Reviews

Erika Elizabeth

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″

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.