Reviews

Alex Howell

Finale Vision de Futuro LP

If you check out their Bandcamp page, you’ll see Valencia, Spain four-piece FINALE tagged as DEVO-core or egg-punk. While I’m certainly a fan of bands that have borne those labels, it was refreshing to dig into this LP and find neither to be appropriate. This lacks the hallmark herky-jerkiness of DEVO-core and isn’t really wacky enough to qualify as egg-punk (though, to be fair, I think I heard a faint mouth harp on one track—that’s pretty wacky, I guess). There are a couple of tracks on here that flirt with some funk rhythms, but for the most part this LP is full of loose, garage-y KBD punk with some great quacky vocals. It reminds me of BITS OF SHIT with cleaner guitars or, on the slower tracks, EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING. I’m into it!

New Vogue New Vogue cassette

I was not familiar with this band going in, so when I went to their Bandcamp page and noticed the pile of skulls in their banner image and mistakenly saw the cover photo of this cassette as a deformed animal skull, I braced myself for a red-hot dose of crust. Fortunately for you guys, my initial impression turned out to be way off (I can get down with some crust, but I’m definitely not qualified to write about it)! I also see now that this cover image is an oddly cropped, high-contrast, black-and-white photo of a lady…laying on a bear rug(?). Anyway, this is great! NEW VOGUE is a synth-y punk/post-punk band out of Montreal, and this eight-song cassette is their third release. If you’re a fan of TOTAL CONTROL’s punkier cuts, you’ll dig this. “Safe on the Autobahn,” one of the standout tracks, sounds like JAY REATARD covering a DEVO song that was written as a tribute to KRAFTWERK, which is not a far-off comparison for the rest of the cassette. There are some moments where they dip into some odd harmonies that don’t quite fit, or they put a little too much flanger effect on the vocals for my taste. But these are minor quibbles with an overall solid release.

R.M.F.C. Hive Volumes 1 & 2 LP

R.M.F.C. (or Rock Music Fan Club) is the bedroom recording project of New South Wales teen Buz Clatworthy, and this LP compiles his first two cassettes. This fits nicely alongside any of the recent spate of releases from fellow NWI-worshiping Aussies, like SATANIC TOGAS, RESEARCH REACTOR CORP, DISCO JUNK, GEE TEE, etc. What sets R.M.F.C. apart from those other bands is his willingness to slow things down a bit. While there are plenty of the lightning-fast tracks that you’ve probably come to expect from this lot, songs like “Television” and “Mirror” creep by in comparison and really allow you the time to appreciate the odd mix of influences these kids are working with. Maybe it’s just because I feel a little inundated with speedy DEVO-core lately, but I find myself preferring these slower tracks. Regardless, this is an impressive collection of tunes, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this kid comes up with next.

The Snakes The Snakes LP

Anti-Fade is one of a handful of labels that I follow religiously. But every so often I’ll have a crisis of faith and find myself willfully ignoring a release for no reason other than, say, unappealing cover art or a generic band name. The Snakes by the SNAKES was such a release. Fortunately, MRR intervened and I now see the error of my ways. This is quite a delightful LP! The SNAKES are a five-piece outfit from Melbourne, and they play an odd mix of organ-driven garage punk, sleazy proto-punk, and circus-y new wave. It reminds me at times of mid-’80s CURE, the MIGHTY GO-GO PLAYERS, the soundtrack to Liquid Sky, and Richard Hell (particularly the vocalist). I don’t know how much replay value this one has, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you’re down for an interesting time. I’m certainly keen to see what they do next!

Snooper Music for Spies EP

SNOOPER is a Nashville-based duo made up of Connor Cummins (SPODEE BOY) and Blair Tramel. This is their first release, and it’s quite an impressive debut. They cover so much ground over the course of these four tracks that I was genuinely surprised to see that the whole EP’s running time is just seven minutes and twenty seconds. The inevitable comparison here would be to the CONEHEADS, as they certainly crib a lot from the NWI sound. But they infuse it with enough other influences that it feels like a fresh take. I hear fellow Tennesseeans LOST SOUNDS in their explosive choruses and a little bit of the URINALS in their production. The best track on the EP might be the one that bears the least resemblance to Mark Winter and company. “Running” establishes a borderline Krautrock groove with a simple drum beat, a DEVO-esque bassline, and chanted vocals, then it alternately weaves in a fuzzy surf guitar line and a MINUTEMEN-like funk riff. It really is something. An essential release!

Penance Hall Covered in Shit / Take Me to the Bar Fight 7″

PENANCE HALL is a lo-fi downer/synth-punk duo made up of Robert Watson Craig III (a.k.a. BUCK BILOXI or GIORGIO MURDERER) and Michael He-Man (TRAMPOLINE TEAM). And each dude seems to get a side on this 7″. The BUCK side, “Covered in Shit,” sounds like GIORGIO MURDERER doing a chopped and screwed remix of a SPITS track. If you’re not a big fan of Mr. MURDERER’s work, this track likely isn’t going to do it for you, as it’s just a slight tweak to his usual formula (which I happen to love). But you have to give this Michael He-man side a spin! “Take Me to the Bar Fight” is a catchy little number that gives off seedier and more pessimistic vibes than a song about literally being covered in shit. Just absolutely stellar work!

The Freakees / Research Reactor Corp. split EP

Goodbye Boozy seems to be cranking out these split 7”s lately. While I’m not generally a fan of the format, I think they could have done worse with this pairing. The A-side is two quick tracks from Sydney-based torch bearers of the NWI sound, RESEARCH REACTOR CORPORATION. And they are just excellent. RCC takes the CONEHEADS’ herky-jerk formula, adds some cartoonishness and menace, and leans a little more into that warbly direct-to-VHS-sounding production. I love it. The FREAKEES, out of L.A., give us two tracks of blown-out, bass-heavy garage punk that skews a bit more punk than garage. It reminds me of the band SCRAPER. Though, instead of deadpan, talk-shout vocals, you get an ear-splitting screech that’s reverbed to hell. I think these are pretty great tracks, but I found the vocals a tad much at times. But FREAKEES gotta freak, I guess!

Ond Tro Syv Sange EP

OND TRO (“evil belief”) is a punky hardcore band out of Copenhagen, who run through seven tracks (Syv Sange is literally “seven songs”) in around ten minutes on this EP. Now, I don’t know whether to blame this on my lack of Danish hardcore points of reference or a first impression that I just couldn’t shake, but this sounds a lot like a ’90s Victory Records band playing MARKED MEN songs. There are a lot of open hi-hat counts into tracks, and the production is overall pretty STRIFE-y. But listen to “Gra Skyer” and tell me it doesn’t sound exactly like a MARKED MEN track until the vocalist comes in to bark lyrics like a late-era Raybeez. Anyway, silly comparison aside, I had a good time with this.

Alien Nosejob Suddenly Everything is Twice as Loud LP

For the uninitiated, ALIEN NOSEJOB is the anything-goes solo project of Jake Robertson (AUSMUTEANTS, HIEROPHANTS, SMARTS). So far he’s put out records covering KBD punk, indie pop, straightforward hardcore, new wave, and disco. While previous releases have been more genre-focused (like the excellent USHC workout HC45 EP), this LP takes a more whimsical route through a handful of similar sounds. We’ve got some straight up RAMONES-core (“Television Sets,” “Black Sheep”), earnest indie pop (“Weight Of The World,” “Blending In”), and even some Horrendous New Wave-y new wave (“Spin Cycle”). Not every track is great, but when you take as many shots as this dude, you’re bound to chuck up a brick or two every now and then. Even still, this LP highlights what a gifted songwriter, musician, and producer Jake is. I’m stoked to see what direction he takes the project in next!

Eyes and Flys New Way to Get It EP

Are you wistful for, like, 2009? You know, the halcyon days when lo-fi garage pop and shitgaze ruled the (Myspace) airwaves, “Be My Baby” drum beats were de rigueur, your local Sparks and Four Loko-littered basement might host a bill of PSYCHEDELIC HORSESHIT and the BARBARAS, and your favorite band’s latest release could be put out by a hip economy car company? If so, have I got a release for you! To be fair, EYES AND FLYS, a recording project out of Buffalo, is a little more BLACK TIME (good!) than WAVVES (bad!), and it’s not like they’re singing about pizza parties or fake dance crazes. Really, it’s a solid take on this kind of sound. But it’s a sound that nevertheless reminds me of a feel-good time that doesn’t quite match the world’s current tenor. It makes it tough for me to enjoy. But that’s more on me than it is these tunes, which I suspect would have appealed to pre-doomer me. So, give it a listen!

Prized Pig PPEP EP

PRIZED PIG is a noise rock band out of Los Angeles, whose commitment to old school recording techniques and a DIY ethos is admirable. This whole EP was recorded, mixed, and mastered using analogue tape. They also designed and printed their own sleeves. Good stuff! And you can hear this same dedication in the performance—these guys are going for it! I can see this working really well live. Unfortunately, the tunes themselves are a little ho-hum. The opening track, “Mistake,” is maybe the best—the vocalist does a passable CRAZY SPIRIT impression over a sped-up, dumbed-down CHUCK BERRY groove with breaks for noise noodling. “Toothless Tom” sounds like a deconstructed dance-punk song. And “Race Car” sounds more like PRIMUS than I would guess they were aiming for (although, who knows—with that song title, it might be on purpose). I really like these guys’ moxie! I just wish I liked the songs more.

The Cool Greenhouse Alexa! / End of the World 7″

I went into this release skeptical. Actually, aside from their debut, a record I ordered on a whim because I thought Market Square Records was cool, I’ve been skeptical of every COOL GREENHOUSE release. I liked that first 7″, but I’d assumed this was a novelty project. The minimal, talk-sung songs with bookish lyrics were fun, and the detuned guitars with crap Casio accompaniment made for an interesting sound. None of that seemed sustainable, though. But with each release, Tom Greenhouse has done just enough with the project—including fleshing it out into a full band for the last LP (which was great!)—to keep the schtick from growing tiresome. Still, I had my doubts about sitting through clever ruminations on “Alexa” and a retread of the B-side from that first 7″. And, look—this sounds exactly like I had imagined going in…but it’s great. “Alexa” is maybe a bit too clever, but it’s probably as close to “catchy” as this band will get. But this B-side! I didn’t think something as simple as adding real drums could change the DNA of a song, but the full-band version of “End of the World” is such an upgrade over the original that I’m now declaring it the official version.

Science Man Science Man II LP+flexi

I thought I’d listened to SCIENCE MAN before. But I think I was conflating NATURAL MAN BAND and some of the more overtly sci-fi denizens of the egg-punk world, like POWERPLANT or RESEARCH REACTOR CORPORATION. To be honest, that impression isn’t too far off. While SCIENCE MAN (one-man project of John Toohill from RADIATION RISKS and other Buffalo bands) may be more indebted to the NEW BOMB TURKS and less to DEVO than any of those bands, he’s still employing the services of a drum machine to make some “out there” music. This is pretty much lightning-fast garage punk laid atop an incessant, driving industrial track with some metal and prog flourishes thrown in (as I’m writing this out, I’m realizing that’s quite the odd set of genre bedfellows, but it works). Although there are nine separate tracks (the physical release also includes a flexi with an additional track), II functions more as a continuous 20-minute mix—once it gets going, it never lets up. This is all really impressive stuff, but I want to highlight this vocal performance. It’s like Greg Cartwright turned up to eleven. Definitely worth checking out.

Shrinkwrap Killers Stolen Electronics to Shove Up Your Ass / Merch Killer 7″

Third entry (of a planned five) in Iron Lung’s mysterious “Systemic Surgery” series. Aside from the limited run (only 200 copies pressed), deluxe packaging (hand-stamped labels, custom die-cut sleeves, risograph prints), and hitherto unheard-of bands (the first two entrants were from CLARKO and HOMELESS CADAVER), I have no idea what ties these releases together. At least Iron Lung was nice enough to let us know who’s behind the outfit this time—Oakland’s Greg Wilkinson (BRAINOIL, DEATHGRAVE, and Earhammer Studios). The title track is straight up SPITS worship that’s maybe a bit heavier on synths. The B-side also really leans on the keys and has more of a gothic pop punk vibe, in the vein of the HEX DISPENSERS. Neither cut is particularly memorable, and this stab at dum-dum lyrics needs more…or maybe less work.  Recommended only for those Systemic Surgery completists out there.

Piss Crystals Spielt Nicht Zum Tanz cassette

Noisy punk out of Budapest. Starts off promising enough. ”Problem” is a ripping (if a tad generic) slice of garage punk with fantastic production—it’s trebly, sharp, immediate, and really fits what I imagine they’re going for (something along the lines of BLACK TIME). But that production is pretty much the only constant running through this cassette. It’s all certainly noise punk in some general sense, but it is as if they’re slathering that sound atop a different subgenre on each track. “Acsarország” is noisy hardcore, “Glasshaus Zwei” is noisy metal, and “Promises (Still) Unkept” is noisy…emo! While that might sound interesting on paper, it never really clicked with me past the opening track. I don’t quite know what element to pin this on, but the whole tape kinda stinks of the late ’90s. I’m fine with that when it brings to mind late ’90s Load Records, but not so much when I get a whiff of AT THE DRIVE IN.

Stirling One Percenter EP

Unearthed 1996 recordings from this short-lived Essex band. Five quick tracks of noisy, dumbed-down punk ’n’ B. Sits somewhere between PUSSY GALORE’s garage-y din and early OBLIVIANS’ cro-magnon punk. Highlights are “R-E-V-E-N-G-E” and “Go Away,” the latter of which even sounds like an Eric O-penned tune. Maybe not an essential release, but certainly a welcome one! Fun fact: one of the guitarists on this release, Sam Knee, compiled the book A Scene In Between and runs the (great!) Instagram account @sceneinbetween, where he catalogs UK fashion and alternative youth culture from the ’80s indie scene.

Gimmick Quarantine cassette

Chunky hardcore out of the the Pacific Northwest. A little slower and less trebly than their regional cohorts ELECTRIC CHAIR and SUCK LORDS, but also a little less straightforward. The vocals are the standout here, provided by the aptly named Gag (expect lots of punk retching), and they add a nice layer of punk slop to the mix. The overall effect reminds me of BLACK PANTIES or other egg-adjacent hardcore. This stuff works best when they either slow things to a crawl and really let the negativity breathe, as they do on “Pickled Heart,” or when they really go for it and let the bile fly like on “Boi Shit.” Seven-song cassette—same program both sides—limited to 100 copies (and looks like Sorry State still has a few). A solid debut, and I’m certainly interested in hearing more from these guys!

Morwan Зола-Земля (Zola-Zemlya) LP

MORWAN is the solo project of Kiev-based artist Alex Ashtaui. My worry prior to listening to this was that it was gonna be more ’80s Eastern Bloc post-punk cosplay, à la MOLCHAT DOMA (whom I like, but don’t need more of!). This is resoundingly not that! Tonally, it’s not dissimilar—it’s definitely on the gothier end of the punk spectrum, and I can see TikTok teens co-opting snippets to soundtrack their #sovietvibes videos. But the sound here is much more organic and relies on post-punk as a foundation to build atop rather than a sound to emulate. Vocals are multi-tracked chants that echo as though recorded in some imposing brutalist atrium. The guitar and bass lines remind me of the surf/psych instrumentals coming out of Pakistan in the late ’60s (like the MODS or the PANTHERS), and the drum patterns are intricate to the point of sounding programmed (in that respect, it even reminds me of AMON TOBIN’s 2005 album Chaos Theory). All of these elements are extremely rhythmic yet are woven together to create a sound that’s overtly melodic and much warmer than you’d think given its “Eastern European Post-Punk” label. But maybe most strikingly, this album makes me want to move—not necessarily dance—just…move. Really, it’s hard to overstate how original this record sounds and just how impressive it is. Absolutely fantastic!

Schrankaffe 87-93 LP

SCHRANKAFFE (which translates to “Cupboard Monkey”!) was an arty punk band out of Hamburg, Germany. If you are unfamiliar with them (as I was), you might assume from the album title (as I did) that they operated in the late ’80s/early ‘90s and this is a collection of their total output from this period. But no! They existed for just three gigs back in 2008, and this is a collection of their total output from that time, initially issued as a CD-R in 2009 and reissued here on vinyl. The title’s significance still escapes me, but the music doesn’t sound unlike it was made in that era. The tunes are mainly mid-fi affairs that skew post-hardcore, but the punker tracks are the most interesting. The guitarist plays feedback-y lead throughout, like he’s assembling songs from variations on the first 30 seconds of BLACK FLAG’s “My War” or “Can’t Decide,” while singer, Itty auf Ex, adds upbeat talk/shout vocals overtop. The drummer will often pitch in vocals for a call-and-response verse or a gang chorus, generally to good effect. I don’t know that I’ll be dipping back into this one, but I found my time with it quite charming. Worth a listen.

Z-Cars This Is Z-Cars 7″

Z-CARS (pronounced “zed-cars” and named after what appears to be a UK take on the show Dragnet) is a power pop band that operated out of Melbourne in the late ’70s/early ’80s. This Is Z-Cars, their sole 7″, was issued in 1980 by Au Go Go and is reissued here by Meanbean Records. Truth be told, I’m not above a wimpy power pop tune, and I’m obsessed enough with Australian music that it doesn’t take much to sell me on any record from Down Under. So, it’s really surprising that this one just isn’t doing it for me. These tracks, both originals, sound like lackluster covers of some of the less memorable cuts from Nuggets II. The production is too clean to provide any punk edge, the not-quite-BEATLES-esque harmonies aren’t quite off-kilter enough to be interesting, and the tunes aren’t really catchy at all. Apparently, I’m not alone in thinking this. The liner notes—written by the singer—mention that the band “weren’t the best or most memorable band going.” I even watched an interview with the drummer where he, when presented with this reissue, noted that he’d completely forgotten about the band!