Reviews

For review and radio play consideration:

Send two copies of vinyl (one for our archive, one for the reviewer) or one copy of CD-only or cassette-only releases to MRR, PO Box 3852, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. Maximum Rocknroll wants to review everything that comes out in the world of underground punk rock, hardcore, garage, post-punk, thrash, etc.—no major labels or labels exclusively distributed by major-owned distributors, no releases outside our area of musical coverage, no reviews of test pressings or promo CDs without final artwork. Please include contact information and let us know where your band is from! All vinyl records received are added to our archive, which since 1977 has grown to become the largest collection of punk records in the world.

Activistas A is for Activistas CD

A nine-track effort (a mini-LP?) of what sounds like a British cabaret band, almost. Or sort of a “Knees Up Mother Brown” musical hall variety act. Male and female vocals, drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. It’s all rather amateurish sounding, which is a little off-putting to these ears, though suddenly, the last three tracks (starting with a version of WOODY GUTHRIE’s “This Land Is Your Land” with BILLY BRAGG lyrical embellishments) really kick it up a gear, and sound rather more polished and hence eminently presentable! Perhaps with the addition of some more keyboards, it all falls into place? Lyrically, they seem to hit all the right spots (and targets) from Emma Goldman to Boris Johnson.

The Adicts The Sound of Music LP reissue

The clown princes of clockwork punx are back…in reissue form! For the longest time, I actively avoided engaging with any of these droogy bands for the simple reason that the fans got on my tits to an almost cosmic degree—crystalised by one legendarily punishing pisshead at a COCK SPARRER show in Leeds, replete with plastic bowler hat and jockstrap. I, quite naturally, assumed it was annoying joke music for dickheads. Was I wrong in that assumption? To a certain extent, yes. While there is space for some joke music on The Sound of Music with a paean to Chinese takeaways, it’s an enjoyable camp romp through the poppier side of UK82, like the BLOOD and PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES had a scrap in a circus tent.

Alien Nosejob Suddenly Everything is Twice as Loud LP

For the uninitiated, ALIEN NOSEJOB is the anything-goes solo project of Jake Robertson (AUSMUTEANTS, HIEROPHANTS, SMARTS). So far he’s put out records covering KBD punk, indie pop, straightforward hardcore, new wave, and disco. While previous releases have been more genre-focused (like the excellent USHC workout HC45 EP), this LP takes a more whimsical route through a handful of similar sounds. We’ve got some straight up RAMONES-core (“Television Sets,” “Black Sheep”), earnest indie pop (“Weight Of The World,” “Blending In”), and even some Horrendous New Wave-y new wave (“Spin Cycle”). Not every track is great, but when you take as many shots as this dude, you’re bound to chuck up a brick or two every now and then. Even still, this LP highlights what a gifted songwriter, musician, and producer Jake is. I’m stoked to see what direction he takes the project in next!

Bathouse Bathouse LP

Debut record from Sweden’s BATHOUSE, featuring ten noise rock pounders, drenched in feedback and fuzz. The tracks blast with tinny guitars, blown-out distorted bass, and that familiar AmRep-inspired crunch. The shouted vocals and fairly traditional rock structures place this in pleasant company with MCLUSKY and PART CHIMP. Through the filth and slime, there are some melodic vocal lines and major key chord progressions that have one dirty shoe in garage rock (maybe even grunge) territory. “Hell” sounds like a lost NIRVANA In Utero B-side with a downtempo refrain of “I bore you / You know I adore you,” while “Ghostly Figurine” has some “la la la la’s” in the mix. These anthems of frustration aren’t breaking any new ground, but they are definitely worth a listen on your way to that job you hate.

Big Laugh Manic Revision EP

I reviewed this record for Undergrounz Zine the first day it came out ’cause I thought it was too much. I think I must’ve listened to it twenty or so times in a row. It’s kind of a cyclic album; the instrumental fade-out in the last song, “Fazed,” works as a transition to the epic drums that open the EP in “Imposter.” The whole vibe of this reeks of the ABUSED, from the artwork, which pays tribute to the Loud and Clear aesthetic, to the sound. Or, better, the ABUSED meets This is Boston Not L.A., because BIG LAUGH merges heavier passages with more fluid ones, but always without losing strength and presence. I said it before, I’ll say it again, their strength is how they managed to combine that overfall of dizzy, hectic guitar riffs and omnipresent drum work, hard as nails, that sweeps everything else with the power of a cascade. BIG LAUGH is the best example that Milwaukee hardcore is alive and kicking.

Big Rig Expansive Heart EP reissue

1-2-3-4 Go! has reissued this overlooked gem. BIG RIG was a short-lived project whose members went on to play in SCREW 32, the NERVE AGENTS, and DANCE HALL CRASHERS, and featured Jesse Michaels of OPERATION IVY on vocals. This four-song offering is decidedly more punk (whatever that means) than Michaels’ previous band; in fact, there’s nary an inkling of ska heard here. My only complaint about this record is that I wish there were more songs! This is a perfect document of a moment in time, and I’m glad it’s been reissued so that more people have a chance to hear a perfect record.

Boofin Tylenol Symptoms of Life cassette

I’m not sure what makes a truly good-sounding hardcore punk release. Sometimes people try too hard to ape their influences (sometimes that’s fine and good) and sometimes people fight too hard for modernity and originality, becoming unrecognizable from the original form (also fine, I guess). I feel comfortable saying that BOOFIN TYLENOL is a decent representation of good current hardcore punk. The influences are apparent (TAR BABIES and SST Records) without being overly paraded. Simple yet forward-thinking, all-around great playing, fast and aggressive, surprisingly melodic and refusing to be pigeonholed.

Buck Biloxi and the Fucks Put You in the Gulag EP

It takes a special talent to write super catchy pissed-off songs. This EP contains three. Minimalist trashy garage punk with biting lyrics that cause you to sing along while also looking over your shoulder. The topics are mindless consumerism and herd mentality. “I Would Rather Die” uses the riff from “Nervous Breakdown” for a humorous anti-technology tune. The title track reminds you “Money is your shitty God.” Great stuff as usual from BUCK BILOXI AND THE FUCKS.

C-Krit C-Krit cassette

Debut tape from new band, likely from Olympia (not that anyone involved lifts a finger in the service of biographical info) and delivering some of the wrongest-sounding hardcore I’ve heard in a while. Six songs, one an incongruous SCREAMING SNEAKERS cover and (most of) the others an absurd blizzard of teen-tantrum vocals, transistor-radio guitar tone, and drums that sound like someone trying to invent the blastbeat. They’ve called one song “The Kids Will Have Their Say Pt.II,” but come off like they’re trying to pay homage to “How Much Art Can You Take?” on the wilful sub-FLIPPER joint “Army Of Cru.” There’s another curveball at the end with “My Eyes Melt,” baked-sounding dub/synth-pop with no punk to be heard—but C-KRIT, whoever they are, makes the transition work. High recommendation for shit-fi stans!

The Culprits The Culprits LP

Killer Portland punk from the early 2000s, unearthed and given the treatment in a criminally limited run of 100 pieces of splatter wax. Wildly catchy and raw hi-energy—think KRUPTED PEASANT FARMERZ and TOXIC REASONS, that kind of catchy energy, hooks that pierce skin. As a staunch advocate for documentation, I’m glad nuggets like this are given the attention they deserve—and I have a hunch that 2020 ears might give the CULPRITS more accolades than they received in that downtuned black-clad crust oasis fifteen years ago, because fast snappy punk never goes out of style.

Death Cult Spiritual Conundrum cassette

The latest tape from San Antonio’s DEATH CULT delivers four cuts of menacing, metal-tinged punk with dark themes, thrashy guitars, and exasperated vocals. Interesting production makes every song stand out in its own unique way and these guys aren’t afraid to get a little weird with the effects. On the final track, “Flesh Prison,” the band flexes their eccentricity as we get some unabashed ACCUSED influence paired with a melodic chorus before the whole thing just collapses into an echo chamber of screams and feverish laughter. Good times.

Desastyr Danting Megazus CD

Twenty-seven tracks of one-man Casio D-beat. I keep listening, but I don’t know what to say…it’s unlistenable, and that’s the point. Noise is, in fact, not music…but at what point does nonsense become art? DESASTYR is like SOCKEYE deconstructing BEYOND DESCRIPTION. I’m gonna send this to Ear of Corn fanzine and see what Food Fortunata thinks (and if that means anything to you then you’ll likely be scrambling for a copy of this CD).

Eat That Dirty Roach! cassette

Over many years I’ve come to realize that I do not give a shit about a ten-minute guitar solo. Seriously, if you ever find yourself on a stage slappin’ that ol’ six-string for longer than it takes to get through airport security, it might be time to become a banker or something. EAT, on the other hand, has no time for noodly guitar solos; in fact, I don’t think they’ve ever written a song that’s longer than two minutes. This batch of songs are short flashes of unrestrained noise and aggressively poetic lyrics. The band pulls off a really interesting mix of genres here. It’s partly pure No Wave and another part straight hardcore. Think the CONTORTIONS or TEENAGE JESUS AND THE JERKS if they were twice as fast and twice as loud. The drums are chaotic, the guitars are angular,  and the saxophone wails in the background. Honestly, I really hope this is where the Philadelphia punk scene is heading, because this cassette is experimenting with punk, noise, and No Wave in a really unique way.

Eyes and Flys New Way to Get It EP

Are you wistful for, like, 2009? You know, the halcyon days when lo-fi garage pop and shitgaze ruled the (Myspace) airwaves, “Be My Baby” drum beats were de rigueur, your local Sparks and Four Loko-littered basement might host a bill of PSYCHEDELIC HORSESHIT and the BARBARAS, and your favorite band’s latest release could be put out by a hip economy car company? If so, have I got a release for you! To be fair, EYES AND FLYS, a recording project out of Buffalo, is a little more BLACK TIME (good!) than WAVVES (bad!), and it’s not like they’re singing about pizza parties or fake dance crazes. Really, it’s a solid take on this kind of sound. But it’s a sound that nevertheless reminds me of a feel-good time that doesn’t quite match the world’s current tenor. It makes it tough for me to enjoy. But that’s more on me than it is these tunes, which I suspect would have appealed to pre-doomer me. So, give it a listen!

Huraña Brujas, Cholas E Inventadas EP

Iron Lung Records seems to have all fingers on the pulse of modern punk, as they manage to consistently release new and exciting bands. HURAÑA is one of those bands that manages to sound fresh but never lets their influences and love for the genre be overshadowed by production. The guitars scream in a weird and unsettling mixture of the CRAMPS and early DEAD KENNEDYS but with a hardcore punk rhythmic section pummeling in the background, while the echoing voice howls at a distance the ills of being dysphoric in Chiapas, Mexico. Includes a cover of “Me Gusta Ser Una Zorra” by the legendary Spanish punks VULPESS, which in turn is a scandalous take on “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

Imperial Leather Leatherman / Spa Country 7”

This is the second release from Melbourne’s IMPERIAL LEATHER—their first was a cover of the classic BONA DISH track “8 AM,” which they nailed. This latest 7” gives us a feel for the band’s songwriting. The A-side has a garage revival/new wave feel to it, surf beat with deadpan vox and a vintage keyboard sound that wails, bringing to mind the DELINQUENTS or GOMME. The B-side has the bones of a cool rockabilly ballad, but feels a bit sparse. Though their simple song structure lends a charming quality, I look forward to seeing how this band evolves musically, I can see them exploring some interesting terrain.

Kobra Confusione LP

KOBRA brings us some no-bullshit Oi!-tinged hardcore with a fresh and gritty feel. On this striking debut 12″ from the Milan four-piece, some of the songs have this cool production where the “meat” of the music is blown-out and in the red, while other components like vocals and saxophone are dubbed in more cleanly (like on “Confusione”). And then on other tracks, everything seems to be turned up to batshit-loud in one big clamor (“Stella Morta,” for example). The lyrics are in Italian and the songs are generally about resisting authority, staying sharp, and thinking for yourself in a world enslaved by consumerism, which somehow comes across even without using Google translate. It’s a fucking good record.

Landowner Consultant LP

People, I am here to tell you how much LANDOWNER absolutely fucking rules. They play tightly-coiled rock music that is in constant motion while appearing to remain perfectly still. It’s a neat trick, this hummingbird punk trip, but these guys got songs too—LANDOWNER nags you with their flitting, arid smart aleck takes. Imagine NOMEANSNO stripped of their exaggerated bluster (to be sure, a large part of that unit’s charm) or the MINUTEMEN time-warped into the 21st century. “Victim Of Redlining” corkscrews into your head with a relentless bass riff, a D. Boon guitar lick, and lyrics spat out like the speaker has been sitting stewing in anticipation of five minutes of facetime. “Swiss Pavilion” dissects city planning with wit and brevity, addressing public spaces, parking concerns and the narrator’s desire to achieve urban nirvana. In the context of punk, LANDOWNER’s music is understated yet contains an undeniable ferocity. Despite its lack of a “sick riff,” “Being Told You’re Wrong” is closer in spirit to MINOR THREAT than a thousand generic straightedge bands. LANDOWNER utilizes clean tones, repetition, and interlocking guitar/bass lines to build spaces that are there to serve a purpose, more tool than structure. On album highlight “This Could Mean Something,” singer/mastermind Dan Shaw is “Talking to the wall / ’Til it starts talking back” as the band veers into US MAPLE territory. “Confrontation” adds synth and shares sympathies with PATOIS COUNSELORS, while “Mystery Solved” sketches an existential story of an IT worker over seven tense minutes. But don’t get it twisted—Consultant is occupied with churning, propulsive music. Hardcore is inverted. Pointillist-brutalism is engaged. Patterns are melodies and whispers are screams. This album leaves invisible bruises like pillowcases filled with bars of soap. A bright spot during these last dark months, no doubt.

Lazy Rock n’ Roller / Am I Dreaming 7” reissue

This is a rerelease of the 1980 single from Washington, DC’s LAZY. An infusion of bubblegum-chewin’ fun with a razor blade in its boot heel—come for the angelic harmonies, and stay for the ripping guitar solos. With the melodic expertise of bands like the RECORDS and POINTED STICKS, they nail the building blocks of power pop: perfect guitar tone, tight snare fills, double-tracked and catchy-as-hell vocals. LAZY can also be seen to draw from more of a hard rock/glam sensibility. Lurking behind the jangling melodies are some seriously nasty riffs. Side B, “Am I Dreaming,” kicks off with a backward cymbal track, and is reminiscent of SLADE or even EXPLODING HEARTS. Thrilled to see this resurface.

Lebenden Toten Synaptic Noise Dissociation LP

The mighty Iron Lung Records has bestowed a gift upon us with this release, a live set from Portland’s LEBENDEN TOTEN, recorded during a tenth anniversary event for the label. Twenty-five minutes of absolute raging hardcore with blur-fast D-beats, constant sheets of swirling feedback, and shredded vocals pummeling the listener (and that lucky live audience) into submission. At first, it was a little overwhelming—noise chaos to the point of breaking apart—until I realized how tight the band is. What seems disorienting takes on an almost psych feel the more you listen to it and hear the layers of noise coming together. I hear some slight CONFUSE influence here and there, but this is its own manic beast. Standout tracks for me are “Inferno,” “Static #1,” and “Vampires,” but they are honestly all standouts. I can’t imagine not listening to this as a whole album, anyway. The artwork is cool too (looks like a ’70s Italian horror/sci-fi mashup), and it comes with a die-cut Halloween decoration. Get this, crank it, and blow your speakers out— it will be worth it.

Lethal Means Zero Sum Game LP

LETHAL MEANS force their hands to mechanically tweak a naturally simplistic Scandinavian hardcore approach with decent ability. In other words, they squiggle around the frets to ring out a few extra notes and adjust the verse-chorus structure a bit (see the aptly titled “Ad Nauseam”). The subtle technicality of the opener “Break Free” gave hope that LETHAL MEANS would offer something intriguing, but overall there were maybe three attention-grabbing moments here. I’ve never listened to stadium crust ‘cause the good lord didn’t plan that in my life’s trajectory, but LETHAL MEANS’ catchy riffs, endlessly pounding drums, smooth production, and more technical playing inevitably creates an “epic” sound that I assume is indeed stadium crust. “Break Free,” “Serve No Man,” and the closer “Life Cannot Be Owned,” which feels inspired by but lacks the swing and ease of DEATH SIDE’s “Crossfire,” could’ve served as an acceptable 7”. Low points are an instrumental track featuring video game-like sound effects of decommissioned military planes and album art featuring the Grim Reaper stroking a phallic atomic cloud, which seems appropriate for presumably older punk men doing their take on music written by children 40 years ago.

Meltcitizen Life’s a Joke, Then You Croak cassette

From out of El Paso, Texas. I am enjoying that the band sounds like a bunch of disparate instruments that don’t quite go together, but manages to make it work. I picture a few friends getting together to play music with whatever instrument they had closest at the time. The guitars blast fuzzily and noisily, but then a tinkling organ pops in for a while. The drummer is getting out every frustration possible. Everybody is playing at full speed. The vocals don’t quite go with the music either. They are stylistically closer to those of a ’70s prog rock band. They float on top of the cacophony, but are just weird enough not to be as annoying as that would seem. To quote the song “Exhumed 2 Soon,” “It’s a sense of joy and impending doom.” Yee-ha!

Melting Walkmen Pelikan cassette

This was a nice surprise. I first heard Copenhagen’s MELTING WALKMEN from their track on the very enjoyable This is Copenhagen comp. They also seem to have a wealth of older material to check out via the idiot box (internet). The title track “Pelikan” is more of the excellent post-synth-punk hoo-ha à la NEW ORDER or maybe XMAL DEUTSCHLAND as heard on the aforementioned compilation. They are extremely Euro, and I mean that in the most endearing of ways. This tape is eye-opening to me in the fact that it reveals a punker and more rocking side of the band than one could maybe hear by checking out their back catalog. In fact, the second track starts off with a riff so familiar as being “Alcohol” by GANG GREEN that I was instantly thrashing from muscle memory. It’s not a straight rip-off though, but a pretty swell original tune which, along with the other two, makes this a worthy purchase to listen to on future rail adventures in Scandiland. Skol!

New Berlin Magnet LP

The new offering from Texas’ NEW BERLIN has this intense, black-and-white collage cover art that does not quite fit the music it contains. I’m not normally a stickler for consistency, but I don’t find these tunes fit as seamlessly as the songs on the Basic Function LP that I thought worked well in a stripped-down, BUCK BILOXI AND THE FUCKS kind of way. The Magnet LP tries out different sonic approaches from song to song and they don’t always jive together so well. You get fuzzed-out power chords but then jangly guitars and power pop licks, distorted vocals then earnest clear vocals, natural sounding drums then antiseptic fake drums—you get the idea. You don’t know which NEW BERLIN is going to show from track to track. You can’t deny the quality of some of these hooks and witty lyrical turns, but it left me with an uneven and unfinished feeling. That said, I really dug the DYLAN cover.

No Negative The Darkening Hour 12″

One of the illest psychedelic punk purveyors out there has some detritus left over from when they recorded their most recent album, 2019’s The Last Offices, and some more from a while before that, and they think we should hear it. Call me a mooning fanboy, but I happen to agree! That being said, I can see why the two A-side numbers got shelved, because they don’t really jibe with the finished item’s vibe. “Perverbial Grave” [sic…I guess?] is barrelling, stumbling blooze sludge I could imagine having come from the same ’80s Aussie scene as, say, VENOM P. STINGER; “Upside Down World” is even more impeccably hamfisted, kinda CHAIN GANG-via-FUGS talky rabble rousing. From a 2015 session, meanwhile, “Raw Deal” is a reverby and vaguely mournful instrumental which precedes “Mon Obsession Personelle”: a French-language quasi-cover of “Louie Louie” with vox handled by Bernardino Femminielli, who seems to be a weirdo pop dude of some kind from Montreal.

Public Acid Condemnation EP

This one’s gonna be on a lot of fukkn year-end lists, and for good reason. You think that Condemnation is shaping up real nice when the trudge of “Nuclear Child” really settles in, and you think that they just dropped a ruthlessly dark and heavy beast. And then the music stops, and that buzzsaw kicks in and they are just fucking gone…you won’t know what even happened until “Flag Fetish” fades out and your ears are ringing and you’re wondering what the fuck kind of guitar solo you just heard. Rarely has the descriptor “urgent” felt more applicable, even (especially) as these freaks gear down for determined BATHORY-tinged stomps like “Electric Plague.” It’s a record that is wholly demanding from start to finish. And the demand is punishment. If you only have 90 seconds available to listen to hardcore punk music, I recommend the title track.

Rosetta Stone Cryptology CD

With a minimum of internet sleuthing, I discovered that ROSETTA STONE is a British “Gothic rock band” that would appear to have formed in the late ’80s. Which explains why they sound like a very deft marriage (of convenience) of SISTERS OF MERCY and JOY DIVISION. Bass-driven dark music, with Ian Curtis vocal stylings and spare synth and guitar. This is a new album, and is a return to their sounds of yore. No idea what they were doing in between, but if you have either of the aforementioned in your record collection, this’ll go down real easy.

Shrinkwrap Killers Parents + FBI = Cahoots LP

OK, now we’re talking. I went into this LP pretty skeptical because Parents + FBI = Cahoots kind of sounds like it could be some bullshit written by TWISTED SISTER, but that is definitely not the case. This is some dark synthwave in the vein of the SPITS, but really running wild lyrically. Just take a look at some of the track titles here. We’ve got “Just Shoot Me When You’re Ready” and “Dialogue Between a Vampire & Bloodless Aliens,” among others. The LP can be a little one-note in that almost every song has the same beat, but I still fully endorse giving this a listen.

Star Party Demo 2020 cassette

STAR PARTY is a GEN POP offshoot that throws down a glittering gauntlet on this teaser tape. Drenched in sheets of glorious early Creation Records fuzz, “No Excuse” hits hardcore velocity while singer Carrie Brennan is perfectly dialed in on the reverb. But it’s “Veil of Gauze” that really impresses. “Gauze” is so good that it can hold its own with the excellent version of the SHOP ASSISTANTS’ “Something To Do” that precedes it. And just when you think you know the score, STAR PARTY covers a BOB DYLAN-penned early CHER tune (“All I Really Wanna Do”) and conjures fond memories of the AISLERS SET. When’s the single?

Sweet Reaper Sidekick LP

I’ve always loved art that seems to peel back the mask of an otherwise serene and happy environment. Ventura’s SWEET REAPER exists in the tradition of beach punk like AGENT ORANGE, ADOLESCENTS, RIKK AGNEW, etc. On the surface, Ventura could seem like a shiny, happy surfer’s paradise, but this album simmers with the sun-bleached angst beneath the boardwalk. Musically, we’re coming out of the gate strong: lead-off track “Reapers Back” is the best song the MARKED MEN never wrote. The MARKED MEN comparison is a bit of a red herring though, as the rest of the album bears less of a resemblance to Denton’s finest. Still catchy as hell, but with a cynical detachment to the vocals and an abrasive jangle to the guitars that at times harkens back to the ADVERTS. Ten short songs packed with melody, hooks, and energy. No chaff.

Total Wolf Total Wolf LP

Do you enjoy fun? How about thrash? Yeah? Then chances are you would totally dig TOTAL WOLF. Listening to this, the one thing that keeps popping in and out of my brain is “What if MUNICIPAL WASTE wrote Apocalypse Dudes or GUTTERMOUTH played thrash?” Total fucking party record. It makes me wanna slam some shitty beers and circle pit around a bonfire and I don’t even drink anymore.

Twisted Nerve Never Say Goodbye (Archive Vol. 2) LP

This collection features proper deathrock goodness from Scotland with shades of KILLING JOKE on tunes like “Geronimo,” but almost veers into SUBHUMANS territory on “Vertigo.” The drumming is tight and everything sounds so rushed and urgent that even the little tape dropouts add to its authenticity. Only “Magik of Trance” lags a bit under the spell of bad ’80s rock convention, otherwise this is pretty tight. Are the vocals a little flat on the track that gives this collection its name? Yes. Is that a problem? Not in this case. Sometimes passion wins over perfection. Having gotten to the age where I gravitate toward the reissues and archival recordings as much as the new releases, records like this are part of why.

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.

White Stains White Stains demo cassette

WHITE STAINS is one of the best things 2020 brought along. Their new LP is simply sick, and this was a great preview. I didn’t pay too much attention when it came out, but after getting hooked to the LP, I came back to it. These three songs sound as if no time had passed since the early ’80s. I think there’s a strong vibe of BLACK FLAG’s “TV Party” or “Six Pack,” especially in the last track, “Quarantine.” That’s the general spirit, punk in its purest form, unpretentious and raw, just old-fashioned hardcore punk, like a basement version of ADOLESCENTS or CIRCLE JERKS. Cannot dig this more.

Youth Deprivation Behind the Lids LP

YOUTH DEPRIVATION is the new venture of Groningen’s hardcore punk aficionados that used to rock out in KOMPLEX, SYSTEM BASTARD, HUMAN CORROSION, and DEVOID, and they do a great job living up to their old bands’ reputations. Dealing with one’s mental health has been a recurring theme in many punk bands, and the genre itself can act as a therapy to fight off some personal demons and deal with trauma. This is exactly what goes on in this record, an escape valve that goes off when the pressure is too great to handle. RUDIMENTARY PENI are an obvious influence to spot in this one, and the later era of BLACK FLAG. A bleak piece of punk hardcore that is a reality slap.

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.

V/A GTRRC II LP

This is a little more interesting than your average covers comp, of which most are complete sewage fodder. G.T.R.R.C. is a band made up of members of GEE TEE and RESEARCH REACTOR CORPORATION, both from Sydney, Australia, who love to get together and cover their favorite molden oldies. I believe I got that right but excuse me if I’m mistaken. Also included are many of their international friends, some known and some not so much. The covers stick mostly to ’70s punk, ’80s pop/new wave, and classic and modern garage. The most faithful ones are competent and dull as shit. As with most of these labors of love, the ones that shine a light through the muck are the weirdest and are covers in name only. Favorites here are the two THIN LIZZY covers by SICK THOUGHTS and SPODEE BOY, SNOOPER doing ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down,” ERIK NERVOUS’ gut-busting cover of “Raining Blood,” the always great SCHIZOS covering the PERSUADERS’ “Heart Of Chrome,” and BELLY JELLY tearing up the SWINGIN’ MEDALLIONS’ “Double Shot Of My Baby’s Love.” Honestly, it all makes a pretty great party record for gathering with friends or enjoying alone in soul-crushing isolation while enjoying one’s favorite beverage. Drink up. End of days.

The By-Products Praying Mantüs LP

Thirteen bursts of snappy punk from Southern California. I’ve tossed around ways to describe the BY-PRODUCTS, but ultimately I think they sound like adult punk. That’s not a knock (far from it), it means that they seem to have harnessed a generation of influences and used them to frame their approach instead of using them as a template. The start of “Self Diagnostic” sounds like BIG BOYS, “God Phone” hits me like some solid ’90s DIY punk, “Earthquake” is a straight Orange County hardcore ripper, “Aftershock” comes off as a dose of RADIOACTIVITY-caliber sharp brilliance…I could go on, but the more I listen the more things I hear. And I don’t want to bore you. The BY-PRODUCTS are avoiding all of the trappings and don’t seem suited for any of the molds—this is a hearty endorsement.

Condemned / Ernia Strike to Kill split LP

Somewhere in this batch of reviews I think I say that a dose of catchy, uplifting punk might be just what I need…this record definitively disproved that assertion, because this record is what I fucking need. CONDEMNED blasts straight out of 2004 with hard-charging crust fury, continuing a proud and storied legacy of bands from Connecticut like REACT, TORRINGTON, and DIALLO. On the flipside, Basque Country’s ERNIA matches the intensity and drops in fearsome blasts seemingly at will. Brilliant early ’00s European squat crust sounds hyped up on relentless fastcore and grind—I find myself exhaling after every song without even realizing that I was holding my breath. Lyrics presented in Basque, English, French, and Spanish, everything about this one hit the fucking spot.

DZTN 1980 Don’t Give Up cassette

Isolation hardcore continues, this time with the fourth release (that I know of) from Portland’s DZTN 1980. Cold, howling anarcho-tinged freak sounds with song structures that can (perhaps) only be signed off on by bands with no dissenting members (or no other members at all), bands that typically exist in one person’s mind. Distinct Blinko tendencies set to a steady, driving drum (machine), Don’t Give Up seems gone in an instant, and leaves me wondering if I’ve been through something. When the act’s sole member reflects on the past year by sneering “Does it have to be this way? / Does it have to be a struggle? / We wanna believe in something / Why not each other?” on the final track, I feel like someone just pulled out the splinter, so maybe I have.

Eva Ras Kada Odlaziš cassette

This is an exceptionally harsh collection of sounds from Serbia’s EVA RAS. Emo-violence (still) gets thrown around a lot as a subgenre descriptor, but this tape is unquestionably violent in the way that early Scandi-BM was just unmusically and seemingly unnecessarily harsh. Chaotic screamo with no bass and sub-60 second bursts of complete fucking chaos—you have to look back to MOHINDER to find anything approximating this kind of desperate brutality. Apparently there are only twelve physical copies (?!?!), so best hit the link below…

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.

Liquid Assets Offshore Accounts cassette

Now we’re talking. A Canadian band of weird hardcore punk à la SCHOOL JERKS or BRUTAL KNIGHTS, releasing a cassette on a Malaysian label? Honestly, it checks all my boxes. The strongest part of LIQUID ASSETS is their sound. A vintage, rare garage sound, backed by simple yet effective riffs and a crabbed, unintelligible mumble instead of vocals. The kind of deranged music you freaks would dig, as if it came out of the cell of a psychiatric hospital. The songs are really short and straight to the point (just two of them last more than two minutes). Half of the time you feel like you’re in the basement of a bunch of suburban misfits, improvising over old GERMS records, smoking pot and getting drunk while recording everything you play. In short, this is a great record, really witty to hear, and I suppose, even funnier to have recorded it.

Mandible Klaw Mankind Grind LP

These guys hail from way up in Calgary, Canada and to be honest, with the winters they get up there I’d expect something more genuinely aggressive-sounding to come outta the place, but MANDIBLE KLAW don’t deliver us that. Instead, we get thirteen tracks of ultra-clean crossover thrash in the usual party tradition, complete with a nod to the Home Improvement theme song. It reminds me of a million other bands from a period not so long ago in the mid-2000s; its speed never quite reaches a level to be impressive, and the pissed-off vocals just sound inauthentic. Call me cynical all you want, but this sounds like a record that I’ve already heard a thousand times before—and after a year with more than enough to be fucking livid with, I’m after something actually pissed-off.

Möwer Grand Punk EP

Fist-banging metalpunk from Pittsburgh—fans of INEPSY, SKITKIDS and the like need to get in line for MÖWER fucking pronto. I know they are several releases into their career but Grand Punk feels like a band realized, and they sound like a machine…and few things sound better to me right now than being half in the bag in a sweaty-ass basement listening to “Burn It Down” burning so hard it makes my ears bleed. Also, I just used the word “career” in a review.

Nulla Osta / Warfare split LP

Fist-banging, mid-paced rock’n’roll-tinged punk from Italy’s WARFARE—nice forceful gravel to the vocals, and the leads are appropriately (never overly) anthemic. On the flip, Croatia’s NULLA OSTA are gruffer, rougher, heavier, and drop killer bass runs when they pick up the pace on tracks like ”Jebeš Sve Od Reda.” Listening to both bands, I feel like it’s 1997 and I’m in a Southern European squat at 3:00 AM…I’m wasted, so is everyone else, there are four more bands left to play, and I don’t have a ride back to the sleeping spot anyway. It’s that kind of “fuck it,” and that’s a good kind of “fuck it.”

Panic Bodies Lost Weekend demo cassette

If nothing else, 2020 is surely going to be the year of the solo recording projects. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to shows, so I’m also not complaining. PANIC BODIES are snappy garage punk, little hints of classic punk melody (remember how OBSERVERS dropped the hooks in but still sounded punk as shit? Yeah…like that), super bright and guitar-driven power punk. Choice cut “After Hours” starts to veer into hard and steady dark punk territory, which I fully endorse. Sounds timeless…because, well, I suppose many of us have the time these days.

Paracetamøl Behave LP

Blatantly brilliant LP from The Netherlands, I just keep listening and then I remember that I’m supposed to write about it. Which is hard, because PARACETAMØL hits a lot of nerves but are doing their thing. There’s a garage tinge, but Behave is well produced and sonically advanced, full bodied and accessible punk that you can easily see appealing to a wider “audience.” Like, draw a line between DREAMDECAY and the BLIND SHAKE…and walk that line very very carefully until you fall.