Reviews

Dov Malzberg

Saviour Complex Chance Your Arm LP

SAVIOUR COMPLEX’s new LP might dip into discord on tracks like “Rabbit,” but is otherwise uninterrupted sad punk. Their vocalist laments and rails and back again, always with a scratch at the back of the throat. There’s a lot going on underneath, too—the bass is almost always adding something to the guitars and from time to time will break out a sophisticated, scale-walking lead. The drums are everything from driving 4/4s to dramatic sways to a slow, lilting pace. This combo of pensive mood and innovation makes me think of the bands of mid-’80s Washington, DC.

Jade Dust Grey Skies LP

Why does this record make me think ”grunge and ’90s alt-rock”? Is it the way the rhythm alternates between shambolic and thrashy? The distorted rhythm and strong lead guitars? For whatever reason, I feel this would fit nicely on the No Alternative compilation. The vocals have a gentle sneer that goes well with the otherwise splashy songs. Those songs felt bigger and more realized than their two-minute running time might allow. JADE DUST does more than alternate between verse and chorus, the song structures felt very deliberate and well-edited.

Paint It Black Famine LP

PAINT IT BLACK returns with their first record in ten years. I’m not 100% familiar with their two-decade old discography but if memory serves, this record sounds pretty much the same as they did when they began: fast, breakneck East Coast (pre-YOUTH OF TODAY) HC with a little (just a little) posi vibe. The sound quality is crisp and clear, which typically I dislike, but here it gives them an unsparing, unfussy sound. As an added bonus, “Safe” features a little floor tom/floor tom/snare/floor tom beat, maybe my favorite in all of hardcore. The lyrics are audible, which is not actually a problem for this band.

Appaloosa Lonely Stone postcard flexi

“Lonely Stone” is a short and sweet track of garage rock, heavily tilting towards the pop end. The barely distorted guitars and vocal harmonies give the song a glam feel. The novel format and the band’s curated image make this a fun work of living nostalgia.

Apatia Odejdź Lub Zostań LP

With this record, Nikt Nic Nie Wie continues to re-release the work of distinguished Polish HC/punk band APATIA. On their second LP, they sound better defined than before. Of course, it’s short, fast and (mostly) loud, but the band has always enriched or stretched the genre just a bit. There’s more lead guitar than you’d expect for hardcore, and the charging 4/4 rhythm is often altered in small, effective ways. I’m always a little nervous when punk bands instrumentalize too much. Luckily, on this record it felt of a piece rather than overshooting the mark. APATIA’s ambition (and maybe some good editing?) gives their hardcore a depth that other bands might not have.

Scum Shots / Skappository DCxPC Live, Volume 16: Live at Mr. Beery’s split LP

Another live recording from DCxPC, this time featuring a skacore and melodic HC split. It’s not hard to see how these two ended up together. Their combined knuckleheaded angst sounds like something lifted directly from a mid-’90s pop punk sampler. Like their skacore peers, SKAPPOSITORY’s upstrokes, blue beats, and keyboards are a kind of musical insert to an otherwise punk affair. They’re driven by distortion and aggression, ska’s just along for the ride. SCUM SHOTS are equally loud and melodic (some of these riffs will burrow into many an ear), but have some of the bouncy rhythms of a skate punk band. The two guitars are putting their hours in, providing a big, chunky sound.

Nite Sprites No Notes cassette

Punk’s bare bones nature is a good showcase for songwriting. That means NITE SPRITES have plenty of room for their memorable hooks, usually played on the cleaner end of distortion with some solid drumming. Songs like “Closer to the Back” and “The Ocean” begin with and build on some great, driving motifs.  Vocalists Case and Mambo alternate between growls and croons, bringing to mind bands like AGAINST ME! or YOUNG PIONEERS who bought some of the urgency of crust and hardcore to a more sincere punk rock.

The Wind-Ups Happy Like This LP

The WIND-UPS channel the RAMONES with the grit and noise of that band’s first records. The power chords come with the fuzz and crackle of a demo cassette, but without feeling too contrived. The songs are breezy and fun if you can let your guard down. I never felt like the cacophonous drums or vapid lyrics were too derivative or overdone. Of course they could, in fact, be those things, but I enjoyed this enough not to care.

Detroit 442 I’m Not Crazy I’m on Drugs CD

The vocals here will make or break your listen. They’re droning, snotty, and repetitive. I kept thinking of English anarcho-punk bands, whose vocals can be a barrier to entry. The guitars have a thin, whiny quality, which seems odd for a band really channeling bawdy bar punk. I kept waiting for them to thicken or turn up. This band initially struck me as a kind of bombastic proto-punk outfit, and they kept making choices which pulled me away from that impression. I don’t know if that contrast was intentional, but for me it defined the listen.

Nowaves Immaculate Protection cassette

There’s no denying the influence of UK post-punk and new wave here. Most of what you’ll hear on Immaculate Protection could have come right off the streets of ’70s Manchester. The pop sensibilities are adorned with all the peculiar sounds and sharp, treble-touched guitar of that period. I was happy to see the band muddy some of that shine, though. They occasionally mutate their melodies enough to maintain a dark, uneasy tone. Together with the singer’s almost monotone delivery, NOWAVES keep the revelry and angst flowing.

Bedlam Hour Win a Billion Dollars! CD

BEDLAM HOUR’s interpretation of melodic HC/punk is slick and professional-sounding, with all the rough edges smoothed away. In the past, it’s what might have been described as “commercial,” although I don’t know if that still applies. They jettisoned the abrasive, imperfect, and confrontational qualities associated with the genre, but kept some of its musical landmarks (power chords, relative brevity, etc.), polished the distortion, tightened the delivery, and cleaned up the recording. And Win a Billion Dollars! is clean. So clean you could eat off of it (if you choose to).

The Sporrs Big Joke EP

The SPORRS furnish their indie pop with a little feedback and yowling, but leave it otherwise undiluted. It’s a nice touch to their dulcet, PIXIES-eque record. Each song has a memorable tune which the band turns out in a thoughtful but not overthought way. Their punk DNA keeps things to-the-point. It’s all supported by some conservative but solid drumming.

Here Comes the Hooch Zipper Sounds LP

This record has an exuberant, slapdash feel, as if it were recorded on a whim. The drums have a honky-tonk stride with fuzzed-out guitars tilting the sound back towards garage. There are other qualities that feel more bar-room than studio: the group vocals, the feedback, and big, brash bass. Now all we need are some puddles of spilt beer and we’re set.

The Downstrokes This Close to Vertigo LP

The guitars on “This Close to Vertigo” are catchy in a conventional, RAMONES-worship way. They got stuck in my head easily. I mean, how is “Go Nowhere Kids” not already a song? But why does the band keep dragging songs past the two-minute mark?  I’m a big believer that a good riff speaks for itself. Excessive repetition can drain punk songs of the momentum they need. I get it, I’ve been in bands and sympathize with wanting to show off a good tune. The DOWNSTROKES should trust listeners to enjoy these tunes on their own merits without pushing a second or third helping.

Flashes Red That Halo Won’t Hide Those Horns EP

The band describes themselves as “post-COVID,” but they sound almost pre-Y2K to me. Not that I’m complaining, I think many who enjoy late ’90s and early ’00s emo-ish HC will find a lot to like here. The vocals are a gurgle-y growl and the drums often leave a gap between notes, giving the songs the aforementioned expressive emo feel. FLASHES RED switches smoothly from those parts to brief but charged HC thwapping, providing many opportunities for sing-alongs and pointed fingers.

Petty Grievances Wizard Tattoo EP

Fast, catchy, and moderately distorted stuff here. Some tracks could have been even shorter. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want a good riff in small portions. Punk songs can peter out pretty quickly, and I’d respectfully suggest many bands could imply some real editorial restraint and let the riffs speak for themselves. Please pop punks, I urge you: don’t tie yourself in knots repeating a chorus just to play it bass-only or insert the dreaded bridge-to-nowhere. PETTY GRIEVANCES churn out some real earworms, and if they trim some of the slack, it’ll be that much better.

Alex B Kurbis Mondays and Tuesdays CD

Mondays and Tuesdays doesn’t always go full speed ahead—it’s right on the edge of pop punk, emo, and indie rock. I mean, its melodies are engaging and energizing like pop punk, but the arrangements have a pensive, withdrawn feel that might limit the stagediving during shows. More than once, I heard the steady thump-thump-snap of drums that emo and melodic HC utilize so well. Of course, there are some big give-it-your-all chrouses. The band also takes time to slow down and croon enough to keep a toe in the emo camp. Sometimes they’ll throw a few complimentary notes onto the end of a chord to add to the striking, melancholy sound.

Strangelight Power, Rent, Control / A Three Day Weekend 7″

Two songs with rhythm, tempo and guitars sounding very pop punk in the gruff, slightly rough way some late ’90/early ’00s US and UK bands could be. But otherwise, this is very genre-neutral punk. You can tap your foot and sing along without much trouble, and the songs know how to quit when they’re ahead. All that and a sense of humor—I don’t ask for much else.

Institute Ragdoll Dance LP

INSTITUTE returns with their signature creepy/catchy sound, and some inevitable updates. They’ve kept their snaky guitar lines and sinister rhythms, but the production has a real distinct texture from their previous releases. It’s both restrained and full, quiet but boiling. I’m sure many of us can imagine louder, brasher versions of these songs, but the band really holds back. The guitars sound like they’re surrounding and nudging you instead of blasting towards you. The songs are a recognizable, stripped down punk’n’roll with some almost KISS-esque leads. This made me think of some other bands who fold in a touch of hard rock. All that aside, the band’s songwriting still hogs the spotlight and carries the album.

I Recover Until I Wake LP

It’s surprising how far small changes can go in HC/punk. If I RECOVER’s guitars had a little more bottom, they would be a pretty tight melodic HC outfit. Instead, the guitars sound a little lighter and looser than they could. The expressive drums and anguished, hoarse vocals help give the whole record a pensive, emo-ish feel. The songs are catchy, but the band doesn’t sound too focused on it. As their name suggests, the lyrical content is introspective and sincere.

Traidora Un Cuerpo Trans Lleno de Odio cassette

TRAIDORA presents seven tracks of stripped-down D-beat with a certain goth or deathrock quality—maybe it’s the cover art or the black metal-esque vocals. The record’s tone feels desperate and direct. The vocals echo and the guitars come with maximal treble, like a 33 RPM recording of a chainsaw sped up to 45 RPM. The drums are playing a one-two-one-two lurch, sounding like a pair of Docs clonk clonk clonking down an empty hallway.

Hyper Tensions Sick Soother LP

HYPER TENSIONS have some of the rougher, ominous qualities of contemporary garage. This gives them a slightly darker sound than simple ’60s revivalists. Still, this record sounds like it was made to dance to. The beats have just a little lift and space between them, which probably make live shows very fun. The guitars frequently have a primary melody with a secondary one laid on top. The band manages this arrangement well. I never felt like the music was needlessly complex or overdone. They describe themselves as psychedelic, but aside from meeting their reverb quotas, HYPER TENSIONS leave out most of the instrumentalism and indulgence of that genre. I think that choice left them with a shorter and sharper record.

A/WAY Regresar 12″

A/WAY’s beats arrive fast, with the bounce and rhythm that can make HC such an unexpectedly danceable genre. Of course, they’re mostly blasting 4/4 tempos, but they start, stop, and weave enough to avoid total uniformity. The guitars are satisfyingly thick, with a lead or metallic touch from time to time. The vocals are wrapped in (not drowned out by) the guitar and drums. A good listen for angry walking or tackling last week’s dishes.

Hundred Eyes Faking and Pretending LP

I think how the guitars on this album play is a little more important than what they’re playing. The music is what you’d find on a lot of punk and punk-adjacent records: simple melodies paired with more aggressive ones via varying degrees of distortion. But the rhythm and speed vary frequently and signal a change in each song’s mood. The drums help that along. They can play at a steady pace with some expressive flourishes, or ramp up to standard punk tempo, depending on the song. The vocals might be the only consistent part, maintaining an anguished howl for all twelve tracks. I felt hoarse just listening to them.

Red Rot [Title not identified] cassette

Imagine a protest chant set to music, and you’ll get pretty close to RED ROT. In style and substance, this band sounds like they assembled for the express purpose of playing a rally or march. The guitars are there, but felt like an accent on the drums and vocals. Those last two parts dominate the recording, repeating their grievances. It’s snotty, oppositional, and on-the-nose.

Spring Forward Still Care cassette

Several parts of this release sound like skate punk to me: rapid-fire bass/snare beats and a catchy guitar, but in a lower key. That last part felt weirdly sad in such a driving sound. The guitars have the satisfying crunch of a crust band, which gives everything a nice, percussive feel. When things slow down, the band is quiet and mournful with words to match. Sonically and lyrically, it’s equal parts despair and outrage.

Cleons Down 1995–1997 LP

Wow, for a discography, this is a short record. Just a hair over thirty minutes! The sound runs from melodic, occasionally funky hardcore punk to noisier emo-tinged numbers, and even a stray thrash metal riff. The tracks are ordered from newest to oldest. While there’s no big stylistic changes, you can hear how much more confident the band are by the end (or, uh, the beginning?). The record has a simple but sharp sound, like something recorded with mediocre equipment but a good ear behind the controls.

Nate Dionne Fantasy cassette

The hooks alone could have carried this cassette, but NATE adds some effective changes to the mold. The level of distortion and feedback can vary from standard to swallowing the song whole. The closing number switches the drum kit out for a machine. Sometimes the songs transform on the fly: the opening track is rough-and-tumble pop punk until it slows into a sludgy, dreamy pace and becomes a sort of cover or remix of itself. It’s a unique trip through familiar territory.

Cura Ab Sublimation cassette

CURA AB’s love of bouncy rhythms and grooves doesn’t enter full metal territory or pure noise. They actually sound restrained to me, since the songs didn’t go longer or louder than they do. I agree with that choice because I prefer wanting more over being served one last chorus/main riff reprise. There’s still plenty of volume and vitriol, along with some fun curveballs like a guitar lead instrumental and some creative drum work. The sound quality is cleaner than I prefer, but there’s enough bass in the mix to give it HC-grade umph.

Ra!d / Spetters split cassette

RA!D has the detached, clinical approach to punk fare that I associate with early UK post-punk. SPETTERS plays more conventional HC with a lot more downtempo slogging than usual. A bit of an odd pairing, but the cavernous audio quality seems like the through line. This split made more sense to me when I imagined watching these bands at the same show in an abandoned warehouse.

Meteor Police New Type Destroyer LP

METEOR POLICE has a weird, foreboding vibe to their grungy rock. Their guitars and lyrics noodle, rock, and crawl with a simultaneous playfulness and darkness. Two songs open with genuinely haunting riffs. The guitar and bass have a unique dynamic I can’t quite describe. The bass is usually playing a bit of a post-hardcore tune while the guitar sprinkles in these off-kilter, slightly bent lines. Every now and then, we hear a familiar HC/punk chord progression. That gave me just enough to orient myself between being thrown off balance again.

What About Now What About Now LP

This isn’t a loud record, except for the vocals. They’re placed right up front, maybe to highlight the lyrics, which continually touch on the theme and narrative of grieving. There are two singers, one with a nasal warble and the other with a more mid-range sound. I think we’re supposed to view the vocalist as a narrator, so this choice threw me off. Everything else has soft quality to it, even when the lyrics are telling god to “fuck right off.” The volume and temperature of guitars stay in the middle of the dial. It felt like a musical accompaniment to a poem.

Drag Pattern Granted Entries EP

This Florida outfit has big, chunky, metal-tinged guitars which sound layered upon layer. There can’t be more than six or seven chords on this entire EP, and they all arrive in grand stadium crust fashion. The vocals are just under, not over, the instruments. The tight drumming stands out, but there’s no fills, frills or flair, just an up-tempo apocalyptic galop. The whole thing is over before you can say “stretch jeans and a SELFISH shirt.”

Merger Second to Last EP

MERGER doles out free-jazz-sounding instrumentals before some brief post-hardcore bursts. I think this is an awkward choice for HC/punk because it pushes against both the genre’s brevity and simplicity. It’s not a side show either; the band really emphasizes the noodling that builds up to the screaming and buzzing. This combo always feels like it’s using experimentation in the service of faster, angrier parts. I think that’s not a good use of either style.

Brown Whörnet Not Called “Big Old Cup With Ice in It” LP

Not Called “Big Old Cup With Ice in It” has a funky, hard rock center with a lot of trimmings. Each song is crammed with instruments, sounds and changes. BROWN WHÖRNET juggles those with a middle-school sense of humor. Luckily, the bad taste arrives without edgelord-ism, but they sound like they could be FRANK ZAPPA fans, so who knows. The first track is brash and loud, while the next two settle into a meandering jam session vibe, although they’re certainly not mellow. At one point they descend into an organ-accompanied thrash metal riff. I’m not sure what to make of this, but maybe that’s the point.

The Owners The Owners LP

The OWNERS play pop punk so smooth, so harmonious, it veers into power pop territory. The squeaky-clean sound on their self-titled LP contrasts a bit with their world-weary, jaded presentation, but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything. The vocalist has a big, swing-for-the-fences style, which gets a workout since most songs break the two-minute mark. That length made me feel like they lost steam at a certain point. I mean, it’s not Hidden World, but still, punk favors brevity. The lyrics often have a real story to tell and it’s easy to get swept away by the rants and reminiscences.

Loins Loins 12″

First off, this EP’s cover is a still from Electrocuting an Elephant, an early 20th century film in which, you guessed it, an elephant is killed on screen. If there’s a good reason for using this image, the band doesn’t provide it. Yuck. Luckily, the edgelord antics end there. The rest of the album really splits its time between plodding hard rock riffs and brittle pop tunes with a menacing bass-and-drums undercurrent. This band could be playing something from the Doolittle outtakes and the rhythm section would still sound like it’s about to throw a floorpunch. The last track is a thrashing noise piece whose lyrics consist of the singer screaming “beans!”—the whole record is filled with this back-and-forth between sillines and severity.

Life in Vacuum Lost LP

LIFE IN VACUUM is very much alt-rock of the ’90s: a big guitar sound with a touch of punk in its louder moments. The songs can take a minute to arrive at the big, stick-in-your-ear chorus. Before that, you’ll get some very pro, pretty verses to provide the build-up. LIFE IN VACUUM could coast on that alone, but they keep the arrangements and guitar lines novel enough, which I appreciated. It’s not a gimmick, but it’s not a cover…they’re bolstered by the singer’s ability to carry both a tune and an anguished roar in equal measure.

Bull Shannon Chill Power!!!!! cassette

Here’s a few minutes of lean punk fun. Most of the songs are fast, bare-bones, and accompanied by a nasal whine. Did I mention it’s fast? The whole thing was over before I could finish this review. “Owl Wings” is the exception, with a sluggish beat and a group chorus complete with “whoa-oh-oh”s. The cassette’s no-frills, bass-heavy sound could be a work in progress, or maybe BULL SHANNON always sounds like this.

Tunic Wrong Dream LP

I don’t think TUNIC has the roar or bluster of the noisiest noise rock. Under the screech and scream of the guitars are some almost emo/post-hardcore rhythms of the bass and drums, more FUGAZI than PISSED JEANS. But when there is dissonance, it’s used to great effect. It pushes against the catchier parts to create a disturbing, unsettling feel. This really shows on songs like “Disease” and “Protected,” which feature sharp, siren-like guitar sounds over a steadier, easier bass line. This record sounds intentional without being over-baked or clunky.

Demand Nearly Human EP

DEMAND delivers a very by-the-numbers, pro run-through of early ’80s USHC with some of the anthemic qualities of Japanese D-beat. Nearly Human has a satisfyingly thick, grimy sound while still allowing the band to show off. They really have an ear for hooks and beats, the essential ingredients for a mid-song breakdown. I pointed my finger, pumped my fist, and windmilled straight through this record.

Arsou Arsou demo cassette

At first, I thought ARSOU’s songs changed a lot minute to minute. It kept me on my toes. After another listen, I realized the central riffs and chords just appeared in different incarnations: sometimes distorted, sometimes clean, bass-only, etc. This gives the music an uncertain, restless quality without feeling like a distraction. Besides that, they sounded to me like street punk playing at a slower, creeping tempo. This gives the songs an almost goth quality, though flamboyant they are not. At several points I expected them to fire on all four cylinders, but they kept the real fist-pumpers to a minimum, making them especially satisfying once they arrived.

Idiopathique Idiopathique cassette

IDIOPATHIQUE throws everything at the wall and sees what sticks. They tear through a mixtape’s worth of styles, from crust to MINUTEMEN-esque jazz parts to early ’80s HC. The dual vocals are pitched screams and growls throughout. I felt my attention pulled in too many directions here. All of those genres deploy more than enough aural input on their own. Featured back-to-back like this, they just felt like a hurdle instead of a provocation. It’s also possible that my middle-aged self is just fatally out of touch with the youth of today.

Tasiemka Wanna Po Dziadku LP

The moody post-punk of Wanna Po Dziadku is constantly tense, rarely providing catharsis or relief. Like others in the genre, the bass and drums lead, but the guitars still provide more than just backup. The chords and notes float over or through the more pronounced rhythm section. It’s an unnerving effect which makes the songs feel spare, harsh, and fleeting all at once. The music has a repetitive quality, but in fact subtly adds layers and evolves. Just don’t get your hopes up for an anthemic chorus or faster beat. TASIEMKA keeps things uncomfortable.

Rollsportgruppe Denkfabrik CD

ROLLSPORTGRUPPE have a nice bounce to their pretty trad rock. Or maybe it’s mod? The guitars have a dash of distortion and, with the drums, create some driving but uniquely restrained rock’n’roll. The vocals are pleasing yet hoarse and urgent. Don’t get me wrong, this is no snooze-fest, my foot was tapping the whole time. But the band holds back and lets the rhythms, stops, and starts do the work. The whole thing has a soft, almost whimsical tone.

Area 51 51 Fight! demo cassette reissue

Punks of a certain age, have you ever wondered what it would sound like if the vocalist from FILTH and members of ANTI-PRODUCT and AUS-ROTTEN met as teenagers and recorded a demo in their parents’ basement? Well, 51 Fight! has provided you with the answer. I’m not sure how much this fast-paced, grimy re-release adds to the annals of crust punk outrage but, for this reviewer, it was a trip to simpler, easier times.

Scrounger At the Edge of Our Abilities cassette

The guitars on this tape are sloppy pop punk with just a touch of reverb and an occasional bum note. The drums sound like a collection of cardboard boxes, pots, and pans. This is a sound I always associate with early ’00s bands like SHOTWELL or ADD/C. The whole thing sounds like an overdub of a bootleg, but SCROUNGER has great hooks and a sense of timing which makes them sound carefree rather than careless. At the Edge of Our Abilities is an easy, breezy ride on top of a punk rock freight car.

Society Problem Stolen Moment EP

There’s a whole lot of noise here, but the most disorienting feature is the rapidly changing drums. Every time I’m ready to settle into a nice raging rhythm, they halt, change speed, or even switch entirely mid-beat. It felt like a student driver riding the brake all down the highway. The vocals arrive via a busted speaker with traces of static. The whole thing is accompanied by a generous (or excessive) use of sound bites.

Spirit Dive Demo 2022 cassette

This demo features two versions of two songs: one electric, the other acoustic. This felt a little gratuitous to me since the latter didn’t depart too much from the former. SPIRIT DIVE’s tunefulness is front and center, so it’s not like you’d miss it but for the acoustic versions. The electric versions are delivered via flanged guitar and the vocalist’s deep, from-the-belly belting. The rhythm section is definitely putting their hours in balancing the guitar’s treble with a full, lower-register sound.

Hourglass Atomic Clock LP

Atomic Clock packs a lot into each song. They sound well-rehearsed, but I’m not sure such a busy sound is a good fit for hardcore. Often, they’re playing dissonant, jazzy chords at a stop/start pace before a pummeling doom or sludge metal chorus. The songs feel very deliberate and arranged, a real contrast to hardcore’s stripped-down M.O. The vocals are mixed right up front, which ensures you’ll hear the similarly elaborate lyrics. The band sounds eager to push the genre’s constraints. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the listener.

Snailbones Keelhaul ‘Em All LP

There is definitely noise here, though more punk than noise and more rock than punk. The guitars are a hard rock via grunge variety: blues riffs with the sensuality replaced by sludge. They’re supported by solid and occasionally very left-field drumming. The album seems cut down the middle to me. The first half features a few more awkward FLIPPER-style dirges, while the second spends a lot of time filtering pretty, saccharine tunes through a mesh of early ’90s Sub Pop angst. According to their Bandcamp page, Steve Albini will record their next album, which seems like a good fit.

Astrid Lindgren Świat Jak Śnieg LP

ASTRID LINDGREN’s songs seem built around their big, anthemic choruses. The build-up can be a restrained verse, a chugging guitar, or even some frantic post-punk bass lines. This record could be described as melodic hardcore, but the delivery feels more somber, more demonstrative than your typical rager. The band knows when to ease off the gas and give us time to recover from each peak. The end result sounds cathartic and urgent.

Sarin Reaper Sarin Reaper demo cassette

Four tracks of unhinged-sounding D-beat with a little of the wailing vocals and guitar I associate with crust and black metal. The band places the emphasis on delivery with the instruments melting into a wave of feedback and fuzz. The song titles and lyrics reference an infamous sexual assailant and anti-Jewish violence. In general, I dislike when bands flirt with this kind of imagery in such a morally ambiguous way.

Psyop Permanent Underclass cassette

PSYOP plays USHC while folding in the usual pairings: a thrash metal riff here, a beatdown interlude there, and of course, some brief, grindcore/Cookie Monster woofing from the vocalist. The songs sound good, in no small part because of the drummer, who fires off all the standard beats and rhythms seamlessly. The lyrics tilt more towards the political than the nihilistic. For fans of vegan potlucks and union drives.

Conditions Apply Rage & Ignorance CD

CONDITIONS APPLY aren’t especially catchy, but their songs still have a memorable, infectious quality, like a chant at a St. Pauli game. The drums deliver a martial beat while the guitars and vocals follow suit: three, maybe four chords barely identifiable under the distortion and rumbling bass. The lyrics include the usual suspects of left-wing punk grievances, but honestly, even the party song sounded like an angry screed.

Grout EP II cassette

EP II begins with a riff practically lifted from RUDIMENTARY PENI’s “Inside,” and continues in that vein from there. There’s Blinko and company’s stompy beats, buzzsaw guitar, and drums sounding like they’re played inside a cavernous warehouse. The tape occasionally deviates from that formula—”Confine” speeds up to a rollicking D-beat. But for the most part, they’re playing at the pace of pogo. I feel like I’ve heard all these songs before, which I mean in the best possible way.

Butcher’s Laugh Demo 2022 cassette

Like many of my favorite HC/punk bands, BUTCHER’S LAUGH is tuneful under all the noise. Sure, the guitars are abrasive and the drums rarely move beyond a pogo march, but the songs have a little ’77 or early ’80s hardcore catchiness. The band isn’t just throwing one over the other; the harmony and dissonance work together. The tape ends with an air raid siren wailing over the fading feedback. I’ve heard this move countless times, but it sounds a little less ironic in 2023.

Abi Ooze Forestdale Sessions cassette

JOAN JETT and the RAMONES are listed as influences here, and reader, this is no lie. Prepare to be whisked away to a basement show in your senior year. It’s packed with friends, randos, and a janky PA. You’ve endured the awful nü metal band who bought the keg, but then some unassuming looking punks plug in, turn up, and play a set that blows everyone away. You pogo, drink watery beer, and break the chair sitting down too hard.

Teen Cobra Live at Funtastic Dracula Carnival 2021 cassette

Bad sound quality can hurt a recording, but here it is truly a member of the band. The guitars are playing straight out of the LEUSEMIA and RAMONES playbooks, and the drums are a spartan but joyful bass-and-snare stomp. Maybe there’s a tambourine? Or is that feedback? No new tricks here, but that spareness is engaging. It could also be that the songs are satisfyingly catchy and snotty. This is not as easy to pull off as one might believe. “Any fool can make something complicated, but it takes genius to keep it simple.”

Kometa Our Open Bodies Will Respond LP

This is melody-heavy indie rock with a somber touch. There’s a lot of harmony, a little reverb, and a bunch of light guitars played over PIXIES-esque bass lines. Several songs move at a dreamy pace as those faint guitar notes linger on for seconds. At one point, they stretch into a prolonged drone. It’s a nice-looking record with a clean, professional sound.

Curtains / Swift Knuckle Solution DCxPC Live Presents, Volume 7 split EP

I’m not a big proponent of live albums from the listener’s standpoint—most of the time, they don’t measure up to a band’s other releases. Even when they’re good, they’re often issued in order to fulfill a label deal or to make some cash for defunct bands (no judgment, punks gotta eat). I can’t say this record is better than either of the featured band’s studio recordings, but it’s not bad either. CURTAINS are right at the stylistic crossroad of pop punk and hardcore (think LEATHERFACE or LIFETIME). SWIFT KNUCKLE SOLUTION is a more cut-and-dry hardcore affair. This is a good showcase for each and a good excuse to give DIY bands some more cash.

Busy Weather Busy Weather 12″

Rough-around-the-edges pop punk from Asheville, North Carolina. For some of you, this says it all. For everyone else, a brief stylistic overview: the above description refers to a micro-genre of pop punk, mostly from the Southeastern US, typically without the smooth finish of an Epitaph or Fat Wreck release. There’s plenty of memorable guitars and vocals that are equal parts abrasive and melodic. The tempo rarely goes much over 150 BPM and sometimes it can slow to a sleazy crawl. This record competently covers all those bases. If you liked anything from ADD/C to FUTURE VIRGINS, this release sits comfortably alongside them in a crowded living room show.

Ella Se Peló Resiliencia cassette

ELLA SE PELÓ shifts musical gears throughout this record, usually at a manic pace. It’s not that thrash metal riffs, post-HC noise, or melodic hardcore are so different from one another, but the frequency with which they’re rotated here left me spinning. It felt like I was listening to a sampler of 30-second-long songs by different bands. Luckily, each of those bands was quite good. ELLA SE PELÓ is incredibly tight and executes all those riffs, breakdowns, and instrumentals with skill. Each part, however different, sounds great, if a bit brief. I would have preferred to stay with one or two styles the whole time, or for longer stretches.

The Wirms Live at the Lamplighter Lounge cassette

Not too fast, not too loud punk rawk in what sounds like a very crappy bar (not a complaint). The singer gives us a raspy yowl and a Jello warble while playing US ’76–79-style riffs with most of the flair scooped out. Much like cover song records, I just don’t think live albums are necessary. This one does not capture the qualities which make the band’s demo and other releases a lot of fun.

The Ejector Seats Brand New Catastrophe LP

Many songs on Brand New Catastrophe seem out-of-tune at first, but soon roll out a complementary riff and presto! It’s an earworm! It’s a gimmick, but a good one. Unfortunately, other gimmicks age poorly: I think the vox-thru-a-megaphone move peaked by 2002, and just because you can overlay a riff with a keyboard mimic (think My Brain Hurts-era SCREECHING WEASEL) doesn’t mean you should. But sometimes all these extra bells and whistles provide a nice kick, like an espresso shot in your coffee, which is good enough for me.

Call in Dead Patriarchy / Religious Wars 7″

What it says on the tin. Gender critique over blastbeats followed by a faithful rendition of a punk rock standard. Personally, I think covers are best reserved for live shows. However, this version is fine, but omitting the rapid-fire bass notes during the bridge’s opening? Really?! The aforementioned blastbeats sound best when played to the verge of pure noise, so when the band appears to ease off the pedal, I believe something is lost. Maybe it’s the production’s fault? I recommend using much crappier equipment and burying the result in your backyard for a few weeks.

 

Icepield A​ɪ​SP​ɪ​ː​LD cassette

I don’t know how to pronounce this cassette’s title, but I do know that this is late ’90s/early ’00s emo. The songs are on the sophisticated end of the genre: tense, scale-crawling guitar parts appear alongside layered power chords. The former come with occasional chugging riffs, which give it a pop punk tint. The vocals are a real SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE/BRAND NEW whine. The band mostly plays it safe musically but stretches the boundaries a few times, which kept me on my toes.

Pacino Sedm Sv​ě​tů LP

PACINO has real energy under their sometimes understated delivery. The bass and drums propel the songs, though you might miss them at first—behind the riffs, they’re defining and pushing the music forward. The guitars mostly play around the bass, providing complementary notes instead of a louder, more distorted mimic. The rough vocals have a wonderful harmony at their core. The band’s genre feels familiar, but I’m struggling to identify it—’90s alt rock? Lo-fi indie? If you’re interested in the answer, please give it a listen.

Under Pressure Vicious Bite & Vengeance Demo LP

Graffiti font! American flags! Outer boroughs! It’s the whole schtick. This re-release is pretty cut-and-dry late ’80s NYHC. It retains the short-fast-loud DNA with some post-YOUTH OF TODAY breakdowns and mid-tempo beats. There’s even Cause for Alarm-style guitar shredding for good measure. The poor audio quality makes this more of an historic document than a genre highlight.

Beex / L’Amour split LP

Two bands with a shared member and shared sensibilities. BEEX plays slightly rocked-up, boilerplate blues. Thankfully we’re spared lengthy guitar solos. L’AMOUR delivers more of the same with a RAMONES-y, MÖTORHEAD-y tilt. The sound on this LP is pro enough, though I suspect poorer quality would’ve been suitable, too. The soundtrack to a perfectly crappy bar.

Pembroke All the Brightest Pictures LP

PEMBROKE ties a bunch of different HC/punk genres together, which could sound dynamic or awkward depending on the listener. The writing and execution of any single riff or song is just fine, but the change between post HC riffs, breakdowns, crooning, and even reggae sounded forced to me. The production is nice and clean, like a ’90s Epitaph or Fat Wreck release.

No Dead Monsters Line Up / D Hall 7″

Punk, no chaser. The vocals are mixed louder than the guitars, usually a bad sound. Did we learn nothing from the first CLASH LP? The choruses are memorable and stuck in my ears after the finish. There’s only two songs here, the perfect length for a punk record.

Public Opinion Modern Convenience LP

The record begins with a stomping, almost hair rock riff and keeps that spirit throughout. This is a punk interpretation of rock, or maybe rock poured through a punk filter. The rhythm is steady, not raging, and there’s cowbells kissing the honky tonk breaks. The power chords are crisp and the singer is ready to “break down the door” ‘cuz they “were right all along.”

Touchhole Touchhole demo cassette

Lo-fi (and I mean low) bass, drums, and noise combo. It’s dissonant but not totally off-the-rails, i.e. there’s definitely a beat, vocals, and something resembling a melody. Imagine a hardcore record with vocals fed through an effects pedal and guitars sped up or slowed down beyond recognition. Kinda feels like TOUCHHOLE is trolling the listener, like “just how much of this can you tolerate hearing?” Your answer may dictate how much you like this.

Destiny Bond 2022 Promo cassette

DESTINY BOND dials back the distortion and lets the riffs and drums drive, and drive they do! They dispense galloping D-beats and floor-punchy breakdowns with expertise. The singer’s aggrieved, sarcastic gripe is a nice change of pace from being barked at. The mostly straight-line punk riffs occasionally insert melodic notes and fills but mostly keep it simple, which is as it should be.

Ottawa The Third Age 12″

This rerelease sure has a musical time stamp. Listeners will find plenty of mid-’90s USHC hallmarks: fast, occasionally breakneck tempos, blastbeats spliced in, and forays into crossover thrash territory here and there. The two vocalists trade high-pitched screams and a hoarse shout respectively. And of course, there are lots of (maybe too many) movie soundbites.

The Wilful Boys World Ward Word Sword LP

The WILFUL BOYS keep things loud, but also like to bring out their songs’ different qualities, be they aggro or poppy, lurching or raging. The vocals are a talky drone just as often as a hardcore snarl. My favorite songs restrain the ‘core just a little and dash in some pop or discordant noise. Sometimes it’s nice to get your angst sideways.

Milk TV Anorak / Bowery Swing 7″

MILK TV channels early ’80s post-punk and it’s coming in loud and clear. I heard a bit of DELTA 5, MERCENÁRIAS, and DEVO in the mix. The songs’ melodies and rhythms sneak up on you in a great way. They can seem awkward or aimless at first, but in no time you’re in the midst of a totally weird, totally danceable number and you realize you’ve been headed there the whole time.

Komplex Viny Pohřeb Všedního Dne EP

Czech Republic’s KOMPLEX VINY often runs up to and hops over the line between crust and metal. You’ll hear buzzsaw chords one moment and a bit of guitar shredding the next. The gruff vocals arrive complete with a gurgle at the back of the throat. The delivery is excellent, but the pro production quality (a common feature in this genre) feels out of place. I prefer my crust a little crustier.

Death Bag Death Bag LP

I think music benefits from a sense of fun, especially when it’s otherwise dark or morbid. Maybe DEATH BAG agrees? Their kinda deathrock, kinda psychobilly style benefits from danceability and larger-than-life vocals. Generally, the record is a goth-y bag of lower register tunes at a steady but driving pace and with a little mangled, weird guitar sprinkled throughout. Pair with your favorite monster flick or thunderstorm.

Kirkby Kiss Ouroboros CD

The sounds on Ouroboros rotate between staccato, rapid-fire guitar and more trad HC/punk rhythms. There are quieter, prettier build-ups which provide an almost screamo tinge. The band packs a lot into each song but keeps things short. That’s a good choice, because even when they’re boundary-pushing, most punk songs petter out after the two-minute mark.

Ford’s Fuzz Inferno Fuzz the Universe! EP

The music here is really driven by the roaring guitar. It sets the pace for the rhythm section rather than vice versa. It’s big, static-y, and yes, “fuzzy.” The band injected a few trad rock’n’roll elements: notes running down the scale and the occasional tamborine. The medieval imagery on this release (and all their others) adds a fun, out of left-field vibe to the music.

Ensor Stench of Morgue, Scent of Parties cassette

Stench of Morgue, Scent of Parties begins with a D-beat number, complete with spartan bass/snare thumping over reverbed vocals. The band quickly departs from that format while staying in the musical neighborhood. Throughout you’ll hear noisy, squealing guitar, a slower, blues-y beat under a fuzzy bass, and piercing single notes. Think of this as a kinda noise (not music) revue. Enjoy!

Canadian Rifle I’m Just Like You EP

CANADIAN RIFLE has long delivered pop punk via chugging guitars, floor toms, and agnst. That’s the sound for a host of bands from the early-to-mid-’00s. This record has the musical markers you’d expect: distorted but tuneful guitar, intentional dissonance, and earnest but irreverent lyrics. I think this record sounds just a touch sharper and leaner than past releases. If you spent your youth spinning the first BENT OUTTA SHAPE EP, or IRON CHIC later on, you might want to pick this up.

Angry Adults Obsessed (With You) EP

This record features six tracks of pop punk with a clean and crisp sound. The emphasis is on the “pop” here. The distortion isn’t loud or harsh enough to overwhelm the rhythm section, a sound I always associate with Epitaph and Fat Wreck records of the ’90s. The vocalist has nasal rasp to compliment all those pretty tunes. A good pick for fans of this genre.

Wirus Pychoza LP

The sound on Psychoza is tuneful and even a little danceable. There’s singing, not screaming, which is always a challenge for punk. But the vocals have enough growl and gurgle to keep the punx (or at least me) happy. The bass has a real sharp, treble-heavy sound which brings to mind KID DYNAMITE or the CHOKING VICTIM LP. The whole record has a great, consistent sound without becoming repetitive.

Side Effect Suicide Tuesday! 12″

SIDE EFFECT plays their punk by the numbers with power chords, great little earworms, and snarled, raspy vocals. All throughout they capably add additional melodies, briefly quiet down and ramp back up again. This record is short and sweet. Its catchy and shambolic style brings to mind the OBSERVERS.

Two Man Advantage DCxPC Live Presents: Two Man Advantage LP

NY’s TWO MAN ADVANTAGE are one the metro area’s longest continually-running punk bands. They have a formula and stick to it: standard-issue hardcore punk with a hockey theme. This LP features songs from NYC and Las Vegas shows. Personally, I don’t like live albums. They seem unnecessary for punk songs, which typically don’t vary much between the recorded and live versions. The mix here is nothing special and the second set is especially poor. TWO MAN’s strengths, honed since the 1990s, are better captured on their studio albums.

Dispo / Telesatan split LP

Both TELESATAN and DISPO feature a lot of feedback, clamor, and fuzz. TELESATAN plays fun, conventional punk defined by a big farty bass sound, cymbal crashes, and screeching guitars. The vocalists scream, yowl and taunt (think BLATZ’s side of Shit Split). Occasionally they slow to a FLIPPER-like crawl. DISPO’s songs continue in this vein. Both bands balance out the noise with catchy riffs and choruses.

Apatia Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna Faszyzm LP

The music on APATIA’s 1992 debut varies a bit within its HC/punk framework. While the drums beat an even pace, the guitarist plays palm-muted riffs, conventional leads, or dissonant, almost math-rock scales along with the standard three distorted chords. They can also quiet down while the bass and drums lead. The band is innovative while remaining faithful to the genre. Unfortunately, the songs don’t always tie these different sounds together. They can sound like parts of altogether different songs spliced into one. But APATIA on record are an otherwise tight unit, even when their musical ambitions get ahead of them.

D.Y.E. D.Y.E. cassette

D.Y.E begins their cassette with a steady thump of bass and floor toms, accompanied by looming feedback. After that, they plow and plod through the next three songs. These qualities are staples of the ’80s US hardcore repotoire, which the band clearly studied. The demo’s moderate audio quality allows them to show off that attention to detail. The vocals are a touch lower than the guitars and drums, making it sound like the singer is screaming to match their volume. This can invoke a show in a basement, dive bar, or dive bar in a basement.

Radiation Risks Strawberry Quick LP

RADIATION RISKS’ punk rock is usually undistorted and accompanied by keyboards and sax, giving it a garage rock feel. However, they weave in different genres while keeping those trappings. That can risk sounding gimmicky or pastiche, but they make it work, mostly by finding the common musical denominator in all the styles. Occasionally, the genre jamming isn’t so smooth, though—the change from an otherwise straightforward garage track to blatant DISCHARGE riffs was so abrupt it made me laugh in surprise. The vocals are hoarse and scratchy, occasionally producing a LITTLE RICHARD-esque yelp, which sounds quite at home.