State Champion

Chill Parents At the Barricades cassette

Eight quick tracks of hard, crunchy punk with a political bent. Searching for a reference leads me all over the place. There are melodic riffs over impassioned protest lyrics reminding me of ANTI-FLAG on one track, then explosions of party-hardcore intensity on the next, running into some gruff ’80s-punk-style ranting and guitar chugging that reminds me of BUTTHOLE SURFERS on the next. Whatever this is, it’s not what you expected. Whoever you are, you’ll find something to love and something to hate here. As cool as it is to hear a band with a carefully crafted and cohesive sound, this tape reflects the reality of what bands are usually like in real life—a lumpy assortment of creative ideas and intermittently compatible personalities.

GRP.TXT GRP.TXT cassette

Stripped-down, arty but unpretentious post-leaning-punk from Albuquerque, New Mexico—I would imagine that GRP.TXT definitely fills a void for house show dance party weirdness in a city whose scene hasn’t reached the total oversaturation of waved-out oddball DIY projects faced by, say, the Northwest Indianas of the world. All three members of the band rotate between instruments (bass, drums—fuck a guitar), with plenty of blank space left within their skeletal grooves to be filled by dual talk-shouted vocals, honking sax, and budget synth squiggles. The combo of doubled-up yelps over a repetitive, bouncy rhythm in “Estate Sale” nails a non-robotic-NUMBERS vibe, but what’s up with those growling pseudo-hardcore vocal breakdowns?! Talk about left field! They pop up again midway through “Money,” which starts with a spoken monologue addressing the conflicts between “fiscal responsibility” and the lower pleasures afforded by consumerism, then gives way to a bass-centered throb that could otherwise pass as a more ramshackle/less raucous take on GAUCHE’s angular anthems against late-stage capitalism. Ditch those goofy-tough vocals and I can get on board.

Hot Gum Hot Gum cassette

It sounds like the group had fun making this cassette, and this translates to a fun listen. (Note, it isn’t always the case that fun for the musicians results in fun for the listener.) However, HOT GUM sounds like a bunch of friends playing to see what they come up with. On the surface the result is in the current vogue, if occasionally cacophonous: jangled guitars and disco beats clash with staccato saxophone and spoken/sung vocals and you’re not sure where they’re going, then out of the chaos comes a fleeting gem of a chord progression, the right rhythm, the perfect sax squall, and all of a sudden everything makes sense. The lo-fi quality of the recording adds to the effect. Like listening to some of the live tracks from the CLEAN, you almost feel you’ve stumbled on something amazing that happened by accident, and someone happened to hit record at just the right time.

Meal Jimmy cassette

An absolutely delightful release from Helsinki, Finland. The debut release by MEAL is a six-song cassette of incredibly timeless post-punk which leans a bit into the art-punk/indie rock realm on a few of the tracks. I’m not exactly sure how it’s possible to feel overwhelmingly nostalgic about a recording the very first time you listen to it, but these songs seem to have that ability. I am not gonna sit here and say that it feels like listening to WIRE for the first time or anything like that, but maybe like a small little minute fraction of what that feeling was like.

Substitute Eat Your Enemys cassette

SUBSTITUTE dives headfirst into a grunge waste-wonder-land, channeling Kurt Cobain’s forced, raspy singing style and jangly, anguished minor chord progressions. SUBSTITUTE synthesizes that legacy with updated elements of extended, melodic guitar leads and driving, aggressive punk drumming (but to prevent any confusion, the band emphasizes on their Bandcamp page that they do not play pop punk). This is likely a welcome addition for fans of the grunge classics that influenced this project, but the references may be too heavy-handed for some or an outright turn-off for people who aren’t drawn to that particular limb of the punk family tree.

TVO Fall in a Pit 12″

Described on State Champion’s site as “Philly’s most haunted and deranged freaks”—this lot rocks. It’s fast and fun and heavy and is over before you know it: three songs on a single-sided 12″ with a hand screen-printed photo on the vinyl’s B-side. “Fall in a Pit” is a fantastic track, displaying TVO’s growth towards a tighter sound compared to their other releases, while still achieving that unhinged garage punk sound. Fall in a Pit made my Year End Top Ten, so what can I say, I’m a little biased!

Unclaimed Diamonds The First Five Slabs cassette

Philly’s UNCLAIMED DIAMONDS self-describe as “Confusion is Sex-era SONIC YOUTH playing ‘Running With the Devil’” (I’m assuming the full-band version and not the isolated David Lee Roth vocals one), but their debut tape honestly gives me much more of a ’90s vibe, like if the Deal twins had been hanging out with SONIC YOUTH and Kathleen Hanna in the “Bull in the Heather” music video. Jagged, dissonant rhythms that still follow a fairly linear punk path and shouted vocals delivered with an eye-rolling, over-it sarcastic sneer (both of those elements somewhat recalling of those early PRIESTS cassettes from when they were still a raw, basement-dwelling post-punk band), plus occasional BREEDERS-ish weird melodic guitar hooks that smooth out some of the sharper edges, especially on the comparatively pop-leaning “Story Slab” and “Sick Slab.”  Limited to 65 copies, get those slabs while they’re fresh.