Reviews

Upset the Rhythm

Constant Mongrel Experts in Skin / Shnuki 7″

Cunning, expert-level post-punk, bite-sized for your fearful pleasure. “Experts in Skin” ranks just as high as any hit from their recent show-stopper LP, purposeful punk concluding with a layered sax battle. The flip is poppier but prompts sly smiling rather than “lite” thoughts. Still makes me nervous, but you can dance to it. So good that it must be a joke.

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.

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!

Hygiene Private Sector LP

London’s finest purveyors of thematic post-punk where all the songs are ripped from the Guardian comments section, or perhaps the “In the Back” section of Private Eye. Brought out of retirement by the specter of Brexit and the likely scenario of Boris über alles, HYGIENE is the group England needs now—specially since they are fronted by a scion of the Commonwealth. Alongside at least three songs dealing with public transport in some way (“Replacement Bus” really captures all the frustrations of, er, having to catch a replacement bus), gammons, free marketers, and pedophile conspirators all come in for ire. For all the spartan rhythms and stark vocal commentary, though, the album connects most directly with the rousing singalong of the future potential folk classic “He Doesn’t Want to Pay His Taxes.” On this one they could be a CHUMBAWAMBA or MEKONS for today. Welcome back chaps.

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!

Terry Who’s Terry? EP

Fans of TERRY won’t be surprised in any way by this EP. Four songs of simple but wildly catchy pop music that is just a little off kilter. At times it can feel a bit monotone, but that also tends to add to the charm. Their sound wouldn’t be out of place in the late ’80s Flying Nun catalog. If you’re listening for the first time, check out the B-side of this record. “Eggs” is an upbeat head nodder, followed by the mellow “Drawn for Days”—a Kilgour brothers-style tune—is the perfect side of a 7″.

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.