Reviews

Dana Katharine

Spread Joy II LP

Chicago’s SPREAD JOY appeared on the scene with their self-titled debut last year, and now they’ve returned with a second full-length on Feel It. And much like their first, this is not a record that overstays its welcome, clocking in at just over seventeen tightly-wound minutes. Channeling LILIPUT and SUBURBAN LAWNS, Briana Hernandez wails, whines, and squeals alongside jittery, scrabbling guitar lines and clean, taut drum beats. Forty-five-second-long opener “Ow” is frenzied and breathless, a burst of delirious punk energy. Lead single “Repetition” is at least initially powered by a riff similar to “Unoriginal” from the first record (which was itself swiped from “Three Girl Rhumba”), before it mutates into something altogether more punchy and abrasive (and still doesn’t surpass two minutes).The two longest tracks on the album, “Ich Sehe Dich” and “Languages,” show what the band can accomplish when given a little more space to stretch out and explore. II is a worthwhile sophomore effort, and proves to me that SPREAD JOY are one of the most invigorating bands operating in the neo-post-punk sphere today. Joyful!

Jeff Hill Band The Pathway Tapes 1977 EP

The JEFF HILL BAND were a power pop three-piece based in London during the late ’70s, fronted by the eponymous Jeff Hill. They released only one single during their brief existence, 1979’s “Something’s Wrong With My Baby.” The four songs featured on The Pathway Tapes were originally recorded for the Chiswick label in 1979, and here they’ve been released at long last by Lisbon’s Different Class, who have done God’s work in unearthing several similar forgotten punk/garage/power pop groups over the years. Despite forming in the UK, the JEFF HILL BAND has a decidedly American (and specifically New York) flavor, sounding more akin to MILK ‘N’ COOKIES than the JAM. While there’s nothing revelatory about this lost EP, it did endear itself to me after several listens. By-the-numbers late ’70s power pop isn’t always enough to thrill me, but the songs here are sweet, simple, and toe-tappingly infectious. Won’t change your life, but it’s hard to dislike!

Susans Susans cassette

SUSANS are a three-piece bass/drums/ukulele combo out of London, Ontario. It appears they’ve been active for a few years now, and this is their first full-length. This is art-punk with an aggressive, occasionally demented edge. Vocal duties (largely delivered in a declarative shout) are split between bassist K. Cuz and ukulele player Gabe Nestor. Nestor’s ukulele adds a spindly, classically DIY quality to the whole affair—it doesn’t really rock, but it suits the paranoid songwriting. Tracks like “Nine,” “Impress Your Neighbors,” and “Too Much Info” are anxious and wiry, while “Hands” and “Toro” find the band sounding messier, less restrained. “Hands,” an ode to handwashing written at the outset of the pandemic, incorporates both melodica and sampled speech. They end it all with the buzzing, feedback-laden noise-punker, “It’s Okay (To Be Weird.)” I happen to agree.

Public Body Flavour of Labour 12″

Tight, energetic, and nervy art-punk out of Brighton. There’s a lot here to like, at least for me—angular guitar lines, whirling new wave synths, an English man spitting lyrics about the alienation of labo(u)r under capitalism. The production (provided by guitarist Theo Verney, who has also recorded the likes of FEET and HOME COUNTIES) is clear and full and serves the material well. Every track on this EP is compelling, but the single “Formica” is a real ripper, chaotic yet expertly held together. “Reset My Password” is another treat, with big hooks and relatable lyrics about having a useless desk job. “Savings, Discounts, and More!” is more of an experimental spoken word piece, which makes me curious as to what else the band can accomplish with a little more breathing room. If you’re into other contemporary UK post-punk acts like SQUID and ROXY GIRLS, you should dig this.

LASSIE Temporary Cemetery / Frowning Term 7″

Leipzig’s LASSIE has been putting out new wave-inflected choppy garage punk for a handful of years now. The typical comparisons to DEVO and REATARDS apply here. “Temporary Cemetery” is massively endearing, buzzy and infectious and possessing a delicious synth hook. The B-side “Frowning Term” isn’t as immediately irresistible, but it’s still a solid slab of oddball synth punk. I don’t want to imagine the kind of person who doesn’t like this—they’re probably a jerk!

Screensaver Clean Current / Repeats 7″

This single is the second release from Melbourne’s SCREENSAVER, following up from 2021’s full-length Expressions of Interest. “Clean Current” is a sweeping synth-pop number, with the kind of propulsive bassline and swirling, atmospheric synths that were a hallmark of early ’80s post-punk. “Repeats” is a slower, moodier piece that doesn’t do quite as good of a job at holding my interest, though vocalist Krystal Maynard has a rich, mournful singing voice that compliments the music well. SCREENSAVER is quite obviously influenced by the likes of the CURE, the SOUND, and SIOUXSIE, but you’ll never catch me complaining about that (especially if the songs are as appealing as “Clean Current” is here).

The Hazmats Empty Rooms / Today 7″

The HAZMATS are a new project featuring members of CHUBBY & THE GANG, GAME, and BIG CHEESE. But instead of being inspired by classic Oi! and hardcore, the two songs here sound as if they were plucked directly from that late ’80s-early ’90s period of UK indie pop. “Empty Rooms” is evocative of the STONE ROSES or TEENAGE FANCLUB, all lush, shimmering guitars and sweet melodies, while “Today” could be easily be a secret C86 compilation track, existing somewhere between the SOUP DRAGONS (in their earlier, scruffier incarnation) and the WEDDING PRESENT. Derivative, maybe, but I love this shit, and these are good songs. More punx should indulge their wimpy pop instincts.

Pensioner Pensioner demo cassette

PENSIONER is the name of this no-fi solo effort from GHOULIES’ Alec, recorded (as so many solo projects have been recently) during the pandemic lockdown in Perth, Australia. This demo comes off like a stripped-down, purposely ugly version of GHOULIES’ frenetic synth punk; all slimy, irradiated grooves and warbled vocals. Sounds like it could have crawled out of NWI in 2014 with the rest of the Lumpy gang. There’s even a devolved RAMONES cover (“Commando”). “Slip Slop Slap” is a delight, appealing to my eternal love of simple pop songs buried beneath layers of fuzz and noise.

Sad Eyed Beatniks Claudia’s Ethereal Weaver LP

Dreamy, soft focus guitar strum from multi-instrumentalist Kevin Linn, also known as the label head at Paisley Shirt Records. Paisley Shirt has been a major player in the emergent San Francisco “fog pop” scene, and SAD EYED BEATNIKS fits perfectly alongside other lo-fi bedroom acts like FLOWERTOWN and APRIL MAGAZINE (members of both bands play in the live incarnation of SAD EYED BEATNIKS). Claudia’s Ethereal Weaver feels looser, more experimental than its predecessor, 2020’s Places of Interest. There’s some interesting, knowingly unpolished guitar work here that occasionally approaches noise (“Aristoteles Crater,” “Hysterical Rooters”), and many of the tracks meander with no particular purpose (“Free Composition Number 6,” “Oh Hallo”). I wouldn’t call this a downer record but it certainly inspires the kind of wistful melancholy I enjoy indulging in from time to time (read: nearly all of the time). While I’m reminded of GALAXIE 500 or such classic idiosyncratic DIY acts as the TELEVISION PERSONALITIES or CLEANERS FROM VENUS, Claudia’s Ethereal Weaver stands on its own as a representation of a unique and compelling modern scene.

Mick Trouble It’s Mick Trouble’s Second LP

My confession is that I initially took the MICK TROUBLE mythos at face value, gleefully announcing on my radio show that I had found a heretofore undiscovered relic from England circa 1980. I know now that “MICK” is NYC-based Jed Smith, formerly of MY TEENAGE STRIDE and currently doing jangle pop double duty in JEANINES. It’s Mick Trouble’s Second LP is, well, MICK TROUBLE’s second LP (following the first LP from 2019 and an EP from 2017), and it’s another loving pastiche in the tradition of the DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR, in which the artist clearly has boundless affection for the period being imitated. The most obvious touchpoint here is the TELEVISION PERSONALITIES—the spirit of Dan Treacy shows up all over this record, especially in “MICK’s” earnest and extremely English vocals. Of course, this concept simply wouldn’t work if the songs weren’t good, and they’re great. Ebullient, expertly produced, and with about as many UK pop culture references as a HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT tune. Try “Jim’ll Fix It,” which alone has enough hooks and harmonies to fill your head for weeks. Cracking!

Heavy Petting Anfahr’n Am Berg cassette

Leipzig, Germany’s fertile DIY post-punk scene has recently brought us the likes of ONYON and MARAUDEUR. HEAVY PETTING continues in that (self-described) neo-NDW tradition – with their jagged guitars, synth flourishes, and exclamatory KLEENEX-like vocals, they’re easily the successors to ’80s groups like NEONBABIES and CARAMBOLAGE. Anfahr’n Am Berg is this trio’s debut EP, with four full songs plus a two minute instrumental intro. “Bier” is great, weird fun—I don’t speak German but even I can understand and appreciate the chorus (it’s the word “bier,” repeated four times). They turn the temperature down on “Lieben Sie Mich,” with cold synths creating an atmosphere fit for an Eisbär. There isn’t a global shortage of angular art-punk with femme vocals (not to mention band names that are double entendres), so I’m not sure HEAVY PETTING is doing anything particularly novel here, but it is mighty appealing nonetheless.

Progromo Im Zentrum der Macht / Die Sterne Fallen Auf Amerika 7″

Hyper-obscuro German post-punk from Bernd Zimmermann, who was a member of ’80s groups ADD, DEUTSCHDENCK, and ISOLIERBAND. These two tracks (along with those released on the “Heute Schlägt der Bauer den König” 7”) were originally recorded in 1982 and previously unreleased until this joint venture between Bachelor Archives and Red Lounge Records. This is solid post-punk with gloomy Teutonic vocals, firmly of its time but should nonetheless please anyone with more than a passing interest in the genre. The B-side “Die Sterne Fallen auf Amerika” especially reminds me of Pornography-era CURE or the early 4AD roster.

Soft Torture Soft Torture cassette

This is the first release from this veritable supergroup made up of members from some of Philadelphia’s best and brightest, including BLANK SPELL, DESTRUCTOS, and YDI. You read that last one correctly—bassist Chuck Meehan was in the original lineup of that legendary ’80s Philly band (and the SOFT TORTURE track “2021” is an updated version of “1983” from YDI’s seminal EP A Place in the Sun). The eight songs here (apart from the outro) showcase a fast and feral brand of rhythmically complex hardcore, with all band members firing on all cylinders at all times. The result is the kind of controlled chaos you can only achieve with a certain level of technical skill. Vocalist Jess Nicho has a unique delivery— at turns snotty, bored, detached, and deranged—that elevates the final product to something truly wild. “9.99” is a personal favorite, pairing an almost sing-song chorus with Jess’ typically twisted and visceral lyrics. Real freak shit!

The Wirtschaftswunder Preziosen & Profanes LP

The WIRTSCHAFTSWUNDER (German for “economic miracle,” and a reference to the rapid development of West Germany post-WWII) was from the weirder and more experimental side of the ’80s Neue Deutsche Welle. They were a truly multinational group, featuring members from Germany, Canada, Czechoslovakia, and an Italian singer (Angelo Galizia) who sang/shouted in heavily-accented German. Preziosen & Profanes compiles their first EP Allein along with a handful of early singles and assorted compilation tracks. Demented zolo strangeness abounds here, in the same league as RENALDO AND THE LOAF, Sweden’s KITCHEN AND THE PLASTIC SPOONS, or fellow Germans PALAIS SCHAUMBERG. There is a playful sense of unpredictability to these tracks, combining musique concrète found sounds, sampled speech, cartoonish synth-pop, toy instruments, and various electronic squalls—often within the same song. “Allein” is an upbeat synth-punker with Galizia’s furious howl at the forefront, while “Metall” layers industrial noise over piano and violin (the overall effect reminding me of “Silent Command” by CABARET VOLTAIRE). “Television” is a bouncy synth-pop number, while its B-side “Kommissar” is a cover of what I assume is an iconic ’70s German TV theme song. “Ich steh auf Hagen” stretches out to nearly five minutes of experimental thrashing about, driven by the same propulsive drumbeat until it all falls apart near the end. Tremendous fun.

Print Head In Motion cassette

It’s a challenge—a fun challenge!—to keep up with every limited-run cassette release from Canada’s prolific PRINT HEAD, a.k.a. Brandon Saucier. The man put out something like six or seven of these last year, and 2022 appears to be bringing us more of the same. In Motion doesn’t deviate far from the formula of aggressively lo-fi, egg-flavored punk, but hidden (just barely) beneath all the noise and chaos are some pretty tuneful and competent songs. PRINT HEAD may be mining similar territory as other hyperactive noiseniks like SET-TOP BOX and ERIK NERVOUS, but it’s definitely worth checking out on its own—all of it!

V/A Let’s Bubblegum the Punk! Volume 1 LP

French label Pop Superette has put forth a compilation of vintage (1975–1985) North American power pop featuring a roster of bands that flew well under the radar at the time, but were on par musically with more recognizable contemporary acts like the NERVES, the DB’S, and the RUBINOOS. Despite the title, there’s not much punk to be found here—these are by and large sugary sweet songs lacking the edge of even the most pop-oriented of punk bands. Still, there’s a charming DIY spirit imbued throughout, alongside a strain of American ’60s Merseybeat worship that was already anachronistic by the late ’70s. Selection is great and surprisingly varied in mood, with highlights including “Conditional Romance” by New Brunswick, NJ’s ROCKIN’ BRICKS and “She’s Hifi” by the TREND out of Columbia, MO. After a while, though, the noticeable lack of any women in these groups (besides as lyrical subject matter) sent me off to listen to the SHIVVERS instead.

Squire Girl on a Train / Every Trick (In the Book of Love) 7″ reissue

Forming in the late ’70s in Paul Weller’s own Woking, SQUIRE was a mod revival band mining the same territory as the PURPLE HEARTS and SECRET AFFAIR. And they had plenty of mod bona fides, having opened for the JAM in 1978 and being featured on the 1979 compilation Mods Mayday ’79. “Girl on a Train” was originally released in 1982 on songwriter/guitarist Anthony Meynell’s own Hi-Lo records, a label still active today. Both tracks here are consummate power pop, sweetly melodic and full of hooks and handclaps. It was enough to get me interested in the rest of SQUIRE’s catalog, which has conveniently been reissued by Hi-Lo.

Eel Men Are You There God, It’s Me / Meantime 7″

Smart and snappy art-punk out of London featuring members of TEN-O-SEVENS and THEE SPIVS. “Are You There God, It’s Me” is a piece of catchy mid-tempo power-pop-punk beholden to groups like ADAM AND THE ANTS and the MONOCHROME SET, while the B-side “Meantime” is more angular, with some delicious GANG OF FOUR-style slicing guitar. As their first single it shows promise, but it doesn’t do quite enough to set the EEL MEN apart from the current crop of clever UK post-punk guitar groups. That being said, I’m excited to see what they do next and if they incorporate a bit more of that nervous energy heard here on the B-side.

Power Supply In the Time of the Sabre-Toothed Tiger LP

The name of this band along with the title of this LP made me expect some kind of caveman-themed metal band. Instead, this Melbourne foursome (featuring members of DRUG SWEAT, OOGA BOOGAS, and VOICE IMITATOR) delivers a relaxed and sunny brand of garage rock that never takes itself too seriously. Singer Leon Stackpole sounds effortlessly laid-back, while Mikey Young’s guitar work is impressive without being showy. While some songs are straightforward rockers (“Land of the Fire,” “Conservative Instincts“), they also get to stretch out into some more experimental territory on “Infinity and 90” and “Swimming in a Bathful of Ghosts.” It’s all exceedingly pleasant and playful while never being dull. I’m reminded of Rotterdam’s LEWSBERG and fellow Australians THIGH MASTER. A fantastic debut.

The Jars Make Love Not War LP

Forming from the ashes of SST (band, not label), the JARS were an active, if marginal, player in the early Berkeley punk scene. Their first single (Start Rite Now) was just the fourth release on the now legendary Subterranean label. Despite their links to bands like FLIPPER and DEAD KENNEDYS, the JARS’ brand of self-described “psycho-pop” owes more to ’60s surf and garage than their California punk contemporaries. This archival collection compiles the entirety of their recorded output: a couple of singles alongside several live tracks and unreleased studio recordings. Tracks like “Start Rite Now” and “Teenage Rebellion” are bright, simple pop songs with a zany edge courtesy of a Farfisa organ, while on other tracks, such as “Electric 3rd Rail,” they stretch out into more discomfiting territory. Their ’60s influences are made most obvious by a handful of live instrumental covers of classic TV show themes, as well as a SONICS cover (“Psycho”). It’s a good time. Fans of Bay Area punk history and ROKY ERICKSON’s songs about creatures with atom brains will enjoy the JARS’ good-natured kitschiness.

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Milky Wimpshake Confessions of an English Marxist LP

Pete Dale has been putting out charming leftist agit-pop as MILKY WIMPSHAKE for close to 30 years now. I’ve been a fan since I first heard “Here’s to the State of Mr. Poodle” off of their 2006 record Popshaped. A send-up of Blair-ite Britain in the style of PHIL OCHS—yes, please! Released towards the end of 2020, Confessions of an English Marxist is their seventh full-length and their first since 2015’s Encore, Un Effort. Here MILKY WIMPSHAKE is a three-piece consisting of Pete, long-time bassist Christine Rowe, and drummer Emma Wigham. Rachel Kenedy (FLOWERS) sings on a few tracks, offering a sweet counterpart to Pete’s adenoidal vocal stylings. Everything here is as expected: jangling melodies, sardonic lyrics, and just enough edge to keep it from becoming insufferably cute. Very English, very Marxist. “Capitalism is a Perversion” and “Welcome to Fascist Britain” are cheeky protest songs that’ll get your toes tapping, while “I Just Can’t Escape Myself” and “Written My Hand” take a more personal, inward approach. The final track “I Don’t Want to Go There” is delicate and lovely, aided by Rachel Kenedy’s plaintive vocals. This may be one of their best yet.

Letha Letha demo cassette

Anemic-sounding drum machine punk with simple riffs and an excess of tape hiss. Basic and a bit dumb, but I guess that’s the point. From what I can tell the band(?) is from Australia, and they’re on a Polish DIY cassette label. I think that’s a used condom on the cover? Or perhaps a human colon?

Manual Scan Plan of Action EP reissue

A fixture on the SoCal mod revival scene, this band of San Diego mop-tops produced a brand of power pop heavily indebted to ’60s garage and freakbeat. MANUAL SCAN’s debut 7″ EP Plan of Action (a spiritual cousin to SECRET AFFAIR’s “Time for Action”?) was originally released in 1983 on their own Dance and Stance label, and we find it reissued here by Snap!! Records out of Madrid, who also recently released an EP by fellow American mod revivalists MOD FUN. Upbeat, unpretentious, and delightfully catchy, every song on here is a winner. The opening track “Nothing You Can Do” swipes its vocal hook from the YARDBIRDS’ “For Your Love” (no one ever said the mod revival was original), while my personal favorite “New Difference” is punchy yet wistful. Recommended if you like the early singles by the LAST, or if you’re just a fan of the ’60s as filtered through the ’80s. Double nostalgia!

Party Day Sorted! 2xLP

A gloomy and atmospheric post-punk/goth-adjacent group from Barnsley, England, PARTY DAY won the affection of John Peel with their 1983 debut single “Row the Boat Ashore.” Their dour countenance and bass-led rhythms slot comfortably aside more recognizable contemporary acts like the SOUND and JOY DIVISION. Sorted! is a double-LP compilation representing the whole of their recorded history: two full-length albums and a handful of singles and EP tracks. The track “Glasshouse” (there are two versions included here) stands out as a highlight, a shimmering and sweet melancholic strum that brings to mind what the CHURCH was doing at the time. Other highlights include the propulsive “Rabbit Pie,”  the sullen six-minute epic “Atoms,” and “Career,” the last of which channels early KILLING JOKE. Proof positive that there is still interesting, even transcendent material to be unearthed from the milieu of forgotten ’80s post-punk.

Ghoulies Songs From Flat Earth EP

As the debut EP from this Australian four-piece (featuring members of ABORTED TORTOISE and KITCHEN PEOPLE), Songs From Flat Earth serves up frantic synth punk rock’n’roll without a single track clocking in at over two minutes. Carnival-ride synths and hyper mutant vocals combine for a queasy experience—but not a sloppy one, as these songs are remarkably tight and fully realized. Devotees of GEE TEE and the CONEHEADS (and insert your favorite devolved egg-punk band here) will find plenty to enjoy in this.

Prettyboys I’m Falling / I Wanna Make You! 7″ reissue

This is a reissue of the only single produced by Chicago’s PRETTYBOYS. Originally released in 1982 on their own Bow Tie label, it’s a slick slice of Midwestern/mid-tempo guitar pop fluff. This is by no means the great lost power pop single, which is to say it’s not essential, but it’s certainly competent and pleasant enough for fans of the genre. If you’re got a couple of Powerpearls or Teenline compilations knocking around in your collection, the hooks on offer here could capture your interest. If you prefer your pop a bit spikier (as I do), you may want to skip it. The B-side “I Wanna Make You!” is marginally more compelling than the A-side.