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 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 1982 has grown to become the largest collection of punk records in the world.

The Smarthearts On the Line LP

If you like your power pop as crunchy, sugary and addictive as your favorite childhood cereal, On the Line will have you slurping the milk dregs from the bowl. Timeless riffs choogle along while guitar hooks interplay with effortless precision, as the vocals push ever-so-slightly into the red. The SMARTHEARTS fall somewhere between the retro revivalism of GENTLEMAN JESSE and the classic ’70s FM of early TOM PETTY. If this sounds up your street, you will probably not be disappointed. 

Sudor Causa General 12″

It surprised me SUDOR still exists and records. Causa General is hard to pin to a specific sub-style that generously offers its relics to successors, it is balancing on the edge between fast punk and low-key hardcore. The exceptional thing about the record is how it has nothing to prove—it’s not trying to be anything—and within this rail-lacking zone, they have to stand on their own. While the autonomy drips from every chord, and likely there is a huge archive as an inspiration, I am seeking for something to hold onto. Nothing is under or over-portioned and while it could be mediocre, the record avoids that trap, too. SUDOR sounds dry, which peaks in a scratching rawness, closer to a sandpaper than a chainsaw; a simplified but energetic straightforward momentum pushes all songs; among the polished riffs they tastefully place tiny bits of solos; the beat speeds but never blasts; their sober-angst eschews any goofiness, chaos, collapsing sounds, tension overdrives. The formless aesthetic of the record floats unmarked, within territories where we are spoiled with distinctions and culture related references. How draft-like they sound, the idea of other bands could fill the frames of SUDOR songs, although the act would feel forced. It is not a drawback to be untag-able. It’s more fun for me too to be challenged to figure out what the fuck to write about the record, while I do enjoy hearing it. Judging on the loudness and prominent role of the vocals I bet lyrical messages are relevant. This is suggested by the pamphlet-looking lyrics sheet and the postcard-like cardboard piece that illustrates church and military people waving together. While obviously I am sweating over this review, as a listening experience it truly is unique and might offer a lot more food for thought then anything that is precisely tailored to my taste.

Supercrush Never Let You Drift Away

Oh, what a pretty bunch of songs. This has all the sensibilities of a fuzzed-out dream pop record that I was surprised that the main songwriter comes from a hardcore and metal background. Mark Palm is the guitarist and vocalist here, but he also was in BLACK BREATH (RIP Elijah Nelson, love and miss you) for the last five years, along with a handful of straightedge hardcore groups, including GO IT ALONE. A band that was on Southern Lord and had major clout in the metal scene internationally has produced a musician who can pull a 180 and put out a collection of sleepy pop jams in SUPERCRUSH. Not that the metal band is what allowed him to make such drastically different music, just laying some foundation to why I’m more impressed with this band than others in this style. This record is a collection of their first singles and unreleased songs while they’re hard at work on a proper full-length. Had I not read that on the internet, I would never have known. There’s nothing about these ten tracks that feels disjointed or separate. They sound part of a bigger whole, and bleed into one another seamlessly. On the last song there’s some spoken vocal samples that sound like they were lifted off a landline telephone’s voicemail machine. Little touches like that, as well as the layered distortion and sleepy vocals, thrust their sound back to the late ’90s alternative scene. They’re soft and quiet like as if TEENAGE FANCLUB toned down MY BLOODY VALENTINE, yet still nail that wall of sound. I couldn’t tell you what the songs are about, but mostly because I was lulled into a dreamy sense of calm while listening, and the only shock was when the record ended. Glad to know this band exists in Seattle so maybe I can go see them when this new hell freezes over.

The Tits Great Punk Tits LP

Rare moment in contemporary living when a band that formed in 2016 and has around eight different releases is unavailable on the internet, so people like me have to wait until the post-demo section of their discography gets released on a compilation. It is also tricky how you think of a country’s sound in a historical perspective, and how it is represented by current bands. I spent a great part of the previous years listening to loud flexis coming from Japan and I have not always succeeded when I tried to find present bands with sonic similarities. TITS was promised to sound like a modern version of pre-Stupid Life-era CONFUSE. It puts their predecessors into context as well, because when noise-core is made in a studio that’s output is not limited to cacophony, it takes away the chaotic randomness and all its magical mystery of the music. I like the loudest, noisiest groups because their glory is based on the chilling risk of failure, and while for normal people it is terrible shit, for me it is a great cultural achievement. TITS’ music is not adventurous, although it is good, since them and us are mutual fans of the same thing. That thing is reduced to a certain sound, an era, instead of an approach or method of expressions, therefore all enthusiasm is curbed; adventures turn to rituals. Despite it being decent, and for today rare music, it exists within well established grounds. To detail those grounds: some tracks have both guitars on full blast, linked to a chain gang of pedals; other numbers let dumb melodies sneak in, carried by a less distorted bass, that is a great nod to the best/most ignorant contrasting sound; very traditional. The cartoonish evil voice of the singer pairs perfectly with the ridiculously exaggerated noizzze. You really cannot go wrong with TITS if you dig this type of hardcore, and being an extensive collection of different records it is divertingly amusing how the course of track-packs mutate. The band is overshadowed by their forerunners, but instead TITS being a paraphrase, they turn the spotlight on their subjects of worship.

Vanity Rarely If Ever / We’re Friends 7″

Two energetic new jammers from this gang of NY rockers. On these tracks, VANITY have tempered the glammy, foot-stomping hooligan rock’n’roll of their previous efforts with an emphasis on melody and hooks. Leaning into their power pop tendencies, “Rarely If Ever” especially bounces along on ’60s jangle, to the point that MONKEES references kept popping into my head (not a bad thing, in my book). “We’re Friends” is on the tougher side, but this single demonstrates that VANITY has clearly outrun any references to a certain Chiswick group… except I’ve gone and made one, oops.

The World Reddish 12″

The swan song (unfortunately) from the Bay Area’s preeminent disciples of the ’78-’82 Rough Trade catalog, released in 2019 but collecting tracks originally recorded in 2015 and 2017—it actually sounds just as tightly-crafted as their First World Record LP from 2017, and I never would have guessed that this was the result of two pieced-together sessions from a few years apart. For the uninitiated, the WORLD’s take on spiky post-punk-funk combined shuddering dub-damaged guitar, hopscotch bass lines, fiery sax, propulsive drumming with a percussive assist from bongos and shakers, and coolly detached vocals, all delivered in urgent sub-three minute bursts designed with the express purpose of eliciting involuntary impulses toward the dancefloor. “Kill Your Landlord” and “Punctuate” dig into methodical and simmering skronked-out grooves, providing an ideal counterbalance to the more frenzied ESSENTIAL LOGIC/FAMILY FODDER-esque spiraling rhythms of “Last Rhodesian” and “White Radish” that bring Reddish to a high boil. A textbook example of going out with a bang, and we should all truly consider ourselves lucky to have existed in the WORLD’s world for even a brief moment in time.

Zodiak TKY 2020 7″ flexi

Japanese band with a singer from America, not in the vein of JUNK SCHIZO, rather distortion equalized to maximum noise-core, with echoed-howling vocals and trash-can drumming. When a bunch of people from solid former bands play in a style that is so distorted, it basically could camouflage all individual handprints laid on the music, which circumstance can easily create an effortless chapter in the codex of random bands who sound OK. Maybe ZODIAK does not reinvent the wheel, but they are able to be more than just convincing. Treat it as an exaggeration but they sound as DISARRAY or ZOUO on a faster speed with CONFUSE guitars. ZODIAK is able to push themselves through all the covering accessories and be more interesting even over a timespan of flexi 7”. I would listen to more.

Alien Nosejob HC45 EP

The first hardcore record I’ve heard in a long time that instantaneously made my eyes bulge. I’ve been brushing off every ALIEN NOSEJOB release as some quantity not quality shlock but this exactly the bright, rigorous, exciting hardcore I love. The vocals sound like Mike D. on the Aglio E Olio EP and the spastic, eye-twitching BAD BRAINS-style hardcore found on that ’90s BEASTIE BOYS release certainly lends some influence here. Reminiscent of bands like SOCIAL CIRCKLE, BIG ZIT and LAFFING GAS but it definitely sets itself apart.

Arseholes PHL 2019 EP flexi

American band consisting members of POLLEN, MAUSER, etc. with a demo tape beside this flexi, sounding like Raped Ass-era ANTI-CIMEX. It could be an educational example of how to play that sort of destructing and non-stop chased hardcore. Normally I find the idea of ANTI-CIMEX riffs cheesy but I do love it when played by its inventor and ARSEHOLES is able to pull out this Excalibur and swing it with confidence. Like scientists or instinctive craftsmen, they apply the rules of thumb for playing such simplified music, that are: it has to be tight, loud and super noisy. The main feature of this record is that it sounds as a huge collapsing building and everything crackles and clatters in a large space. They sacrifice solos at the altar of lo-fi, shit-sound that is always a nice gesture because it keeps treasure hunt for later replays and I am rather interested in the unique production sound than how well could random people play their guitar. By the mixing they have created enough space for the horrific sound that is rumbled all around, so riffs have more room to fall on your brain. Even if everything is familiar here, it’s a short flexi that solely has killer tracks, and due to the format of music the sound will significantly disintegrate by each play, making the record harsher and harsher.  

Attack SS Mask of Those EP

Oh, wow. Wall-of-noise, energy-rush, noise not music, spiked hardcore. An advanced seminar of sound production, due to its on-full spotlight. ATTACK SS is not always fast on this record but even then the loudness, the blasted-echo cave drums, the grooves shaking the room of the record from wall to wall are making the whole 7” so dense it is overloading my senses and places me into the middle of their own chaos. Although ATTACK SS’s chaos is not confusing, it solely operates with huge objects to test my impulse control that tends to surrender. All four songs are bit different enough to make the EP an adventure while a 45 with this production level would be easy to get away with, though they put enough creative energy to the writing as much as only the final number contains an LP-full of ideas. They prove their capabilities in different fields, whether it be a machine-gun-like tempo race in the opening track or a groovy, heavy-crusher mid-tempo number. This is a beast and they are able to control it, with a precision demonstrated by the stop and go parts of the aforementioned closing track. ATTACK SS is up there on the same shelf as FRAMTID, GLOOM, D-CLONE. Buy this and wish for a full-length. 

Choked Up Dichoso Corazon CD

Up until now, I’ve only heard CHOKED UP’s previous EP from two years ago and I feel like the subject matter was more cute and light-hearted. This first full-length is considerably more despondent. There’s no songs like “BeBop and Rocksteady Together 4-Ever” which gave off a real “fuck the whole world—all that matters is us” vibe to it. This record is much more centered about broken hearts and empty bottles. Their sound hasn’t changed much, which is great. I really enjoy the guitar riffs, built-in melodies, and mid-tempo yet pounding drums. It’s pop punk that’s a little rougher around the edges. And this time around, those sounds come through so much sharper. The record was recorded at Sonic Iguana by Mass Giorgini and I have yet to hear a bad-sounding song come out of that studio. My only negative is that I just don’t care for the singing style most of the time. I don’t feel good saying it because I truly love everything that Cristy Road does, this band included. Yet a lot of times it feels pretty off-key to my ears. The lyrics are solid, the leads are sharp, all the songs inspire at the very least a head bob and some pogoing. Some of the songs are in Spanish and I’m left wishing I hadn’t taken three languages and instead just gotten decent at one of them. Spanish would be my first choice. My own personal gripe aside, I still enjoy listening to this release.

Coachwhips Night Train LP

This is a reissue of the first COACHWHIPS tape with a bunch of demos and out-of-print extras from their entire history of a band—an odds ’n’ ends greatest collapses or something. COACHWHIPS were one of the bands that everyone was talking about when I moved to SF in the early ’00s. I’d seen John Dwyer’s earlier, more experimental group PINK AND BROWN and was obviously intrigued by witnessing that destruction force in the context of garage music. Obviously Dwyer repaved SF music in a significant way with THEE OHSEES before moving to LA when tech attacked, but for me at least COACHWHIPS is just more what I want out of this sound and scene. Uncontained destruction force sound where rock is a myth that must be destroyed! This is a cool overview of a specific era, investigate?

Code of Honor / Sick Pleasure Fight Or Die / Dolls Under Control LP reissue

After being out of print for 30 years, one of the best—if not the best—records to come out of the early ’80s Northern California hardcore milieu has finally been reissued. I imagine many readers may also know these songs by heart, but for anyone needing a quick summary: SICK PLEASURE was the earlier band of the two, with a fun, dumb antisocial vibe, and whose singer Niki Siki later joined VERBAL ABUSE and took some of his lyrics here with him. CODE OF HONOR came shortly after, had the same backing band but with vocalist Johnithin Christ, were more accomplished musically, and whose personally and politically earnest sentiment served as a contrast to Siki’s irreverence. While SICK PLEASURE was singing “Destroy / Destroy / Destroy the human race” and writing songs about killing the Muni driver, CODE OF HONOR was saying (literally saying, in this example) “Kill all the politicians and no one else will die,” and urging listeners to question who and what they were living for. Radiation Records deserves a good deal of credit for putting together what is mostly a faithful reproduction, so that band-approved inspiration and/or stupid fun can be had to these songs on the proper analog medium for $20 instead of $100. However, there is a slight but very noticeable difference in the font used for the band names on each band’s side of the split. I imagine this was done for logistical reasons, but it’s still a bit disappointing. All of that said, it’s great to have these songs back on vinyl, and not a moment too soon.

Glaükoma 4 Track 7″ flexi

Vol. II of Symphony of Destruction’s Flexickers series. GLAÜKOMA is from Belarus, an exotic place when it comes to playing raw hardcore punk. Listening to this record does not differ that much from the experience of attending a basement gig of a foreign band visiting from afar, with the main intention to consume a couple of this and that, then the band starts to play and by the second song all your preconception transforms into enthusiasm, so you leave with their tape and a great memory. The best feature of GLAÜKOMA is how sloppy they are, because these songs could not be better if played tighter, the air in between each one makes the band great and uncommon. It is a visceral attribute, whether luck or talent, it just works. The uncertainty why this is good, the constant chances of failure keep the flexi interesting. To not leave you in the dark, GLAÜKOMA plays threatening, raw but desperate hardcore, coated with the Eastern-European metaphysical sorrow. This is a short flexi with an OK band from an interesting place, I guess if you buy it, you will support Symphony of Destruction’s great mission to release more bands from lesser known places.

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!

The Harry Anslingers Zwei Minus cassette

Tongue-in-cheek pop-punk trio from Leipzig, Germany. The songs are super tight and I cracked a smile at least a few times while listening. The very novelty sounding “Jerk Master” is definitely my favorite on the tape.

Hondartzako Hondakinak Bruiarta 12″

Terrible album cover—sorry, I bet a lot of efforts were invested into it, but even if I do appreciate some forms of landscape art this is still off-putting. I knew HONDARTZAKO HONDAKINAK already, enjoyed their previous 7” and i was glad for crazy hardcore coming out from France. It might be a concept to place alienating elements as first and second impressions because the pointless and gawky intro, with an artificial-theme attempt just aggravated my confusion. Suffer it through, it all worth it because this chute slides you into a pool of sonic madness that recalls Dutch hardcore bands who mixed melody and neckbreak speed fluently well, such as JEZUS AND THE GOSPELFUCKERS, the BLOEDBAD/JETSET split or early FUNERAL ORATION. On this record speed becomes an effect, at its best shape the pace reaches a level when it sounds duplicated and inexact, which generates beautiful disturbance. Then they slow down but unlike in their intro, they can maintain the tension built previously by speed, and the swirling gravity of their songs capture all your attention. When they stomp with the beat, the guitar still wanders off to tangle riff fragments and create entertaining randomness. By melody, imagine even harsher tunes than the fastest HÜSKER DÜ tracks, something close to early OUTPATIENTS. HONDARTZAKO HONDAKINAK is a unique band with a broad spectrum of musical ideas and great skills to incorporate them to create something new, instead of a mix of multiple, and navigate their music around all genre rules. All checked out for a great record.

Ignorados Comediantes Roy LP

I had the great pleasure of seeing this Puerto Rican band when they rolled through Pittsburgh earlier this year. I actually went with zero beforehand knowledge of their work, simply on the fact that seeing a band sing in Spanish is a bit of a rarity here and makes me homesick for California. Upon arrival at the Rock Room, I was taken aback on discovering they were a pop punk band!?! After a couple songs, though, I was completely won over by their honesty and sincerity as it seems like most other punks were as well. They simply rocked like that QUEERS or SCREECHING WEASEL show you saw in a shithole way back and hate to admit you loved. This record is a fine representation of what I witnessed, minus the sticky smell of spilled beer and much secondhand smoke. Good work, people!

Isotope Soap An Artifact of Insects 12″

Surreal synth-punk from Sweden that’s not as blatantly DEVO-core in its intentions as a lot of their recently devolved contemporaries, but I wouldn’t rule out a Booji Boy mask hiding in the back of one of their closets, either. The electronically altered vocals (sometimes high-pitched and robotic, sometimes deep and theatrical) and the general sinister sci-fi aesthetic clearly owe some debts to late-’70s/early-’80s San Francisco synth-wielders like the RESIDENTS and CHROME, except ISOTOPE SOAP is very much a product of the dystopian, technologically-addled hell that we’re currently living in and that those earlier bands could only speculate in their creative visions.

Jackal Jackal EP

On first listen, I disregarded this as just another AGNOSTIC FRONT/NEGATIVE APPROACH/CRUCIFIX rip-off but it’s got a lot more going on. They definitely have some nods to the aforementioned groups but JACKAL cohesively twists and turns to layer their songs with changes of pace that AF and NA didn’t have the patience to attempt. D. Boon said there should be a band on every block, and I say every city should have a band that sounds like AGNOSTIC FRONT. At this point JACKAL may blow the rest out of the water. Four songs in under five minutes. It’s been ten years since URBAN BLIGHT released More Reality. It’s time to check back into hardcore reality.

Kong Kong Raw and Primitive EP

Picture in your mind the singer of LAIBACH or a hard-growling Ian Stuart fronting a band made up of BIG COUNTRY, PROCLAIMERS and SLADE members. I really hate conceptual reviews like that but I’m not shitting you. That’s what this sounds like to me right now. I feel like I huffed a whole case of whip-its cause this record is fucking hilarious and great at the same time. Probably not what they were going for, but it has a nice glammy streetrock vibe and I dig it nonetheless. Thank you.

Nag Dead Deer LP

Dark fucked-up doomed sounding punk that’s steeped in early ’80s SoCal HC death rock ’n’ more modern REATARDisms. This sounds like exactly where it comes from, Bloodstains Across Atlanta Georgia, snotty and lean, frantic and apocalyptic. Dead Deer reminds me of a more self-aware RIKK AGNEW solo LP mixed with Blood Visions, or like a hardcore band discovering the second ADVERTS LP. This isn’t epic, though—it’s contained and vicious, and a demonstration that Atlanta punk may be created by different combinations of the same people endlessly but they are very good at what they do! Buy or die, fools.

The Nerv Standard Deviant LP

I don’t recall ever seeing this San Francisco band. Not surprising as they started up about the time I could no longer afford to live there. They seem very much to have their hearts in the right place with songs about the aforementioned high rents and other important issues of the day. Hard-chugging locomotive-driven punk marked by a huge theatrical element complete with a singer worthy of a Broadway musical. They even do a Wizard of Oz cover!?!  At times I’m feeling the GITS and others it’s the punk opera aethstetic of the PLASMATICS’ Maggots album, especially on songs like “Mitochondria of the City.” San Francisco is doomed for sure but these folks are putting up a fuss.

Permission Organized People Suffer LP

I think more of PERMISSION than I listen to. While they are one of the most reliable current bands in case of ripping hardcore, they also project outsider energy, not mysterious or edgy but very different from their contemporaries. Their music is pure hardcore; this purity carries a lonesome determination that puts PERMISSION’s music into a frame—one that could contain their cover art, too—that separates them from whatever goes on in today’s punk. I already liked NO, their previous bands, and just as the incredibly heightened speed of their music, neither did my attraction ever stop. I dig their consistent aesthetics, it does not feel alienating due to their art-lean, although makes me think that hardcore could connect to other sources than to its own historical self-references. Thus, whenever I hear PERMISSION, they sound as the fastest band alive. Which they are not, but they let me forget about the world outside their music, and while their speed could refer to HERSEY, RIPCORD or NEOS, PERMISSION does more than rebuild their idea from known elements. They practice discipline with never slowing down for mid-tempo stomps or bridges; no, they exist on a hyper-level and whatever idea they have, it must be solved within their self-created physics. While this discipline avoids a cheap show-off of some meticulous precision, even if the songs feel thought-through they are able to disintegrate even when performed in a recording area, which is the biggest achievement when someone is this fast and mostly plays linear riffs, instead of free-form guitar juggling. Each song connects and slips into each other, therefore the whole record makes up one chaotic organization, as their record covers are different caught moments from another single alien world. If the Bruegel-crowd had a soundtrack it would be PERMISSION. Buy their whole discography!  

The Pornography Glows Pornoglows 12″ EP

Man this record is so fucking good. You know how those Life Is… comps on New Underground look really cool based on the art but then have like CHINA WHITE and they kinda suck? This sounds like what those records should sound like. Seven songs of timeless punk like early REDD KROSS or the URINALS, expertly executed but fun and loose. My favorite record of 2019! Get it, it’s so good!

Remissions Ultra Vires CD

Brooding, metallic crust out of Finland that is likely to please both stenchcore freaks and thrash-holes alike. The agonizing dirges will have you clutching your head as if that’s the only thing keeping it from bursting, while the driving verses come at you like a runaway eighteen-wheeler, begging you to get out there and fuck shit up. The lyrics follow those lines, and are as well crafted as the music. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to the current apocalypse then give this one a spin.

Sex Dwarf Sensou Hantai EP

Here’s some noisy as fuck, raw punk chaos out of Stockholm. The guitarist employs the always-on wah pedal technique to deliver an intermittent low/high pitch harsh noise tone that sounds like a chainsaw slicing through a dumpster. It’s the perfect sound to scratch your eyeballs out to. Back that up with ferocious proto-Euro-crust smashing and you’ve got a real ripper. Check it out!

Sheer Mag A Distant Call LP

I’ve got mixed feelings on this release. I was first put on to SHEER MAG five years ago when I was chatting with some locals and ex-pats on the patio of the Ramones Museum in Berlin. We got to talking about THIN LIZZY and one of them championed SHEER MAG so hard that I sought them out as soon as I had another wi-fi connection. Holy smokes, they’re great at power pop. Christina’s voice is so fucking incredible and like no other. On “Silver Line,” she belts out “I need a siiiiilver line” and it gives me chills to hear those notes stretched out over several beats. I also particularly love the mellow vibes of that song as well as the transition into a anxious melody in “Hardly to Blame.” Plus those THIN LIZZY distorted guitar lines punch through in the verse. “Blood From a Stone” is another that brings more of the well-worn method of songwriting that SHEER MAG has given us over the years. While I don’t like to pigeonhole bands into a sound, I don’t always love when I’m hit with something totally out of left field. So the opener “Steel Sharpens Steel” threw me for a loop with Christina’s power metal wail breaking through and the palm-muted guitar riffs. Songs cover subjects like classism, body positivity, and human rights, among others. Overall I like this record, though personally I could stand for an entire catalog of songs like “Fan the Flames” and “Nobody’s Baby.” Glad that the band is growing, but I’m happy to have them fly close to their roots.

Jim Shepard Heavy Action 3xLP

JIM SHEPARD, who committed suicide in 1998, produced an enormous body of work, much of it excellent and challenging, in his 44 years on earth. The musician and poet from Columbus, Ohio, was best known for his bands EGO SUMMIT, V-3, and VERTICAL SLIT, but he recorded and released music prolifically under his own name, though all of it is currently out of print. Heavy Action covers a wide swath of his career, encompassing live and unreleased material, scraps of spoken words, voicemails, tributes from the likes of DENNIS CALLACI, ROBERT POLLARD, DON HOWLAND, and NUDGE SQUIDFISH, and covers of BOB DYLAN, the GUN CLUB, and LEONARD COHEN. Shepard’s oeuvre is shot through with a red-hot fury—both lyrically and sonically—and this collection is heavy on the darkness with songs like “Loaded Gun” and “Star Power.” Listening to three LPs of his music at once was emotionally overwhelming, and I don’t think this is a great starting point for someone unfamiliar with his work (that would be V-3’s 1992 CD-only album Negotiate Nothing), but considering the scarcity of his numerous tapes and CDs and records, this is a place to start. Nicely packaged with liner notes by Tom Lax of Siltbreeze.

Sleeper and Snake Junction & High LP

I pulled the trigger and bought this after only hearing “Sugar and Gold” which was enough to convince me it was worth it. This is a beautiful album that touches on some country, folk, lo-fi and experimental properties all written and performed by Al of TOTAL CONTROL, UV RACE and every other Australian band, plus Amy of CONSTANT MONGREL, TERRY and others. I’m definitely not worldly enough to be able to tell you about the various influences but it just feels very well balanced and has tracks that put me at ease. It seems like they used every instrument at their disposal from guitars to horns to synths and electronic drums. They’ve got those SQUEEZE-like high and low vocals going on and overall it feels complimentary to old Flying Nun stuff. It doesn’t come across too kitschy and strikes a balance between simple melodic tunes and more experimental sounds. “Flagged” is probably my favorite here.

Teenage Cenobite Live cassette

Driving, nasty synth-punk. Richmond, VA has got something special here. Six songs recorded live and sounding better than a majority of demos I usually hear. TEENAGE CENOBITE originally began as a solo project, but after releasing their first cassette has become a full-on live band that, from the sound of this tape, are an unrelenting powerhouse. Not surprising that this is as good as it is having been released by Feel It Records, one of the most consistent labels these days.

Testbunker Verdomde Idioot CD-R

The first song had me thinking they were gonna go in a not-quite-D-beat direction—their sonic aesthetic immediately made me think of TOTALITÄR’s side of the DISMACHINE split specifically, albeit with a less metallic and a little more jangly guitar sound. They certainly would’ve done this style well given the guitar sound, vocalist’s pipes, and the drummer’s chops. But instead, Hamburg’s TESTBUNKER goes for a more straightforward but very timeless and salt-of-the-earth melodic punk sound that’s defiant, melancholic, and celebratory in different combinations, and sometimes all at once. Loose gang vocals abound, and the guitar might be slightly out of tune, but the latter only adds to this band’s charm. I imagine these songs are best experienced live in the kind of place that could get busted at any moment.

Warm Swords War on Words Vol. 1 cassette

At first I didn’t realize that I was given both volumes of WARM SWORDS’ War on Words cassettes to review, and I listened to the second volume first. Whoops. This first installment seems to be more straightforward and is my preferred of the two cassettes. Minimalist, synth-heavy garage-y post-punk that meanders around a bit in an artsy direction, especially on the tape’s instrumental tracks. The first batch of songs are super driving and really do it for me. Those are where this project shines. The instrumentals lose my interest and the more pop-heavy songs don’t seem to be as memorable. There are lots of very cool aspects to this band, but two full length cassettes is a bit much to digest as an introduction to them.

Warm Swords War on Words Vol. 2 cassette

Try as I might, I cannot figure out where this band is actually from. It’s either New Zealand, Belgium, France, or Germany. Strange, minimalist, garage-y post-punk that leans a bit on the artsy side of things without being entirely off-putting, though it does teeter on the edge there a few times throughout the course of this tape. Despite the vocals being delivered somewhat lazily, the songs as a whole come across rather powerful and driving. It’s an interesting combination and I’m pretty into it. All the songs are recorded and mixed by the band, too, which is always an impressive thing. I was a little nervous that going into Volume 2 would be similar to seeing the movie sequel before the original and I would be lost, but all that has happened is I am all the more intrigued to visit the first volume.

The Bombpops Death in Venice Beach LP

Since their Fat Wreck Chords debut in 2017, the BOMBPOPS have been popping up on everyone’s radar, and this is the album that should keep them there. They’d previously developed a mastery of the SoCal skate punk sound mixed with killer vocal harmonies that got them on Fat, so now they were able to use that and focus on their lyrics and storytelling. This album finds them in a scary place. Addiction, suicidal ideations, and interpersonal violence all pepper Death in Venice Beach like a fine spice. In the end, there’s a reluctant optimism to the overall feel of the album, but you might have a harder time finding it than you’d expect. There is a complexity here that demands your time. “13 Stories Down” is the perfected version of the sad song every punk kid wrote in high school when they thought they weren’t going to make it. “Notre Dame” and “Double Arrows Down” are some standout tracks that really complete this all-around superb release.

Cuero Todo Hierro 12″

Somehow CUERO’s crusade to the vinyl format has completely escaped my grasp, even though their 2019 demo, Black Metal Skinheads, was my go-to release last summer. Maybe the meaty title was the reason why it didn’t exactly catch people’s attention, even though all the elements of this generation of punk snobs was very present. Pumping, mid-tempo Oi! in simplistic, anthemic lyrics in Spanish, an in-character self-irony you rarely see matched and UK82 riffs played in a slightly more sinister key, similar to a lot of recent bands such as PMS 84 and SAVAGEHEADS, but a bit slower. The black metal thing seems to be more of an attitude thing than an actual musical presence, which doesn’t really bother me. Todo Hierro just sounds like an extension of that extremely tasty three-track tape. I wish there were more songs, because all six leave me longing for more. It never overstays its visit. All the tracks from the demo are also here. Released on the excellent label Mendeku Diskak, responsible for, among others, the CINDERBLOCK LP. You get what you sign up for.  I really hope we get to hear more from CUERO in the future.

Deadream Deadream cassette

Fast hardcore punk. Five short songs, each clocking in well under a minute in length, most of which still finding the time to have a tough breakdown. Picture something mixed between LEFT FOR DEAD-type spastic riffs and tough CHAIN OF STRENGTH breakdowns.

Décima Víctima En El Garaje LP

Compelling archival release of a studio-quality 1983 garage four-track recording from this Spanish post-punk band. This was a demo for their second and final album, Un Hombre Solo—basically, a skeletal version of that work. To my (Anglo) ears, DÉCIMA VÍTIMA sounds here like a cross between JOY DIVISION and the GREG SAGE album Straight Ahead—dark, melancholy tunes that take their time to reach their final destination. The heavy reverb and the hint of a rock’n’roll twang somehow brings to mind visions of a nightclub scene in a David Lynch movie, equal parts menace and mystery. Recommended.

The Dumpies Jim Thorpe cassette

The most recent release by a band whose offerings seem to all be cassette releases named for various professional athletes. Here we have Jim Thorpe, Native American Olympic gold medalist. The DUMPIES may not be as versatile musically as Jim Thorpe was athletically, but they are not all that far off. Running through six songs in under six minutes, they touch all the bases and dabble a little bit in a number of sub-genres without it feeling forced. Mid-tempo garage, plodding punk, lo-fi pop, catchy pop-punk. The DUMPIES break up their pentathlon of original songs by tossing in a RED KROSS cover, and they totally nail it. Consider this reviewer’s eyes peeled for these elusive other athlete-themed cassettes.

Eva Ras Meni Nije Svejedno . . . It’s Not Whatever cassette

EVA RAS is a solo screamo project from Belgrade, Serbia. Musically they would fit in very well with the likes of ORCHID or PG.99, etc. It is spastic, chaotic, and unsettling, so I think it very much achieves the goal of the genre. The band uses the term “emoviolence” to describe their sound, and I admittedly had to look that one up. I’m not sure when screamo started being referred to as skramz, and when bands sounding like that adopted the term emoviolence, but as far as I can tell it’s all pretty similar. This is apparently the first half of a double EP, the second half forthcoming, and the cassette is limited to 12 copies.

Goon Natural Evil LP

GOON is one of a number of noteworthy hardcore bands coming out of Denver as of late. For the first few songs, the primary sound is, but not limited to, the intersection between a stompy yet heavy contemporary hardcore sound—I’m not going to use internet-conceived genre descriptors, but, um, S.H.I.T. might be one reference point—and more abrasive and outright mosh-ready hardcore. Things get a little more free-form from the relatively more sparse and jangly “Spit” through the eight-minute(!) closer, but all the pieces of the puzzle: the flow of the songs, the frequent change-ups, the pedalboard noise accompaniments, and the art-damaged visual aesthetic all form a cohesive package.

Ixna Knotpop LP

IXNA was a duo operating on the fringes of the Bay Area’s experimental music scene in the early 1980s, and their only release while they were active, a 1981 single on the Dumb Records label run by DIY glam weirdo extraordinaire NOVAK, took the art-damaged synth-punk of their local peers—think the UNITS,  LOS MICROWAVES, PINK SECTION, etc.—into an even more fractured and out-there direction. Knotpop is the group’s lost LP, recorded in the same 1981 session at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music that yielded both tracks from the 7” (which are also included here) but left unreleased until last year. The warped new wave opener “Fun Fun Fun” almost approaches a West Coast translation of the whole ZE Records/New York mutant disco sound, with pulses of melting electronic textures, ominous bass, and Marina La Palma’s animatedly flipped-out vocal recitations, while the hypnotic, cut-up audio collage vibe of “Black Shirts” more closely recalls the FLYING LIZARDS’ expertly crafted avant-garde/pop synthesis. Best of all is “Mi Ne Parolas,” the original A-side of the Dumb Records single, which has gained a certain level of notoriety as probably the only ’80s post-punk jam with lyrics delivered entirely in Esperanto (everyone’s favorite international auxiliary language), with LaPalma’s sing-song chants backed by some staccato guitar, throbbing bass, hallucinatory multi-tracked tape loops of a CHUCK BERRY guitar riff, and scissors that have taken the place of cymbals in the pair’s percussive arsenal. Absolute art-wave brilliance, definitely not for the more narrow-minded punks out there!

Laffing Gas It’s a Beautiful Day in the Gulch LP

Everything from the music to the artwork reminds me of early ’00s Danish hardcore punk, except this is a current band from the middle of America—Bloomington, Indiana to be exact. Musically this is most reminiscent of AMDI PETERSENS ARMÉ, who were themselves doing their best rendition of first wave LA/DC hardcore punk, so LAFFING GAS has got some of that as well. The songs on this LP contain what you’d expect given those influences—tons of energy, snotty and engaging vocals, some quick, cool guitar skronks here and there but nothing too polished or fancy, thankfully. The riffs are good and the songs have enough dynamics to avoid being generic. The endless cycle of hardcore punk continues, may it live an endless life.

Less Miserable Insufficient Funds LP

These four Canadians like playing with their genre and their tempo to keep from being easily described. This is like a new, long-awaited HAGFISH album in that way. With the upbeat, fast “let’s go, let’s go” opening, you’d be forgiven for assuming you’ve stepped into a pretty straightforward pop punk album, but as it proceeds, you really get to see how dexterous this band can be. The vocalist can expertly dive from monotone talk-singing (“Functional Embarrassment”) to country-style crooning (“Sleepwalker”) to that strained shout where you have to lean back two feet from the mic to not peak all the levels, seemingly without slowing down. The elevator music bridge on “The Last Lonely Boy” is unexpected but wonderfully refreshing. The triple vocals on “Soul In Progress,” especially the back-and-forth male/female interplay, are excellently balanced and gratifying. This band excels in the dark, sad lyrics set to super fun and happy sounding music realm. This is particularly apparent in the ska-laced “Almost Fun.” There is a lot of goodness going on here, and it seems like they’re just getting started. Also, they’re pretty funny.

M80 Apathy cassette

Holy hell, this rips! Oakland, CA’s M80 plays super driving and catchy hardcore punk of an incredibly timeless nature. It would be difficult to pinpoint a timeframe that this came out if I just heard it playing somewhere. The five-song cassette instantly feels familiar, like I’ve been listening to it for years, without sounding like any one specific band. This might be as close to perfection as a demo can get, in my book. Not satiated with listening to the tape three times in a row, I did a little searching and found a live set of theirs on the internet and it’s totally worth a watch.

Physique The Rhythm of Brutality 10″

If you aren’t already familiar with this band from their LP or 12″, they play raw, blown-out hardcore in the style of Japanese bands like FRAMTID or KRIEGSHÖG, who were in turn playing a more distorted version of the hardcore style of Swedish bands like CRUDITY and ANTI-CIMEX. Here you will revel in a thick and distorted guitar sound, but thankfully not overly distorted where the riffs are buried in a wall of feedback. The bass has a raw, chunky clunk and the drums are hammered like obstinate nails. The coarse vocals have the just the right amount of reverb on them to sound like they are being shouted at you from the bottom of a well but not from another dimension. In total, the compositions, production, and overall vibe of this release are outstanding. It doesn’t fall into any of the traps or excesses of the genre but remains finely balanced between total raw noise and something more musical. Powerful and invigorating, the intensity of the music contrasts somewhat with the lyrics’ bleak outlook. There is an underlying current of despair and misery in the lyrics while expressing the yearning to break free and rebel. As with many bands of this genre, I find the music really gets the blood pumping and forms a direct mental and emotional link to a desire to break free and run wild. But the lyrics about depression and despair keep bringing us back to what we are rebelling against rather than the freedom we are striving for. I was out of town when these guys played Minneapolis and really regret not seeing them live.

Rank/Xerox Servants in Heaven / Cradle of Life 7″

RANK/XEROX were my fave local band when they still lived in SF, making super sick PROLETARIAT-meets-Leeds post-punk sounds for desolate minds… I think they live on different continents nowadays, so was surprised to see this 45 on my review sheet. It’s a dark, somber burner, kind of less vital sounding than the earlier recordings but maybe just a different feeling?! Repetitive driving doom, it feels darker and more contained. Worth investigating if you were a fan of their other works.

Reagan Youth Regenerated: A Collection of Alternative Classics LP

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, REAGAN YOUTH seemingly stood a step apart from their early ’80s NYC contemporaries: what they lacked in the brute-force pummel of a band like A.F. or the tweaked-out intensity of URBAN WASTE or ANTIDOTE, they made up for in simple, catchy riffs and personality. I mean, countless teenagers have answered the call of underground punk rock, but how many of them had the sarcastic wit of Dave Insurgent? While the other recently released REAGAN YOUTH LP (It’s a Beautiful Day… for a Matinee!) is essentially a vinyl reissue of the Live & Rare CD from the late ’90s, this collection on Puke n Vomit features completely unreleased demo recordings from 1981-1983 (plus a ripping live cover of “Ace of Spades”). Granted, aside from one instrumental cut sounding like a work in progress, you’ve probably heard all these songs before, but the sound quality is solid and this is sure to please anyone who’s worn out the grooves of their copy of Youth Anthems for the New Order.

Slum of Legs Slum of Legs LP

The debut LP from the UK’s foremost six-member psychedelic art-punk group, finally realized seven years after their initial demo (which included rougher versions of three songs that reappear here) and five years since their last release, a two-song 7” on the now-defunct label Tuff Enuff. SLUM OF LEGS’ squealing violin lines, knotted rhythms, and slightly askew overlapping harmonies will draw some obvious and inevitable (although not entirely inaccurate) comparisons to the RAINCOATS, but they’re really pulling from a much more disparate and complex set of reference points—kinetically droning Krautrock pulse, the more experimental and boundary-pushing bands to come out of ’80s UK anarcho-punk, the anxious sprawl of early VELVET UNDERGROUND (especially apparent in the chilly and dramatic NICO-esque edge in lead vocalist Tamsin’s delivery). Some of the best moments of an all-around great album include the band’s theme song “Slum of Legs,” a collision of tom-heavy drumming, frantically bowed strings and ecstatic group chants, and the more sharp-angled “The Baader-Meinhof Always Look So Good in Photos,” which is pushed along by an ominous bassline and blurts of synth before unwinding into urgent, desperate shouts reconciling wavering self-image with feminist anger. Serrated sounds for society’s slow collapse, more timely than ever.

The Barbies Introducing The Barbies 12″

Oooo I like this! Charming post-BLONDIE power pop girl sounds with a serving of Bomp! This was supposed to come out in 1980 or so, but only a test press ever emerged, so here it is, some shiny new wave pop punk just in time for the end of the world… Rikk Agnew’s liner notes are a li’l confusing but I think this is a Fullerton-based brother/sister band, both vocalists have killer voices in a JOSIE COTTON/TONI BASIL/DEBBIE manner, and the farfisa and guitar sound are super sick. “Boys Will Be Boys” was properly released on a compilation but I think the songs that demonstrate their love of BLONDIE are my faves over the more SoCal waver ones…. Totally worth picking up! No filler, all killer…