Upset the Rhythm

Clear History Bad Advice Good People 12″

CLEAR HISTORY is a minimalist post-punk trio from Berlin. Sonically, their tunes have all the hallmarks of the genre: single-string guitar parts and slashed-out chords, dual vocals that bounce back and forth, safety-pinned together by steady, uncomplicated drumming and unfussy basslines. You can probably hear it in your head already as it creates a diagonal line in your ear space. The vocals are more impassioned than most of their genre, but I wish the music felt the same. The production is flat and more like a studio demo than what I’d expect from an LP. I wish there was more of a feeling of it sounding live or in a room, but it all sounds like it’s on the same stereo plane without a lot of action or dynamics. The limitations of the style just tend to remind me so much of what I’ve heard in the last five years from similar-sounding bands. I’m sure they’re compelling live and there is definitely an audience for it, but at the moment I’m not it.

Constant Mongrel Experts in Skin / Shnuki 7″

Cunning, expert-level post-punk, bite-sized for your fearful pleasure. “Experts in Skin” ranks just as high as any hit from their recent show-stopper LP, purposeful punk concluding with a layered sax battle. The flip is poppier but prompts sly smiling rather than “lite” thoughts. Still makes me nervous, but you can dance to it. So good that it must be a joke.

Es Fantasy EP

This is only the third release in seven years by ES from London, but in under an hour’s worth of music (to date), they’ve hit that sweet spot where a band establishes a singular and identifiable sound, but switches it up enough from record to record so things are retread-free. That sound, in short, stacks up spartan, rickety, vaguely creepy keyboards, doomsaying vocals, and a punchy post-punk rhythm section with no guitars in sight. It was a smash on 2016’s Object Relations and 2020’s Less of Everything, and so it is on the four-song Fantasy, but on the whole it’s a bit less goth and a bit more synth pop (“Too Late” especially), even if ES provides pretty screwed versions of both. The bass/drums-led “Swallowed Whole” runs at an almost anarcho-ish canter, too, which is what I mean about nice surprises each time.

Es Less of Everything LP

The only previous release by London’s ES, the Object Relations 12″ back in 2016, was a more-than-fine intro to their biz, but if it showcased the singularity of this quartet’s sound, I don’t think I appreciated that—not like I’m doing with Less of Everything, their debut album, anyway. Nine songs of slashingly dramatic post-punk with goth, Euro coldwave and Neue Deutsche Welle touches might have you expecting some gloomy plod—and heck, plodding gloomily ain’t illegal yet—but a consistent factor of this album is how energetic it is, bouncy even. ES’s lack of guitar plays a big part in this perception, the three musicians a unified force of rhythm while vocalist Maria Tedemalm talks in ominous tones of closing-in walls and slippery slopes, and if you’ve encountered the individual members in bands past and present (PRIMETIME, SCRAP BRAIN, PUBLIC SERVICE, to name only three) their collective tiger in the tank will come as no surprise. Way more original sounding than music made with these basic ingredients ought to be, and just a blast generally.

Handle In Threes LP

Rhythm-minded clatter and clang from a trio that mutated out of the Manchester band D.U.D.S., whose particular union of scratchy dancefloor funk and taut, minimal post-punk had first been set into motion by late ’70s angular UK firebrands like GANG OF FOUR and early ’80s post-No Wave downtown dwellers like LIQUID LIQUID. HANDLE clearly shares some of that same genetic material, while operating with a paired down set of tools (bass, drums, keyboard, voice, no guitars) and some adventurous tendencies that give their debut LP a more distinct musical identity. Leo Hermitt’s vocals bounce from punctuated yelps to monotone narrations to abstracted wordless noises, matched by snapping bass throb, mutant disco beats, and washes of warped and feverish synth that collectively add up to something vaguely approaching an all-night, bleary-eyed nightclub version of THIS HEAT. The more linear, sharpened moments amidst the experimental detours here are the ones that have the most immediate impact, like the monotony of modern life commentary “Life’s Work” that twists into a delirious 99 Records-style infinite loop groove with a repetitive chant of “Definition, definition / Useless, useless information” pulling the the underlying rhythm even tighter. Maximum agitation!

Hygiene Private Sector LP

London’s finest purveyors of thematic post-punk where all the songs are ripped from the Guardian comments section, or perhaps the “In the Back” section of Private Eye. Brought out of retirement by the specter of Brexit and the likely scenario of Boris über alles, HYGIENE is the group England needs now—specially since they are fronted by a scion of the Commonwealth. Alongside at least three songs dealing with public transport in some way (“Replacement Bus” really captures all the frustrations of, er, having to catch a replacement bus), gammons, free marketers, and pedophile conspirators all come in for ire. For all the spartan rhythms and stark vocal commentary, though, the album connects most directly with the rousing singalong of the future potential folk classic “He Doesn’t Want to Pay His Taxes.” On this one they could be a CHUMBAWAMBA or MEKONS for today. Welcome back chaps.

Kaputt Movement Now / Another War Talk 7″

This Scottish sextet put out a pretty decent LP a few years back and this new single condenses all the good things about that album into an easily-digested, bite-sized nugget. KAPUTT composes manic music that has a sense of purpose. “Movement Now” is like SUBURBAN LAWNS sporting a CRASS sleeveless to the beach and now all the surfers wanna burn down the system. As counterpoints move in tandem—girl-guy vocals dodge guitar-sax licks—there’s more than a hint of ESSENTIAL LOGIC to “Another War Talk.” This release bodes well for future KAPUTT.

Marcel Wave Something Looming LP

MARCEL WAVE is the new musical venture from two former members of SAUNA YOUTH/MONOTONY, two former members of COLD PUMAS, and writer-turned-vocalist Maike Hale-Jones, putting a distinctly British spin on the sort of chipper-sounding (but often conceptually dead serious) twee-adjacent post-punk that their Upset the Rhythm labelmates TERRY have honed into a fine art over the last decade. Keyboards bubble alongside casually rattling tambourine, with Hale-Jones’s delivery criss-crossing from the talky deadpan style that’s de rigueur in contemporary UK DIY circles (the stop/start standout “Mudlarks” takes a joyride right through HYGIENE’s lane) to sweetly soaring harmonies à la DOLLY MIXTURE or GIRLS AT OUR BEST! (“Bent Out of Shape”), frequently within the same song (“Barrow Boys,” the especially TERRY-esque duo of “Peg” and “Elsie”), with sharp, narrative lyrical musings examining the likes of stratified social class in the UK, unchecked urban development, the double-edged sword of fame, and the monotony of routine capitalist labor. There’s also some obvious callbacks to Brix-era FALL, especially in the ramshackle gang-shout chorus punctuating the jittery, organ-blaring “Ides of March,” which is packed with more sly hooks and off-kilter melody than a song that’s not even a minute-and-a-half should be able to contain—like the rest of Something Looming, it’s a welcome instance of history repeating.

Naked Roommate Do the Duvet LP

Oakland’s NAKED ROOMMATE entered this world as a duo of Amber SermeÁ±o and Andy Jordan, at a point when both were also busy with the WORLD. Although they’ve swelled to a four-piece for Do The Duvet, with extra muscle from members of bands like PREENING and EXIT GROUP, it’s that first-mentioned band which feels like the big sonic clue here. If the WORLD were kinda like YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS as a ska band—minimalist, shivery, but with a very pronounced groove—NAKED ROOMMATE are closer to YMG meets ESG, the most discofied end of early ’80s post-punk rendered extra febrile and delicate. The beats are programmed and synths twinkle and burble blithely, nudging minimal synth territory on “Fill Space,” but Jordan’s guitar and Alejandra Alcaca’s basslines retain meatspace humanity over these ten songs, providing hooks galore as they do so.

Nicfit Fuse LP

NICFIT does lots of things right on this debut LP. In the grand tradition of many a punk band from Japan, NICFIT plays havoc with genre, executing hairpin turns where most would end up in the weeds. On these tracks, post-punk rhythms ride surf guitar riffs into noise rock pummel. Hell, “Rigged” opens with a snippet of CECIL TAYLOR-esque piano sputter. Oddly enough, NICFIT often resembles underappreciated mid-2000s band KAITO UK, which gets two thumbs up from these two hands.

Normil Hawaiians Dark World (79–81) LP

This is a compilation of singles, demos, outtakes and Peel sessions by this experimental ensemble, and in most cases, if I see the words “experimental” or “dub-inspired” in relation to British post-punk circa ’79–’81, I’m all ears. I adore the POP GROUP, THIS HEAT, and the FLYING LIZARDS, but NORMIL HAWAIIANS have none of the bleeding edge, fiery energy, or avant-garde outness I admire in those bands. Mostly this sounds in the camp of anarcho goth (or gothy anarcho, depending on whether your peanut butter got in the chocolate or vice versa). The songs are mostly a trudge, barring the single “Party Party,” which sounds like an ORANGE JUICE outtake, and their unexpected cover of FRANK ZAPPA’s “Mr. Green Genes”, which mostly inspired me to turn this off and pull out my old copy of Uncle Meat for a spin.

Normil Hawaiians In the Stone / Where Is Living? 7″

Originally a weird, scratchy crypto-anarcho collective on the hippier fringes of early ’80s UK post-punk, NORMIL HAWAIIANS’ return was preceded by Upset The Rhythm reissuing most of their back catalogue. Tentative gig action followed, and now there’s a two-song single of brand new fodder recorded somewhere very remote in Scotland. “In the Stone” grows from an alarmingly cruddy electric guitar intro to a wobbly suite of garage/psych organ, tom-heavy drums and spoken word. “Where Is Living?” on the flip again has a poetic bent, bewailing environmental destruction and “self-made prisons” over soft keyboards and, god love their earnestness, birdsong. Not sure how many copies of this exist, but about six weeks ago I did a serious double-take upon seeing a massive poster (like, “next one down from billboard”-sized) advertising it in the city centre where I live. Guessing the cost of such things is through the floor at the moment, so why not.

Primo! Sogni LP

Australia has been reigning supreme for the last several years when it comes to exporting scrappy pop perfection, with Melbourne’s PRIMO! being one of the best bands going in a scene with no shortage of heavy hitters. Sogni continues further down the path set by their 2018 debut LP Amici, with dreamy, intertwining harmonies and spartan rhythms that can be traced back to a number of spiritual antecedents: the ramshackle spirit of the K Records-affiliated international pop underground in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the kaleidoscopic jangle of classic Flying Nun bands like LOOK BLUE GO PURPLE from neighboring New Zealand, the stark minimalism of YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS-style post-punk. These are all charmingly threadbare pop songs at their core, but with enough of a jagged, off-kilter edge to keep things from becoming overly twee and sickly sweet—wiry guitars intersect with airy group vocals in the economical “Perfect Paper,” and “1000 Words” is an stop/start rush of insistently catchy anxiety-punk in the mold of recent Aussie DIY combos like UV RACE and TERRY (the latter, not coincidentally, happen to share half of their line-up with PRIMO!). An absolute joy!

Screensaver Expressions of Interest LP

This might be the debut LP from these Naarm/Melbourne post-punks, but SCREENSAVER has existed in one form or another for a half-decade. The project started back in 2016, initially conceived as a way for Chris Stephenson (SPRAY PAINT) and Krystal Maynard (SWIM TEAM) to connect while being in an extremely long-distance relationship. Chris was based out of Austin, TX at the time with Krystal in Australia, and they would send each other recordings. Chris eventually joined Krystal Down Under, they recruited a rhythm section, began playing shows in late 2019, and started recording this LP just before COVID shut the world down. Thankfully, they were able to continue collaborating through their country’s various lockdowns to bring us this record, which is a very good one! Over these ten tracks, you can expect synth-heavy post-punk with a Krautrock backbone. It’s on the gothier end of the spectrum, thanks in part to Krystal’s excellent NICO-esque vocals, but it’s not quite as dark as, say, fellow Aussies NUN. It’s hard not to compare it to TOTAL CONTROL—a track like “Skin” even sounds like it could have come off Typical System. But where TOTAL CONTROL dips into harsher punk sounds from time to time, SCREENSAVER prefers to mix things up by going a little pop every so often, giving this album more of a new wave sheen. Just an immensely listenable record! For fans of CLAN OF XYMOX, GARY NUMAN, or early HUMAN LEAGUE.

Screensaver Clean Current / Repeats 7″

This single is the second release from Melbourne’s SCREENSAVER, following up from 2021’s full-length Expressions of Interest. “Clean Current” is a sweeping synth-pop number, with the kind of propulsive bassline and swirling, atmospheric synths that were a hallmark of early ’80s post-punk. “Repeats” is a slower, moodier piece that doesn’t do quite as good of a job at holding my interest, though vocalist Krystal Maynard has a rich, mournful singing voice that compliments the music well. SCREENSAVER is quite obviously influenced by the likes of the CURE, the SOUND, and SIOUXSIE, but you’ll never catch me complaining about that (especially if the songs are as appealing as “Clean Current” is here).

Screensaver Decent Shapes LP

Great example here of how a cluster of established, recognizable modes, tics, and tropes can get fed into the sausage machine and come out as something pretty…original. In SCREENSAVER—who started off as a US/AUS split concern and by the point of this, their second album, seem to be specifically Melbourne-based—you can hear the rocking yearning of peak SLEATER-KINNEY, the blunt thunk of early ’80s disco punk, coldwave’s synth-licked gloom (or the modern update of BELGRADO), and high-rolling BANSHEES goth rock. Often some of all of those are happening at once, which is in itself a niche of sorts, but a bigger factor in all this is that SCREENSAVER are really adept songwriters. Hook-crafters, especially, but also their switches between minimal/maximal, clean/fuzzy, throw your hands up/cry into your cider…spend some time with Decent Shapes too, it harbours rewards.

Shake Chain Snake Chain LP

London-based noise punk, with a vocalist that fully embraces their lizard brain. The heaviness is a skosh like a ’90s AmRep band, but with a slightly chaotic sense that gives me San Diego vibes à la a vintage GSL or Three One G release. The album is best at its strangest, when it’s overloaded with samples and synth squiggles and the songs sound like a collapsing house in flames, so I hope SHAKE CHAIN continues to further embrace their unhinged side in the future.

Terry Who’s Terry? EP

Fans of TERRY won’t be surprised in any way by this EP. Four songs of simple but wildly catchy pop music that is just a little off-kilter. At times it can feel a bit monotone, but that also tends to add to the charm. Their sound wouldn’t be out of place in the late ’80s Flying Nun catalog. If you’re listening for the first time, check out the B-side of this record. “Eggs” is an upbeat head nodder, followed by the mellow “Drawn for Days”—a Kilgour brothers-style tune—is the perfect side of a 7”.

Terry Call Me Terry LP

There’s a fairly crowded field of modern OZ DIY bands trafficking in jangly pop with post-punk smarts that owes more than a little to their nation’s ’80s greats (the GO-BETWEENS, the CANNANES, the PARTICLES, etc.), and TERRY has been one of the best of that bunch. Call Me Terry is their first full-length since 2018’s I’m Terry, which was itself the third in a rapid-fire succession of three LPs in three years, and even though previous TERRY efforts have always been skillful exercises in contrasts (the blurring of macro and micro lyrical concerns, perky melodies laced with darker subtexts, meticulously crafted pop song structures that still retain a feeling of shambolic looseness), it’s even more dialed-in this time around. With their multi-part guy/gal harmonies and non-stop carousel of hooks, tracks like “Centuries” and “Gold Duck” could have tumbled straight out of the International Pop Underground convention, but listen closely and the lyrics will shatter any lightweight twee fantasies—TERRY turns their focus to subjects ranging from colonialism to bodily autonomy to late-stage capitalist wealth disparities, and does so in a brutally honest and direct way without ever being didactic or clichéd. “Excuses” is a fuzzed-out stomper calling out the toxicity of privilege (“Blazer boys take after father / No excuses, knowing loopholes / Excuses for the entrenched”) before collapsing into a jumbled skronk of horns, and “Jane Roe” continues a dialogue that was started on an identically-titled but completely different song from the band’s previous LP, with playfully buzzing keys and shuffling beats circling a deceptively sugary-sweet chorus (“Baby, baby, baby / It’s a choice / It’s yours / You choose”) that’s more timely than ever. The most understatedly punk album of 2023.

The Toads In the Wilderness LP

While Billy Gardner isn’t busy bringing us notable acts like PARSNIP, CIVIC, and ALIEN NOSEJOB on his Melbourne based Anti-Fade label, he’s hard at work playing in bands such as the LIVING EYES, VERTIGO, and the TOADS. In the Wilderness is the debut from this latest project, and brings us be-jangled garage rock, punchy in-your-face-bass, pure rock’n’roll lead guitar riffs, with some JOHN CALE-esque poetry lines sprinkled in, like on “The Wandering Soul.” This is tambourine-shaking fun, puts a smile on my face, yet doesn’t abandon social issues, like on the opener “Nationalsville” or “Sacred Books and the Damage Done.” Keep your eyes on this lot.


Vintage Crop Serve to Serve Again LP

This is cool, and really sounds Orstralian, that sorta post-COUNTRY TEASERS-meets-post-punk/UK DIY with a sense of humor world that has been the Australian underground for the past ten or so years. The thing that sorta holds me back from fully throwing my frenzied love and adoration is this feels so cheerful and good, and the world doesn’t. It’s sorta not got the vigor and venom needed for my mind, at least. I would rather throw on a FIRE ENGINES 45 or the aforementioned COUNTRY TEASERS or even PATOIS COUNSELORS for a modern/wild take on such things. This feels contained and like a student’s essay on their summer rather than something necessary in the face of endless plagues and fascisms. Of course everyone wants a good time, even in the face of death and horror, but this is not really that either?! It’s not bad! At all! In any way! It just isn’t what I want.

Vintage Crop Kibitzer LP

While other bands playing similar stuff have popped up, gotten more attention, and fizzled out, this Geelong act has quietly kept its nose to the grindstone. Kibitzer is the band’s fourth LP in six years, and it’s just as solid as anything they’ve put out. As with their previous records, they’re still peddling a mix of URANIUM CLUB-esque intricate, post-punk-y smart-guy rock and EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING-ish garage-y people’s punk—a contradictory meshing of attitudes that I think non-Aussies would have trouble getting away with. What maybe differentiates this record from some of their earlier releases is a more overt new wave influence. That’s fine when it takes the form of DEVO-aping, as it does on a track like “Casting Calls,” but less so when it shows up as some superfluous, squiggly-ass synth shit (why y’all gotta do “The Duke” like that!?). Also, vocalist Jack Cherry really tests the limit of how many words/syllables you can jam into a single line, a style choice likely borrowed from Brendan Current. I don’t remember that bothering me on previous records, but I didn’t love it here. Still, those small complaints aside, this is a pretty strong record that sounds great. Should appeal to folks who’ve been into the aforementioned bands or acts like PERVERTS AGAIN or SMARTS.

Vintage Crop Springtime / Mercenary 7″

More fantastic music out of Australia. Poppy post-punk with a little bit of slowcore thrown in. Chill and laid back. The singer sounds a bit like a less energetic Fred Schenider, which might seem like a critique, but it works very well for VINTAGE CROP’s styling. Great use of the synthesizer during “Springtime,” and especially the horns (or what I think are horns) at the end. Fits right into the pocket and gives the track a floral accent. “Mercenary” reminds me a lot of ’90s indie groups like SUPERCHUNK. Very catchy with upbeat guitars that don’t overlap the vocals. Great composition for both tracks. Lots going on, but it doesn’t sound messy or overthought. I initially wondered why this wasn’t released during the spring, only to remember it’s currently spring in Australia. The Earth is crazy, huh!

Vital Idles Break A EP

A 21st century revision of the Sound of Young Scotland heralded by fellow Glaswegians Postcard Records in the early ’80s—alternately shambling and spiky ripped-up art-punk informed by sharp pop smarts, with Jessica Higgins’s perfectly unpolished and expressive vocals giving a freewheeling edge to the band’s minimalist musical framework. The guitar slashes and needles but is never overly caustic, the melodies are just wobbly and weird enough to keep them from being overly twee, and the band’s tendencies toward angular tension are tempered by detours into more light-hearted jangle. There’s some pretty clear parallels to the heyday of Rough Trade-affiliated post-punk throughout the EP, from the tumbling, punked-up rush of “Careful Extracts” that would have perfectly suited KLEENEX or the PETTICOATS, to the sneaky YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS-ish bass line weaving through the more meditative and icy “Break A,” and in true UK DIY fashion, I think that the 7″ format is absolutely the ideal means for VITAL IDLES to present their off-kilter vision to the world—efficient, compact, contained.

Water Machine Raw Liquid Power EP

Last year’s four-song demo from Glasgow’s WATER MACHINE alternated so evenly and sharply between threadbare minimal pop songs and shouty primitive post-punk numbers, it was almost like the work of two completely separate bands, a push/pull of influence between late ’80s K Records and the mid-’90s Slampt scene (vocalist Hando Morice is actually in the most recent iteration of LUNG LEG, while drummer Goda Ilgauskaitė also plays with neo-Slampt upstarts SOURSOB). This new EP digs deeper into the shouty, PUSSYCAT TRASH-ed side of that split affinity, as the warbling, decayed synth squeal that starts “Water Machine Pt. II” gives way to raw-throated sloganeering somewhere on the HUGGY BEAR spectrum and a deceptively melodic chorus counterpart, and the barely minute-long “Bussy” goes even harder, with stomping drums, frenetic bare-bones guitar strum, and gang vocals bluntly railing against the unreliability of public transport (“That’s why I’m not on time!”). Sandwiched right in between, “Stilettos” and “At the Drive In” nudge back in more of a UK DIY/early Rough Trade direction, with minor ELASTICA undertones in the cool vocal detachment of the former juxtaposed against a disjointed, almost COUNTRY TEASERS-esque cowbell-spiked rhythm—the sort of thing that I eat right up. Viva la punka.