Reviews

Under the Gun

1-800-Mikey Plushy cassette

If you’re a fan of all the varieties of punk that are barely punk and mainly pop, my dude 1-800-MIKEY has you covered! On this, his debut album Sydney-based recording artist Michael Barker is kicking out thirteen jams reminiscent of the lo-fi garage pop of early HUNX AND HIS PUNKS, JAY REATARD at his CHRIS KNOX-iest, or the punk-pop/pop-punk-stradling tunes of the MARKED MEN. But this project does not seem interested in replicating those acts’ kitsch, irony, or cool. Instead, MIKEY—decked out in some ill-fitting jeans and a bucket hat, clutching an oversized plush bear—is bringing unadulterated earnestness to the table. And, yeah, on paper that sounds even less punk, but it works. The songwriting is up to snuff, and he manages to keep the twee-ness to a tasteful minimum—even when a squiggly-ass keyboard rears its ugly head, it never overstays its welcome! I don’t know that this record is going to flip anybody’s wig, but it’s certainly a pleasant way to while away twenty minutes.

Basuko Lasting Ordeal EP

From the moment the EP kicks off, it’s clear that BASUKO is here to make a statement. Much like ELECTRIC CHAIR, their music embraces the rawness that defines US hardcore punk, channeling energy into an electrifying listening experience. A sonic rebellion against the mundane, a call to arms for those seeking an unfiltered musical escape. BASUKO will carve out their own place within the genre.

Big Bopper Introducing Big Bopper cassette

Solid nerd punk from Texas for fans of ERIK NERVOUS and URANIUM CLUB. Bookended by a chiptune opening and closing, the rest of the tape is trebly garage punk with fairly technical drums and guitar lines and sarcastic spoken/sung vocals. The constant start/stop rhythms and busy fretwork show some prowess that is welcome and give the band a slight noise rock feel on songs like the mathy “Generation of Plagues” and sardonic “Rat Race.” Where BIG BOPPER shines the most is when they pour on the sugar with catchy gems like “Boys Club” and “Partners in Slime.” The latter is a lo-fi power pop hit with a mutant PAVEMENT guitar line and bright major chord progressions. I love it. The tape is worth checking out for that golden nugget alone, but the rest is good, too. I look forward to hearing more.

Big Bopper New Mutations cassette

Spastic scrap/crap bursts of punk from somewhere in Texas. It’s hard to tell if the anonymity that is BIG BOPPER is an actual band or another one-man solo basement project spawned by quarantine. Regardless, it’s catchy, and its pointedly sardonic humor is infectious. The cover art of BIG BOPPER’s discography and the overall sharp spaz vibe lands it in the Lumpy Records camp, which is a great endorsement.

Billiam Corner Tactics LP

Melbourne simple-to-the-core new wave-y synth punk, filled with mid-paced drums and cheap, soft keyboards all merged with lo-fi submarine telephone vocals that monotone the shit out of this. Featuring a member from DISCO JUNK and COLLECTIVE HARDCORE, it brings a hyperactive vibe to bedroom punk. Goofy synth punk for lovers of simple, funny DIY projects. It lacks fire, it’s so monotonous, but it might be right down your alley. Funny yet boring, if it’s even possible.

Billiam 8 Hours in Billiamville EP

While I have developed a general aversion to the unabashedly quirky and messy styles of what is commonly referred to as “egg-punk,” BILLIAM has managed to win me over a bit with this little eight-song garage banger. There’s a frankness to these frantic and grooving tunes that makes the weirdness quite tolerable, and songs like the synth-driven “Soup Season” and the dreamy “Metal Bed” are just so damn catchy it’s hard to resist. This is probably my favorite collection that he’s put out thus far. He’s got a number on here entitled “B-Beat” where he pounds out a rudimentary D-beat for a few seconds before flatly proclaiming “I don’t get D-beat,” which I can totally understand because I used to not “get D-beat” either, back when I was stupid.

C.P.R. Doll Music for Pleasure cassette

You might get excited looking at all the folks attached to this project—the uniformly excellent Goodbye Boozy and Under the Gun labels, players from ABORTED TORTOISE and GHOULIES, cameos from other top-tier Aussie acts like SATANIC TOGAS and TEE VEE REPAIRMAN. Well, stay excited, because this tape is rough-and-rumble like all the best coming out of Australia. It has an added layer of spaced-out darkness, even with the faintest cold touches of deathrock (especially in the bass) that really sends it home. The melodic shout-along vocals are dialed-in and the rhythms have that beautiful, almost Teutonic motorik android quality that locks you into a bop you can’t escape. Everyone involved in this beautifully incestuous rock scene just keeps getting better and better and it’s exhilarating to hear.

Cherry Cheeks Cherry Radio EP

Portland-based Orlandoan Kyle Harms is back with six more tracks of his trebly mix of DEVO, JAY REATARD, and late ’00s garage pop. The Bandcamp copy notes that this was recorded in 2020 (though, the liner notes on the physical release are silent on the matter), which would mean that these tracks likely predate those from last year’s Total Punk LP. In any case, this session seems to have yielded a somewhat poppier crop of tunes. The songwriting is as crisp as ever and the production is busy—full of intricately-laid layers of buzzy synths and warbly guitar overdubs—but fun. Worth picking up, for sure!

Gunfighter Ballads EP

Transmissions of a phantom radio program that broadcasts intermittently from a parallel dimension, a dimension where Martin Rev programmed beats for the LEGENDARY STARDUST COWBOY in a project called GUNFIGHTER that creates psychobilly anthems for the 21st century. Turn it up!

IZM IZM demo cassette

IZM, a four-piece out of Los Angeles, does the whole “punk band plus a synth” thing that I tend to rail against here in my reviews. To reiterate, my position is not that punk bands can’t have synths, it’s that if you have one, it’s way too easy to fuck things up, so to be safe, it’s best to avoid them altogether. The most common mistakes with these outfits are that they opt for some squiggly-ass timbre, making the act sound too jokey, or they put the synth too far forward in the mix, drowning out the rest of the band—often it’s both. But I’m happy to report that IZM commits neither crime. These fellas play grimy, knife-fight hardcore punk—not generally where you’d expect to encounter a synth! Thankfully, it’s buried in the mix, really playing more of a supporting role, and the cheap (but not too cheap!) haunted-house tone they use actually adds some menace to the record. I think I still would have dug these tracks had they been synth-free, but I’m pretty sure they would have been less memorable. Solid work!

Neo Neos Get the Neo Neos/Act VII LP

You very well might be familiar with the first half of this release, a classic slice of 2018 gonzo bedroom punk that came up around when you couldn’t turn a corner without bashing your beak on syncopated smart/smart-ass takes on what a lot of people unfairly paint into a corner as DEVO-worship. Now you can listen to it on vinyl! This is a decisively nasty, murky version of that sound, and it gets even toothier and more gnarly with the second half—a collection of new tunes post-2018 released for the first time. Tracks like “Sandbagging (My Way Through Life)” are blown-out with almost everything in the red. The vocal performances are unhinged and stab at the listener as they devolve into wordless refrains, yelps, and howls. But it still keeps the listener locked into its singular world of madness that continues on into the following cut, “Clockwork,” which almost hits like a no-fi MÖTÖRHEAD and then lands a churning groove all under a minute-thirty. If you’re a fan of this sort of thing, you’ll be in heaven. And you should be, because you’ve been very good.

Lothario / New Buck Biloxi Tour split EP

Tour split effort brought to us by Under the Gun, featuring NEW BUCK BILOXI and their lo-fi, messy punk with a very cutting-edge sound, who bring two cold and blunt tracks with some kind of sordid anger that was very much on-point with deranged, mildly distorted guitars, and LOTHARIO, with a heavily effected vocal and strident, deep-fried strings and synth-driven drums on “Doggy.” For “Missing Person,” the ranting is reduced to get us some very danceable garage-y post-punk. Interesting split between friends.

Nuts Living in a Vulgar Vision cassette

Tight, punchy, and on-the-nose are all good descriptions of this tape. It really brings some visceral attitude. This is one that recording engineers might nerd out on. Recorded on an old Tascam four-track, this is a great example of what you can do with lo-fi recording. Using a lot of quirky drum machines and synths is what gives this record it’s sound. Overall, this is a lot of fun and a cool one to check out.

Pack Rat Bite My Tongue EP

I’m sure most punks can remember the genesis of their obsession with the genre; mine was a compilation I got one teenage Christmas featuring the likes of the SAINTS, EDDIE AND THE HOT RODS, and the JAM, amongst others. It defined my taste in music, and here, two decades later, I’m pleased as can be to be writing about Bite My Tongue, an EP from PACK RAT that essentially throws every band on that comp into a blender, resulting in four tracks of bouncy, power-poppy rippers with great hooks and pop sensibility, inspired by the less abrasive, more melodically driven side of ’70s punk. Opening title track “Bite My Tongue” features frontman Patrick McEachnie’s stuttering vocals and reverb-soaked guitar strutting their way through the song before reaching a DAMNED-worthy chorus. “New Kind (Of Love)” sounds like a lost RUDI or UNDERTONES cut with a surf-y lead, and “Parasite City” wraps up with a guitar line that would make Steve Diggle of BUZZCOCKS proud. Closing track “Sleepless,” sung by guitarist Bella, takes a heap of REZILLOS, a dash of X, and a sprinkle of SCIENTISTS to create a sugary sweet power-pop-punk confection. Bite My Tongue is an excellent EP that is a treat for the old-heads and is sure to turn some young punks on to the scene. Highly recommended!

Pensioner Pensioner demo cassette

PENSIONER is the name of this no-fi solo effort from GHOULIES’ Alec, recorded (as so many solo projects have been recently) during the pandemic lockdown in Perth, Australia. This demo comes off like a stripped-down, purposely ugly version of GHOULIES’ frenetic synth punk; all slimy, irradiated grooves and warbled vocals. Sounds like it could have crawled out of NWI in 2014 with the rest of the Lumpy gang. There’s even a devolved RAMONES cover (“Commando”). “Slip Slop Slap” is a delight, appealing to my eternal love of simple pop songs buried beneath layers of fuzz and noise.

Power Flower Electric Drug Fuck Up EP

Hungarian synth punk that is equal parts fun and gross. These five tracks double-dribble with punk energy, errant sine waves, and unintelligible vocals. The title track sounds like CHERRY CHEEKS layered with an ’80s War on Drugs PSA sound collage. “Get Off My Ass!” captures the catchy joy of the SPITS with rougher vocals, and “N.SZ.K.O.” has some serious pop hooks under the hood, like a bubblegum hit played at 78 RPM. “Whippit” delivers POWER FLOWER’s version of a ballad with noisy chimes, battling electronics, and a rubber ball bass line. I accidentally did a whippit a few days ago—I’m not into inhalants, but I love whipped cream. Be careful when sucking on that can! This is a cool rip through crunchy synth land with infectious results.

Pressure Pin Superficial Feature EP

Montreal duo that will make you dance the pogo to the rhythm of frantic egg-punk, with even more garage-y noise than egg-punkers usually advocate. New wave artsy punk, with the use of a real voice with light effects being a highlight. Favorite track: “A New Movie.” Stop’n’go cadences and exquisite use of synth, relentless drums, and psychic trance guitars that combine beautifully. We have before our eyes an extreme form of egg-punk, where sick rawness in the vocals makes it much more interesting compared to DEVO-infused patients. Honorable mention to the experimental nature of “Limited Movement,” adding new sounds to the eggy situation and upping the scale by introducing power chord changes following the never stopping drums, giving this track the status of “eggy symphony.” Highly recommended for lovers of expanded keyboard sounds used smartly. Resourceful duo, indeed.

Prison Affair Demo III EP

Barcelona’s egg-punk referents PRISON AFFAIR released this four-track EP (their killer third demo) on Under the Gun Records from East L.A. in September 2022—deep, psychotic bass lines plus the most heavily dubbed synth mayhem. On the first track “Big Bottom Baby,” you get the feeling of descending into the prison of an internet tube. Addictive eggy, thrashy synth trances are here, with steady, monotonous vocals jumping through the fast-paced melodies, achieving complexity and implying layers in their sound as they mix theme songs with crazy catchy tracks. This gives them the title of the current kings of the eggy situation. Suggested tracks: “Big Bottom Baby” and “Nice Guys.”

Psykik Vylence Psykik Vylence EP

ERIK NERVOUS goes hardcore! Or to sacrifice snappiness for the sake of accuracy, Erik Nervous, né Hart, (the person) has a new one-man recording project, PSYKIK VYLENCE, where he plays hardcore. Either way, it’s really good! This EP, initially issued as a cassette by Richter Scale in the UK and now pressed to 7″ by Under the Gun, runs for about ten minutes and features Erik absolutely blazing through seven tracks, all of which bear little resemblance to his previous projects. There’s a touch of that herky-jerky, start/stop sound that you just can’t scrub out of these Midwestern kids, but otherwise this is straightforward, angry hardcore punk. He’s even replaced his trademark nerdy yelp with a booming crusty grunt. It’s quite a transformation! Calls to mind a quirkier, punker BREAKDOWN or a tougher, less trebly LAFFING GAS. Get on it!

Remote Control Remote Control EP

REMOTE CONTROL is a new recording project from the ever-prolific Ishka Edmeades (SATANIC TOGAS, SET-TOP BOX, TEE VEE REPAIRMAN, and probably every other band out of Sydney). This time he’s opting to apply his sharp songwriting chops to some synth-free blistering punk tracks, and—big shocker—it’s cool! You’re getting three sub-two-minute corkers here (along with a couple of tracks of soundscape-y farting around). This is probably the closest Ishka’s come to putting out some straightforward USHC, but, of course, coming from this dude it’s not gonna be all that straightforward. It’s still a little cartoony and still sounds like something the weirdest kid you remember from high school might cook up. In other words, it’s real good shit!

Smirk Polyrhythmic Ticks EP

More drum machine egg-punk, which seems to be completely dominating underground rock’n’roll at the moment. I loved it when all those Total Punk bands did it, but I think it’s time for us to move on to a different style. They’re all starting to sound exactly the same. Most of this EP is very drab and dry, and is void of anything catchy. “Bored By Everything” is the standout track, and is a much more energetic and engaging anthem than the other three. I’m all about bands experimenting, but “Bored By Everything” sounds much more like their prior work and I think it suits them better. Coincidentally enough, I’m just bored with this EP.

Stüds Ice Pipe EP

STÜDS is a project run by Conner from SNOOPER and a member of Australia’s RESEARCH REACTOR GROUP during the pandemic. Style changes from track to track: ’80s Japanese-style noisecore to something in the Lumpy Records catalog to a bedroom post-punk project…it almost sounds more like a compilation release than one single project yet still feels like it’s one thing, especially the feeling of confusion and being on the very edge of sanity. Contains a recording of a death threat towards the band by someone with an Australian accent.

Tick Ignorance is Bliss cassette

From what I can gather, TICK is from New York City, a town that is apparently somewhere on the East Coast of the US of A and I’m told is a bit famous, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. They are a three-piece and Ignorance is Bliss is their third cassette recording, with eight songs. I am not sure what to really think about the band. The music has a raw punk energy and I can imagine them being very enjoyable live. I like TICK best when they deliver short, sharp shocks of direct, snotty tupa-tupa UK82 punk with delectable sing-alongs, as the very primitive production and the clear guitar sound work well with that style. Early US hardcore and deathrock are also very present influences and I guess they lose me a bit along the way with these, but then it might have to do with the fact that the other songs made me expect old-school UK punk to drink cider to. Not bad at all, and I think TICK might appeal to a lot of punks because they are energetic and have great sarcastic lyrics, but they are just too much on the US side of the hardcore spectrum. And is it me, or does the logo look like the Transformers logo?

Total Sham Total Sham LP

I like “capital A” Art and experimentation as much as the next music nerd, but sometimes you just want a band to kick your ass. TOTAL SHAM is just the group. No-frills, no-bullshit hardcore that recalls the best of ’80s Midwest punk like NEGATIVE APPROACH and DIE KREUZEN with their shredded power chords, raw vocals, and stark album art and logo. Every song is a punch in the teeth: urgent, fast, and vital. “Mind/Matter” and “Murder on My Mind” are straight-up classics (we even get a “one, two, fuck you!” count off on the latter), and distill everything powerful about punk into potent audio cyanide capsules. The rest of the record is as strong, with arrangements as ear-catching as they are piercing. If you like hardcore punk of any era, it comes highly recommended.

V/A Good Times RnR Compilation, Vol. 3 2xLP

What I believe started as a few of the Sydney rock mutants (RESEARCH REACTOR CORP., GEE TEE, and SET-TOP BOX) fartin’ around and playing some covers has now morphed into a full-blown spectacle. After recruiting a bunch of like-minded bands and fleshing the project out into legit comp (2020’s GTRRC II), we now find them pooling their resources with labels Erste Theke Tontraeger, Legless, and Under the Gun to bring you 46—46!—tracks across two whole damn LPs from pretty much every band in the contemporary egg-leaning punk scene. And, look, there are some cool bands on here and some cool songs, but you already know you don’t need this. It’s basically the punk equivalent of a giant sack of Halloween candy. There’s plenty of good stuff in here, but there’s also quite a few Tootsie Rolls, some generic-ass orange and black wrapped taffies, and even a few toothbrushes and pennies. Some sickos are going to sit down and eat the whole bag, and some fun-haters are going to steer clear of it entirely. But most folks are going to pick at the good stuff, setting a few things aside to come back to later. For me that good stuff—the Snickers and Almond Joys, if you will—would include SPODEE BOY (covering STICK MEN WITH RAY GUNS’ “Hell to Pay”), C.O.F.F.I.N. (FUNKADELIC’s “Super Stupid”), SCIENCE MAN (ZZ TOP’s “Sharp Dressed Man”), MUTANT STRAIN (the GERMS’ “Strange Notes”), and SPINAL CRAP (I’m pretty this is SCHIZOS playing ROSE TATTOO’s “Nice Boys”). I’m sure your pile would look a little different.

Vaguess Thanks//No Thanks LP

I hope we all realize how incredibly lucky we are to have a musician in the world as consistent and prolific as Vinny Earley. Between frequent touring and myriad side projects, he still manages to bring us new material from his long-running solo project annually, thus giving sad sack aging punks like me something to look forward to in this crummy world. The melancholic Nothing’s Secret from 2022 was an almost meditative collection of earworms, and while there are still some excellent weepers on display here such as “Texas Clouds,” Earley also dips a wing in the waters of synth pop and garage punk with the evergreen sentiment of contemporary existential dread, like closer “2 Car Garage.” The genre-hopping isn’t a parlor trick either, and it all comes from Earley’s strong voice as a songwriter. This is a cohesive work from someone who seems to never run out of ideas and whose frequent output strengthens his work rather than dries up the well. In summation: god save Vinny Earley, may his reign last a thousand years.

Welt Star Ich Hasse Blumen cassette

Here is an international collaboration featuring the brains behind DIODE, BOBBY WOULD, and VAGUESS. Needless to say, I was thrilled to dive into this German (by way of L.A.) punk that is moody and fun all at once. The drums absolutely bop, there’s a tasteful amount of synth, and the guitar and bass interlock like some kind of all-angles double helix in a way that hits from the heart and not the head—this isn’t some erudite post-punk, but something much more populist and propulsive. It’s a total blast to hear these musical minds intersect, and though by all reports it could be a while until we hear more from this project (if ever again), I will be anxiously waiting. “Cool” feels like a meaningless word these days, but if anything is cool, it’s this. Tell me “Monstertruck” doesn’t have you shouting along and I’ll tell you to check your pulse.