Reviews

Sealed

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.