Reviews

Chris Landry

Opposite Sex High Drama LP

OPPOSITE SEX from Dunedin, New Zealand has this fuzzed-out guitar sound that reminds me of the first GRINDERMAN LP. Without it these tunes could fall into conventional indie rock, but the noise, paired with an idiosyncratic delivery, eradicates any sentimentality or sweetness that would undermine the whole thing. My favourites are the tunes with a more hectic pace like the killer opener “Shoots Me Like a Knife,” or “Combine Harvester,” both songs featuring twisted, extended choruses in which Lucy Hunter’s vocals chant with an equal amount of joy and malice. I love how messy this record gets at times. Longer tunes like the “Dick on a Throne” (“Don’t call me a girl, I’m an adult!”) and “Owls Do Cry” show a willingness to have songs that space out and don’t adhere to normal song structures. Less-than-polished drums and slightly off-kilter vocals make it sound more legit and reckless rather than amateur hour. I understand their earlier stuff is less heavy, but High Drama is more KILLDOZER than Flying Nun.

Todd Briefly Demos cassette

It’s interesting to see a resurgence of bands doing humor which takes me back to my campus radio days of hearing KING MISSILE and the DEAD MILKMEN. TODD BRIEFLY, however, sounds nothing like those bands, but more closely resembles the COOL GREENHOUSE in their drum machine format. And it works! References a-plenty familiar to any modern rock weirdo: Fender Jaguars, banal chores, making fun of rich people, and hypochondria. It’s got that jerky DEVO-inflected mix of guitar and synth, and matched with some wit and songwriting skills to back it up.

Girls in Synthesis Now Here’s an Echo From Your Future LP

Intense and properly humourless power trio delivering ripping post-punk with a big sound. The upfront vocals make everything sound like an emergency and there’s a lot of inventive interplay between vocals and instruments. The opening tune “Arterial Movements” sets the parameters: high energy, distinct bass, and guitar that at times pierces, at other times drones, and other times expands into a sick echo. GIRLS IN SYNTHESIS are working in dangerous territory for a UK band owing a debt to GANG OF FOUR. So much of that sound was run into the ground in the Bush-era by bands like the RAPTURE and the ROGERS SISTERS. This reviewer is pleased to report that GIRLS IN SYNTHESIS do not fall into any such sonic cliches. I like how the slow grind of “Human Frailty” resolves into the lopsided, atonal sonic nightmare. They sound like they would be killer live.

The Serfs Angelic Ritualistic Cruelty EP

Oh hell yeah, this authentic lo-fi synth eeriness from Ohio’s the SERFS is right up my alley. The whole thing just pops the second you put it on. The synth does a great job of making an otherwise straightforward song just a little off-kilter and uneasy. The first two tracks are direct post-punk ragers, but it’s “Debt World” on the flip that really wins me over. The arpeggiated synth and pulsing bass evokes KRAFTWERK’s Radio-Activity LP or the primitive industrial of early SKINNY PUPPY. A solid EP worthy of its Ohio punk pedigree. The snappy risographed cover is a bonus.

Imposition Man Resilience LP

Lo-fi post-punk from Berlin featuring all your favorite details: antiquated electronic drums, chorus-soaked guitars, and vocals that sound like an evacuation announcement broadcast to the subway platforms of hell. It works because they bring some real urgency to these short little ditties. Even in their most danceable, digital handclap-punctuated moments, IMPOSITION MAN doesn’t jettison their overall bleak vibe. “Resilience,” the title track and recurring refrain that I’m going to go out on a limb and say is ironic, bookends this release nicely, giving a unified vibe to a surprisingly short LP. If you recently dug CONSTANT MONGREL or DIÄT, this will scratch that itch.

Public Eye Music for Leisure LP

PUBLIC EYE’s Music for Leisure, a follow-up to 2017’s Relaxing Favorites, is perhaps not as laid-back as the title suggests, and is ultimately a solid outing. The Portland quartet keeps things mid-tempo, and instrumentally it’s as if mid-career IGGY POP took a Valium. The snappy, dry guitars are tone city and the riffage is more than capable and likely to get stuck in your head. The steady but low-key vocals hang back in a way that at times is similar to BEEF JERK, and in their more animated moments, bring PARQUET COURTS to mind. Only in “The Duet” do they break format and strip things down to bass and drums before breaking out into a caterwauling free jazz-style sax solo. Otherwise it’s stripped-down, it makes no mistakes, but doesn’t take any exceptional risks either. Pretty decent all around.

Duplo Dor Dor Dor, BB EP

DUPLO is the latest in a recent history of excellent output from São Paulo, Brazil. Some interesting sensibilities mixed up here: “Dance” is an approachable disco punk song with some interesting rhythmic touches, while the closer “Roda Continua” has playful surf touches of the CRAMPS using obsessive repetition to mind-melting effect before building up to an ecstatic meltdown. Paula Rebellato from RAKTA is playing drums and, as they go heavy on the delay pedal, there are some echoes of RAKTA’s more HAWKWIND-influenced days when they still had a guitar in the band. Solid debut.

Silicone Prairie My Life on the Silicone Prairie LP

Keeping the Midwestern punk freak flag flying high, Kansas CIty’s SILICONE PRAIRIE arrives with a dense, hooky, high-speed genre-hopping LP mixing elements of the FEELIES, DEVO, synth pop, folk, and even glam rock. This is the work of Ian Teeple from WARM BODIES and NATURAL MAN BAND, but unlike those outfits, SILICONE PRAIRIE takes a bit more work to untangle and get into. The songs are dizzying helium bursts of energy, taking wild turns combining familiar but irreconcilable (or so I thought) genres. It’s kind of an amazing act of dexterity. It made my head hurt at first, but so did PERE UBU the first time I heard The Modern Dance. It truly is one of those records that grows on you and reveals itself after a bunch of listens. I can’t quite figure out what is and isn’t satire here, but it is nothing if not inspired. “Silicone Prairie”—the song, not the band—is hook city, but could also pass for a phased-out- sounding theme to a ’70s sitcom. The song ejects before the two-minute mark and gives way to a folky number that smacks of 4-track lo-fidelity. Then there’s my favorite, “Song for Patrick Cowley,” a tribute to the electronic music pioneer that lacks the ironic detachment of the rest of the record. “Come Away” ends the whole affair on some worn-down cassette bedroom pop. A daring and oddball collection of music. I approve.

Astute Palate Astute Palate LP

Wah-wah pedal, blues licks played backwards, and the ’60s vibe had me worried until it all resolved into some serious VELVET UNDERGROUND leanings that I could appreciate. Between the upfront guitars, long running times, and meditative repetition, you can almost see the Warhol projections on top of them when you listen. Not exactly breaking the mould but good tunes to have in the background when you’re doing stuff. I dig it. It should appeal to fans of SIC ALPS or YUZO IWATA.

Native Cats Two Creation Myths 7”

I love getting assigned a record I’m already loving. The Tasmanian duo NATIVE CATS return with two tracks, with the first, “War of the Roses,” a hard and steady bass-driven mid-tempo backdrop to Chloe Alison Escott’s confrontational, manifesto-like vocals. I appreciate the gall of bands who print their lyrics directly on the front cover. NATIVE CATS sound hungry and unapologetic. The urgent delivery of lines like “I’ve felt my body happening to people on the street” and “Walk the breadth of human experience, howling, what of this is mine?” sound bracing against the dark and steady music. On the second side, “Sanremo” is sonically consistent but tonally a more melodica-tinged, almost shoegaze-y number that calls to mind BOWIE’s “Warsaw.” But don’t get me wrong, I’m not into shoegaze and I’m not even the biggest BOWIE guy, but I am really really into this. Two songs, both killer. A double-A, as they used to say. Love to see a band that’s been around for a little bit but knocks one out of the park anyway.

Priors My Punishment on Earth LP

The album art is a kitschy, psychedelic take on classic B-movie horror images. PRIORS from Montreal return with their particular strain of garage punk with a pop sensibility. Mixing freaked-out fuzz, abrasive synth, and vocals that approximate the later output of JAY REATARD. Familiar elements to be sure, but they keep it interesting. The opening tune “Brew Ha Ha” is mostly direct and pummeling but it leaves space for eerie melodic touches. It’s sonically saturated to all hell and sounds like a party. TOM WAITS had a schmaltzy song called “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” PRIORS should have a song called “The Synth Has Been Dosing.”

The Hammer Party Smashed Hits LP

This sounds like the frustrated pulse of my angry, black pandemic heart. Providence’s the HAMMER PARTY apparently began as a BIG BLACK cover band and boast a pretty extensive pedigree including, but not limited to, SIX FINGER SATELLITE, the BEVIS FROND, and SILVER APPLES. That idiosyncratic resume did not prepare me for how gloriously pissed-off this record sounds. It’s lyrically brutal and literal and the songs grind out elements of UNWOUND, DRIVE LIKE JEHU, and SHOTMAKER, especially in the deep and crunchy bass. Like someone trying to destroy the lowest piano keys. Perhaps post-Kerr NOMEANSNO is the best comparison—especially in the brazen satire of some of the more odd vocal constructions. Songs like “Russian Collusion” may be a little on the nose, but it sounds so darn good. It works. It’s great to see folks who may have been around the block, but nonetheless spit out a record tuned to this time.

Public Interest Between 12”

This gave me wicked déjà vu before I dawned on me that I heard these tracks, in this order, on the rather excellent cassette EP of the same name. Oakland’s PUBLIC INTEREST, a.k.a. the solo project of Chris Natividad from MARBLED EYE, leads with lo-fi synths and electronic drums which serve the jaded and half-sung vocals just right. “Design Flaw” breaks a classic JOY DIVISION-style construction down to basics with a dark and nostalgic arpeggio swirling around it, building a proper mania. And like JOY DIVISION, it employs its cold, cold drum machines in a way that still sounds very much alive and not like a sterile scratch demo. A vinyl-worthy project to be sure; hell, get it on both formats, it’s dud-free.

Clock of Time Pestilent Planet LP

Simmering, post-punk with steady guitars, Pestilent Planet sounds locked-in from the get-go. Of the past bands that make up their members’ pedigree, VEXX, USELESS EATERS, and DIÄT, this sounds most like the latter. The drums keep a sense of unease by making heavy use of toms, rather than a standard kick-snare punk beat, while the vocals sound like they’re delivering some seriously bad news over an intercom in a retro-dystopian sci-fi nightmare, and on top of that, the sustained, overlapping guitar bits add to the urgency. It sounds sick. The third track, “Companion,” is right on the money and reminds me of what I like best in SIEKIERA or more contemporary post-punkers like CONSTANT MONGREL. If you’re still left jonesing after the sonic perfection that was DIÄT’s Positive Disintegration, this will very much scratch that same itch. They don’t deviate from the format, but they don’t make any mistakes, either. Should you—like me—find yourself masked up in line at a grocery store, nodding to this in your headphones, in a too-hot black parka, queued up three-quarters of the way around the place on the eve of a holiday thinking “this is bleak, this is a bummer”…turn it up and ride out the pestilence.

Horrid Red Radiant Life LP

With their fourth LP, San Francisco’s HORRID RED marks a decade doing something important: sounding different. Mixing melody and shimmering guitar with abrasive vocals, ex-DER TPK helmer Bunker Wolf takes the electro-intimacy of KRAFTWERK’s Computer World and brazenly riffs over it in an unfaltering German-language torrent. On some tracks, like “Pity the Sun,” this can be more awkward than interesting, where the programmed drums draw attention to themselves in a way that doesn’t serve the tune. But on “Omitted Prophets” or the inspired title track “Radiant Life,” it totally clicks for me. A slow-burner that’s not Krautrock, not typical post-punk, and not for everyone, but that’s OK.

Algara Enamorados Del Control Total EP

There’s something about the cold, distant, echoing vocals, the primitive, synthetic drums, and catchy guitar lines that combine to make this a striking debut. It doesn’t sound like garden variety post-punk and I’m at a loss to think of a band that sounds like this. Take a song like “Potestad Para Hablar”—these are going to sound like bonkers comparisons but hear me out —it combines the cold, antiseptic distance of FELT with the catchy new wave guitar of the B-52’S and it totally works! Speaking of idiosyncratic combinations, the cover features a mix of militant posturing, an autobiography of Catalan anarcho-syndicalist Juan García Oliver, analog photography equipment, and what looks like a flamenco record. Maybe it’s this mix of the raw and cold with the colorful and alive that makes their particular sound click. Anarcho-punk you can dance to, with a drum machine that sometimes sounds like a taser. These tunes were re-recorded with a live band on a subsequent cassette and I can’t tell which I like better so dig them both.

The Lavender Flu Barbarian Dust LP

Prolific Portland Deadheads go into the NU SHOOZ studio and make something truly special. I wonder if these guys are into SIMPLY SAUCER, because to my ears Barbarian Dust has that kind of spaced-out, mantra-like proto-punk sound that I like in Cyborgs Revisited. The warped, string-raking of “Hair Lord” sets a pummeling tone before yielding to the more mid-tempo psych-pop of “Mow the Glass.” The whole record is full of so many good and surprising ideas. Unlike the more deconstructed-sounding (and also excellent) Tomorrow Cleaners, everything here sounds perfectly in place, even the tunes that end abruptly. It’s like it was meant to be even when they’re adding elements that are not typically punk. Is that an EBow on “Keyboard Christ”? It still works! To say nothing of the VENOM cover. I have listened to this so damn many times and the various sonic turns it takes are burned into my brain forever. I think people will still care about this record ten years from now.

Qlowski Ikea Youth / Grinding Halt 7”

A sonically dense, highly danceable sound that wears many a familiar ’80s influence on its sleeve, but manages to be at least a little unpredictable in the process. “Ikea Youth” starts with a bouncy-then-driving guitar, sports a catchy chorus, but ultimately comes off a bit cluttered as the guitar and synth fight for space in the mix. I thought it might just be a lo-fi thing, but the credits say this was recorded at Abbey Road, so I assume that they just like to layer up their sound. Both vocalists have distinct but complementary voices and the synth-driven darkwave finale was pretty cool. Side Two is a CURE cover, and while I’m not really a CURE guy, I appreciate that QLOWSKI takes some sonic liberties by adding chunky guitars, abrasive noise, and discordant piano. I’m curious to see how they develop, but on this outing, I find splitting the difference between gothy post-punk impulses and more accessible pop does justice to neither.

Body Double Milk Fed LP

I had to mull over this one to get it and avoid jumping to easy conclusions. Ex-MANSION helmer Candace Lazarou has built ten warped and weary pop songs that evoke familiar notes of ’90s indie rock with industrial flourishes, pulsing guitars, and even momentary shoegaze walls of noise. It sounds like I’m describing a vintage wine or something, but the production on this is so dense and the lyrics so cryptic that it almost asks to be picked apart piece by piece. Like a problem you keep turning over in your head and can’t fully resolve. At its best it reminds me a bit of NICO’s Camera Obscura album where she sang “Show me the way to warning / Warning for the morning light / I will stab it with a knife / The blinding sun / The heartbeat for the time to come.” Lazarou flips this foreboding blade and light imagery with her own “I was born in a violet light / Sniffin’ sand off a paper knife / I was born with a gun in my face / I was born in outer space.” Am I overthinking this comparison? Maybe. But some people want music that’s awkward to access, that you puzzle over. That’s BODY DOUBLE.

All Hits Men and Their Work LP

A year-end top tenner for this reviewer, Portland’s ALL HITS’ debut, Men and Their Work, has been in heavy rotation in these parts since the summer. They’re everything I like to see in a power trio. With intricate interplay between guitar and bass, eight stripped-down but killer tunes about all of the enduring bullshit of our age: white supremacy, abusers in the scene, and police as natural class traitors. There’s not a lumbering moment here and not a dud to be found. I remember Mike Watt once said it was a political thing in the MINUTEMEN how the bass, drums, and guitar were distinct and equal in their mix and songwriting, and I imagine a similar ethic at work here. Every component gets to shine, in a sense, putting their politics into their song structure—that’s what I’m going to infer, anyway. Great shout-along moments, sung moments, and inventive instrumental bits to keep things interesting. Sonic comparisons to MIKA MIKO are not far off—but with deft and agile basslines. From the tape glitch freakout of “Intro” to the anthemic rager “World is a Fuck” with the extended breakdown, this is a superb debut. 

Spectres Nostalgia LP

The unironically-titled new LP from SPECTRES exists in a world where the ’80s rule, with sonic nods to the CURE or MY BLOODY VALENTINE (sans distorted guitar), and it’s executed so flawlessly that it’s almost a problem. This backward-looking record, complete with authentically retro cover art, suffers from overly lush production. It’s just a bit too shimmering, too sparkling to the point you get an impression early on that nothing unexpected is going to happen (and then nothing does). I’m not saying that old-school-sounding synthwave isn’t up for grabs, I just prefer more urgency. Like when a band like HEKÀTĒ does it, the genre sounds vital to what they’re trying to express (and their songs are in Greek, no less). SPECTRES sound more like they’re building atmosphere while not particularly adding something novel to it, and it’s an all-too-familiar atmosphere. If this record were a piece of furniture, it would be an immaculate glass coffee table. There’s no doubt they can play, but I like to see a bit more grit and dirt with my post-punk. I guess we’re nostalgic for different things.

New Berlin Magnet LP

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

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

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

TI-83 Newsflash demo cassette

A Denver four-piece who take a decidedly No Wave-inspired approach for a band named after a calculator. My favorite moments are when the synth and the guitar seem to be fighting for the same space in the mix, making both sound warped and atonal, like the tape was left in the rain and shoved back into the deck. The tempos are abrupt, the bass is chunky, the songs are short. Plus, there are funny samples. It reminds me of a lot of things (COACHWHIPS? The SICK LIPSTICK?), but not enough of one single thing to make a decent direct comparison. Let’s just say if you like your synth-punk with a touch of garage, but not too angry, this is in your wheelhouse.

Hyper Tensions Evil Seeds LP

Mid-tempo psych-rock from Indianapolis that comes across as a little restrained and melodic for my tastes. I dig how the vocals are drenched in choppy tremolo and delay and how at certain points we get a delightful appearance of what sounds like the electric jug from 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS, but, ultimately, the tunes are held back by conventional blues structures and rather predictable solos. There is potential here, but their overall bar band feel dominates when things need to get weirder and more out of control.

Neutrals Personal Computing / In the Future 7”

There are worse forms of escape from these dire times than retreating into the warm embrace of vintage computer magazines. That’s how Oakland’s NEUTRALS return from their Kebab Disco LP, this time with a bit more in the way of vocal harmonies that strongly resemble TELEVISION PERSONALITIES. It’s nice to hear them developing their craft with a more thick and resonant guitar and tight songwriting that brings a sort of 20th-century optimism about the future: world peace, flying cars, and geodesic domes. That may not sound very punk, but I had this on repeat in full indulgence of their retro utopia.

Knowso Specialtronics Green Vision LP

Solid stuff from Cleveland punkers with some obvious DEVO in their DNA but also hinting at what it would sound like if NOMEANSNO were fronted by Steve Albini. They’re locked into a sound that is angular, makes a clear separation between guitar and bass, and keeps steady with deadpan double-tracked vocals evoking enough dread and despair that there’s no need for hooks. “Digital God” is the standout commentary on toxic contemporary life with lines like “I’m sending out letter bombs / It’s my first time.” At times they deserve the Johnny Ramone prize for sustained downpicking, other times the songs break down into more noodly-doodley rhythms but never approaching prog in their excess. Overall consistent, direct, and not particularly full of surprises once it gets going, but in all its pissed-off tension, totally works.

Gomme Absent Healing 12″

Goth rockers from France with the requisite chorus pedal and the reverb. At first I was put off because 1) a lot of bands over the past decade have been going at this sound, and 2) the production struck me as a bit polished. But first impressions are misleading, because GOMME thankfully mixes it up with personality and outright intensity that bring to mind the more noisy and meandering parts of early MAGIK MARKERS while rejecting the verse-chorus-verse convention of foundational goth punks like SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES. Their vocals shift languages; between English, French, and German; between singer, and attack; spoken, sung in tune, sung out of tune, overlapping, and in once instance, erupting in sick laughter. They use and abuse synths to good, noisy effect. In under 20 minutes, Absent Healing is good for when you want something slightly out of the norm, but not something so harsh or noisy to break your train of thought. It’s enough to make a trip to the post office the right amount of creepy.

Vertical Slit Live at Brown’s LP

An archival live recording that is almost weird to review because if you’re already in the cult of the elusive Jim Shepard, you’ll likely be picking this up regardless. But as someone merely Shepard-curious, this recording doesn’t do justice to the real oddball home-recorded stuff. What Live at Browns brings to the table is Shepard’s band doing a set—a total statement, not just the compiled tunes previously available on past releases. Which is cool, but for me, it’s those more intimate, sketchy, and loopy recordings that sound like they are decomposing before your ears that sound so ahead of their time. For example, on “Fair Exchange” from Slit and Pre-Slit, a compilation of ’70s VERTICAL SLIT recordings, the music reminds me of early, cassette-recorded DANIEL JOHNSTON, if not in style, in fidelity and outsider eeriness. Live at Browns’ “Fair Exchange,” here as “Fair Exchange/Maid in Heaven,” comes off a bit more like straightforward rock with its guitar licks and more conventional vocal attack. Most inspired is the recording of “Smudge” which improves on the previous version from And Beyond, taking on a SABBATH-tinged stoner metal vibe. There is only so much material out there, and if you missed it (and pretty much all of us missed it), here’s a chance to catch it in its full glory—especially if you’re a completist.

Cry Out More Echoes of a Question Never Answered… Why? 12”

An anarcho-punk solo project from Montreal/Halifax with obvious nods to CRASS’s Penis Envy that remarkably manages not to sound like a retread. The reverb leaves an eerie vibe rather than simply compensating for lack of substance, the synth creeps in but doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the drum machine is teased with cowbell and noisemakers. During a pandemic that could spawn scores of dreary solo projects, this sounds so deliberate and vital, and uneasy—think The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks by FLUX OF PINK INDIANS. These four songs go in and out of a lot of sonic directions but hold together like a true, no-bullshit statement. The horrible news overshadowing this righteously indignant EP is that its sole creator, Rosie Davis, passed away this past summer before it could come out. Memorable, original, and fitting of these grotesque times; if this were to be a first salvo, it’s impossible not to wonder where this project was going to go. Great to see La Vida Es Un Mus give this the vinyl treatment and that proceeds go to Rosie’s family. What can you say? Cop this. RIP.