Luke Henley

Fugitive Bubble Delusion LP

This hard, fast, and weird LP arrives hot on the heels of an excellent output of cassette releases, and it brings the goods. The cross-pollination of hardcore and the experimental spirit of the earliest stages of L.A. punk sounds lived in and confident, largely thanks to top-notch songwriting that’s catchy as a cold and lightning-paced. One thing I love is how present all the instruments are, each taking its own place proudly under the stage lights and being allowed to shine. It keeps the recordings, while decisively gritty, sharp as well. The bass in particular has a real punch to it. Cap it off with articulate and brazen vocals throughout and you’ve got a real winner. “Chickenhead,” which effortlessly blends tones and showcases the band’s ear for melody, is an easy standout with the group’s full powers shining brightly.

E.T. Explore Me Drug Me CD

It’s difficult to use the tools of the past to make something that sounds new, coming from its own strange point of view. E.T. EXPLORE ME is firmly indebted to garage rock from all its resurrections, including that of the early ’00s, to refreshingly potent effect. With a crunchy organ highlighted in practically every hook, these Dutch rockers have a sonic palette that hammers home a disaffected-cool boogie. Track after track oozes with alien attitude, helped along by a lush use of synths that squabble and stab underneath hushed vocals and original applications of percussion. It’s all very danceable and never stale, sitting comfortably alongside tried-and-true acts like QUINTRON AND MISS PUSSYCAT and even dabbling in darker psych realms à la MOON DUO. Title track “Drug Me” in particular has a locked-in zaniness impossible not to bop around to especially with an utterly cranked organ sound that is deliciously dank ‘n’ dirty. All in all, a cool time that feels like a throwback to the future.

Pet Mosquito Live at the Lamplighter CD

A Lamplighter live set is always a good seal of quality for a band, and this one doesn’t disappoint. PET MOSQUITO is loud and brash, presented here at their loudest and brashest— channeling the DICKS and maybe a little HANK WOOD. If that sounds like a lot of snot ‘n’ swagger, then I’m doing my job. It’s still its own thing though, especially when you throw that beautiful sax in the mix. I’m done arguing with people on this matter—more brass and woodwinds in rock’n’roll and punk. It adds an immediate dankness to any rock song, and this band certainly puts that to good use. Definitely don’t sleep on this release if you’re looking to blow out your speakers with excellent snarling punk rock.

Virvon Varvon Voices cassette

This is a solid tape of punchy garage punk with the faintest whiff of art school cool wavering in its aura. The first track “Voices,” penned by the group’s newest member bassist Cunha, is mournful. driving punk with tinges of aching surf guitar in the leads. It’s the highlight here, a raucous anthem of pain and psychic anguish. The follow-up tracks are strong as well, calling to mind the MARKED MEN and the URINALS in equal measure. This is noisy and contained punk with a spark.

Liquid Mike Liquid Mike LP

In just a few short years, Michigander Mike Maple has proven many times over that he has a head for pop. This fourth full-length is strong in a way that lasts, not just because it’s wall-to-wall earworms, but rather that this is songwriting that’s taken the best of power pop and internalized it. It pays to do your homework, but there is nothing unapproachable or academic on display here, just natural and breathlessly good songwriting. Time will prove Maple is right there in lock step with TONY MOLINA as a prolific and earnest writer who manages fancy guitar pop tricks like descending minor chords and non-standard harmonies without being flashy or pretentious. A song like “God Bless the World” proves in under a minute-thirty just what this group is capable of. It’s got punch, it’s got heart, it’s got it all. I’m an immediate and zealous acolyte.

Teenage Halloween Till You Return CD

It’s a myth that the water in New York makes the pizza crust the best on Earth. Could we build a similar myth connecting New Jersey’s water leading to painfully (in a good way) earnest emo-indebted punk bands? TEENAGE HALLOWEEN follows in this tradition of music that says what it means, and presents it couched in a belted-out anthemic sound that calls to mind New York neighbor JEFF ROSENSTOCK and the more erudite Jersey-born TITUS ANDRONICUS. The music is exhilarating, custom built for shout-alongs replete with gorgeous, soaring guitar work perfectly exemplified on tracks like “Getting Bitter.” The band in general just seems sort of impossible not to love, unless you’ve got “sourpuss” tattooed across your knuckles or you write “fluent in sarcasm” in your dating app bios. For the rest of us who still see the value in wearing our heart on our sleeves and telling your friends you love them—god bless TEENAGE HALLOWEEN and god bless all of us.

The Moonjacks Bad Guy Stuff cassette

California is sun-baked into the sound of this full-length. Songs about catching waves, being too high, and skating (sorry, I meant “sk8ing”), all delivered via that sound that hasn’t quite left us since WAVVES, BEST COAST, and FIDLAR seemed ever-present and sponsored by Vans. That all sounds like a preamble to a dunk on these fun-having party punks, but I have a sweet tooth for this kind of sound. It really doesn’t do much to elevate the genre, but it’s earnest guitar pop about hanging with your buds (weed pun) and wasting your youth. That sort of thing never really goes out of style, even if by the end of just 30 minutes the sound gets a bit stale for me.

Discreet Charms Discreet Charms cassette

There’s an interesting balance in Brooklyn’s DISCREET CHARMS’ sound. They embody a sort of workhorse, bar band grit while paying clear homage to artier/university-read post-punk—most notably in the vocals, which I’m sure the group is sick of hearing often evoke a more automaton Paul Banks (that’s not a dig, I swear). The ultra-obscure cover of “Mo” by the PARASITES OF THE WESTERN WORLD shows that this act is in fact interested in showing you their bookshelf, but they convincingly make it their own so that it lies flush alongside their originals. I really respond to this kind of intellectual but primitive punk, and when you can write a dour bop with a hook as strong as that in “Criminals at Heart,” which comes damn close to capturing the same sort of odd magic of Philly’s PHANTASIA, you deserve folks’ attention. I’m definitely interested to hear more!

Rive Droite Country Club Antifète EP

This is a punchy little debut from a French act that does not skimp on big melodies seasoned properly with snark and wit. Organ does a lot of heavy lifting in anchoring four songs to a cool-headed, garage-rock-adjacent feel, and the vocals are wonderfully yelpy and energetic. Overall, this is excellent pogo-worthy pop with a bite. The closer, “La Honte,” is an especially strong note to end on—a great hook and ringing-out guitars with a gloomy aura. Here’s hoping a full-length is fast approaching from this Parisian outfit.

Vaguess Thanks//No Thanks LP

I hope we all realize how incredibly lucky we are to have a musician in the world as consistent and prolific as Vinny Earley. Between frequent touring and myriad side projects, he still manages to bring us new material from his long-running solo project annually, thus giving sad sack aging punks like me something to look forward to in this crummy world. The melancholic Nothing’s Secret from 2022 was an almost meditative collection of earworms, and while there are still some excellent weepers on display here such as “Texas Clouds,” Earley also dips a wing in the waters of synth pop and garage punk with the evergreen sentiment of contemporary existential dread, like closer “2 Car Garage.” The genre-hopping isn’t a parlor trick either, and it all comes from Earley’s strong voice as a songwriter. This is a cohesive work from someone who seems to never run out of ideas and whose frequent output strengthens his work rather than dries up the well. In summation: god save Vinny Earley, may his reign last a thousand years.

Wimps City Lights LP

There’s plenty to love about a three-piece of Seattle DIY vets laying out simple, confident, and melody-packed punk with a tinge of pop and garage. If “my shit” could be narrowly defined this would fall well within its parameters. From the midtempo beats that boogie in the pocket to the charmingly disaffected vocals of Rachel Ratner, these tracks keep up the momentum set in motion on their previous full-length (released on the iconic Kill Rock Stars). There is some of that KRS flavor here without relying heavily on ’90s nostalgia, but there is that Gen X slacker patina that still fires me up well into the new millennium. A track like “Big Dipper,” with its garage-y swagger, or the snotty follow-up “Never Leave the House” both showcase the group’s strengths beautifully. The lyrics are impressively simple as well, with condensed rhythms and repetition all with an ear for satisfying rhyme scheme. “Doing It” has plenty of gems such as the ever-relatable line “I pretend to be funny, but I never get the joke / I never spend my money, but I always end up broke / Don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it.” When it comes to the music, though, these are clearly folks who have known what they’re doing for a while now.

Sekunderna Tiden Är En Dröm EP

I never get sick of this stuff. Power pop is a broad umbrella, and frankly a lot of what falls under it is just a drip. Luckily we have groups like this, who belt out the harmonies and play with a fire under their ass. This is gritty, articulate guitar pop that I’d love to sing along with as long as I had a Swedish phrase book in my back pocket. There are elements here of HOT SNAKES, albeit more melancholic than pissed-off, especially in the guitar. In general, the tunes evoke a sort of longing nostalgia for nowhere. A time that never really existed, and opportunities you don’t even know you missed. Is that overly poetic? Sure. But that’s a testament to the disarming vulnerability of this music. Turn it up loud, go for broke, and dance with whoever’s nearby until far too late. My only gripe? After five cuts of supercharged pop rock, it all ends with a lo-fi, single-guitar closer that I keep waiting to turn into something anthemic with the full band behind it. It sort of just fizzles out. It might not even bug me if it were the second-to-last track. But it isn’t, so it does. Otherwise, a beautiful record.

Neo Neos Get the Neo Neos/Act VII LP

You very well might be familiar with the first half of this release, a classic slice of 2018 gonzo bedroom punk that came up around when you couldn’t turn a corner without bashing your beak on syncopated smart/smart-ass takes on what a lot of people unfairly paint into a corner as DEVO-worship. Now you can listen to it on vinyl! This is a decisively nasty, murky version of that sound, and it gets even toothier and more gnarly with the second half—a collection of new tunes post-2018 released for the first time. Tracks like “Sandbagging (My Way Through Life)” are blown-out with almost everything in the red. The vocal performances are unhinged and stab at the listener as they devolve into wordless refrains, yelps, and howls. But it still keeps the listener locked into its singular world of madness that continues on into the following cut, “Clockwork,” which almost hits like a no-fi MÖTÖRHEAD and then lands a churning groove all under a minute-thirty. If you’re a fan of this sort of thing, you’ll be in heaven. And you should be, because you’ve been very good.

Juicebumps Jumbo LP

This is a deliciously maximalist approach to punk that engages and entertains from the first note. Three chords and the truth is great and all, but this scratches a wide range of itches. Sort of a less proggy descendant of CARDIACS, and even reminiscent of the cross-genre collage rock of MR. BUNGLE, especially with the group’s penchant for hooks couched in the herky-jerk and the healthy dollop of surf music woven throughout. The band is cool, confident, and has excess energy that an aging punk like me can only be envious of. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying and boogie-inducing track as the aptly-named “Wiggler,” which rides a juicy bass line through a total funhouse of riffs and is full-to-bursting with melodic tangents. It’s got bite, but it’s also a joyful affair unlike most bands out there getting it done.

Cherry Cheeks CCLPII LP

I pretty much knew this would be a home run before I put it on. Portland’s CHERRY CHEEKS’ first LP was a juicy blast of bedroom eggy punk that was catchy as hell. Now a full band, everything that worked before functions on an even higher level. The hooks are heavy, with the synth often taking front and center. The band overall is snappy, offering a jumped-up and mechanically precise sound even as they keep things lo-fi. Then things get even more synth-heavy on Side B with cuts like “Pure Power,” with a bounce that evokes TUBEWAY ARMY with more manic, shouty vocals. It’s good to see a band tweak the formula to keep things interesting for themselves. The penultimate track “DATA” stands out in particular, with its ’80s cyberpunk intro, nimble bass line, and stabbing guitar. It’s a perfect accompaniment to a panic attack. All in all, this band started out really good and is just getting better. Keep an ear out for what comes next.

Astio / Nag split 7″

This is a fantastic lineup of chilly, deathly punk. Following this year’s excellent full-length on Convulse, NAG brings in two more spiky little treats of heavy, rhythmic post-punk that do their own thing, while also dipping a wing in the airstream of erudite acts like the CHAMELEONS as well RUDIMENTARY PENI. It’s a blend of educated graveyard music that shakes your bones. On the flipside, ASTIO tackles a more anthemic sound in a similar sphere, with a slightly more straight-ahead bluntness. Italy has been bringing us a lot of beauts like this lately, replete with reverb-drenched, doomy leads and a tinge of black lipstick. All in all, great cuts from two acts across the ocean from one another who should be on your radar.

Gimic Defer to Hate EP

This is the kind of hardcore I can eat with a spoon, especially knowing it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes bros in THROWDOWN hoodies take to the internet to rant about how the genre and scene are “totally dead.” The weirdos continue to take over the culture, cross-pollinating genres in a way that amplifies the raging core of the songs. There is a lot of melody packed into these songs, at times evoking ’90s emo/alternative as well as garage and even just straight up rock’n’roll. The bass lines are nimble, the drums are locked-in, and singer Harriet is utterly commanding. Addictively listenable.

The Wind-Ups Jonathan Says EP

Jake Sprecher, known for a long time running as a side player to JONATHAN RICHMAN, debuted this solo venture back in the quarantine days. Though the lead single pays tribute to the towering figure that is RICHMAN, this isn’t mere hero worship. Sprecher has his own voice and a strong—I mean, strong!—ear for melody and tonality. These fuzzed-out power pop cuts carry some real bite, especially in the snarling and brief “Coffee Cup” and an obscure but slamming cover of “Medusa’s Spell” penned by fellow Chico, CA resident Marty Parker (of ELECTRIC PIE BAND). I’m excited to hear more from Sprecher given this labor of love and fondness, and you should be, too.

Aborted Tortoise / Ghoulies Euro Tour split EP

Hey dummy. You like what the hell is going on over in the garages of Australia? You don’t know what I’m talking about? Then get right immediately, because here’s a split featuring two of the best of the seemingly endlessly fertile scene of garage punks keeping the genre alive, all brought to you by the evergreen tastemaker Goodbye Boozy. These two bands in particular share members, and it sure sounds like it. Both sides are deliciously spiky, bratty, and econo. Throw in some syrupy synth, and you’ve got yourself the exact kind of potent brew I’m reaching for any day of the week. If you’re already in the club, you already picked this one up. If not, have a listen and get on board speedy-like.

Viceprez Tropical Connexion LP

I really liked VICEPREZ’s previous full-length, and this latest is no different. Well, actually, it is a little different. The vocals have a little more bite to them (thanks primarily to centering a different vocalist), and there’s an angular danciness that really suits their no-bullshit garage-y punk. Third track stunner “Love Again” would have been a surprise hit in the ’90s—big crashing drums, snarling vocals, and a big fat hook. The balance of pissed-off energy and melody does have a kind of firm nod to the ’90s in general, but it never sounds dated. There’s even a little bit of HOT SNAKES (a heartfelt RIP to Rick Froberg) afterglow to tracks like “Thru the Cracks,” which nails that band’s particular ability to inspire moshing and pogoing in equal measure—and yes, those are different vibes! Overall, this is a great follow-up to Juger. Nothing has been thrown away outright, but enough has been added to the mix that it’s an exciting evolution without completely having to reinvent from the ground up. Get it in ya.

Fredag Den 13​:​e Mänskiga Gränstillstånd LP

Nearly two decades in, this Gothenburg D-beat crew delivers nothing less ferocious than anything in their discography. What I love about Swedish D-beat is the almost operatic melancholy at much of its core sound. This band doesn’t dilute any impact with sprawling melodic structure, all while driving everything home like a steam hammer with unrelenting rhythm (yes, often that sweet “doon-kah-doonka-dah” we never get sick of). The mournful lead guitar in tracks like “Våldsmonopol” lends much to the overall effect of cathartic hardcore, as only feels fit coming from the bleak heart of Scandinavia. Everything here is dialed-in, throat-in-tatters vocal delivery and black metal frostiness in tracks like “Tryst Vår,” and of course the drums at the forefront like artillery, all while never shying away from a full-on rock’n’roll heartbeat. If you’re into this rich regional wing of hardcore (and why the hell wouldn’t you be?), this record is a must.

Norcos y Horchata Aloha Motherfuckers EP

On paper, this Detroit trio has the goods. Blunt-force, three-chord punk with melodic vocals at the forefront. Unfortunately, the vocals are a bit too forefront, giving them a stilted feeling in the mix and also placing undue emphasis on them. They’re not bad, but the lyrics and melodies are a bit rote for this style and leave the whole affair sounding a bit dated. The band is more than capable, sounding like they can leave a barroom or two in splinters on the right night, but I just find myself kept at an arm’s length from really engaging with the material. It treads similar ground to greats like DILLINGER FOUR and DARK THOUGHTS, but doesn’t quite connect the punch. With some tweaks to production and songs that have a bit more meat on them, this group could really bring it.

Demon Demonstration cassette

Going into a Roachleg release, I was expecting some raw (like, cold hamburger in a red pool) hardcore-adjacent music. I was pretty right on with the sound quality—seriously, avoid if you’re not into the noisier side of punk. The recording is more akin to ’90s black metal demos than your average hardcore demo. Rather than using that sonic palette to bring you something fast and ferocious though, there is some groove to this. Somewhat more plodding but no less heavy than some of the best of NY’s best contemporary punk, the band also features some moaning, nearly psychedelic guitar leads to go with its mid-tempo assault of damaged fuzzed-out punk. The vocals are engaging, while unintelligible, but while these types of recordings can sometimes feel like they come from some sort of “we’re too cool to sound good” bullshit mentality, this just feels true to what the band is trying to convey. Cramped, noisy, and fucked-up hardcore.

Pleasure Center Pity in Jangle City LP

I write a lot about wanting bands to sound dirtier, meaner, like more clear reflections of a fucked-up world. But you know what? I’m full of contradictions, because I also grew up loving pop punk. If I hear a guitar band with solid hooks and heart-on-sleeve lyricism, I’ll usually perk up to see what they’re up to, at the very least. This St. Louis band caught me immediately, striking that same nerve TEENAGE FANCLUB and ASH used to when I was a kid. There’s plenty of jangle, just a kiss of fuzz, and thrumming melodic energy for days. The vocals carry the kind of unvarnished, disarming charm of Jon Brion back when he didn’t just write film scores. Songs like “Cool 2 Crash” capture summer DIY space magic, where everything feels so melancholic and fleeting all while energizing you at the same time. There are tasteful bridges and the band in general just bangs it out where it counts. Power pop often falls short on both signifying terms, but this group embodies the term beautifully. One can only hope they’ve got more golden songs in the song warehouse.

Private Lives Hit Record LP

Feel It Records continues a white-hot streak of releases with this Montreal act’s latest release, a spiky, lovely, and scuffed batch of garage pop tracks. It’s impressive to hear big, bold ideas captured again and again within two-minute runtimes, blending influences from ’90s alt sounds to ’80s post-punk and convincingly noisy production on tracks like the chilly “Head/Body” and “Misfortune.” It’s a solid outing and doesn’t wear out its welcome, and while it might not immediately jump to classic status to my ear, it definitely claws me back for repeated listening.

Townies Revolver CD

TOWNIES are a band that do no real harm. They’re nice enough folks, and a competent bar rock band who exude a tough grittiness in terms of attitude and aesthetic that just doesn’t make it to the songs themselves. I don’t wish they were meaner, but their sound could use a little genuine nastiness. For a start, the drums and guitar both sound flimsy on these tracks. The guitar in particular just sounds compressed and far away, leaving almost no impact. Vocalist Suzanne Magnuson also comes off as unintentionally camp in her delivery, weighing the band down into an almost musical theater take on garage punk. None of this is offensive or unforgivable, but also maybe that’s what it needs? Otherwise it leaves little impression, a gentle breeze off the coast of punk rock when I’m wanting something that will cause some big waves.

Tatxers Tatxers LP

In the last warm days of summer, I love listening to a record like this. There is a shimmering sadness, like dappled light on a body of water while the sun goes down and you didn’t think you’d need a sweater. These songs have a yearning core to them, melody and longing being the driving themes perfectly suited to the clean guitar tones that drive home lovely, mopey pop songs. With the stabbing guitar of the stunning second track “Labanak,” I realize it might well have just been called “Pamplona Calling.” There are even traces of what we used to call “college rock” in songs like “Iruñea,” with a staccato jangliness I’m always thirsting for. Song to song, though, this isn’t a band retreading old ground, but rather bringing a bright vitality to melodic punk rock with an old-school cool. I feel like there are plenty of bands right now that bring out this feeling of nostalgia for an era that never really existed. Or nostalgia for the now? TATXERS is exactly the kind of band I reach for to rebuke someone telling me they “stopped listening to rock music” a long time ago. The good times are still here (musically anyway), and they’re fleeting as always and full of joy and sadness, just like good rock music should be. A tender little record I’ll be spinning for a long time.

Mayge Mayge cassette

What excites me about lo-fi music isn’t because I just love it when things sound obscure or chaotic, it takes familiar forms (in this case, new wave-adjacent punk) and brings an impressionist bent to what was otherwise familiar, like looking at a Matisse painting up close and letting it blur into a psychedelic mess. You get the feeling of the song and your mind fills in the blanks. MAYGE uses production as an extension of the songwriting, creating an enjoyable and disorienting EP that sounds anything but familiar. Strange gibbering vocals, melancholy guitar lines, it all works. The covers here are a treat as well, taking an original from TONY MOLINA and morphing it into something barely familiar to fans of the original, likewise with the SCREAMERS’ track “If I Can’t Have What I Want, I Don’t Want Anything.” The originals, however, are what bring me back to this release, biting and squeaking like a little mutant rat gnawing on your eardrums. Sometimes lo-fi production pisses me off, like it’s an affectation. Not the case here by a long shot, so take a listen.

The Wirms III LP

First notes in, you can tell there’s something special about this record. Memphis garage punk still hits the hardest, and this band fits right into that lineage. With blown-out vocal delivery and nasty licks that slither in and out like the snakes in a traditional skull tattoo, there’s no bullshit on display here—just real-deal, manic hot-dialed rock’n’roll. The cover of jazz standard “Lover Man” (originally popularized by BILLIE HOLIDAY) is a standout, if only to hear such a beautiful song turn so ugly. The whole album slams with that exhilarating unhinged quality of a band that is tight as hell but can convincingly sound like they’re on the brink of self-destruction, reminiscent at times of MEAT PUPPETS’ first (and my favorite) record, which feels like some sort of country drug mania from hell. But the tunes stay strong, never fully falling apart and just hitting the mark cut after cut. If you like your meat bloody, don’t skip this one.

Plexi Stad Probation Baby EP

It’s interesting to see bands revisit eras of music that led to the aberrant and still notable explosion of radio rock bands in the early ’00s who decided to tap into icons like TELEVISION and the FEELIES rather than, I don’t know, whatever SOUNDGARDEN was obsessed with. It’s a mine still worth digging in, for sure, and the results are often not radio-ready in the way they once were (it even seems quaint to reference radio in the age of streaming, but here we are). PLEXI STAD, from Antwerp, taps into a compellingly angular strain of punk that echoes the aforementioned bands while still sounding vital and punchy. There is sizzle to this steak and some real grit in the production that hooks you into its world of skronky guitar and mobile bass lines. It’s not breaking ground, but rather retreading it in a way that is worth tuning in.

Repulsion Switch Repulsion Switch cassette

Egg-punk fries on, are you sick of it yet? Me neither! Especially when done well, as it is with this project from Spanish musician Gabriel Dolce. The drums are preprogrammed and buried way the hell down in the mix, in fact everything here becomes a bit soupy, giving it a blurry, psychedelic glow. This doesn’t sound so much from the bedroom as from a dungeon. It’s a merciless take on some folks’ favorite mutant offshoot genre that doesn’t let up, with crunching digital snare rolls and fuzzed-out-everything replete with a snot-nosed attitude to fill in the necessary cracks. So dig in, punk!

Young Harts All I Got LP

Like most people in their mid-thirties, I’m a ’90s nostalgist through and through. This full-length really should be my bag, with its sound that sits somewhere between SHUDDER TO THINK and the early albums of SUPERDRAG. On paper that sounds awesome, and there are moments of brightness from track to track. Ultimately, it falls a little short for me, largely due to some real clunkers in the lyric department—”No need for lyrics / I’m an OGG” seems to sum it up on the otherwise snappy “Up in Flames.” There’s also the production, which sounds overly digital. On that same song, there’s what sounds like software reverb throughout, which takes me right out of the experience. The song structures are solidly built and the vocal melodies are generally the centerpiece, but executed in a way that shines a bit too over-affected. The overall sound strikes me as a band that probably would have made a competent tour opener two decades ago, but I’d probably go stand in the drink line during their set now. And lastly, the more plodding ballads have got to go, such as the acoustic “Still Shining” and album closer “Shun It Down.”

Rat Cage Savage Visions LP

Do you feel lucky every day to wake up in this beautiful world? Then don’t buy this record. It’s not for you. This is a nuclear blast of hate against a world on fire. Sheffield’s RAT CAGE has been excellent from day one, but this is the most cohesive and apocalyptic the (mostly) solo project has been. The sound will please supercharged freaks who lick Swedish hardcore like a light socket, but the wattage is even brighter than even 2021’s split with NERVOUS SS. There’s been no mellowing with age, and why should there be? Everything is more fucked than ever, but B. Suddaby’s arterial screech and toxic riffs provide a perfect soundtrack—at times I swear this hits like Nick Blinko fronting DISCHARGE. I know, that sounds like hyperbole, but the ferocity and fearlessness to explore the strange dank corners of hardcore cannot be overstated here. A month after this detonation went live, the world had its hottest week in all of human history. Coincidence? I’ll let you listen and decide.

Princip You Are Here | פ​ר​י​נ​צ​י​פ – א​ת​ה נ​מ​צ​א כ​א​ן LP

Environment and landscape are concepts that don’t always factor into the listening experience of music. It’s why critics sometimes use words like “cinematic” to describe music, which isn’t exactly something I grab for in listening to this album. The major credit I give to this Israeli band is the ability to create an inner landscape of turmoil and a claustrophobic environment with a more or less rudimentary setup. These songs are intimate, noisy, and fraught with existential stressors and even terror. Conscripted service (a beyond troubling reality in the group’s country) as well as frustration and hopelessness are explored in a direct way both lyrically and musically. Noise and deathrock templates are used and augmented to create something of suffocating and grim value. But environment isn’t everything, there is great use of melody between the interplay of instrumentation (including smartly used organ, saxophone, and the play between bass and guitar) that cuts these songs into the muscles of the heart. It combines a lot of flavors, including no wave influence, especially in singer/songwriter Dean Klein’s guitar and vocal work. The punctuation from track to track is pretty phenomenal, stabs of rhythm and vocal expression helping to wallpaper the rooms of gritty despair. As a whole, it creates a cathartic world that mirrors our own while helping to break through the horror of the day-to-day. An artistically cohesive and impressive album that begs for repeated listening.

Steve Adamyk Band Do You Wanna Know / Slip Away 7″

In a sea of power pop with garage muscle, STEVE ADAMYK has always sailed truer than most. Likewise his bandmate Dave Forcier, who plays (and drinks) here with ADAMYK, blasting through classics of the genre (including one from ADAMYK’s earlier band SEDATIVES). I’ve always dug the Drunk Dial series in its simplicity and novelty. Get rockers in a room, get them loaded, and let ‘em rip through covers. The results are always fun, and it’s remarkable how tight this installment is considering the case of Coronas that laid the foundation for the session. The update to “Slip Away” sounds note-perfect to the original, and the version of the KIDS’ “Do You Wanna Know” is a perfect love letter to that late ’70s sound that never grows old. If you’re into this stuff, it’s a great addition to your collection, even if what you get on paper is what you get on your turntable with few surprises.

The Drolls Kick Out the Jammies / I Am a Data Scientist 7″

If you can’t rock, I guess you can try and be funny. If you can’t do either—ask to audition for the DROLLS! You’d fit right in. These two songs, referencing (in title only) MC5 and GUIDED BY VOICES respectively, had me following the run time as I listened. When there’s two songs each under three minutes, that’s kind of brutal. Musically, the tunes are forgettable. Compressed rock music that doesn’t have any heft to it and vocals way up front in the mix so you have to focus on the lyrics. And they’re supposed to be funny, but even in that department this release is limp. A track about being old and wanting to get in your jammies, and the other is about… I dunno, having a boring job? The B-side muses in the chorus, “I am a data scientist / It’s really not as cool as some insist.” Agreed. While this isn’t, like, offensively bad, it just sort of makes me wonder what’s the point? Comedy can be a great tool for tackling the mess of a world we live in. A lot of my favorite bands often get mislabeled with the “comedy band” signifier (most notably the DEAD MILKMEN, whose songs are often funny but go way deeper than just that). These tracks just sort of sit there and exist. They’re easily forgotten, or best yet ignored.

Bart and the Brats / Mitch Kramer Spoiled Rats split EP

Meat and potatoes, right? Bit of protein, something nice and filling on the side, and no unnecessary flash that adds nothing to the plate. That’s exactly what you get with this nasty little delight of an EP. BART AND THE BRATS lay it down with thick bass and suitable-to-the-name vocals. It’s crunchy, economic garage punk just the way I like it. Then on the flip we’ve got Connecticut-based KRAMER, whose every song fittingly uses the word “drunk” or “drinking.” These tunes sound more like a mean drunk whose edges somehow get sharper with every boilermaker and who, under no circumstances, should you recommend “taking it down a notch.” Both groups bring a blissful anarchic racket to the table, and to belabor my first metaphor into the grave, I’m hungry as hell for all of it.

Los Pepes The Happiness Program LP

With some power pop, it’s hard to dig deep and really dial in that critical ear. But dig I must, even when part of me just wants to say that like 90% of the genre this album is “fine.” These Londoners probably have the right record collections among them, with touchstones spanning from the ’50s R&B-indebted stabbing piano of the opening track to the more contemporary nod to GENTLEMAN JESSE on “Anecdotes.” Even when the band loosens the collar a bit with crashing guitars on a cut like “Keep Me Alive,” it sounds like they’re still on the leash. It just doesn’t punch through like I want in a good, modern rock’n’roll band. But that’s not to say there’s anything glaringly bad on this full-length. It’s just…fine.

Slander Tongue Monochrome LP

I really liked this band’s debut self-titled full-length, and was excited to see what they’d cooked up in the past couple of years. I’m mostly happy to report that while the sound is just a touch slinkier and snakier, it maintains its core of driving rock‘n’roll that carries echoes of giants like the ROLLING STONES without merely staley worshiping at the altar. The recipe hasn’t been tweaked much, the guitar work relies heavily on that back-and-forth boogie sound lifted from classic rhythm and blues music for decades, and the drums keep your ass wiggling throughout. What I will say is that I’m missing some of the warmth and recklessness of the band’s debut. Everything’s dialed-in and tidy, but that’s not what everyone wants from rock‘n’roll, is it? With some extra polish, I feel more distanced from the material. It lacks the immediacy, the broken glass on the floor, the stains on the bathroom stall door at a really great dive. Maybe that’s all artifice in itself, but if I get to choose the dream world I live in, I prefer one with cheap drinks where I can smoke inside. This time around, it’s more of a signature cocktail lounge and I’d better take my cigs the hell outside or else.

Curious Things Naif LP

After countless rip-offs of either the TOMS or (god forbid) BIG STAR, power pop’s luster has really tarnished for me over the years. Then I throw on this record, and initially my scuzzy punk brain is saying “too shiny, sounds too good!,” but then I realize this is what I’ve been missing for years in power pop. It’s still referential music, to be sure, but it’s referencing heyday ’90s power pop bands like TEENAGE FANCLUB and especially BUFFALO TOM. So I’m suddenly sitting up straighter in my chair, realizing this is something I didn’t think I’d ever hear again! A band with chops, a singer with loads of character, harmonies, and complex arrangements that hit. It takes a fair amount of confidence to put out music this sincere, and I’m totally here for it. To me, it’s tougher to write an honest-to-god ballad like “The Night” with some wavering fragility to it that beats out a hundred leather jacket ’70s-worshiping ironic rockers. This is so far the biggest surprise of the year for me, something I didn’t even know I was looking for, and I can’t wait to spin it all over again.

Gee Tee Vee Halloween 21 EP

You know who they are, you know it’s good, but still allow me to dive in with my big critical brain to this freaky little handful of tunes from TEE VEE REPAIRMAN and GEE TEE (more accurately, frontman Kel Mason). These tracks are lo-fi, crunchy joy bombs that sit precisely in the uniformly excellent discographies of both artists. Killer originals, cracking snares, and buzzing guitars—there’s even a trick ‘r’ treat of a cover of the BOYS’ “First Time” to put in your bag and check for hidden razor blades. It’s always good to see this loose coalition of bands keep the spirit of early ’00s garage punk alive and supercharged into the now. I won’t throw around the usual references, but this is the type of attitude that first turned my ear to this style and it’s just getting better.

C.P.R. Doll Music for Pleasure cassette

You might get excited looking at all the folks attached to this project—the uniformly excellent Goodbye Boozy and Under the Gun labels, players from ABORTED TORTOISE and GHOULIES, cameos from other top-tier Aussie acts like SATANIC TOGAS and TEE VEE REPAIRMAN. Well, stay excited, because this tape is rough-and-rumble like all the best coming out of Australia. It has an added layer of spaced-out darkness, even with the faintest cold touches of deathrock (especially in the bass) that really sends it home. The melodic shout-along vocals are dialed-in and the rhythms have that beautiful, almost Teutonic motorik android quality that locks you into a bop you can’t escape. Everyone involved in this beautifully incestuous rock scene just keeps getting better and better and it’s exhilarating to hear.

Big Mess Chartbusters cassette

I love when a band just tosses out a strong four tracks of well-written, earnestly performed and unfussy rock‘n’roll. That’s exactly what this is, and it never fails to amaze me how refreshing that is. No pretenses, just a lot of fun with enough teeth to really bite down. I don’t think everyone realizes how much harder it is to write songs with juicy hooks in under two minutes. Most bands seem to have a problem with editing, not so with these Danes. It’s lean as you like, and a hell of a good time.

Rough Kids The Black and White and Gray LP

Admittedly, on first listen I thought maybe this was nothing special. With my often jaded snob glasses on, I was probably thinking something corny like “well it’s not that rough, is it?” But this is goddamn good. Melody in punk is a tough gig, but this Los Angeles group has perfectly hit that intersection of late ’70s energy and an ear for tunefulness that is immensely satisfying. Making harmonies sound tough is no easy feat, and most punks can’t pull it off so they don’t even try. I’m hard pressed to think of a stronger display of just down-to-basics songwriting in recent years, and it doesn’t let up track to track. Dig into “She’s All Gray,” which hits like GENTLEMAN JESSE fronting DEAD BOYS, and tell me you’re not hooked. I definitely am.

The Thingz In the Age of Giant Moths LP

Maybe it’s me. Maybe looking for something fresh in the crowded space of garage bands is a fool’s errand, and I should just get over myself and try to have fun. But we’ve been at this stuff for decades now: the Tiki kitsch, the organ without any bite, the fuzzy but compressed-to-all-hell guitar. On their ninth LP (and yes that is impressive), this band presents something squeaky clean and calls it trash. It just doesn’t sell for me. Bands were obsessed with all these same things in the ’90s, cryptids and aliens and cocktail lounge decor. I’m sure this Long Beach act has a blast doing this after all these years, but for me it’s just another band harkening back to some made up alternate history of American rock’n’roll and doing nothing novel to tweak the formula.

Cenobite Cenobite demo cassette

Beaming in nightmares from space (a.k.a. Chicago) is CENOBITE, whose sci-fi hardcore evokes a visionary heftiness that calls to mind—hear me out—TIMEGHOUL, if they veered more punk than death metal. I rarely think of world-building outside of fiction, but there is a sort of mythological aspect to this demo due to its inventiveness and bleed-over into tinges of deathrock and industrial-adjacent noise that distorts (mutates?) the DNA of what would otherwise be a straight-ahead hardcore project in terms of energy output. This pummels, but it’s goddamn weird, too. The overall production tends to deprioritize the low end without neutralizing the weight of the riffs. The guitar is cranked through all kinds of cyberware that aids the overall dystopian paradise vibe. All in all, this is a ferocious and thrilling new project—one of the best demos I’ve heard in a while. Check it out, jack in, and blast off.

V/A Gritty But Pretty, Vol. 1 EP

This is a mixed bag of tunes, some of which hit hard while some are actively annoying. NEKRA, a London-based hardcore band with a previous release on the excellent La Vida Es Un Mus label, kicks things off with a ripper of an opener. From there, a more melodic track from the Belgian outfit LAVENDER WITCH keeps things engaging. The rest is fairly forgettable, save for a cut by TIGER SEX, whose song “Food Porn” continually repeats “She got my brownies / She likes the fudge” as its chorus over a rote riot grrrl riff. Yikes. Definitely nothing here makes this an essential comp.

Cuir Flood de Loose EP

Synth punk is another one of those subgenres that really needs to be dialed in so as not to sound stale, and this French solo project gets it pretty much right on the mark. Despite production that leans slightly toward thin, these songs are nonetheless meaty and efficient, ripping it up in record time with no fat whatsoever. It’s a nice buzzy blast of synth-driven punk, simple as that.

Wayne Pain & the Shit Stains The Zoo EP

You know what you’re getting into here. This EP sounds like trash. Glorious, nasty trash. If the MEATMEN were more rock‘n’roll and put a swing into the beat, you might get something like this. It’s four tracks of blissfully blown-out and ugly garage punk presented with love and care from the always on-point Goodbye Boozy label. It’s noisy as fuck, but doesn’t grate the ear (captures the lo-fi sound without throwing production entirely in the bin). The songs are anarchic, blindingly fast, and have that tight guitar pop structure that makes a crowd go crazy. So, to reiterate, with a band like this you know what you’re getting into—and it kicks ass.

Larsen ¡No! EP reissue

I love a niche, boutique reissue label precisely for bringing me nuggets like this early ’80s power surge of militant Spanish punk. A bit of an overlooked artifact, and it’s not earth-shifting material, but this is pretty ferocious stuff that manages to stay catchy. The vocals have interesting character, veering somewhere between theatrical snottiness and political vitriol. Also, the bass tone is great, much brighter and more present in the way records from this time often get right. “Vomitas Sangre” is definitely the standout here and scratches an itch for something truly unhinged. The rest is worth hearing, but there aren’t really any revelations to be found in this brief historical document.

Stereo Joy 10 Minutes With Stereo Joy cassette

Hitting more like a bedroom than garage, this solo project brings some nimble and nifty punk with enough genre experimentation to really craft something you can sink your teeth into in the promised ten-minute runtime. With surf excursions such as the aptly-named “Whirlpool,” as well as the more shambolic, apocalyptically grunge-tinged opener “Mind Imperfection,” this tape really showcases a broad range of what Joey Roest-Aleman can do. This is all while maintaining a cohesive sound of wet (like, drenched) and agile guitars, clear and punchy bass, and strange disaffected vocal delivery. The one gripe, and it’s biased, is the computerized drums. I get it, finding a drummer is every punk’s nightmare sometimes, but I’d love for this project to find one. It would really seal the deal.

Welt Star Ich Hasse Blumen cassette

Here is an international collaboration featuring the brains behind DIODE, BOBBY WOULD, and VAGUESS. Needless to say, I was thrilled to dive into this German (by way of L.A.) punk that is moody and fun all at once. The drums absolutely bop, there’s a tasteful amount of synth, and the guitar and bass interlock like some kind of all-angles double helix in a way that hits from the heart and not the head—this isn’t some erudite post-punk, but something much more populist and propulsive. It’s a total blast to hear these musical minds intersect, and though by all reports it could be a while until we hear more from this project (if ever again), I will be anxiously waiting. “Cool” feels like a meaningless word these days, but if anything is cool, it’s this. Tell me “Monstertruck” doesn’t have you shouting along and I’ll tell you to check your pulse.

Brian Disease Brian Disease cassette

They may have come up with low-effort (but high impact) joke names, but there’s something serious and even a bit sinister to this angular take on lo-fi punk. While these songs definitely have a bop to them, thanks largely to the rhythm section putting in heavy work, there’s a misanthropy that perfectly puts to rest any worry that punks will ever tire of telling folks to “fuck off.” Like life, this tape is nasty, brutish and short. It probably won’t brighten up your day and there’s nothing mindblowing here, but there’s still plenty to like.

Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones LP

It takes some years to get this kind of patina of confidence on your sound, and it’s been a fair few for this Wisconsin group. There’s almost a mysticism at the core of these songs—the sound is rooted in a somewhat scummed-up version of BEAT HAPPENING or other paragons of what used to be dubbed college rock (BIG DIPPER comes to mind?), but there is an effortless cool to the vocal delivery and unvarnished lyrical approach. Nothing flowery here, just pure attitude that jangles its way through the abyss with great guitar work and a rhythm section that won’t hold back. It’s hard to pin down the sound (as evidenced by the disparate sound of both previously mentioned bands) as it touches on garage, early grunge, and even some touches of cowpunk. The band feels singular in this way, and therefore ascended from the general rock‘n’roll din. Not to say the group doesn’t get down and dirty when it counts—just listen to the manic horniness of “Negra Bordello.” But this is one of those bands that sings songs like they’re sermons. Sermons of the nastiness of ordinary fucking life, sure, but those are the kind we need. So grab a pew and listen up.

Angerboys How to Profit From the Panic LP

I’m going to make a food analogy here, sorry in advance. Hardcore, like food, is best prepared from the best ingredients and prepared simply with proper seasoning. No fuss in the mixing booth, the right blend of influences and new ideas, and mastered properly. While ANGERBOYS have some of the ingredients right, namely speed, this full-length just doesn’t sound right. For one thing, it’s not mastered properly. I’m not a sound engineer or a snob, but when there are differences between the overall volume from track to track, it’s not a “who gives a fuck” punk ethos, it’s annoying. Combined with the fact that everything here sounds way too upfront, with no room to breathe in the instrumentation, and the vocals isolated and unnatural (not to mention some truly irritating lyricism)—this is just an unpleasant record altogether. Whatever happened to “community not competition,” when you have a song like “Your Band … Sucks!” (yes, punctuated like that). They even reference Bandcamp in said ten-second “fuck you” to other, presumably local, bands. Mirror, meet band, where do you think I listened to this thing?

Greyhound Scorched Earth cassette

Is it hard for anyone else out there to relax? With the doomy vibes weighing heavy in all the same ways (climate in crisis, bloated military spending, killer cops, bigotry and violence), it takes a lot to get me to take a deep breath of relief. But that’s exactly what I got out of this stunning full-length of crisp, ripping hardcore from this Oakland group. There’s a distinct Bay Area grit to these eleven cuts, captured perfectly in the band’s rehearsal space and mixed/mastered/released by themselves. It hits hard as nails—there’s heft in the low end and clarity in the guitars, something other home recorders could take some notes on. On top of that, the songs bleed with passion and cut through the crowded HC landscape with ingenious guitar work that consistently caught me off guard. On top of all that, all the band’s proceeds (including T-shirt sales) go toward G.L.I.T.S., so while the world may be a miserable place, GREYHOUND is out there doing the good work. Real deal.

Raut Raut cassette

“Egg” is hard to wash off, apparently. A meme turned flesh like Videodrome, thrown into the goofy blender that was essentially codified and perfected by its originators, yet still somehow refuses to be fully assimilated into a more generalized sound. I only spend so much time on the term because this Polish duo uses it in part to describe themselves, throwing the word “dark” in there for good measure although I can’t piece together why. These songs are stripped down to the point of monotony, which could strike a nerve in an interesting way (let’s never forget Mark E. Smith’s credo of “repetition, repetition, repetition”) if the music weren’t so sexless. This is ABABAB-structured coldwave that all sounds like it was recorded DI so that nothing really has depth or character. The vocals have a garbled telephone effect, like a rogue AI wants you to wire crypto or your loved ones will “get it.” If that all sounds appealing, and I’m sure it does to some, go all in. For me, the music just holds me at arm’s length, never letting me regard it as more than a curiosity. Let’s face it, no one likes eggs when they’re cold or old. Can we move on now?

Sklitakling Vi Har Hørt Det Dør (del 1) 7″

This is a solid two-count of crunchy, earnest rock songs from Norway. It kind of exists in some limbo between garage and something more straightforward. The guitar work is stellar, with staccato rhythms that prick like pinpoints while the drums remain playful throughout. Vocally, there’s a lot going for the sound, too, with some feral theatricality that gives way to effective gang vocal chants. If I spoke Norwegian, I’d definitely want to be shouting along by the end of this short and sweet salvo of tracks.

New Buck Biloxi Cellular Automaton LP

Okay, so first things first: the NEW BUCK BILOXI is pretty similar to the old. And thank god for that. This is like the motorik equivalent of pissed, pop-structured garage punk, with everything tuned for maximum efficiency and impact. Here, BILOXI’s (a.k.a. Robert Craig) voice takes on the sort of detached android quality one might expect given the album title, which lends an almost inhuman edge to the hopelessness on display, especially in tracks like the all-too-relatable “My Hole.” What made Craig’s previous output so legendary is all still here, but reduced down into a demiglace of nihilism. Super condensed, end-of-world self-mythologizing at its pinnacle. If you don’t love it, you’re probably a loser—them’s the rules.

Class Epoca de Los Vaqueros LP

Call it hometown pride, but Tucson has really been showing up lately on the broad landscape of excellent rock‘n’roll. This crew in particular is a fast favorite, with a strong debut EP and now this full-length that perfectly walks the tightrope of melodically pleasant and snotty punk. From track to track, CLASS manages to reference the gold standards of the late ’70s (even going so far as to brilliantly steal from “Guns of Brixton” in broad daylight on the track “Incomplete Extraction”). There’s more going on here than hero worship, though, and this band pulls out new tricks and layers of instrumentation that beef up their lush, driving sound at every turn. The songs are so strong, and the ear for detail just sends them home with a charge. I hope 2023 is another prolific year from this keen quartet, because I’m dying to hear more.

Gen Pop The Beat Sessions cassette

It’s often an impossible balancing act to teeter between sounding smart and acting tough, but it’s all the more intimidating when you can pull it off. This Washington-based four-piece is pulling up from a lot of deep wells, from straight-ahead bruising punk with an old-school flavor to more jangly ’80s New Zealand pop, and it blends well. Their previous full-length (2020’s PPM66 LP) showed this off handily, but hearing them in a live session like this really demonstrates prowess. A flexile track like “Rough Slough Triptych” does an entire floor routine before planting its feet firmly in polka beat, fist-swinging garage punk to stick the landing. This set of tunes flows breathlessly from three-minute heartfelt anthems to forty-second-long floor burners, leaving a perfect snapshot of a band that is imposing in how much they can get done in how little time—an almost endlessly re-playable release.

Pinch Points Process LP

I loved PINCH POINTS’ debut LP. It was punchy and pointed, the kind of jagged-angle punk with a POV that you leave on repeat. I didn’t think they could take such a grand leap forward, but sure as shit, they did. This collection of songs is a hell of a lot of fun musically, but the lyrics brought me to my knees. It’s all on-the-nose, but not in the way people usually mean as a lazy critique. The band says what it means, because they’re not being cute or coy. With songs about mental health, misogyny, the incarceration and murder of First Nations peoples at the hands of police, and literal calls to action against apathy, these are important screeds against the ills of our globally unwell society. Then the band wraps it all in a package of catchy, well-read hooks and illuminated playing across the board. A recent video gave a peek into the band’s writing process, and I saw something I hadn’t seen in a jam space in a long time: a white board featuring every bridge and sub-bridge and ABCs galore. It makes sense, the results are a sort of prog-but-not-for-dorks lightning bolt of punk with an effortless (sounding) execution. It’s exhilarating, and already leaves me breathless for the next release.

Skinman Skinman cassette

Always keep an ear perked for what’s happening in Hattiesburg. There’s been heaps of top-tier punk coming out of there for ages, and this ferocious quintet is no exception. This band hits hard with a grim touch that almost calls to mind DARKTHRONE’s more recent bizarro ’80s output. That’s not to say this is True Mississippi Black Metal, it’s fully its own brand of frenzied hardcore, but it’s coming from a far left field that makes it crushing and crucial. Don’t miss it.

Sooks Demo 22 cassette

Punk from Perth? Sign me up, always! This is righteous and rage-filled, with densely-penned and poetic lyrics delivered masterfully by vocalist Ange. There is an intimacy only harder driven home by the fearsome playing, especially on tracks like “Integrity” with perfect turns of phrase like “I’m a chronic committer, but I want to quit you.” While everything feels incredibly personal, there is a political fire in this band’s belly as well, serving rallying cries for bodily autonomy and against neoliberalism, crypto, and the climate crisis, while always tying it back to the heart. Overall, this cassette feels like an above-average, sophisticated exploration of big world ideas through a small and focused lens. The results are dizzyingly good.

Sick Thoughts Heaven is No Fun LP

Drew Owen has long since proven himself as one of the best songwriters of die-hard, old school rock‘n’roll. With this newest LP, he hasn’t just one-upped himself, he’s raised the bar on the whole fucking game. This record is eclectic, like a high-speed tour through everything that makes punk and rock music important to this day in under 30 minutes. From the straight-ahead nihilism of the opener “I Hate You,” through the anthemically evil “Mother, I Love Satan,” Owen demonstrates a mastery of genre and focus of vision that just hits in your bones. My personal favorite track, “EMP,” is the most evil blast of punk to hit my spine in years. It tips its hat to the mutoid malevolence of SACCHARINE TRUST’s Paganicons, while dragging it into the horrible pre-apocalypse we currently live in. I always thought of SICK THOUGHTS’ self-titled record as the gold standard of sneering, evil rock‘n’roll, but this unlucky collection of thirteen cuts handily clears that record. We’re in a new age of evil punk, and there’s even the almost tear-inducing “Someone I Can Talk To” love song(?) to offer a welcome depth to the whole affair. It’s a sort of victory lap within a triumphant record that belongs in the canon of great fucking rock records.

The Courettes Back in Mono LP

I can’t lie: aesthetically, I was dead-set on hating this. Another garage duo, and outfits calling back to the go-go era and Brando’s The Wild One get-up that so many rocker dudes can’t hang up in the closet. But yeah, okay, sure, that’s just the record jacket. And my mom always taught me…you know. Truthfully, this album is a pleasure. Great crackling and cavernous production that gives some edge to its sprawling harmonies and baroquely early ’60s pop structures. These two Danes clearly have no interest in leaving the past where it is, and while those types of outright recreations can often feel like forgeries, you just can’t call a good song bad. And these are good goddamn songs. Written with intention and educated ears, played to hip-swinging perfection. There’s even a sort of NANCY SINATRA by way of ’60s spy spoof soundtrack number (“Until You’re Mine”) that just works. I’m almost irritated, but ultimately just happy to see someone out there pulling off this sound without sounding precious.

Irreal Era Electrónica 12″

If you really commit and do your homework, sticking with tradition can always feel fresh and vital. This group from Barcelona certainly perfects a sound that could have come straight from the height of ’80s hardcore, when punks and metalheads started to blur together. This pummels, crackling with lightning and feedback that never once missteps. Brutality without a care for the modern world.

Viceprez Juger LP

These Lyon-based punks hit several pleasure centers at once. Their sound is scrappy and fierce, with enough rumble and groove to air things out while also seriously delivering on the hooks! Citing fellow French energetic melodic punks YOUTH AVOIDERS, and accurately so, this record also hits almost as hard as modern Oi! purveyors such as CHUBBY & THE GANG and the CHISEL. Each track is fun ‘n’ fierce and you’d have a hard time tracing the DNA from some of the members’ tenure in the much more indie outfit SPORT. Most of the music is gritty and full-force, with some interesting detours such as the menacingly repetitive “Driving Around,” which is also the only track that breaks the three-minute mark. Be sure to try out “Rice,” a poverty food anthem that rings true to a hungry belly and sounds straight from the time machine from 1979. Eleven tracks of no bullshit that’s a hell of a lot of fun. If you want more than that, you’re greedy.

Feed Stimuli cassette

I guess it was bound to happen, but someone finally smashed the two plastic dinosaurs of NWI-style home studio synth punk and good ol’ fashioned ’80s hardcore. The results couldn’t be more fun or sensibly pissed-off. The bulk of the HC sound comes from the broken-glass vocals that send home the blunt force of tracks like “Numb.” Everything here drives forward, with a cool clean tone to the guitars and satisfying swerve to the synth. Everything congeals in a sound that’s truly disorienting at first, with brainy-but-dumb guitar leads and great riffs that make your teeth throb. The overall impact feels subtle at first, but this is some dank basement rage cage shit, not to mention the dizzying effect of almost every track title/chorus being the same cadence of growling three syllables. Pow pow pow. Almost every cut. I’d definitely slam to it, and I’m amazed I haven’t heard more imitators. Not yet anyway, but they’ll come. Check out “Tooth Decay,” you won’t even notice you’re getting bruised when you’re having such a good time.

Thee Dirty Rats Humans Out LP

We’re in desperate need for a new wave of garage that doesn’t feel like an echo of an echo of the past. There have obviously been great garage rock duos that loom large over the scene, and THEE DIRTY RATS feel in step with the tradition, but the use of cigar box guitar that truly sounds like shit (not a compliment in this case) and distant and muddy drums makes most of the affair feel hollow. One high point that actually uses the crappy sound to an almost motorik effect is the uncharacteristically effective “Headache.” I could hang if the rest of this LP sounded the same, a blood rush of nearly industrial rock that touches base with SUICIDE and NEU! more so than anything from the garage canon. Likewise, the following track “Plastic Veins,” with its JESUS AND MARY CHAIN bubblegum goth aura, satisfies by doing something not altogether new but with a steely confidence and bummer vibe that I just want more of. Like any subgenre, the formula works best when used against itself, and I wish this Brazilian two-piece took that more to heart.

The Sick Rose Shaking Street LP reissue

This record, originally coming at the tail end of the ’80s revival of garage (you know, before the ’90s and then ’00s revivals, etc.) doesn’t necessarily live up to the billing of this quintet as one of Italy’s “most devastating” garage bands. I won’t fault these songs for a flaw in marketing though, because it does hit my sweet tooth for jangly guitar rock with some echoes of the ’60s freakout bands and an undeniably ’80s pop finish. Not quite the Paisley Underground, not quite America’s scum rock take on garage, and not quite the sparkling crystalline sound of New Zealand, this stands on its own rare ground and merits. A tune like “A Kiss is Not Enough” drives along like 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS premiered on college radio between a REPLACEMENTS song and R.E.M. Normally I wouldn’t throw so many bands together to describe someone’s sound, but it does flip a switch I wasn’t expecting. Then the band goes full time machine with the tambourine-accented and nicely-druggy “Don’t Keep Me Out.” It’s a great synthesis of eras and styles that mostly hit, even while not necessarily tapping the raw aggression other garage revivalists. This is fairly buttoned-up with hooks aplenty. European cool, I guess they call that.

Belly Jelly The Universal Language cassette

On the crowded dance floor of fringe synth-driven punk, it takes a special toolbox to stand out. Luckily, Indiana’s Sean Albert (SKULL CULT) has one with several deep compartments. A solo endeavor, BELLY JELLY is surprisingly broad in scope. This tape is an ambitious and deliciously weirdo odyssey, much like digging through a bag of jelly beans in every flavor (gosh, did I just stumble onto the point?). Each track brings a new shade of sharp, bouncy punk that can grate and inspire gyrations all at once. Far from cutesier iterations of this type of sound, Albert is keen on hitting you hard with syrupy hooks—like a rock covered in jam thrown through a window. A track like “Phobic Neurosis” exemplifies what this project does best, a bouncy nightmare of sharp riffs and effects-perverted vocals all set to a mechanically-precise rhythm section. Top marks all around!

Mark The 1st 2 Albums cassette

God bless the blown-out bedroom pop singers that keep the dream of guitar-based, melody-laden rock songs alive and well. The eponymous MARK offers up two full-lengths of just that on the best format for the form—cassette. At its best, the songs remind me of Matt Sharp’s post-WEEZER output, with a sort of detached but emotive cool. I’d advise against listening to both albums back-to-back, however, as the songs do tend to meander here and there and blur together into a nice-enough soup of pretty decent jams with some high points scattered throughout. Overall, The Short Shrift (the first album) is the more satisfying overall listen, with its more rough-around-the-edges production and straightforward emotive rock sensibility. There are great songs on both though, such as the more ponderous and expansive “Can’t Make it Honest” from Quiet Days. This is clearly a labor of love, and you couldn’t question the sincerity in play here, even if you might find yourself tuning in and out more than you should.


Liquids Life is Pain Idiot LP

Considering this was on my best of 2021 list, it’s not surprising that I love this record. Revisiting it now, especially now that it’s finally on vinyl, I’m amazed at how comparatively clean it all sounds given the band’s legacy of ear-bleeding basement punk. There’s no hesitation in recommending this sprawling collection of songs, though if anything, Mat Williams’ songs have even more heft to them with the details and turns of phrase (both lyrically and musically) put into sharper focus. Tracks like “All You Say” and “Shitty Fuckin DNA” are undeniable classics that continue the tradition of mirror-smashing hopelessness that keeps hardcore and punk vital to this day. The playing is as tight as ever, the songs are perfection. This band might be tidier than ever, but that doesn’t stop them from burning everything to the ground.

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.