Reviews

Allan McNaughton

The Tea Set Back in Time for Tea CD

Time for tea! What we have here is a collection of singles and EPs by the TEA SET between ’78 and ’81, along with a couple of extra tracks tacked on. Often overlooked in the punk/post-punk pantheon (perhaps because they never released an album, although they did appear on a Messthetics comp), these art students specialized in DIY clatter with a dramatic flourish; channeling post-BUDGIE prog-punk on “On Them,” and making the everyday seem esoteric on the disco funk of “Tri X Pan.” While it’s great to have all these fantastic singles in one place, I would love to see them presented in a more elaborate package in keeping with the fantastic artwork that accompanied the original singles; The slim booklet that comes in the digipak CD doesn’t do them justice.

Black Heino Pfaffenbrot / Schüsse Von Links und Rechts 7″

This is the first volume in a series of singles recorded on a Tascam 4-track. BLACK HEINO cranks out plenty of volume from the limited but versatile machine: The garage punk romp of “Pfaffenbrot” leaps out of the grooves and grabs you by the throat. The flip is a German-language cover of MAGAZINE’s “Shot By Both Sides” sung from the point of view of an internet troll. Overall, a worthwhile if not essential exercise, and anyway, the single appears to be already sold out.

Skull Cult New Mutilator EP

Brief bursts of hyperkinetic mongoloid synth punk here. A caffeine buzz blend of DEVO, URANIUM CLUB, and SERVOTRON. Includes a cover of TALKING HEADS’ “Psycho Killer” that unfortunately fails to sound anywhere near as creepy as the original.

Negative Space Cruelty LP

Dark, bass-driven, noisy punk marked by a particularly bleak outlook. The seven songs here deal with themes of isolation, envy, guilt, anger, and death, and their effect on the mind and body; a sprechgesang report delivered forcefully and hoarsely over the sparse, minimal pulse of staccato guitar, punctuated in places by solid-state complaint. There is little room for light or hope to shine through. The band name could hardly be more apt: the group occupies a space adjacent to contemporary negative punks like STRUCTURE and DIÄT, or ancestral guides like CRISIS or WARSAW. “Eternal Rotation” distils the themes to their essence: “How long before your body is crushed by the column / To be taken by vehicle / To be taken by attack / To be taken by terminal illness.” Buy your ticket, kids, and sing along.

The Brankas Safes LP

Snap the compass, throw the charts overboard, delete MapQuest™: There are no maps that can help you where THE BRANKAS journey will take you. Pulsating, grinding, hornets’ nest Adderall-core™ with no respect for conventions of song structure. There’s a lot to unpack here, but if you are a fan of FAT DAY, the BOREDOMS, et al, I’d encourage you to check in.

Bad Weed Bad Weed LP

The tracks on this album zip right by, dropping insistent little riffs, guitar licks, and melodic earworms along the way. Jangly, garage-y power pop that sits (sonically and vocally) in the same territory as FM KNIVES or the first GENTLEMEN JESSE & HIS MEN LP—and if you remember what delicious little rippers those albums were, you’ll want to score yourself some BAD WEED A-S-A-friggin-P, matey.

Mick Trouble Here’s the Mick Trouble LP

The long-awaited follow up to 2017’s mysterious It’s the Mick Trouble EP (alleged to have been a long lost recording by an erstwhile DAN TREACY associate, originally slated for release on the Whaam! label but subsequently lost to history) that was later revealed to be the work of Jed Smith of MY TEENAGE STRIDE. The album picks up where the EP left off, with pitch-perfect TELEVISION PERSONALITIES pastiche. If indie pop scientists forced a bot to listen to nothing but the first TELEVISION PERSONALITIES singles and album for a year and then asked it to produce a song, the borrowed riffs, bedroom production, and cod Britishisms of opener “Bloody Blighty” is likely what would emerge. Luckily for the listener, TROUBLE/Smith expands his stylistic scope on the LP while still exhibiting superior songwriting skills and a knack for capturing the essence of the sounds of an earlier era on tape. Songs veer from mod-ish TIMES/O LEVEL territory into junkshop glam and FELT/DENIM indie pop, each one packed with hooks and wit. I believe Smith played all the instruments on the record, which is no mean feat, but I particularly want to call out the nimble, melodic bass playing, which is the secret weapon here (as well as on the JEANINES LP, which Smith also played on this year). What more can be said – I waited over a year for this album and it did not disappoint.

The Cult of Lip Sleep Receiver & Your Feedback 12"

This slab of vinyl combines two earlier releases from this Minneapolis act. Stuttering reverb, hazy but persistent riffage, and warbling feedback form the undercurrent eardrum buzz for dreamy, haunting vocals. A bubbling cauldron of influences gleaned from that epic decade of fuzz, from JESUS AND MARY CHAIN to MY BLOODY VALENTINE to DINOSAUR JR and SONIC YOUTH. Definitely wearing their shoegaze crush on their sleeves but to great effect.

Pölykuu Tultasyöksevä Helvetinkone / Kylpyhuoneessa 7"

Shimmering ’80s New Wave gothic pop. I couldn’t find much information about this, aside from the fact that the band is from Tampere, Finland. If it wasn’t for the autotune effect on the vocals on side A, I would have guessed that this was a reissue of an undiscovered classic. The production is great on both songs; the overall feeling is of a more punk CURE or ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN. The B-side especially has a slightly more post-punk edge, maybe along the lines of Italy’s CCCP. Great stuff, worth seeking out. I understand they also released a cassette in 2017.

Material Leather LP

Where most bands’ debuts are more of a collection of songs, Leather is a taut, cohesive album, featuring clear ideas delivered with intent. Propulsive, melodic punk serves as the kindling to fuel the sharp, personal-yet-political lyrics. Sonically, there are elements of Revolution Summer desperation mixed with a certain GUN CLUB swagger. The whole sound retains its own distinct personality by the perfectly employed, insistent yet unobtrusive electric piano. There’s no reason this band couldn’t cross over to a wider audience. Without naming names, I can think of a few current bands getting the type of attention that MATERIAL greatly deserves. I encourage you to seek out this album.

Higgins and the Magic of the Marketplace Dream Consumer Dream! LP

A solid mid-paced rodgering delivered by a Mr. Andy Higgins of LITTERBUG. On putting needle to groove, your ears will detect a certain level of LEATHERFACE worship, which is by far the overarching impression here, but HIGGINS does indulge here and there in bursts of sonic experimentation. Still, combining catchy riffs, heavy Stubbs/Hammond guitar interplay, and guttural, whisky-on-the-gravel vocals (as also employed by the likes of STRAWMAN and FOUR LETTER WORD) are the stock-in-trade. The lyrics appear to combine references to punk nostalgia, British popular culture, and the lower tiers of English professional football. For your middle-aged British LEATHERFACE fanatic reviewer, this was a very enjoyable listen.

Perfect Buzz In Your Face / My Apologies 7"

Two brief-but-memorable stabs of hooky pop punk from this Portland power trio. “In Your Face” is a snappy, propulsive jammer in the vein of MARKED MEN/THE SPITS, while the flip is a rollicking barroom singalong about what sounds like a potentially serious injury. Great stuff.

Civic Selling Sucking Blackmail Bribes / Velvet Casino 7"

Another postulating sore of putrid punk’n’roll from the ever-reliable Florida outlet Total Punk. On this one, Aussies CIVIC put the pedal through the floor of a rusted Holden GTS and burn rubber down Footscray back roads to the sounds of an in-the-red fourth generation tape of hyper-kinetic, blistering meathead garage. Blown-out guitar solos that barely hold it together, shredded vocal chords, caveman-on-ice drumming, what’s not to love?

The Nods Overripe LP

It’s a bold move to open your album with a backmasked noise jam. At least HÜSKER DÜ tucked “Dreams Reoccurring” a few songs into Zen Arcade. The NODS hail from Salt Lake City, and their sound is a fuzzed-out blend of psychedelic pop. Imagine some teenagers frying in the desert somewhere with three records between them: the OH SEES, the SPITS, and BUTTHOLE SURFERS. The fact that the album sounds like someone passed out on the reverb button adds to the sense of sweltering burnout. It’s lo-fi for sure, but the energy (and the songs) come through.

Gonzo Do It Better Again LP

Four young-ish tykes from Geelong here with an album recorded in an old stable. Polished shards of pointed rock stab insistently from the speakers over tense, clipped rhythms. There’s a tension here between the physical urge to rock out (at least one of the guitarists here can obviously shred) and the cerebral insistence on minimalist restraint. GONZO are clearly clever, but not too clever; like the older cousins of the CHATS, the ones who went to Uni instead of wasting away on the dole. Math-rock time changes and post-punk sparseness compete for attention with meaty Aussie rock in the tradition of X or COSMIC PSYCHOS or EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING, and it all makes for a great listen. Once again, the land down under is flying the flag for rock music, much as it has for most of the last 30-odd years.

Current Affairs Buckle Up / Worlds In Crisis 7"

Just perfect. Two tracks of reverb-saturated, melancholic pop jangle distilling familiar sounds from SUBURBAN LAWNS, ALTERED IMAGES, and even at times SLANT 6 through a DIY punk filter into this finely crafted (yet charmingly rough around the edges) single. You’ll keep flipping this over and over, trying to decide which song is your favorite, but why choose? I just feel lucky to live in a time when I get to hear things like this.

Kinzie Dead Eyes CD

An interesting proposition here. The songs veer between SUPERCHUNK pop snarl and NOMEANSNO jazz-punk and SHUDDER TO THINK drama. Maybe a more direct comparison would be fIREHOSE? The band members certainly have chops, and are adept in a variety of styles. As an album, the whole thing is polished with a ’90s sheen that renders it listenable and inoffensive, but not immediately arresting.

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.

Invisible Engine Try to Want Less CD-R

Eight songs of melodic, choppy Midwestern popcore with a lot of emphasis on lead guitar. The solid songwriting chops and earnest vocals are making me think of STRAWMAN (maybe it’s an Ohio thing) and in their finest moments (to these ears, particularly the song “Evaporate”) they sound like outtakes of Grant Hart-sung HÜSKER DÜ material. There are places where the guitar leads are a bit overdone—but with some trimming of the fat and a bit more focus on the buzzsaw melodies, INVISIBLE ENGINE could be quite a unit.

Negative Gears Negative Gears 12"

This is the debut vinyl aural blast from Sydney’s NEGATIVE GEARS. Six demented screeds bifurcated by one ’80s synth interlude—the whole thing goes by so quickly, that you can listen to the record on your tea break. There’s a melancholic undercurrent here (a bit WIPERS, a bit ICEAGE) that is tempered by an Aussie snarl not unlike GEARS’ peers like LOW LIFE and TOTAL CONTROL. I’ve listened to it a few times now, and I keep hearing new things to appreciate: a little guitar riff here, a synth line there, the lyrics that smack of disappointment in how life has turned out. The darkness that lurks in the shadows where the sun shines brightest. The beach punks drinking under the pier, the desert rat frying in a trailer.

Private Anarchy Central Planning LP

Sparse, intricate weirdo art pop, sounding more a labor of necessity rather than straightforward love. Spiderweb guitar lines perform an off-kilter dance around loose-limbed, jazzy rhythms. There’s a subdued quality to the whole thing, like if you imagine David Thomas from PERE UBU making demos in his bedroom, but trying really hard not to wake up his roommates. There are eleven songs, and if you often stay up late listening to college radio, you’re sure to hear some of them eventually.

Dan Webb and the Spiders Be Alright LP

Pretty sure this is my first excursion into DAN WEBB AND THE SPIDERS territory, despite it being their fifth full-length. What you get is a polished slab of shiny, catchy indie-rock flavored pop-punk. The songs are perfectly executed—the hooks, choruses, harmonies, and guitar embellishments all hit just the right note. In its best moments, I am reminded of the elements that make the MARKED MEN so great. But something about this is leaving me a little cold; there just doesn’t seem to be much of an edge. I feel like I can visualize the car commercial that these songs could soundtrack.

Toyota Toyota LP

Total mongoloid math punk here. Hyperkinetic jazzcore spurts with deadpan staccato robot vocals. If I time travelled to six months ago and told you that in August 2019 and beyond, the latest thing would sound like a DEVO simulation robot programmed by PRIMUS, you’d tell me “so what, URANIUM CLUB have like five albums already.” Rock with no roll for the age of the electric vehicle hot rod rumble where neon-clad Prius-rockers play chicken for cryptocurrency, not pink slips.

Gitane Demone Quartet Substrata Strip CD

Gitane Demone will be best known to readers of MRR from her time with CHRISTIAN DEATH, but she has had a long career as a vocalist. I was excited to check our this album after seeing that it features Paul Roessler, along with one of my favorite guitarists, Rikk Agnew, but punks hoping to hear some classic Agnew chops may be disappointed by the showtunes goth presented within. Demone’s powerful singing is the focus here: the darkly operatic cabaret songs resonate around occult-sounding themes. For this listener, the album sits way too far outside MRR territory, residing more in the Wiccan steampunk zone.

Knowso Like a Buzz / Physical Freak 7"

The ’90s revival continues. KNOWSO perform robotic, kinetic nerd punk: descendants of DEVO, but with a sound that’s part NOMEANSNO, part SERVOTRON. The two short songs here form a perfectly digestible snippet of pocket-protector punk.

Uliczy Opryszek FC St. Pauli Do Boju EP

As you may have guessed, the title track is an ode to every punk’s favorite German football club. Definitely more on the rollicking tuneful punk side of things than straight up Oi! Even though I can’t understand what they’re singing about (or maybe because?) I have come to a realization that this style of music just sounds really good in Polish.

Bruised Arrow of Disease / Psychic Stain 7"

Hyper-speedy post-punk earbuzz that comes on like the staccato hammering of a Morse code operator after a wrap of sulphate. Two tracks of kinetic pop that will wait for you in the subway underpass to mug you on the way home from the pub. At less than four minutes all told, it’s an all too brief introduction that will leave the listener with a sore jaw and a jones for more.

The Dumpies Zola Budd Cassette

This tape has ten tracks of blown-out fuzz pop. Song after song of anthemic melodies, recorded in a shack somewhere in Oregon. The band is from Austin, but may have picked up something in the air from Denton, Texas—there are echoes of MARKED MEN, REDS, etc., although the closest comparison that comes to mind is the THERMALS. Great stuff overall.

The Sketchballs Riverwest CD-R

Six songs of eclectic, melodic indie-punk. Mostly falling within a vaguely REPLACEMENTS territory sound-wise, with tongue-in-cheek, humorous lyrics along the lines of say, YOUR MOTHER, with a distinctly nasal vocal delivery that reminds me a little of PANSY DIVISION. Stylistically, the songs have jangly, poppy interludes interspersed with noisier, more distorted riffs. The longest and best song, “Tito” (at over five minutes), serves as something of an epic and takes the listener on a journey through diverse musical styles such as FIREHOSE and PINK FLOYD.

The Terraplanes All Good for the High Street CD

The TERRAPLANES originally formed out of the ashes of ANIMALS & MEN in 1980. Disbanding after one 1981 single, they reformed in 2017, and this album is the result. A sparse, post-punk mix of new originals, revisited old songs, and favorite garage / rock’n’roll covers of JONATHAN RICHMAN, ELVIS PRESLEY, ED COBB etc. The raw, simplistic recording and dual female (mother / daughter!) vocals lends the whole thing a HEADCOATEES vibe, which is never a bad thing! Great stuff, and a welcome return to the music scene.

Tics Agnostic Funk 12"

Eight tracks of jagged funk-punk from this Cologne group. Quirky, stop-start rhythms plus wandering bass-lines punctuated by hyper-speed funk guitar form the foundation for these terse, varied ruminations on modern society. The songwriting is complex, the playing polished and accomplished—a potent mix of fIREHOSE, TALKING HEADS, and BADGEWEARER. Fantastic stuff.

Quarantine Regressive Thoughts 2xLP

A worthwhile compendium of the complete recorded output of this mid-’90s Glasgow trio, including the Automatic Negative Thoughts LP, Junction 10 EP, and assorted compilation tracks, compiled by longtime stalwart label of the Polish scene Nikt Nic Nie Wie. The band’s music spanned from more direct, driving hardcore type songs, to more melodic, almost JAWBREAKER influenced sounds, but always with passionate, angry vocals, and lyrics that were both critical and hopeful at the same time. Much like ACTIVE MINDS, who I reviewed earlier this issue, the members of QUARANTINE are punk lifers who remain as dedicated to DIY punk and hardcore now as they were then. It’s great to revisit this material that may have been overlooked by some at the time.

Gattopardo Cleo EP

Enigmatic post-punk from São Paulo. “Cleo” could have easily fit on the Rough Trade roster in 1979: jangling, clattering funky post-punk, with a smattering of sax. On the flip, “As Bruxas” takes the listener down a BAUHAUS doom spiral: a darker sound introduced by more chorus on the guitar lends the whole thing a more gothic vibe. A great introduction that left this listener wanting more. There’s an album from 2014 that I will be investigating forthwith.

Active Minds Religion Is Nonsense 10"

How appropriate that ACTIVE MINDS have a review in the final print issue of MRR, as a band that seem to have been flying the flag for DIY punk and hardcore almost as long as the mag has been around (or at least as long as I remember!). This is just the latest in a vast discography of fiercely political hardcore punk in a variety of guises, whether DISCHARGE worship or melodic LEATHERFACE type fare, but always with a message first and foremost. Several of the songs on this record are based loosely around the titular theme of religious hypocrisy and exploitation of children. Did I mention it comes wrapped in a printed ACTIVE MINDS patch?! It really does my heart good to know that these folk are still at it, still active.

  • Reviewer Allan McNaughton
  • Label Looney Tunes / Masapunk / La Société Pue Prod / Tutajteraz

Richard Vain Night Jammer LP

Big, full-sounding indie jams here from this Chicago trio that includes an ex-PONY. The first track builds up from a brooding, proggy intro into a fuzzed- out krautrock jam that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Bleeding shards of guitar keen around organ-driven melodies atop a relentless drum boogie. The vocals drip with slacker ennui that falls somewhere between THEE OH SEES and DINOSAUR. The opening track and “Punks Inbred” are the standout tracks for me, but overall this is a strong, cohesive album.

Strange Passage Shouldn’t Be Too Long LP

Lyrical, literate jangle-pop with melodies galore and a ton of personality. STRANGE PASSAGES definitely seem to draw inspiration from ’80s indie sounds, which is no bad thing. The bright production emphasizes the guitar interplay, while the dedication to songcraft shines through. I’m no REM fan, but this makes me think of that band’s more upbeat, less over-wrought material—especially in the vocals. Great stuff.

Mañana Couch Brooklyn Dirt LP

This Brooklyn band plays a rollicking blend of party punk and rock’n’roll. Metallic riffs and playing bolster the sound, which is a combination of early VAN HALEN, NEW YORK DOLLS, and would you believe POISON IDEA? I honestly enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, based on the terrible cover art and inscrutable name. From the looks of the photos, these are not young guys, and they’ve been around the block. But they know what they’re doing, and have managed to churn out a great ’80s punk / metal LP in 2019.

C’est Dommage Red Lobster, Modesto, CA / The C’mel

An homage of sorts to early ’90s post-emo rock, I think. In places, it reminds me a little of EVERGREEN. The guitars chime pleasingly over a slow-to-mid-paced rhythmic amble. The affected, whiny vocals may be a deal breaker for you on this one—for me, they fall on just the wrong side of annoying.

Young Skulls Bomb Train Blues / We’re Gone

This guitar-drums-organ trio of heavy-hitters from the likes of CHROME CRANKS and TRANS AM announce themselves with swagger. Two thick-necked, grinding garage rock numbers with the sweaty intensity of a rawer JOHN REIS project.

The Suburban Homes EP 3 EP

Originally intended as their second release, and as such a bit on the older side, this EP nevertheless represents one more broadside in the HOMES’s attack on modern punk complacency. Definitely utilizing all the tools in the DESPERATE BICYCLES repair kit (the track “City Life” in particular borrows liberally from “Advice On Arrest”), they still manage to create something that feels now and vital.

Priors New Pleasure LP

Insistent, kinetic fuzzed-out punk pop. Itchy repetitive guitar riffs serve as foil to the just-this-side-of-annoying keyboard melodies that drive the songs. The vocalist’s delivery is snotty yet deadpan, detached yet sneering: little escapes their disdain. PRIORS pound their way through fourteen songs here, most of which come in around the two-minute mark, save for the epic title track, which despite its five-minute-plus is no slow burner.

Keepers LP

This San Diego trio invite you down into the mire of lurching, sludgy noise punk. The rhythm section keeps things moving along like the drummer on a Viking ship, allowing the guitar to alternate between simplistic fuzzed-out riffs and psychedelic wanderings. The track “Beautiful Things” offers some let-up from the sonic onslaught with an almost post-punk danceability. If you like things heavy, this is worth seeking out.

Glen Schenau Phantom Vibration / Canovee

Helter skelter demented anti-pop here from this Aussie alum of
KITCHEN’S FLOOR and others. Potentially inspired by the more
off-kilter C86 noise perpetuated by the likes of STUMP, BOGSHED, BIG FLAME, DAWSON, and the like; Decidedly non-trad but bursting with ideas and interesting sounds.