Reviews

Drunken Sailor

A Culture of Killing The Feast of Vultures, The Cry of a Dove LP

Italian peace punks A CULTURE OF KILLING do an impeccable job in channeling the British anarcho-punk movement. Nostalgic feelings of listening to the MOB or CRASS run through every song on this record in a well-achieved way. Catchy and well-crafted songs about modern life in this decaying system. Taking the record name from investigative journalist Josy Josef’s dissertation about corruption in India’s democracy “Feast of Vultures,” it is filled to the brim with strong political views.

A Culture of Killing A Culture of Killing LP

This ain’t how you usually expect anarcho-punk to sound. This band from Italy goes epic: they take the icy guitars, melodic basslines, and baritone from early ’80s post-punk and mix it with anarcho themes and sensibilities. Think of short-haired the CURE, SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES, the CHURCH, and the MOB, the latter whom they cover (go straight to “Mirror Breaks”) on this LP. I couldn’t find that much information about these guys but it doesn’t matter, this record is full of hits. A CULTURE OF KILLING’s songwriting takes you places. Overall they sound dark but not bleak, dynamic yet really melodic, almost thrilling. “War” and “We Can Never Go Back” are two beautiful gems, a pair of chart hits from an alternative timeline in the ’80s. Perhaps what I’ve said so far might make you think these guys are fixated on the past, but they do have their own style and their lyrics are completely focused on the tribulations of these times. These eight songs were originally released on tape and now as vinyl. I hate to tell ya, though, the record is so good it actually sold out. Hope there’s a new edition we can get our hands on very soon.

Alien Nosejob Suddenly Everything is Twice as Loud LP

For the uninitiated, ALIEN NOSEJOB is the anything-goes solo project of Jake Robertson (AUSMUTEANTS, HIEROPHANTS, SMARTS). So far he’s put out records covering KBD punk, indie pop, straightforward hardcore, new wave, and disco. While previous releases have been more genre-focused (like the excellent USHC workout HC45 EP), this LP takes a more whimsical route through a handful of similar sounds. We’ve got some straight up RAMONES-core (“Television Sets,” “Black Sheep”), earnest indie pop (“Weight Of The World,” “Blending In”), and even some Horrendous New Wave-y new wave (“Spin Cycle”). Not every track is great, but when you take as many shots as this dude, you’re bound to chuck up a brick or two every now and then. Even still, this LP highlights what a gifted songwriter, musician, and producer Jake is. I’m stoked to see what direction he takes the project in next!

Altar of Eden The Grotto Screams 12″

In a world filled with overproduced post-punk, the “punk” aspect of the genre seems to be getting more and more subtle, giving way to indie-inspired tendencies. Enter ALTAR OF EDEN, a lo-fi post-punk band that contradicts this statement with its raw recording, deathrock undertones, gritty drum machine sound, and overall crude atmosphere. More akin to French coldwave bands like LEITMOTIV than to the typical post-punk references, The Grotto Screams is a beautifully ugly piece of dark punk that translates well to the suffocating atmosphere of modern life.

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.

BOOJI BOYS Tube Reducer LP

You’re probably familiar with this Canadian act via their prior efforts, having made a significant amount of racket across a few LPs in just a short amount of time. Part of me is on board with their homespun, hiss-fi takes on MARKED MEN-style buzz-pop, but then I grow a bit weary of the one-dimensional onslaught of it all. There are plenty of people content to listen to shit like this exclusively, but I just ain’t one of ’em. Loyalists have at, I guess.

Cement Shoes A Love Story of Drugs & Rock & Roll & Drugs EP

This fuckin’ band. First they tear the ass out of 2019 with the killer Too LP, and now this Love Story makes the rest of the 7″ pile pale in comparison. I thought this Richmond, VA outfit might be done after they parted ways with their previous black-throated singer, but drummer Trevor jumped up to fill the slot with surprisingly great results. Here the SHOES stomp through three songs, each showing a different side of the band’s bizarre spiral of turbo-charged, trippy, and groovy hardcore punk rock. The record clocks in at just under eight minutes, but rumor has it that a carefully-timed bong hit will make it seem more like sixteen. Starts heavy, ends heeavvy. Highly recommended.

Cereal Killer The Beginning & End of Cereal Killer LP

Eruptive ’tweener stylings from this Australian gang, affiliates of the WET BLANKETS and AUSMUTEANTS charm academies. If this is truly the beginning and end, CEREAL KILLER should feel accomplished and proud, as their take on hardcore—tuneful, mildly freaky—is endearing and fun. Seems “lite” in mood, but 100% serious in delivery, as all the performances are damn impressive. “Being Cool” has a perfect NWOBHM-inspired riff, something that carries over to “Should Punks Be Allies.” Along with the smarmy electronic swipes they sprinkle in, these injected deviations make this something you wanna listen to as well as thrash around to. Fast fun for fuckfaces.

Chain Whip Two Step to Hell 12″

CHAIN WHIP has been cracking punk skulls since 2018 in an attempt to mix the Killed By Death sound with grimy punk. The result is fast-paced, in-your-face hardcore in the vein of POISON IDEA meets the GERMS, and it has riffs for days. Also, it definitely has a huge upbeat quality to it, akin to Californian beach punk, and this time their sound is tighter than ever, putting the pedal to the metal speedwise. Two Step to Hell consists of six tracks: three of them are re-recorded versions from their 2020 demo, two are brand new CHAIN WHIP recordings, and one is a SUBHUMANS cover. So to sum it up, something old, something new, and something borrowed. What more can you ask for? Vancouver, BC hardcore at its best!

Corner Boys Waiting for 2020 LP

This sounds so 1979 indie punk, where punk was really pop. PROTEX, POINTED STICKS, and even first-LP UNDERTONES comparisons are dead on. This is this Vancouver band’s debut LP, and it’s pretty damn solid. The raw production really makes a difference. Great LP!

Dark Thoughts Must Be Nice LP

This third DARK THOUGHTS album follows the same musical line that everyone already knows: the RAMONES style. It’s amazing how the band can explore something as limited as this simple style. For those who follow DARK THOUGHTS, their trilogy of records complement each other a lot; although this album is very interesting, I still feel attached to the second one, though I’m flirting with the new one. Dee Dee would approve of this band.

Ditches Ditched LP

Smart, tight, fast, power-garage-pop from Stockholm, Sweden. The tight guitars, staccato lyrics, and relentless pace immediately bring to mind the North Texas scene (the Denton Sound, if you will) that spawned the MARKED MEN, RADIOACTIVITY, MIND SPIDERS, POTENTIAL JOHNS, HIGH TENSION WIRES, and any other band that Mark Ryan or Jeff Burke had a hand in and likely ended up on the Dirtnap roster. In regards to the above, DITCHES don’t so much duplicate, but more so translate, creating their own sound and style that lands a bit rougher and more earnest than their Texas counterparts. After giving this a few listens, I checked out the liner notes and found out that Jeff Burke of MARKED MEN/RADIOACTIVITY recorded and mixed the album and also lent some back up vocals as well. Suspicion and legitimacy confirmed.

Droids Blood Be Free LP

They want it to sound like a troupe of aliens giving some hard-driving garage punks a lap dance, and that’s pretty much where they landed. This thing has a frustration that almost conjures Revolution Summer (take “Half Sacrifice” as an example), and a driving force that dominates even the less chaotic songs. And speaking of those supposedly mellower moments, “Rotary Phone” is one of the slower tracks on Be Free, and it is an absolute stunner—a simply incredible track. Keyboards are subtle, intensity is constant, and even the moments that venture into indie territory are still just odd enough to keep them outside of any predetermined box. Closest modern comparison I get is DASHER, who were also in your face and in themselves at the same time. DROIDS BLOOD are worth way more listens, and I imagine I’m going to develop other opinions long after these words are public. For now, I’ll say that this is great; drop me a line in a few weeks and I’ll tell you the rest.

Erik Nervous Bugs!! LP

ERIK dropped the BETA BLOCKERS for this LP; he’s going solo and the results are marvelous.  Eleven tracks of DEVO-worshipping, synth-laden Midwest garage rock which sometimes veers into absolute hardcore mayhem. Songs are fast, hooks are catchy, riffs are sick, guitar solos are quick and frantic, with a vital impulse to push things to the extreme which is very alluring and fun. This kind of sound’s been on a revival kick of sorts lately, I haven’t been that interested in it to be honest, but ERIK NERVOUS delivers. Just listen to the chaotic opener “Our Hungry Fruit,” ERIK never lets up the intensity throughout the record. This was released on cassette last year but now you can get it on red, white, or black vinyl. Be stiff!

Erik Nervous and the Beta Blockers Erik Nervous and the Beta Blockers LP

ERIK NERVOUS returns with a collection of twelve garage punk bashers, now backed with a full band, the UK’s BETA BLOCKERS. Simple and dumb in the very best way, these tracks buzz along with a mix of classic garage punk and post-punk that reminds me of the SAINTS, SUBURBAN LAWNS, and maybe fellow Indiana weirdos CCTV. Despite very catchy songs, this is still a scrappy punk record with sung/shouted vocals that bring to mind JAY REATARD or maybe the MUMMIES with clearer production. I was already digging this when “Blasted Heath” surprised me with a squiggly synth underneath the rockin’ that takes ERIK and Co. into DEVO territory. Then the next track, “Want To Not Wanna,“ completely brings the mutant freak funk party that rivals the stupid joy of “Jocko Homo.” If you have any dorkiness in your heart, you will be bouncing in your seat. The rest of the record follows with a huge emphasis on fun, something I can definitely use more of in my life.

Freak Genes III LP

Third dispatch from this synth-punk duo, part of the PROTO IDIOT and HIPSHAKES camp, always worth a look-see. FREAK GENES hit some kinda sweet-spot between “lite” pop and punk churn, recalling JAY REATARD’s synth-centered flirtations in both songwriting and sound. Not a lot of deviation tune-to-tune though, making this merely a fun exercise rather than a must-hear album.

Gino and the Goons Do the Get Around LP

This is that RAMONES-based drunk punk “bad boy” thing that feels dated and unnecessary except when the SPITS do it. I’ll even give a pass to PERSONAL AND THE PIZZAS, because at least their gimmick includes pizza. It’s the musical equivalent to a comedian still trying to do Andrew Dice Clay bits in the year 2020. It’s like meeting that guy at a party that says “women are things!” and when called on it tries to explain, “I’m just being offensive, cuz that’s punk!” This Florida trio seems to think they’re doing a STOOGES impersonation, but it somehow comes off simultaneously as try-hard and lazy. “Prissy Missy” especially misses the mark, just kind of feeling like a sweaty old man hitting on every girl he sees with heavy panting and “come on baby, let’s step out and talk” creepiness. I wouldn’t want to be alone with this band, because I cannot stand for another lecture on how “PC” everyone’s gotten and how music’s “supposed to be fun!”

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.

Heterofobia Queremos Ver el Mundo Arder LP

You should already know that these Mexican punx got the best band name and you can see the amazing album art, so why not just get it now? The guitar tone on this record is next-level deranged-ness, like someone is twisting the tuning pegs up and down to the beat. A ghastly, atonal blast enveloping a vicious, aggressive punk style. We shall not be brainwashed to think that every band with chorus-y and reverb-y instruments is “goth.” This is darker than goth, angrier than hardcore. Viscerally, authentically unsettling but pogo-worthy at the same time. I knew the LA UVI song was a cover without even recognizing it from memory, and they execute it with style. I take it as a confirmation of their evident classic punk roots underneath the pleasurable nightmare they’ve created. Recommended for true freak punks and those who lack inhibition.

Human Trophy Corpse Dream LP

Throw some middle-shelf gin in a cocktail shaker of post-punk and some aggro goth-rock to get what HUMAN TROPHY is laying down on this album. Illustrator Reuben Sawyer’s latest musical project comes fully formed and ready to overwhelm your senses. This is an immersive experience, and not an inch or second of this record feels out of place. The obvious and trite comparisons are BAUHAUS and JOY DIVISION, but there is a unique flavor here that needs to be experienced. The titular track, “Corpse Dream,” is a flailing rager that really distills down the magic of the whole album. The album closes heavy with “Blood Apex,” leaving you ready to start it all right back up again. With so much else going on, it feels impossible that Sawyer was able to provide his full attention to this project, and yet, it’s far superior to so many other albums from groups that you could tell tried their damnedest. This is some magically perfect shit. This and whatever comes next are not to be missed.

Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters Waiting in a Corner LP

There isn’t much better than a really good Aussie punk record. It’s equal parts boozy grit, hazy dreariness, and urban beach angst. JACKSON REID BRIGGS & THE HEATERS have some of that going for them, minus the really forgettable band name. There’s a little SAINTS “Know Your Product” bigness of sound, a hint of RADIO BIRDMAN’s guitar theatrics, and a touch of the beautiful melancholy of “This Week” by CELIBATE RIFLES. Unfortunately, this is like the PAT BOONE version of all that, lacking the subversive kick and weirdness of all their possible influences. There’s no character or desperation here, nor even an accent present. There’s some moments like the aptly named “Feel It” where they almost get it, but it’s just not enough. They have a fuck-ton of releases and there is no lack of writing on them via the internet. I imagine you’re either a fan or not by this point. I’d sadly be in the latter group here.

Knowso Specialtronics Green Vision LP

Solid stuff from Cleveland punkers with some obvious DEVO in their DNA but also hinting at what it would sound like if NOMEANSNO were fronted by Steve Albini. They’re locked into a sound that is angular, makes a clear separation between guitar and bass, and keeps steady with deadpan double-tracked vocals evoking enough dread and despair that there’s no need for hooks. “Digital God” is the standout commentary on toxic contemporary life with lines like “I’m sending out letter bombs / It’s my first time.” At times they deserve the Johnny Ramone prize for sustained downpicking, other times the songs break down into more noodly-doodley rhythms but never approaching prog in their excess. Overall consistent, direct, and not particularly full of surprises once it gets going, but in all its pissed-off tension, totally works.

Knowso Rare Auld Trip / Psychological Garden LP

KNOWSO is a unique meld of off-kilter post-punk, new wave, and a dash of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART weirdness. Much like the first time I heard BEEFHEART’s Trout Mask Replica, I came away a little confused by my first listen to this record. It’s hard to pin down genre-wise, quirky as hell, and totally unlike most of what you hear in today’s punk scene. That being said, a few more listens to the record were enough for me to realize what a goddamn masterpiece this record is. Truly one of the most creative, unique, genre-bending releases of the year. The band has stumbled upon a punchier, noisier take on DEVO that still feels forward-thinking in the 21st century. It’s witty and sarcastic, but also profound, striking a nice balance lyrically. This is a highlight release of the year for me.

Nag Observer LP

NAG is very close to the tip-top of the best punk bands in—at least—the United States. Ever since their 2016 demo, I’ve been all ears for anything this combo puts out into the world. Observer is the second NAG full-length, and it keeps the streak writhingly alive. These cats are all in other great Atlanta bands, but NAG crams all the influences into such a deadly and efficient package. NAG is the assassin at the party. Sometimes they sound like A FRAMES doing ADOLESCENTS covers and I’ve got plenty of time for that, but more often than not they are stalking the fringes, biding time until they can explode like on the astral plane murder punk noir of “Sweeping Observer.” “The Drum Demands Order” and “Present Time” have a lockstep dystopian bent, Philip K. Dick guest-ghost-writing lyrics for DIE KREUZEN. Lovecraft gets a reference on a slammer of a cut, but I’m more into the dust-in-the-eyes Rowland S. Howard sweep of “The Darkest Veil.” They even pull out “Identify” from the demo, an eerie and defiant hardcore ripper that raises the same neck-hairs as SPIKE IN VAIN. “Dead Air” and “Vomit” are beach-punk-as-black-metal, something I just invented but actually NAG did. Thanks, NAG.

Negative Space Cruelty LP

Dark, bass-driven, noisy punk marked by a particularly bleak outlook. The seven songs here deal with themes of isolation, envy, guilt, anger, and death, and their effect on the mind and body; a sprechgesang report delivered forcefully and hoarsely over the sparse, minimal pulse of staccato guitar, punctuated in places by solid-state complaint. There is little room for light or hope to shine through. The band name could hardly be more apt: the group occupies a space adjacent to contemporary negative punks like STRUCTURE and DIÄT, or ancestral guides like CRISIS or WARSAW. “Eternal Rotation” distils the themes to their essence: “How long before your body is crushed by the column / To be taken by vehicle / To be taken by attack / To be taken by terminal illness.” Buy your ticket, kids, and sing along.

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.

 

Public Eye Music for Leisure LP

PUBLIC EYE’s Music for Leisure, a follow-up to 2017’s Relaxing Favorites, is perhaps not as laid-back as the title suggests, and is ultimately a solid outing. The Portland quartet keeps things mid-tempo, and instrumentally it’s as if mid-career IGGY POP took a Valium. The snappy, dry guitars are tone city and the riffage is more than capable and likely to get stuck in your head. The steady but low-key vocals hang back in a way that at times is similar to BEEF JERK, and in their more animated moments, bring PARQUET COURTS to mind. Only in “The Duet” do they break format and strip things down to bass and drums before breaking out into a caterwauling free jazz-style sax solo. Otherwise it’s stripped-down, it makes no mistakes, but doesn’t take any exceptional risks either. Pretty decent all around.

Scrap Brain A Journey Into Madness LP

Raw, vulnerable, and disgusting, SCRAP BRAIN delivers a scourge of slowed-down art hardcore spiced up with a few unusual elements like a remixed pop sample and electronic interlude. While some hardcore bands attempt to break music through extreme precision or brute force, SCRAP BRAIN instead uses their powers to contort notes into unnatural positions, pours on malaise-infused static confusions, and glues it all together with scathingly unapologetic lyrics dissecting the experience of madness. Definitely something not to miss for hardcore fans, art rockers, and weirdo punks alike.

Slumb Party Spending Money LP

Bridging the chasm between No New York and XTC on the dole, SLUMB PARTY conjures up a wealth of influences without feeling contrived. Spending Money is simultaneously catchy and complex, bizarro new wave for recovering consumers. The perfect soundtrack for making weird art, or trying out that experimental new dance move. A big recommendation from me, and relatively affordable for an overseas score.

Smirk Smirk LP

This one is too upbeat to be classified as a pandemic project. Yet, I suppose when you start something in 2020 it is impossible to avoid the connection. Under that sunny exterior lurks some annoyance and frustration. SMIRK is the solo project of PUBLIC EYE’s Nick Vicario, playing jangly, bright, minimalist pop. The vocals are a bit bratty. My fave is “Goons on the Beach,” which I will assume is about watching spring break idiots on TV. Good times.

The Cowboy Swimming With the Fishies EP

Cleveland noise punk band featuring members of HOMOSTUPIDS, PLEASURE LEFTISTS, FOLDED SHIRT, and more. This three-song EP was a stop-gap release between their 2017 debut on Fashionable Idiots and their 2020 LP on Feel It. The two tracks on the A-side run by quickly and sound like FLIPPER meets WATERY LOVE, while the B-side sounds more like an avant-garde take on post-hardcore. I think this stuff works better in album form. Still, this EP is solid. If you’ve liked any of their other stuff, you’ll like this. If you haven’t checked out any of their other stuff, this might be a good place to start—it’s pretty representative of their sound.

The Mark Vodka Group The Mark Vodka Group LP

Halifax, Nova Scotia seems like a weirdly dark, isolated, dangerous spot. Maybe it’s these kind of places that are fertile grounds for spastic punk mayhem. A place where music formulates apart from cultural pseudo-coolness and it’s just meat and bloody guts and acid juice. I’m thinking Mark Mothersbaugh and DEVO from Akron, Ohio, or Mark Winter and the CONEHEADS (or whatever he’s doing) from Northwest Indiana. Add to this the MARK VODKA GROUP, a project from Luke Mumford and some of the other Halifax BOOJI BOYS released by the ever reliable Drunken Sailor out of the UK. Gritty and bitter, but not without humor in a REATARDS-like way.

The Mind Edge of the Planet LP

Minimalist, mechanical, lo-fi instruments intermittently accompanied by dreamy, gentle vocals. While some of the tracks veer into noisy electronic territory, others are centered around the vocals and clean guitar leads that bring to mind ’90s singer-songwriter nostalgia. Tempos range from danceable to ballad, mostly settling somewhere in the zone of somber contemplation of a dying world. Since spheres don’t have edges, I’m gonna go ahead and assume this is also some low-key flat earth propaganda.

The Stools Feelin’ Fine EP

Detroit’s the STOOLS have a trashy and bugged-out punk sound not unlike New Zealand’s the CAVEMEN, but with a tighter musicianship powering the more traditional garage styles behind it. The A-side tracks “Can’t Feel Good” and “Half Track Mind” clock in at a formidable speed, marrying ’60s-inspired flair with ZEKE-like tempos, which I dig. On the flip side, they go a bit bluesy on “Rockpile,” and then they go groovy, sounding a lot like NYC’s DIRTY FENCES on the closing chant of “Eyeball Crush.” Real rock’n’roll cretins will want to get happily involved with this modern Motor City mutation.

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.