpoint accuracy alternated with thrashin’ bashers, sprinkled with synth squiggles, and topped with muffled mutoid man yelling. But what are they yelling about? There’s a song on it called “Obamacare,” in this year of our lord 2022. Is this a political song? Is it a goof? Have we reached the Final Devolution of CONEHEADS-core? Are all of these bands just pizza punk with more right angles? Am I thinking about this too much? The answers to all these questions: probably, and who cares?

Ataque Subliminal Ataque Subliminal demo cassette

This short four-song demo comes out of NYC from the Toxic State family of fine products. Fronted by raw-throat melodic shouts and the guitar’s radioactive riffs, dripping with just the right amount of flange, plus a bass and drum backline that relays the rhythm more with off-kilter tom rolls, big trashy crash bashes, and a tasteful use of breakdown beats rather than just relying on the standard snare and hi-hat rata-tat-tat ad infinitum. It really lends the songs a lateral swing and danceability, especially on the killer opening cut “Màquinas Deseantes.”

Tha Retail Simps Reverberant Scratch: 9 Shots in tha Dark LP

July was a blur, so somehow I missed seeing THA RETAIL SIMPS both times they played Portland on their West Coast tour. I’ve resolved that within myself by just listening to their record almost every day in August so far. When the rollicking piano starts on “Hit & Run,” you can tell the band is not afraid to boogie and create a groove. It’s rhythmically rare these days, since so many bands I hear in the punk world either wanna be stiff, be fast, be brutal, be technical, be anything but hip-shaking. “Love Without Friction” sounds like a no wave twist contest, leading into “End Times Hip Shaker Pts. 1 & 2,” which has a grindin’ riff like a ANDRE WILLIAMS B-side before giving it a lysergic dip into a fully fuzz-drenched freakout. “Dozen a Dime” cools it down with a downer folk bongo bummer, but the rave-ups continue in the last half. “Summertime” stands out with a nasty distorto biker movie riff and a fully fucked-up but funky clavinet solo, and it’s these juxtapositions and stylistic slurries that make the record stand out. The songs are strong enough on their own, but all the disparate sonic references give the music texture and character. THA SIMPS have made a record that’s loose, noisy, goofy, danceable, and weirdly one of a kind, full of reverence for rock’n’roll but not so studious as to take any of it too seriously.

Baby? Baby Laugh / Baby Cry LP

New directions in music by Oakland avant maestros Erin Allen and Max Nordile. BABY? is an abstract fresco of guitar strings plinking and scratching, drums tumbling and collapsing, horns wailing and lamenting, and found-sound contrasts of water pouring peacefully and cop sirens reigning terror. While 98% of MRR readers won’t give this the time of day, 1% will turn this on and immediately turn it off after the first track or two, and finally there is the 1% that will complete it and maybe even go back and listen again. It’s classically not for everyone, and probably really only for Max and Erin as an expression of sound and friendship. What I love about these two as people and artists is that while we’re all here still listening to this, figuring it out and deciding if we like it, they’re just out there, making more of it, like perpetual creation machines. They probably recorded twenty more albums, finished 53 paintings, six zines, and went on tour four times while this LP was in the queue to be pressed (and probably even more as I was flipping to the B-side of it).

Mars Rehearsal Tapes & Alt. Takes: NYC 1976-1978 3xLP

What a beautiful time to be a fan of MARS. I remember when I was discovering no wave, and trying to find anything by the band (physically or digitally) was like hen’s teeth. But once I heard them and GLENN BRANCA, my tastes for guitar noise were forever refined and I never felt the need to hear SONIC YOUTH again. In the last few years, we’ve seen a slew of archival releases from the group, but this release is the motherlode. Three LPs of demos, rehearsals, alternate takes, and more—truly for the most hardcore of MARS obsessive. The audio fidelity is far from pristine, but if you’re here for the noisiest of no wave, you probably aren’t a snooty audiophile. The evolution of the band is heard from originally making piano and acoustic guitar demos at home before quickly taking up electric instruments, writing a set of VELVETS-indebted songs, and playing one gig as CHINA. The mutation of the band from a minimal, arty proto-punk band to the harsh experimentalism of MARS starts here. The music becomes more abstract, rattling, industrial, and truly experimental—where the band is questioning the format of the standard rock’n’roll song as well the place and physical use of the instruments within them. MARS’ music sounds to me like taking rock music closer to the realm of painting or sculpture, using their instruments to create texture and color as opposed to melody or harmony. It’s here where we get to the real meat of the compilation, and the true endurance test for listeners. Listening to the multiple takes of the songs “Hairwaves” and “Helen Forsdale” reminded me of something like the massive STOOGES’ Funhouse Sessions, where the band is drilling down the song with minor variations, but you hear the song take shape and come to life. The drum-and-vocal-only take of “Puerto Rican Ghost” was interesting to hear separate from the avant guitar sounds they’re known for. What really captures the spirit of this record is the band doing a run through of “11,000 Volts,” after which they sound happy about the results and then immediately go back into the song again, finish it, and then hoot and holler with joy at the end of that one. It gives you an interesting two-fold perspective on the song from what you’re hearing as a listener and what they were hearing at the time as musicians. What part of the song did they nail that they didn’t before? What sounded different that time that they knew they got it? It’s documentation like this found on this record that truly makes it a treasure and dispels any notion of this music being random, but rather being vigorously rehearsed, instilling the craft and discipline the band had in creating such dissonant music.

Pitva Pitva LP

PITVA is a modern take on classic Eastern Bloc punk, with the rage and heft of hardcore intersecting with the terror textures of anarcho and goth. The guitar is icy, brittle, less interested in blocky riffs than feedback-drenched howling, sounding like an air raid siren, or a lost S.O.S. signal in the airwaves. While the guitar slices at the high-end frequencies, the bass drives low and hard, carrying the weight of song structure, while the drums punch out a martial 1-2-1-2 attack. The album production is bleak and echoing, like it was recorded in a dank cave or (more appropriately) an old abandoned squat, reinforced by rubble and barbed wire.

The Stimulators Loud Fast Rules! EP reissue

Mostly known in NYHC lore as Harley Flannagan’s first band, the STIMULATORS were truly the brainchild of guitarist Denise Mercedes. Her path to rock’n’roll started almost mythologically, having been given her first electric guitar by BOB DYLAN and an amp from BOWIE guitarist Mick Ronson. She was also Harley’s aunt, and when she wanted to start a band and no drummers were to be found, she stuck her young punk progeny behind the kit. The group was rounded out by queer poet Patrick Mack on vocals (who would pass away from AIDS in 1983) and bassist Nick Marden, famously of the Mapplethorpe photo wearing the “Loud Fast Rules” leather jacket. The band came on the scene after the first wave of CBGB bands had either signed to labels, gone on tour forever, gone new wave, or just imploded. In this time before hardcore was completely codifed, the STIMULATORS gigged not only with the BAD BRAINS after they were banned in DC, but also gorehound maniacs the MAD and no wave noiseniks like RED TRANSISTOR. As Mercedes was initially inspired by seeing the DAMNED, the three songs on this single rock more in that vein of British punk to my ears, but with the chant-along choruses and backup “oooh”s that definitely show having absorbed the RAMONES at full volume from inches away. Mercedes’ guitar has the perfect early punk sound of disciplined downstroke power chord slashing and in-the-red ramalama leads. Harley, as a twelve-year-old who could barely see over the kit, plays better than his age would have you guess, pushing the songs forward with an unrelenting ride cymbal, fully locked in with the guitar. Overall, this is a classic artifact of NY punk, and a catchy punk single that finally more than collector scum can get their hands on.

everyone is alone sometimes everyone is alone sometimes cassette

The lack of capital letters got me real worried I got assigned some Midwest emo-worship, but instead we have a one-dude hardcore project. Overall, I’d say it is very much my kind of hardcore—weird, exploding, rampaging, and riffy, with more twists, turns, and time changes than their song lengths would suggest. The drums are either blasting at full speed or piling on the hyperactive fills, and no in-between. The blown-out recording style makes every song sound like it’s bursting at the seams. Until cloning can ensure this maniac plays each part live himself, I’d love to hear this fully realized with an actual band. I’m intrigued by the koan aspects in the title “i am a field of beans,” and I respect mentioning D. Boon’s death day as the recording date.

M.A.Z.E. Live at the Archer Ballroom cassette

Live documentation by Japan’s M.A.Z.E. on tour during 2019. If you’re a fan of their LPs, the songs will be familiar. Sounds decent for what was probably just a tape recorder in the back of the room.

TV Dust 4 EP double cassette

As alluded to in the title, this is a compilation of four EPs by Italian wave weirdos TV DUST. Not sure the exact order of release on these individually, but the band has its sound locked in throughout. The synth maintains a minimal drone that allows the vocals to yelp forward, while the bass and drums drive and keep the rhythms and tempos interesting. Motorik hypnotics and disco hi-hat abound. I picture these guys having really big Martin Rev-style sunglasses.

 

Bzdet Niepokoje cassette

A cassette of lo-fi post-punk from Poland. After my last few encounters with this type of thing, I hesitated to press play. Hearing the opener “Yareg” drop in with a deeply funky beat made my face scrunch up and my head bob with approval almost immediately. The drums programmed with the robo-claves and handclaps, a thick intrusive bully of a bassline, tremolo-bar-torture guitar, and static synth smears. It’s a two-minute tune I’d love to have a 12” remix of, because after that, the tape goes to predictably cold and straightforward post-punk that just sounds limp in comparison. If it kept the mutant funk, I’d be all in, but at least they knew that first song was a strong opener.

The Units Live at the Deaf Club 1979 LP

This is an uncovered live recording of the UNITS playing a completely ripping set at early SF punk spot the Deaf Club. Whatever synths they were using must’ve been able to take a beating, because it sounds like they are pummeling the keys and tearing the knobs off the panel here. The set comprises mostly what would be their first LP, and the band is fully frenzied from the start of opener “Cannibals.” The short-circuited arpeggiator, bent timbres, and careening synth squelches are maniacal and still ahead of their time to hear even now. Even with all their futuristic machine sounds, their very human drummer puts a physical power behind the band, giving the songs life and energy. They close out with the all-time hit “High Pressure Days,” with that monstrous backbeat wallop on it that no drum machine could replicate. The recording is astoundingly good, a clear but still gritty document that proves the power of the band in a live setting. The songs are so energetic, catchy, and danceable, and their sound so one of a kind, it still blows my mind that more of the world didn’t catch on to the UNITS at the time, even in the burgeoning rebranding of punk as new wave. Yes, in a better world, we would’ve had a fully-realized SCREAMERS studio album, but in this world, at least the UNITS are getting proper reissues of theirs, and hopefully well-deserved fair due as pioneers.

Desborde Todo Es Una Mierda cassette

Fast Argentine punk with synth parts. I don’t want to call it synth punk, as the electronic parts seem to be very appendaged-on for this recording. You hear them in the beginning or the end of a song, but the guitar generally drowns it out once it roars in. Aside from that, this is a tape full of rippers.

Society All Flies Go to Hell cassette

Maybe it’s just my own personal obsession, but I sensed VELVET UNDERGROUND worship in this and I’m not mad about it. I’m sure there’s other earmarked influences in this, but my ear is catching Matrix Tapes-era but with Bob Quine’s tape recorder, except it was recorded in a living room in 2022 and the four-track is broken (at their own admission). It’s audible especially in the final track as you hear it reel its last, but the crackle of analog death adds a certain charm of imperfection to the whole thing. It’s an additional layer to the double-time guitar, thumpy dead string bass, and drums that sound like those kid’s kits with the paper heads. Each song is maxed out at 1:30, so you’ll be in and out with it in less than ten minutes. It’s econo, it’s budget; they call it “dunce,” but it’s certainly not dim. “Piss Grave” and its bouncy bassline is a standout from the bunch.

The Real Distractions Stupid EP

“The REAL DISTRACTIONS love rock’n’roll,” and from this Olympia quartet’s prestigious pedigree and the songs on this quarantine EP, I believe that love has got to be real. The guitar rings out with power pop build-ups and a tingle of bubblegum glam raunch on the edges. The electric piano has that reedy Wurlitzer garage rock rattle, a texture I just absolutely adore. On all four songs, the dual vocals meet up in the middle like a secret handshake but also have their own moments at the mic. The bass and drums keep it punchy and tight, shifting into the sometimes snakey time changes but exploding with big dynamic fills, all while still staying in the driver’s seat, keeping the van going all night. While the band has studied their well-flipped 45s and the songs are classically catchy, they’re still lyrically modern, with connections to the real world in real time and not just rock’n’roll revivalist tropes. The REAL DISTRACTIONS have such high-quality ingredients as a band, and the combination of them compliments each other perfectly—like tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, and basil come together on a warming slice of Old School pizza. And like a good slice, it leaves me wanting more, so here’s hoping for a West Coast tour, or else I’ll have to make my way to Olympia and catch them on their home turf.

Straw Man Army SOS LP

This is the second album by these members of the D4MT Labs family tree, and STRAW MAN ARMY’s branch has grown in considerable length and fruit since their 2020 LP. This is one of the first albums I’ve heard or reviewed recently that feels truly “post-pandemic.” Not in the sense of it being over (an obviously foolish way to think), but more so that it feels of its time, as a reflection and distillation of the feelings and varied collective traumas experienced since March 2020. The anxiety, isolation, unrest, grief, depression, and the front row center seat we’ve had for late capitalism’s corrosive and violent nature on local, national, and international levels. The songs on the record are surgically performed and spartanly recorded—there is nary a wild or unhinged moment, everything is carefully considered. The guitar, bass, drums, and vocals together sound like a tightly executed line drawing. Where the depth, dimension, and color of the album is revealed is in its details, especially the ambient moments that lead you between sides: the meditative synth washes, vibraphone sounds, and bird songs. They give a moment of breath and clarity, a palate cleanser between the grim realism of the songs. These moments and the pacing of the album creates an emotional build-up that follows anger, grief, despondency, and trying to stay empathetic and aware in a world that wants you to become callous and shut off. The songs embrace a mounting tension from the Escher staircase riffs of “Human Kind,” and the accelerating, decelerating train track rhythms of “State of the Art,” a criticism of modern progress and the myth of endless growth, sounding like a stock market bar graph as it rises and eventually falls. “Millenarian Man” is a brilliant merging of the the band and the musique concrète elements into a a truly NY state of mind, the vertigo of skyscrapers, the claustrophobia of crowds, the terror of police sirens. Then once all the confusion and anger of the world in the song becomes too much, they conclude the album with “Beware,” which begins melodic and vulnerable, but ends bitter and seething. STRAW MAN ARMY has created explicitly political music that isn’t phoned-in anti-everything anthems or simplistic catalogs of atrocities, but is a hard, analytical but deeply thoughtful and meditative look at this torrential time frame. SOS is an album that is about staring the nightmare in the mouth and realizing that we can’t just wake up from it or simply go back to sleep.

Geza X Practicing Mice / Me No Wanna Be 7″

We have DEVO-tees and Su Tissue sympathists, but where are the disciples of GEZA X? While his production credits on the first wave of West Coast punk singles are lengthy and legendary (GERMS, BAGS, the oft-bootlegged SCREAMERS demos), aside from his brief time in the DEADBEATS and their crucial Dangerhouse single, GEZA X (with or without his MOMMYMEN) was a musical outlier in the early L.A. punk scene, creating his own art-damaged, cartoony wormhole, not far from DEVO or the SUBURBAN LAWNS but with none of the new wave pop refinements that probably helped bolster those bands’ popularity. GEZA is more uncomfortable, needling and experimental, with sideways time signatures, sax skronks, and rollicking marimba runs, that I would probably file closer between CHROME and the RESIDENTS. He probably would’ve been a great fit on a Ralph Records comp! This 7″ by No Matrix is the first of his solo efforts, demo recordings of “Practicing Mice” (which would reappear on the wacky, wonderful, wildly underrated You Goddam Kids! LP) and “Me No Wanna Be.” Both have his trademark squelchy raygun guitar sound and vocals dripping from his nasal cavity. The lack of a live band is made up by stuttering rhythm machines and haywire synths. As I write, this 7″ is long sold out and No Matrix’s newest archival GEZA release (”Hot Rod / Sex Melt”) is quickly heading that way as well, so act fast before the eventual GEZA-core wave crests in your local scene.

Eyes and Flys I Don’t Care Where You’ve Been, I’m Just Glad That You’re Home / Buffalo 7″

I wouldn’t want to say this is particularly punk per se, but it’s definitely not indie rock in the modern sense. Indie currently tends to be a polished, neatly-made, safe and starched pop music for people who probably rent those new condos in your city. This EYES AND FLYS 7” (their second within a year) is more slanted (and enchanted) towards ye olde ’90s college rock, and I’m sure the folks involved have spent considerable time with their SEBADOH, GUIDED BY VOICES, and ARCHERS OF LOAF records on repeat. It’s got that dusty, woolen lo-fi sound down pat—layers of guitar, with bright jangle strumming under a crunchy morass of distortion emanating from tweed-covered amps, with a light thump of drums to keep the beat. It was probably recorded on an eight-track inside a drafty house in the fall or early winter, probably while wearing scarfs and knit caps. The melodies peer through the murk and its sincerity stands hand-in-hand with its sneer.

Coins Parallèles Démo cassette

Montreal post-punque pour toi. I breathe a heavy sigh listening to this, as I wonder how many new minimal post-punk bands we need? How has this style survived the pandemic? To be fair, I get the allure for bands that play this kind of music, much like the spikeys glom to D-beat. It’s a recognizable sound, it has a defined aesthetic, and it’s usually a surefire ticket to a built-in audience. But at this point, the style is so minimal that it’s become deeply generic and overdone. Listening to this demo is akin to opening my lunch and seeing that it’s peanut butter again. But I will say there are some textures on this that I liked, and the lead guitar has some occasionally inverted, diagonal-sounding passages that contrast with the hard parallel lines and 90-degree angles that the songs are drafted with. My biggest complaint with this (as with most bands of their ilk) is that the rhythms are so stiff and uptight. Their drummer’s neck and shoulders must be so sore from playing like this! How the hell do you make a cowbell sound so damn unfunky? I just wanna get them a massage, some beers, and a plate of poutine, let them loosen up a little before going back to the studio. Groove is in the heart, but this sounds like music for Lego-men to dance to, and I’m sorry to tell you, Lego-men have got no heart.

The D-Vices Adequate / Modern Boy 7″

Brought to you by the fine folks at Celluloid Lunch in Montreal, Canada, this D-VICES single straddles the line between artiness and rocking in a cool, swaggering way, like wearing sunglasses after dark, stumbling through back alleys. On both sides of this, the rhythm section solidly drives a grooving fencepost of a bassline, nailed into place with a tough street beat. Foundation cemented, the guitar and vocals have space to chew up the songs. On “Adequate,” the guitar snakes through the rhythm section, scratching and sparking, riding and riffing on a single chord before exploding into an echo-drenched anti-solo, and on “Modern Boy,” the chords are tense and minimal but lend so much action to the music. Speaking of being modern, if I didn’t already know this was an archival recording from ’79, I could be easily convinced this was one of the current stable of bands Celluloid Lunch has been putting out as of late. Instead, we get a Canadian KBD classic that hasn’t been overlooked by history or made overpriced by collector scum.

The Slickee Boys Here to Stay / Porcelain Butter Kitten 7″ reissue

This reissue of the 1981 single by DC cult heroes the SLICKEE BOYS is a two-sided heater of early punk propulsion, power pop hooks, and new wave production quirks. Probably because of their locals-only reknown and dissimilar sound to the larger DC hardcore scene, the SLICKEE BOYS have mostly been a footnote in the city’s hulking tome of punk lore. I have to admit to not following that footnote myself, but listening now, this and their other two early singles really hit my sweet spot for that late ’70s sound of revved-up rock’n’roll with wildly catchy choruses and hyper-melodic leads. “Here to Stay” has a desperate edge to it that reminds me of the WIPERS, and “Porcelain Butter Kitten” has a more adrenalized garage stomp, but both feature serrated, slightly psychedelic siren solos that slice through their respective songs.

Dirt Sucker Valley Fever EP

Last time I went on tour, in 2019, my senior citizen rocker of a mother threatened to drive from Wyoming to come see us play in Salt Lake City, and when I warned her it was being held in a stinking, claustrophobic punk house basement, she immediately snapped back “I used to go to gross punk houses in Salt Lake all the time in the ’80s.” Fair enough of a point, I reckoned, but now she needn’t leave her state, as DIRT SUCKER roams near her home on the range, and they might even come rock at her place. The rampaging hardcore din contained in these soily brown grooves is a qualified ripper. Each side is spiraling with Ginn-sian guitar dissonances, a punchy, crunchy rhythm section that embraces the whorl with a puissance for stops and starts, topped off by vocalist that’s a mutually maniacal and menacing musical match. I hope mom doesn’t mind blood on the carpet, because I bet this guy can take a mean mic to the face.

Hippyfuckers Pink Eye demo cassette

Seeing Olivia Gibb’s instantly recognizable drawing style on the cover art, colorfully cauterizing my corneas from a kilometer away, I immediately knew this HIPPYFUCKERS demo would be the freaky fuckin’ thing I needed. Six tracks of madness for Missouri mutants, every song is a brain-burster of heavy, gnarled riffs dripping with every effect pedal stomped on, while guttural bass grinds away and the drums barely hold this twisting car wreck together as it plummets off the cliff. You can almost see the vocalist contorting into shapes unseen, hanging off the ceiling, crawling between your feet. Wailing into the microphone as it’s already gone halfway through their digestive tract, flailing like they’re slowly dying from whatever household chemicals they swallowed before the set. Ten outta ten, top prize hog at the freak punk farm fair —go see ‘em on tour this summer and into forever.

V/A Rapsodie En France LP

I’m not sure if I’m the right person to be reviewing this; it kinda feels like I got some spiky punk’s mail by accident. This is a reissue of a French hardcore comp from 1985, and its essentially nine bands of the UK82/DISCHARGE type but en français—so expect buzzsaw guitar, rubberband bass, and you-know-what drum beats. The recording quality is demo at best, not a lot of power, and with vinyl pressing being such a hard-sought, time-consuming commodity right now, I have to ask if pressing this on LP was necessary? If it was a tape originally, I feel like the diehards for this would’ve been fine with a cassette and a zine, and honestly it would’ve been more true to form for this type of punk. But to be real, I’ve never owned a leather jacket or worn a shoestring ‘round my dome, so perhaps I’m the wrong person to ask about this.

Fix More is More LP

Naturally, when you see the name FIX, most of you will probably think of the Detroit hardcore band, and a smaller percentage will wonder why the extra “X” is missing from those new wavers that wrote “One Thing Leads to Another.” You would be wrong on both accounts in this case, and while finding any info on this band was nigh impossible, I wasn’t disappointed by these Germans’ full-throttle garage punk. Every song mows you down with strictly down-strummed, tightly-wound power chord riffs, and the drummer’s wrists must be bionic with all those relentless RAMONES-ian hi-hats. If you love the MARKED MEN template but also sprechen sie Deutsch, then it may behoove you to seek out this record.

Normil Hawaiians Dark World (79–81) LP

This is a compilation of singles, demos, outtakes and Peel sessions by this experimental ensemble, and in most cases, if I see the words “experimental” or “dub-inspired” in relation to British post-punk circa ’79–’81, I’m all ears. I adore the POP GROUP, THIS HEAT, and the FLYING LIZARDS, but NORMIL HAWAIIANS have none of the bleeding edge, fiery energy, or avant-garde outness I admire in those bands. Mostly this sounds in the camp of anarcho goth (or gothy anarcho, depending on whether your peanut butter got in the chocolate or vice versa). The songs are mostly a trudge, barring the single “Party Party,” which sounds like an ORANGE JUICE outtake, and their unexpected cover of FRANK ZAPPA’s “Mr. Green Genes”, which mostly inspired me to turn this off and pull out my old copy of Uncle Meat for a spin.

The Gizmos Raw ’76/’77 cassette

A tape of demos and live tracks by these legendary Indiana proto-punks, who’ve had more afterlife than they did actual life. There’s early versions of future GIZMOS classics like “Human Garbage Disposal” and “Kiss of the Rat” and others that would be heard on later releases. They’ve included a live recording of the band stumbling joyfully out-of-tune through their obnoxious ode to oral, “Muff Divin,” at a drunken house party. Also included is a previously unreleased recording of the first jam session the group had together (in the kitchen of Gulcher’s Bob Richart), being true rock’n’roll nerds as they laugh their way through covers of KISS, the STOOGES, and “Rambling Rose” by the MC5 (with the Brother JC Crawford “Are You Ready to Testify?” intro intact, natch). It’s these recordings that make this a compelling reissue, giving it personality and a story, which is so much more interesting than upholding obscurity for obscurity’s sake. This is a Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes type of recording that will give all GIZMOS completists out there some real Hoosier hysteria.

Mood of Defiance Now LP reissue

A 2020 reissue of a South Bay band with San Pedro connections to the MINUTEMEN and SACCHARINE TRUST. While similar to those two bands in their lack of hardcore orthodoxy, MOOD OF DEFIANCE also lacks either those bands’ experimental musicality or oddball X-factor, mostly creating a plodding, mid-tempo hippie punk sound that nods at deathrock and nudges at psychedelia but doesn’t really go far out in either direction.

The Crazies A Simple Vision LP

A strange reissue for the true Adrian Borland completists out there who are hungry for more than the SOUND and the OUTSIDERS. That isn’t to say it sounds like either of those bands, but it’s a curio nonetheless.The record is culled from a single 1978 recording session of the OUTSIDERS backing their friend Pete Williams in noisy, one-take improvi-punk weirdness. The nearest I can lodge this is maybe somewhere between the FUCKIN’ FLYIN’ A-HEADS, the AFFLICTED MAN, or the SMEGMA side project JUNGLE NAUSEA. I’ve got a certain tolerance for this type of bugged-out freaknik splatter, but while it’s an interesting document, it mostly seems like an inside joke between friends that was probably more fun to record than it actually is to listen to.

Spit Kink Get It cassette

From too damn cold and funky Buffalo, New York, SPIT KINK has hocked up this wet, sticky loogie headed straight for your ears like a sexy wet willie, full of klang drum machine, industrial-sized bass lines, and sawtooth synths. These are some seriously sassy party rockers that give me major GENE DEFCON/PRIMA DONNAS vibes, and I love it. Get a few dozen strobe lights going and this duo can probably turn a Rust Belt living room into the sweatiest dance floor.

Blurt Blurt + Singles 2xLP

BLURT was the unhinged id under the cool demeanor of the Manchester scene focused around Factory Records. Led by poet, performance artist, and saxophone blartist Ted Milton, BLURT’s name summed up their exploding art brut attack, howling absurdist Tzaraist cut-ups (my favorite titles: “Dog Save My Sole” and “My Mother Was a Friend of an Enemy of the People”) over minimal loops of fractured guitar and a stripped-down kit of stiff funk drum breaks. This reissue pairs their first LP with a second disc compiling their first four singles, including the uptight gonzo classic “The Fish Needs a Bike.”

Rekrut Demo ‘84 / Jarocin ’84 LP

Lo-fi ’80s Polish hardcore demo given a deluxe gatefold reissue by Warsaw Pact. Chunky riffs and blitzing tunes, minimal tape hiss, and cymbals cutting hard in the drum mix. This type of punk isn’t my wheelhouse, the liner notes are in Polish, and I couldn’t find much info online, but if obscure Eastern Euro hardcore is your bag, then this should probably be in it.

Bam Bam Villains (Also Wear White) 12″

I love when a record is reissued and it completely upends how we understand music history, giving us new classics to revere and pioneers their proper place. Chicago label Bric-a-Brac’s reissue of the 1983 EP (as well as some unreleased demos) by BAM BAM is like an editor’s red pen scratching out and rewriting the history of Seattle underground music as we’ve all known it. There’s been a lot written about BAM BAM lately as “proto-grunge,” or the “godfathers/godmother of grunge,” but I cringe to use the G-word at all in writing this review, as I don’t relate much of what BAM BAM displays on this record to anything that came in the Nevermind ’90s. This is simply an excellent ’80s Pacific Northwest punk record that you could put against fellow Seattlites SOLGER or the FARTZ or even POISON IDEA. BAM BAM’s songs are exceptionally more hooky and melodic than your average punk band at the time, but I can’t imagine songs like “Villains,” “Stress,” or “Heinz 57” not bringing a crowd in 1983 to a slam dance frenzy. While Tommy Martin’s seared, string-bending leads stand out, it’s Tina Bell’s vocals that give the band its sharpened tip. Her finely-honed pipes are given raw-throat voice as she tears through the band’s whirled din. There’s a gravity in her voice, a confidence in her delivery, and a passionate conviction in the words she’s singing that sounds like she was channeling from a deeper well than your average hardcore hollerer. The fact that we’re only giving Tina her just due, flowers, and kudos in 2022 (ten years after her untimely passing) is almost absurd given the evidence on this record. This should have been a classic already, but hopefully this lovingly-made reissue will finally give Tina Bell her stature in the punk pantheon next to other major voices like Poly Styrene and Alice Bag. Play it loud and burn a candle for Tina while you’re at it, a woman of color who fought for her place in a music scene that didn’t have one carved out for her.

Spike in Vain Jesus Was Born in a Mobile Home cassette reissue

I remember discovering Disease is Relative as it was making its rounds across the blogs ten or so years ago, coming into its legend as a cult classic of weird ’80s hardcore on par with VOID or NO TREND. I highly doubt anyone then could fathom the bounty of unreleased music the Cleveland band had stockpiled, a twisted knot of recording sessions and side projects to come. In the last two years, along with a proper reissue of their debut, we’ve also had the release of Death Drives a Cadillac (a 1984 recording session that would’ve been their sophomore album), and now a demo recording of SPIKE IN VAIN shortly after releasing Disease is Relative, with songs from that time frame that never made it to the album. Naturally, the songs here are closer to the dissonant, mutated Midwest hardcore rage of the first record than the more experimental, twangy deathrock sound found on Death Drives a Cadillac. Scat has reissued these tunes on classic cassette, possibly as a nod to its origins, but probably because the vinyl pressing plants are stuffed beyond capacity these days with major label nonsense and Record Store Day garbage, so perhaps we’ll see a vinyl release eventually.

Baby Buddha Music for Teenage Sects LP

Early ’80s San Fran synthy side project from David Javelosa of LOS MICROWAVES, so expect pitter-patter primitive rhythm generators and queasy analog circuits groaning. The original songs on here are strong and strange, especially the unexpected boom-bap on “Then I Sleep,” which is so weird and funky I’m surprised it hasn’t been sampled by MADLIB or another heady producer. The album is padded by mutated takes on early rock’n’roll and country tunes like “Stand By Your Man,” “All Shook Up,” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, which take away from this being a classic must-have for me. Also, I don’t know if the change of title from Music for Teenage Sex and airbrushing out the girl from the original cover was a bit of careful revisionism by a more mature artist looking back, or the inability to secure rights for the original photo or permission from the model?

Print Head Made By Yesterday EP

PRINT HEAD appears to be on a tear these last few pandemic years, putting out limited-run tapes every six months or so. Each of the songs on this EP run about a minute, a few seconds under or over, in a hyperactive, bifurcated pop style of squawky bird guitar parts and loping basslines hopscotching over stunted drum thudding. Fans of the new CHERRY CHEEKS record or RESEARCH REACTOR CORP. would probably be attracted by the notebook margin doodles adorning the cover, but instead of the robo-jerk rhythms those bands parry in, PRINT HEAD has a danceably nervous groove underlined by the ecstatic, especially on the song “Wild Ways.” If they wanted to stretch out the songs and production beyond the 4-track basement tape style, the songs show the potential for PRINT HEAD to reach beyond the scratchy, lo-fi underrealm of post-egg-punk stylings.

The Fall Slates LP

Every winter, I return to the FALL. Their music has a rhythmic turn n’ churn and cynical sneer that sticks to your ribs and gets you through the cold months. This winter, I’ve been diving deep, in the midst of casually reading the FALL tome Excavate! and the chapbook Language Scraps 02, both of which are written by massive FALL-heads and have given me a broader scope to their wonderful, frightening, grotesque, unutterable world. It was perfect timing then that I got assigned this to review, since I’ve had them on my mind. The Slates EP was originally released on the inscrutable 10″ format in 1981, making it ineligible for the singles or album charts in Britain at the time. Mark E. Smith called it one of his favorite FALL releases, and the format choice seems to be a perfect symbol for his refusal to let the FALL fit in and make nice with the music industry, independent or not. Perhaps Slates was a clearinghouse for the band between moments: too many songs for a single, but not enough to fill out an album. For such a short release, Slates has a number of my favorite FALL tracks, from the white-heat gallop of “Prole Art Threat,” with the guitar spraying sparks as the rhythm section attempts to pull the brakes, to the mutated rockabilly licks and skiffle boogie of “Fit and Working Again,” and the Manchester motorik that closes out “Leave the Capitol.” But it’s the opening song “Middle Mass” and its seasick sway that’s stuck with me lately. Mark E. Smith’s penknife of critique jabbed at me from the timeslip with the line “The evil is not in extremes / It’s in the aftermath / The middle mass.” I can’t help but hear that and not relate it to the pandemic-strained, climate-collapsing police state we’re in, where corporate fascists and the ruling rich are continually given more power by the moderate moo-ers who vote with a sports team mentality out of apathy, comfort, or fear than for the betterment of their fellow people.

The Wirtschaftswunder Salmobray LP reissue

This is a reissue of a Neue Deutsche Welle group with the least number of German members in the scene, consisting of a Czech guitarist, Italian vocalist, Canadian keyboardist, and a German drummer. The tunes oscillate from melodic on the opener “Analphabet” to abrasive and experimental on “Die Leute Sind Interessant.” The keyboards are at the helm on this one, with a dirty and distorted electric piano sound like the SCREAMERS, and the vocals more wacky and out-of-key.

Clear History Bad Advice Good People 12″

CLEAR HISTORY is a minimalist post-punk trio from Berlin. Sonically, their tunes have all the hallmarks of the genre: single-string guitar parts and slashed-out chords, dual vocals that bounce back and forth, safety-pinned together by steady, uncomplicated drumming and unfussy basslines. You can probably hear it in your head already as it creates a diagonal line in your ear space. The vocals are more impassioned than most of their genre, but I wish the music felt the same. The production is flat and more like a studio demo than what I’d expect from an LP. I wish there was more of a feeling of it sounding live or in a room, but it all sounds like it’s on the same stereo plane without a lot of action or dynamics. The limitations of the style just tend to remind me so much of what I’ve heard in the last five years from similar-sounding bands. I’m sure they’re compelling live and there is definitely an audience for it, but at the moment I’m not it.

The Cravats The Colossal Tunes Out LP reissue

The CRAVATS have never sat easy in the history of the anarcho-punk genre they’ve often found themselves in. While affiliated with CRASS via their label and Penny Rimbaud producing the single they released, their anarchy (if any) was less political than artistic, closer to the absurdism of Dada. Their sense of humor was also more upfront, in a silly surrealist Monty Python way than the often dour anarcho bands’ chants against bombs and starving nations. Musically, they were far more imaginative and complicated in their arrangements—Rob Dalloway’s guitar sound is both dissonant and twangy, featuring odd chords and the occasional rockabilly flourish, the Shend’s bass and Dave Bennett’s drums savored upfront, stomping and shifty in tempo. Svoor Naan’s saxophone has always been the band’s red herring, often lending them the ill fitting description of “jazz-punk,” with my argument against that being: would anyone call X-RAY SPEX “jazz” just because of Lora Logic’s horn lines? Due partly to this, the CRAVATS haven’t had the eternal back-patch legacy of their labelmates, or been able to stay in print perpetuity. The Colossal Tunes Out LP never even made it to CD aside from tracks on The Land of the Giants compilation, so this reissue by Overground is momentous in that respect at the least. Truth be told, I’m a huge CRAVATS fan, and interviewed lead vocalist the Shend for my zine 1ten years ago. When I saw this had been reissued, I scooped it up immediately as it’s my favorite of their releases. Not a real album as much as a compilation of their singles, there’s still a cohesion between the songs, and it’s the finest example of the CRAVATS’ off-kilter and adventurous musical world. The first side starts with the maniacally dubbed-out vortex of “Off the Beach,” the reverby surf punk riffs on “Terminus,” and the woozy cut n’ paste musique concrete of “Firemen.” The classic Crass Records single “Rub Me Out” (maybe their most well-known moment) highlights the B-side, and the psycho swarming clarinet and bugged-out swing of “Daddy’s Shoes” is maybe the closest thing to a real jazz-punk moment the band has. Any fan of the artier strains of post-punk like the FALL, SWELL MAPS, or PERE UBU, or mutant new wave like DEVO or the SUBURBAN LAWNS (even modern practitioners of the style Á  la CONEHEADS or URANIUM CLUB) would be wont to give the CRAVATS a serious listen. They even do an uptight and twisted cover of “Working in a Coalmine” like the spud boys from Akron did. If reading this review turns at least one more person on to the band, then my writing this is a success. Hopefully enough attention will come from this reissue that maybe we’ll get a chance to see the band’s multiple Peel Sessions come to vinyl in the future.

Deck in the Pit In a Lane 10″

DECK IN THE PIT skronks and undulates in the lineage of the MAGIC BAND as well as their Australian forefathers VENOM P. STINGER, especially in tumbling-down-the-stairs fake jazz drumming, which is really the most standout component. The bass farts along with the clanky knotted-up guitar, but it almost seems unnecessary. I appreciate the vocals not being goofy or growly, but there isn’t much presence or attack, as if there was an apprehension to the production and performance. Everything could be a bit nastier, freakier and more far-out for my tastes. This is a 2016 recording session being released in 2021, and as an archival document of a band that was, it’s fine, but I’d be a bit more interested in hearing what these folks have been creating more recently.

Beton Combo Perfektion Ist Sache Der Götter LP reissue

A recent reissue of anthemic political punk from 1981 by this West Berlin group. I enjoy the sense of urgency across the album, as if they’re against the wall at Checkpoint Charlie, raging against a line of rifle barrels. A solid archival release, if you’re a fan of Cold War EU punk or anarcho anything.

Carvento Felana Carvento Felana cassette

A wormhole opens up in the fabric of time and out hops a battle-ready punk of some dystopian origin, like something out of The Road Warrior, clothing disintegrated and patched back together, with those new wave Geordi LaForge glasses wrapped around their eyes. “I have music from the future for you to review! It’s on cassette and limited to 50 copies! I came back in time to give you the last copy and it’s most urgent that you hear this and tell the people of your time!!” they said, frantically handing over the cassette. “In what future punks are still making limited edition cassettes?” I asked. “2022!” they replied, before jumping back in the quickly-closing wormhole, leaving nothing but cosmic debris in its wake. He must’ve meant to go further back; I shrug as I put on Side A and proceed with my duty to humanity. All booming mechanical drum machine patterns, circuit-eroded samplers and loopers gone amok, CARVENTO FELANA’s self-titled tape is glitching electronic body music served up in short punky doses, spewing out layers of static over synth patch bleeping and blorping. A solid EP for more open-minded fans of early industrial music, experimental electronics, synth punk, etc.

The Ex Tumult LP reissue

The latest in Superior Viaduct’s continuing reissue crusade of the legendary Dutch band the EX. Tumult is their third LP, and on it, the band furthered the sonic experimentation they began on their previous release, Dignity of Labour. This era of the EX is the band expanding as musicians and artists, moving quickly away from the confines of punk rock and into the improvisational, genre-smearing world they’ve continued to express themselves in, implementing more noise as a song element and showing the influence of early industrial music like Z’EV or EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN in the thunderous and primal rhythms. Throughout the album, the drums are a highlight, with nary a 4/4 straight rock beat in sight. The bass grinds along percussively, focused on the repetitive march enforced by the drums. “Happy Thoughts” is an extraordinary track in this respect, like something out of an Adrian Sherwood/On-U production, the drums cut up and distorted to the point of sounding like a drum machine, building the syncopation to something militantly danceable. “Red Muzak” is a tidal wave of metallic sounds, rolling snares, and a crash cymbal like an exclamation point in the mix. Aside from the drumming across the album, you also hear Terrie Ex expanding his guitar palette away from traditional barre chords and single note riffs, using every part of the guitar to discover new ways of forcibly extracting sound, while also knowing when to bow out and let silence take over.

The Drin Engines Sing for the Pale Moon cassette

Cassette-only mystery music from Cincinnati, OH. I imagine this was developed as a COVID-enforced winter project of long days alone with a four-track, and you can hear the masonry of them building each song brick-by-brick. Stylistically, it’s experimental, touching on an erudite record head’s exploration of motorik rhythms, coldwave synth sines, dub-heavy production, and propulsive post-punk basslines, notably the chunky riff that gives the second tune “Guillotine Blade” all of its life. The album leans on developing a mood through textural soundscapes and less on classic songwriting, but when a catchy chorus or a well-honed hook appears, that’s when this album really works and has that CLEANERS FROM VENUS feeling of it being more like a live band rather than recorded alone. If this was released as a two-song 7″ containing the tunes “Down Her Cheek a Pearly Tear” and “For the Tsarina” on the flip, I’d be reaching for my turntable to hear those two over and over.

Maximum Joy Stretch / Silent Street-Silent Dub 12″ reissue

This is a reissue of the classic 12″ single every avowed post-punk head should have in their bins. Formed from members of the classic Bristol bands GLAXO BABIES and the POP GROUP and fronted by the effervescent shouts and screams of Janine Rainforth, the group was a continuation of those two groups’ deep funk and dub roots. Scratchy guitar and a crisp upfront street-beat drum sound, it’s no surprise this was a co-release with 99 Records (NY label home to dance punk favorites ESG and LIQUID LIQUID). If you have an aversion to slap bass, this is definitely not for you, but the rest of us will keep the dancefloor warm for you til it’s over.

Hated Innocent People / Seize the Middle East 7″ reissue

A rare KBD slab of fabled 1981 SoCal beach punk now officially reissued for those who don’t want to blow their rent money on an original copy. Honestly, I had never heard of the band, and couldn’t find much on them, but they seem to have been a second-tier group in the Cuckoo’s Nest/Orange County scene of TSOL and the ADOLESCENTS. Fun fact for whatever it’s worth to ya: HATED bassist/vocalist Joe Wood went on to replace Jack Grisham in TSOL during their goth/hair metal eras. Anyway, it’s a standard issue snotty two-sider of early HB struttin’ hardcore, clocking in under seven minutes, and often reminiscent of AGENT ORANGE—heavy on the ride cymbal and staccato surf guitar riffs, but with some very Rikk Agnew-admiring melodic leads.

Low Life From Squats to Lots: The Agony and XTC of Low Life LP

I haven’t caught up with these Aussies since their debut LP Dogging back in 2017, an album I loved, especially in headphones during the rainy months. Well, their third record has appeared in time for the rainy season again, and despite the years between listening, the band has returned with a record that has everything I found so appealing on Dogging, but just ever so matured and nuanced. I’ve always imagined the LOW LIFE sound being created by some smirking lads, loose and laughing on lager, having made off with the CURE’s gear circa Faith and Pornography, but starting a hardcore band with it instead. Stomping and pushing their chorus pedals to sound less blissed-out and distant than pharmaceutically blurry and smothering, replacing a limp strum with a harder attack. Sonically, there’s some special studio accents like trumpets, orchestral strings, and acoustic guitar textures; song-wise, there’s fewer barreling ragers and more moody meditations, but always brimming with desperation and frustration that frames the album’s spirit around the layers of watery chordage. LOW LIFE is in classically fine form and begs for repeat listening and time for full immersion.