Reviews

Erika Elizabeth

Vitamin Recordings 1981 LP

Genuinely out there art-punk from early ’80s Boston, one of the most underrated of all localized scenes for such things (go chase that Propeller Product discography!). VITAMIN was started by a fourteen-year old vocalist/guitarist and a barely-older teenage friend, eventually to be joined by a few actual adults—an art school-grad violinist who had spent time in the equally off-kilter GIRLS, and a drummer recently transplanted from San Francisco’s own formidable weirdo underground. Recordings 1981 collects the group’s four-song demo and a slew of live tracks captured that year at two different Boston clubs, and while the roughed-up soundboard material (including several songs that don’t overlap with the demo) is definitely interesting from an archival perspective, it’s still deeply disappointing that VITAMIN never really managed any kind of proper recorded output before they splintered. That historical wrong is made especially apparent in the total shambolic genius of the demo tracks, with nerd-sneer vocals, warbling violin scratch, and tangled rhythms all presented in crystal clear audio, fitting right into a turn-of-the-eighties international constellation of like-minded oddball post-punks spanning from TACTICS in Australia (think of “French Fries” as New England’s response to “Watch My Hands”) to UJ3RK5 in Canada. Beyond cool.

The Fall Live at St. Helens Technical College, 1981 LP+7″

Even as an unabashed FALL obsessive, I’ve had significantly tempered expectations and legitimate hesitancy when it comes to some of the more recent additions to the band’s already sprawling discography—have y’all seen the cover art for that Bingo Masters at the Witch Trials live LP that came out a few years ago? But fret not, because this live album (yes, yet another one) is actually golden; an impressively sharp soundboard recording of the group in full Slates-era glory, with one world-beating classic after another preserved in the amber of audio tape. “Prole Art Threat” is absolutely withering here, with that raw, unyielding paranoid rhythm in complete service to Mark’s rapid-fire rantings, to say nothing of the blazing run through “Rowche Rumble” that barely clings to the rails, or the off-kilter rockabilly-from-hell delirium of “Fit and Working Again,” or the extra-frantic bashing given to “City Hobgoblins”…just a completely unreal set from the band to end all bands, at a point in time that was arguably their creative peak (although they honestly had a few of those). And the design work is even non-embarrassing, you can truly have it all!

The Normal Ambition 1982–1985 cassette

More rescued dispatches from the margins of ’80s Kiwi post-punk: the NORMAL AMBITION was an Auckland-based quartet who released two cassettes on cult NZ label Industrial Tapes (run by Paul Luker of the great PHANTOM FORTH), now both compiled here in their entirety along with a pair of unreleased demos from 1982. The five tracks from 1983’s Watch It There could have been the product of an Oceanic outpost of Postcard Records—sneaky, dark pop given snap from taut GANG OF FOUR-ish bass lines, more conceptually aligned with JOSEF K and ORANGE JUICE than any kind of Flying Nun jangle—while the eight-song The Unanimous Notorious cassette from 1984 stalks some vaguely CHAMELEONS/SOUND-type shadows but in a much more lo-fi context, with drama-tinged vocals, foreboding keyboard flourishes, and starker, drawn-out rhythms; the two demo tracks (the urgent, acute-angle tension of “Seclusion” and new wave gloom of “Under the Blanket”) might actually top most of the material from those proper releases. The NORMAL AMBITION won’t be displacing, say, NOCTURNAL PROJECTIONS or the GORDONS from the top of New Zealand’s post-punk food chain anytime soon, but if your interests fall along that particular continuum, this collection should still be an interesting dig into a relatively underexplored corner.

Spread Joy Spread Joy LP

Après-punk Chicago-style, triangulated somewhere between the loopy contempo new wave of various Lumpy-backed outfits (PINEAPPLE RNR, NATURAL MAN, etc.) and the recent Midwestern iteration of cutting, tightly-wound post-DEVO precision (think URANIUM CLUB, but with a major Rough Trade fixation). Briana Hernandez’s giddy, animated shrieks and matter-of-fact narrations have a definite Su Tissue edge, slipping into German on the brightly Neue Deutsche Welle-tinted “Kanst Du” and even subverting the “don’t you want to wait around” vocal hook from KLEENEX’s “Ain’t You” on “Unoriginal” (with a knowing wink in that title?)—if you’re going to steal, steal from the greats. Ten songs in under fourteen minutes, truly econo-jamming, but when the anxious, spring-loaded rhythms relent just slightly and SPREAD JOY hits a looser, spiraling art-punk scratch on “Ba-Ba” and “Music for the Body,” I can’t help but wish that some of those minute-long tracks had been stretched to at least double or triple their running time for maximum human movement potential. Indulge!

V/A Vertigo: Synth Punk Blasts 1978–1984 LP

Well, first things first: compared to the unrelated but similarly-themed Killed by Synth LP that preceded it, this new comp at least succeeds in only including bands that actually used keyboards, so no BIG BOYS, OIL TASTERS, or BOB this time around. In true KBD tradition, the focus here is on the the flipped-out and the fucked-up—in the words of the compiler(s), “no synth pop, no new wave, no experimental music”—and despite (presumably) being named after the SCREAMERS song, Vertigo skips over the usual synth-punk suspects in favor of some deeper and less obvious cuts. Highlights include the Bloodstains-via-Red Snerts snot of “Sophistication” by PLASTIC IDOLS (Houston’s answer to DOW JONES AND THE INDUSTRIALS), organ-smeared mutant new wave with wild femme vocals from Santa Cruz’s SCHEMATIX on “Nothing Special,” the dark, frenetic end-times robo-pulse of “Happy Funeral” by Sweden’s KITCHEN AND THE PLASTIC SPOONS, the jarring juxtaposition of sparse minimal wave and intense, unhinged vocals in German from DER KÜNFTIGE MUSIKANT’s “Es Ist Kalt”… also, totally bold move with the inclusion of “Food Fight” by the VILLAGE PEOPLE (yes, really)—in the post-disco early ’80s, they revamped their image to pass as New Romantics and recorded this one-off, utterly dumb but kind of amazing slice of PLASTIC BERTRAND-esque punksploitation with the former “construction worker” channeling his inner Tomata Du Plenty, now officially enshrined as the first dollar bin KBD bonzer. Not a predictable comp by any means, and that’s very much to its credit.

Child’s Pose Eyes to the Right EP

I fell in love with ELASTICA long before I ever had the opportunity to hear WIRE, and the collective works of RED MONKEY and Slampt Records were basically responsible for shifting my attention toward spiky DIY-revolutionary sounds in the late ’90s, so the acerbic, whiplash angular pop destruction of this second CHILD’S POSE EP is basically a direct line to the pleasure centers of my brain. Raw-nerve guitar slashes and needles, stark, see-sawing rhythms give way to total frantic tumbling-down-the-stairs inertia, and Sop’s vocals careen from fierce, spoken word detachment to wild ebullience breaking down and drawing out words into entirely new sound forms, with ”Eyes to the Right” posing the eternal punk question “Do you ever feel like you’ve been cheated?” with a more genuine sense of danger (and simultaneously, anarchic joy) than anything Sir Jonathan Rotten ever snarled. Perfect pogo anthems for complicated modern realities.

Kiyoaki Iwamoto Sougi​+ 10″

An expanded reissue of KIYOAKI IWAMOTO’s five-song Sougi EP, released in 1983 and probably best known (if it’s known at all) for the inclusion of a ghostly, drum machine-propelled détournement of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Brittle, austere sounds recorded using only guitar, a cheap rhythm box, voice, and a friend on bass, with some obvious nods to early Factory Records efforts (hello, DURUTTI COLUMN and SECTION 25) but also exploring realms beyond any expected JOY DIVISION mimicry—IWAMOTO was a part of the rich late ’70s/early ’80s post-punk culture in Japan that gave way to experimental, electronically-inclined minimal wave groups like PALE COCOON and C. MEMI, the echoes of which can be heard in the oscillating downer vibrations of “地獄が見えても (Even If You Can See Hell)” and “あまり遠くへ行かないで (Don’t Go Too Far Away),” while “生理 (Period)” shakes off the greyscale gloom in favor of skittish electro art-punk that’s just waiting to be the centerpiece of a Japanese Messthetics-style comp. The “plus” component of this 10” version consists of a lengthier 2020 rework of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with synths and female vocals spliced in, and an unreleased 1980 track by IWAMOTO’s similarly-minded minimal post-punk duo BIREI, but the EP material is really what should get you smashing that “buy” button.

Nightshift Zöe LP

Glasgow’s NIGHTSHIFT recorded their debut LP in lockdown with each member of the group independently layering their contributions on top of what was added before them, but the end result as presented on Zöe has a warmth and organic sensibility that seems relatively at odds with that creation process. Spindly, hypnagogic post-punk full of sprawling beats, spectral vocal harmonies, humming keyboards and winding woodwinds, equally suited to zoning out in the tall grass of a pastoral Scottish countryside as they are to soundtracking a late-night art school exhibition opening in some inner city loft. There’s hints of ELECTRELANE (and by transitive properties, STEREOLAB) in the slow-motion drone of “Piece Together,” and the haunting, otherworldly rhythms and overlapping chants of the RAINCOATS circa Odyshape/Moving are summoned in “Outta Place” and “Infinity Winner,” but the knockout here is the ominous and slowly crashing contempo-No Wave of “Make Kin,” with its deadpan spoken vocals, tom-only drums, borderline-skronky clarinet, and dark, staccato bass rumble all taking the shape of a less willfully antagonistic UT—the sound of falling down the rabbit hole of your mind.

Beige Banquet Beta cassette

BEIGE BANQUET is the London-based home-recording project of one person named Tom Brierley who returned to the UK recently after a spell living in Melbourne, but even without the benefit of that knowledge, it’s pretty clear that there’s a strong psychic pull between Beta and the contemporary musical output of a certain Australian city. Twelve tracks of motorik, electro-spiked post-punk in the TOTAL CONTROL/CONSTANT MONGREL mold—clean and exacting, rhythm-forward, propelled by cycling Möbius strip bass lines and the steady, ominous click of programmed drums, with quick cuts of needling guitar, a disorienting synth haze, and expressionless vocals narrating all sorts of paranoid internal monologues. It’s the sound of staring into the abyss, but there’s still little moments like the hits of tambourine punctuating the unrelenting mechanical pulse of “Wired/Weird,” or the droning Krautrock keys in “Completely Signified,” that offer some fleeting human warmth as the abyss stares back.

Glitter Symphony In Green Furs 12″

Six recently unearthed mid-’80s new wave numbers from Southern California’s GLITTER SYMPHONY, who released one exceedingly rare 7” under the name SIZON in 1984 (both tracks included here) before totally falling off the radar. Susan Hyatt’s powerful, crystalline vocals have just enough of a raw edge to tether GLITTER SYMPHONY to the sort of femme-centered, sugary but still tough punk-adjacent new wave and power pop coming out of L.A. at the time (think early GO-GO’S, JOSIE COTTON, and any number of Rodney Bingenheimer’s KROQ staples), with big anthemic choruses and super-slick keyboards upfront in each song betraying some serious mainstream ambitions even as the band dwelled in the underground. “Room of Flowers” could have easily been a mega-hit/future I Love the ’80s shoo-in on par with KIM WILDE’s “Kids in America,” while the stop/start, bass-driven “Imagination” skews in a much punkier direction not too far off the mark from the ALLEY CATS’ post-Dangerhouse offerings. There’s even a glossy cover of JOHNNY THUNDERS’ “I’m a Boy / I’m a Girl” included, a perfect encapsulation of a band caught between leather jackets and legwarmers but pulling it off nonetheless.

Maraudeur Puissance 4 LP

MARAUDEUR returns with their first new music following their killer 2017 LP, with the group since relocated from Geneva to Leipzig—the new wave of Swiss wave, or Neue Deutsche Welle twice removed (borders are just social constructs). Vocals in alternating German, English, and French, all generally delivered with the detachment of announcements repeated in a subway terminal, backed by BUSH TETRAS/ESG-descended rhythms via clockwork-ticking drums, elliptical bass grooves, and judicious stabs of single-note razor wire guitar, with those carefully plotted sonic angles then warped under a constant buzz and warble of primitive synth. For such a wound-up record, Puissance 4 still manages to feel coolly loose and nonchalant; tracks like “TWYWYS” and “Es Ist Kein Stehlen” juxtapose restless KLEENEX-ish punk energy with an electronically-damaged art school oddball vibe that owes more to the first CRASH COURSE IN SCIENCE single than any sort of mannered, dead serious German post-punk/synth wave tradition. Hot as hell.

Coldreams Crazy Night 12″

The COLDREAMS archives are raided yet again—the French group’s 1986 two-song 7” had built a considerable mythology as a sought-after Euro coldwave grail before it was reissued in 2018, and this new 12” includes the five tracks from their even more scarce tape debut from 1985. Compared to the soft-glow, goth-tinged dream pop atmospherics of the single that followed it, Crazy Night slips into the starker recesses of where minimal wave and the early Factory/4AD aesthetic converge, with Géraldine Sala’s melodic, heavily French-accented English vocals countering the band’s icy rhythms with just enough sweetness and light. Much like the WAKE (at least before they went full twee on Sarah Records), COLDREAMS cloaked bleak, post-JOY DIVISION post-punk austerity in comparatively lush and iridescent layers of synth—plenty haunting and melancholy, but never dour, with a driving pop bounce in tracks like “Bulbs and Bubbles” that could even pass the new wave acid test. If that SOLID SPACE reissue from a few years ago caught your ear, here’s some more newly-accessible transmissions from the ‘80s cassette subculture universe to get lost within.

Oh-OK The Complete Reissue LP reissue

Reissue of a reissue of sorts (this originally came out about ten years ago but has been out-of-print ever since), The Complete Reissue collects the stand-alone vinyl output from Athens, Georgia’s minimal post-punk icons OH-OK (which is just two EPs—1982’s Wow Mini Album 7” and 1983’s Furthermore What 12”), adding five mid-’80s live tracks and two otherwise unreleased reunion songs recorded in 2011 to round things out. The first EP is a snapshot of OH-OK at their most stripped-down, a trio of friends armed with a simple toolkit of just drums, bass, and voices to construct their short, highly rhythmic and danceable bursts of art-punk. Lynda Stipe and Linda Hopper’s vocals intertwine in subverted schoolyard chants like a much less kitsched-out version of Kate and Cindy from fellow Athenians the B-52’S, with Lynda’s rubbery and repeating DELTA 5-ish bass lines holding everything together. By the follow-up 12”, future power pop all-star Matthew Sweet had joined in on guitar and the song structures had gotten slightly more complex, with tracks like “Straight” steering the wild energy of their debut into a darker, moodier weird-pop direction without abandoning the group’s off-kilter charm. In both configurations of the band, OH-OK completely embodied sense of playfulness and whimsy that I’m tempted to call “childlike,” but not in the infantilizing/patronizing way that term is often used (especially when describing the creative output of women)—it’s more that their songs exist in their own self-invented world, as art created primarily for the enjoyment of the people making it, unconcerned with following leads that they weren’t setting themselves. Unimpeachable genius sounds from the femme-punk underground.

Attrix Lost Lenoré / Hard Times 7” reissue

Reissue of a 1978 single (and the lone release) from English punk trio ATTRIX, who were behind the label of the same name that’s probably best known now for the Vaultage series of compilations documenting the late ’70s/early ’80s Brighton scene. There’s a heavy VELVET UNDERGROUND influence on these two tracks, as refracted through the smudged prism of UK DIY—raw rave-ups with plenty of back alley strut, all jangling guitar chug, driving rhythms, and matter-of-fact vocals that make up in confidently cool attitude what they lack in dynamics. The buzzsaw hooks/gang chorus double whammy in “Lost Lenoré” almost crosses over into roughed-up, PROTEX-ed power pop, with “Hard Times” conjuring visions of Transformer-era LOU REED if he’d been backed by the BUZZCOCKS. Two winners, no filler.

The Ex Disturbing Domestic Peace LP+7″ / History is What’s Happening LP reissues

The greatest anarcho-punk band of our time (or any time), the EX has consistently transcended a genre that’s often reduced to cliches of stencil fonts and high-contrast black and white war photos—through four decades and counting, they’ve collaborated with avant-garde cellists and Ethiopian jazz saxophonists, and experimented with free improvisation and ethnic folk music, and never once has any of it seemed disingenuous or forced. Their first two LPs, 1980’s Disturbing Domestic Peace and 1982’s History is What’s Happening, recently got the reissue treatment from Superior Viaduct, and within the EX’s sprawling catalog, they’re arguably the group’s most “conventional” and straightforward statements of intent. On their full-length debut, the EX laid down much of the basic furniture that would remain in place as the band regularly rearranged their musical floor plan in subsequent years—G.W. Sok’s intently ranted vocals and sloganeering lyrics, scratchy knife-edged guitar, tumbling, tightly-knotted rhythms. It’s a lean 22 minutes (not counting the bonus four-song live 7”) of smart agitprop punk fitting the Crass Records-modeled anarcho-ideal, but with an off-center volatility pointing to expanded horizons to come. History is What’s Happening bridges Disturbing Domestic Peace’s raw, square-one approach with much more of a sharp, angular post-punk influence, which would continue to color the band’s sound as they moved toward the ’90s—imagine GANG OF FOUR as Dutch squat-dwellers who would have never broached the idea of signing to a major, a central precept illustrated with scathing bluntness on the jagged, Entertainment!-referencing “E.M. Why” (“The gang of four smiles / They think that EMI’s their friend”). The EX allegedly chose their name because it was quick and easy to spray-paint on a wall, and despite the increasingly complex songwriting on the second LP, it’s still an obvious extension of the group’s original motivations, with each track-as-manifesto blazing through at about a minute or two a piece, just long enough to effectively deliver their points, no time for fucking around. Absolutely essential.

Familie Hesselbach Familie Hesselbach LP reissue

A South German private press post-punk curio from 1982 that failed to capitalize on any sort of Neue Deutsche Welle hype at the time of its original release, but the underground reissue industry is thriving in the 21st century and we haven’t run out of petroleum yet so now here we are again. The repeated mentions of FAMILIE HESSELBACH having been “the German TALKING HEADS” strike me as a little strange—there’s some surface-level parallels between the two groups, namely a reliance on rubber-band bass snap to guide anxious, funk-influenced rhythms, although if anything, FAMILIE HESSELBACH seem to have pulled those elements from UK-based primary sources (the taut, scratchy groove-agitation of both GANG OF FOUR and A CERTAIN RATIO would be high on the list). Some skronking horns and inside-out disco beats do point to a certain New York influence, but it’s one drawn from the No Wave universe of bands like the CONTORTIONS that never even remotely included the TALKING HEADS, and the vocals (in both German and Italian) are frequently delivered in an urgent, clipped bark in stark opposition to David Byrne’s buttoned-up poindexter yelp. Most of Familie Hesselbach’s seventeen tracks are around two minutes or less each, just ping-ponging from one idea to another with the sort of econo-minded attention span of the scrappiest DIY outfits, but executed with the necessary tightness and control required to translate to the post-punk dancefloor. Won’t completely burn down the haus, but some flames are still sparked.

Family Fodder Savoir Faire: The Best Of (Director’s Cut) LP

FAMILY FODDER pretty much existed in their own separate orbit of the late ’70s/early ’80s UK underground—too genuinely strange and experimental to fit in as a straight new wave act, too much disposable-pop bounciness to be embraced by the era’s more serious/dogmatic post-punk factions (Rough Trade apparently rejected them twice). They operated as a CRASS-like quasi-hippie musical collective, but their mish-mash of spacious dub nods, avant-garde tape manipulations, warped psychedelia, and skewed outsider pop sounded more like a meeting of the minds between THIS HEAT and the FLYING LIZARDS (both of whom were FAMILY FODDER collaborators at various points), by way of HOMOSEXUALS/AMOS AND SARA-style anarchic UK DIY. “Best of” collections can often be a bit of a cop-out, but for a band this all-over-the-map, Savoir Faire serves a practical purpose, bringing edited highlights from their early years (1979 to 1982—they’re still actively releasing music!) into focus when the unabridged discography might seem like too many different reflections in one broken mirror. A sampling from this LP-length crash course: sing-song femme vocals and blasts of funhouse organ on the bizarro new wave smash hits “Savoir Faire” and “Debbie Harry,” coldwave minimalism on “Der Leiermann,” the surreal and RESIDENTS-esque electro-damaged “Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling),” coolly French-accented chants and Afrobeat-inspired rhythms in “Cerf Volant,” the piano-spiked, early ENO-descended art-glam of “Cold Wars.” It’s all worthy of a much deeper and more thorough dive, but this is a pretty spot-on entry point for the uninitiated.

Good Missionaries Fire From Heaven LP reissue

Mark Perry broke up ALTERNATIVE TV and formed the GOOD MISSIONARIES soon after out of a conscious desire to distance himself from concepts of “punk” that had grown more and more rigid and predictable over the course of just a few short years, and the experimental art-destruction approach of his new group exemplified the whole “rip it up and start again” ethos perhaps the most literally of any UK outfit from the post-punk era. Fire From Heaven was recorded live while the GOOD MISSIONARIES were touring with the POP GROUP in 1979 (and not long before Perry abandoned this project, too)—both bands shared a common interest in the liberatory sounds of dub, free jazz, and improv, but while the POP GROUP synthesized those influences into a fiery, serrated punk-funk, the GOOD MISSIONARIES’ tended toward abstract and fractured shambolic sprawls (including a number of completely exploded takes on ALTERNATIVE TV songs) that were almost completely outside the orbit of even the most “post”-adjoined punk: a defiant jumble of antagonistic shout-sung vocals, collapsed beats, and kitchen-sink interjections of everything from warbling organ to blasts of sax and clarinet to chimes and melodica. Mark Stewart guests on the mic for an abbreviated and completely skronked-out reimagining of the POP GROUP’s “Thief of Fire,” and it’s only further down the rabbit hole from there; true freak sounds that out-mess most Messthetics acts.

The Electric Chairs So Many Ways 12″ reissue

After Jayne County left first-wave punks the ELECTRIC CHAIRS to go solo, half of the band opted to keep the name and released a new single as a pared-down trio in 1979, taking a complete 180 degree turn from the CHAIRS’ early campy, glam-damaged origins—bassist and vocalist Val Haller later would later go on to the FLYING LIZARDS (whose David Cunningham produced this incarnation of the ELECTRIC CHAIRS), and that group’s cut-up avant new wave/art-punk aesthetic almost certainly functioned as a revised point of departure. The A-side of this 12” reissue includes both of the tracks from that 7”, “So Many Ways” and “J’Attends Les Marines,” the latter being a deconstructed and slightly dubbed-out take on “Waiting for the Marines” from the the final County-led ELECTRIC CHAIRS LP Things Your Mother Never Told You (with vocals redone en français, naturally). It’s really all about “So Many Ways,” though—a total melting mutant disco groove of clattering, kinetic percussion, fractured electronic textures, and processed deadpan vocals like the FLYING LIZARDS reinvented as a 99 Records band. Weirdo classic! The two modern remixes of “So Many Ways” added on the B-side are pretty unremarkable (one “edit” that doesn’t radically alter the original, and one much more abstract “rework” that stretches the original to double its length while removing all of its elastic energy in the process), but no one really buys reissues of pricey late ’70s/early ’80s post-punk obscurities for the remixes, y’know?

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.

V/A Four Stars (****) LP reissue

For all of the indisputable awfulness of 2020, it did provide some minor end-of-year redemption in the form of a reissue of 1980’s Four Stars (****) comp, originally pressed in a criminally small edition of 250 copies and long one of the most sought-after/prohibitively expensive records in the entire canon of NZ DIY. The whole Flying Nun/Dunedin axis has obviously become pretty synonymous with the ’80s Kiwi underground, but this collection centers on four bands from the era’s less-heralded Terrace Scene in Wellington: LIFE IN THE FRIDGE EXISTS, WALLSOCKETS, NAKED SPOTS DANCE, and BEAT RHYTHM FASHION, with the former two groups only ever appearing on record here. The four NAKED SPOTS DANCE tracks are absolutely primo art-punk, easily on par with anything in the FALL/AU PAIRS continuum of similarly-oriented UK outfits—that caustic, needling guitar and those matter-of-fact femme vocals cutting into the sparse, measured rhythm of “Secrets”? Fucking perfection. LIFE IN THE FRIDGE EXISTS applied a flipped-out performance art angle to deliriously falling-apart punk, and of their three cuts, “Have You Checked the Children?” stands out as an unassailable Kiwi By Death all-timer. From BEAT RHYTHM FASHION, there’s two fairly standard, no-frills post-’77-style melodic bashers (“None in the Universe” and “Not Necessary”), and last but not least, WALLSOCKETS contribute four slightly shambolic, anarcho-adjacent songs very much in the spirit of an Antipodean FATAL MICROBES, from the almost dub-damaged “Snerl” (which could be their own “Violence Grows”) to the wound-up anti-cop anthem “Blue Meanie.” A mandatory purchase, no hyperbole—this new pressing is limited to the same number of copies as the original and it might be 40 more years before another run comes around; hesitation is not an option.

Gen Pop PPM66 LP

The first full-length from Olympia’s GEN POP, who have been regularly shape-shifting through stylistic coordinates (rapid-fire smart-kid hardcore, angular post-punk jitters, off-kilter weirdo pop, often in the span of one song to another) across a string of cassettes and EPs over the last few years, and that ripped-up bricolage approach is still very much in place on PPM66. Opening track “Bell Book Candle” takes up a decidedly neo-Messthetics mantle with monotone faux-Brit vocals and some seriously primitive and trebly SWELL MAPS damage, “Hanging Drum” and “My Apartment” both split the difference between BUZZCOCKS-style barbed wire hooks and WIRE’d econo art-punk urgency, the sub-minute “Personal Fantasy” tumbles and (Darby) crashes into vintage L.A. punk territory…and that’s just the first half (more or less) of the LP. A little something for everyone, truly—GEN POP is for the people.

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.

Die Letzten Ecken Die Letzten Ecken 12″

Stark, minimal electro-punk from present-day Berlin, where the calendar might as well read 1981 judging from the recent crop of Neue Deutsche Welle-inspired projects coming out of the city’s Allee Der Kosmonauten DIY collective (see also: AUS and DIE SCHIEFE BAHN). The six tracks on this debut 12″ are translated though little more than buzzing synth, clattering percussion (electronic and not), and dryly-intoned vocals, with DIE LETZTEN ECKEN’s restrained and mechanically-driven rhythmic pulse fitting right into a long line of German/Swiss synth-wave going back to the late ’70s and early ’80s—GRAUZONE, D.A.F., MITTAGEISEN, XMAL DEUTSCHLAND, the list goes on. With their stern, driving beats and harsh synth throb, “Vakuum” and “Die Zahlen” are perfect steel-cold dance club bangers for the crowd that barely passed the Voight-Kampff test, while “I C H” and “Zauberworte” spiral into a warmer but still otherworldly hypnotic drone; the new kosmische musik for our modern tech-addled hellworld.

The Scissor Girls The Scissor Girls LP

Vinyl reissue of the seven-song 1992 demo tape from Chicago’s art school No Wave revivalists the SCISSOR GIRLS, who channeled the warped dadaism of the RED CRAYOLA circa Soldier-Talk and early ’80s CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, the controlled chaos of the MARS/DNA side of No New York, and the most antagonistic and damaged strains of ’78-’82 US/UK DIY post-punk, all in an early-to-mid-’90s underground landscape where that particular combination of reference points wasn’t exactly in vogue. By the time they split up in 1996, they’d started to stretch into the sort of meltdown noise territory that would later be the calling card of ’00s-era Load Records (who actually put out a SCISSOR GIRLS 10″ as one of their earliest releases), but these recordings document the band at their most concise, with every song just a fit of raw slash and scrape that combusts before hitting the three-minute mark. You can clearly spot the breadcrumbs they laid down here for others to follow after them—the wiry, stop-start “Insanitary Sanctuary” is an almost dead-on harbinger of contemporary Chicago post-punks NEGATIVE SCANNER (especially in bassist Azita’s defiantly sneering vocals), the scrambled-yet-danceable rhythms of tracks like “Riveted” and “Omens” will be instantly recognizable to anyone even passingly familiar with ERASE ERRATA, etc. Total visionaries!

Vivien Goldman Launderette / Private Armies 7″ reissue

Journalist VIVIEN GOLDMAN was one of the key voices in the late ’70s UK press to acknowledge the profound influence of Jamaican music on England’s emerging punk and post-punk scenes, and after being inspired by her female friends like the SLITS who were starting bands without having much (or any) prior musical experience, she recorded a one-off single in 1981 (thanks to studio time borrowed from fellow dub enthusiasts PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED) that became a certified punky reggae classic, now newly reissued. On “Launderette,” GOLDMAN recounts a soured laundry room romance in a lilting voice over wandering, slow-throb dub bass (by George Oban of the reggae group ASWAD) that provides the song’s primary foundation, filled in by rattling percussion, some distant violin warble courtesy of Vicky Aspinall of the RAINCOATS, and sparse, scratchy guitar from PiL’s Keith Levene. B-side “Private Armies” follows a similar sonic trajectory but takes a much sharper lyrical turn, addressing structural racist violence in the UK amplified by a culture of toxic masculinity and exacted by skinheads, cops, and “heavy metal boys,” with VIVIEN intently chanting lines like “If you can’t get a hard-on, get a gun” over a drawn-out, simmering rhythm. Still relevant, both musically and (unfortunately) topically.

Mutabor! Two Wishes 12″ reissue

MUTABOR! emerged from the thriving experimental art and music culture of early ’80s Berlin, after Bettina Köster of MALARIA! and Gary Asquith of REMA-REMA first met at a BIRTHDAY PARTY show in London; Asquith was inspired enough to relocate to Germany so that they could start a project together, with Köster’s MALARIA! bandmates Manon Duursma and Gudrun Bredemann eventually joining up as well. The two tracks on this 1982 12″ are the only recordings from the short-lived group, and it’s fairly easy to connect the dots between Two Wishes, REMA-REMA’s rhythmic, industrial-flirting brutalist drone, and MALARIA!’s dark electronic post-punk drama. A-side “1001 Nights” is a total No Wave collision, the aural equivalent of a shattered teacup reassembled with glue (clearly fractured, but precariously held together)—saxophone skronk, rickety organ, clattering auxiliary percussion cutting in against the bare-bones cymbal-free drumming, multiple monotone voices intersecting with each other, and only the briefest shocks of guitar. “Treats” is even sparser, a series of emotionally detached phrasings backed by little more than a few sax squeals and some BAD SEEDS-anticipating piano that’s mirrored by sinister six-string noise. Bleak as hell, but definitely an interesting link in the evolutionary chain of severe ’80s art-punk.

Zoikle Zoikle LP

Former EX vocalist G.W. Sok started ZOIKLE almost ten years ago, but they’ve effectively been on hiatus since 2013 and this LP is the group’s first release since their debut 7″ in 2011, collecting fourteen recently fleshed out demos and fragments of songs that were started (but never finished) before that lengthy break. During his time with the EX, Sok helped set the bar for wildly smart and creative avant-punk over the course of three decades, and in more ways than not, ZOIKLE is a natural continuation of the outside-the-box approach that the EX had really come into by the early ’90s. Those familiar spoken/ranted vocals are still central, backed here by an ascetic foundation of cello, guitar, and drums scratching out a perfectly high-anxiety clamor—the presence of the cello invites some obvious parallels to the collaborative albums that the EX did with TOM CORA, with songs like “Happy” and “Waiting” leaning into Dragnet-era FALL/early MEKONS-ish pointed friction, while “Gangrene” and “4Q” throw in some busted-up electronics for a slightly more technologically-aided take on ramshackle art-punk. I can’t really think of many other people actively creating punk music today with this long of a completely unfuckwithable track record…

M.A.Z.E. / Nicfit split EP

A split 7” featuring two songs each from two representatives of Japan’s contemporary post-punk underground, NICFIT from Nagoya and M.A.Z.E. from Tokyo. NICFIT has been around since 2009, which is long enough that they still technically have a Myspace page, and while they may or may not have lifted their name from a SONIC YOUTH (cover) song, they’ve definitely picked up on some of their arty, free-noise guitar damage. It’s not full-on screwdrivers in strings, though; there’s also a pull toward the whiplash energy of Dangerhouse-era L.A. punk that was a little more apparent on some of their earlier releases (they covered SUBURBAN LAWNS on a 2014 EP), and plenty of nods to the freaked-out flailings of the more transparently No Wave-inspired Load Records bands. On the flip, M.A.Z.E. builds a ramshackle bridge between Japan and the US Midwest, bashing out wound-up, halting rhythms citing the same ’80s oddball DIY/punky new wave references that have been central to the Lumpy Records brand—a label that, not surprisingly, put out a M.A.Z.E. 12” not long after this 7” surfaced last year. Props to both bands for avoiding the always risky “uneven quality of sides” pitfall inherent to the split single format.

Smarts Who Needs Smarts, Anyway? LP

I’m not exactly sure when meme-spawned punk subgenre classifications first officially entered the unironic press material lexicon, but we might have reached peak egg-punk with the debut LP from SMARTS—there’s an “egghead” joke just waiting to be made there. As seemingly mandated in Australia, there’s substantial member crossover between SMARTS and a number of recent OZ DIY all-stars, some less eggy (PARSNIP) than others (AUSMUTEANTS, HIEROPHANTS, ALIEN NOSEJOB, etc.), and while Who Needs Smarts, Anyway? isn’t a major departure from anything that the latter subset has produced, it does kind of seem like it could have been generated through a machine learning algorithm designed to come up with a prototypical band in this style. The sort of uptight, hardcore-velocity anxiety hammering employed by URANIUM CLUB, blaring new wave-via-Lumpy Records (by way of the DEADBEATS) sax that’s not nearly as abrasive or punctuated as this kind of panic-punk truly calls for, snotty rapid-fire vocals delivering lyrics focused on the omnipresence of pocket computers (“Smart Phone”), the minutiae of everyday life as expressed through household products (“Cling Wrap”), and the inescapable iconography of corporate culture (“Golden Arches”)—check, check, double check. Been searching for a band even more to the right of the CONEHEADS and UROCHROMES on the egg/chain spectrum?

Chronophage Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album LP

CHRONOPHAGE’s 2018 debut LP Prolog for Tomorrow skillfully synthesized a whole host of outsider pop influences from the past half-century (New Zealand’s Flying Nun/Xpressway scenes, scratchy UK post-punk, the weirder strains of vintage college rock, ’90s lo-fi indie, etc.) without it ever falling into a haphazard pastiche, and its follow-up Th’ Pig Kiss’d Album only further refines that kitchen-sink approach—a band clearly operating on a contemporary DIY punk wavelength and all that goes along with that, but sounding more like a deep cut from the late ’80s Homestead roster alongside SALEM 66 and MY DAD IS DEAD or something. “Absurdity” and “Any Junkyard Dreams” tilt toward brittle and skittish art-punk, with bassist Sarah’s soft-but-deadpan vocals drifting out over of squeals of damaged keys, “Talking Android” and “Siren Far Away” are slightly twangier Texan takes on the HUMAN SWITCHBOARD’s wiry ’60s garage/’80s post-punk duality, and “Heartstone” starts out in hyper-minimalist YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS/MARINE GIRLS territory and ends up (not far away) in the K Records-adjacent early ’90s pop underground. If you spent your formative years staying up all night to obsessively record tapes of college radio shows and/or 120 Minutes episodes (or if you imagine that you had, if you’re not of a certain age), it all makes perfect sense.

Silver Palm Silver Palm 10″

One of the lost projects of Portland’s early ’00s neo-No Wave boom, SILVER PALM included members of adherents like SLEETMUTE NIGHTMUTE and GLASS CANDY (among others) and essentially lived and died over the course of 2003, in the period of time before off-center art-racket fell out of favor in the city once everyone discovered Italo disco. The seven tracks on this 10” were sourced from a small-run CD-R demo that I have to assume stayed fairly local, so it seems timely for them to be given a wider release now that Portland has regained its reputation for producing this stripe of weirdo disjointed post-punk in the last few years. “Present Creature” dishes out isolated single-note jabs of guitar that give way to a mischievous KLEENEX-by-way-of-LUNG LEG gang chant, as the tense austerity of “Saline Smear” (which pares the drums down to what sounds like only a snare for most of the song) and “Alibi” (with its seasick rhythm and knot of rapidly overlapping vocals) calls back directly to the No Wave principle of liberation through reduction/de(con)struction first laid down by the likes of MARS and UT. Some more uncovered marginalia in the girl-punk historical record, awaiting your exploration.

Die Schiefe Bahn Atmungsaktiv demo cassette

Minimal, restrained post-punk from Berlin untangling the threads left behind by the usual Neue Deutsche Welle suspects (XMAL DEUTSCHLAND, MALARIA!, et al.); clearly the reverse side of the same coin as the solid AUS LP that came out earlier this year, and not just because I could tell at first listen that there had to be some shared personnel between the two groups—I’ve only done the lightest of research, but I’m fairly certain of it. Those distinct, dispassionately intoned vocals auf Deutsch were a giveaway, although DIE SCHIEFE BAHN de-emphasize the dry-ice synth that heightens AUS’ mesh-and-lace otherworldliness, sticking to cyclic basslines, no-frills drumming, and quick cuts of scalpel-edged guitar in a display of almost No Wave-ish brutalism. “Auf die schiefe Bahn” basically means “to go off the rails,” but this demo is totally buttoned-up—six songs all under two minutes each, every note and beat placed with calculated precision, not a second wasted.

Zipper Dreamer’s Gate cassette

ZIPPER includes a couple of members from recent Australian deathrock/goth candelabra-carriers NYLEX and RULE OF THIRDS, and some of the stark SIOUXSIE-isms of those projects have definitely been carried over here, but Dreamer’s Gate pairs its strict rhythms and needlepoint guitars with a more dreamy ’80s pop shimmer; a new wave mirage in soft-focus pastels refracted in the distance of a monochromatic post-punk desert. Vocalist Haruka gives ZIPPER much of that spark, alternating between Japanese and English in animated shrieks and shouts (like the ones playfully pushing against the moody, straight-out-of-the-BUNNYMEN bass line of “High War”) or gossamer sighs (the early/mid-’80s 4AD-referencing context of “Flower”), often in the same song (“Ice”). Keen debut, especially in a typically staid subgenre that has little interest in coloring outside of the lines.

Maximum Joy Station M.X.J.Y. LP reissue

1982’s Station M.X.J.Y., one of the definitive statements in the lexicon of dubbed-out ’80s post-punk and the sole LP from Bristol’s MAXIMUM JOY, was reissued earlier this year because reality is truly cyclical (as is subcultural influence). A collaboration between an ex-POP GROUP guitarist, some former members of GLAXO BABIES, and teenage vocalist Janine Rainforth, MAXIMUM JOY lifted from many of the same primary sources as the other projects on their collective CVs, as well as their Y Records labelmates like the SLITS and PIGBAG—serrated post-punk, wobbly dub reggae, elastic funk, experimental jazz, etc. Janine’s ecstatic vocals, the fiery blasts of horns, and some scrabbling polyrhythms made their debut single (and arguably, best-known song) “Stretch” an all-time mutant disco banger, but given the long-playing format of Station M.X.J.Y., the band seized the opportunity to really dig into some simmering and often largely instrumental grooves. “Do It Today” and “Searching for a Feeling” hit closest to the frenetic punk-funk energy of “Stretch,” leaving the LP’s more drawn-out, slow-burning tracks like “Mouse an’ Me” or “Let It Take You There” to soundtrack the morning after the dancefloor. If you’ve enjoyed the contemporary update of this particular sound by bands like the WORLD and NAKED ROOMMATE and haven’t fully worked your way backward yet, now is the time!

The Prefects Going Through the Motions LP

Much like the MEKONS and ALTERNATIVE TV, the PREFECTS were a English band operating at punk’s ground zero in ’77, but who had already started to push themselves beyond the narrow confines of the genre before the “post-” prefix fully caught on. The band imploded before they could release any records, with the final PREFECTS line-up reimagining themselves as the highly FALL-like (and still active!) NIGHTINGALES at the dawn of the ’80s—Going Through the Motions marks the first time that the PREFECTS have been fully documented on vinyl, following a posthumous Rough Trade single in 1980 with two tracks pulled from a Peel Session, and a few different CD anthologies of live and radio recordings that popped up in the early 2000s. “Escort Girls” and “Faults” have a slash-and-burn urgency similar to early WIRE (another band that quickly outgrew ’77 orthodoxy), and the anthemic “Things in General” easily stacks up against the best of first wave punk-with-pop-smarts groups like the BUZZCOCKS and the SUBWAY SECT.  But then there’s the barbed wire guitar and martial rhythms of the ten-minute “Bristol Road Leads to Dachau” (a dark, harrowing account of a pub bombing), the piano-accented, VELVET UNDERGROUND-inspired pitch black drone of the LP’s title track, or the skronky horns and deadpan vocals in “Total Luck,” all of which would have been perfectly in step with the UK post-punk boom that was just around the corner when the PREFECTS called it a day. Somehow simultaneously a product of and ahead of their time? An ace comp.

Jung The Real Thing EP

JUNG was a spontaneous Brussels-based trio featuring former and future members of a whole tangled web of cult Belgian punk and post-punk groups—CHAINSAW, DIGITAL DANCE, MARINE, ISOLATION WARD, the list goes on. While DIGITAL DANCE was on hiatus during the summer of 1981 due to half of the band fulfilling their compulsory military service, the remaining two members recruited a friend to play bass, quickly threw themselves in playing together daily, and ended up with three songs recorded during a one-day session. Those tracks were supposed to be released on vinyl later that year, which never ultimately happened due to “successive misfortunes” (although ten copies of the record apparently did make it out somehow?!), so this EP marks the first proper documentation of JUNG’s extremely short lifespan. “The Real Thing” locks into an insistent, bass-anchored mutant funk rhythm like early A CERTAIN RATIO minus the horns or GANG OF FOUR minus the overt Marxism, while “Sinking Tanker” (originally a DIGITAL DANCE track) skews more toward the scratchy post-punk/spiky pop hybrid practiced by JOSEF K and any number of here-then-gone Messthetics-aligned projects. The B-side even ends with a quick, off-kilter cover of the theme song to the ‘60s British spy TV program The Avengers, if the band’s Anglophilic interests weren’t already apparent. Yet another obscure, one-off gem from an early ’80s global DIY micro-movement with no shortage of them!

Optic Sink Optic Sink LP

OPTIC SINK is the latest project from Natalie Hoffmann of NOTS, giving her an opportunity to explore some of the darker electronic influences that have been brought into that band’s wiry post-punk approach over the course of their last few records. Pairing up with percussionist Ben Bauermeister for this debut LP, Hoffman creates strobing, analog synth-driven soundscapes guided by early minimal wave and electro-industrial outfits like the NORMAL and CABARET VOLTAIRE, with her detached-yet-commanding delivery of lines like “Can’t survive / You’ll always try” (from “Personified”) and “You can watch yourself / Under glass” (in the social media-as-identity-performance critique “Exhibitionist”) only underscoring the insistently paranoid instrumental pulse. In the year 2020, when the term “dystopian” gets thrown around at seemingly every turn to describe music that in any way reflects the harsh truths of the countless oppressive systems governing our daily realities, this is one record that truly earns that qualifier—if you’re up for it, embrace the void.

Skinned Teen Radio Session EP

One of the paragon teenage girl-punk combos of the 1990s is back, in a manner of speaking! The four tracks on this new EP were originally recorded as part of a 1993 radio session, with Niki Eliot of like-minded UK Riot Grrrl insurrectionists HUGGY BEAR joining in on drums and backing vocals—takes on “Pillowcase Kisser” and “Starch” from the SKINNED TEEN/RAOOUL split LP are both represented, along with the oft-comped “Straight Girl” and the otherwise-unreleased “Nancy Drew.” There’s all of the anyone-can-do-it skeletal punk spark and schoolyard-chant catchiness that defined the band’s early EPs, with the inclusion of some toy percussion on the two B-side tracks that casts SKINNED TEEN as the ’90s spiritual heirs to Y PANTS’ starkly minimalist and playfully feminist ’80s art-pop. The exact intersection of everything that punk should always be—ramshackle, economical, deviously smart, the product of minds that have too often been excluded from the conversation. Limited to 200 copies and already sold out from the source; do whatever needs to be done to acquire your own.

R.Aggs Tape 1 cassette

If the name wasn’t an intuitive hint, R.AGGS is the lockdown-spawned solo project from Rachel Aggs, modern guitar hero and vocalist in SHOPPING, TRASH KIT, and SACRED PAWS. The completely self-recorded Tape 1 isn’t a major departure from any of those groups, and it’s almost like observing each of them through high magnification under a microscope, with Rachel’s signature hybrid post-punk/highlife inspirations stripped down to new minimal extremes. “Back of My Hand” and “Sky Is Falling” both pick up TRASH KIT’s post-RAINCOATS tendencies toward overlapping vocals, bright guitar and scratchy violin and throw in some subtle electronics that bubble just below the surface, while tracks like “Welcoming the Waves” and “Side By Side” are largely given over to pulsating, synthesized beats and coolly-recited lyrical mantras, with those trademark spindly, single-note guitar lines cutting in mostly as supporting elements. Best of all is the metronomic and very YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS-ish bass-centered sparseness of “Tell Us Yourself” and “Speeding,” the latter featuring a repeated chant of “They told you jump / You said how high” that could have easily been one SHOPPING’s fiery and tightly-wound dancefloor calls-to-arms, but which takes on a completely different gravity in such a stark, raw context. Most of the newly-realized quarantine home-recording projects that are popping up lately could only aspire to be this good.

Astaron Astaron LP reissue

ASTARON was the “two-frauen” Viennese duo of Angie Mörth and Martina Aichhorn, formed in 1984 as a synthesis of their shared creative interests in both music and performance art. The pair’s 1987 full-length was originally released in one small run of 500 copies and has become something of a dark/minimal wave touchstone in the years since, and it’s now finally back in print thanks to this reissue. ASTARON’s combination of intertwining vocals—one part dreamy and ethereal, one part icy and commanding—over clattering drum machine and bewitched synth in tracks like “The Burning” and “Burst Out” could be read as the Austrian response to mid-to-late-’80s groups in neighboring Germany like MALARIA! and XMAL DEUTSCHLAND who were bridging rigid post-punk and darkly gothic drama, while the gauzy drone of “In An Absence” navigates early 4AD territory and the sharp, punctuated rhythms of “As Time Joins In” lurk in some SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES-adjacent shadows. But really, there’s so many cool and captivating sounds to get lost in here, even if you’re resolutely not a part of the big-hair-and-eyeliner crowd!

F= The Erotic Power of F= 12″

F= is a UK-based collective of feminist artists and academics (or as they refer to themselves on their website, “an interdisciplinary research group”) at Leeds Beckett University who have turned to writing spare electro-punk songs, four of which make up this debut 12”, as another vehicle in their efforts to dismantle the patriarchy. If you were even remotely involved in a DIY subculture and also taking Women’s Studies classes in the early-to-mid-2000s (real talk, I am absolutely including myself in that population), that overview alone will likely evoke some very specific visions of what one could reasonably expect here—CHICKS ON SPEED, obviously, plus TRACY AND THE PLASTICS, and to a lesser extent, LE TIGRE/JULIE RUIN. And at their most charged-up, F= do in fact follow the lead of that turn-of-the-millennium wave of electroclash groups setting gender theory to synthesized dance beats, but they also just as often explore slower-burning, drawn-out rhythms with percolating electronics and intersecting chanted/shouted vocals that suggest a more technologically-inclined version of the punky-reggae-earth-goddess vibe of the SLITS’ ’80s-era material. The lyrical sentiments are all fairly right-on and self-explanatory (“It’s Easy Being in a Band,” “Female Friendship,” etc.), but taken as a whole, the songs are just a little too dry and lacking the sort of friction and asymmetry that’s pulled me into the music of so many other similarly-minded feminist punk and post-punk firebrands throughout the years.

Itchy Self Here’s the Rub 12″

ITCHY SELF is the new group from Joe Chamandy of Canadian art-scuzz ensemble PROTRUDERS, who were avowed and proud card-carrying members of the joint Hearthan Records/Cleveland Confidential Appreciation Society. Here’s the Rub definitely draws its own inspiration from the damaged brilliance of Ohio’s subterranean sounds, but ITCHY SELF dispenses with most of PROTRUDERS’ skronkier tendencies in favor of smart, smudged-up garage blasts that bring to mind some fantasy Ron House project that could have existed between GREAT PLAINS and THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS. Throw in a little scrappy ALEX CHILTON/CHRIS STAMEY-schooled pop charm on “Reprobate” and “God Bless the Ego,” the loose MODERN LOVERS-via-VELVET UNDERGROUND rock’n’drone of “Playing MTV,” and the shambolic rush of those first couple of HOME BLITZ records (for at least one slightly more contemporary reference point), and you’ve got a pretty solid take on what the concept of “proto-punk” could be almost fifty years removed from its origins.

Glueams Mental EP reissue

One of the holy grails of the femme-punk underground gets a much-deserved reissue! “Mental” has found its way onto multiple compilations focused on either late-’70s/early-’80s punk in Switzerland or female-fronted punk and post-punk in general from the same era—rightfully so, because it’s a bona fide classic, with Dorette Schmidt’s desperately shouted sore throat vocals, a naggingly repetitive guitar line, and the same sort of raw, tumbling drums that have marked any number of primitive KBD hyper-obscurities, but GLUEAMS’ integration of those fairly standard elements just sounds so perfect and effortlessly cool. “365” has more of a straightforward ’77 punky energy (are those handclaps?!), and in addition to both of those tracks from the original 1979 version of the single, this reissue also includes the previously unreleased and comparatively sparse studio cut “Arsen,” which positions GLUEAMS as a slightly more aggressive counterpart to fellow Swiss national treasures KLEENEX. To top it off, the whole thing comes packaged in a beautiful foldout sleeve with an eight-page booklet of interviews, photos, and a thorough written history of the band, so buy it now or regret it later.

Shark Toys Out of Time EP

It’s been a real treat to watch SHARK TOYS evolve over the last ten years or so, from their beginnings as a decent garage-accented wobbly pop band to their current higher state of lean, trebly art-punk attack. The DESPERATE BICYCLES (whose UK DIY anthem “Advice on Arrest” gets a completely frenetic cover here) definitely serve as one of the stylistic compass points for this new EP, along with the URINALS, the FALL (pre-Brix), and WIRE circa Pink Flag, if I had to name the other three—jumpy, economical rhythms, guitar that slashes and jangles in equal measure, and vocals that are dryly conversational even while shouted, all urgently ticking along. The title track is a textbook-perfect exercise in razor-edged Rough Trade-ism (props to that killer single-string anti-solo), while the galloping twang of “Black” most obviously gives away the band’s status as residents of Los Angeles by virtue of sounding like a four-decades-late contribution to the Keats Rides a Harley comp. A band truly after my own heart.

XV Basement Tapes cassette

More free-punk explorations from XV! Basement Tapes consists of various unreleased demos, live jams, and practice recordings from 2018 and 2019, documenting some of the conceptual process that ultimately resulted in their sold-out-in-one-day debut LP from last year. That record was willfully non-linear but still concise, and almost approaching a conventional art-punk angularity, while these tracks generally embrace a more raw, loose approach that at various times suggests anything from early HALF JAPANESE at their skronkiest to a dreamy VELVET UNDERGROUND drift to the equally spiky and shaky sounds of the early ’80s UK DIY bedroom-taper scene. Free-association vocals chanted or recited over self-destructing rhythms and scribbling, scratchy guitar; truly No Wave in the most literal sense of the term.

The Slugs Don’t Touch Me, I’m Too Slimy EP

The debut EP from the SLUGS, a shambolic UK duo putting a post-millennial spin on the whole post-riot grrrl, Slampt Records-adjacent sound of the mid-’90s (think KENICKIE, GOLDEN STARLET, LUNG LEG, that sort of thing). To that end, there’s a track titled “Girly Gang” on the B-side that’s essentially a sing-song, tongue-in-cheek response to tired “girl in a band” tropes, and which functions as a pretty representative glimpse into where these SLUGS are coming from. Each of the EP’s five songs follow a fairly simple formula of scrappy and jangling three-chords-or-less guitar backed by haltingly bashed-out drums, with both members singing/shouting together and over each other about mostly practical concerns (dealing with creeps, not wanting to be touched, generally being pissed off), but marked by a certain twee playfulness thanks to the sugar-sweet delivery—the lighter side of the modern boy-girl revolution.

V/A Cleveland Confidential LP reissue

The rest of the world has never fully reckoned with the sheer genius per square capita from Northeast Ohio, which not coincidentally produced one of the greatest punk/weirdo DIY comps of the ’80s in the form of Cleveland Confidential—the original 1982 pressing of the LP has been going for close to triple digits lately, so this new wallet-friendly reissue is a little more in line with the true Rust Belt spirit. For me, the definitive track here has always been MENTHOL WARS’ contribution, a totally sublime organ-drenched take on garage-pop by way of arty post-punk called “Even Lower Manhattan,” even though they were actually based in New York (with No Wave scenester and noted artist/video director Robert Longo on vocals and guitar!) and their primary Cleveland connection was their drummer being ex-PAGAN Brian Hudson. Other highlights, among many: the warped minute-and-a-half pop rant “Love Meant to Die” by JAZZ DESTROYERS (featuring one-time ELECTRIC EEL Dave E.), some droning and VU-damaged Clevo-sleaze from EASTER MONKEYS via “Cheap Heroin,” and the STYRENES’ appropriately collapsing rendition of the ELECTRIC EELS’ “Jaguar Ride.” I heard that the Cuyahoga River caught on fire again this summer; it’s good to know that some things never change.

100 Flowers Drawing Fire LP

When the URINALS wanted to expand their horizons beyond ramshackle, one-chord punk and simultaneously got fed up with hardcore’s increasing dominance in the LA scene, they changed their name to 100 FLOWERS and put out a handful of angular, art-minded post-punk records in the early ‘80s. This new reissue combines the five tracks from the band’s Drawing Fire 12” from 1984 with 1982’s Presence of Mind EP and a couple of compilation contributions, all packaged in a beautiful Independent Project Press letterpress sleeve just as the original 12” had been. There was definitely a certain econo approach in common with what they had done as the URINALS, but as 100 FLOWERS, the band’s songs took on a tightly-wound tension and structural complexity that was worlds away from the chaotic bash of “Ack Ack Ack Ack” and much more in step with what MISSION OF BURMA were doing around the same time (the combination of sharp, stabbing guitar and desperate vocals in “Bunkers” has Vs. written all over it), or how WIRE had similarly evolved by their second and third LPs. The thinking person’s punk music! A must-buy if the works of Happy Squid Records aren’t already fully represented in your collection.

Sweeping Promises Hunger for a Way Out LP

SWEEPING PROMISES is the latest project from Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug, who have been behind an ever-growing list of groups responsible for some of the best music to come out of Boston over the past few years (in particular, last year’s cassette collection from their coldwave outfit DEE-PARTS demands your attention). Hunger for a Way Out was recorded using a single microphone in a vacant concrete lab just before mass isolation became our collective reality, and the band’s stark, direct approach perfectly reflects both of the physical setting in which their debut LP took shape, as well as the greater social context in which it would be later received. One of my favorite PYLON songs is an ultra-lo-fi, pre-Gyrate practice space demo called “Functionality,” and SWEEPING PROMISES have extended the raw material of that one track into an entire full-length record: shocks of bare-wire guitar, rhythms guided by infinite-loop bass lines, and the deadly-serious repetition of lyrical demands (check that “Pick your jaw up off the ground / Take your seat” line in “Out Again”). Part of what made the school of ’78-’82 so inspiring was the idea of working within and embracing limitations (whether inherent or self-imposed) to create something interesting, and those lessons have definitely been applied in the overall minimalism-in-mono aesthetic of Hunger for a Way Out, but Lira’s powerful, expressive vocals ultimately push things to a place that transcends any typical off-kilter and untrained DIY art-punk reference points—her voice is so effortlessly perfect that any of these songs could have been massive pop hits if they’d been presented in a slightly different form. Album of the fucking year, y’all.

Natural Man Band Living in a Chemical World with the Natural Man Band LP

If New Wave Theater was revived for our current day and age and filmed somewhere in the heartland, Kansas City’s NATURAL MAN would easily be regular guests—day-glo punk with blaring sax, dual vocals (sometimes intersecting, sometimes harmonized, often shouted), low-budget synth, and boundless energy to get all of the kids decked out in asymmetrical sunglasses and loud geometric prints to completely bounce off the walls. There’s echoes of Ohio’s favorite spud sons in the cracked mechanical rhythms of “Working Nights” and “Chemical World,” but rather than relying too heavily on the anxiety-ridden DEVO-isms of a lot of their Midwestern ovular-punk peers, NATURAL MAN generally throws things back to a freewheeling and utterly unselfconscious art-schooled dance frenzy that exists somewhere between BLACK RANDY and the B-52’S. Do you want (the new) new wave or do you want the truth?

New Fries Is the Idea of Us LP

The spirit of 99 Records lives on in NEW FRIES, a minimalist neo-No Wave trio from Toronto who, in true ESG/LIQUID LIQUID fashion, aren’t afraid to work a single repetitive, hypnosis-inducing rhythm for as long as they deem necessary. Is the Idea of Us consists of six “proper” songs, and seven brief interstitial instrumentals all uniformly titled “Genre”— the latter suggest anything from static to sirens passing outside the window of a late-night bus to the muffled sound of a band practicing as heard from a few rooms over, while the more structured tracks balance on an ice-thin foundation of slowly pulsating bass throb, blasts of sampler noise, high-tension guitar scrabble, drums stripped to the most austere beats possible, and impassive vocal incantations reverberating through the negative space left between those elements. The very SNEAKS-like “Ploce” is carried almost entirely by a few endlessly-cycled bass notes and some punctuated, electronically-treated percussive hits, and the modern mutant disco anti-jam “Bangs” speeds and slows at unpredictable intervals like a dubbed copy of the ROSA YEMEN 12” played on a faulty tape deck. Dance music for the heat death of the universe!

The Inhuman We Will Build / Cheap Novocain 7”

The INHUMAN was the short-lived one-man project of a Tucson, Arizona weirdo named Joel Schenkenberg, who recorded a demo of completely warped art-punk in his bedroom circa 1983. That tape essentially vanished into the black hole of history before two tracks were rescued for this single in late 2019 by Lumpy Records, leading haven for the 21st century iteration of American oddball DIY. Schenkenberg’s vocals are all sneering outsider paranoia, buried in a claustrophobic, sub-lo-fi mix of blown-out guitar, rudimentary synth presets, and drum machine drone circling the same orbit as COUNT VERTIGO, the electro side of 39 CLOCKS, the first couple of CABARET VOLTAIRE singles, and the more left-field early ’80s Subterranean Records groups. “We Will Build” is almost conventionally post-punk with its scribbly guitar solo and anxiously repetitive oscillating pulse, while “Cheap Novocain” slows to a doomed, dystopian crawl perfectly suited to a rasped incantation like “Anaesthetize your brain to pain / Drinking cheap novocain.” Total degeneration by way of the desert!

Tralala Das Mädchen Mit Den Roten Haaren / Pubertät Vergeht 7”

The Bachelor Archives series has been doing a bang-up job of documenting and preserving all sorts of lost gems from Austria and Switzerland’s punk past (GLUEAMS! SCHUND!), and the latest installment is a reissue of the 1982 7” from obscure Viennese punky new wave one-single wonders TRALALA. The B-side “Pubertät Vergeht” absolutely dominates this one, and it sounds so much like early ’80s Austrian femme-punk cult heroes PLASTIX that I had to do some serious research to figure out if there was some personnel overlap between that band and TRALALA (there isn’t)—the loopy vocals that sound like Su Tissue in German, the choppy and off-kilter rhythms, it’s all there… which makes for a very sharp stylistic U-turn when it comes to “Das Mädchen Mit Den Roten Haaren,” with its upstroke guitar and clipped ska beat, male gang vocals on the chorus, and even a bassoon (?!). An odd pairing for sure, but worth it for that B-side regardless.

Die Atlantikschwimmer Kassetto Fix LP

Vinyl reissue of the 1983 demo cassette from the relatively unheralded Neue Deutsch Welle trio DIE ATLANTIKSCHWIMMER, who recorded an LP the following year for the Zickzack label (responsible for backing releases from German noisemakers ranging from EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN to ABWÄRTS to XMAL DEUTSCHLAND in the ’80s) before ultimately disbanding. That LP was essentially a Bavarian take on the bleak, monochromatic post-JOY DIVISION post-punk approach that was having a mid-’80s heyday among UK groups like the CHAMELEONS and the SOUND, and while that direction isn’t completely lost on the demo, there’s also a spiky, agitprop danceability that points to an affinity for GANG OF FOUR and any number of early Rough Trade singles, especially in dryly shouted vocals and snap-tight rhythms of “Warten” and “Abendvorstellung.” Even the more characteristically gloomy new wave moments here are given a spark from roughed-up demo presentation, which honestly elevates Kassetto Fix above the band’s solid subsequent full-length. Yet another choice Static Age-guided dig through Euro post-punk history, get in on it.

Meat Whiplash Here It Comes / Don’t Slip Up 7″ reissue

Super deluxe reissue of one of the greatest Scottish post-punk singles of all time that isn’t the first 7” by the FIRE ENGINES (from whom MEAT WHIPLASH swiped their name)! Originally released on Creation in 1985, the band’s one and only record reflected an almost exact sonic intersection of the dual ruling scenes of Scotland’s ‘80s underground, with the more scratchy and angular faction on one side, and wall-of-sound melodic noise-pop on the other. “Here it Comes” kicks up a cloud of feedback squeal and pinned-in-the-red distortion not entirely dissimilar to the controlled chaos of the JESUS AND MARY CHAIN’s “Upside Down” from just a year earlier, although MEAT WHIPLASH trade the Reid brothers’ shimmering ’60s-inspired pop tendencies (however buried) for something far more panicked and desperate. Equally obscured by fuzz but far less abrasive, the flipside “Don’t Slip Up” brings things in line with the shambolic sound of young Scotland centered around C86 bands like the SHOP ASSISTANTS, whose singer actually wound up joining MEAT WHIPLASH when they changed their name to MOTORCYCLE BOY in the late ’80s. Completely essential purchase if you don’t already own a well-loved original copy of this one!

Aus II LP

Icy, synth-saturated German post-punk in the tradition of MALARIA! or XMAL DEUTSCHLAND—expect severe rhythms driven by cavernous bass and tom-heavy drumming with only the most minimal presence of cymbals, coolly distant vocals that maintain a palpable edge of drama, and sparse, needling guitar applied with exacting precision. The level of restraint exercised in the more slowly snaking tracks on II (“Bilderflut” and “1000 Umdrehungen” in particular) is genuinely haunting and unnerving in a way that legions of chorus-pedal-dependent modern dark-punk groups have aspired to but never fully achieved, with AUS stripping their sound to such an elemental framework that the subtraction of anything else would cause the songs to just crumble into dust. Top notch!

Celebrators Wipeout! / Ex-Explorer 7″

The New Weird L.A. freak flag flies on this debut single from CELEBRATORS, which also serves as the first release from the new label spun off from local DIY space and recording studio House of Tomothy. A-side “Wipeout!” tangles with the sort of repetitive, mutant-rockabilly rhythm that the FALL were enamored with on their early records, augmented by the rapidly ticking pulse of a drum machine and various layered electronic blurts that ultimately tip things more toward a contemporary post-DEVO-core reality. On the flip, “Ex-Explorer” starts off similarly in a bass-centered flail with vaguely PERE UBU-ish yelped vocals, before quickly settling into a drawn-out and knotted instrumental outro that gave me some serious and wholly unexpected flashbacks to the mid-to-late ’90s Chicago/Louisville math-rock axis. Limited to 165 copies, housed in a stylishly risographed sleeve, how much art can you take?

Melenas Dias Raros LP

Fuzzed-out jangle from Pamplona, Spain that channels the C86-obsessed late-aughts wave of _____ GIRLS groups (think both DUM DUM and VIVIAN), but thankfully, MELENAS also demonstrate a set of influences beyond what would have been covered in an issue of Vice Magazine from last decade. There’s some obvious traces of STEREOLAB and the super-underrated SLUMBER PARTY all over the droning organ, motorik beat, and ethereal, overlapping vocals that run through the opener “Primer Tiempo,” while the melancholic “No Puedo Pensar” could be a modern Spanish translation of ’80s Flying Nun heroines LOOK BLUE GO PURPLE, and “Ya No es Verano” works some subtle FEELIES-inspired tension that builds without ever fully breaking. Over the course of a full album, it all blurs into a soft-focus and slightly hallucinatory pop shimmer, just in time for a socially distant summer spent daydreaming about places we can’t possibly inhabit.

The Sound Physical World EP reissue

Doom-and-gloom cult heroes the SOUND first introduced themselves to the world with the 1979 EP Physical World, now back in print after a good four decades. Their run of albums in the ’80s increasingly leaned into sleak, shadowy atmospherics, but the three songs on this 7” turn the clock back to post-punk’s initial big bang, very much in line with the urgent minimalism of early WIRE and JOY DIVISION—the title of A-side “Cold Beat” is actually a very apt and succinct statement of intent, twisting some severe, punctuated slashes of guitar with frantically tense rhythms to a dramatic (but not melodramatic) effect. On the B-side, “Physical World” follows a similar trajectory, while “Unwritten Law” unwinds more slowly and deliberately, in a rough foreshadowing of some of the CHAMELEONS/ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN comparisons that would follow them as they branched out into a long-playing format starting with 1980’s Jeopardy LP. Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the cold beat.

The Times Red With Purple Flashes / Biff! Bang! Pow! 7″ reissue

The 1981 debut 7″ from Ed Ball’s TELEVISION PERSONALITIES side project the TIMES, conveniently reissued for budget-minded parka fiends in 2020. Both groups shared an unabashed fixation on all things ’60s, with the preoccupations of the TIMES clearly evidenced by the Warhol-derived soup cans on the cover of this single and the fact that each of the tracks overtly reference the works of UK freakbeat legends the CREATION, whom the TVPs would in turn cover not once but twice on 1982’s They Could Have Been Bigger Than the Beatles LP. “Red with Purple Flashes” is a deliriously catchy mod-punk belter that beats the JAM at their own game, with the B-side “Biff! Bang! Pow!” playing up more of a quintessentially English swinging garage stomp that begat any number of Pebbles deep cuts, few of which were this perfectly crafted. Shamelessly derivative and all the better for it; guaranteed to fire up the scooter in your heart.

Galore Galore LP

The first album from GALORE, a San Francisco quartet conceptually descended from a musical lineage that can be traced back to the VELVET UNDERGROUND, as well as the PASTELS, BEAT HAPPENING, and any number of C86-era greats after them—jangling and melodic, but also charmingly imperfect and a little rough around the edges. The LP’s most sprawling tracks like “Deja Vu” and “Henry” (still only about three minutes long!) tumble along slow and sweet like molasses, all unhurried beats and understated chiming guitar that’s so stripped down that it almost fades into oblivion, grounded by the occasional tambourine rattle or xylophone strike. That languid vibe is countered by a much more raucous streak, especially in the spiky “Lydia” and “Shiver,” that strikes the sort of balance between sharp, staccato post-punk and spartan pop perfection that modern OZ DIY bands like TERRY and PRIMO! have absolutely dominated lately, although they could be facing some serious cross-Pacific competition from GALORE now—an auspicious beginning!

Narrow Adventure 1981-83 cassette

Essentially an early incarnation of the Paisley Underground-adjacent outfit WEDNESDAY WEEK but with Kjehl Johansen of the URINALS on bass, NARROW ADVENTURE was very much a product of the Los Angeles underground that they occupied from 1981 to 1983, coming out of an art-minded late-’70s punk tradition (Dangerhouse, et al.) that was giving way to the ’60s-enamored psychedelic jangle of bands like the BANGLES by the early ’80s. This archival collection is the first proper documentation of the group’s recorded material, as they never officially released anything before the line-up and name change to WEDNESDAY WEEK, although a few of the songs here later resurfaced in much more polished and new wave-oriented takes on the latter’s debut EP in 1983. NARROW ADVENTURE’s just slightly off-center approach to minimal DIY pop often comes across as a Californian counterpart to what OH-OK were simultaneously doing out in Athens, Georgia, particularly in the playfully harmonized dual vocals from sisters Kristi and Kelly Callan and the flashes of post-punk angularity in tracks like “Prop 2” and “Anyone Like Me,” although there’s also enough straightforward, sugar-sweet hooks in the mix that they could have easily had the same level of success as their L.A. peers the GO-GO’s if things had only played out a little differently for them. And on that note, it’s kind of unfortunate that this anthology will probably suffer at least some blanket disinterest resulting from being on a label generally thought of as an assembly line for goofball garage rock, but I’d love to be proven wrong there. Supreme ’80s cool-girl sounds, don’t write it off because of that ridiculous hamburger logo on the back!

CB Radio Gorgeous Mid Fit EP

Wild, whirlwind punk via Chicago that collapses time and space between the Dangerhouse-led sound of Los Angeles circa 1977-79 and the modern Midwestern weirdo underground of DEVO/SUBURBAN LAWNS devotees that had Northwest Indiana fixed at its epicenter—there’s some personnel overlap with CCTV here, tellingly. Bass and drums lock into hyperkinetic pogo-worthy rhythms topped with urgent, slashing guitar, while frontperson Anna pushes into the instrumental tussle with a series of shouts, yelps, and KLEENEX-esque non-verbal vocalizations (check that “woo ooh ooh” refrain in “Mid Fit”) that are a total joy. Blistering and barely contained; I’ve never said that a record “slaps” before, but this one truly does.

Östro 430 Keine Krise Kann Mich Schocken (Die Kompletten Studioaufnahmen 1981-1983) LP

A key band in the German Neue Deutsche Welle movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the all-female Düsseldorf quartet ÖSTRO 430 had punk ambitions that were somewhat blunted by their more bouncy, day-glo pop tendencies—no guitar, lots of keyboard, bursts of saxophone, hooks all over the place. Keine Krise Kann Mich Schocken is a complete anthology of the group’s studio recordings, collecting their two LPs from 1981 and 1983 (both long out-of-print and only ever available as German pressings) with a handful of previously unreleased takes. Much like ROMEO VOID or the French band EDITH NYLON, ÖSTRO 430 paired their punky new wave with lyrical themes that were far more subversive than the upbeat danceability of the songs might easily let on, detailing concerns (in German) focused primarily on sex, feminism, and gender roles in a modern world. The material from the first album Durch Dick and Dünn is generally more sparse and ramshackle, including the group’s exemplar jam “Sexueller Notstand” which puts down ineffective lovers over a foundation of anxious drumming, budget-sounding keyboards, a perfectly minimalist bouncing bass line, and just a touch of wailing X-RAY SPEX-esque sax. By the time they followed up with their second LP Weiber Wie Wir, the keys had caught up to the synth-pop zeitgeist of the ’80s and gotten more slick and prominent, but there’s generally enough moments of raw tension like the dark, driving “Normal” to save things from fading into total new wave blandness. Definitely of interest to students of the international femme-punk underground!

Cheryl Killer Kiss / It’s Me 7″ reissue

Reminder Records is the new reissue label from one of the minds previously behind the similarly-focused Sing Sing, and among its first archival rescues is the lone single from the singularly-named CHERYL (a.k.a. Cheryl Powling), a London-based pin-up model who originally released these two trashy bubblegum-punk/power-pop rave-ups in 1981. “Killer Kiss” channels the ’60s-via-’80s bad girl sass of occupants of the Bomp! universe like NIKKI AND THE CORVETTES and JOSIE COTTON, while the more frantic flip “It’s Me” is all punky new wave jitters, arguably eclipsing the A-side with some extra-punchy snare standing in for handclaps and CHERYL’s loopy vocals that are almost closer to Su Tissue than Ronnie Spector. Absolutely giddy, disposable pop fun, perfectly suited to sneaking a flask into the roller rink and making out with some leather-jacketed troublemaker in the parking lot.

Maufrais Luxury of Complaint cassette

Trebly, fidelity-challenged post-punk from Austin that references CRISIS and the keyed up shamble of those first two MEKONS singles in equal measure, at least in general spirit if not strictly in practice—if one were to make a Venn diagram of influences that includes Messthetics-style UK DIY on one side and the most wiry takes on late-’70s/early-’80s anarcho-punk on the other, MAUFRAIS would clearly be taking up space where those two circles overlap. Sharp, needlepoint guitar over tumbling drums and murky bass, with completely affectless vocals detailing a litany of bleak realities accurately foretold by song titles like “Preferred Death” and “No Lease on Life.” Think of them as a Texan response to that great and very English QUANGO EP from last decade, which this tape also brought to mind in a somewhat abstract way—no future sounds par excellence.

Ut In Gut’s House 2xLP

While UT formed as part of the somewhat amorphous late ’70s New York art and music scene that was eventually pegged as No Wave, they’ve always been an outlier within the context of common narratives and conceptions of that (anti-)movement—a downtown Manhattan trio who were most active after they had relocated to London, and who started out in 1978 (the year of No New York) but didn’t release their definitive albums until the second half of the ’80s, years after many of their No Wave peers had gravitated to other avenues like free jazz or modern classical. But the guiding principles of No Wave were those of rejection and opposition, which were duly reflected in UT’s dismantling of some of the most basic tropes of being a modern “rock band,” with a songwriting process rooted in collective improvisation, and members Nina Canal, Sally Young, and Jacqui Ham all rotating between instruments and microphone duty from track to track. The off-kilter vocals, wiry, detuned guitar scrape, and skittering drums of the group’s 1987 LP In Gut’s House imagined the possibilities of a union between the MARS/DNA-oriented Downtown 81 school and early Rough Trade-backed UK femme-punk practitioners, resulting in a bleak, art-damaged sprawl not far removed from that of their Blast First then-labelmates SONIC YOUTH. There’s plenty of friction and atonality in the more abstracted, noisy tracks like “Hotel” and “Landscape,” but In Gut’s House just as often gives way to more subdued explorations like “Shut Fog,” which mixes scratchy violin and sparse, tom-heavy drumming to a haunting RAINCOATS-ish effect. A little too late for No Wave’s heyday and a little too early to follow SONIC YOUTH down the path toward alternative nation superstardom, UT were essentially undeserving victims of time with this record, but it’s a true late ’80s post-punk classic now conveniently reissued for 2020 consumption.

Abwärts Amok Koma LP reissue

Reissue of the 1980 debut LP from ABWÄRTS, the influential West German post-punk group whose original lineup splintered not long after this album when half of the members defected for EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN. Much like early WIRE, ABWÄRTS relied on an urgent efficiency built around acute-angled guitar, buttoned-up rhythms, and tense/terse vocals—in particular, “Karo 1/4 08/15 Hoch 2” is 30 seconds of econo-punk agitation so close to the primary source that it might as well be a German-translated Pink Flag outtake. There’s enough detours that set Amok Koma apart from mere WIRE flattery, though, from the clattering, deconstructed “Monday on My Mind” (after the EASYBEATS’ ’60s smash “Friday on My Mind”), to the female vocals and mechanical stutter of “Bel Ami” that lean closer to ABWÄRTS’ Neue Deutsch Welle contemporaries like CARAMBOLAGE, to the group’s twin experiments with buzzing synth and processed violin squall in the more decidedly art-punk “Unfall.” This record is considered an ’80s Deutsch underground classic for a reason, and this is the first time that there’s been a pressing of it available outside Germany, so if you’re not already in the know, there’s one less barrier in your way now. (Weird side-note: for the reissue, the iconic original cover art was replaced by a completely different take as done by, uhh, Robert Pollard of GUIDED BY VOICES?)

Fellini A Melhor Coisa Que Eu Fiz (84-90) LP

A collection of alternate versions and previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1984 and 1990 by cult Brazilian post-punks FELLINI, who formed out of São Paulo’s thriving underground scene in the mid-’80s. The group’s initial influences skewed toward greyscale UK post-punk in an early Factory Records fashion, with spindly guitar work, bass-driven melodies, sparse drum machine, and somewhat oblique vocals tracing similar lines as the ones drawn by the DURUTTI COLUMN, early NEW ORDER, and even JOSEF K, without really sounding overtly like any of them (see some of the earlier tracks on the LP, like “É Chato” or “Premonição”). And just as nearly all of the most interesting early post-punk bands ultimately needed to push back against what quickly became a too-rigid genre orthodoxy if they stayed together for any extended amount of time, with the ’80s giving way to the ’90s, echoes of Brazilian samba and Tropicália started surfacing in the still-stark FELLINI sound, with the incorporation of acoustic guitars, breezy vocals, and jazzy rhythms in songs like “O Destino” and “Por Toda Parte” that owed more to OS MUTANTES than, say, JOY DIVISION. That progression is made apparent in the way that A Melhor Coisa Que Eu Fiz is sequenced, but it’s also such a gradual and natural evolution that all of the tracks could have just as easily been the product of one recording session, rather than pulled from half a decade’s worth of material. This is a really solid and lovingly assembled anthology for a group that hasn’t gotten a ton of recognition in more Euro/US-centric narratives of second-wave post-punk in the 1980s, and well worth investigating if you’re unfamiliar with FELLINI and at all interested in dismantling that particular canon.

Nape Neck Nape Neck cassette

NAPE NECK is a trio from Leeds playing post-punk that’s simultaneously tangled and taut, danceable and destructed, all while resisting any attempts to be easily situated as the latest addition to a specific geographic and genre-based continuum that stretches back to GANG OF FOUR and DELTA 5. There’s definitely some echoes of Andy Gill’s razor-edged guitar scratch in the mix, but if anything, NAPE NECK’s knotted rhythms and the intersecting/overlapping vocal shouts from all three band members bring to mind the mid ’90s neo-No Wave revival led by bands like MELTDOWN and SCISSOR GIRLS (or in the early ’00s, ERASE ERRATA), who drew inspiration from the spiky tension of first wave UK post-punk but translated it through the more wild and free tendencies of DNA-descended downtown art-noise. “No Platforming” and “Paperweight” are all clipped Morse code rhythms and sharply punctuated lyrical declarations, while the delirious, snaking guitar and dueling vocals in “Job Club” push against steady bass throb and stark, calculated beats as NAPE NECK effortlessly walk the tightrope between chaos and calm. An absolutely savage debut, and probably the most exciting new band I’ve heard in at least a few years.

Use No Hooks The Job LP

A long overdue archival collection of studio and live tracks from Australia’s preeminent late-’70s/early-’80s mutant disco ensemble USE NO HOOKS, whose significance in the OZ DIY scene belied the fact that they never released any proper recordings until The Job appeared a few months ago. The seven songs on the LP all date back to 1983, when the band was in its most expansive nine-member incarnation (including two keyboard players and a four-person male/female vocal section), playing acutely rhythm-focused, funk and disco-influenced post-punk that roughly positioned them as the Antipodean answer to LIZZY MERCIER DESCLOUX’s solo efforts, the Y Records crew in the UK, or the post-No Wave minimal dance vibe of New York groups like ESG or the DANCE/CHANDRA. In particular, go-go music from Washington, D.C. was an admitted huge influence on USE NO HOOKS, and it’s obvious in the drawn-out grooves here—all percolating synth, scrabbling funk guitar, repetitive and stripped-down rhythms, and vocals delivered as chanted, call-and-response slogans. “Do the Job” and “The Hook” have a hypnotic, slow-burning bounce straight out of some imaginary Danceteria after-party that happened in Melbourne instead of on the Lower East Side, but the real knockout is the insistent, kinetically-charged “Circumstances Beyond Our Control,” which could easily go head-to-head with MAXIMUM JOY’s legendary “Stretch” as a definitive punky disco anthem. To round things out, the LP also includes a digital bonus of half a dozen live and demo recordings from 1979-1982 that cover the multiple stylistic evolutions (and line-up shifts) that the band underwent during its first several years, from experimental and improvised instrumentals to raw, UK DIY-style art-punk. Such a cool historical rescue of subterranean sounds that would have otherwise been completely lost to time!

Protruders No More / It’s Not Easy 7″

The latest offering from these modern Montréalers with a serious affinity for the warped underground sounds that emanated from the mid-to-late ’70s post-industrial decay of the American Midwest—think ELECTRIC EELS, PERE UBU, MIRRORS, pretty much the entire musical output of the state of Ohio from that era. The tightly-wound “No More” actually sets its sights a little further west and several decades into the future with a frenetic, paranoid energy more in line with CCTV and the whole Northwest Indiana basement panic-core scene circa 2014-2016, as the rapid-fire, shouted chorus in a textbook snotty punk lyrical tradition (“I don’t wanna hear you / I don’t see you / I don’t wanna talk to you”) gives way to a skronky, sax-spiked breakdown for about half of the song’s entire two-minute run-time before snapping back into whiplash mode to cross the finish line. Following that, the mid-’60s ROLLING STONES nugget “It’s Not Easy” gets reimagined with a purely PROTRUDERS blown-out proto-punk swagger, all leather jacket and cigarette smoke sleaze as if Jagger and company had started out as a CBGB house band. Two killer cuts on a one-sided 7”, makes up in quality what its format lacks in practicality.

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!

The World Reddish 12″

The swan song (unfortunately) from the Bay Area’s preeminent disciples of the ’78-’82 Rough Trade catalog, released in 2019 but collecting tracks originally recorded in 2015 and 2017—it actually sounds just as tightly-crafted as their First World Record LP from 2017, and I never would have guessed that this was the result of two pieced-together sessions from a few years apart. For the uninitiated, the WORLD’s take on spiky post-punk-funk combined shuddering dub-damaged guitar, hopscotch bass lines, fiery sax, propulsive drumming with a percussive assist from bongos and shakers, and coolly detached vocals, all delivered in urgent sub-three minute bursts designed with the express purpose of eliciting involuntary impulses toward the dancefloor. “Kill Your Landlord” and “Punctuate” dig into methodical and simmering skronked-out grooves, providing an ideal counterbalance to the more frenzied ESSENTIAL LOGIC/FAMILY FODDER-esque spiraling rhythms of “Last Rhodesian” and “White Radish” that bring Reddish to a high boil. A textbook example of going out with a bang, and we should all truly consider ourselves lucky to have existed in the WORLD’s world for even a brief moment in time.

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!

Isotope Soap An Artifact of Insects 12″

Surreal synth-punk from Sweden that’s not as blatantly DEVO-core in its intentions as a lot of their recently devolved contemporaries, but I wouldn’t rule out a Booji Boy mask hiding in the back of one of their closets, either. The electronically altered vocals (sometimes high-pitched and robotic, sometimes deep and theatrical) and the general sinister sci-fi aesthetic clearly owe some debts to late-’70s/early-’80s San Francisco synth-wielders like the RESIDENTS and CHROME, except ISOTOPE SOAP is very much a product of the dystopian, technologically-addled hell that we’re currently living in and that those earlier bands could only speculate in their creative visions.

Ixna Knotpop LP

IXNA was a duo operating on the fringes of the Bay Area’s experimental music scene in the early 1980s, and their only release while they were active, a 1981 single on the Dumb Records label run by DIY glam weirdo extraordinaire NOVAK, took the art-damaged synth-punk of their local peers—think the UNITS,  LOS MICROWAVES, PINK SECTION, etc.—into an even more fractured and out-there direction. Knotpop is the group’s lost LP, recorded in the same 1981 session at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music that yielded both tracks from the 7” (which are also included here) but left unreleased until last year. The warped new wave opener “Fun Fun Fun” almost approaches a West Coast translation of the whole ZE Records/New York mutant disco sound, with pulses of melting electronic textures, ominous bass, and Marina La Palma’s animatedly flipped-out vocal recitations, while the hypnotic, cut-up audio collage vibe of “Black Shirts” more closely recalls the FLYING LIZARDS’ expertly crafted avant-garde/pop synthesis. Best of all is “Mi Ne Parolas,” the original A-side of the Dumb Records single, which has gained a certain level of notoriety as probably the only ’80s post-punk jam with lyrics delivered entirely in Esperanto (everyone’s favorite international auxiliary language), with LaPalma’s sing-song chants backed by some staccato guitar, throbbing bass, hallucinatory multi-tracked tape loops of a CHUCK BERRY guitar riff, and scissors that have taken the place of cymbals in the pair’s percussive arsenal. Absolute art-wave brilliance, definitely not for the more narrow-minded punks out there!

Slum of Legs Slum of Legs LP

The debut LP from the UK’s foremost six-member psychedelic art-punk group, finally realized seven years after their initial demo (which included rougher versions of three songs that reappear here) and five years since their last release, a two-song 7” on the now-defunct label Tuff Enuff. SLUM OF LEGS’ squealing violin lines, knotted rhythms, and slightly askew overlapping harmonies will draw some obvious and inevitable (although not entirely inaccurate) comparisons to the RAINCOATS, but they’re really pulling from a much more disparate and complex set of reference points—kinetically droning Krautrock pulse, the more experimental and boundary-pushing bands to come out of ’80s UK anarcho-punk, the anxious sprawl of early VELVET UNDERGROUND (especially apparent in the chilly and dramatic NICO-esque edge in lead vocalist Tamsin’s delivery). Some of the best moments of an all-around great album include the band’s theme song “Slum of Legs,” a collision of tom-heavy drumming, frantically bowed strings and ecstatic group chants, and the more sharp-angled “The Baader-Meinhof Always Look So Good in Photos,” which is pushed along by an ominous bassline and blurts of synth before unwinding into urgent, desperate shouts reconciling wavering self-image with feminist anger. Serrated sounds for society’s slow collapse, more timely than ever.

Bona Rays Poser / Getaway Blues 7″

The backstory to this record is amazing: a teenager named Chas was singing to herself while tearing down a poster in a UK tube station in 1978 when a passerby spotted her and suggested that she try out as the vocalist for his friend Tony’s new project. That band quickly became BONA RAYS, who went into a studio to record a single after just a few weeks of rehearsals, but when they weren’t able to find a label to put it out, the acetate wound up sitting in a box in Chas’s house for the next four decades. During a move in 2018, Chas takes a box of records to sell to Flashback Records in London, who discover the abandoned acetate inside, start playing it in the store, and ask her about the mystery recording, a serendipitous connection that ultimately leads to the shop’s in-house label giving the single its first proper vinyl release. The A-side “Poser” is a jumpy delight, adding buzzing new wave synth to some classically hyper-charged three-chord punk, while the lyrics deliver a pointed scene critique (not entirely unlike the TELEVISION PERSONALITIES’ “Part Time Punks”) directed toward a privileged art school girl performatively wearing “Rock Against Racism on her lapel”—Chas was a woman of West Indian descent fronting a band in a predominately white ’70s UK punk scene, and the rescue of these lost recordings is playing a significant role in finally giving her some much-overdue recognition for her role as an early Black punk heroine. The glossy synth-wave by way of punky reggae number “Getaway Blues” on the B-side doesn’t quite live up to the firecracker impact of “Poser,” but that still leaves one solid belter that would fit in perfectly between BLONDIE and X-RAY SPEX at your next ’77-’82-themed DJ night.

Vivienne Styg Rose of Texas 12″

Effortlessly cool and deadpan art-punk done Lone Star-style, like a box full of PRESSLER-MORGAN singles and Keats Rides A Harley comps turned up in some dusty Houston shop and VIVIENNE STYG has made it their mission to bring a contemporary interpretation of those twin inspirations to the masses. If there had been a band like this (or if someone had been willing to start one with me) when I was living in Houston, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t have moved away fifteen years ago, no joke. Tinny/twangy guitar, ramshackle galloping drums, and dry, conversational vocals with a palpable sneering edge, all held together with some abstract junkshop electronic textures between songs in a tried and true DIY hometaper fashion; a total scratchy nuevo-Messthetics dream. The lyrics are also brilliantly biting, largely centered from the perspective of whip-smart women putting ineffective men in their place and taking control of their own agency in a dull patriarchal capitalist reality—opting out of consumer culture, getting businessmen to pay your rent, one-night stands of leather-clad romance. The first vinyl edition of this came out in February and was limited to 100 copies that sold out almost immediately, but there’s a second pressing forthcoming and y’all would seriously be remiss to not jump on it when it’s available again.

BOB BOB LP

BOB was an absolutely flipped-out art-punk quartet in early ’80s San Francisco who put out two singles and an LP on NOVAK’s Dumb Records imprint before falling apart, and this new anthology collects that entire recorded output with the addition of a really great fold-out insert with archival photos and an interview with the band. The first BOB 7” from 1980 (“The Things That You Do” / “Thomas Edison”) remains a total US DIY classic, two raucous rushes of shrieking, call-and-response male/female vocals and Morse code rhythms—think fellow Bay Area freaks PINK SECTION, or even really early B-52’S—pushed to an even weirder extreme given that an urgently bashed vibraphone was the instrument at the front and center of both songs. BOB’s subsequent records lost some of that frenetic edge and leaned more into an oddball new wave direction that, thanks to the still-present vibraphone, could almost be described as mutant lounge (the less wound-up counterpart to No Wave’s mutant disco explorations?). In my original memories from picking up 1983’s Backward LP, none of the songs left quite as strong of an impression as that first single, but revisiting them in the context of this compilation, I honestly have a renewed appreciation for a lot of it—”Bird Lanes” or “(My Pal) Joe” aren’t really too far removed from Hardcore-era DEVO or mid-to-late-period SUBURBAN LAWNS. Mandatory listening for enthusiasts of the most off-kilter sounds to come out of the 1980s punk underground.

M.A.Z.E. M.A.Z.E. 12″

Sparse and wiry sounds from Japan that are completely liberatory and free in their simplicity, like a modern-day continuation of the coloring-outside-the-lines approach of countless girl-centered punk geniuses from KLEENEX to the NIXE to NEO BOYS—trebly minimalist guitar, rubbery bass lines, perfectly stripped-down drumming, and ecstatically joyous vocals. “Join the LCD” zig-zags into some more angular, choppy start/stop rhythms without losing its playfulness and melody, and “She Left This Town” even reminds me of bands like CHIN CHIN that existed in that transitional period between early ‘80s UK DIY and the dawn of C86, drawing equally from spiky post-punk and shambling, jangly pop. Short and sweet (six songs in under twelve minutes); highly recommended if this one escaped your radar when it appeared last year!

Hits Sediment Seen cassette

Oakland-based arty post-punk in the early Rough Trade tradition, less angular and jagged than wobbly and fuzzed-out, like a second- or third-generation dubbed tape of RAINCOATS and SWELL MAPS singles left out in the sun for a little too long. The minimal percussion is based around a drum pad with that authentically ’80s UK DIY banging-on-found-objects sound, and the bass has the perfect amount of rubber-band snap, but guitarist Jen Weisburg’s unassuming vocals are the secret weapon here, treated with little more than some slight echo or delay to give an otherworldly edge to the off-kilter pop hooks in songs like “Stand in Your Way” or “Climbing Up”—GRASS WIDOW would be an obvious frame of reference, even without knowing that Weisburg and drummer Brian Tester both collaborated with Lillian Maring for her killer (and similarly-minded) post-GRASS WIDOW project RUBY PINS. Killer tape, and simultaneously retro/futuristic, like sounds that have been beamed from an alternate galaxy years ago and are only now reaching the Earth.

Nylex Plastic for People LP

NYLEX’s 2018 cassette totally lit up the PYLON cortex in my brain, melding the latter’s tightly-wound and danceable tension with some goth-leaning smudged-eyeliner melancholy. Most of the songs from that tape have been reworked for Plastic for People, now polished to a flawless black patent leather sheen alongside a handful of new tracks that further play up the band’s shadowy melodies and early 4AD-level drama. The vocals are powerful and commanding in a way that probably invites more than a few SIOUXSIE comparisons, shifting from subtle whispers to stern narrations over driving, propulsive bass and razor-edged guitar, but with enough nuance to elevate NYLEX above the typical dark-punk-by-numbers approach that makes so many modern BANSHEES disciples seem like tired exercises in ’80s cosplay. That said, for me, the LP’s strongest moments are still when NYLEX really dig into those driving, claustrophobic PYLON-descended rhythms—that trifecta of deadpan lyrical incantations, needling, single-note guitar and repetitive bass/drum patterns in “Fascinate” is pretty tough to beat.

The Haskels The Haskels LP

A lost album from first-wave Milwaukee punks the HASKELS, originally recorded in 1979 and just now seeing the light of day! The fact that these recordings even survived is something of a minor miracle, as the master tapes apparently had to be baked in a convection oven twice in order to restore their quality to a level sufficient enough for this LP to happen, so some thanks to the powers that be are truly due here. The basic HASKELS sound was a decidedly Midwestern translation of proto-punk grit, glam-tinged snarl, and power-pop hooks, marked by the sort of sardonic sense of humor that was shared by all sorts of Rust Belt weirdos from the era, from the ELECTRIC EELS to DOW JONES AND THE INDUSTRIALS. Guitarist Presley Haskel and bassist Richard LaValliere traded off on songwriting and vocal duties, and the differences between their styles gave the band a really unique dual persona—Presley’s songs are generally the more straightforward ’70s New York/Detroit-influenced rockers with subject matter to match (“Baby Let’s French” is a better NEW YORK DOLLS song than any actual NEW YORK DOLLS song), while Richard’s tend to be more weird and surreal, definitely foreshadowing his post-HASKELS turn (with HASKELS drummer Guy Hoffman) in the skronky art-punk trio the OIL TASTERS in the early ’80s. Yet another classic in the long lineage of warped Midwestern punk; real freaks will recognize.

Karen Marks Cold Café 12″

KAREN MARKS’s one-and-done 7” from 1981 is a mysterious minimal wave dream, and it’s been a highly sought-after (and very expensive) artifact of the Australian ‘80s underground for quite some time nowthe A-side’s lost love lament “Cold Café” has popped up on a number of compilations in the last few years focused on outsider synth-pop and small-press post-punk obscurities, although the new Cold Café anthology 12” on the Melbourne-based Efficient Space label is the first proper reissue of MARKS’s slim recorded output. In addition to both songs from the original 7”, the expanded EP also includes two recently discovered and otherwise unreleased demo recordings, plus the studio track “You Bring These Things,” previously only available on a scare promo-only compilation LP. “Cold Café” is obviously the centerpiece here, though, hitting a raw, emotional nerve with yearning vocals backed by a sparse rhythm machine pulse and percolating synth, all cloaked in otherworldly space echo like one of JOE MEEK’s off-kilter ‘60s girl-group productions translated into an ‘80s art-wave context. “Won’t Wear It for Long” and “Problem Page” both take things in a slightly less ethereal direction, almost verging on traditional synthed-out new wave, but still indelibly colored by the haunting sense of longing in MARKS’s delivery. An absolutely crucial archival rescue!

Algebra Suicide Still Life LP

Still Life collects sixteen tracks drawn from a handful of mid-to-late ’80s releases by Chicago duo ALGEBRA SUICIDE, who combined deadpan spoken vocals/poetric recitations from Lydia Tomkiw with stark, spindly guitar lines, shadowy keyboard textures, and percolating drum machine, all arranged by her then-husband Don Hedeker. The resulting sound-based performance art managed to avoid the trap of artifice and pretension, despite any assumptions that a phrase like “poetry-music duo” might conjure, with sonic parallels to a number of European minimal/cold wave acts, UK experimental pop hometapers (think SOLID SPACE and the like), and even some of the less confrontational projects that evolved out of the No Wave scene in New York. Hedeker’s droning and pulsing musical accompaniment offered the perfect backdrop for Tomkiw’s lyrical observations, which she delivered in a dry, Chicago-accented monotone that only further underscored the hypnotic impact of the pair’s songs—sometimes shimmering and melodic, sometimes icy and mechanical. If you’re at all interested in some of the more eccentric corners of early minimal synth or ’80s-era art-schooled post-punk but haven’t explored the ALGEBRA SUICIDE discography yet, this anthology is a really useful starting point for further research.

Blues Lawyer Something Different LP

Bruised-heart vignettes delivered in punchy bursts of two minutes or less, economical in approach but with plenty of emotional weight. On their second LP (though definitely not a “long-player”), BLUES LAWYER continues to work a certain jittery and anxious FEELIES-esque jangle, stripped of the latter’s tendencies toward slow-burning rave-ups and instead pared down to the most concise form possible—“It’s All a Chore” spins out fully-realized in exactly 28 seconds, like the musical equivalent of one of those wind-up chattering teeth toys. There’s also a few tricks picked up from the VASELINES, particularly in the bittersweet harmonies between guitarist Rob Miller and drummer Elyse Schrock, some nods to the insistent pop strum of Flying Nun’s BATS/CLEAN/CHILLS holy trinity, and plenty of romantically-minded concerns expressed through pure buzzsaw energy much like the BUZZCOCKS, all reimagined within the context of the struggle to get by, and the (in)ability to connect with other people that shapes modern life under late-stage capitalism. There’s not a single wasted moment here, and it makes more of an impact at about seventeen minutes than a lot of albums twice its length.

Cochonne Omega cassette

Sparse, bass-oriented art-punk via Durham, North Carolina, accented by prickly guitar and rickety keyboards for an authentically waved-out ’80s feel—think the DELINQUENTS, PINK SECTION, and the oddball femme-fringe of US DIY from the era. Bassist Mimi’s deadpan vocals and the single-note guitar stabs in “Omega” play up some scratchy No Wave leanings, but for the most part, COCHONNE have a sense of humor and off-center catchy charm that’s more suited to, say, a ’79 Athens house party with the B-52’S than an ’81 New York gallery happening with DNA. Other highlights: the synth-squealer “Horror-Scope” and the ramshackle, French-sung “Mensonge Humain,” both of which had me thinking of underrated early ’00s Parisian post-punks-in-the-garage MIL MASCARAS. Oui, c’est bon.

Comet Gain Fireraisers Forever! LP

For the uninitiated, COMET GAIN has been at it since the mid-’90s, crafting their own kaleidoscopic cut-up sound that draws equally from C86-style indie-pop, the hip-swinging stomp of Motown and Northern soul, raw ’60s garage, and technicolor mod beat. Fireraisers Forever! is perfect micro-synthesis of the full COMET GAIN spectrum—there’s the punky pinned-in-the-red rave-ups (“Werewolf Jacket” and “We’re All Fucking Morons”), some cracked psychedelia (“The Girl With the Melted Mind and Her Fear of the Open Door,” which sounds like the TELEVISION PERSONALITIES if they’d been raised on Slampt Records instead of SYD BARRETT), and sunny jangle-pop strum in the mid-’80s Sarah/Creation Records mold (“Mid 8Ts” and “Society of Inner Nothing”), all expertly executed, never falling into the trap of hollow pastiche. The greatest band going; hope they keep it up for another twenty years.

Skiftande Enheter Snubblar Genom Drömmar 12″

The second LP of 2019 (!) from Sweden’s preeminent Messthetics appreciation society, which finds them mostly drifting away from ramshackle, DESPERATE BICYCLES-indebted minimalist punk in favor of jangly, paisley-patterned pop in the FELT/TELEVISION PERSONALITIES tradition—warbling organ with a somber psychedelic edge, sweetly off-kilter harmonies from guitarist Julius and drummer Elin, songs stretched ever-so slightly from the band’s previous tendencies toward sub-two-minute DIY bashers. There’s some occasional flashes of the SKIFTANDE ENHETER’s more raucous beginnings (the crashing “Iskall” or the sinister early FALL vibe of “Geni”), but the way that they’ve managed to effortlessly evolve from “this is a chord, this is another, this is a third, now form a band” bare-bones punk to C86-referencing crystalline pop within the span of a year (or less!) is really staggering.

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.