Alternative What Revolution? EP

Apparently, in the ’80s ALTERNATIVE were often called “the Scottish CRASS,” which, depending on how much one liked CRASS, could have been either a massive compliment or an insult (the latter especially true if you were barmy and glue-prone). The comparison makes sense, and you can instantly tell ALTERNATIVE was heavily influenced by their commune-dwelling elders, even though the Scots’ music was much more accessible. I would argue that their oddly-named crowning glory, 1984’s If They Treat You Like Shit, Act Like Manure LP, can be basically seen as CRASS’s punk quintessence. The album contains all the punkier elements of CRASS (the upbeat numbers, the dual male/female vocals, the songwriting versatility, the visuals, the politics, the emphasis on the collective, and so on) without the layered dissonance and the (sometimes anguished) weirdness. ALTERNATIVE was the more tuneful and catchier Scottish cousin of CRASS. In fact, they were more tuneful and catchier than most of the bands gravitating around CRASS, like FLUX OF PINK INDIANS or DIRT. Yet they have always remained somewhat overshadowed, despite being potentially more appealing and easier to get into. Is it a London bias? Is it because they were unfairly deemed “CRASS clones”? Is it because they did not tour as much because they had troubles securing a stable lineup (I’m putting that euphemistically, only one member remained between 1982’s In Nomine Patri EP and the 1984 LP)? Is it because they have weird accents? The album, released on Corpus Christi, was always very hard to find and about as pricey as a kidney on the black market, so that clearly did not help, but music streaming did contribute to making the band accessible to new generations—I personally had to order a crap CD-R with the first two records burned on it. Finally, Sealed had the great idea to make the LP available again almost 40 years later, and here they go again with the What Revolution? EP. The statement that the album may be the ultimate ’80s anarcho-punk album is not irrelevant if you think in terms of a retroactively construed “anarcho checklist” that includes standards that we have come to associate with the “typical anarcho sound.” If so, yes, 1984’s ALTERNATIVE was the perfect anarcho-punk band. What Revolution? includes one song that was recorded during the LP session and should have appeared on it, but it was replaced with a live recording of “Where are Your Hiroshimas?,” a proclaimed fan favorite at the time (it is a simple anthemic song after all) that was still far inferior to the song “What Revolution?’” that has now finally found its way onto vinyl. This is a flawless number epitomizing and concentrating the sound of ’80s British anarcho-punk: energetic, tune-oriented, political with spoken parts, and just bloody catchy. CHUMBAWAMBA certainly looked up to and listened to this lot. The EP also includes two songs from the album with a different mix, a clearer guitar sound, and more of a stripped-down feel. Not essential and more “for the fans” (count me in). If you don’t know ALTERNATIVE, start with the album and then succumb to this one. And if you need a description, which you should not, put LOST CHERREES, the EPILEPTICS, and DIRT in a blender, and voilà. Another great initiative from Sealed Records.

Alternative If They Treat You Like Shit, Act Like Manure LP reissue

Rolling bass lines and protest-style drum beats combine with jagged guitar work to form songs that are reminiscent of other Crass Record bands, but with something a bit different. Pete Wright, bassist and vocalist for CRASS and ANNIE ANXIETY, assisted with the production and performed backing vocals on the original 1985 Corpus Christi Records release. ALTERNATIVE plays like the distillation of Crass Records; as if all the indignation, thematic content, and musical experimentation were concentrated and then finally released. This album as a whole is an adventurous sonic ride with various sound samples creating introductions and conclusions to songs that shift time and rollick freely through a world of criticism, warnings, and encouraged introspection with the summation being that the real revolution begins with the self.

Andy Stratton I Don’t Know / Evil Minds 7″ reissue

The small UK town of Yeovil, Somerset was home to a fairly bustling punk scene in the late ’70s/early ’80s, the most famous exports of which were the anarcho-punk band the MOB and their DIY label All the Madmen. Teenager ANDY STRATTON (né Barker, later of NULL & VOID) also hung around that scene and ended up befriending members of the MOB. At sixteen, he got a wild hair to make a pop record after attending the 1980 Stonehenge Free Festival. So he wrote a couple of tunes, recruited MOB-ster Graham Fallows to play drums, and came out with this 7”, the third release on All the Madmen. At the time, it was pressed in relatively small numbers (maybe 1000) and has since become all but forgotten. Thankfully Sealed, the archival wing of La Vida Es Un Mus, recognized this was a record worth shining some light on and are here with a faithful recreation of that release (plus they’ve added a lyrics insert alongside an interview with ANDY). “I Don’t Know” is a super catchy DIY power pop number that sounds like a mix of Pete Shelley BUZZCOCKS and TEENAGE HEAD. The lyrics are deliriously simple, as is the guitar riff, but it’s underscored by this incredibly energetic bass line that somehow really bumps up the maturity of the songwriting. It’s a pretty incredible track. “Evil Minds” awkwardly welds verses that sound like a new wave ode to “Nights in White Satin” to hooks that sound lifted from some POINTED STICKS song. It’s a little harder to get into, but at the very least it’s interesting. Still, probably worth it for the A-side alone!

Astaron Astaron LP reissue

ASTARON was the “two-frauen” Viennese duo of Angie Mörth and Martina Aichhorn, formed in 1984 as a synthesis of their shared creative interests in both music and performance art. The pair’s 1987 full-length was originally released in one small run of 500 copies and has become something of a dark/minimal wave touchstone in the years since, and it’s now finally back in print thanks to this reissue. ASTARON’s combination of intertwining vocals—one part dreamy and ethereal, one part icy and commanding—over clattering drum machine and bewitched synth in tracks like “The Burning” and “Burst Out” could be read as the Austrian response to mid-to-late-’80s groups in neighboring Germany like MALARIA! and XMAL DEUTSCHLAND who were bridging rigid post-punk and darkly gothic drama, while the gauzy drone of “In An Absence” navigates early 4AD territory and the sharp, punctuated rhythms of “As Time Joins In” lurk in some SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES-adjacent shadows. But really, there’s so many cool and captivating sounds to get lost in here, even if you’re resolutely not a part of the big-hair-and-eyeliner crowd!

Dolly Mixture Other Music LP

Last time I was in London (where I am from), there was a showing of the DOLLY MIXTURE documentary, and the movie theater was full of former indie pop girls, aging mods, and other subcultural types of an age to have been shaped by the first wave of British punk. There was an indignant mod who complained during the Q&A about the lack of evidence of their participation in the mod revival, which was the first time I thought about their band in that context. I always just assumed they were cutie pie C86 anorak types, but they actually formed in the ’70s, inspired equally by punk and ’60s girl groups. A total anomaly, they basically sort of invented a genre no one was ready for, and thus were relentlessly mocked by the punks and by more mainstream rock press. They toured with the UNDERTONES and were drenched in gob every night. As the mod revival happened, a space opened up for them, and their first 45 was released by none other than Paul Weller himself, but they clearly were not contained by that genre either, even if they fit in more in terms of the fan reaction. What does all o’ that mean in the face of this collection?! Unreleased DOLLY MIXTURE music?! I lost my mind and ordered this the second it was announced! Well it turns out most of it has been compiled before on CD, but there are a couple unreleased tracks! A different version of “How Come You’re Such a Hit with the Boys, Jane?” (supposedly about Jane from the MODETTES!?) and the beautiful “Same Mistake” which were supposed to be their first 45. The VELVET UNDERGROUND cover is really beautiful/cool, “Femme Fatale” really making the Brill Building roots of that group clear in a most Spector-ish fashion. The MOTT THE HOOPLE cover is also really charming/goofy, sounds almost like a cartoon theme song but in a good way! If you are at all intrigued by three cool teenage girls actualizing their vision of a girl-group punk-adjacent reality in the late ’70s/early ’80s, you need this! It’s a dream!

Dorothy I Confess / Softness 7″ reissue

The all-time greatest THROBBING GRISTLE-connected record, go ahead and fight me. Before the arrival of PSYCHIC TV, Alex Fergusson of ALTERNATIVE TV crafted these alternate-universe pop hits in collaboration with the notorious Genesis P. and Dorothy Max Prior and released them as a one-off single on Industrial in 1980, with Dorothy subversively described on the back of the sleeve as a being a teenage ingénue when in reality, she was the drummer for mechanically-droning 4AD post-punks REMA-REMA and very much in her late twenties. The trio apparently tried and failed to enter A-side “I Confess” into the Eurovision song contest, which actually makes perfect sense—it’s readymade for department store speakers, with syrupy early ’80s electronics, a prefab shuffling pop beat, and Dorothy’s babydoll vocals naming her various favorite things, starting innocuously with “boys in Beatle boots” before eventually hitting an absolutely mind-blowing “musique concrète”/”SUBWAY SECT” rhyming couplet. They could have been the next ABBA! That said, the real smash hit here is the B-side “Softness,” a mutant disco dancefloor workout for the ages in which Dorothy coos over the most slithering and slinky after-hours throb of retrofuturist synth and snap-tight funk rhythms this side of a LIZZY MERCIER DESCLOUX joint. All culture jams should jam this convincingly; a mandatory acquisition!

Iconoclast Domination or Destruction LP

It’s about time this was reissued on vinyl, and I’m thrilled Sealed Records did such an excellent job. Alongside California brethren like CRUCIFIX, DIATRIBE, or (to a lesser degree) BATTALION OF SAINTS, California’s ICONOCLAST was one of the first DISCHARGE-style bands in the US, and their 1983 demo tape on side A is one of the finest (until now) cassette-only ’80s hardcore recordings. Like the aforementioned, ICONOCLAST upped the intensity level of the UK-born style—their driving, garagey demo tracks are the perfect amalgamation of VARUKERS-esque bludgeon and POISON IDEA-style USHC fury. Side B collects their other recordings: a pair of seriously ripping live tracks from compilations plus their 1985 EP originally released on Flipside Records. That disc featured a mix of styles—a muddy rehash of a couple older HC songs plus a pair of more “matured” peace-punk cuts. I remembered the EP as being a disappointing about-face, though its inclusion here is appreciated now as simply a different expression from a group of idealistic young punks. Complete with an extensive booklet, this compilation is mandatory listening.

Karma Sutra Be Cruel With Your Past and All Who Seek To Keep You There LP

This is a really, really special release of an amazing anarcho-punk band from England. As a record collector, I always get really excited when a label makes releases like this, because some of this stuff is almost impossible to get or the bands simply didn’t release any material at that time. KARMA SUTRA were one of those bands that have all the elements that makes me fall in love with anarcho-punk—I don’t think they have any song that is not good, it’s a classic, it’s timeless, a record you should get before people try to sell it on Discogs for incredibly stupid prices.

Model Workers Cry EP

My initial thought upon putting on this expanded reissue from Northeast England obscuros MODEL WORKERS was that it sounded a lot like an Ed Ball and Paul Weller team-up. I know it’s a bit lazy to compare one band to another when describing an act’s sound, but I’ve never really figured out a good alternative. I’m also a little lazy. That said, I don’t just toss out comparisons lightly—I generally spend an embarrassing amount of time making sure they are apt. Seriously, I’ll waste hours queuing up stuff to find the exact songs that made a band pop in my head as a point of comparison. So, when I saw the label copy for this release specifically mentioning TELEVISION PERSONALITIES, the TIMES, and the JAM, I pumped my fist in celebration, partially in an “I just got a tough question right on Jeopardy!” kind of way, and partially because I knew I wouldn’t need to bother checking my work. Anyway! This is the band’s sole 7” (1981’s self-released “Cry” / “My Winter Of Discontent”), plus two 1980 demos and an eight-page booklet with newspaper clippings, lyrics, and other band ephemera. The studio cuts are two great poppy UK DIY numbers that probably should be more widely known. I particularly like “Cry,” which starts out as an unremarkable, nervy new wave track before a hook carried by an incredible yawny croon that’s equal parts Edwyn Collins and Tracey Thorn kicks in—real good shit! The two demos are much rougher and lean closer to mod pop than punk, but they are super catchy and definitely a welcome addition to what was already a worthwhile release. It’s a cool glimpse into what else this band might have done had they stuck it out longer than the year or so they were in existence. All in all, another essential record from the fine folks over at Sealed!

Newtown Neurotics Kick Out! LP

In the years immediately following World War II, Clement Attlee’s Labour government passed the New Towns Act 1946. It was emblematic of the Attlee ministry, typified by a series of post-war rebuilding projects including the establishment of the welfare state and the nationalisation of large swathes of industry. One of these post-war “new towns” was Harlow, home of the NEWTOWN NEUROTICS. It’s perhaps the perfect place for a band like them to be from; a living monument to the last great socialist government projects, now left to rot by a Thatcherite systematic dismantling of society. This compilation contains NEWTOWN NEUROTICS’ first six singles, and tracks their movement from bop-along ’77 acolytes to the nakedly political polemicists they became. Steve Drewett’s BILLY BRAGG-esque syllabic contortions are the perfect vehicle for his three-minute manifestos railing against the injustices of the increasingly fascist society in which he found himself. Stand out tracks like “Kick Out The Tories” and “Fools” still remain sadly relevant and resonant, but it’s the version of “Mindless Violence / Andy Is a Corporatist” with ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER from the Son of Oi! comp which stays with you. The follies of being a far-right skin, and one perhaps for all the silly boys at the shows wearing their naughty merch thinking they’re a big man. An utterly vital record.

Organized Chaos Still Having Fun LP

I don’t know what to think about this one. I love and have a lot of respect for what Sealed Records put out. The label makes popular classic anarcho-punk records (from the ICONOCLAST, ZOUNDS, or RUDIMENTARY PENI) finally available again to the grateful punters, giving lesser-known/underrated but absolutely brilliant and crucial ’80s bands like TOXIC WASTE or KARMA SUTRA the reissue treatment at the same time. Clearly a work of passion and good taste I really relate to. But I was a little surprised to see this ORGANIZED CHAOS album. Not that the band is bad—they did play enjoyable enough political, snotty UK punk that makes you want to drink cheap cider and spike your hair (assuming you have any), but they can hardly be said to be as classic or memorable as the rest of the label’s catalogue, although they may have been very relevant in their area at the time (would that make them a ‘’local classic” band’’?). They sound like a mix of ACTIVES, LUNATIC FRINGE, and STUPID HUMANS (the band had a connection with Bluurg Records, actually), if you need points of comparison. If you are a massive fan of British anarcho-punk and undeterred by sloppiness in punk music in general, you should buy the thing, and the amount of work put into the huge booklet is worth supporting in any case, as Still Having Fun is as much a piece of our collective history as it is a record. However, if you are not a completist or an undiscerning fan like myself, I don’t think ORGANIZED CHAOS will impress you much. There are some decent sing-along numbers like ‘’H-bomb Wars,’’ but on the whole it is pretty typical and generic, neither really tuneful enough to be really memorable nor energetic and furious enough to really stand out. I want to like this more than I do.

Rudimentary Peni Death Church LP reissue

One of the most influential albums in punk history. But you already know this. This is the prototype from which the discographies of entire bands and even world scenes were created. But you already know this. We can also see it as a master plan for a suicide mission: to expose the farce of the great civilizational institutions and destroy tropes deeply rooted in our minds. Let’s say it is also an initiatory journey where the medium is the message and the medium is these 21 songs that expose the topographical record of a particular spirit, that of Blinko. A notoriously sensitive spirit that generates images that can be brutal and cryptic but powerfully vehement lyrically. An album that invites you not to be a mere passive recipient of riffs, but an active participant in a process of psychological and existential transformation, of the opening in the middle of a dark forest, a path of mental resistance. And besides, it just slaps.  Consider it a unique opportunity to own a piece of history.


Rudimentary Peni Cacophony LP reissue

To review a classic record is a difficult task. Ideally, a serious reviewer should pretend to be unfamiliar with the work before writing about it in order to be somewhat objective and maybe offer something fresh. The risk of being in awe before a canonical record and therefore unable or unwilling to think critically about it is also serious. After all, there must have been dozens of reviews about Cacophony in the past 35 years, and most people already know about the record. Why bother when I could just binge-watch a mediocre series that I will inevitably forget about? Originally released in 1988, Cacophony is one of RUDIMENTARY PENI’s most famous recordings and some people rate it as the band’s best work, but I am not one of them. The band’s uniquely deranged, bizarre sound, magnificent creepy aesthetics, their reluctance to play live, and the mystery surrounding them have clearly created a legend, and few bands can claim to be as cult as PENI. There is no doubt that reissuing Cacophony is a brilliant idea and a necessity, as it is a classic album that just should be available. More than a collection of songs, it has to be listened to as a gothic trip, if not a descent, into the life, psyche, and oeuvre of Lovecraft, an uncanny world governed by fear, madness and eeriness. It is as strange as it is particular, unlike any other punk albums. To be honest, I like Death Church much better, and I think Cacophony makes more sense if you take PENI’s previous output into account, as it is a clear departure from conventional punk songwriting, if not from the classical definition of punk itself. Taken individually, the 30 songs that made up the LP are not particularly meaningful—it is only as a cohesive whole, as a full narrative, that they create deep meaning. Musically, Cacophony is hard to describe. Polyphonic, versatile, dark, free, macabre, insanity-driven, undead, strangely sensual, anguished and tortured, creative asylum punk rock. It is great, essential even, but I am still struggling to know if I love it or if I am just fascinated. Whatever the answer, we should all thank Sealed Records.

Rudimentary Peni Media Person EP reissue

I love witnessing the early flashes of bands as transgressive and iconoclastic as RUDIMENTARY PENI. This is the reissue of their stunning debut EP, originally recorded in 1981 and released on their own Outer Himalayan label. Twelve songs in twelve minutes,  absolute glory remastered from the original tapes. Obviously this 7″ is a sample of a searching period of Nick Blinko’s project, where lines are thrown into dark areas of the psyche that the band would later explore in their sound, but where influences and youthful impetus are also noted, manifested for example in an unabashed love of speed.  The songs are short outbursts full of creativity and precision—you can already see the intention to create a private universe, a mental map, so to speak, that can be expressed through an assault on sounds. “Teenage Time Killer” and “Media Person” already point to the Death Church sound, while the rest inhabit a place where an abrasive, dark Pink Flag exists. This is a cultural artifact that deserves to be in our collection.

Rudimentary Peni Great War LP

Holy shit! For the first time in 26 years, RUDIMENTARY PENI have released a full-length, although Great War was recorded some years ago before the mysterious hiatus of the ever-shifting project. It works along the tracks of the 2009’s Wilfred Owen the Chances single, in which they take a more dehumanized bleak approach which just adds to the nightmarish sound that plagues their soundscapes. Once again the overlying theme and lyrics deal with anxiety and the ugly face of mental illness in this constraining world. The artwork is amazing as expected and has the ability to turn a record into wall art. One of the most amazing bands to come out of the UK´s anarcho-punk scene for sure, Nick Blinko has cast a shadow on punk music that will take a long time to disappear.

Toxic Waste Belfast LP reissue

Sealed Records is responsible for this vital reissue of Belfast, the 1987 posthumous album of the Northern Irish anarcho-punk band TOXIC WASTE. Formed in 1982 after a CRASS gig (so it goes), they immediately made the DIY ethic their own and began playing in a scene that included bands like STALAG 17. You have to think about the harsh context in which they created their noise, the Troubles, and all the political violence that the area experienced. Generating spaces of creative freedom and denunciation was of utmost importance and TOXIC WASTE did it under terrible conditions. They recorded some demos and participated in some splits and compilations with bands like ASYLUM, the latter released by the Warzone Collective, which also included a screenprinting studio, a practice space for bands, and a vegetarian cafe. After touring their homeland and Europe a couple of times, the band split up in 1986. Let’s go to the music. Side A contains tracks from their early recordings produced between 1985 and 1986 while Side B contains tracks from a later session between the band’s Roy Wallace and members of DIRT. The sound is furious and urgent, with a vital energy that magnifies the power of the internal dynamics of the songs, where there is enough room to pay attention to the band’s politicized lyrics, to sing along with them (the male/female vocals are incredible), and to degenerate into a good mosh pit when needed. I recommend above all the pair of songs that close the album, “Belfast/Plastic Bullets” and “We Will Be Free,” brutal and beautiful.

Twelve Cubic Feet Straight Out the Fridge LP

Originally released as a 10” in 1982, Straight Out the Fridge is as succinct and perfect a representation of early ’80s UK DIY as you’re likely to find this side of a Messthetics CD-R: spiky enough to serve as a logical successor to the golden age of Rough Trade art-punk, sweet (but not saccharine) enough to lay down the initial bricks of a (wanna buy a) bridge to the jangly bash of C86. Sally Andrews’s chirpy vocals are the most obvious element connecting TWELVE CUBIC FEET to their proto-indie pop contemporaries like GIRLS AT OUR BEST! and DOLLY MIXTURE, bursting with giddy enthusiasm over the junkshop disco beats and bubbly keys of “Blob” and switching from breathless shouts to dreamy, sugar-coated melodies amidst the dark, moody swirl of “Mary’s Got the Bug.” Bassist Matthew Vosbergh takes the lead on “Escaping Again,” which slowly unwinds with a looping throb of post-punk bass and the otherworldly homespun minimal wave atmosphere of his SOLID SPACE project, before crashing into an pseudo-mod rave-up with Sally’s ecstatic backing harmonies and lilting keyboards, while the mind-bendingly hooky chorus of “Hello Howard” is borderline new wave in its synth-forward warble—it’s not difficult at all to imagine it being a ridiculous hit in a world less stacked against DIY pop oddballs. If you weren’t already a TWELVE CUBIC FEET believer, you can (and will) be one now.