Reviews

Luke Henley

Slander Tongue Slander Tongue LP

Slovenly remains the standard bearer for rock’n’roll that’s vital and unstuck from time. SLANDER TONGUE brings a megaton of swagger from Germany in a debut that’s beyond self-assured. You know that rare balance a band strikes where not a note feels out of place but is backed by enough grit that it never feels sterile? That’s the magic trick of these eleven cuts—unrelenting, big bad windmill-strummed guitar anthems that make you want to saw the roof off your car and go for an endless drive. There’s so much that can go wrong in this genre, and a lot of rock imitators sound too scrubbed up or washed out, but those common pitfalls are avoided with smart decisions made on the page and in the sound booth. Songs like “Shattered Girl” really showcase the goods—an anchored rhythm in the drums and bass that ride clean throughout wiry riffing that goes all over without losing the plot. Throw in some backup harmony and you’ve got a potent brew to keep coming back to.

Bad Example Bad Music LP

Punks on YouTube always know what’s up, especially when it comes to buzzing, damaged hardcore, and that’s how I first heard BAD EXAMPLE. They have that sound that seems to always ignite comment sections across the web lately. There’s cave-like production, amplifying the ferociousness of the playing with waves of cacophony, plus you have those vocals that sound like you’re live in the warehouse—a whipping screech that cuts like wind following a machete swipe. It’s of a style, one that is especially popular right now, but damn if it isn’t done well. Nine tracks in under fifteen minutes, sounding like a hailstorm in a tin can and played like they mean it—BAD EXAMPLE shines alongside their contemporaries in hardcore and keeps the genre dismal and alive.

Modern Cynics Auditory Postcards cassette

MODERN CYNICS’ grimy econo-pop sound is damn near perfect on this eighteen-track tape. On average, the songs clock in tight and tidy—usually around a minute and a half (sometimes under 60 seconds)—showing off songwriter Matty Grace’s chops for penning overdriven tunes that are full of muscle and melody. The whole affair washes over you, and is honestly best consumed in one go rather than shuffling through cuts. What stands out here is the blend of breezy disaffected execution, mainly in Grace’s vocal delivery, with a perfect dose of urgency and punch. Some of these tracks truly rip, while others are ideal mope anthems. It’s got it all, a tape to keep in the deck for weeks at a time.

The Smog First Time, Last Chance / Noise Noise 7″

I almost thought I was listening to a reissue when throwing on this release by Osaka’s the SMOG, and that’s not to say it sounds dated. It’s power pop with a major emphasis on power, but feels a part of the pantheon rather than an echo. In just two songs, this single has got hooks and teeth—beautiful songwriting that sounds like it’ll step on your neck if you get in the way. “Noise Noise,” the B-side here, hits like a chain but also has a disarmingly vulnerable melody—the perfect intersection between late ’70s-indebted sneering punk and heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism that will never wear out its welcome.

Collision Immortels / La Vie S’Échappe 7″

I hate for punk to get too squeaky clean, especially when it claims to be echoing the sleaziest era of the genre (late ’70s). This single definitely falls in that category, with all the rough edges sanded down for ease of consumption. Most of the fault lies in the production, which dampens the bite of the guitars that really would have put this over the edge. That said, the songwriting is pretty spot-on, hitting a sweet spot between an old school UK sound and an overall harmony-enriched power pop vibe. I just wish it hit harder because as it stands, it falls just short of something potent. Another quibble, and definitely one that comes from personal bias—the B-side “La Vie S’Échappe” ends with a fade out. Please, all punks take note: write an ending to your song. Nothing packs less punch than a song just trickling away. Slam one last E chord or something and call it a night, it’s really not a big deal.

Plasticheads Nowhere to Run LP

Sometimes it’s refreshing just to be somewhere familiar, and that is proven deftly by these Toronto traditionalists on this ten-track full-length. The tempo is up there, the guitars are dirty, and the snotty energy doesn’t let up from beginning to end. There’s not much to wax philosophical about here, it’s just one of those bands that has the punk fundamentals down and executes again and again. In a genre full of pretenders, it pays to do your homework and these fine folk have done just that.

Pinocchio My Time Vol. 1 EP

Punk isn’t about competition, it’s about community, but if I had to pick a band that best represents the vibrancy and creativity of the current renaissance of NYC punk, PINOCCHIO would be near the very top of a short list. Simply put, this is one of the most confident debuts in punk in at least a decade. Self-assured, fearsome, and downright odd where it counts—it makes you start to wonder if starving to death in the big city might be worth it just to get a taste of what’s going on over there. Somewhere between new wave and hardcore, with some detours into a dimension we’ve yet to fully explore, PINOCCHIO has already proven they belong in the pantheon of greats, and they only needed eight tracks to do it. Essential listening for yesterday, today, and many tomorrows to come.

Zero Zeroes Zero Zeroes LP

The ’90s often get overlooked by punk bands looking to mine the past for fresh style references, but while plenty can (and has) been said about the ’70s and ’80s, the pre-Y2K years had tons of acts deserving of revisits and updates. Germany’s ZERO ZEROES know this, and while their sound still feels contemporary (and certainly not retro), they also aren’t afraid to harken back to some of the trademarks of heavy hitters like NEW BOMB TURKS and ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT. Combining high-speed swaggering thumpers with whip-smart riffing, this ends up being one of the most fun punk releases in recent memory. It’s smartly conceived and has a worn-down authenticity to it just to seal the deal. The standout track “7070’s” exemplifies the anthemic songwriting this band utterly nails—with big ringing chords, vocals with conviction, and a tough-as-hell rhythm section. Damn near perfect modern punk.

The Sweatys Stretch demo cassette

Philly poppy punks (not pop punks, mind you) follow up their first demo with another excellent batch of tracks. For a demo, the recording is excellent—with the right amount of grit to amplify the strong songwriting on display. These songs whip back and forth, echoing a classic ’80s Midwest sound with enough contemporary flair to keep things fresh. The band even dips a toe into cowpunk—a genre that’s so often executed poorly—with closer “Hoosegow.” The SWEATYS pull it off, rolling snare and slacker sliding guitar lines and all. Overall a top-notch demo from a band that keeps pumping ’em out.

Milk Bricks EP

One of last year’s best releases, this Japanese band unplugs the distortion pedals for a compelling clean-tone take on contemporary hardcore. Even with the dials turned down, this band is no less ferocious and rips through six tracks in as many minutes. The drums hit a sort of sloppy D-beat, giving major juice to the overall sound. These cuts hit hard and hit different, the two main criteria to look for in the crowded talent pool of modern hardcore. A lot of people have already sung this EP’s praises and none of them are exaggerating.

Carlitos Güey / Fun Time Objects split 7″

This third installment of split singles makes good on the promise of its label’s moniker. FUN TIME OBJECTS kick things off on Side A with a love letter to RAMONES that is successfully charged, danceable rock’n’roll without sounding like a copycat crime. It’s perfect for cutting a living room rug or revving up a basement dive. On the flipside, CARLITOS GÜEY gives a swaggering garage take on glam, echoing T. REX’s more stadium-friendly fare with a confident rhythmic stomp, too-cool vocals (featuring Shannon Shaw on back-up), and some slick guitar licks to cap it all off. The singles are packaged beautifully in hand-printed sleeves, plus you even get an official membership card. Be a real rock’n’roller and join the club!

Loud Night Mindnumbing Pleasure LP

These Richmond, VA-based ripping metalhead punks oil the tank treads for war on their aptly-named new full-length. This is the kind of blunt force D-beat that’s for getting faced with your friends—it’s not a soundtrack for changing the world. It’s a hell of a lot of fun that also hits hard. The playing is the perfect blend of technical execution and loose chaos, and the production has the heft of a battle axe—each track landing like a drunken killing blow. This band plays in a genre that will never change (and never die) and they do it with excellence.

Midnite Snaxxx Contact Contamination / Fight Back 7”

When you’ve got this band’s chops, two songs are all you need to make a point. The down-picked chug of the single’s opener pushes uncut adrenaline right out of the gate, and both tracks keep up a blistering momentum throughout. This band has only gotten more fiery and exciting over their decade-plus in existence, and these tracks continue to up the ante. The guitar work is scrappy, furious, and wonderfully weird, and lead vocalist Dulcinea continues to command attention with a presence that’s impossible to ignore. I can’t wait for more.

These Things Existential Hangover LP

It’s nice to be reminded that punk doesn’t always have to be miserable. Bleakness is great—and usually appropriate for the goings-on of the world—but thank God there are still bands like Ballarat, Australia’s THESE THINGS to offer sweetness in bitter times. There is plenty of melody and hooks on display here, and the band’s sound is reminiscent of gritty late-2000s garage pop acts like CHEAP TIME and BAD SPORTS (especially the latter). This album doesn’t improve on a winning formula, but it’s done well and a pleasure to listen to. If I have a gripe it’s that the lyrics are a bit rote on tracks like “Cigarettes and Booze,” a subject well-enough-covered at this point, but overall it’s still a solid LP.

Cold Callers Dressed to Die LP

I hate to judge a record by its jacket, but the antiseptic early-2000s radio rock vibe of this full length’s cover betrays the contents therein. There is nothing outright terrible about these twelve well-packaged tracks, but overall it lacks depth. The production is thin, for a start, with guitars that don’t so much crunch as gently chew and vocals that sound like they’re put through a digital telephone filter. The songwriting itself is power-pop-by-numbers—a genre that when done well can be transcendent, but so often it feels like an oversaturated market. It’s hard to say which facet of COLD CALLERS’ sound needs the biggest touch-up. If it were recorded nastier, maybe it could bang with the best of them. If the songwriting were really top-notch, maybe the squeaky-clean contemporary rock production wouldn’t matter. As it stands, this album just floats in purgatory—it’s not good enough for heaven or egregious enough for hell.

TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects TJ Cabot & Thee Artificial Rejects LP

This record really ticks off the boxes—eleven tracks, none of them over two-and-a-half minutes long, and reportedly recorded on one cheap microphone (but sounds better than most studio efforts). It has taffy-sweet hooks, but still sounds tough. Basically everything you want from nihilistic garage punk that’s still palatable enough to put on at a dinner party (depending on how cool your friends are). Hits a great STOOGES-like peak with the “Gimme Danger”-echoing highlight “It Ain’t Fun (In the City of the Whiplash).” The whole album slips in, slaps your face and dips out before you can ask for another. Raucous, gritty, and near-perfect.

Drunk Mums Adderall / Headshrinker 7”

What do they put in the kids food in Australia that makes them all grow up to be such lovely angular punks? This is a killer single full of good clean fun, delivered with the kind of booksmart smarm that’s practically omnipresent these days in Melbourne. The flip side “Headshrinker” ups the stakes with a little more fury without losing any of the charm. This is locked-in snotty rock‘n’roll just the way we like it.

Rolex Hip Intellect EP

This release is ten furious cuts of ’80s futurist punk. While the band seems happy to harken back to the “glory days” of their hometown LA—mostly evident in their highly-mobile bass lines and howling vocals—they incorporate odd melodic and rhythmic turns that break with tradition and keep the ear abuzz in new ways on every track. The guitar stands out in particular, sounding like D. Boon doing divebombs; it’s some of my favorite axe work I’ve heard all year. The entire package fits perfectly with lyrical themes of apocalypse, climate crisis and everything else you’d want from California hardcore. This band is weirder and wilder than most—definitely deserving of your attention.

The Cavemen Euthanise Me EP

New Zealand scum punks the CAVEMEN return with four tracks of their particular brand of theatrical faster-and-louder rock‘n’roll. The results are solid, with nothing feeling particularly evolved from last year’s full length Night After Night. But that’s not really the point with music designed to hit hard and as to-the-point as possible. It’s a good bit of fun, though the music does sound a bit friendlier than I might expect from titles such as “Eat Your Heart & Wear Your Face.” There’s something charming about the band’s preoccupation with writing “evil” tunes, I just wish I believed them a smidge more. Less cracking wise and more cracking skulls!

V/A Killed by Meth #5 LP

It’s Trash! Records’ annual compilation Killed by Meth is always an eye-opener. This year’s installment (the fifth) continues to highlight some of the filthiest offshoots of rock coming out of the US Midwest, including the always-excellent ERIK NERVOUS and recent Goner signees ARCHAEAS. There are no duds here, though the standouts steal a lot of the glory. The best song of the bunch comes from Cincinnati’s BLACK PLANET. Their contribution, “Crimewave,” is a total earworm of pounding rhythms and acidic vocals that demands you pick the needle up and play it again once it’s done. The rest of the compilation keeps it eclectic with the likes of urgent synth-punks MONONEGATIVES before and closing everything out with a new nihilist anthem—“Flies on Shit” by AU SHOVEL. All in all, it’s another solid entry in the ongoing series of killer punk comps.

Richard Rose Radiation Breeze LP

After putting out an incredible four tracks of oozing rock ’n’ roll last year, RICHARD ROSE is back with its debut full-length. Songwriter and guitarist Thomas Tripplet (under the pseudonym Thomas Rose) is joined by a band of heavy players, including Chris Shaw (EX-CULT, GØGGS) and Orville Neeley (OBN IIIs, BAD SPORTS). Given the body of work between those two, expectations were set high—and this might be each of their finest work to date. Radiation Breeze is mean, focused and couched in a suffocating murky atmosphere. The rhythm section stays in a motorized groove, leaving plenty of room for Tripplet’s snarling guitars and Shaw’s punk-perfected vocals. The band even goes full Funhouse in their nods to the STOOGES with extraplanar saxophone stabs throughout. All this comes to a head in the two-part title track which gives the group ample opportunity to stretch their legs through the course of a sprawling end-of-world jam that slams headlong into a wall in the bruising closing minutes. You almost want to commission RICHARD ROSE to go back in time and score an early Michael Mann film because these tunes are tough like neon through smoke.

Overcharge Metal Punx LP

On their third full-length, these Italian D-beaters do just enough to keep things fresh. While they’ve drilled down on the typical MOTÖRHEAD-worship style of many other bullet-belted punks—in case the -CHARGE suffix didn’t clue you in—they do it competently with a few tweaks to the formula to keep things interesting. This band doesn’t require close analysis, though. It is the kind of music you throw on your leather and swig several tall cans for. Turn off that thinky bit in your skull and just go all in, because it’s fun as hell even if it earns few points for originality. Tracks like “Lords of Hysteria” even resemble the later crusty period of DARKTHRONE, which is always a good thing. This trio is going to keep doing what they’re doing and you can bang thy head or not, but you’ll have a better party if thou doth.

Algara Una Cosa Más Sin Sentido Alguno Usada Para Hacer Rico Al Mismo de Siempre cassette

Barcelona’s leftist post-punks ALGARA expand their sound and personnel on this cassette. The band re-recorded their debut EP for the front half, using a full band to augment their initial cold, drum machine-based sound. The flip side consists of four cuts from their upcoming full-length. The material that hits hardest here is the first four tracks, which completely rebuilds the original songs from the ground up into something resembling the original WARSAW EP set to a vibrant garagey bop. Tight polyrhythmic drums lay the bedrock for moon-roving bass lines and piercing saturated guitar, all while leaving ample space for the protest crier vocals. This is a revolution you can dance to, which is often the only kind worth fighting. The second half of the tape splits the difference between this updated approach and the group’s original more stark and synthetic sound. The duality works, but the traditional rock instrumentation is more fun. This is overtly political, anti-establishment punk you can bounce to—but politics ain’t always fun and games! The cassette is sold out via the label (update—now back in stock), but you can buy digital and as of this writing the band has physical copies to buy directly.

Protagonists 1983-1985 LP

This is the kind of punk artifact crate digger dreams are made of—a beautifully packaged reissue of previously unheard and nigh unfindable material from this Naperville-based group of adolescent power poppers with an edge. At the height of Chicago hardcore, these kids were making smartass melodic tunes that hit more like NAKED RAYGUN produced by the FEELIES. The songwriting is confident, with advanced structures and tight playing that a lot of veteran acts never fully achieve. There’s also some naïve charm, largely thanks to the keyboard that often hangs clumsily in the mix but still adds something special. On the standout “Another Monday,” PROTAGONISTS sounds like they could have had a home amongst K Records’ roster of discomforting emotional acts—an accidental precursor to ’90s bedroom pop-rock. So many releases like this get lost to time, but thankfully now a wider audience can listen to the quiet triumph of four teens who made the time to put what they had to say on tape. After all, it’s not always about how many people are listening, but the quality of what they listen to.