Noel Gardner

E Living Waters LP

Couple of real stalwarts of clang within E’s three-person lineup: Thalia Zedek has held it down in Boston and its outskirts for over 40 years, with UZI, LIVE SKULL and COME all revered among those who know (and like their wrist-slitting noise blues). Jason Sanford founded NEPTUNE, a band who played discordant post-hardcore on self-built, spine-bendingly heavy scrap metal instruments in the mid-’90s, and drummer Ernie Kim used to play with a band called HARRY AND THE POTTERS (but pretend I didn’t bring that up). Anyway, this is the fifth “proper” E album by my reckoning, and it’s a big, burly fucker, equally enervating and energising. Recorded semi-remotely, with Zedek and Kim in Boston and Sanford in Boulder, every riff and drum hit is captured perfectly and cuts to the bone: sometimes I find myself thinking I have no use for this sort of “grown-up” noise rock any longer, but when it’s engineered this beautifully and the songs land so hard, I’m sold. Arguable highlight is “Postperfect Conditional,” where Kim takes lead vocal duties and—partly as a result of his slightly high pitch, partly via the song’s uptempo meld of riffs and scrabble—the band ends up akin to the later-career sound of the EX.

Panikatax A Sudden and Unpleasant Change cassette

This may be a tape-only release on a DIY label, but to unfurl its glossy, multi-panel J-card, you’d think it the work of a real big-baller operation. Took me right back to the ’90s and stretching my pocket money further by purchasing my favoured grunge albums on the cheapest available format, I can tell you. Dubious nostalgia aside, these five songs are a welcome introduction to the dramatic, halfway psychedelic noise rock rumblings of PANIKATAX from Dublin. Big BIRTHDAY PARTY proto-psychobilly rhythms, JESUS LIZARD/FALL/COWS vocal slobbering, and a shit-ton of studio FX, to the extent I assumed there was a synth player in the band until I checked the credits. The B-side of the tape has a live set which is unavailable digitally and has seven songs, all different to the ones on the A-side.

Krupps Sport for All cassette

KRUPPS, from Nottingham, play an often fun sort of music (primitive post-punk) and bring good cheer as a live band (or did, to me, when I saw them), so it’s stuck with me just how miserable-sounding the album-length tape they did before this one, which is their third in total, was. Sport for All turns the dial back a bit towards merriment, helped perhaps by songs playing heavily ironic tribute to Peter Shilton (retired football goalkeeper/hero to Nottingham people of a certain age/unwavering supporter of the Conservative Party/moron) and Saddam Hussain (you know). Alan Martin is a great post-Mark E. Smith off-the-dome ranter waiting to be discovered by a wider audience, and the KRUPPS engine room kicks out just the right kind of stumbling dirge jams for his tale-telling—COUNTRY TEASERS, BOGSHED, pre-album PAVEMENT kinda thing. Real people music, and real great.

Cuntroaches Cuntroaches LP

Berlin’s most ballistic have somehow gone six years without releasing any new shit, and for that matter, this album is CUNTROACHES’ first after various tapes, lathes, splits, etc., but one listen to these eight songs (including two side-end locked grooves for extra noise vegetation) transported me right back to whatever year it was their first tape threw me fully clothed in the stagnant pond with its blackened noise-wave excess. Since 2018, members have also been part of URIN and KLÖSSE, and maybe both of those acts have leached into this music a little, with viciously blown-out dub-punk churn and FX-damaged hardcore. “Gravity System” does it all inside one (albeit five-and-a-half-minute) song: a gloomy, almost ambient intro, frazzled psyching-out that reminds me of that RAKTA/DEAFKIDS live collab LP, and a swerve into LEBENDEN TOTEN weird-crust. CUNTROACHES kill it live in my experience, and so will this set of music.

Life Abuse / Skrewball split EP

The artwork for this record plays up the UK/US divide of the two featured groups, with Death himself cradling crucial governmental architecture in each of his bony hands, but Crew Cuts could have just as easily made it a newjack/oldhead thing. I suspect I’m right in saying most of LIFE ABUSE have been playing hardcore since before most of SKREWBALL were born: there is some hefty pedigree in the former band, which makes it extra cool that they’re on board here. Their two songs don’t much resemble any of DAS OATH, SELF DEFENSE FAMILY, LIMP WRIST, or LIBYANS (to list four of many more), but “Divide and Conquer” is a pretty rad bombastic rocker with a guitar sound somewhere between goth, metal, and anarcho. The shorter “Ambushed” sets the tone for SKREWBALL from Plymouth, who bring the early NYHC style mosh parts—with a buoyant, as opposed to meatheaded, vibe—and lyrics about animal liberation and crooked cops.

Kevlar Upper Kevlar Upper demo cassette

Caveman hardcore from California somewhere between a palate cleanse and a pressure wash, KEVLAR UPPER tips their hat to notions of “mystery,” presentation-wise, but not so much that I can’t highlight the presence of dudes from WORLD PEACE, COMPASSION, ULTRAS, and Fear the Walking Dead—as in the TV show, not some band naming themselves after it. Spenser Granese is the guy adding to the long if intermittent crossover history of hardcore punk and acting, and I think it’s him on vocals for these five songs. Charging out the gate with borderline powerviolence intensity—in the ballpark of someone like VACCINE—the five-piece goes slower and longer for “Shackle,” which is kinda like a weightlifter’s version of TOTAL ABUSE. A fine example of the sort of thing it is.

Vidro Upp Till Dans EP

VIDRO, from Stockholm in the sense of a base camp, throws some American, Brazilian, and British grounding into the mix (that last one is pushing it, but before vocalist Vendela was doing this band she lived in Manchester and sang in a rad no wave thing, QUEER’D SCIENCE). Their lyrics are in Swedish and are sometimes as brief and blunt as their early ’80s hardcore forebears, but musically speaking, they brood more than thrash: “Allt Brinner,” which is also the title of their first LP but does not feature on it, is played at hardcore tempo while its three companions are slower. The guitar sound is a gnarly plughole swirl triangulating between punk, goth, and anarcho, and Vendela’s vocals get more baleful and antagonistic with every VIDRO release.

Screensaver Decent Shapes LP

Great example here of how a cluster of established, recognizable modes, tics, and tropes can get fed into the sausage machine and come out as something pretty…original. In SCREENSAVER—who started off as a US/AUS split concern and by the point of this, their second album, seem to be specifically Melbourne-based—you can hear the rocking yearning of peak SLEATER-KINNEY, the blunt thunk of early ’80s disco punk, coldwave’s synth-licked gloom (or the modern update of BELGRADO), and high-rolling BANSHEES goth rock. Often some of all of those are happening at once, which is in itself a niche of sorts, but a bigger factor in all this is that SCREENSAVER are really adept songwriters. Hook-crafters, especially, but also their switches between minimal/maximal, clean/fuzzy, throw your hands up/cry into your cider…spend some time with Decent Shapes too, it harbours rewards.

Atomçk Towering Failures LP

From, at this point in their evolution, a haphazard combination of Bristol, south Wales, and Leeds, ATOMÇK is described by someone (possibly themselves?) as “UK grindcore veterans.” Sounds kinda funny, but thinking about it, they’ve been hard on it since 2006 or so without a lot of pauses, and few UK bands have actually played grindcore for that long. I would call Towering Failures their fourth album proper, depending on how you go about formatting things, and it’s a most energetic crusher that, rhythmically speaking, gets in ample wriggling and twisting while it’s blasting. “Brain Rot,” the LP’s first song, sounds weirdly hardcore—like post-VOID type hardcore—if you ignore the textbook grind snare sound and inhuman screeching vocals, at least. Thereafter, eighteen more portions of buckwild tempo-pushing, sludgy dropouts, guitar parts with justifiable prog ambitions (like the clean metallic bits on “Fives,” the last track on the album) and song titles which range from grind scene-themed punning to ersatz NAPALM DEATH to Welsh slang for being pissed-off.

Kurvy Češi Šne​č​í Med LP

Prague noise rockers with prog (at its punkiest) tendencies and lyrics in Czech. Even allowing for Google Translate not (yet) having the ability to point out all the wordplay, idioms, metaphors, etc., these cats are clearly singing about some pretty unconventional nonsense. The singer has a snarky, dramatic tone that I associate foremost with Jello, and the music feels a bit like something he might have released on Alternative Tentacles in the early ’90s. Get moderately more up to date by throwing some WRANGLER BRUTES and XBXRX in the pot too, and wonder aloud if the sleeve art, disagreeable as it is, could have been the product of someone who, having seen the first MARS VOLTA album cover on its release, tried to recreate it from a fragment of memory twenty years later.

Repo Man Me Pop Now CD

At 52 minutes, this is a fairly long album—the fourth by REPO MAN, from Bristol—and most of its songs have a lot going on within them, but all things considered it flies by, and is decidedly further into the realms of jazz-lovin’ ’80s post-punk than organ-strokin’ prog noodle. Bojak, the band’s main vocalist, is a bug-eyed ranter on his own trip, and also contributes a healthy portion of sax and clarinet skronk; the guitarists and rhythm section can work with sinewy post-hardcore riffs or tricksier, scratchier arrangements. “Sirhan Sirhan” could be the work of one of those early ’90s Scottish bands like DOG FACED HERMANS, which is a huge plus, while at other times I got the scent of the NIGHTINGALES via the slanted energy, SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY via the expansive rocking, and ENABLERS via the literary worldbuilding.

Consolation Repulsive Reflections EP

Third release by this geographically-spread UK hardcore band, although the second was a super limited lathe 7” with two songs which are both among the six on Repulsive Reflections. The first side of this EP mixes up crust-adjacent hammer blows (“Abstain”) and creepy crawl trudging that explodes into wild VOID-like guitar mania (“Theft II”), and to that end makes for a pretty clear bridge back to CONSOLATION’s debut tape from 2019. On B-side numbers “Free” and “Stolen,” I pick up screamo vibes—at least one member of the band has a background in the 2010s UK iteration of that scene—in the guitars and vocals, like an Ebullition Records version of, say, PERSPEX FLESH. Works a charm for me. Speaking of charm, I really like the variety of people named in the lyric sheet’s “inspired by” list, including Kano (the grime MC), Shon Faye, and Bernadette Devlin.

Diall Four Song Promo cassette

More sustenance for fans of short-run, short-length tapes, fuzzily photocopied monochrome artwork, and Old English typefaces. Two songs from this so-called “promo” tape are slated to appear on DIALL’s debut 7”, one you’ll only find here as far as I can tell, and the other one is a cover of “Psycho Mafia” by the FALL. Neither this song nor DIALL in general sound much like the FALL, although this treatment of it goes some way to drawing an equivalence between the young Mark E. Smith’s world and their own lumpen hardcore oddness. Elsewhere, slow, sinister intros rise to mid-pace so the first sacrificial lamb can get moshed into a wall, a vocalist (who, pictorial evidence tells me, has been known to don a balaclava for live performance) has his demoncy blown-out and reverb-soaked, and guitars are larded with feedback.

Nix Nix demo cassette

On the strength of NIX’s four-song debut demo, this one’s no-messing, no-frills hardcore with velocity and bellicosity. The bona fides of the lineup—Reid Allen, Andy Bottaro, Dan Bulford, and Tallulah Hoffman—does not render this a great surprise, but NIX sounds in a real attack-dog mood here, and ensures this eight minutes is only predictable by virtue of how good it is. Tuned down pretty thick and rarely exceeding mid-pace, it’s a textbook example of how to do gruff, burly HC without throwing in metal flamboyance or beatdown sections, and on “Gospel for the Modern Age,” an almost melodic hook pokes out of the maelstrom, along with the sung refrain “Turn my body into dust.” NIX feels very much like a band who are a product of the 2023 London scene—or conversely a few of them, from the Knuckledust/LBU old-timers to so-called NWOBHC acts like ARMS RACE to the fresher likes of ANTAGONIZM.

Spam Caller Habituation cassette

“Mysterious guy hardcore” hasn’t been an approved descriptor for, what, a decade now? And I’m not going to try and turn that outgoing tide. On the other hand, the actual spam callers of this world are some of its most mysterious guys, so can we suppose their hardcore band namesake follows suit? SPAM CALLER is from Novato, CA and this, their third tape in ten months, is some blitzin’ nihilistic hardcore on that “disaffected suburbanite sicko” tip. It’s got reverb-heavy vox and freaky psych guitar (“Waste It” being the real gem in that department) for BIB and GAG kids, but also unfettered rage and powerviolence-ish compactness of, say, the REPOS. Really cool foldout sleeve art designed by Mark McCoy too, the likes of which you rarely find on a tape release.

Late Shift Late Shift cassette

LATE SHIFT is a one-person hardcore band in which Patrick Baxter, also of SPAM CALLER, plays everything himself. The results, on this debut tape, remain within the realms of blown-out HC, but change the formula up a bit. There’s a really appealing ignorant bootboy vibe to the arrangements, especially when they slow down a bit—sometimes I get NEGATIVE APPROACH, sometimes ’90s Cleveland scene bands like H100S—and a possible noise/industrial influence comes through the guitars on “Bummer.” Black metal-lookin’ logo, but no metal on these three songs really, nor will you feel like you need any.

Hozomeen The Void LP

There’s an identifiable type of noise rock that sounds, above all else, weary: beaten down by life, just about keeping its exasperation from boiling over. That doesn’t really read like a compliment, but it’s intended as one, certainly in this case. HOZOMEEN, a one-man project from northeast England, has this sound locked down. At its most effervescent, it sounds like the JESUS LIZARD after they got big but before they signed to a major label; elsewhere, the riffs are similarly big and hulking, but slower, like when you drag your own sagging carcass out to face the day. Not doom metal or slowcore, but on speaking terms with those things, and “One Kilohertz” is on an unmistakable MELVINS tip. There are some guest trumpet parts and unorthodox, maybe even dub-influenced production touches if you listen carefully. Graham Thompson, who is HOZOMEEN, has been in a solid list of bands over twenty-something years (thrashcore in JINN and NEUROSIS-via-hardcore in GRACE are the two I’m most familiar with) and has hit on something really neat here.

The Reflecting Skin II cassette

Another three songs and nine minutes of rank sludge punk to sit with this Leeds band’s first tape from early 2022. They’re faster and more hardcore-leaning this time out compared to the BRAINBOMBS vibes sloshing around the debut, though I still catch a black metal street punk influence, especially on “Irreversible Damage.” The goth-y guitar refrain on “Grimace” totally works too, cutting through the mire without cleaning anything up in doing so. Suspect the REFLECTING SKIN hasn’t gotten in enough faces live for the word to really spread yet, because this is blown-out, sloppy, and brutal in all the best ways.

Louse / The Shits split 10″

An insert packaged with this lathe-cut 10” bills this as the first in a series titled The Red Room Collection, a repository for “the UK’s most distinguished scum rock outfits.” Clearly, you have to come flying out the blocks with a claim like that, and this occurs with the SHITS and LOUSE (from Leeds and Newcastle respectively, although I believe there’s some shared membership). The SHITS have been getting increasingly psychedelic over their short-ish discography, albeit in a disagreeable bad batch kinda way; of their two cuts here, “Gratification” sticks in the head hardest thanks to an ignorant wah pedal sound as heard in latter-day BRAINBOMBS albums. LOUSE tips the cap to their confessed influences even more straightforwardly via a cover of DRUNKS WITH GUNS’ “Fist Puppet,” alongside two of their own. “Human Ashtray” is like when you listen to KILLDOZER and ALICE DONUT and think it could stand to be a bunch more deranged. That adds up to distinguished scum rock!

Es Fantasy EP

This is only the third release in seven years by ES from London, but in under an hour’s worth of music (to date), they’ve hit that sweet spot where a band establishes a singular and identifiable sound, but switches it up enough from record to record so things are retread-free. That sound, in short, stacks up spartan, rickety, vaguely creepy keyboards, doomsaying vocals, and a punchy post-punk rhythm section with no guitars in sight. It was a smash on 2016’s Object Relations and 2020’s Less of Everything, and so it is on the four-song Fantasy, but on the whole it’s a bit less goth and a bit more synth pop (“Too Late” especially), even if ES provides pretty screwed versions of both. The bass/drums-led “Swallowed Whole” runs at an almost anarcho-ish canter, too, which is what I mean about nice surprises each time.

Balta Rendszerszintű Agybaszás EP

Completely feral feedbacker thrash meltdown from a Budapest unit making their debut, and whose number appears to include another MRR reviewer (Viktor Vargyai) and someone from NORMS. Anyone already aware how out to lunch that band’s last two LPs sounded, prepare for BALTA to cube that on Rendszerszintű Agybaszás. If one wanted to pinpoint the location where noisepunk of the CONFUSE ilk morphs into noisecore à la SEVEN MINUTES OF NAUSEA, they could try the seven minutes and seven songs on this 7”. Fully life-affirming anti-music.

Machiavellian Art Indoctrination Sounds LP

From the midriff of England, MACHIAVELLIAN ART resembles FLIPPER and TODD trapped in outer space, with their faces rapidly purpling and someone’s voice box changing so he sounds like he’s fronting some HOAX kinda mysterious hardcore band. Must be tons of reverb up there too, because you can’t make out much of what Benjamin Thomas is hollering about, but you hear most of it several times over. Indoctrination Sounds, arriving nearly four years after the band’s sole previous release (a six-song tape, which you get with the digital version of this LP), is nasty noise rock with sax and freeform jam segments, but also—because you may have heard music which answers to that description before—a stamp of individuality. Goth basslines and black metal guitar tones lurk, then reach out to grab your ankle, and the title track almost ends up in RIGOROUS INSTITUTION territory. There’s some SNOB and VILE SECT folks in the band, and I have no idea if that’ll push you into investigating (though it should) or makes for especially helpful sonic pointers, but whatever leads you to this release is good by me.

ICD10 Faith in Institutions LP

Big movers from a few different nooks of the Philadelphia punk scene make up ICD10 on Faith in Institutions, their debut album following a self-released 2020 tape. Feels like this has flown under the radar a little, if anything, with the main POISON RUÏN dude and ex-SHEER MAG and DEVIL MASTER heads among the five members, but I’m going to chalk it up to Sorry State releasing the album two days before Christmas, because this is pretty ripping hardcore for rockers that splits the difference between heads-down charge and swirly psychedelic skygazing. ICD10 would be a pretty solid modern-classic HC band à la, say, MURO if they’d eschewed the hefty reverb on the vocals and other trippy FX, but those elements add a whole new dimension, with the guitarists going especially hog-wild for four minutes on LP closer “Can’t See Out.”

Black Shape F·U·C·K·M·E cassette

Earlier encounters with BLACK SHAPE, London-based if not necessarily Londoners, pegged them in my mind as jawdropping outsider two-man doom primitivism (with recorder solos and monologues)—a British version of SLOTH, in essence. This album-length tape is distinct from that, in that the songs are faster and it sounds a little cleaner, though we’re talking guitar heroics somewhere between HARVEY MILK and SCISSORFIGHT with a touch of SHELLAC clang-tone, so all these things are relative. The guitarist, David Burdis, also writes lyrics for the ages: genuinely funny without just doing relentless one-liners or otherwise going OTT on the zaniness (that NORMAL MAN LP from a few years back is a decent reference point, actually.) “Your Money or Your Life,” towards the end of the album, contains especially pleasing multitudes: a VAN HALEN-worthy solo, Burdis’ condensed history of capitalism (“Back in the day it was all about goods / Brought in the ships by the merchant traders / Now they trade in imaginary things / Information, numbers, ideas”), and a concluding call for solidarity with people who have to clean toilets after the world’s vomiting hordes have passed through.

Lee Patterson Burning Sun cassette

Highly efficient punky sludge riff salad from a London two-piece who, in neither case, are themselves named Lee Patterson. Burning Sun follows a previous cassette and a split 7” with suburban garage weirdos BUSINESS DUDES, and has an apparent “disaster movie” style theme across its four songs which you can basically take or leave. There’s a healthy level of bottom end for a release with no one playing bass on it, guitarist Adam Martin compensating with HELMET-esque crunch, while the title song touches first on late ’90s stoner/doom in its tunings, then Bleach-era NIRVANA.

The Cool Greenhouse Sod’s Toastie LP

Tom Greenhouse took on this alias to make glorious tumble-down post-punk garage all by himself, then got a bunch of band members to make an album that pretty much kept the same sound (that’s good!), and, excepting some saxophone and backing vox, has done everything you hear on Sod’s Toastie on his own again. What does it all mean? For us the grateful listener, very little. The COOL GREENHOUSE’s patented talking blues spin on the FALL and the MODERN LOVERS is still prevalent, though the swerve into Flying Nun-style fuzzed jangle on “I Lost My Head” feels new for this project, likewise the frequent bursts of rickety Afro-funk organ. Tom’s lyrical targets are righteous if not always revelatory—Jordan Peterson, Steve Jobs, finance market shitheads—and, with songs like “Hard Rock Potato” and “Get Deluded,” attached to some real joyful dirges, if that’s not an oxymoron. Heck, I can imagine the first of those being a floor-filler at the sort of decades-gone indie discos that played the SULTANS OF PING. Delightful music made with a legit DIY mentality that improves my life when I listen to it.

Game Legerdemain 12″

GAME’s No One Wins LP from 2019 was and is one of the best hardcore releases of the last half-decade or so, and this successor—six songs at 45rpm—is hot on its tail in that respect. The internationalist London quartet (who include Polish vocalist and Quality Control label owner Ola Herbich, and Jonah Falco of FUCKED UP, et al. on drums) have dialed up the already profound metal factor: the title cut, which opens Legerdemain, moves to a hardcore beat but is Motörcharged in that glorious early ’80s NWOBHM gumby way, Callum Baird’s guitars especially. “The Caricaturist” is the catchiest number on here, and “Shard” the chuggiest, with Nicky Rat’s bass cutting through big time. Lyrics—five songs in English, one in Polish—are political in an allusive, as opposed to directly referential, way. You won’t learn anything from Ola’s words (screenprinted on a tasty A1-sized foldout poster, by the way) but there are dozens of choice individual phrases crammed into a stone killer 12″.

Boss Cash Em In / Red Signal 7″

The second single by glam-punk hooligans BOSS arrives three years after the first, with under five minutes of music to show for it, but that’s no bovver cause this 45rpm, two-song, thank-you-and-goodnight format is the canonical vehicle for this sound. Also, most or all of the members have been busy here and there: Jonah Falco’s recorded a stack of bands and played on releases like the sick new GAME 12″, Maxime Smadja has, well, also recorded a stack of bands, even if there’s no sign of a new RIXE record (are they still going?). “Cash Em In” is the pick of the pair here, with a spoken intro by Callum of the CHISEL before a riot of muscled-up boogie and wicked guitar phasing; B-side “Red Signal” is heads-down junkshop glam with great, impetuous “whoo-oo!” backing vocal interjections.

The Electronic Circus Direct Lines / Le Chorale 7″ reissue

This one-off synth-pop single from 1981 is one of your “underground by circumstance, not by design” scenarios, in that the main guy behind the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, Chris Payne, was a biggish deal in the genre at the time (GARY NUMAN band member with a co-writing credit on VISAGE’s “Fade to Grey,” which I’m guessing has been a decent source of income since). He had a hit on his mind when releasing “Direct Lines,” it seems, but the world thought otherwise. Still, like plenty of other obscure early ’80s synth, it’s picked up an audience via YouTube, including Jensen from IRON LUNG, who’s given the single its second rerelease and first remaster. It’s solid stuff: briskly paced, with self-consciously space-age swirly keyboard FX and vocals erring on the dramatic side of paranoia. “Direct Lines” is of a piece with bands of the time like OMD, even if you can tell it was never likely to push the same pop chart buttons. “Le Chorale,” the B-side song, is a portentous instrumental built around pleasant electric piano.

SEMTEX 87 C.I.B. demo cassette

Scab-ripping HC that’s newly emerged from the Perth scene (Australia not Scotland—you probably realised this already) and bundles the city’s thrashier and effusive anarcho sides in one unit, with two EXTORTION dudes and one from COLD MEAT, to name but two. C.I.B. is a six-song demo tape whose title refers to the Commonwealth Investigation Branch in Perth, and more specifically a dude who drove a tank into the side of it by way of revenge for a past cop brutalizing. (Search “1993 Perth tank rampage” on Wikipedia if you feel so inclined.) It’s seething, raw ur-hardcore all the way, maybe like the FIX or someone but with gruff-as-hell vocals from Rhys Davies, putting me in mind of Nicholas Sarnella in ARMS RACE.

Liiek Deep Pore LP

Enjoyed the debut LP (or 12″ or whatever eight songs in fifteen minutes is best labelled as) by Berliners LIIEK nearly two years back, and they’ve more than consoled it with Deep Pore, a longer and slightly slicker eleven-tracker. Its post-punk rhythms can get decently funky, though you wouldn’t confuse this for quote-unquote dance music; basslines have a tonal depth that borders on gloomy, but the three-piece is too peppy to be goths or anarchos (compared to, say, either of the DIÄT LPs, to studiously pick out another Berlin band). At their punkiest here, that being “Take on a Dramatic Scale” for my money, they’re not a country mile from a band like SARCASM, I guess. I’m enjoying this album a bunch, and if this review lacks direct praise for LIIEK’s stern, choppy bassline-driven songs, it’s only because I’m f(l)ailing to comfortably box up a release with lots of familiar sounds sewn together in a slightly unfamiliar way.

Desborde Ya No Kiero Ser Parte De Este Mundo demo cassette

Buenos Aires band DESBORDE’s first release (although they put two of this tape’s seven songs on Bandcamp in March of this year, if you deem that to count) is being released by a ton of labels in different parts of the world, and I can only assume they all had much the same “woah!” reaction as I did on first hearing. It’s synth punk, but pretty far removed from the post-CONEHEADS/NWI scene egginess that seems to be the default style for that sound at present: it wouldn’t surprise me if none of DESBORDE’s five members owned any DEVO albums. Instead, it’s super catchy, mid-paced street punk-adjacent stuff with sing-along choruses (if you know Spanish) and groovy keyboard fizz—the juxtaposition is kinda similar to NACHTHEXEN, although DESBORDE is on closer terms with punk orthodoxy, sound-wise. Gotta imagine this band would be amazing to see live where most people in the room knew the songs back to front.

Cryptid I Exist demo cassette

Crusty noise punk blitz from a foursome who appear to have hooked up in Melbourne and at least partly dispersed since: Kyle from SHEER MAG, drumming here, was pandemically confined to Oz but has returned to Philadelphia. Not sure where vocalist JonCon (also of ZODIAK) lives, either. So you may or may not see CRYPTID live any time soon, but their demo is rad—chaotic, sure, and pretty thrashin’ fast for a noise-not-music band, but fully holding itself together with a nail-hard rhythmic frame as all sort of swirling psychedelic gloop enters the fray. This was also released, just prior to the tape versions, as a cool looking lathe-cut on the Winter Garden label, which you are way late to get a copy of, but comes with this apology from the label guy for potential bad sound quality: “my dog Ruben bumped the gain up without my knowledge so some of them are flooded with distortion.” He means an actual dog, as opposed to his friend trying to help out in the studio.

Positronix Bad House cassette

POSITRONIX are from Philly and seem to be part of a network-of-friends/member-sharing kinda scene with ZORN and ALIEN BIRTH, although I live thousands of miles away and if I put in the internet detective work necessary to certify who’s been in what, it would basically feel like stalking after a while. Bad House, their second tape, doesn’t sound much like either of those bands, regardless. Its six songs are full of power chords (albeit with moments of weird atonal soloing, as in “Positivist,” that totally works nevertheless) afforded thicc production and containing DNA from dark post-punk, loud axe-hero indie à la DINOSAUR JR or SUGAR, maybe 2k10s riot grrrl inheritors like SKATING POLLY? It’s somehow both punkier and more rock-fan accessible than I’m making it sound, and I can envisage it landing well with a lot of different musical subcultures.

Spirito Di Lupo 4 Songs cassette

The Milan DIY punk scene seems especially strong at the moment, and although I don’t know all the bands who supply personnel for SPIRITO DI LUPO (who are also partly Bolognese), I will rep KOBRA to anyone who cares to listen. Iron Lung clearly agrees, as they put the KOBRA LP out, and have given a North American home to this related band’s debut tape, released in Italy a few months prior. Revelling in its glorious shit-fi recording, it’s got proto-anarcho bin lid drumming, dual glowering dude/irate woman vox, a sort of Euro-Oi! tempo and something approaching a big rock moment in the riff power of the final song, “Canzone Della Foresta.” GERMS meets DIRT via NABAT, and as unhinged as such a meeting would have presumably been in reality.

Exek Good Thing They Ripped Up the Carpet LP

Archly romantic DIY pop shuffling, built from combination analogue and digital rhythms; distracted and/or stoned-sounding synth parts; textures and layers which read dub through the same lens as, say, YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS once did…this album from EXEK out of Melbourne is apparently half brand new shit (Side A) and half comp/split tracks (B), but it all flows with a lumpy singularity, a jumble with mumbling. The PHEROMOANS from England have a loosely similar line in post-punk/minimal synth low-key chaos, although EXEK doesn’t really go in for social satire in the same way. (They do have a song titled “The Theme From Judge Judy” though, which is something.) Recall their previous album, 2019’s Some Beautiful Species Left, being more linear on average than this, but EXEK does “spacey and weird” pretty well however they tweak their basic template.

Tunic Exhaling LP

Discography collection, or close enough to it for the sake of argument, from this Winnipeg trio. TUNIC plays—has played—various iterations of noise rock over the six years covered by Exhaling, which begins with the band’s three newest songs: “Fade Out” has me thinking of a Deathwish Records version of SWIZ, for better or worse. The scrabbly, jerky guitar style of their earlier releases, such as the Disappointment 7″, are agreeable enough, but TUNIC seems to have really hit their stride on 2019 album Complexion, with its big UNSANE-like walls of noise. There’s a whole new LP due this autumn and I’d be satisfied with a bit more of that and not too much concern about “progression,” whatever that is.

Goodbye World At Death’s Door LP

Twelve minutes of disgustingly hard thrashcore from the Youth Attack roster’s latest round of musical chairs: this bunch of middle-aged ’90s HC clingers-on and two slightly younger dudes appear to have made one of the genre’s high points of the ’20s to date. This isn’t to implicitly snark at newjack whippersnappers or some shit, just to note that GOODBYE WORLD is one brutal unit in word, deed, and aesthetic. Aaron Aspinwall, of the REPOS etc., kills it on vocals, although I suspect Mark McCoy to be the main lyricist here as they read like a more mass shooter-y continuation of his general vibe in FAILURES. (Not sure I’d call At Death’s Door a suicide concept album exactly, but most of its fifteen songs read like coded threats to some unnamed foe.) James Trejo’s bass sounds like I’d imagine being drowned in pickling vinegar feels and intermittent blasts of uber-metal soloing functions as light relief, at least in the context of this violently great record. I know it’s easy to roll eyes at the Youth Attack schtick but honestly, if you like hardcore punk this one is just undeniable.

Pigeon Deny All Knowledge of Complicity LP

Berlin post-punk efficiency featuring two members of LIIEK, and sitting in a sweet spot when it comes to the old compare’n’contrast: similar enough to that sibling band to have their enthusiasts keen to sign up, without the resemblance being close to the point where you ask why they’re doing this. PIGEON’s songs are taut and bassline-driven, but also well-produced and full of hooks that soar (can hooks do that? Musicological minds want to know). I think they’re nodding in the direction of UK post-punk’s biggest names, but by accident or design I get a ’90s Dischord vibe, say CIRCUS LUPUS, from several of these songs, or even AT THE DRIVE-IN on Deny All Knowledge of Complicity’s title track. It’ll probably add up to something overly collegiate for a lot of your tastes but is pleasingly bouncy for something so moody, if you follow.

Maladia Sacred Fires 12″

When I saw MALADIA play, close on eighteen months ago, they were billed second to PERMISSION, and while those two groups diverge somewhat from a baseline sound—one more weird, the other more ferocious—together they’re top of the line in modern London hardcore. Sacred Fires is MALADIA’s first vinyl release after a 2019 demo, and they have upped the (already intense) intensity for twelve minutes and five slippery rippers. John Weston sounds extra anarcho-aggro on the mic and the VOID via post-Pope Adrian RUDIMENTARY PENI blown-out deathrock vibe gets rolled up in a comparably more psychedelic carpet on the B-side. This is feeling like a sleeper hit of 2021 DIY punk.

Deafkids / Rakta Live at SESC Pompéia LP

The evolution of São Paulo’s RAKTA and Rio’s DEAFKIDS from, respectively, gothic post-punx and a solo crust project into their recent psych-freak heights has been hugely satisfying to witness, and also seemed to bring the two groups into each other’s orbit. Witnessed them both smash it live when they toured Europe together in 2019, including a decent chunk of RAKTA’s set which in fact saw both bands onstage—bringing us to this album, recorded live in São Paulo a little later in the year with all six members performing as a singular noise unit. You get two songs each from the most recent RAKTA and DEAFKIDS albums, plus both sides of the collaborative 7″ they made for that tour, and not only is it a spot-on recording, for the most part it sounds notably different—jammier, trippier, wormholier—to the studio versions. In this, Sesc Pompeia gets past the common problem of complete pointlessness associated with live albums. The presence of two drummers is key, helping to make RAKTA’s “Miragem” into a major Krautrock rave-up, and the rendition of “Espirais Da Loucura” by DEAFKIDS that closes this LP gets on a buckwild cosmic jazz tip.

Krupps Prospect Street cassette

Unlikely to be confused with DIE KRUPPS by anyone who takes time to listen, KRUPPS are from Nottingham and feature one of that city’s great BLOODY HEAD on guitar. Prospect Street is their second album-length tape, packaged like a cassingle (ask a Gen X-er), and it matches its predecessor, 2019’s Players, for het-up ranting shit-fi. These songs tend to be notably slower and dirgier than before, though, with the three musicians’ jangly slop energy reshaped into a murky, detuned plod. Similarly, where vocalist Alan Martin once sounded like someone unloading several years’ worth of frustration inside 25 minutes, here his demeanour contributes to a beaten-down and frankly depressing sounding album. Let me be clear—this is all good gravy to my ears, and by accident or design KRUPPS have found a sound both singular and fucked. Maybe think CERAMIC HOBS meets NO TREND as shorthand to try and grab your interest?

Chain of Flowers Amphetamine Luck flexi 7″

First new music in a few years from the Welsh diaspora’s preeminent dream pop punx, and “Amphetamine Luck” is a one-song, one-sided flexidisc which finds them back at peak performance. There are a shit ton of guitars on this, be that due to multi-tracking or a surfeit of fellows who simply love to stick their six-stringed oar in, and the full, fulsome, sweetly ear-ringing sound—from the synth-y ambient intro on—is a credit to producer Jonah Falco and, more poignantly, the late John Hannon on mastering duties. Lyrics seem to aim for that moment in a party arc where chemical euphoria starts to bleed into chemical regret: “I just can’t seem to learn,” croons Joshua Smith, relatably.

Health Plan Health Plan cassette

Must admit to having low-ish expectations for this one for a few jumbled reasons (artwork apparently completed in a two-minute time limit, recording process described as “we plugged guitars straight into a laptop,” members’ other bands USA NAILS and DEAD ARMS never truly doing it for me with their recorded product), but the debut release by London band HEALTH PLAN has some very agreeable moments of mangled punk electro No Wave. The nasty recording is actually a boon in fact, assuming you can get with clipping-heavy digital snowstorms, and the injections of sax skronk boost the gnarl nicely; vocals are largely semi-spoken and often buried in the mix. A sound I most readily associate with the first decade of this millennium—which makes it more fun to hear now!—HEALTH PLAN are working similar angles to XBXRX, PRE, and NO BABIES in times recent or less so.

Bloody Head The Temple Pillars Dissolve Into the Clouds LP

Even if much of this Nottingham band’s prior product was unlovely scum sludge for DRUNKS WITH GUNS huffers and the like, there was always something inherently trip-worthy about their vibe. Probably not a good trip, no, but…yeah. Either way, their second album leans more flagrantly than ever into psychedelia, opening number “This Could Be Paradise” wigging shaggily for eight-minutes-plus. Everyone sounds on top form here, vocalist Dave Bevan spitting the realest lyrics (“I’m 57 and I’ve never been sucked off / Imagine that”) and Ian Boult, who I daresay knows these guys’ steez inside out, recording them impeccably. BLOODY HEAD’s psych touchstones are the bad vibes bringers—STOOGES, SPACEMEN 3, BRAINBOMBS—but with the four-piece’s CV including MOLOCH, NADIR, and ARMY OF FLYING ROBOTS, they bring near-ceaseless riffs, too. Riffs they could probably sell to a younger, prettier band and watch as they toured the world with them—better they’re kept right here in this dank purgatory, though.

Gasp Stardonas EP

Discovering GASP’s Drome Triler of Puzzle Zoo People album back in the day—after the band was done, but a long time ago nevertheless—was a real light in the darkness for me. A band from (or at least adjacent to) the powerviolence scene who deployed all sorts of weird gloopy psychedelic shit and covered STRETCHHEADS! Somehow, they’re back after, it says here, sixteen years with a couple of new items, including this three-song 7″. “Husband is the Lake” is your go-to track if you want more of their chomping LSD grind; the other two are pretty far beyond “rock,” or the regular notion of it, although “Sign of Victor” feels a bit like something FAUST cooked up in a German commune circa 1971, all analog electronics and sludgy backmasking.

Headcheese Headcheese LP

British Columbia combo containing BOOTLICKER alumni rattle out twelve songs in twelve minutes and rarely if ever drop the tempo for this, their first vinyl outing. HEADCHEESE has a pretty big streak of garage punk in their hardcore, though, twin guitars both sounding scrawny and tinny (in a cool way). Reminds me of the SPITS here and there, early BLACK FLAG in certain respects, ANGRY SAMOANS for the insouciance… BLOODY HAMMER from late-’00s Texas had a really similar vibe for their short existence, I’d say. Lyrics, sang and I think written by Lewis Podlubny, lean heavily on the loser-punk burnout anthems but throw in some anti-police sentiment (I like the framing of this one: that’s cool your officer dad is nice to you, but he’s still a cop) and a sardonic love letter to Google Home.

Inyeccion Ejecutar demo cassette

This band is from Chile and Argentina, this is their first release, and beyond that I have no context in which to place INYECCION—apart from these ten songs amounting to the most perfectly realised shit-fi pogo-punk I’ve heard in a minute. The drummer has got that oompah beat down so pat it’ll make your heart sing; there are two vocalists, though it’s Cromi (also of FARMACO from Buenos Aires—hey, there’s some context) who indubitably rules the roost with her irate squawk. Guitar and bass merge into a singular conglomerate of amp fuzz, save for about 30 seconds of unlikely jangly guitar during “Atentar Dinamatar,” the last song on the tape. This rules and I want another INYECCION release already.

Horrendous 3D The Gov. and Corps. Are Using Psycho-Electronic Weaponry to Manipulate You & Me EP

Artwork for this looks like some random release on Bluurg Tapes, which is pretty much a red herring, or maybe one of your meta-referential EXITHIPPIES joints, which is getting warmer. HORRENDOUS 3D is a Portland band on a LEBENDEN TOTEN member’s label and they sound every bit as up for popping eardrums with pure tone filth on their debut 7″. That being said, the guitarist conjures up some interesting noise textures and blaze-past solos, as opposed to just cranking the dentist’s drill; the bass is textbook ’80s noisecore and chunky as anything; and the vocals could be imported into a grind band or AUTOPSY-type sludgy death outfit without sounding out of position.

Sarcasm Creeping Life 12″

The SARCASM tape—already half-a-decade old, I’m alarmed to read—and 2017 EP were glorious artefacts of their type, bare-brick rhythm-first punk that was somehow both punishingly direct and gnomically elusive. You didn’t expect or want this band to “progress,” whatever that means, and they haven’t exactly done that on Creeping Life (one of its six songs, “Digital Colony,” also appeared on the demo), but I just don’t see how their sound could get more platonically ideal than this. It’s not DESPERATE BICYCLES UK DIY or BAUHAUS goth or FLUX anarcho or GANG OF FOUR post-punk or even INSTITUTE updates on any combo of those things, but trace elements of each float around like the algal scum Luke McGuire sings about. His lyrics are neither reductive slogans or indulgent poetry, but use repetition really smartly and deploy imagery that haunts. I’m only half-sure what “Blinding scream, locked-in gaze / Creeping, breaking, a furious haze” is about (nuclear paranoia?), but damn if it doesn’t sound like deep shit when he intones it. All that, and bassist Alexandra Graves is still probably SARCASM’s M.V.P., in that their songs sound like they build from the basslines up.

Spiritual Mafia Al Fresco LP

Real Rorschach blot test music, this: I feel like one person could listen to SPIRITUAL MAFIA’s debut album and hear bleak, glazed-eye noise rock drudgery, and someone else could take in the exact same 32 minutes and walk away having experienced transcendent psych/Kraut heat damage. The pointedly mundane, repetitive lyrics thoroughly underscore this too, especially on Al Fresco’s opening and closing cuts, “Lunch” and “Bath Boy”—the latter of which runs past ten minutes, cycles through all manner of delicious dub manoeuvres and treats the act of jumping in the tub as a solipsist’s charter. “Hybrid Animal,” no one-pump chump itself at nearly nine minutes, is kinda HAWKWIND guitar frazzle with BIG BLACK subject matter (reputedly based on the time a friend’s neighbour called round, in the nude, to inform him she was pregnant with her three-legged dog’s offspring) and sounds like someone’s playing pool in the background at one point. “Smiles” and “Poolside” are shorter, thuddier arch-rockers that feel most emblematic of the Melbourne swamp SPIRITUAL MAFIA come from, thinking here of CONSTANT MONGREL and VOICE IMITATOR’s most recent releases. This one was a slowburner but I’m all about it now.

Ugly Thing Ugly Thing cassette

The Richter Scale label in Oxford has been transatlantically repping the Moreno Valley, CA hardcore scene, or one specific node of it, by running off UK editions of its bands’ extremely short tapes. Being objective here, anyone paying to have a toilet-break-length piece of music cargoed across the world is exhibiting decadence on a par with the last days of Rome. Not totally sure who’s in UGLY THING, but they’ve sprung from the same well as SUNK, REJEX, and PROCESS OF ELIMINATION, all of whom have Richter Scale tapes too, and their demo—four songs in two-and-a-half minutes—is tasty, “take a buzzsaw to a brick wall” HC with cool rabid dog vox and no song titles.

Haldol Negation LP

If I had to offer reasons why you should listen to HALDOL instead of a laundry list of other bands who come from DIY punk culture but play super-styled 1980s gothic rock—and I know I don’t actually have to offer those reasons—one would be their apparent dedication to perfecting their take on the archetype. A lot of contemporary acts like this retain a pretty evident hardcore background, or anarcho fandom, but Negation sounds like a straight-up “released on Red Rhino Records circa 1984″ goth opus. Aaron Muchanic brings in a KILLING JOKE-ish vibe by battering heck out of his toms on “Triangle” and “Bull’s Blood” (the intros to which sound almost identical to one another); Geoff Smith drops some cute CURE guitars into “Amuse-Bouches” among other songs and adds some big-venue reverb to plump up his vox for the likes of “The Garden.” The necessity of this type of carry-on is for the individual to decide, ultimately, but HALDOL does ’80s goth about as well as anyone you’ll find in the ’20s.

Poison Ruïn Poison Ruïn LP

Crucial vinyl comp of two self-issued tapes, released about-simultaneously with the second (though you’re way late to grab either), by the solo project of Philadelphia’s Mac Kennedy. POISON RUρN is however operating as a band henceforth, which is good news as it invites the possibility of dragging this past lockdown-era online hype status and bringing it to the people. A huge, booming sound prevails across these ten songs, riddled with hooks and accessible in its own odd way: you might catch shards of WIPERS, the MOB, INSTITUTE…and then there’s Kennedy’s whole “peace punk in chainmail” vibe. I do think the dungeon synth element is overemphasised in the bulk of chatter about POISON RUρN: not saying those parts are irrelevant, or there for show, just that it shouldn’t make or break the deal for anyone. Essentially, we’re talking atmospheric keyboard intros, or interludes, which foreshadow bombastic anarcho-goth stompers with the arena-bound drama of NWOBHM. “Sacrosanct,” from the first cassette, fuses the rock and synth elements to a greater extent; “Paladin’s Wrath,” from the second, has both the most drawn-out section of new age tinkling and the fastest, arguably hardcore tempo once the rock kicks in.

Preening Dragged Through the Garden 12″

PREENING didn’t invent any of the sounds, or combinations of sounds, you hear on this nine-song EP, but at this point they have fully slapped their own stamp on things, and they were decently distinctive before. The snaky saxophone and juddery bass calls back to early ’80s UK post-punk’s jazzier cats—frequently thinking BLURT, sometimes the POP GROUP—and it’s notable that Max Nordile, on the former listed instrument, plays like an actual jazzer as opposed to a punk who realised the sax’s din-making potential. (Check the slow’n’low “Red Red Lava” for evidence, or for that matter some of Max’s truly wild solo tapes.) His spluttering vox, frequently twinned with the slightly more insouciant tones of bassist Alejandra Alcala, lend a noisier, more abrasive angle to the band, not light years away from TRUMAN’S WATER or someone. Andy Human, PREENING compadre from their weird-punk Bay Area scene and Alejandra’s NAKED ROOMMATE bandmate, pops up at the end of Dragged Through the Garden with a creepy dub remix of “Extortion,” although if there is an original version it appears to be unreleased at present.

Citric Dummies Die Nasty cassette

There needs to be a few CITRIC DUMMIES-type bands around at any given time, otherwise punk might collapse in on itself and lose its intrinsic ability to revel in the theatre of the absurd, or something like that. By “CITRIC DUMMIES-type bands,” I mean ones who write energetic bangers (that aren’t really hardcore or skate punk or garage or KBD-type stuff, although if any of those things are your jam you might like this), with genuinely funny, obnoxious lyrics (that aren’t “anti-PC” or somesuch). BRUTAL KNIGHTS were probably the last band to bat a comparable average on this front to these guys from Minneapolis, and although Die Nasty doesn’t have any lines that have induced actual belly laughter Á  la “I H8 Birds” or “Where the Fuck Were You?” from previous DUMMIES outings, it’s as ribald as a tape with an opening song called “Your Ex-Girlfriend is Dating a Nazi” oughta be. For some reason you have to download it and/or play the actual tape to hear it mixed properly, and it intentionally sounds like shit if you just stream it, although no doubt some people will prefer that version.

Sick Thoughts Poor Boys / Drug Rock 7″

SICK THOUGHTS are one of those bands, or projects or whatever, that people constantly talk about in terms of how prolific they are on the release front, but this two-song 45 is the first thing under this name for nigh on eighteen months. I guess we’ve all had distractions one way or another. Both sides are pretty on-point if you’re already down with the essential Drew Owen ethos, and even if not, they’re pretty insta-likeable uptempo punk rock’n’roll with power-pop-gone-metal guitar solos. It’s not polished or anything, but no kind of lo-fi either, especially compared to Drew’s recent album as DD DETH. Kudos for also being bold enough to have a drawing of a bunch of skeletons playing instruments as the sleeve art, despite not being an ageing psychobilly band.

Les Conches Velasques Les Conches Velasques LP

This comes ultra-recommended if you fancy hearing some guitar-based underground rock music—stay with me—which ventures past obvious Western comfort zones, incorporating Arabic and African motifs and rhythmic tics into its arrangements without coming off at all tokenistic or white-dreadlocky. LES CONCHES VELASQUES was a solo project at the time of this debut album, released digitally in 2018 and now as an LP with two extra songs; during this interim period Pablo Jiménez, from Zaragoza in Spain, has turned it into a band, one who have a second album due out pretty soon. For now, dig this set of hypnotic trance-punk: sage-voiced (Spanish-language) vox over shuffly Afrobeat percussion, raw buzzy guitar tuned so it sounds like a horn section being played through a transistor radio, lyrics borrowed from early 20th century poet Pedro Salinas or, on one occasion, covering 1960s Ethiopian star singer Asnaqètch Wèrqu. The EX, 75 DOLLAR BILL, and LUNGFISH are the closest comparisons in terms of the “rock band format,” but LES CONCHES VELASQUES (like those groups) works with far wider horizons.

Harry Pussy Superstar EP

Fifteen micro-songs from a rando 1993 session by these Miami noise rock ultras, unreleased until now though HARRY PUSSY headz ought to know “Youth Problem”’ as the opening track on their debut album from that same year. The vibe on Superstar is not wildly dissimilar, which is to say it’s wild—total primordial beast blues guitar from Bill Orcutt, Adris Hoyos’ collapsing drums, red-faced fits passing for vox from both, and apparently a teenage accordionist, which, uh, if you say so. There’s no Mark Feehan on this one, yet it feels like HARRY PUSSY’s closest throwback to mid-’80s FL funnypunk (BROKEN TALENT, etc.) he and Orcutt crawled from. Essential for “Robert Ranks Reed (Alphabetically),” whose complete lyrics are the titles of six LOU REED albums and the grades awarded them by Robert Christgau. Vinyl looks to be long gone/at collector prices now, however.

Warm Red Decades of Breakfast LP

Clangy post-punk burl from an Atlanta band who did a 45 on Chunklet a while back but had evaded me until now; WARM RED’s members don’t seem to be burdened with ex-band bona fides, either, excepting the guitarist who seems like he’s down to play pretty much anything. This, meanwhile, starts off sounding like a mid-period JESUS LIZARD offcut before shifting to a slightly more straightforward groove, bass riffs often lighting the way forward and minor recourse to punk-funk in the percussion, as well as nicely androgynous vocals from Tony Gary. You wouldn’t call Decades of Breakfast polished, exactly, but I feel like WARM RED have within them whatever it was that nudged bands like PARQUET COURTS and OUGHT up a grade of popularity, and might not be mortified at the idea of people enjoying their music.

Puro Odio Demo 2018 10″

Dim memories of peeping this one back in the year of its original cassette release, giving it the thumbs up inside my brain and then not pursuing PURO ODIO in any serious way: a fool’s gambit, because this demo nailed the blackened Oi! sound as well as anyone in recent years. Reissued by Oakland metal label Sentient Ruin (Basque skinheads Mendeku also put it on vinyl earlier in 2020), these six songs are fixated on death and hell—both, in the case of “Darby Crash”—roll at a sinister pace, often cranking up the briskness but always coming off like they’ve got an extra gear to really hammer ya, and are recorded impeccably, cold and buzzing but with every instrument ringing through. Crucial shit if SEXDROME, HOAX, early RASPBERRY BULBS, and earlier CELTIC FROST turn your head when appearing next to each other like so. There was a PURO ODIO 7″ in 2019 too, but I could stand to hear plenty more from these two Spaniards.

Youth Regiment Youth Regiment cassette

Geed myself up to wax posi about how the Stucco label (of which Impotent Fetus is a spin-off) is currently doing a killer job of chronicling all these new raw Olympia HC bands on tapes with badly photocopied inlays. Then I noticed that YOUTH REGIMENT, who would otherwise be a glowing example of the form, recorded these four songs in late 2017 and are presumably long done by now, with two (both?) members carrying on in ELECTRIC CHAIR. Youth Regiment is still a worthy document if you dig the Pacific NW scene or geeky mid-paced-and-above hardcore in general. They (and the people who buffed this recording, notably Will Killingsworth on mastering) get that cruddy bass sound and slightly too springy toms just perfect; the bursts of speed kinda remind me of ADRENALIN O.D. and a guitar part or two could grace a LIQUIDS record. In summary, glad this got dug up.

C-Krit C-Krit cassette

Debut tape from new band, likely from Olympia (not that anyone involved lifts a finger in the service of biographical info) and delivering some of the wrongest-sounding hardcore I’ve heard in a while. Six songs, one an incongruous SCREAMING SNEAKERS cover and (most of) the others an absurd blizzard of teen-tantrum vocals, transistor-radio guitar tone, and drums that sound like someone trying to invent the blastbeat. They’ve called one song “The Kids Will Have Their Say Pt.II,” but come off like they’re trying to pay homage to “How Much Art Can You Take?” on the wilful sub-FLIPPER joint “Army Of Cru.” There’s another curveball at the end with “My Eyes Melt,” baked-sounding dub/synth-pop with no punk to be heard—but C-KRIT, whoever they are, makes the transition work. High recommendation for shit-fi stans!

No Negative The Darkening Hour 12″

One of the illest psychedelic punk purveyors out there has some detritus left over from when they recorded their most recent album, 2019’s The Last Offices, and some more from a while before that, and they think we should hear it. Call me a mooning fanboy, but I happen to agree! That being said, I can see why the two A-side numbers got shelved, because they don’t really jibe with the finished item’s vibe. “Perverbial Grave” [sic…I guess?] is barrelling, stumbling blooze sludge I could imagine having come from the same ’80s Aussie scene as, say, VENOM P. STINGER; “Upside Down World” is even more impeccably hamfisted, kinda CHAIN GANG-via-FUGS talky rabble rousing. From a 2015 session, meanwhile, “Raw Deal” is a reverby and vaguely mournful instrumental which precedes “Mon Obsession Personelle”: a French-language quasi-cover of “Louie Louie” with vox handled by Bernardino Femminielli, who seems to be a weirdo pop dude of some kind from Montreal.

Hekátē Μέρες Οργής / Days of Wrath LP

Synth-punk with a deathly pallor from Athens, a take-no-shit attitude nevertheless prevails in what appears to be HEKÁTĒ’s debut release. Ping-ponging between Greek and English for their lyrics, an organ sounds like it’s set to overheat on “Καλοκαίρι 2018,” while “Soapbox” is—in sentiment more than music—as dead-on as first-wave Riot Grrrl’s finest (“You get in my way and fuck up my day / You push me aside then ask me to smile / Ugh!”). A bumpin’ goth-punk bassline and psych-flecked keyboard swirl backs up Lydia’s reverbed-up vox on “Cul-De-Sac,” which along with “Ψυχαναγκασμός” comes off like ES trying out a WARSAW / STRANGLERS gene-splice, unlikely an occurrence as that might in reality be.”Αθήνα,” which closes the album, is billed as a collection of field recordings from Athens, and encompasses some sort of (possibly) tavern-bound balladry, smashing glass, thunder (or are those bombs?) and police sirens. Pretty skillfully assembled, actually, and doesn’t jar with an otherwise rocking set of post-punk.

True Sons of Thunder It Was Then That I Was Carrying You LP

The TRUE SONS OF THUNDER 7″ that Goodbye Boozy put out a couplathree months back was a stoater, and this follow-up album (which reprises the single’s first and best song, “Shake Rag,” and the briefer, goofier “Toob Sock”) keeps the pecker flying high. I say “follow-up” like this release schedule was the product of a laser-targeted promotional drive, but given these Memphis fellows took the best part of a decade to throw this together, we’re probably lucky we got one TSOT rekkid let alone two. This is an excitingly cloudy tonic of post-ELECTRIC EELS/FLIPPER/BUTTHOLES party sludge with a paw or two dipped in the honey jar of Southern rawk and the freakier fringe of ’90s garage punk. Plenty of five-minute-plus cuts here, and not much hyper tempo, but unquestioned reserves of energy — and they’re a crack unit, too, swerving all over the road on the likes of “Get A Hold To It” but always sounding on each other’s wavelength.

CCR Headcleaner Street Riffs LP

Based chiefly off their previous album Tear Down the Wall (the one with the photo of a nude hippy smashing a flaming guitar into a vast stack of amplifiers), I had San Fran’s CCR HEADCLEANER loosely pegged as one of those post-COMETS ON FIRE kinda bands who brought hardcore aggression to their classic rock fandom. This holds from time to time on Street Riffs (“Half a Tooth,” the bits of “Office Buildings” that sound like BL’AST), but pound-for-pound there’s more triumphalist stoner rawk, CRAZY HORSE shimmery noodling, and even a little LUNGFISH mysticism. It’s fun as hell and contains multiple moments that’ll have you in a pie-eyed grin, assuming you can get on board with all the stuff I just mentioned, but it does feel like CCR HEADCLEANER are in a transitory period between noisy freek-rock and actual structured songwriting—without having mastered the second of those things.

Normil Hawaiians In the Stone / Where Is Living? 7″

Originally a weird, scratchy crypto-anarcho collective on the hippier fringes of early ’80s UK post-punk, NORMIL HAWAIIANS’ return was preceded by Upset The Rhythm reissuing most of their back catalogue. Tentative gig action followed, and now there’s a two-song single of brand new fodder recorded somewhere very remote in Scotland. “In the Stone” grows from an alarmingly cruddy electric guitar intro to a wobbly suite of garage/psych organ, tom-heavy drums and spoken word. “Where Is Living?” on the flip again has a poetic bent, bewailing environmental destruction and “self-made prisons” over soft keyboards and, god love their earnestness, birdsong. Not sure how many copies of this exist, but about six weeks ago I did a serious double-take upon seeing a massive poster (like, “next one down from billboard”-sized) advertising it in the city centre where I live. Guessing the cost of such things is through the floor at the moment, so why not.

Drug Victim Mongrel EP

DRUG VICTIM is a straight edge band from Plymouth in England. If I lived in Plymouth I’d probably be straight edge as well, if only as an excuse to avoid its pubs full of off-duty army meatheads. Mongrel, their second release, crams seven songs onto one side of a 7″, balancing lyrics roughly equally between the politicised (factory farming on “Bolt Cutter”; religion, or some iteration of it, on “Dynamite Money”) and the negative/introspective. You can guess from the artwork this isn’t gonna be your corny youthcrew type sXe: I reckon DRUG VICTIM would prefer to think of themselves more on a COKE BUST or VACCINE kinda tip, with thick sludgy sections breaking up the powerviolence tempos. Of the four labels co-releasing it, two are from the UK, one from the US and one from Spain, should that info aid your purchase.

Hard Action Yours Truly / Walk Away 7″

Hard, moustachioed, denim jacket with enamel pins all-dude action, to give these Finns their full title. Their Hot Wired Beat LP was some pretty solid garage-rock-that-emphasised-the-rock stuff, but on the basis of this latest two-song job I feel HARD ACTION is a proverbial singles band—that, or these songs are just better. “Yours Truly” has its introductory protopunk chug usurped by a struttin’ THIN LIZZY-esque riff and wistful, vaguely heartland rock-y vox; “Walk Away” increases the tempo a shade, reserving its rawk leanings for the chorus. SHEER MAG’s first album and TV CRIME’s first singles are decent contemporary markers for this pair of fist-pumpers.

Naked Roommate Do the Duvet LP

Oakland’s NAKED ROOMMATE entered this world as a duo of Amber SermeÁ±o and Andy Jordan, at a point when both were also busy with the WORLD. Although they’ve swelled to a four-piece for Do The Duvet, with extra muscle from members of bands like PREENING and EXIT GROUP, it’s that first-mentioned band which feels like the big sonic clue here. If the WORLD were kinda like YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS as a ska band—minimalist, shivery, but with a very pronounced groove—NAKED ROOMMATE are closer to YMG meets ESG, the most discofied end of early ’80s post-punk rendered extra febrile and delicate. The beats are programmed and synths twinkle and burble blithely, nudging minimal synth territory on “Fill Space,” but Jordan’s guitar and Alejandra Alcaca’s basslines retain meatspace humanity over these ten songs, providing hooks galore as they do so.

Neurotic Fiction Romance EP

Seems like this is to be a past tense review, with NEUROTIC FICTION returning from a longish break by releasing this four-song 7″ only to tell us in the process that it’s their last. Sucks! But we, especially the “we” in their part of the world (the bottom left corner of the UK, basically), had a good run. Romance pushes most of the buttons that made their 2018 LP Pulp Music such a slinky banger—classic twee pop kicked out with the tempo and toughness of classic pop punk, plus some added rockabilly/B-52’S/Johnny Marr vibes—and embellishes this by way of garage/psych organ and weirdo post-punk twists. NEUROTIC FICTION packs so many clever bits into each two-minutes-and-change song, without ever getting flashy with it, but if someone isolated Livi Sinclair’s guitar parts I think I’d be nearly as happy just listening to those on repeat. Anyway this EP rules, this band ruled, go get!

Deep Tissue Patience or Fear LP

DEEP TISSUE are from Philadelphia and pitch their tent somewhere between ’80s goth and ’90s alt-rock, with complementary slick-but-not-too-slick production and outsized, prominent hooks. Their home city is noteworthy, to me, in that Patience or Fear (their debut LP) has me thinking back to a Philly band from a few years ago, DARK BLUE, and how they sounded like something that could find a seriously big audience if they wished. Never happened, for better or worse, and with 250 copies of this record in existence and no current option to tour it’s unlikely to happen for DEEP TISSUE either, but damn if this doesn’t sound like a lost hit. There are some punky, uptempo moments (“Despair,” “Dead Head”) powered by booming toms and Lauren Iona’s strong vocals; things built from textured, swirling guitars which suggest that LUSH and (specifically major label-era!) THROWING MUSES have been closely studied by the band as a whole (“Liminal Space”); and a tiptoe into the deathrock side of the border (“Injury”), although perhaps this album’s great strength is that it blurs distinctions between that, goth, shoegaze and punk by just placing them in one package of fine playing and songwriting.

Invalid Format Actual Behaviour cassette EP

Irrepressible posi hardcore from a Malaysian four-piece on what appears to be their second tape release. INVALID FORMAT seem like they’re in love with the pre-Out Of Step Dischord catalogue above all, and the clean-cut likes of 7 SECONDS those releases inspired, but as well as oompah-oompah rhythms and songs titled things like “Unite Not Fight” and “Stop the Violence”, the guitar has this chiming, ultra-melodic tone which sometimes suggests an early wave Creation Records band playing at twice their normal speed. Nice token bit of wonky surf-rock action on “Dear Little Friend,” too. If you’ve been waiting for something new by MILK from Japan, INVALID FORMAT are both a good stopgap and band in their own right.

Cumgirl8 Cumgirl8 LP

Not sure precisely what music I anticipated on first seeing the name CUMGIRL8—it might be one of those questions where everyone is best off not pursuing the answer—but this eccentric, ramshackle semi-synthesised post-punk wasn’t it. They’re from NYC, and a brief read-up on them only renders them more curious: singer and bass player Lida Fox and guitarist Veronika Vilim are both models, as in big baller runway Marc Jacobs type shit, with drummer/synth tweaker/producer Chase Noelle having played in BOYTOY and others. Whatever Cumgirl8 is, it’s not anyone’s typical catwalk soundtrack: its bass lines somehow simultaneously blunt and spiky, and Noelle bundling up human cowbell thwack and overheating drum machines. “Cherry Nipples” yanks down the tempo to a goth crawl without it contradicting the effervescence around it, or indeed the gawky indie-pop of “Blue Planet,” which follows. Fox’s vocals are very much in that SLITS/RAINCOATS tradition (I might have assumed she was English without the resources to confirm otherwise) and while the CUMGIRL8 trio, two of who are playing music for the first time in this band, give the impression of wanting to cram as much of their favourite music as possible into one album, they pull it off.

Gaffer Gaffer cassette

New-in-relative-terms punk from Perth, Australia, GAFFER played their debut show in May 2019, and snuck this seven-song demo out in March of this year. You can still grab a hard copy at the time of writing, which is nice, but suggests it’s flown under the radar a tad, which kinda sucks. There’s COLD MEAT personnel in the four-strong lineup—I think Kyle Gleadell if the wound-raw guitar tone is anything to go by—and vocals are handled by a British invader, Chris Shoulder, ex-herbert-y post-punx STRUCTURE. Accordingly, GAFFER have that air of heads-down CRISIS-type chunter to their sound, but also a bit of KBD rock-pig flourish and early-wave second-string UK fodder, the latter accentuated by consistently gloomy lyrics about life’s grinding drudgery. They’re not shy of breaking the three-minute mark (“Animal,” “Skin of Your Teeth”), yet this tape fair flies by.

Liiek Liiek LP

The fine line between efficiency and parsimony is walked by LIIEK on their debut long-player, if that’s the best term. Eight songs, fifteen minutes—bam!—could’ve left me wanting more in a less-than-good way, but this type of sharp, skeletal post-punk makes the whole experience work. A Berlin trio who sing in English; a typical LIIEK song weds a clean guitar line to a disciplined rhythm section, with semi-spoken vocals and occasionally chunkier riff breakdowns. “Waterfall” and “Dynamite” have a paranoid funk about them, comparable to SHOPPING, darker/starker moments come closer to someone like NEGATIVE SPACE, and closing number “The Goods Were Properly Packed” rides a choppy disco-punk groove. That, or the presence of songs titled “Crisis” and “Wire” is LIIEK putting their cards face-up on the table. Either way, there seems to be a bunch of neato punk weirdness coming out of Berlin right now, and this band appears fairly embedded in it.

Eight Rounds Rapid Love Your Work LP

EIGHT ROUNDS RAPID is a four-piece from Essex whose guitarist Simon Johnson is the son of the great Wilko Johnson, who held the equivalent position in DR. FEELGOOD’s original/classic lineup. I would usually feel a bit bad about going straight for this sort of trivia at the beginning of a review, but Wilko had Simon and his pals support him on tour twice, so they can’t really object to anyone else leaning on the family connections. As it goes, Love Your Work—the third 8RR album—is a pub-belligerent punk blues affair whose DNA has a fair bit of FEELGOODs in more than a literal sense, and the guitar sound is possibly the best thing about it. That reads like faint praise, I know, but it’s a dead nice tone. David Alexander’s sarky-talky vocals, a heads-down approach to rhythms and occasional breaks from the norm (“Retro Band” eschews the rock for a wobbly and vaguely experimental gripe at, possibly, hipsters which seems to be going for a SLEAFORD MODS thing and doesn’t really work) make this album feel a bit like a BBC 6 Music listeners’ version of HEAVY METAL (as in the Berlin band). That also reads like faint praise, and I suppose is in this case.

Utopian Demo cassette

You might find it hard to get a handle on UTOPIAN, even while their debut demo is getting its hooks into you. That’s partly because they remain mysterious, to anyone cursed with distance at least: they have a location (LA) and first names, but no clear web presence and a moniker that thumbs its nose at yer search engine’s surveillance. Moreover, these six songs pinball between goth, post-punk, hardcore, and noise rock without the result making you feel like the band ought to pick a damn side. Vocalist Sesamie introduces “Circle A” with some portentous spoken word but is swiftly revealed as a fiery yowling force, one which places songs like “Spiritual Vision,” the Spanish-language “Tierra Ajena,” and the pogo-fabulous “U.B.P.” in the orbit of COLD MEAT. Really hope UTOPIAN is built to last.

Gesture II cassette

Berlin quartet GESTURE’s first tape, from eighteen months or so ago, was a more-than-nice example of contemporary death rock, slinky and zippy in equal measure. Its successor, again a six-song affair, ups the mean tempo and borders hardcore stylistically, “Wants In Cells” leaning into this in particular. Opening number “Retreat” has those military-drill stern anarcho drums but an untethered, lurching feel; “Breeding Ground” peaces out before the one-minute mark but fees like it could have developed. Eva Sanglante remains a finely frosty frontperson and, while it appears that GESTURE are now an ex-band (we hardly knew ye!), her latest project MERGING sounds pretty swish on the basis of one comp tape song, if you like gloomy punked-up EBM at least.

The Walking Korpses All Safe and Dead LP

Proving that modern-day Berlin isn’t just a bolthole destination for ketamine-hoofing 27-year-old ravers, the current incarnation of that city’s WALKING KORPSES kicks out glowering goth sludge with a lineup predominantly assembled from what we still call expats but are, I suppose, more properly known as immigrants. Some interesting characters too, including two fellas from SPK splinter group LAST DOMINION LOST; two of post-punk rippers DIÄT (one of whom also released this LP on his label); and singer Jason Honea, who took over vocal duties for SOCIAL UNREST in the mid-’80s and has done the same for WALKING KORPSES after a journey that’s taken him a long way from East Bay skatecore. All Safe and Dead rocks for sure, often relatively conventionally, yet always with a but—awkward, lumbering and clashing, even when a joint like “Autumn Light” bears heavy hallmarks of big coat UK post-punk. Honea’s yelp is closer to BIRTHDAY PARTY-era Nick Cave, with the strep throat of UNSANE’s Charlie Spencer lurking in the mix. Shades/shards of LAUGHING HYENAS, later CLOCKCLEANER and offensively underrated Scottish group VOM can be detected in these seven songs, with a transcendent expansiveness at times (notably final song “Healthy Teeth”) which you could call psychedelic, if psych was less about staring blissfully at the sun than screaming into fog while holding a broken wine bottle.

Geld Beyond the Floor LP

’Twas the prehistoric epoch of 2018 when GELD’s Perfect Texture LP kicked my ass through the top of my head via its solid gold meld of Scando-Japano HC abandon and psychedelic guitar excursions. Beyond the Floor dials down the psych tropes—little on this twelve-tracker zongs out quite like, say, “Parasitic Fucker” off the debut; maybe the gothy scrawling on “Forces at Work” approaches that level—but is every bit as deranged and dangerous. Written and recorded on “pills, meth, booze, weed [and] DMT,” so says the sales spiel: if this is the case, this Melbourne foursome are the opposite of sloppy drunks, cabbaged stoners or too-gone tweakers, rather a destructive forward line dosed on black market medicine by a shadowy team doctor. That is to say: fully sick in-the-red guitar tone, basslines that are sinister but groovy in the same way, say, Kira’s were in BLACK FLAG, foaming provoked-animal vox from Al Smith, maybe some bestial black metal influence in there but it’s such a barrage yer just guessing really… plus the lyric “Pubs open in my mind” and, if you were quick enough (which you weren’t, should you be reading this as a buyers’ guide), a really neat Jack Chick-parody comic packaged with the browny-gold vinyl. GELD are god’s-honest dons.

Stray Bullet Din of Shit EP

An assembly of esteemed UK hardcore hardy perennials here in the form of STRAY BULLET, including but not limited to Crawford Mackay (CLOCKED OUT), Fergus Daffy (NO PULSE) and Brian Suddaby from umpteen bands of which RAT CAGE and HEAVY SENTENCE are the most recent, I guess. They’ve all found themselves in Sheffield with an urge to kick out careening, consistently brisk hardcore, bordering garage punk for the longest, closing number “Consider It Worn.” Sounds like some ’90s bargain bin relic to me, and that’s meant in a good way—bands like OUT COLD or NINE SHOCKS TERROR that are adored by small coteries of heads but whose releases can still be scored relatively cheaply. Chug-into-a-brickwall rhythm parts square up against high-pitched, almost-indulgent guitar solos and Mackay sounds as ready to blow his top as was the case during CLOCKED OUT’s existence.

The Cool Greenhouse The Cool Greenhouse LP

If you’re already hip to this name via the London and Landlords singles or Crap Cardboard Pet EP (the latter making the COOL GREENHOUSE, to date, the only British act to have been released on Lumpy Records, which seems like it counts for something even if I don’t know what exactly), then you’ll know it’s not a band but a person, Tom Greenhouse, with a drum machine. No longer! Here is The Cool Greenhouse, a debut album which turns the COOL GREENHOUSE into a full group, human drummer and all. It’s a bit more hi-fi than Tom’s previous outings, but still agreeably shonky, with the fucked-sounding garage organ remaining in place (now played by Merlin Nova, daughter of THIS HEAT’s Charles Hayward, dynasty fans). Foremost, though, the sense is of a vehicle for Tom’s lyrical outlook: there are a lot of words here, and with most songs between three and five minutes things could have dragged if his verbal rambles didn’t take so many sharp turns and drop multiple inspired lines. A peach of an album upholding the legacy of Jonathan Richman, the FALL, ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER, the YUMMY FUR, the COUNTRY TEASERS and the totality of early ’80s UKDIY.

Alice Bag Sister Dynamite LP

ALICE BAG was one of the initial architects of LA punk and has had a hell of a life since, incorporating education and activism as well as music. Her 2011 autobiog Violence Girl is a crucial read in this respect, but if your current go-to reference point for ALICE is her stint as frontwoman of the BAGS, that’s still a more than serviceable foundation for getting max enjoyment out of Sister Dynamite, her third album under this name. It’s decidedly punkier and higher tempo than its predecessor, 2018’s pop- and ska-flavoured Blueprint, although her backing band and production crew remains pretty much the same. The thread back to that early Dangerhouse Records sound is fully, pleasingly audible, despite the (relatively) slick musicianship and new wave sheen, and there are Spanish-language songs (“Subele”) among paeans to queerness and denunciations of privilege.

Antibodies 2019 + 2018 LP

There’s a quote from some old Jello Biafra interview that’s stuck with me down the years, where he suggests that many great punk bands come from small, remote or unfashionable towns and so develop their own identity rather than replicating a big city’s prevailing trend. Now, anyone who grew up or indeed still lives someplace with a five-figure population count and a scene of wall-to-wall mediocre dogshit will know that it doesn’t work out that way every time, but ANTIBODIES, from Charlottetown on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, prop up the notion majorly through the medium of chaotic weirdo hardcore. As per the title, this is a comp of two tapes from last year and the year before that, brought to vinyl by Drunken Sailor, and despite the 20-song totality averaging little over a minute there’s a freaky psychedelic vibe threaded all the way through in ultrafuzzed guitars, trippily reverbed vox and occasional gloopy electronic interludes. The drummer sounds perpetually on the verge of kicking his kit to bits and more often than not there’s a great essence-of-HC riff that cuts through all the noise. I hear the spirit of anyone from the GERMS to NEOS to HOMOSTUPIDS in this but soundwise, ANTIBODIES have their own sweet niche going on.

Obnox Savage Raygun 2xLP

Pretty rare to complete a calendar year without a new record by OBNOX—a.k.a. Bim Thomas, formally known as Lamont Thomas, formerly known as a drummer for bands including the BASSHOLES and PUFFY AREOLAS—but that’s what we got, or rather didn’t get, in 2019. Dude is back in a big way here though, with a blazing 20-song double-LP that zips by to the degree where the running time isn’t any kind of drag. There are more boom-bap hip hop beats than on any previous OBNOX release, with Thomas showcasing his MC skills with justifiable confidence, but these jams are never any kind of purist anything, with bolts of reassuringly raw garage guitar setting multiple midpaced bumpers aflame. Conversely, psych-punk melters like “Catbird” and “She (Was About That Life)” are bolstered by sick headnodder funk backbeats, and there’s even a NEIL YOUNG homage in the form of “Young Neezy,” not that you’d imagine Neil’s fanbase would much approve.

Es Less of Everything LP

The only previous release by London’s ES, the Object Relations 12″ back in 2016, was a more-than-fine intro to their biz, but if it showcased the singularity of this quartet’s sound, I don’t think I appreciated that—not like I’m doing with Less of Everything, their debut album, anyway. Nine songs of slashingly dramatic post-punk with goth, Euro coldwave and Neue Deutsche Welle touches might have you expecting some gloomy plod—and heck, plodding gloomily ain’t illegal yet—but a consistent factor of this album is how energetic it is, bouncy even. ES’s lack of guitar plays a big part in this perception, the three musicians a unified force of rhythm while vocalist Maria Tedemalm talks in ominous tones of closing-in walls and slippery slopes, and if you’ve encountered the individual members in bands past and present (PRIMETIME, SCRAP BRAIN, PUBLIC SERVICE, to name only three) their collective tiger in the tank will come as no surprise. Way more original sounding than music made with these basic ingredients ought to be, and just a blast generally.

Vile Reality Detached cassette

Sooner or later, someone was gonna hit “Vile” and “Reality” when throwing darts at the wall to choose their hardcore band’s name, and I’m glad it was these San Diegans, because this tape is fierce as hell and sounds like a band called VILE REALITY should. Six speedy cuts that generally come in around the 90s-second mark (“Immobilized,” which concludes the tape, is slightly longer) and bundle chuggy mosh parts, air-punching rocker moments and reverb-y, slyly psychedelic touches, topped off by the gruff-not-tough vox of Aaron McQueen. Deserves a vinyl release, although I appreciate the age of just pointing at things and saying “deserves a vinyl release” is not our current one.

Violent Christians No Speed No Punk cassette

Once again, we reach into the “hardcore band name imagery” lucky dip bucket and pull out VIOLENT CHRISTIANS, an Austin ensemble whose debut tape comes via the frequently good Roachleg. You could probably convince someone that No Speed No Punk is an authentic unearthed artefact from some Midwestern scene circa 1984, assuming that wasn’t their specialist subject to start with. “Body Bag” exhibits relatively melodic tendencies to kick us off, but thereafter it’s the kind of ramalama blowout where the vocalist nearly-but-not-quite falls over his lyrics, guitar solos enter and leave within a few seconds and at the end of “Up Your Arse” (these MFs said “arse”), a DIE KREUZEN-like shredder, someone asks, “Are we done?” Hopefully not!

Internal Rot Grieving Birth LP

It’s noteworthy that a record label run by two members of a grindcore band so rarely releases the stuff, but it’s not hugely surprising. Grind (like most genres) attracts the type of people obsessed with it to the exclusion of anything else, and to the inclusion of some pretty generic crud; IRON LUNG’s Jensen and Jon are clearly not that type, so when they help a grindcore record into the world, expectations are of elite tier material. INTERNAL ROT, from Melbourne, matches that expectation. The trio’s past offerings hardly slouched, but Grieving Birth ascends a level again with relentless precision blasts, hideously thick downtuning and vocals that might veer a little far into the “slam death” style for some tastes (suits me fine, personally). Needless to say, you’ll need to take the lyrics on trust, but they’re excellent: gruesome apocalyptica and grouchy scene politics in psychedelically strange syntax, not unlike some of Chris Dodge’s musings in SPAZZ. This album might be considered a standard-bearer for grindcore in years to come.

Man-Eaters Gentle Ballads for the Simple Soul LP

MAN-EATERS emerged from the corpse of TARANTÜLA who emerged from the corpse of CÜLO and if you know the lore of those bands you’ll be primed for Gentle Ballads for the Simple Soul being a sinewy salvo of chemically-altered rocking hardcore punk. You’ll get that, to a point, but you may be unprepared for how vast and preening the riffs are on this thing. A clear-as-daylight love of ’70s arena rock and proto-metal is baked into each of these ten songs: some of the solos could have been ripped from a NAZARETH record, or something equally archaic and pointedly pre-hardcore. The movie sample intros are like something you’d hear on an ELECTRIC WIZARD joint, and “Man-Eaters” (who among us doesn’t love a self-titled song?) tips things into FU MANCHU levels of gum-chewing dudeliness, but tempos here are generally amphetamine-fast. Danny Babirusa—formerly of BLEEDING GUMS, and the only non-ex-TARANTÜLA member—is the perfect vocalist for this sound, one which plenty of bands from POISON IDEA to TURBONEGRO to ANNIHILATION TIME have offered up before, but if anyone’s doing it as well as MAN-EATERS right now they’ve evaded my ears.

Cold Meat Hot and Flustered LP

Perth’s COLD MEAT were practically perfect from their first utterance, the Sweet Treats tape released nigh on five years back. I say “practically” to acknowledge that their atonal KBD clang, personal-political feminist lyrics and ever-changing pseudonyms stuck fast to a template established by GOOD THROB a few years prior. Hot and Flustered, COLD MEAT’s debut album, eclipses that minor issue majorly—this sounds like no individual entity so much as the latest raging entry in a half-century continuum of fucked-off snarky DIY punk. There are hooks on here visible from space, highlighted by a spot-on production, and lyrical earworms in waiting. Ashley Ack, as she goes by this time, is imperious here, one of punk’s current vocal powerhouses for sure, and at certain points (the closing section of “Women’s Work,” notably) seems to channel the spirit of Vi Subversa, the POISON GIRLS absolutely being part of that continuum I mentioned. A blazing band that keeps getting even better.

Hank Wood and the Hammerheads Use Me EP

Get the impression that my take on HANK WOOD AND THE HAMMERHEADS’ discography to date—improving on each release and peaking with their self-titled third LP from 2018—is widely considered uncool, verboten, wrong even. A great pity if so, as this is the stance that allows the easiest enjoyment of Use Me, a four-song EP which carries on down that testifyin’ soul-punk road and adds a little extra spit and polish as it goes. Opening track “Look at You” is one of those textbook Hank Wood vocal shakedowns, where he dresses down some unidentified foe into the dirt but does it with a peculiar affection. “Strangers” is tearjerker doo-wop it’s permissible to stagedive to, “Tomorrow” the chant of the eternal bozo optimist (“Tomorrow’s gonna turn my love around!”) with some unlikely post-punky reverb, and the closing title track pushes some equally unlikely ’90s alt buttons via sugary female backing vox.