Reviews

Luke Henley

The Stonemen Faded Colors / In the Evening 7″ reissue

This is heavy, heady stuff, the way unearthed garage should be. What really stands out on these tracks from this woefully obscure Canadian quartet is what a downer they are. This is heavy not just for its fuzz or its four-on-the-floor stomp, but also for its doom-laden atmosphere. I love an unholy racket, and this satisfies that while also bringing the melody. Not as bluesy as the GROUNDHOGS and more straightforward than the MONKS, this carves its own space in history of the bummer side of stonerdom. Crucial listening.

Schizos Banned! From the Hi Tone cassette

I want to make my own “If you don’t like SCHIZOS, fuck you” shirt. They’re such a refreshing band in that you know immediately if you’re in their corner or not. And if you’re not, friend, you should sip your beer elsewhere. This is beautifully unhinged and sounds shit-hot (I mean, recorded by Erik Nervous and mastered by Will Killingsworth, so no surprises there). There are very few groups that I’d rather hear a live recording of (I’m reminded of OBN III’s Live in San Francisco for the extra jolt of energy and the combative stage presence) and now I have another. And then there’s just the biggest dick-kicking cover of “Born 2 Be Wild” that actually manages to make me finally get that song. What this tape really gets across is that while the narrative is that this is totally unhinged, chaotic rock‘n’roll, this band is tighter than Rambo’s bowstring. Where I expected a sloppy, glorious blaze of glory, I got a band that knows exactly who they are and exactly how to blow up a stage. Heavy as hell. Wish I were there. Doubt I’d remember if I were.

Catastrophic Dance Ensemble Vol. 1 cassette

Dial Club brings us more drum machine bedroom weirdness with this Ohio duo. But at this point, is it even that weird? This is in that same pocket we’ve been in for a while with bands like FREAK GENES and even some of ALIEN NOSEJOB’s oeuvre. There is, however, a little more of an unhinged feel to this. Bedroom, blown-out howled vocals and space siren guitars bring character to a subgenre of a subgenre I’d otherwise assume I knew everything about. So when a track like “Pay Me” really locks me in, manically bobbing my head at my desk like a true on-the-clock rocker, I take notice. It’s hard to do something the same but different, to innovate on a formula no matter how niche it is, but these two have done just that. By the closing track, “Again, Again,” I don’t know what to expect. Especially not the dissonant dystopian street anthem that devolves into echoey madness that hits a wall and goes dark prematurely. Kept me wanting more, for sure.

Hogar Todos Contra Todos LP

It’s just like me to wait until the end of summer is in sight for the perfect record for the season to fall in my lap. This tight ten-tracker is bright, fast, and sharp, with more hooks per capita than I can keep track of. Firstly, the bassist is a mad scientist. So many bass players forget how much melody they can pack their toolbox with. Not so with mononymously-credited Javato. I’m spending a lot of ink (or RAM, I guess) to focus on this because he’s so goddamn good. The bouncy tunefulness of early GREEN DAY in the least corny way possible, and it anchors the whole three-piece’s sound, which is chameleonic in how it can slip from hazy, golden hour heavy pop to necksnappers from track to track. Highest marks, though, go to a song the repeat button was made for, “Intruso.” It’s that riff we all love, you’ll know when you hear it. But it goes places with it you don’t expect, and with the whole band backing up the vocals you can’t help but shout along. This is a joyous blast of punk with the faintest whisper of garage—if this were a martini, the garage would be the vermouth and have just rinsed the glass, but I’m damn glad it’s there. Celebrate the end times of summer with this stunner from Spain.

Heat Wrays Heat Wrays demo cassette

I don’t know if these Leeds-based lads met at uni, but you could assume so from the sound of this tape. It’s all a bit erudite, showing off tidy proceedings of wiry guitar interplay with a healthy dollop of apathetic vocalizing that I’m sure the band is tired of hearing compared to PARQUET COURTS (that first one, though, when everyone thought they’d be the new PAVEMENT). I like the songs here overall, they’re not breaking any new ground but the melodies stick in your head and there’s enough variety to keep you engaged. I’m not entirely sold on the vocals on second cut “The Athlete,” but I stand firm that very few bands can pull off talk verses in this day and age. Leave it to LEWSBERG and URANIUM CLUB, that’s my advice. At the end of the day, this is a demo, and it sounds like it. I wish them well, and with some seasoning in the pan they could cook something with confidence down the line.

Born Cursed Born Cursed cassette

Beligerent hand-tattooed hardcore out of Massachussetts? Yes. A thousand times yes. This band brings a brick down with their focused take on metallic-tinged HC. There’s a clean, crisp feel to the recording, which normally I’m less onboard with, but it brings a clarity that adds heft and ferocity to this speedy grip of six tracks. There are even more than a few toes dipped into powerviolence, such as on minute-long bruiser “Anti Everything.” There isn’t much on display here other than solid, competent hardcore that will bang your head for you and open the pit on a weeknight. Good effort all around, though might not stick in your head.

No Fix Neon Dreams cassette

With this level of snottiness, you might want to hand a tissue over to Matt Menard, the sole writer/performer under this moniker. You know, snotty in that way we all like, especially putting out this genre of garage punk with major pop sensibilities. It’s a mostly successful grip of songs, not doing much to outshine greats like the MARKED MEN’s Mark Ryan, whom Menard most resembles here. The title track makes the most waves, with a big, dumb classic rock breakdown that will bend your neck compulsively. Otherwise, this is pretty darn good and not much else.

Crawl Space Crawl Space demo cassette

This is an easy one to review, as it’s been playing in my tape deck since it came out. This band basically shares the exact DNA of Washington’s excellent/defunct PITBUL (including one of the PNW’s best shredders Jose Mora, also from GAG), and brings a concise violence to hardcore that rattles your teeth and satisfies on a primal level. I even dig the production, even if it sounds like the drummer is performing on a metal trash can. But that’s what this is, quick and mean and grittier than the cat box. Step into the CRAWL SPACE. Zero fat, face-cracking hardcore.

The Neuros (Baby) Don’t EP

Hell of a way to kick in the door and state your purpose. This debut announces the NEUROS’ significant talents as a fiery rock crew that bridges the gaps between four decades of punk and garage. The vocalist, Freya, is a major draw here, and her charged melodic yelp wonderfully cuts through the bar-band din at its sharpest. All-around, this record, mixed/mastered by one of Australia’s hidden gems David Forcier, sounds damn near perfect. The bass has presence, not mudded out like it often is, which adds all the more punch to the crunch of the guitars. This thing pummels, but you can pogo to it. It harkens back to tried-and-true punk methodology, but sounds fresh and tough. What more could you want?

Strange Colours Future’s Almost Over LP

The right kind of lifer just does it better, as clearly evidenced here by longtime ‘roller Andrew Mozynski (the DEADLY SNAKES) and cohorts (especially Ryan Rothwell of POW WOWS on guitar, bass and vocals). From track one, this full-length hits hard from the pocket. The drums pound with the kind of raw force and precision-with-a-swing you could almost sample—an erstwhile “amen” break from the garage. These songs are immaculate, styled well but authentic, with plenty of pop, echo, and grit. Jay Lemak brings the garage sound with beautifully blown-out organ and the guitar cuts like a razor. Here’s a thing I don’t bring up enough that shines here, too: the tracklist. Not everyone knows how to guide the vibe of an LP, but each of these songs builds a narrative. It takes some smarts to not let the energy out of the room, and somehow by the time you get to mid-album burner “Sea of Tranqs,” it still gives you extra juice you didn’t know the band was capable of, only to follow with a dark night of the soul highway mood piece “Valley of No Return” to cool you off. Every piece is in the right place, and if it seems like I’m raving, I am. Finding new jolts in garage is hard, and sometimes that’s why you gotta go to the experts. The record has been out for some time, so quit sleeping on it and grab a copy.

Gonk Gonk cassette

There’s a lot to be said about bedroom tinkerers putting out home-taped outsider punk like this. I respect it, keyboard drums and telephone-compressed guitars/vocals and all. But it doesn’t shake my ass. There’s a sleepiness to this tape, and one could call it restraint, which has its place (and is often underrated). But even on the shout-along chorus (on paper) of “UFO,” it’s too muted to reach out and grab me. It’s a great exercise in aesthetic and execution, with dialed-in songwriting, but I just wish it had some wattage behind it.

Living World World EP

The latest in a crop of blown-out, echo chamber hardcore that won’t stop swinging on you once you’re down. The energy and attitude is undeniable, but the writing is also complex. It’s a magic trick to write such seemingly straightforward hardcore, when all the while the tempo is fluctuating and everything is far removed from the usual “verse/chorus” arrangement. I’m not saying it’s prog or anything, but a cut like “Spite Controller” just drags you through an entire microcosm of anger, pain, and ultimately catharsis that never lets you quite catch your breath or find even footing. All in less than a minute-and-a-half. Masterclass hardcore.

Paranoid State Great Divider LP

This ten-track collection has a tough enough approach to melodic punk. There’s grit in the vocals, and on standouts like “Self-Doubt,” there is an appealing bum-out minor key vibe. Overall, the album doesn’t grab me, but it’s hard to dock it points arbitrarily. The bassist, I’ll say, takes it a couple steps too far sometimes with overly mobile playing that often stubs its toe into the rest of the band. But there are some solid shout-alongs here. “False Prophet,” bassline excepted, centers on a deeply satisfying crash of a chorus. In the end, it’s a good enough batch of songs that could use a little editing (the closing track is baffling, no part seems to cohesively lead to another). With some work on editing and songwriting chops, the band could catch my ear.

AJ Cortes and the Burglars / Rude Television split cassette

How can you not root for this kid AJ CORTES, who at twelve years old started cranking out bops with the confidence some of us in our thirties are still chasing (not a projection, I swear…). The fact that he plays all the instruments himself, records himself, designs all the tapes, runs a label and is basically a one-person punk factory all before his teen years, it’s nothing short of amazing. And it’s not novelty, like you see this tape and go “oh, this is the kid who makes garage punk.” This is the real deal. “Never Ever” thrashes, it’s tight and ferocious with a massive bass line and convincingly pissed-off vocals. “Teenage Bozo” likewise hits the mark dead on. You’d have to be a jerk to write this off, and my only hope is he doesn’t burn out on it all. Can’t wait to see where he goes from here. On the flipside, we have another Florida solo punk band, on the brainier side of things with a tip of the cap to Australian compatriots in wiry rock‘n’roll. Overall, this tape is exciting and a whole hell of a lot of fun.

Irmans Hermano / I Wanna See You 7″

Wearing the SPITS’ influence on your sleeve is a curse, especially when you’re cranking out squeaky clean, lightly keyboarded songs like these. When the drums build up on the lead song and the keys underline the bass in true SPITS fashion, the head bobs almost as muscle memory. But these tracks, no matter the leather jacket look on the cover, have none of the meat-in-teeth maniacal energy that the band is promising. The B-side “I Wanna See You” is more satisfying, and seems truer to the band’s actual mission. It’s a jangly, melancholic sad pop song with nimble fretwork and a good hook. Stick to ’80s revival guitar pop, IRMANS, it suits you.

Heavy Comforter 5 Joey and the Rapid Dogs! LP

Like the Fernando Pessoa of bedroom fuzz-pop, William Johnson (FUTURE VIRGINS, BIG KITTY, and more) has created a full band of alter egos to bring us Joey and the Rapid Dogs! Like the aforementioned Portuguese poet, who wrote under 30-plus “personas” all with full backstories and signature styles around the turn of the previous century, Johnson credits a full roster of musicians who simply don’t exist. It’s an interesting exercise that lends itself to the character exploration of Joey, the core of this shambolic “rock opera.” The songs have a grandiosity to them, in bold declarative jams like “Talkin’ Bout Mental Health,” that is tempered by the use of a drum machine throughout. It’s reminiscent of TOM GRRRL, JACK NAME, or even a much less silly GENE DEFCON. The songs are homemade but tightly constructed and delivered with a sort of detached vocal style. The whole affair is clearly a labor of love, but is performed with a couldn’t-care-less attitude, lending another layer of strangeness. The results aren’t always compelling, which feels somewhat inevitable stretched across sixteen tracks, but there is plenty here to stick around for. Looking forward to Johnson getting the “band” back together for more.

Rude Television Distractions cassette

I miss my Tascam. There is something totally different about how you approach recording music with limitations, whereas if you start using a DAW, you can get lost in the options. This tape exemplifies what you can do with a point of view, the ability to play multiple instruments, and capable yet not limitless technology. The results are laser-focused bedroom punk with a synth-y undercurrent. It would be easy to compare this to R.M.F.C. and it has its similarities, but this project has its own voice that is snotty and fun in all the right ways. It has its debt owed to the DEAD MILKMEN as well, at least vocally, but what is impressive is how varied the sound is from cut to cut. This isn’t some homogeneous same-y six tracks of “been there, done that” bedroom punk. The songwriting is solid, the rhythm tight and right on, and there’s just the right amount of fuzz and echo to sell you on the authenticity of it all. Spaced-out rockers like “Operate” strike on a reptilian level, you simply have to bob your head. Cleaner tone forays into post-punk rhythms, such as on closer “Transformer No. 1,” are just as satisfying, proving the project has legs to walk wherever it wants to next.

White Stains Blood on the Beach EP

Punk has always been defined by either how much you give a shit or how little, and Pittsburgh’s WHITE STAINS exemplifies the appeal of both. The music feels urgent, it’s seasoned, driving, old school punk rock with a good sizzle to it. Early ’80s California scene-indebted but not corny or retro. The vocals, on the other hand, sound like they were recorded with a beer in one hand while sitting on the couch. I mean that in the best way possible. The sarcastic “ha ha ha” on closer “Laughing Gas” drips with dismissal. Like you’re dumb for even listening. It’s the kind of degradation that leaves me desperate for more. Each track has teeth and chews on you like a bone, the songwriting is solid and varied. As the Steven Wright punchline goes, “see, that’s how you do that.”

Lamprea Explosiva Gravacións 2014–2018 cassette

Long runtimes are for overrated studio films these days. Everything seems to go on way too long. Life’s too short? Not if you’ve been paying attention. Thank the gods of shambolic rock‘n’roll, then, for collections like this. LAMPREA EXPLOSIVA keeps the songs chaotic (but firmly on the rails) and brief, injecting you with sugary fuzz in seconds flat again and again. These cuts are fun with teeth, the sort of joyed-out bedroom punk that wears a smile as an act of rebellion with plenty of melody and amp-damage in equal measure. And, most importantly of all, you won’t be bored for a second or skipping to the end.

The Floaties Now in Colour EP

These days, I’d normally think you’re signing your own death warrant being compared to DEVO. This band managed to flirt around the same atmosphere without getting sucked in too close, however. The active, syncopated riffing and humanist machine vocals are reminiscent, but the band also brings a power-popping confidence to the table as well. Through four cuts, the band keeps your head bopping the whole time. The vocals have a great sonorous quality to them and the rhythm section absolutely rumbles. Then it goes off the rails, as “Dead Right” swings in like a Stiff Records classic. The track builds brilliantly from a repetitive dual riff and vocals to a full-on jam: think WRECKLESS ERIC morphing into THIN LIZZY before your very eyes. That’s the kind of trick of the ear I can come back to a thousand times. Killer brainy rock‘n’roll.

X-Intruder Punished for the Crime of Lacking in Judgement LP

This is heartless punk with all the flesh melted off. Yes, it’s a Terminator on the cover. Yes, it’s a perfect metaphor for the sound. Sometimes a band’s clarity of vision makes my job that much easier. Guitars here are dialed in for assassination, and the rest of the band sounds cruel—especially the pummeling electronic percussion. The band isn’t without melody, though, with tracks like “Never Let Your Public Down” hitting like NO TREND with hooks. The vocals, though, are vicious. Catchy aggression will take you very far in this genre. Anyone can sound like they hate you—it takes a real mechanic to leave just enough heart to stick with the listener. The guitar leads that soar above the rest of the chaos do a lot of heavy lifting, but the engine running it all runs strong from start to finish.

Imploders EXD cassette

There’s something exciting about sharing new material in a live setting. I don’t mean if you’re just “some band” telling the audience you have a couple new ones, I mean specifically when recording a release for general consumption. Land Speed Record remains one of my favorite HÜSKER DÜ records partly for the gall of releasing your debut as a live record. So I’m excited by this bruising Toronto troupe releasing their follow-up to an excellent debut EP as a live session from Equalizing Distort Radio. It sounds great, beefier than your typical thin basement demo but with all the dials in the red where it counts. There’s an ’80s influence here—especially in that guitar tone blurring the line between clean and filthy, as well as the bratty, acrobatic vocals—but it all sounds like a fresh jolt of juice. Excited to see what comes next, but in the meantime I’ll play this a couple dozen more times.

Oust Never Trust a Politician EP

Three tracks of ultra-bleak Dutch hardcore. This band wastes no time tearing into fast and ferocious territory with plenty of room for pit-demolishing breakdowns. No, not in a bro hardcore way, like truly violent-sounding. This band started out straighter kängpunk, but thankfully is in stranger, more satisfying territory with these songs. The echoing, throat-rattling vocals have major presence, and the guitars add texture and tone from across several genres from traditional hardcore to deathrock. It all blends, though; this doesn’t sound “experimental” but rather is a no-frills affair. Slams from the needle drop ‘til the bitter end.

The Missile Studs / Thee Evil Twin 10 Piece Feed split 12″

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I just have this bone in my ear that wiggles wrong when rock‘n’roll music comes in too squeaky clean. That bone is wiggling here for sure with Sydney’s THEE EVIL TWIN. The music is serviceable, well-done even, but it just has a sparkle to it that I have trouble getting past. I’m a grouch, I guess, I just want everything to sound like it was recorded in a basement in hell. The hi-def garage punk of a track like “Let’s Go Again,” with its crispy clapping hi-hats and compressed guitars, just doesn’t have the patina of evil I crave in this style of music. By contrast, the MISSILE STUDS kick things off with a sloppy melodiousness that locks into place. There are drunken backup harmonies, a mic-slobbering singer with proper gruff and grizzle, and the band sounds just right. Everything has an impact, the crunch of the guitar and the slightly wet tambourine/snare that boogies through the night. “Stockholm Love” hits hard with the tight drums keeping the band from slipping off the rails and the harsh guitar holding up the catchy “Hey! Ho!” vocals that will always feel timeless even as they echo the golden years of the late ’70s. I hate to pit side vs. side and band vs. band for a split, but sometimes there’s just a clear preference. The MISSILE STUDS are the nasty fun I’m looking for in garage punk.

Kim Salmon Let’s All Get Destroyed / Unadulterated 7″

KIM SALMON, progenitor of “swamp rock” himself, has always been a grade-A weirdo. His solo work really lets that strangeness shine and this single is no different. From the off-key falsetto backing vocals to the shambolic just-behind-the-beat drums—this single puts FLAMING LIPS to shame without even really meaning to. It’s a freak parade marching through the town square, gleefully banging on a cowbell and singing with abandon. It would be foolish to really critique SALMON at this point for anything. So long as he stays himself, it’s worth listening to whatever he’s cooking up. B-side “Unadulterated” is a great counterpoint, too, with a dreamy piano lead and early-ENO guitar that flows you down the stream of SALMON’s subconscious. Compelling and deeply satisfying through and through.

Jenny Trajinero / Kids of Today 7″

A nifty single of power pop that’s truly powerful. Justin Maurer, whom I mostly know from Oakland’s CLOROX GIRLS, understands how to get the most bang for a buck when playing jangling guitar pop. In true contrarian fashion, the B-side here is what really grabs me. “Kids of Today” runs the gamut of pleasure, from great use of discordance and resolution in the main lick to the palm-muted chug and ringing out triumph back-and-forth that makes up the meat of the track. It’s anthemic in a way that actually pays off its title. The single is great too, with luscious keys and a head-bobbing swing that puts a smile on your face. What’s not to like here?

C.O.F.F.I.N. Children of Finland Fighting in Norway LP

Here’s a band that does the sleaze-rock-meets-heavy-metal sound with some actual flair—not to mention brains. From track one, you know what you’re in for, as whining dog leads and the classic “slam on the piano” riff set the stage for rhythmic pyrotechnics and lead singer Ben Portnoy’s incredibly commanding growl. This band raises hell in a way most rock bands forget how to, and they don’t sound the least bit stale for all their reference (and reverence) to the hazy halls of hallowed rock that came before. Part of what makes the formula so fresh is that there’s clearly more thinking going on than the group might want to let on at first. Take some of the lyrics from ripper “Cecila”: “Volunteer your story to your new chosen friend / Treat it like a rag through the back of your head / Follow suit, dirty the bowl / Dread dripping from your pockets as you power home.” That’s practically out of a novel for my money, and it lends serious pathos to a record that’s more than just a good time (although it is also most certainly that). Unreal record. Stone classic that breathes smoke and pukes fire.

Pack Rat Glad to Be Forgotten LP

There’s something so perfect about the prolonged keyboard drones throughout this record. They go on for so long, hitting an ear-aching interval, that I honestly wondered at first if something was wrong with my headphones. That’s top-tier brattiness, and it serves each and every track on this synth punk classic. PACK RAT is the brainchild of CHAIN WHIP and CORNER BOYS drummer Patrick McEachnie, who wrote and performed the whole affair. On songs like “Next Time Hit Me,” McEachnie strikes a balance between the DAMNED (first record only) and something almost more akin to the boom of early 2000s bratty keyboard pop like ATOM AND HIS PACKAGE (except way better) or something cooler like the SPITS at their most android-rock. Drawing those comparisons only scratches the surface, really. What you get here is solid songwriting that sounds beautifully pissed-off and will always catch you off-guard. “I never was a virgin, I was fucked from the start” sings McEachnie on “Blame It on Me,” which really sums up the overall world view manifested in soundwaves. Top-notch prankster punk, if your idea of a good prank is blowing up someone’s toilet.

 

Revv Amusia cassette

Here we have four sunbaked, relaxed-but-tight tracks of verbed-out rock‘n’roll from Australia (who seem to specialize in it). REVV stands out in how the sound balances more laid-back cruisin’ vibes with a healthy dose of dissonance and angularity. The title track really exemplifies this with guitar licks that slip around hazily and disorienting, all draped across a tight and confident rhythm section. The other cuts are strong, too; a good little tape that gives you what you need.

Potpourri Potpourri cassette

Here’s a beguiling one, a short broadcast of weirdness from Omaha that is shivering with cold and tape hiss. It really is an exercise in presentation, as the degraded quality of sound perfectly mirrors the metronomic soundtrack to collapse. Contemporaries that leap to mind are INSTITUTE and even DAWN OF HUMANS, although I don’t recall either of those bands ever incorporating bongos into their sound. Well, guess what, POTPOURRI goes for it, and although at first blush my ears were trying to pinpoint what the hell it was, it actually lends an interesting layer. Everything here sounds like it was either intricately placed or improvised entirely, the kind of balanced chaos that perfectly suits a certain type of heady, lo-fi punk. The guitar has a really nice sonorous tone to it in addition to being harsh and tinny—one of the many balancing acts going on that really make this band shine. It’s feel-bad music that feels really good.

Teenage Hearts Want More! LP

Oi! from France. Oui? There’s some kind of wordplay to be worked out here. Regardless, this Nantes-based crew fully brings it with seven tracks of rough-and-tumble working class rumblers. This feels cozy alongside contemporaries from across the channel CHUBBY & THE GANG and the CHISEL, hitting the same sweet spot of bluesy stomp with beer hall shout-along anthems that are properly pissed-off and world-weary. The guitars cut really nicely here, just the right amount of sharpness on the ear. The vocals have that rock-gargling quality to them as well, exactly what you’re looking for in proper fookin’ Oi! If you’ll pardon my incorrect French: this is très bonne merde, indeed.

XO’s (pronounced húgs and kissès) cassette

This is what I live for. Huge, poppy rockn’roll with a snotty edge that cuts through the syrupy sweet melodies. This band gets it, dragging the late ’70s NYC sound screaming into the now in a way so few can pull off. The song structures are pretty much perfect, especially on standouts like “Scratch Me a Million,” which loop-de-loops through tempo changes, solos, and a swaggering chorus and sticks the landing. This stands next to contemporaries like NANCY in terms of timeless, full-attitude rock that you come back to again and again. I couldn’t love it more.

Germ House Record the Mistakes / Manage the Line 7″

Justin Hubbard’s solo project GERM HOUSE strikes a balance between earnest, lo-fi songwriting and bizarro erudite post-punk, in league with other homegrown pop structure experimenters like LAVENDER FLU or even SLEEPING BAG. This single exemplifies these dual aspects well, with the songs being both tuneful and strange in their almost-mechanical execution. The bass and drums, in particular, lock into a clockwork rhythm that still somehow feels loose. It’s a sort of magic trick and the technicality of it might be lost on a first listen. But there’s some really strong writing here backed by immaculate performance. The more you focus on any one element of the music, it shifts shape in front of you, beckoning you closer. Not to get too abstract about it all, but to put it simply: Hubbard continues to write really smart hard-to-pin-down outsider pop that requires your attention.

Prisoner / Witchcake split EP

This one’s a toughie. There’s not much here to condemn fully or praise highly—some well-enough crafted songs from two bands that sound competent and well-read. PRISONER is from Texas, but weirdly not from Denton, which is shocking given their first track sounds dead-on for a MARKED MEN tribute band, and the overbaked acoustic-driven second track sounds like BAPTIST GENERALS. “Ten Years Done,” which opens the record, is fantastic. Hard-driven and tuneful if not altogether original. WITCHCAKE, hailing from Mississippi, takes on a more garage-leaning psych sound replete with splashy wet guitars and underwater vocals. Oh, and a pretty groovy organ. They sound fine. All of these songs, save for the excellent opener, sound fine. It’s all fine. Carry on, garage dudes.

C4 Chaos Streaks EP

I always have room on my plate for a helping of hardcore that, quite frankly, revels in its own ignorance. I’ve written about this before; there is a push-and-pull between brains and guts in punk and especially hardcore. I have nothing but love for fellow overeducated bookworm punks, but sometimes you just want to throw something that lives up to its name. Boston’s C4 is simply explosive. They hate techno and mock BOB DYLAN, because nothing matters except riffs that make you go absolutely dumbass and dive bomb off a stage assembled in a church rec room. This is hard-hitting perfection, slamming hardcore that further proves the point: ignorance is bliss indeed. Get over yourself and turn it way up.

Suffocating Madness Destroy Me EP

Roachleg out of Brooklyn is a crucial living archive of the current wave of gutter scum world-ending hardcore coming out of New York, and this release is a perfect example of why. Clocking in at four tracks in just over five minutes, SUFFOCATING MADNESS is relentless metallic D-beat from hell that satisfies as it crushes your lungs. The short runtime is good, too, because the production here is hot, like ear fatigue hot from the wild cymbal work alone. Throw in the furious blown-out riffing and cavernous vocals and it’s a lot to take in. In a good way. Brain-erasing hardcore punk just the way it should be played.

The Front Criteria Sessions EP

The internet has been a great archival tool, if nothing else. I find it really comforting to see an otherwise lost-to-time band such as this Miami power pop act able to document their 1980—1983 lifespan—even just on Bandcamp. This doesn’t simply feel like a vanity project, though. The tunes are good! If the DICTATORS had cleaned it up, they might have sounded something like this. These tracks are squeaky clean, but driving and melodic. The harmonies are on point, which is crucial, and there is even some interesting use of dissonant guitar leads on tracks like “Holiday Weekend” (the standout here). There is always a fear of losing music like this, of losing bands entirely as if they never existed. This probably won’t blow your mind like some unearthed gems, like when the world finally caught on to DEATH, but I’m happy to see releases like this. The FRONT were here, they stood in recording studios and on stages, and they recorded music and it sounded pretty damn good. We could all hope to be remembered to the same degree.

Plastics Plastic World EP

God, this is good. Pummeling and crunchy, with winding riffs that dart around with speed and precision, and hollering vocals that reverberate off the walls with chilly stoicism. If societal collapse has brought us anything, it’s brought us the best global hardcore scene in history. Let’s be grateful for that silver lining on a toxic cloud. This stands strong amidst the newest crop of art-tinged hardcore bands that smartly knits post-punk angularity with ’80s-indebted ferociousness to great effect.

Paprika Paprika cassette

The latest and greatest in the new generation of noisy, tornado-strength punk. This NOLA-based group delivers echoing, grime-encrusted bangers that exemplify why contemporary hardcore is maybe the height of the genre. Fierce and filthy, this band gets straight to the point: aiming down sights at the violence of the capitalist grind while never outstaying their welcome. The way the final track “Insane Machine” cuts out makes you feel like you’re only worthy to catch a glimpse of the band and its many strengths—brilliantly leaving you alone in the silence wishing you could hear more. Unforgiving harsh punk that you must grab a copy of while you can.

Exxxon More Gas cassette

Upon first listen, I thought I’d heard loads of groups like this before. Seemingly recorded through a turd filter, I thought this was “just” bass-and-drums minimalist punk with indecipherable yelping vocals. I keep coming back to it though, and the writing is wiry, clever, and it hits like a crunch to the skull. It’s funky, too! Like, you could and should dance to these less-than-lo-fi punk cries to burn down the corps that are killing us all. Don’t be like me, a jaded snob: let EXXXON into your heart and listen immediately and often. It will beat your ass and bleed your drums.

Goldie Dawn Gone With the Wild EP

I admire any band that can make commanding, meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll without coming across as corny. These four tracks mostly strike the right balance, writing songs indebted to ’70s and ’80s stadium anthems with a punk-leaning edge. There are a few sticking points with Kate Rambo’s pitchy vocals, although they mostly sound bold and brash, especially in the killer opener “Gone With the Wild.” But then the band closes with a tepid barroom take on the LEON PAYNE gloomy country classic “It’s Nothing to Me” and undermines everything that precedes it. Rambo’s vocals just don’t work here, and the band sounds fatigued. Ultimately, they bring nothing new to what’s otherwise a stone killer cut. Otherwise, this is a passable grip of guitar-driven songs.

Lawful Killing Early Learning: The Complete Recordings cassette

The UK punk explosion right now is out of control, and this release beautifully documents it at its best. The throat-shredding vocals, the tornado riffing, the cheeky nods to NWOBHM and thrash all come together in a hyper-political burst of rage and hooks in equal measure. There are some members of other heavy hitters on display here, from loads of bands including CHUBBY AND THE GANG and STATE FUNERAL, and it all gels beautifully. Ripping hardcore, top of its class, not much else to say but give it a listen.

Detox Sects and Violence cassette

Timelessness is a hard mark to hit, and one that can never be forced or faked. Lebanese thrashing punks DETOX stumbled into a timeless sound just by being themselves, and the results were pretty exhilarating. This tape rips through crossover hardcore with a crispy almost-anarcho tinge, rarely pausing even to take a breath. It’s a shame, really, that this material was recorded in 2009 and the group has since disbanded. Now is a perfect time for this blend of rock’n’roll swagger and thrash—kudos and gratitude to A World Divided for unearthing this stone classic.

Keiketsu (経血) Scapegoat LP

It’s not hard to imagine why this record, originally released in 2017, sold out quickly. This repress is a bit of a godsend, making sure more people can hear the confident experimentalism of a band that is not content to anchor its sound to one genre but rather bob and weave through various strains of garage and hardcore with seemingly little effort. On tracks such as “思考停止,”the band plays with rhythm and time signature, locking into a syncopated groove that almost dips a toe into surf music. It all works, winning the listener over with sheer willpower and attitude. There are even, dare I say, near-ballads on the album that help compliment the more furious tracks. While this lends itself to a somewhat disjointed listen, you could never call it boring. It’s always exciting and crucial to hear such a brash blend of styles and genres. Now here’s hoping I can still find a copy.

The Whiffs Another Whiff LP

I truly and optimistically think guitar pop will never go fully out of style. Pop songs that leave a little sand in your teeth and have a little punch—they’re always worth the three-minute investment of time. So the WHIFFS were kind enough to give you fourteen good investments in one convenient package. This is like the album equivalent of when chefs say “fine ingredients simply prepared.” You can tell where all the influences are sourced from, but it’s all so well-presented and natural that it’s pure satisfaction throughout, without sounding like unnecessary nostalgia tripping (despite the “remember the good old days?” lyrical bent in the excellent head-bobber “Seventeen”). So keep on strumming those six strings and hammering out tightly-structured belters—I’ll keep on listening.

Crippled Fox 10 Years of Thrashing EP

This is a beautiful slab of fastcore: five tracks in the blink of an eye recorded down n’ dirty in the band’s rehearsal space that indeed thrash, with just a taste of powerviolence to make things interesting. Party-violence? Is that a thing? This Budapest crew makes a pretty strong case for it, with a sound that’s equal parts SPAZZ and A.N.S. coated in about a foot-thick crust of grime. Perfect for basement beers and slamming your head into the wall.

Final Dose Dark Places cassette

I was blown away by this solo project’s first demo of furious fuck-the-world blackened hardcore. This cassette couldn’t be a better follow-up. This is like someone took Ohio’s MIDNIGHT and ringed out all the fun like a dirty rag, and I mean that as a compliment. There are plenty of headbanging riffs and gang vocals, but the affair is imbued with such an impressive bleakness that it stands on its own ground. The black metal cold really sets in on standout track “Sick,” which is the perfect collision of Deathcrush-era MAYHEM and slamming D-beat. These tracks are engineered to destroy, perfect apocalypse catharsis, and the fact that it’s all performed, mixed and mastered by one person—B. Fusco—is pretty astounding. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I want more.

Dead Finks The Death and Resurrection of Johnathan Cowboy LP

This album is a chameleon unstuck in time. Every time you look at it, it seems to be on a different plane, in a different form. This is all to say that DEAD FINKS continue a welcome tradition of breaking down and rebuilding what actually constitutes music being “punk.” The results of their experimentation takes familiar-enough roads of driving elastic rhythms and ringing guitars to arrive at destinations wholly fresh and new. Tracks like “Reanimation” lock into the head-bobbing groove of contemporaries such as PARQUET COURTS or even more psych-leaning bands such as WAND, but vocally and lyrically stand out as more impassioned and a good deal more present. The duo, Joseph Thomas and Erin Violet, really sound like they give a damn while coming across as no less cool than more detached present-day punk tinkerers. That’s probably what drives the whole project home for me, a wild-eyed emotionality that offsets the mastery of aesthetics and headiness. It’s no wonder, then, that the band finishes with a cover of the FALL’s “Frightened,” reportedly recorded on the eve of Mark E. Smith’s death. DEAD FINKS’ version is a beautiful closer that couldn’t possibly outshine the original but comes damned close.

The Scaners X Ray Glasses: On EP

I’ve had enough of DEVO-core. Okay, I haven’t, but this single posits something maybe even more up my alley: NUMAN-core. Lyon’s the SCANERS hearken back to the TUBEWAY ARMY days while paying homage to garage rock in a way that sticks the landing beautifully. The B-sides work too, though not quite as much as the groovier/headier single, leaning more heavily on hard riffs than subterranean synth gloom. All-around nifty little release, though.

Ricky Hell and the Voidboys L’Appel du Vide LP

The name might make you think this is some cheeky throwback act, but RICKY HELL AND THE VOIDBOYS is delightfully weird, smothering melodic pop in piles of scuzz and skronk. Tracks like “Strychnine” shine by marrying shoegaze-adjacent tones (think Methodrone-era BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE) with hyperactive synth cross chatter. What really makes me stand to attention here, though, is the restraint. RICKY’s voice barely comes up past a whisper, a calm center to a storm of psychedelic layers of sound that manage to stay cohesive throughout. Each track is heartfelt and often gorgeous, but never without being daringly its own beast. Try out “Alaska,” replete with clarinet and glockenspiel, and hear what fuzzy guitar pop music should always sound like.

Algara Absortos en el Tedio Eterno LP

I really half-assed one thing in my glowing review of Barcelona’s ALGARA’s previous EP. I didn’t bother to track down the actual quote I paraphrased which came from Emma Goldman—globally famous anarchist thinker and writer. The full quote was, “If I can’t dance…I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” It’s okay though, because the quote is even more apt for the band’s debut full-length, which takes anarchist theory and supercharges it for a generation that wants to shake their hips as capitalist society burns to ashes. This quartet does quite a few things really well, namely in terms of messaging and aesthetics, wherein each track feels like a bulletin from the HQ of a guerilla fighting force. More so than that, the group writes goddamn terrific songs that span a wide range of genres and tones. From impassioned drum machine coldwave stompers to agile shredders from the garage, this band is clearly well-read politically and musically. Even re-recorded material such as standout anthem “Expulsados” has only gotten harder and more ferocious. The results are AOTY-grade stuff and is the most perfect iteration of their vision to date. An actual shape of punk to come (one sincerely hopes).

Sick Bags Only the Young Die Good 12″

Good rock n’ roll is like pie—even if I’m already full, I can always fit in one slice. Even if I’ve spent all day listening to the stuff, glutting myself on boogying beats and barroom riffs, along comes a swift six-song EP like this and I’ll happily throw it on. It’s not breaking the mold, but it’s fun and recorded well. At its best it reminds me of NEW BOMB TURKS, which is high praise in my book. Plenty of hooks and swagger abound, though I don’t know if I’d have seconds.

Contra Collective Unconscious EP

Not all hardcore needs to have a BFA these days—sometimes you just want uneducated bludgeoning force. Budapest’s CONTRA seems to have a fairly good grasp on what it takes to hit hard and fast and even pulls some melodic tricks in the guitar work to air out the otherwise fairly straight ahead metallic punk. The best part about these six tracks is the vocals which sound like a worthy descendant of the gritty bellowing BASTARD perfected back in the early ’90s. Where the EP falls just short is the recording. It’s all a bit too clean for my taste, and while that allows the craftsmanship to shine, I’d still like it to hit me more like the medieval cudgel depicted on the cover art than the stainless steel surgical tools the music evokes. Maybe I’m just a little filth pig, but a little extra muck would perfect this mean and muscly crew.

Freon PYK demo cassette

A lot of punks can play fast, but it takes specialists for fast to come across as legible. St. Louis speed punks FREON know how to give every sound enough space to keep the proceedings in sharp focus at a clip that less capable bands would allow to just smear and blur to oblivion. The sharp-as-tacks approach tends to land with a bit more impact, and with vocals echoing the great agitator Doc Corbin Dart of the CRUCIFUCKS fame, this EP cracks like a damn whip. The songs are fierce, the music engaging and fun without ever sounding the least bit goofy. Off-kilter song structures veer away from same-y verse-chorus into stranger territory. Killer players—especially in the rhythm department—keep the ear activated throughout the twists and turns of the group’s snare-tight anarchy. Featuring members of other fearsome units such as BAD EXAMPLE, RÜZ, and the WARDEN, it’s no wonder these six tracks cut quick and deep.

Heavy Larry Natural Selection cassette

Let me be far from the first to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the Aussie psychos recording weird-as-hell punk in their living rooms. Warttmann Inc. has become the sort of go-to tastemaker when it comes to putting out radioactive oddities such as these ten cuts of computer rock. Driving, crunchy, and artificial as hell—like an AI sipped a few too many pints of lager through the disk drive and belched out this damaged floppy of unpretentious cheeky Casio-punk. The whole package is driven home by the genuinely couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude behind the lyricism and effects-laden vocal delivery. What’s left is a noisy batch of earworms that are just the right amount of bratty and ends on a note of total glitchy entropy with closer “Thanks.”

Artificial Joy / Skitklass split EP

There are just some releases (and some bands, period) that you’d be a fool not to love. Tokyo kängpunk and BDSM enthusiasts SKITKLASS are such a band. If you don’t get what they’re doing, you get the sense the door is right over there and you can throw yourself out. Their side of this split consists of three previously released slabs of raw, pissed-off, Sweden-indebted punk re-recorded in Japanese, and other than that, their formula has hardly changed one bit (which is a really good thing). On the flipside you have a recently-formed and quickly buzzed-about L.A. band ARTIFICIAL JOY, whose two tracks are shrieking, contorting neo-classics that hold their own alongside SKITKLASS. If you aren’t already paying attention to this band, these songs will convince you to take notice; the energy is full on and the band seethes with self-assured chaos.  Altogether both sides of the split form a wonderful vibe check to the global punk scene. Get onboard or, you know, get lost.

Slander Tongue Slander Tongue LP

Slovenly remains the standard bearer for rock’n’roll that’s vital and unstuck from time. SLANDER TONGUE brings a megaton of swagger from Germany in a debut that’s beyond self-assured. You know that rare balance a band strikes where not a note feels out of place but is backed by enough grit that it never feels sterile? That’s the magic trick of these eleven cuts—unrelenting, big bad windmill-strummed guitar anthems that make you want to saw the roof off your car and go for an endless drive. There’s so much that can go wrong in this genre, and a lot of rock imitators sound too scrubbed up or washed out, but those common pitfalls are avoided with smart decisions made on the page and in the sound booth. Songs like “Shattered Girl” really showcase the goods—an anchored rhythm in the drums and bass that ride clean throughout wiry riffing that goes all over without losing the plot. Throw in some backup harmony and you’ve got a potent brew to keep coming back to.

Bad Example Bad Music LP

Punks on YouTube always know what’s up, especially when it comes to buzzing, damaged hardcore, and that’s how I first heard BAD EXAMPLE. They have that sound that seems to always ignite comment sections across the web lately. There’s cave-like production, amplifying the ferociousness of the playing with waves of cacophony, plus you have those vocals that sound like you’re live in the warehouse—a whipping screech that cuts like wind following a machete swipe. It’s of a style, one that is especially popular right now, but damn if it isn’t done well. Nine tracks in under fifteen minutes, sounding like a hailstorm in a tin can and played like they mean it—BAD EXAMPLE shines alongside their contemporaries in hardcore and keeps the genre dismal and alive.

Modern Cynics Auditory Postcards cassette

MODERN CYNICS’ grimy econo-pop sound is damn near perfect on this eighteen-track tape. On average, the songs clock in tight and tidy—usually around a minute and a half (sometimes under 60 seconds)—showing off songwriter Matty Grace’s chops for penning overdriven tunes that are full of muscle and melody. The whole affair washes over you, and is honestly best consumed in one go rather than shuffling through cuts. What stands out here is the blend of breezy disaffected execution, mainly in Grace’s vocal delivery, with a perfect dose of urgency and punch. Some of these tracks truly rip, while others are ideal mope anthems. It’s got it all, a tape to keep in the deck for weeks at a time.

The Smog First Time, Last Chance / Noise Noise 7″

I almost thought I was listening to a reissue when throwing on this release by Osaka’s the SMOG, and that’s not to say it sounds dated. It’s power pop with a major emphasis on power, but feels a part of the pantheon rather than an echo. In just two songs, this single has got hooks and teeth—beautiful songwriting that sounds like it’ll step on your neck if you get in the way. “Noise Noise,” the B-side here, hits like a chain but also has a disarmingly vulnerable melody—the perfect intersection between late ’70s-indebted sneering punk and heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism that will never wear out its welcome.

Collision Immortels / La Vie S’échappe 7″

I hate for punk to get too squeaky clean, especially when it claims to be echoing the sleaziest era of the genre (late ’70s). This single definitely falls in that category, with all the rough edges sanded down for ease of consumption. Most of the fault lies in the production, which dampens the bite of the guitars that really would have put this over the edge. That said, the songwriting is pretty spot-on, hitting a sweet spot between an old school UK sound and an overall harmony-enriched power pop vibe. I just wish it hit harder because as it stands, it falls just short of something potent. Another quibble, and definitely one that comes from personal bias—the B-side “La Vie S’échappe” ends with a fade out. Please, all punks take note: write an ending to your song. Nothing packs less punch than a song just trickling away. Slam one last E chord or something and call it a night, it’s really not a big deal.

Plasticheads Nowhere to Run LP

Sometimes it’s refreshing just to be somewhere familiar, and that is proven deftly by these Toronto traditionalists on this ten-track full-length. The tempo is up there, the guitars are dirty, and the snotty energy doesn’t let up from beginning to end. There’s not much to wax philosophical about here, it’s just one of those bands that has the punk fundamentals down and executes again and again. In a genre full of pretenders, it pays to do your homework and these fine folk have done just that.

Pinocchio My Time Vol. 1 EP

Punk isn’t about competition, it’s about community, but if I had to pick a band that best represents the vibrancy and creativity of the current renaissance of NYC punk, PINOCCHIO would be near the very top of a short list. Simply put, this is one of the most confident debuts in punk in at least a decade. Self-assured, fearsome, and downright odd where it counts—it makes you start to wonder if starving to death in the big city might be worth it just to get a taste of what’s going on over there. Somewhere between new wave and hardcore, with some detours into a dimension we’ve yet to fully explore, PINOCCHIO has already proven they belong in the pantheon of greats, and they only needed eight tracks to do it. Essential listening for yesterday, today, and many tomorrows to come.

Zero Zeroes Zero Zeroes LP

The ’90s often get overlooked by punk bands looking to mine the past for fresh style references, but while plenty can (and has) been said about the ’70s and ’80s, the pre-Y2K years had tons of acts deserving of revisits and updates. Germany’s ZERO ZEROES know this, and while their sound still feels contemporary (and certainly not retro), they also aren’t afraid to harken back to some of the trademarks of heavy hitters like NEW BOMB TURKS and ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT. Combining high-speed swaggering thumpers with whip-smart riffing, this ends up being one of the most fun punk releases in recent memory. It’s smartly conceived and has a worn-down authenticity to it just to seal the deal. The standout track “7070’s” exemplifies the anthemic songwriting this band utterly nails—with big ringing chords, vocals with conviction, and a tough-as-hell rhythm section. Damn near perfect modern punk.

The Sweatys Stretch demo cassette

Philly poppy punks (not pop punks, mind you) follow up their first demo with another excellent batch of tracks. For a demo, the recording is excellent—with the right amount of grit to amplify the strong songwriting on display. These songs whip back and forth, echoing a classic ’80s Midwest sound with enough contemporary flair to keep things fresh. The band even dips a toe into cowpunk—a genre that’s so often executed poorly—with closer “Hoosegow.” The SWEATYS pull it off, rolling snare and slacker sliding guitar lines and all. Overall a top-notch demo from a band that keeps pumping ’em out.

Milk Bricks EP

One of last year’s best releases, this Japanese band unplugs the distortion pedals for a compelling clean-tone take on contemporary hardcore. Even with the dials turned down, this band is no less ferocious and rips through six tracks in as many minutes. The drums hit a sort of sloppy D-beat, giving major juice to the overall sound. These cuts hit hard and hit different, the two main criteria to look for in the crowded talent pool of modern hardcore. A lot of people have already sung this EP’s praises and none of them are exaggerating.

Carlitos Güey / Fun Time Objects split 7″

This third installment of split singles makes good on the promise of its label’s moniker. FUN TIME OBJECTS kick things off on Side A with a love letter to RAMONES that is successfully charged, danceable rock’n’roll without sounding like a copycat crime. It’s perfect for cutting a living room rug or revving up a basement dive. On the flipside, CARLITOS GÜEY gives a swaggering garage take on glam, echoing T. REX’s more stadium-friendly fare with a confident rhythmic stomp, too-cool vocals (featuring Shannon Shaw on back-up), and some slick guitar licks to cap it all off. The singles are packaged beautifully in hand-printed sleeves, plus you even get an official membership card. Be a real rock’n’roller and join the club!

Loud Night Mindnumbing Pleasure LP

These Richmond, VA-based ripping metalhead punks oil the tank treads for war on their aptly-named new full-length. This is the kind of blunt force D-beat that’s for getting faced with your friends—it’s not a soundtrack for changing the world. It’s a hell of a lot of fun that also hits hard. The playing is the perfect blend of technical execution and loose chaos, and the production has the heft of a battle axe—each track landing like a drunken killing blow. This band plays in a genre that will never change (and never die) and they do it with excellence.

Midnite Snaxxx Contact Contamination / Fight Back 7″

When you’ve got this band’s chops, two songs are all you need to make a point. The down-picked chug of the single’s opener pushes uncut adrenaline right out of the gate, and both tracks keep up a blistering momentum throughout. This band has only gotten more fiery and exciting over their decade-plus in existence, and these tracks continue to up the ante. The guitar work is scrappy, furious, and wonderfully weird, and lead vocalist Dulcinea continues to command attention with a presence that’s impossible to ignore. I can’t wait for more.

These Things Existential Hangover LP

It’s nice to be reminded that punk doesn’t always have to be miserable. Bleakness is great—and usually appropriate for the goings-on of the world—but thank God there are still bands like Ballarat, Australia’s THESE THINGS to offer sweetness in bitter times. There is plenty of melody and hooks on display here, and the band’s sound is reminiscent of gritty late-2000s garage pop acts like CHEAP TIME and BAD SPORTS (especially the latter). This album doesn’t improve on a winning formula, but it’s done well and a pleasure to listen to. If I have a gripe it’s that the lyrics are a bit rote on tracks like “Cigarettes and Booze,” a subject well-enough-covered at this point, but overall it’s still a solid LP.

Cold Callers Dressed to Die LP

I hate to judge a record by its jacket, but the antiseptic early-2000s radio rock vibe of this full length’s cover betrays the contents therein. There is nothing outright terrible about these twelve well-packaged tracks, but overall it lacks depth. The production is thin, for a start, with guitars that don’t so much crunch as gently chew and vocals that sound like they’re put through a digital telephone filter. The songwriting itself is power-pop-by-numbers—a genre that when done well can be transcendent, but so often it feels like an oversaturated market. It’s hard to say which facet of COLD CALLERS’ sound needs the biggest touch-up. If it were recorded nastier, maybe it could bang with the best of them. If the songwriting were really top-notch, maybe the squeaky-clean contemporary rock production wouldn’t matter. As it stands, this album just floats in purgatory—it’s not good enough for heaven or egregious enough for hell.

TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects LP

This record really ticks off the boxes—eleven tracks, none of them over two-and-a-half minutes long, and reportedly recorded on one cheap microphone (but sounds better than most studio efforts). It has taffy-sweet hooks, but still sounds tough. Basically everything you want from nihilistic garage punk that’s still palatable enough to put on at a dinner party (depending on how cool your friends are). Hits a great STOOGES-like peak with the “Gimme Danger”-echoing highlight “It Ain’t Fun (In the City of the Whiplash).” The whole album slips in, slaps your face and dips out before you can ask for another. Raucous, gritty, and near-perfect.

Drunk Mums Adderall / Headshrinker 7″

What do they put in the kids food in Australia that makes them all grow up to be such lovely angular punks? This is a killer single full of good clean fun, delivered with the kind of booksmart smarm that’s practically omnipresent these days in Melbourne. The flip side “Headshrinker” ups the stakes with a little more fury without losing any of the charm. This is locked-in snotty rockn’roll just the way we like it.

Rolex Hip Intellect EP

This release is ten furious cuts of ’80s futurist punk. While the band seems happy to harken back to the “glory days” of their hometown LA—mostly evident in their highly-mobile bass lines and howling vocals—they incorporate odd melodic and rhythmic turns that break with tradition and keep the ear abuzz in new ways on every track. The guitar stands out in particular, sounding like D. Boon doing divebombs; it’s some of my favorite axe work I’ve heard all year. The entire package fits perfectly with lyrical themes of apocalypse, climate crisis and everything else you’d want from California hardcore. This band is weirder and wilder than most—definitely deserving of your attention.

The Cavemen Euthanise Me EP

New Zealand scum punks the CAVEMEN return with four tracks of their particular brand of theatrical faster-and-louder rockn’roll. The results are solid, with nothing feeling particularly evolved from last year’s full length Night After Night. But that’s not really the point with music designed to hit hard and as to-the-point as possible. It’s a good bit of fun, though the music does sound a bit friendlier than I might expect from titles such as “Eat Your Heart & Wear Your Face.” There’s something charming about the band’s preoccupation with writing “evil” tunes, I just wish I believed them a smidge more. Less cracking wise and more cracking skulls!

V/A Killed by Meth #5 LP

It’s Trash! Records’ annual compilation Killed by Meth is always an eye-opener. This year’s installment (the fifth) continues to highlight some of the filthiest offshoots of rock coming out of the US Midwest, including the always-excellent ERIK NERVOUS and recent Goner signees ARCHAEAS. There are no duds here, though the standouts steal a lot of the glory. The best song of the bunch comes from Cincinnati’s BLACK PLANET. Their contribution, “Crimewave,” is a total earworm of pounding rhythms and acidic vocals that demands you pick the needle up and play it again once it’s done. The rest of the compilation keeps it eclectic with the likes of urgent synth-punks MONONEGATIVES before and closing everything out with a new nihilist anthem—”Flies on Shit” by AU SHOVEL. All in all, it’s another solid entry in the ongoing series of killer punk comps.

Richard Rose Radiation Breeze LP

After putting out an incredible four tracks of oozing rock ’n’ roll last year, RICHARD ROSE is back with its debut full-length. Songwriter and guitarist Thomas Tripplet (under the pseudonym Thomas Rose) is joined by a band of heavy players, including Chris Shaw (EX-CULT, GÁ˜GGS) and Orville Neeley (OBN IIIs, BAD SPORTS). Given the body of work between those two, expectations were set high—and this might be each of their finest work to date. Radiation Breeze is mean, focused and couched in a suffocating murky atmosphere. The rhythm section stays in a motorized groove, leaving plenty of room for Tripplet’s snarling guitars and Shaw’s punk-perfected vocals. The band even goes full Funhouse in their nods to the STOOGES with extraplanar saxophone stabs throughout. All this comes to a head in the two-part title track which gives the group ample opportunity to stretch their legs through the course of a sprawling end-of-world jam that slams headlong into a wall in the bruising closing minutes. You almost want to commission RICHARD ROSE to go back in time and score an early Michael Mann film because these tunes are tough like neon through smoke.

Overcharge Metal Punx LP

On their third full-length, these Italian D-beaters do just enough to keep things fresh. While they’ve drilled down on the typical MOTÖRHEAD-worship style of many other bullet-belted punks—in case the -CHARGE suffix didn’t clue you in—they do it competently with a few tweaks to the formula to keep things interesting. This band doesn’t require close analysis, though. It is the kind of music you throw on your leather and swig several tall cans for. Turn off that thinky bit in your skull and just go all in, because it’s fun as hell even if it earns few points for originality. Tracks like “Lords of Hysteria” even resemble the later crusty period of DARKTHRONE, which is always a good thing. This trio is going to keep doing what they’re doing and you can bang thy head or not, but you’ll have a better party if thou doth.

Algara Una Cosa Más Sin Sentido Alguno Usada Para Hacer Rico Al Mismo de Siempre cassette

Barcelona’s leftist post-punks ALGARA expand their sound and personnel on this cassette. The band re-recorded their debut EP for the front half, using a full band to augment their initial cold, drum machine-based sound. The flip side consists of four cuts from their upcoming full-length. The material that hits hardest here is the first four tracks, which completely rebuilds the original songs from the ground up into something resembling the original WARSAW EP set to a vibrant garagey bop. Tight polyrhythmic drums lay the bedrock for moon-roving bass lines and piercing saturated guitar, all while leaving ample space for the protest crier vocals. This is a revolution you can dance to, which is often the only kind worth fighting. The second half of the tape splits the difference between this updated approach and the group’s original more stark and synthetic sound. The duality works, but the traditional rock instrumentation is more fun. This is overtly political, anti-establishment punk you can bounce to—but politics ain’t always fun and games! The cassette is sold out via the label (update—now back in stock), but you can buy digital and as of this writing the band has physical copies to buy directly.

Protagonists 1983-1985 LP

This is the kind of punk artifact crate digger dreams are made of—a beautifully packaged reissue of previously unheard and nigh unfindable material from this Naperville-based group of adolescent power poppers with an edge. At the height of Chicago hardcore, these kids were making smartass melodic tunes that hit more like NAKED RAYGUN produced by the FEELIES. The songwriting is confident, with advanced structures and tight playing that a lot of veteran acts never fully achieve. There’s also some naïve charm, largely thanks to the keyboard that often hangs clumsily in the mix but still adds something special. On the standout “Another Monday,” PROTAGONISTS sounds like they could have had a home amongst K Records’ roster of discomforting emotional acts—an accidental precursor to ’90s bedroom pop-rock. So many releases like this get lost to time, but thankfully now a wider audience can listen to the quiet triumph of four teens who made the time to put what they had to say on tape. After all, it’s not always about how many people are listening, but the quality of what they listen to.