Reviews

Corby Plumb

Clear History Bad Advice Good People 12″

CLEAR HISTORY is a minimalist post-punk trio from Berlin. Sonically, their tunes have all the hallmarks of the genre: single-string guitar parts and slashed-out chords, dual vocals that bounce back and forth, safety-pinned together by steady, uncomplicated drumming and unfussy basslines. You can probably hear it in your head already as it creates a diagonal line in your ear space. The vocals are more impassioned than most of their genre, but I wish the music felt the same. The production is flat and more like a studio demo than what I’d expect from an LP. I wish there was more of a feeling of it sounding live or in a room, but it all sounds like it’s on the same stereo plane without a lot of action or dynamics. The limitations of the style just tend to remind me so much of what I’ve heard in the last five years from similar-sounding bands. I’m sure they’re compelling live and there is definitely an audience for it, but at the moment I’m not it.

The Cravats The Colossal Tunes Out LP reissue

The CRAVATS have never sat easy in the history of the anarcho-punk genre they’ve often found themselves in. While affiliated with CRASS via their label and Penny Rimbaud producing the single they released, their anarchy (if any) was less political than artistic, closer to the absurdism of Dada. Their sense of humor was also more upfront, in a silly surrealist Monty Python way than the often dour anarcho bands’ chants against bombs and starving nations. Musically, they were far more imaginative and complicated in their arrangements—Rob Dalloway’s guitar sound is both dissonant and twangy, featuring odd chords and the occasional rockabilly flourish, the Shend’s bass and Dave Bennett’s drums savored upfront, stomping and shifty in tempo. Svoor Naan’s saxophone has always been the band’s red herring, often lending them the ill fitting description of “jazz-punk,” with my argument against that being: would anyone call X-RAY SPEX “jazz” just because of Lora Logic’s horn lines? Due partly to this, the CRAVATS haven’t had the eternal back-patch legacy of their labelmates, or been able to stay in print perpetuity. The Colossal Tunes Out LP never even made it to CD aside from tracks on The Land of the Giants compilation, so this reissue by Overground is momentous in that respect at the least. Truth be told, I’m a huge CRAVATS fan, and interviewed lead vocalist the Shend for my zine 1ten years ago. When I saw this had been reissued, I scooped it up immediately as it’s my favorite of their releases. Not a real album as much as a compilation of their singles, there’s still a cohesion between the songs, and it’s the finest example of the CRAVATS’ off-kilter and adventurous musical world. The first side starts with the maniacally dubbed-out vortex of “Off the Beach,” the reverby surf punk riffs on “Terminus,” and the woozy cut n’ paste musique concrete of “Firemen.” The classic Crass Records single “Rub Me Out” (maybe their most well-known moment) highlights the B-side, and the psycho swarming clarinet and bugged-out swing of “Daddy’s Shoes” is maybe the closest thing to a real jazz-punk moment the band has. Any fan of the artier strains of post-punk like the FALL, SWELL MAPS, or PERE UBU, or mutant new wave like DEVO or the SUBURBAN LAWNS (even modern practitioners of the style à la CONEHEADS or URANIUM CLUB) would be wont to give the CRAVATS a serious listen. They even do an uptight and twisted cover of “Working in a Coalmine” like the spud boys from Akron did. If reading this review turns at least one more person on to the band, then my writing this is a success. Hopefully enough attention will come from this reissue that maybe we’ll get a chance to see the band’s multiple Peel Sessions come to vinyl in the future.

Deck in the Pit In a Lane 10″

DECK IN THE PIT skronks and undulates in the lineage of the MAGIC BAND as well as their Australian forefathers VENOM P. STINGER, especially in tumbling-down-the-stairs fake jazz drumming, which is really the most standout component. The bass farts along with the clanky knotted-up guitar, but it almost seems unnecessary. I appreciate the vocals not being goofy or growly, but there isn’t much presence or attack, as if there was an apprehension to the production and performance. Everything could be a bit nastier, freakier and more far-out for my tastes. This is a 2016 recording session being released in 2021, and as an archival document of a band that was, it’s fine, but I’d be a bit more interested in hearing what these folks have been creating more recently.

Beton Combo Perfektion Ist Sache Der Götter LP reissue

A recent reissue of anthemic political punk from 1981 by this West Berlin group. I enjoy the sense of urgency across the album, as if they’re against the wall at Checkpoint Charlie, raging against a line of rifle barrels. A solid archival release, if you’re a fan of Cold War EU punk or anarcho anything.

Carvento Felana Carvento Felana cassette

A wormhole opens up in the fabric of time and out hops a battle-ready punk of some dystopian origin, like something out of The Road Warrior, clothing disintegrated and patched back together, with those new wave Geordi LaForge glasses wrapped around their eyes. “I have music from the future for you to review! It’s on cassette and limited to 50 copies! I came back in time to give you the last copy and it’s most urgent that you hear this and tell the people of your time!!” they said, frantically handing over the cassette. “In what future punks are still making limited edition cassettes?” I asked. “2022!” they replied, before jumping back in the quickly-closing wormhole, leaving nothing but cosmic debris in its wake. He must’ve meant to go further back; I shrug as I put on Side A and proceed with my duty to humanity. All booming mechanical drum machine patterns, circuit-eroded samplers and loopers gone amok, CARVENTO FELANA’s self-titled tape is glitching electronic body music served up in short punky doses, spewing out layers of static over synth patch bleeping and blorping. A solid EP for more open-minded fans of early industrial music, experimental electronics, synth punk, etc.

The Ex Tumult LP reissue

The latest in Superior Viaduct’s continuing reissue crusade of the legendary Dutch band the EX. Tumult is their third LP, and on it, the band furthered the sonic experimentation they began on their previous release, Dignity of Labour. This era of the EX is the band expanding as musicians and artists, moving quickly away from the confines of punk rock and into the improvisational, genre-smearing world they’ve continued to express themselves in, implementing more noise as a song element and showing the influence of early industrial music like Z’EV or EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN in the thunderous and primal rhythms. Throughout the album, the drums are a highlight, with nary a 4/4 straight rock beat in sight. The bass grinds along percussively, focused on the repetitive march enforced by the drums. “Happy Thoughts” is an extraordinary track in this respect, like something out of an Adrian Sherwood/On-U production, the drums cut up and distorted to the point of sounding like a drum machine, building the syncopation to something militantly danceable. “Red Muzak” is a tidal wave of metallic sounds, rolling snares, and a crash cymbal like an exclamation point in the mix. Aside from the drumming across the album, you also hear Terrie Ex expanding his guitar palette away from traditional barre chords and single note riffs, using every part of the guitar to discover new ways of forcibly extracting sound, while also knowing when to bow out and let silence take over.

The Drin Engines Sing for the Pale Moon cassette

Cassette-only mystery music from Cincinnati, OH. I imagine this was developed as a COVID-enforced winter project of long days alone with a four-track, and you can hear the masonry of them building each song brick-by-brick. Stylistically, it’s experimental, touching on an erudite record head’s exploration of motorik rhythms, coldwave synth sines, dub-heavy production, and propulsive post-punk basslines, notably the chunky riff that gives the second tune “Guillotine Blade” all of its life. The album leans on developing a mood through textural soundscapes and less on classic songwriting, but when a catchy chorus or a well-honed hook appears, that’s when this album really works and has that CLEANERS FROM VENUS feeling of it being more like a live band rather than recorded alone. If this was released as a two-song 7” containing the tunes “Down Her Cheek a Pearly Tear” and “For the Tsarina” on the flip, I’d be reaching for my turntable to hear those two over and over.

Maximum Joy Stretch / Silent Street-Silent Dub 12″ reissue

This is a reissue of the classic 12” single every avowed post-punk head should have in their bins. Formed from members of the classic Bristol bands GLAXO BABIES and the POP GROUP and fronted by the effervescent shouts and screams of Janine Rainforth, the group was a continuation of those two groups’ deep funk and dub roots. Scratchy guitar and a crisp upfront street-beat drum sound, it’s no surprise this was a co-release with 99 Records (NY label home to dance punk favorites ESG and LIQUID LIQUID). If you have an aversion to slap bass, this is definitely not for you, but the rest of us will keep the dancefloor warm for you ‘til it’s over.

Hated Innocent People / Seize the Middle East 7″ reissue

A rare KBD slab of fabled 1981 SoCal beach punk now officially reissued for those who don’t want to blow their rent money on an original copy. Honestly, I had never heard of the band, and couldn’t find much on them, but they seem to have been a second-tier group in the Cuckoo’s Nest/Orange County scene of TSOL and the ADOLESCENTS. Fun fact for whatever it’s worth to ya: HATED bassist/vocalist Joe Wood went on to replace Jack Grisham in TSOL during their goth/hair metal eras. Anyway, it’s a standard issue snotty two-sider of early HB struttin’ hardcore, clocking in under seven minutes, and often reminiscent of AGENT ORANGE—heavy on the ride cymbal and staccato surf guitar riffs, but with some very Rikk Agnew-admiring melodic leads.

Low Life From Squats to Lots: The Agony and XTC of Low Life LP

I haven’t caught up with these Aussies since their debut LP Dogging back in 2017, an album I loved, especially in headphones during the rainy months. Well, their third record has appeared in time for the rainy season again, and despite the years between listening, the band has returned with a record that has everything I found so appealing on Dogging, but just ever so matured and nuanced. I’ve always imagined the LOW LIFE sound being created by some smirking lads, loose and laughing on lager, having made off with the CURE’s gear circa Faith and Pornography, but starting a hardcore band with it instead. Stomping and pushing their chorus pedals to sound less blissed-out and distant than pharmaceutically blurry and smothering, replacing a limp strum with a harder attack. Sonically, there’s some special studio accents like trumpets, orchestral strings, and acoustic guitar textures; song-wise, there’s fewer barreling ragers and more moody meditations, but always brimming with desperation and frustration that frames the album’s spirit around the layers of watery chordage. LOW LIFE is in classically fine form and begs for repeat listening and time for full immersion.