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.

The Beat Index Volume One: Juvenilia cassette

Madison, WI-based pandemic solo project. Poppy rock’n’roll hooks mixed with electronic synth-pop/synthwave/new wave. There are some real dreamy, pretty songs on this. I honestly don’t know how much appeal this will have to punkers/freakers, and I know I’m no expert in the electro/synthwave world, but I think my man Bobby from No Coast Records might have a real hit on his hands here with the BEAT INDEX. The pop sensibility on this cassette is remarkable and undeniable.

Capricörn Lost in the Shell CD

These French blokes obviously worship at the sacred altar of Eurosleaze giants such as TURBONEGRO, GLUECIFER, and the HELLACOPTERS, as well as the well-known band from whose song they took their name. Pernod-drenched, hard-iron-forged Marshall stack mayhem with a huge hard-on for American muscle cars. Some of the songs are damn catchy, too. Check out “Asphalt Digger” for noted reference. It’s a little generic at times, but when you’re doing 160 km/h it’s really hard to change the tape. Go on. Give it a spin.

Coachwhips Devil Uptown cassette

Girlsville really digging deep with the COACHWHIPS nuggets over the last few years, and I thank them for it. Four cuts here—a synth-drenched swamp dirge outtake from 2002’s Hands on the Controls and three rough and tumble demo tracks (“Get Yer Body Next Ta Mine” and two others). Fidelity out the window, these early COACHWHIPS excursions are confident and raunchy garage punk protein; vocals demented beyond words and music stripped down to the roots all bluesy and full of not a care in the world. And loud—it needs to be loud.

Decadent Few Lowlife LP

The timelessly-named DECADENT FEW seem to have existed in whatever remained of the Londan anarcho scene in the  late-’80s to early-’90s. Lowlife compiles an unreleased session from 1988 as well as some compilation and 7” tracks, and is every bit enjoyable as their Irrehuus LP. DECADENT FEW is among the clever bands that can strike a single riff or two for three to four minutes and somehow engage me and put me in a trance at the same time. They chose to include a cover of JOY DIVISION’s “Shadowplay” to further demonstrate this. Segments of sparse guitars create a push-and-pull effect over a steady-going rhythm section. But it would be irresponsible for me to not draw attention to the dramatic and theatrical vocal stylings of Kaya, which is really the most unique characteristic this band had to offer. Think SOUTHERN DEATH CULT but more…witchy? Some may find them a bit over the top, but that’s exactly what has always drawn me to this band. The sleeve looks lovely and the glossy fold-out insert has a couple nice gothy black-and-white band photos and lots of cool flyers, but I’d have liked some lyrics. A must for all of you UK anarcho romantics.

The Drippers Action Rock LP

Well shit, it’s 1997 all over again and certain punkers are donning skintight denim and mirrored shades, feathering their hair and applying glitter selectively. The Scandi-death-glitter-punk sounds were coming fast and hard through labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry and Man’s Ruin, and San Francisco was dead center for the action. We’re talking BACKYARD BABIES, HELLACOPTERS, TURBONEGRO, and GLUECIFER, and now some 23 years later (it was really hard to do that math) we have the DRIPPERS picking up the torch.They even dug up the moldy glitter-ridden corpse of the guy who produced some of those classic records to mix this gem of a recording. Like all of the aforementioned bands (except for maybe TURBONEGRO), the weak spot is the vocals. I don’t know what it is, but the Scandis can rock like a mutha but the singers are icy and emotionless. The best cuts here for me are “Langgatan,” “White Light” and “Finskt Blod.” Now, like then, the influences are HANOI ROCKS, the STOOGES, MC5, MOTÖRHEAD and the ROLLING STONES. Hopefully this band rocks harder live than the disappointing shows witnessed by those other bands (except for TURBONEGRO) back in the day. Still, it’s a pretty smokin good time.

Drug Lust No One Is Home EP

A satisfying blast of rough-around-the-edges hardcore. Frantic drumming and riffing over Cappo-goes-to-Cleveland vocals, with straight edge songwriting influences showing up in subtle and sometimes less subtle ways throughout the record, though you might not guess it if it weren’t for the X’d up mosher on the cover. The slow-burner finale, “Pittsburgh ’18,” is the best of the bunch.

Escapism Equivocation cassette

I encourage putting things like this into as many hands and ears as possible, so the Moon Decay reissue is more than welcome. Impassioned screamo from Poland—I’m pretty sure that the sound is old enough to be considered retro at this point—but ESCAPISM reaches into the chaotic world of ’90s European monsters like AKEPHAL and when I hear that shit I am like mush…I want to absorb everything. Chaotic, erratic, intense, genuine…emotional hardcore embodied. You can feel the room full of kids clutching themselves and screaming You have to realize” at the start of “Teenage Anarchist Observations,” and you want to be in that room. With those kids. One of those kids. Realizing.

Execütors / Male Patterns split EP

Grinding, harsh, gangly garage hardcore from EXECÜTORS. Soloing, maniacal-laughing streetwalking punk like GANG GREEN meets a NAILBITER hardcore attack. Anthemic at the heart with an irreverent attitude. Two tracks of no-fucks-given arcade-era hardcore. MALE PATTERNS play at a lower register, such as BUTCHER, with a MOTÖR-charged tempo that quickly roughens up the songs like some serious uppers. Drums triplet with accomplishment where it’s not even necessary, adding some interesting licks. Vocals are spat in kick-time with even more resentment and destruction than Side A. Together, this split offers all-go bitterness that sounds different, but flows together like the foulest brothers on the block. EXECÜTORS, MALE PATTERNS, what awfulness happened to you guys? Intimidated to even ask about it.

F.E.I.D.L. Glaub Da Nix EP

F.E.I.D.L. is a garage-y post-punk band from Vienna. They play repetitive beats topped with fuzzy guitars. The bass and drums stomp out a catchy, yet mechanical locomotive chug. Based solely on their sound the vocals seem frank and earnest. I have no idea what they are saying so they could be really sarcastic and silly which would make me happy. Mixing all of that together F.E.I.D.L. gives off a detached type of cool noise that’s appealing to my ears.

Krigshoder Krig I Hodet cassette

A transnational project between members of BLAZING EYE from USA and NEGATIVE from Norway, settling their sound closer to European HC, playing on full-throttle pace with mildly distorted guitars and restless songwriting. It’s top-shelf hardcore craftmanship from knowledge and enthusiasm for the music. I am sure the lyrics are dealing with exact issues—the vocals balancing between angst and irony—and it’s appreciated they are in Norwegian, although it’s obvious KRIGSHODER primarily loves merciless hardcore performed at neckbreak speed so the main event is when they realize they can be even harder and faster, so they try and play even harder, and it works. They are capable of doing so and it is entertaining, as a machine or algorithm which is fulfilling your desires. The worst thing I can say about this tape is I do not find my entrance on it. I do understand why people are excited over it, yet it does nothing to me even after a couple dozen re-listens. Neither does it bother me—it’s not that it is bad, but it has a similar function as those current labels whose main focus is putting out reissues. It’s cool, even if it is important, it makes a lot of people happy yet it’s weird and not in the way that makes the punk I love the best thing in the world.

Long Knife Night of the Hunter / Rough Liver 7″

An absolute monster from Portland’s answer to Portland’s Kings of Punk. As on previous releases, LONG KNIFE wear their influences on their sleeve—POISON IDEA, heavy metal, Japanese hardcore—and they own every fucking note. These two tracks lean heavily on burning metal leads, which rocks (of course) and makes the record feel more honest. And on the subject of honesty, the lyrics read like Bukowski nihilism, taking heady stock of the reality you’ve made while keeping a cautious eye over your shoulder as a reminder of how real things can get. Living fast is fun, dying young is glamorous, but finding your place in the next chapter is the real challenge. LONG KNIFE isn’t dwelling on it, but you can feel the struggle fighting in the grooves. Great band, and this two song slammer might be their best release.

Optic Sink Optic Sink LP

OPTIC SINK is the latest project from Natalie Hoffmann of NOTS, giving her an opportunity to explore some of the darker electronic influences that have been brought into that band’s wiry post-punk approach over the course of their last few records. Pairing up with percussionist Ben Bauermeister for this debut LP, Hoffman creates strobing, analog synth-driven soundscapes guided by early minimal wave and electro-industrial outfits like the NORMAL and CABARET VOLTAIRE, with her detached-yet-commanding delivery of lines like “Can’t survive / You’ll always try” (from “Personified”) and “You can watch yourself / Under glass” (in the social media-as-identity-performance critique “Exhibitionist”) only underscoring the insistently paranoid instrumental pulse. In the year 2020, when the term “dystopian” gets thrown around at seemingly every turn to describe music that in any way reflects the harsh truths of the countless oppressive systems governing our daily realities, this is one record that truly earns that qualifier—if you’re up for it, embrace the void.

Parnepar Dobar Dan, Izvolite cassette

Whenever I mention international hardcore or punk, I refer to the variety of the worldwide representation of this art form. I am aware of how archaic it sounds, because scenes as individual sounds and characteristics are on the brink of extinction. The local resonance is vanishing; instead we have a list of variations for punk that is followed internationally and strictly, recreating globalized forms, appearances and manners. The scenes are not providing distinguishable interpretations to the same influences when the reference point is a genre-defining band, nor do they express their own unique conditions in their own unique way. A great part of contemporary punk is basically worship-core. Then we have bands like PARNEPAR from Croatia that rely on the musical history of their region, yet it’s surprising how they are not trying at all to fit in with current punk and still they do. It’s not alien or old fashioned, just unique and refreshingly strange. Their approach is rather naive and introverted, the disconnection is keeping them from trying to prove anything. So they play barely distorted, fragmented to a demented rhythm art-punk/no wave with scary and alienated overtones. They draw influence from the Yugosalvian punk scene but—maybe due to its rarity—it does not feel reused and exhausted, their sound is modern but not in a polished way. It’s strange, fun, dissonant and haunted. While it has a great flow, the music is so fragmented it both motivates and enables listeners to move to. The slowly creeping guitars and the determined drums are taking the lead roles, vocals are barely more than spoken word presentation of the lyrics although it is never ridiculous for its seriousness, since this is not serious, it’s just art. PARNEPAR is an interesting, unique band who demands your time, openness and ability to see punk as a place for outsiders even among the outsiders.

Permanent Residue Permanent Residue cassette

Slick and snotty pop-punk from Chicago featuring members of CANADIAN RIFLE. This tape looks like it was made by some goofy teens at Kinko’s and sounds like it was made by some punks with decades of writing and recording under their belts. The vocals oscillate between acrobatic and straight up obnoxious, but I think that’s on purpose. The instrumental interludes are excellent. Fans of FLESHIES, DILLINGER FOUR and the like will definitely want to check this out.

Pi$$er Crushed Down to Paste LP

I’m certainly intrigued when the first track is called “Jazz Wasps.” Holy shit, I haven’t heard anything with horns in a while. And to hear it working in a punk record is wild and surprising. This is like if the poetic rhythm of INSTIGATORS played as hard as SPITE UK or POLICE BASTARD but with saxophones! The bold venture alone is worth acknowledgement, but damn, I’m really moved by this. Fire solos, steady D-beat with slightly snotty, slightly robotic vocals. Chaos ensues! Some tracks are as fast and outrageous as GAUZE, others as heavy and classically-driven as DOOM. As a saxophone player in my youth, I kind of always wanted to trill over hardcore punk or even ambient black metal, and I find PI$$ER hugely inspiring. The horns are complementary to both guitar and bass—not to be ignored, but in no way steer the intention away from punk. This seriously fucking works! And I’m going nowhere near the “S-word.” More like JOHN ZORN playing DISCHARGE, SORE THROAT, or PLEASANT VALLEY CHILDREN. War-siren, dismal alto octave dissidence as fuck. Lyrics about living and learning and gaining those experiences. “Life = Art / Art = Life!,” as it says in the liner notes. Agreed. I’m not going to get into the amazing band connections this group has, that is not the point. This is totally new. A rad project you’ve done here, PI$$ER.

Pink Steel Here We Go Again EP

PINK STEEL is proof of what can happen with a resource-strong support system, i.e. an enthusiastic high school drama department. Looking past the boner joke (I mean, we’re talking about teenage boys), the story told within perfectly explains the unique blend of punk, power pop, and theatrical bliss of this formative Victoria, BC septet. Yes, seven members. Both of their hard-to-find 7”s are included here, six songs resequenced, presumably to best fit all the material onto one fairly long 7”. Highlights are “My Girl’s Radioactive” and “Won’t Come in Your Hand,” mostly because of the lyrics. The piano tinkle is what shifts their upbeat and aggressively adolescent sound into something more profound. If you are relying on online streaming to enjoy Supreme Echo releases you are doing it wrong. The research and care that goes into the interview and liner notes here elevates these recordings, putting things into proper context and making the physical release essential. Your eyes will bulge at the flyer for “The Alandhiscar X-Mas Party” lineup from 1982, featuring PINK STEEL, the NEOS, and NOMEANSNO. I already know my high school years were bullshit, but give me a break, Victoria. Obvious pickup.

Ray Gun Lunkhead EP

This one starts off really noisily. “Lunkhead” is screeching vocals and distorted guitar squawks. It’s all over modulated and wild. As the EP continues, things settle down a bit ending with the more lo-fi poppiness of “I Am the Rat.” The vocals on the song are panicky, but the music has become cleaner and more garage-y. I like it.

Sex Reasons Guilty All Around cassette

This tape combines the band’s summer 2018 demo and four new tracks. The latter are plodding, scathing feminist hardcore delivered at full intensity. Hardcore breakdowns are always my favorite part, but these breakdowns take it up a notch and sound like a powerful hell-demon running at full force through a block of frozen molasses. The faintest hint of delay in the vocals in exactly the right places drags the sound into hardcore’s current era. The demo tracks are rougher, faster, and more brutal, as to be expected. Don’t miss this.

Siggy Magic and the Hey Hoe Band Commercials for Free EP

KBD raer that would go straight to Graham Booth in MRR days of yore. Apparently this is a fake punk band put together for a movie soundtrack; it just sounds like a shambolic but thuggish rockarolla work out to me. No hooks or charisma, just brash falling apart clang. I can see this having appeal to certain wild minds for sure though but it is not really something I would ever listen to again?! I prefer the freaky sounds of REMO VOOR or ELECTRIC EELS for this feeling. If you liked BLAST (the Belgian proto punk band not the SST band) you might like this?

Skinned Teen Radio Session EP

One of the paragon teenage girl-punk combos of the 1990s is back, in a manner of speaking! The four tracks on this new EP were originally recorded as part of a 1993 radio session, with Niki Eliot of like-minded UK Riot Grrrl insurrectionists HUGGY BEAR joining in on drums and backing vocals—takes on “Pillowcase Kisser” and “Starch” from the SKINNED TEEN/RAOOUL split LP are both represented, along with the oft-comped “Straight Girl” and the otherwise-unreleased “Nancy Drew.” There’s all of the anyone-can-do-it skeletal punk spark and schoolyard-chant catchiness that defined the band’s early EPs, with the inclusion of some toy percussion on the two B-side tracks that casts SKINNED TEEN as the ’90s spiritual heirs to Y PANTS’ starkly minimalist and playfully feminist ’80s art-pop. The exact intersection of everything that punk should always be—ramshackle, economical, deviously smart, the product of minds that have too often been excluded from the conversation. Limited to 200 copies and already sold out from the source; do whatever needs to be done to acquire your own.

The Umbrellas Maritime EP

Dreamy warm pop from San Francisco, sounds like it could be from Glasgow or some secret Paisley Underground jangle enclave; that warm California psychedelicate sound for fans of the PASTELS, CAMERA OBSCURA and BARBARA MANNING…music made by and for cool girls who work in record stores. If you are seeking out something effervescent-yet-melancholy for these trying times, this might be the solution, at least for a little while. I think this might be sold out but check distros! They have an LP coming out next year on Slumberland, too.

Vacum Rädd För Tystnaden / Korstag 2xLP

I only know VACUM from the perspective of being a very casual collector of early Swedish punk. Rather than being the singles collection I expected, this is their 1980 debut LP with a 2018 recording called Korstag packaged into a gatefold double LP. Starting with the first album, VACUM displays an impressively varied sound injected with elements of punk, post-punk, and even some ’70s progressive rock, making for an engaging listen that remains interesting 40 years later. The songwriting is innovative but retains the urgency of early legends like EBBA GRÖN or KSMB. The Korstag session predictably emanates more modern studio magic and a “mature rock” sound, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t get sucked into some great choruses. At its best, there’s a bit of the rhythmic and vocal command of KILLING JOKE in their reformed sound. To be honest, I don’t think I’d pick Korstag up as a record buyer, so packing it in with the reissue of the debut LP is a well-played move. Massproduktion has been releasing records since all the way back to the bonzer-fide MASSMEDIA and PIZZOAR EPs, so you can rest assured the presentation of this collection is top-notch, though it’s worth noting all liner notes are in Swedish. Reportedly only 210 copies, oh dear.

The Yearners 2020 EP cassette

Three-song cassette on Dirt Cult Records. Very much what you would expect from the label—incredibly catchy indie-leaning pop punk, exactly what I thought I was getting. Only three songs? What a tease! It seems the band members live far apart from one another, but hopefully they get together again soon and crank out more songs ’cause this is really poppy and fun and I’ve already listened to it three times in a row.

V/A …So This Is Progress? 002 7″ flexi

This flexi mini-comp is included in a 16-page zine of disposable camera photos taken between 2001-2007 in California featuring 38 bands! So let’s get right to it; KIRITIERRA remind me of a more metallic NEGAZIONE; SACRIFYX recall CRUDE SS and FINAL CONFLICT; JEFFREY DONGER brought me back to LACK OF INTEREST and PLUTOCRACY. KRATOM seemed very OP IVY at first, then laid down a more BLACK FLAG sound. NERVOUS AGGRESSION plays like CAPITALIST CASUALTIES with the A-political voice of AXIOM. Pretty damn good and the photo zine is no slacker either. Photos of AFTER THE BOMBS, DYSTOPIA, MUNICIPAL WASTE, MELT BANANA, ANNIHILATION TIME, INSECT WARFARE and many others. A nice like celebration piece in a year where we can hardly see each other’s faces.

Brandy The Gift of Repetition LP

We can all agree that 2020 sucks. For months, when I have been getting down or am feeling lethargic or just need a boost of energy, I have been putting on the first track off this album “(Wish You Was) Madball Baby” and it picks me right up. I cannot sit still nor stop singing along when it is playing. It instantly improves my mood and gets me ready to deal with the next onslaught of bullshit. “(Wish You Was) Madball Baby” starts with a dance-y drumbeat then the bass plays this catchy riff and we’re off. The dual vocals have a call-and-response slash anthemic quality and the two voices perfectly complement each other. I don’t know what it means to be “madball,” but I am pretty sure I am. I love this song! Total Punk got me hooked months before Gift of Repetition came out so I was eagerly awaiting its arrival. It does not disappoint. Although “(Wish You Was) Madball Baby” will always remain my song, the other songs on this LP have similar qualities. The catchy combo of the drums and bass with the aggressive singing and tingling guitar noises. Fun fun fun. One of the few things to be happy about in 2020.

Chäpels Alight EP

Here are two songs of primitive metal out of Portland, Maine that dare to dip their toes into the petroleum sewage pond of stench core. This band is a little bit of a cleaner version though, like you can’t visibly see the stink lines coming off of them, but all of the essential elements are there. You’ve got the demon vocals, the constant double bass drum and the stoniest grooves. Think of a fresh-faced HELLBASTARD, and you get the idea. This is a solid first EP! I can see good things coming from this band!

Disbeware Disbeware cassette

This tape came with an encouraging note saying the guitar and drum duo is “by old punks out of Portland.” With a strong political bent, lo-fi recording, and drums mixed way down low, the songs can’t help but have a bit of a folk-punk vibe. The best parts are the scattered moments of off-key-but-somehow-melodic singing that you might recognize as the special sauce spicing up bands like SHOTWELL and HICKEY. The recording is so weird, and the songs are so slow and earnest, that it inspires nostalgia for the countless ephemeral basement-and-porch creations in small towns made by punks who probably grew up to be square…or went on to be famous. Liberated, self-aware, and a little gross.

DZTN 1980 Ode to a Dead Earth cassette

I can’t even imagine how many solo recording projects have popped up in Thee Time Of COVID—but I think it’s a lot. DTZN 1980 is the work of Dustin Herron from long-running Portland band ABOLITIONIST, and has cranked out four full releases in 2020. A self-described post-punk project, DTZN 1980 manifests as a brooding, subdued proto-anarcho/goth by way of art school—and then tracks like “Cut & Run” pop up like a gopher…before fading back into the earth. There’s a lot going on stylistically, but the presentation is minimal and the bass tends to take the lead. Overtly and unabashedly political, yet another (likely) aspect of the time (and place) of creation. I admit that I support Ode to a Dead Earth more than I actually like it, though tracks like “Bad Mentality” sounds like they come from another place in/and time, hitting a nerve that encourages me to go back and spend some dedicated time with the entire release (again).

DZTN 1980 War of Good Intentions cassette

A really interesting solo post-punk/synthwave type of project. It seems the creator of this project is really leaning into music as a way of coping with the global pandemic we are currently living in, already cranking out four different releases in 2020. This is an eight-song cassette, very heavy on the synth, all songs seeming to have a strong post-apocalyptic feel to them, and the subject matter seeming very much drawn on the times we are living in.

Escare Infinity Crime cassette

Advanced lifeform creates neanderthal and/or ethereal punk sounds. BEEFHEART meets ERASE ERRATA, and there’s this comforting lilt to the (main) vocals that I can’t shake. When they get caught in a jam (the end of “Brain Island” into the start of “Infinity Crime,” for example) this outfit is like a fukkn drug. If this is the New Sound Ov Punk then I am completely on board. Short, sharp bursts of creativity—and when they drop a hook (“Long Letters”) it’s one that doesn’t let go.

Gag Still Laughing LP

After their disappointing previous full-length America’s Greatest Hits, I lost track of GAG and was surprised they still exist. I was also immediately interested in how they handle a second LP. Again their cover art concludes it well: Life is a strange mess, where overwhelmingly awkward events are at same time funny and frightening. So they laugh. There is an idea in which humor equals aggression and while this record is fun, there is a coping process that transforms their violent inputs into entertainment in a rather-laugh-than-cry way. It’s American hardcore rewound back to a crossroad where it already got jock-ish but kept its psychopath, lunatic vibe instead of its later form where it turned to ridiculously thugish. GAG’s record does as well, reacts angrily to the frozen madness of reality in an overpowering, unsophisticated way. Although here the anger invites, not deters. This comes through the riff-heavy record, where if one is killer then there is not gonna be any filler. The parts are ignorant but laid out in a meticulous system, tricked enough to keep the record constantly fun. It is fun if you love dumb hardcore, which despite how predictable it is, still transmits its physical influence. The imposing riffs are occasionally played in an airy manner, giving enough pace-space for the drums to break free from a forced, up-tempo simplification; the bridges are so effective it is ridiculous; elements from NO TREND-ish mindfuck appear and fit well. Not really getting the concept behind the intro/outro, since they sound so alien. Why they do not match with the body of the record is because this is not an experimenting, reinventing, transforming or redefining record of hardcore. It is and happens within hardcore. It can make fun of it, but even when it does, it does not demolish its walls, but reflects on the joy of the music. Which is great, and after all we are too trapped in a fucking celestial object and we got to make the best out of this imprisonment.

Human Failure / Throne of Blood Stock Pile split EP

These two likeminded but very different bands out of Baltimore deliver total sonic pandemonium with this one. HUMAN FAILURE hurls three ugly tracks that land somewhere in between BOLT THROWER and UNHOLY GRAVE, with BASTARD NOISE-style harsh electronics piercing through the whole thing. If there was a god of war, this is what it would sound like if they threw up.  THRONE OF BLOOD mixes old school hardcore punk rage with noise rock delirium. Like if D.C. punks in the ’80s were into free jazz and psychedelic freak-outs instead of dub reggae. You want to fuck up your reality? Start here.

Invalid Do Not Resuscitate cassette

If anyone ever tries to give you the argument that hardcore sucks now or that it ended in the year blah-blah-blah, tell that fool to shut up and make them listen to this tape. My god, this is absolute perfection. This is what hardcore should be. It should come as no surprise that this rips so hard when you look at the all-star lineup of Pittsburgh, PA lifelong punkers involved in this project. If you like hardcore punk and are interested in what dudes from EEL, BLOOD PRESSURE, AUS-ROTTEN, CAUSTIC CHRIST, and about a billion other bands are doing in the modern day, stop what you’re doing and listen to the almighty INVALID!

Kay Odyssey Knock Out! cassette

Like an unearthed ’80s college rock reject, Texas mutant/s KAY ODYSSEY are to CONCRETE BLONDE what GIRLS AT OUR BEST are to R.E.M. Instantly familiar and totally weird—and you think the tweak is in the vocals, but there’s a thing that they do with late ’80s late night radio rock that hits just fucking right. If you’re still reading this and you can sing the chorus to LONE JUSTICE’s “Ways to Be Wicked” then KAY ODYSSEY is right up your alley. And if you don’t know that song…well, there’s an internet for a reason.

Pledge Drive Second Impressions cassette

Theatrical and fun post-punk energy with sassy lyrics laced into a gloriously complex wall of sound. With a six-piece band including guitar, bass, synth, and a sax there’s a reason it sounds like lot is going on. The creativity and groove of the tracks truly warrants an X-RAY SPEX reference. For anyone who had the luck of running into Worcester, Massachusetts’s SECRET LOVER, there is a lot in common with their sound, too. The band’s proclamation of being “famous for friendliness” is also pretty irresistible in my book.

Pre-Cog in the Bunker What If CD

This is a sci-fi post-punk duo from Italy. No bass musically, just synth, guitar, and drums. This has ’90s lo-fi leanings and does get noisy; I like the synth when it’s there. Songs are OK but nothing really stood out after a few listens. Sometimes sounding like old-style US punk songs missing the bass.

R.Aggs Tape 1 cassette

If the name wasn’t an intuitive hint, R.AGGS is the lockdown-spawned solo project from Rachel Aggs, modern guitar hero and vocalist in SHOPPING, TRASH KIT, and SACRED PAWS. The completely self-recorded Tape 1 isn’t a major departure from any of those groups, and it’s almost like observing each of them through high magnification under a microscope, with Rachel’s signature hybrid post-punk/highlife inspirations stripped down to new minimal extremes. “Back of My Hand” and “Sky Is Falling” both pick up TRASH KIT’s post-RAINCOATS tendencies toward overlapping vocals, bright guitar and scratchy violin and throw in some subtle electronics that bubble just below the surface, while tracks like “Welcoming the Waves” and “Side By Side” are largely given over to pulsating, synthesized beats and coolly-recited lyrical mantras, with those trademark spindly, single-note guitar lines cutting in mostly as supporting elements. Best of all is the metronomic and very YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS-ish bass-centered sparseness of “Tell Us Yourself” and “Speeding,” the latter featuring a repeated chant of “They told you jump / You said how high” that could have easily been one SHOPPING’s fiery and tightly-wound dancefloor calls-to-arms, but which takes on a completely different gravity in such a stark, raw context. Most of the newly-realized quarantine home-recording projects that are popping up lately could only aspire to be this good.

Shitload The COVID Sessions cassette

New Orleans noizecore project. SHITLOAD takes elements from all different kinds of extreme music and kinda mixes them all in together. The mid-tempo grimy riffs are pretty catchy, and I find myself wanting more of that. Tracks that stay in that realm like “Hang On” are super cool and I dig a lot. However, whenever it kicks into grindcore speed, the “drums” just sound like a non-stop machine gun. Twenty-one tracks of that is a lot to digest in one sitting, but tons of respect for how busy this dude’s been to crank out this much stuff all post-COVID.

The Snubs 2505AD LP

Melodic Seattle punkers who probably enjoy the CLOROX GIRLS and ’70s rock staples, and who definitely enjoy re-watching Idiocracy, attempting to conflate said liberal eugenics take with the current fascist moment. Their lyrics tell tales of wacky dystopia scenarios in between lashing out at assorted stripes of stupid bullshit, be it do-nothing liberals, the right, or being displaced to Lynnwood (a generic suburb where my dad used to live—it sucks) as the latest victim of Condo-zilla eating up one’s neighborhood. Musically, it’s competent and fun, if not memorable, though I’d go catch them at the Ballard Firehouse if it hadn’t been turned into a fancy restaurant.

Special Interest The Passion Of LP

I gotta say it. SPECIAL INTEREST make me horny as fuck. Really. It’s the music I want to hear in the backroom of the leather bar instead of the endless tired techno and classic rock. Just get out your old Crisco-coated VHS copy of Cruising, put on any bar scene (not the GERMS one), turn down the volume, slap on “Disco III” and let the poppers fly. Spiraling was totally one of the best albums of 2018, and while The Passion Of may be a little less raw and primitive, it is still punk as fuck and fierce as hell. For the uninitiated or blissfully ignorant, SPECIAL INTEREST is the band you wanted to hear when all the glossy rags were blowing air about the second coming of No Wave, the Lower East Side in the ’90s, and posers like the YEAH YEAH YEAHS. It makes me think of groundbreaking queer punk like the SCREAMERS, LE TIGRE, or NERVOUS GENDER with some TANGERINE DREAM thrown in, backed with a trunk-thumping Miami bass beat and a Southern charm that makes it all sweet and OK as your head is bludgened in. To me, The Passion Of sees the band finding its confidence and creating a fully realized piece of art. The ominous openings of “Drama” slap into the hard thump of part three of the “Disco” trilogy (hopefully more?), followed by the breakout hit of the plague, “Don’t Kiss Me In Public.”’ “All Tomorrow’s Carry” is a slow drive-by headbanger while “A Depravity Such As This” is a delicious druggy sin. They educate you with the stomping-on-whitey anthem of “Homogenized Milk,” while “Head” is a personal B&D psychodrama. “Tina” is chemical Hades. “Passion” is synth violence. “Street Pulse Beat” drags you through the gutter looking gorgeous, and lastly, “With Love” kinda magically pulls it all together leaving you spent of fluids, vacant and smiling. Multiple showers and a good therapy session may be needed after listening. I can see SPECIAL INTEREST getting really big from this one and lord, they deserve it.

Spyroids Paperboy EP

I have been watching a lot of Survival Research Laboratories videos this week and this SPYROIDS record fits right in with that mindset. The music is a throwback to the electronic sounds of the ’80s. The keyboards are cheesy in the best possible way and very peppy. They set an interesting foundation for the madman vocals. His style is aggressive and manic. It’s familiar yet demented. It’s catchy yet annoying. It makes me smile.

Tower 7 Entrance to a Living Organism cassette

TOWER 7 is a new band from New York with members of KALEIDOSCOPE and this strange tape is their debut. It’s way more advanced than a demo—even its runtime, almost 20 minutes for eight songs, is longer than most current hardcore band’s full-length 12”s usually are. Urgency is an appreciated feature in hardcore, although TOWER 7 dares to take their time and build a larger and more deliberate work than to rush through a potentially collapsing structure. Many of the songs are mid-tempo, recalling anarcho crossover bands like ANTI-SYSTEM, A//SOLUTION, a less hectic ELECTRO HIPPIES and SUBVERT. The this-is-more-than-music vibes reminisces the ’90s activist hardcore movement, especially within the vocals, and when the metal riffs lose rhythm they remind me of South American ultra metal bands. Quite a few influences to handle but TOWER 7 distills it to their own unique form and they offer enough space and time to digest it. It’s a gradual process to have the music grow over me, although the breakthrough is not guarded by my resistance; instead it is a playful experience to find my way among the many elements. If you are into crusty hardcore that is not blackened, atmospheric, didactic or any of those horrible sub-styles; but dirty, passionate and is about daily politics that are experienced by its performers, then TOWER 7 is a great choice. In short, if you like good things, check them out.

Western Addiction Frail Bray CD

This local band cranks out the melodic hardcore à la GOOD RIDDANCE and STRIKE ANYWHERE. Probably as hardcore as Fat Records puts out. Uptempo, angry, and good screaming vocals. Don’t expect feel-good music in the mix here. Good music for bad-mood people.

The Zits Back in Blackhead LP

Hands down the winner for “Most Adorable Punk Record of the Year.” The ZITS are well (or not) known for their Killed by Death masterpiece, the “Sick on You / Beat Your Face” single, which the band pre-sold to their friends to get the dough to make. Both songs appear here remastered from the original eight-track tape, along with tons of surprisingly good-sounding demos and live tracks with hilarious in-between song banter. While the rest of the country was embacing the sounds of hardcore, these Oakton High School teens were cranking out sugary, innocently offensive numbers like “Bertha Was a Slut” inspired by early RAMONES and UNDERTONES (they cover “Can’t Get Over You” here). Other greats like “Opera Show” and “Euh Baby Euh” are criminal in the fact that they weren’t released until now. Feel It Records spared no expense in packaging and content, and there’s a great band history that I won’t bore you with here. Needless to say, the ZITS tragically ended when high school ended for these boys. If you can picture Ralph Malph and Richie Cunningham starting a punk band, you’d get an idea of what to expect here. It’s a clear sell, or is that Clearasil? Har har har.

Astaron Astaron LP reissue

ASTARON was the “two-frauen” Viennese duo of Angie Mörth and Martina Aichhorn, formed in 1984 as a synthesis of their shared creative interests in both music and performance art. The pair’s 1987 full-length was originally released in one small run of 500 copies and has become something of a dark/minimal wave touchstone in the years since, and it’s now finally back in print thanks to this reissue. ASTARON’s combination of intertwining vocals—one part dreamy and ethereal, one part icy and commanding—over clattering drum machine and bewitched synth in tracks like “The Burning” and “Burst Out” could be read as the Austrian response to mid-to-late-’80s groups in neighboring Germany like MALARIA! and XMAL DEUTSCHLAND who were bridging rigid post-punk and darkly gothic drama, while the gauzy drone of “In An Absence” navigates early 4AD territory and the sharp, punctuated rhythms of “As Time Joins In” lurk in some SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES-adjacent shadows. But really, there’s so many cool and captivating sounds to get lost in here, even if you’re resolutely not a part of the big-hair-and-eyeliner crowd!

The Clinch Basecamp LP

Melbourne streetpunk/Oi! types the CLINCH return with an album full of pint-spilling, get-yer-mate-in-a-headlock-at-last-orders anthems which completely took me by surprise. It has all the hallmarks of a classic album of the genre replete with full-throated gang vocal choruses and soaring no-nonsense riffs that touch upon ROSE TATTOO or COLOURED BALLS at their rock’n’rolliest in parts. So far, so streetpunk. However beneath this beer-battered exterior lay some unexpectedly nuanced and thoughtful lyrics, far far beyond the usual fare for your garden variety streetpunk. Stand out track “Basecamp” has a chorus that is so catchy I’ll end up humming it for years to come. Well worth a spin, good on ya lads.

Endless Bore Treatment Resistant cassette

Second album from Melbourne, Australia-based ENDLESS BORE. Fifteen tracks of stripped-down, by-the-numbers hardcore with tough breakdowns and vocal stylings you’d more likely expect to hear in a crust or D-beat band than a straightforward tough hardcore outfit. That of course isn’t to say that they aren’t fitting for one another.

F= The Erotic Power of F= 12″

F= is a UK-based collective of feminist artists and academics (or as they refer to themselves on their website, “an interdisciplinary research group”) at Leeds Beckett University who have turned to writing spare electro-punk songs, four of which make up this debut 12”, as another vehicle in their efforts to dismantle the patriarchy. If you were even remotely involved in a DIY subculture and also taking Women’s Studies classes in the early-to-mid-2000s (real talk, I am absolutely including myself in that population), that overview alone will likely evoke some very specific visions of what one could reasonably expect here—CHICKS ON SPEED, obviously, plus TRACY AND THE PLASTICS, and to a lesser extent, LE TIGRE/JULIE RUIN. And at their most charged-up, F= do in fact follow the lead of that turn-of-the-millennium wave of electroclash groups setting gender theory to synthesized dance beats, but they also just as often explore slower-burning, drawn-out rhythms with percolating electronics and intersecting chanted/shouted vocals that suggest a more technologically-inclined version of the punky-reggae-earth-goddess vibe of the SLITS’ ’80s-era material. The lyrical sentiments are all fairly right-on and self-explanatory (“It’s Easy Being in a Band,” “Female Friendship,” etc.), but taken as a whole, the songs are just a little too dry and lacking the sort of friction and asymmetry that’s pulled me into the music of so many other similarly-minded feminist punk and post-punk firebrands throughout the years.

The Fog Into the Fog cassette

If the first-song-as-intro was supposed to lure me into the fog, it didn’t work. Bland, mid-paced metallic hardcore that just kinda plods along without hooks or groove. Even when it picks up the pace in that too-tough-for-top-speed sort of way—Victory Records Fast, anyone?—you’re just like “why bother?” The second side has a little more energy and considerably better songwriting, but doesn’t permeate into “memorable.”