Reviews

Paisley Shirt

DN0 Inflation Now! cassette

As if Max Nordile (VIOLENCE CREEPS, PREENING, in addition to his solo efforts) didn’t make enough of racket on his own, he’s joined forces with folks from YOGURT BRAIN, TRASHIES, UZI RASH and a host of others to create….well, more racket. Mania captured as improvisation—free jazz as garage punk “drumming,” a mess of guitar dischordances and a bass that mumbles more than drives. It’s the confident unsuredness, the comfort in being (and creating) the uncomfortable that makes DN0 work. Captured live in October of last year, before the shroud was removed and we were all exposed, Inflation Now! could either serve as premonition of, escape from, experience of, or soundtrack to the current madness. I mean…if this is what punks do now then I guess I’m fine with the new normal.

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.

Max Nordile Primordial Gaffe cassette

This cassette looks amazing. Super slick pro-dubbed silver cassettes, three-panel foldout J-card cover with black print on shimmery silver paper stock. I am learning a lot this month about the dangers of focusing on the aesthetics of demos. The only positive things I have to say about this release have to do with its good looks. I have absolutely no idea what I just listened to. Weird squawks and smacks and bleep-bloops with whiny vocals and/or jazz horns delivered over top of it. It’s some form of avant-garde experimental art project stuff that I guess I just don’t get. The tape is long too, there’s eleven “songs” on it, and they’re not particularly short. I standardly make it a point not to write reviews during the first listen of a demo, but I don’t think I will be able to make it the full way through this tape a second time.

Max Nordile Vying for the Dime cassette

Another month, another offering from Oakland improvisationalist MAX NORDILE. A true sonic outsider, NORDILE mixes (seemingly) random multi-instrumental experimentation with field recordings and found sounds, creating movements and moments rather than “writing” anything resembling “songs” in any traditional sense. Of the eight pieces that make up Vying For The Dime, “101” and “E EE Exit” probably exemplify this Dadaist approach to music the best, but (as with many of NORDILE’s releases) they are best experienced as parts of a whole. While I often teeter on the knife edge of hyperbole, there is a genuine greatness in the simplicity, in the honesty, and the evolution is ongoing. As always, I recommend.

Portabella Return to the Fountain of Olives cassette

Experimental, psych-tinged indie rock from this Spartanburg, SC duo. This collection contains frequently likeable lo-fi pop songs with whimsical journeys into synth exploration and nonsensical, lysergic lyrics. “The Wrong Way” sounds like a lost GUIDED BY VOICES gem in the best way: a jangly guitar confection with just enough bite in the refrain. Similarly, there are about six more enjoyable indie pop jams on this tape that hit the home-recorded indie sweet spot, even if they sound pretty close to their influences. For instance, the guitar solo on “Nothing Left” might as well be credited to J. Mascis for how close it sounds to DINOSAUR JR. And “Valley of Imploding Cups” sounds a whole lot like Slanted and Enchanted-era PAVEMENT. Now for the rest of the tape, I wrote the same note next to seven songs: “Sebadoh III outtake.” I like SEBADOH, and I like that particular album, but it has its share of shambolic, half-baked audio sketches that would be better left as demos. PORTABELLA seems to love this aspect of SEBADOH so much that half of this album sounds like a tribute to it. The vocals sound like Lou Barlow, the thrown-together, first-take approach to songwriting, the weird, left-field acoustic interludes, the occasional faux-angry moments. What is skippable on Sebadoh III is skippable here. PORTABELLA definitely has talent and ideas to spare. I am interested in seeing what happens when they step away from their record collections.

R.E. Seraphin Tiny Shapes cassette

A solo album from the singer of Bay Area/Austin power-poppers TALKIES. Shimmering guitar jangle and sunny ’70s hooks are contrasted by SERAPHIN’s subdued, melancholic vocals, which share the “can’t be bothered” drawl of JESUS AND MARY CHAIN or maybe LOU REED. For all the pop sparkle of the music, the lyrics conjure feelings of loss, betrayal, and pain, especially on tracks like “I’d Rather Be Your Enemy.” On first listen, “Fortuna” caused me to double-take, as it could be a cover of GRANT HART’s “All of my Senses,” but I believe it’s an unintentional lift. And anyway, didn’t HART himself nab “2541” from DREAM SYNDICATE?

Sad Eyed Beatniks Places of Interest cassette

Dreamy DIY ’60s pop reimagined through an ’80s post-punk/indie lens. The influences are blatant, and they bleed out of the tape, which is part of SAD EYED BEATNIKS’ charm. Places of Interest is just as much Saturday afternoon record shop in-store as it is face paint and bubbles in the park filmed with a grainy 16mm thrift store camera. Guitars are supremely damaged and off, but they stay in the background while K Linn  (yeah, another one-person project) pushes things awkwardly forward with ramshackle drums and innocently-off vocals. A release that listens like a soundtrack to a short film that you desperately want to exist is a good release…I can see the shots that accompany the songs, because they’re already in my mind.

The Lice Punk Is Bed cassette

There is a lot to like about this collection of dreamy, lo-fi bedroom recordings. The catchy, fuzzy coldwave riffs and endearingly retro drum machine compositions definitely have an irresistible charm. But there’s no way those features can make up for the off-key singing that throws a wrench in the gears of this otherwise sweet pop project. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of off-key singers—NEIL YOUNG, DANIEL JOHNSTON, DEAD MOON. This is punk, after all. But sadly, it just doesn’t work with this kind of melodic fuzz-pop. We need an anchor in this sea of electronic trashcan drumming and delay-drenched synth leads, rather than another untethered line flailing wildly in the gale.