Reviews

Noel Gardner

Deep Tissue Patience or Fear LP

DEEP TISSUE are from Philadelphia and pitch their tent somewhere between ’80s goth and ’90s alt-rock, with complementary slick-but-not-too-slick production and outsized, prominent hooks. Their home city is noteworthy, to me, in that Patience or Fear (their debut LP) has me thinking back to a Philly band from a few years ago, DARK BLUE, and how they sounded like something that could find a seriously big audience if they wished. Never happened, for better or worse, and with 250 copies of this record in existence and no current option to tour it’s unlikely to happen for DEEP TISSUE either, but damn if this doesn’t sound like a lost hit. There are some punky, uptempo moments (“Despair,” “Dead Head”) powered by booming toms and Lauren Iona’s strong vocals; things built from textured, swirling guitars which suggest that LUSH and (specifically major label-era!) THROWING MUSES have been closely studied by the band as a whole (“Liminal Space”); and a tiptoe into the deathrock side of the border (“Injury”), although perhaps this album’s great strength is that it blurs distinctions between that, goth, shoegaze and punk by just placing them in one package of fine playing and songwriting.

Invalid Format Actual Behaviour cassette EP

Irrepressible posi hardcore from a Malaysian four-piece on what appears to be their second tape release. INVALID FORMAT seem like they’re in love with the pre-Out Of Step Dischord catalogue above all, and the clean-cut likes of 7 SECONDS those releases inspired, but as well as oompah-oompah rhythms and songs titled things like “Unite Not Fight” and “Stop the Violence”, the guitar has this chiming, ultra-melodic tone which sometimes suggests an early wave Creation Records band playing at twice their normal speed. Nice token bit of wonky surf-rock action on “Dear Little Friend,” too. If you’ve been waiting for something new by MILK from Japan, INVALID FORMAT are both a good stopgap and band in their own right.

Cumgirl8 Cumgirl8 LP

Not sure precisely what music I anticipated on first seeing the name CUMGIRL8—it might be one of those questions where everyone is best off not pursuing the answer—but this eccentric, ramshackle semi-synthesised post-punk wasn’t it. They’re from NYC, and a brief read-up on them only renders them more curious: singer and bass player Lida Fox and guitarist Veronika Vilim are both models, as in big baller runway Marc Jacobs type shit, with drummer/synth tweaker/producer Chase Noelle having played in BOYTOY and others. Whatever Cumgirl8 is, it’s not anyone’s typical catwalk soundtrack: its bass lines somehow simultaneously blunt and spiky, and Noelle bundling up human cowbell thwack and overheating drum machines. “Cherry Nipples” yanks down the tempo to a goth crawl without it contradicting the effervescence around it, or indeed the gawky indie-pop of “Blue Planet,” which follows. Fox’s vocals are very much in that SLITS/RAINCOATS tradition (I might have assumed she was English without the resources to confirm otherwise) and while the CUMGIRL8 trio, two of who are playing music for the first time in this band, give the impression of wanting to cram as much of their favourite music as possible into one album, they pull it off.

Gaffer Gaffer cassette

New-in-relative-terms punk from Perth, Australia, GAFFER played their debut show in May 2019, and snuck this seven-song demo out in March of this year. You can still grab a hard copy at the time of writing, which is nice, but suggests it’s flown under the radar a tad, which kinda sucks. There’s COLD MEAT personnel in the four-strong lineup—I think Kyle Gleadell if the wound-raw guitar tone is anything to go by—and vocals are handled by a British invader, Chris Shoulder, ex-herbert-y post-punx STRUCTURE. Accordingly, GAFFER have that air of heads-down CRISIS-type chunter to their sound, but also a bit of KBD rock-pig flourish and early-wave second-string UK fodder, the latter accentuated by consistently gloomy lyrics about life’s grinding drudgery. They’re not shy of breaking the three-minute mark (“Animal,” “Skin of Your Teeth”), yet this tape fair flies by.

Liiek Liiek LP

The fine line between efficiency and parsimony is walked by LIIEK on their debut long-player, if that’s the best term. Eight songs, fifteen minutes—bam!—could’ve left me wanting more in a less-than-good way, but this type of sharp, skeletal post-punk makes the whole experience work. A Berlin trio who sing in English; a typical LIIEK song weds a clean guitar line to a disciplined rhythm section, with semi-spoken vocals and occasionally chunkier riff breakdowns. “Waterfall” and “Dynamite” have a paranoid funk about them, comparable to SHOPPING, darker/starker moments come closer to someone like NEGATIVE SPACE, and closing number “The Goods Were Properly Packed” rides a choppy disco-punk groove. That, or the presence of songs titled “Crisis” and “Wire” is LIIEK putting their cards face-up on the table. Either way, there seems to be a bunch of neato punk weirdness coming out of Berlin right now, and this band appears fairly embedded in it.

Eight Rounds Rapid Love Your Work LP

EIGHT ROUNDS RAPID is a four-piece from Essex whose guitarist Simon Johnson is the son of the great Wilko Johnson, who held the equivalent position in DR. FEELGOOD’s original/classic lineup. I would usually feel a bit bad about going straight for this sort of trivia at the beginning of a review, but Wilko had Simon and his pals support him on tour twice, so they can’t really object to anyone else leaning on the family connections. As it goes, Love Your Work—the third 8RR album—is a pub-belligerent punk blues affair whose DNA has a fair bit of FEELGOODs in more than a literal sense, and the guitar sound is possibly the best thing about it. That reads like faint praise, I know, but it’s a dead nice tone. David Alexander’s sarky-talky vocals, a heads-down approach to rhythms and occasional breaks from the norm (“Retro Band” eschews the rock for a wobbly and vaguely experimental gripe at, possibly, hipsters which seems to be going for a SLEAFORD MODS thing and doesn’t really work) make this album feel a bit like a BBC 6 Music listeners’ version of HEAVY METAL (as in the Berlin band). That also reads like faint praise, and I suppose is in this case.

Utopian Demo cassette

You might find it hard to get a handle on UTOPIAN, even while their debut demo is getting its hooks into you. That’s partly because they remain mysterious, to anyone cursed with distance at least: they have a location (LA) and first names, but no clear web presence and a moniker that thumbs its nose at yer search engine’s surveillance. Moreover, these six songs pinball between goth, post-punk, hardcore, and noise rock without the result making you feel like the band ought to pick a damn side. Vocalist Sesamie introduces “Circle A” with some portentous spoken word but is swiftly revealed as a fiery yowling force, one which places songs like “Spiritual Vision,” the Spanish-language “Tierra Ajena,” and the pogo-fabulous “U.B.P.” in the orbit of COLD MEAT. Really hope UTOPIAN is built to last.

Gesture II cassette

Berlin quartet GESTURE’s first tape, from eighteen months or so ago, was a more-than-nice example of contemporary death rock, slinky and zippy in equal measure. Its successor, again a six-song affair, ups the mean tempo and borders hardcore stylistically, “Wants In Cells” leaning into this in particular. Opening number “Retreat” has those military-drill stern anarcho drums but an untethered, lurching feel; “Breeding Ground” peaces out before the one-minute mark but fees like it could have developed. Eva Sanglante remains a finely frosty frontperson and, while it appears that GESTURE are now an ex-band (we hardly knew ye!), her latest project MERGING sounds pretty swish on the basis of one comp tape song, if you like gloomy punked-up EBM at least.

The Walking Korpses All Safe and Dead LP

Proving that modern-day Berlin isn’t just a bolthole destination for ketamine-hoofing 27-year-old ravers, the current incarnation of that city’s WALKING KORPSES kicks out glowering goth sludge with a lineup predominantly assembled from what we still call expats but are, I suppose, more properly known as immigrants. Some interesting characters too, including two fellas from SPK splinter group LAST DOMINION LOST; two of post-punk rippers DIÄT (one of whom also released this LP on his label); and singer Jason Honea, who took over vocal duties for SOCIAL UNREST in the mid-’80s and has done the same for WALKING KORPSES after a journey that’s taken him a long way from East Bay skatecore. All Safe and Dead rocks for sure, often relatively conventionally, yet always with a but—awkward, lumbering and clashing, even when a joint like “Autumn Light” bears heavy hallmarks of big coat UK post-punk. Honea’s yelp is closer to BIRTHDAY PARTY-era Nick Cave, with the strep throat of UNSANE’s Charlie Spencer lurking in the mix. Shades/shards of LAUGHING HYENAS, later CLOCKCLEANER and offensively underrated Scottish group VOM can be detected in these seven songs, with a transcendent expansiveness at times (notably final song “Healthy Teeth”) which you could call psychedelic, if psych was less about staring blissfully at the sun than screaming into fog while holding a broken wine bottle.

Geld Beyond the Floor LP

’Twas the prehistoric epoch of 2018 when GELD’s Perfect Texture LP kicked my ass through the top of my head via its solid gold meld of Scando-Japano HC abandon and psychedelic guitar excursions. Beyond the Floor dials down the psych tropes—little on this twelve-tracker zongs out quite like, say, “Parasitic Fucker” off the debut; maybe the gothy scrawling on “Forces at Work” approaches that level—but is every bit as deranged and dangerous. Written and recorded on “pills, meth, booze, weed [and] DMT,” so says the sales spiel: if this is the case, this Melbourne foursome are the opposite of sloppy drunks, cabbaged stoners or too-gone tweakers, rather a destructive forward line dosed on black market medicine by a shadowy team doctor. That is to say: fully sick in-the-red guitar tone, basslines that are sinister but groovy in the same way, say, Kira’s were in BLACK FLAG, foaming provoked-animal vox from Al Smith, maybe some bestial black metal influence in there but it’s such a barrage yer just guessing really… plus the lyric “Pubs open in my mind” and, if you were quick enough (which you weren’t, should you be reading this as a buyers’ guide), a really neat Jack Chick-parody comic packaged with the browny-gold vinyl. GELD are god’s-honest dons.

Stray Bullet Din of Shit EP

An assembly of esteemed UK hardcore hardy perennials here in the form of STRAY BULLET, including but not limited to Crawford Mackay (CLOCKED OUT), Fergus Daffy (NO PULSE) and Brian Suddaby from umpteen bands of which RAT CAGE and HEAVY SENTENCE are the most recent, I guess. They’ve all found themselves in Sheffield with an urge to kick out careening, consistently brisk hardcore, bordering garage punk for the longest, closing number “Consider It Worn.” Sounds like some ’90s bargain bin relic to me, and that’s meant in a good way—bands like OUT COLD or NINE SHOCKS TERROR that are adored by small coteries of heads but whose releases can still be scored relatively cheaply. Chug-into-a-brickwall rhythm parts square up against high-pitched, almost-indulgent guitar solos and Mackay sounds as ready to blow his top as was the case during CLOCKED OUT’s existence.

The Cool Greenhouse The Cool Greenhouse LP

If you’re already hip to this name via the London and Landlords singles or Crap Cardboard Pet EP (the latter making the COOL GREENHOUSE, to date, the only British act to have been released on Lumpy Records, which seems like it counts for something even if I don’t know what exactly), then you’ll know it’s not a band but a person, Tom Greenhouse, with a drum machine. No longer! Here is The Cool Greenhouse, a debut album which turns the COOL GREENHOUSE into a full group, human drummer and all. It’s a bit more hi-fi than Tom’s previous outings, but still agreeably shonky, with the fucked-sounding garage organ remaining in place (now played by Merlin Nova, daughter of THIS HEAT’s Charles Hayward, dynasty fans). Foremost, though, the sense is of a vehicle for Tom’s lyrical outlook: there are a lot of words here, and with most songs between three and five minutes things could have dragged if his verbal rambles didn’t take so many sharp turns and drop multiple inspired lines. A peach of an album upholding the legacy of Jonathan Richman, the FALL, ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER, the YUMMY FUR, the COUNTRY TEASERS and the totality of early ’80s UKDIY.

Alice Bag Sister Dynamite LP

ALICE BAG was one of the initial architects of LA punk and has had a hell of a life since, incorporating education and activism as well as music. Her 2011 autobiog Violence Girl is a crucial read in this respect, but if your current go-to reference point for ALICE is her stint as frontwoman of the BAGS, that’s still a more than serviceable foundation for getting max enjoyment out of Sister Dynamite, her third album under this name. It’s decidedly punkier and higher tempo than its predecessor, 2018’s pop- and ska-flavoured Blueprint, although her backing band and production crew remains pretty much the same. The thread back to that early Dangerhouse Records sound is fully, pleasingly audible, despite the (relatively) slick musicianship and new wave sheen, and there are Spanish-language songs (“Subele”) among paeans to queerness and denunciations of privilege.

Antibodies 2019 + 2018 LP

There’s a quote from some old Jello Biafra interview that’s stuck with me down the years, where he suggests that many great punk bands come from small, remote or unfashionable towns and so develop their own identity rather than replicating a big city’s prevailing trend. Now, anyone who grew up or indeed still lives someplace with a five-figure population count and a scene of wall-to-wall mediocre dogshit will know that it doesn’t work out that way every time, but ANTIBODIES, from Charlottetown on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, prop up the notion majorly through the medium of chaotic weirdo hardcore. As per the title, this is a comp of two tapes from last year and the year before that, brought to vinyl by Drunken Sailor, and despite the 20-song totality averaging little over a minute there’s a freaky psychedelic vibe threaded all the way through in ultrafuzzed guitars, trippily reverbed vox and occasional gloopy electronic interludes. The drummer sounds perpetually on the verge of kicking his kit to bits and more often than not there’s a great essence-of-HC riff that cuts through all the noise. I hear the spirit of anyone from the GERMS to NEOS to HOMOSTUPIDS in this but soundwise, ANTIBODIES have their own sweet niche going on.

Obnox Savage Raygun 2xLP

Pretty rare to complete a calendar year without a new record by OBNOX—a.k.a. Bim Thomas, formally known as Lamont Thomas, formerly known as a drummer for bands including the BASSHOLES and PUFFY AREOLAS—but that’s what we got, or rather didn’t get, in 2019. Dude is back in a big way here though, with a blazing 20-song double-LP that zips by to the degree where the running time isn’t any kind of drag. There are more boom-bap hip hop beats than on any previous OBNOX release, with Thomas showcasing his MC skills with justifiable confidence, but these jams are never any kind of purist anything, with bolts of reassuringly raw garage guitar setting multiple midpaced bumpers aflame. Conversely, psych-punk melters like “Catbird” and “She (Was About That Life)” are bolstered by sick headnodder funk backbeats, and there’s even a NEIL YOUNG homage in the form of “Young Neezy,” not that you’d imagine Neil’s fanbase would much approve.

Es Less of Everything LP

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

Vile Reality Detached cassette

Sooner or later, someone was gonna hit “Vile” and “Reality” when throwing darts at the wall to choose their hardcore band’s name, and I’m glad it was these San Diegans, because this tape is fierce as hell and sounds like a band called VILE REALITY should. Six speedy cuts that generally come in around the 90s-second mark (“Immobilized,” which concludes the tape, is slightly longer) and bundle chuggy mosh parts, air-punching rocker moments and reverb-y, slyly psychedelic touches, topped off by the gruff-not-tough vox of Aaron McQueen. Deserves a vinyl release, although I appreciate the age of just pointing at things and saying “deserves a vinyl release” is not our current one.

Violent Christians No Speed No Punk cassette

Once again, we reach into the “hardcore band name imagery” lucky dip bucket and pull out VIOLENT CHRISTIANS, an Austin ensemble whose debut tape comes via the frequently good Roachleg. You could probably convince someone that No Speed No Punk is an authentic unearthed artefact from some Midwestern scene circa 1984, assuming that wasn’t their specialist subject to start with. “Body Bag” exhibits relatively melodic tendencies to kick us off, but thereafter it’s the kind of ramalama blowout where the vocalist nearly-but-not-quite falls over his lyrics, guitar solos enter and leave within a few seconds and at the end of “Up Your Arse” (these MFs said “arse”), a DIE KREUZEN-like shredder, someone asks, “Are we done?” Hopefully not!

Internal Rot Grieving Birth LP

It’s noteworthy that a record label run by two members of a grindcore band so rarely releases the stuff, but it’s not hugely surprising. Grind (like most genres) attracts the type of people obsessed with it to the exclusion of anything else, and to the inclusion of some pretty generic crud; IRON LUNG’s Jensen and Jon are clearly not that type, so when they help a grindcore record into the world, expectations are of elite tier material. INTERNAL ROT, from Melbourne, matches that expectation. The trio’s past offerings hardly slouched, but Grieving Birth ascends a level again with relentless precision blasts, hideously thick downtuning and vocals that might veer a little far into the “slam death” style for some tastes (suits me fine, personally). Needless to say, you’ll need to take the lyrics on trust, but they’re excellent: gruesome apocalyptica and grouchy scene politics in psychedelically strange syntax, not unlike some of Chris Dodge’s musings in SPAZZ. This album might be considered a standard-bearer for grindcore in years to come.

Man-Eaters Gentle Ballads for the Simple Soul LP

MAN-EATERS emerged from the corpse of TARANTÜLA who emerged from the corpse of CÜLO and if you know the lore of those bands you’ll be primed for Gentle Ballads for the Simple Soul being a sinewy salvo of chemically-altered rocking hardcore punk. You’ll get that, to a point, but you may be unprepared for how vast and preening the riffs are on this thing. A clear-as-daylight love of ’70s arena rock and proto-metal is baked into each of these ten songs: some of the solos could have been ripped from a NAZARETH record, or something equally archaic and pointedly pre-hardcore. The movie sample intros are like something you’d hear on an ELECTRIC WIZARD joint, and “Man-Eaters” (who among us doesn’t love a self-titled song?) tips things into FU MANCHU levels of gum-chewing dudeliness, but tempos here are generally amphetamine-fast. Danny Babirusa—formerly of BLEEDING GUMS, and the only non-ex-TARANTÜLA member—is the perfect vocalist for this sound, one which plenty of bands from POISON IDEA to TURBONEGRO to ANNIHILATION TIME have offered up before, but if anyone’s doing it as well as MAN-EATERS right now they’ve evaded my ears.

Cold Meat Hot and Flustered LP

Perth’s COLD MEAT were practically perfect from their first utterance, the Sweet Treats tape released nigh on five years back. I say “practically” to acknowledge that their atonal KBD clang, personal-political feminist lyrics and ever-changing pseudonyms stuck fast to a template established by GOOD THROB a few years prior. Hot and Flustered, COLD MEAT’s debut album, eclipses that minor issue majorly—this sounds like no individual entity so much as the latest raging entry in a half-century continuum of fucked-off snarky DIY punk. There are hooks on here visible from space, highlighted by a spot-on production, and lyrical earworms in waiting. Ashley Ack, as she goes by this time, is imperious here, one of punk’s current vocal powerhouses for sure, and at certain points (the closing section of “Women’s Work,” notably) seems to channel the spirit of Vi Subversa, the POISON GIRLS absolutely being part of that continuum I mentioned. A blazing band that keeps getting even better.

Hank Wood and the Hammerheads Use Me EP

Get the impression that my take on HANK WOOD AND THE HAMMERHEADS’ discography to date—improving on each release and peaking with their self-titled third LP from 2018—is widely considered uncool, verboten, wrong even. A great pity if so, as this is the stance that allows the easiest enjoyment of Use Me, a four-song EP which carries on down that testifyin’ soul-punk road and adds a little extra spit and polish as it goes. Opening track “Look at You” is one of those textbook Hank Wood vocal shakedowns, where he dresses down some unidentified foe into the dirt but does it with a peculiar affection. “Strangers” is tearjerker doo-wop it’s permissible to stagedive to, “Tomorrow” the chant of the eternal bozo optimist (“Tomorrow’s gonna turn my love around!”) with some unlikely post-punky reverb, and the closing title track pushes some equally unlikely ’90s alt buttons via sugary female backing vox.