Reviews

Noel Gardner

Chain of Flowers Amphetamine Luck flexi 7”

First new music in a few years from the Welsh diaspora’s preeminent dream-pop punx, and “Amphetamine Luck” is a one-song, one-sided flexidisc which finds them back at peak performance. There are a shit ton of guitars on this, be that due to multi-tracking or a surfeit of fellows who simply love to stick their six-stringed oar in, and the full, fulsome, sweetly ear-ringing sound—from the synth-y ambient intro on—is a credit to producer Jonah Falco and, more poignantly, the late John Hannon on mastering duties. Lyrics seem to aim for that moment in a party arc where chemical euphoria starts to bleed into chemical regret: “I just can’t seem to learn,” croons Joshua Smith, relatably.

Health Plan Health Plan cassette

Must admit to having lowish expectations for this one for a few jumbled reasons (artwork apparently completed in a two-minute time limit, recording process described as “we plugged guitars straight into a laptop,” members’ other bands USA NAILS and DEAD ARMS never truly doing it for me with their recorded product), but the debut release by London band HEALTH PLAN has some very agreeable moments of mangled punk electro No Wave. The nasty recording is actually a boon in fact, assuming you can get with clipping-heavy digital snowstorms, and the injections of sax skronk boost the gnarl nicely; vocals are largely semi-spoken and often buried in the mix. A sound I most readily associate with the first decade of this millennium—which makes it more fun to hear now!—HEALTH PLAN are working similar angles to XBXRX, PRE, and NO BABIES in times recent or less so.

Bloody Head The Temple Pillars Dissolve Into the Clouds LP

Even if much of this Nottingham band’s prior product was unlovely scum sludge for DRUNKS WITH GUNS huffers and the like, there was always something inherently trip-worthy about their vibe. Probably not a good trip, no, but…yeah. Either way, their second album leans more flagrantly than ever into psychedelia, opening number “This Could Be Paradise” wigging shaggily for eight-minutes-plus. Everyone sounds on top form here, vocalist Dave Bevan spitting the realest lyrics (“I’m 57 and I’ve never been sucked off / Imagine that”) and Ian Boult, who I daresay knows these guys’ steez inside out, recording them impeccably. BLOODY HEAD’s psych touchstones are the bad vibes bringers—STOOGES, SPACEMEN 3, BRAINBOMBS—but with the four-piece’s CV including MOLOCH, NADIR, and ARMY OF FLYING ROBOTS, they bring near-ceaseless riffs, too. Riffs they could probably sell to a younger, prettier band and watch as they toured the world with them—better they’re kept right here in this dank purgatory, though.

Gasp Stardonas EP

Discovering GASP’s Drome Triler of Puzzle Zoo People album back in the day—after the band was done, but a long time ago nevertheless—was a real light in the darkness for me. A band from (or at least adjacent to) the powerviolence scene who deployed all sorts of weird gloopy psychedelic shit and covered STRETCHHEADS! Somehow, they’re back after, it says here, sixteen years with a couple of new items, including this three-song 7”. “Husband is the Lake” is your go-to track if you want more of their chomping LSD grind; the other two are pretty far beyond “rock,” or the regular notion of it, although “Sign of Victor” feels a bit like something FAUST cooked up in a German commune circa 1971, all analog electronics and sludgy backmasking.

Headcheese Headcheese LP

British Columbia combo containing BOOTLICKER alumni rattle out twelve songs in twelve minutes and rarely if ever drop the tempo for this, their first vinyl outing. HEADCHEESE has a pretty big streak of garage punk in their hardcore, though, twin guitars both sounding scrawny and tinny (in a cool way). Reminds me of the SPITS here and there, early BLACK FLAG in certain respects, ANGRY SAMOANS for the insouciance… BLOODY HAMMER from late-’00s Texas had a really similar vibe for their short existence, I’d say. Lyrics, sang and I think written by Lewis Podlubny, lean heavily on the loser-punk burnout anthems but throw in some anti-police sentiment (I like the framing of this one: that’s cool your officer dad is nice to you, but he’s still a cop) and a sardonic love letter to Google Home.

Inyeccion Ejecutar demo cassette

This band is from Chile and Argentina, this is their first release, and beyond that I have no context in which to place INYECCION—apart from these ten songs amounting to the most perfectly realised shit-fi pogo-punk I’ve heard in a minute. The drummer has got that oompah beat down so pat it’ll make your heart sing; there are two vocalists, though it’s Cromi (also of FARMACO from Buenos Aires—hey, there’s some context) who indubitably rules the roost with her irate squawk. Guitar and bass merge into a singular conglomerate of amp fuzz, save for about 30 seconds of unlikely jangly guitar during “Atentar Dinamatar,” the last song on the tape. This rules and I want another INYECCION release already.

Horrendous 3D The Gov. and Corps. Are Using Psycho-Electronic Weaponry to Manipulate You & Me EP

Artwork for this looks like some random release on Bluurg Tapes, which is pretty much a red herring, or maybe one of your meta-referential EXITHIPPIES joints, which is getting warmer. HORRENDOUS 3D is a Portland band on a LEBENDEN TOTEN member’s label and they sound every bit as up for popping eardrums with pure tone filth on their debut 7”. That being said, the guitarist conjures up some interesting noise textures and blaze-past solos, as opposed to just cranking the dentist’s drill; the bass is textbook ’80s noisecore and chunky as anything; and the vocals could be imported into a grind band or AUTOPSY-type sludgy death outfit without sounding out of position.

Sarcasm Creeping Life 12”

The SARCASM tape—already half-a-decade old, I’m alarmed to read—and 2017 EP were glorious artefacts of their type, bare-brick rhythm-first punk that was somehow both punishingly direct and gnomically elusive. You didn’t expect or want this band to “progress,” whatever that means, and they haven’t exactly done that on Creeping Life (one of its six songs, “Digital Colony,” also appeared on the demo), but I just don’t see how their sound could get more platonically ideal than this. It’s not DESPERATE BICYCLES UK DIY or BAUHAUS goth or FLUX anarcho or GANG OF FOUR post-punk or even INSTITUTE updates on any combo of those things, but trace elements of each float around like the algal scum Luke McGuire sings about. His lyrics are neither reductive slogans or indulgent poetry, but use repetition really smartly and deploy imagery that haunts. I’m only half-sure what “Blinding scream, locked-in gaze / Creeping, breaking, a furious haze” is about (nuclear paranoia?), but damn if it doesn’t sound like deep shit when he intones it. All that, and bassist Alexandra Graves is still probably SARCASM’s M.V.P., in that their songs sound like they build from the basslines up.

Spiritual Mafia Al Fresco LP

Real Rorschach blot test music, this: I feel like one person could listen to SPIRITUAL MAFIA’s debut album and hear bleak, glazed-eye noise rock drudgery, and someone else could take in the exact same 32 minutes and walk away having experienced transcendent psych/Kraut heat damage. The pointedly mundane, repetitive lyrics thoroughly underscore this too, especially on Al Fresco’s opening and closing cuts, “Lunch” and “Bath Boy”—the latter of which runs past ten minutes, cycles through all manner of delicious dub manoeuvres and treats the act of jumping in the tub as a solipsist’s charter. “Hybrid Animal,” no one-pump chump itself at nearly nine minutes, is kinda HAWKWIND guitar frazzle with BIG BLACK subject matter (reputedly based on the time a friend’s neighbour called round, in the nude, to inform him she was pregnant with her three-legged dog’s offspring) and sounds like someone’s playing pool in the background at one point. “Smiles” and “Poolside” are shorter, thuddier arch-rockers that feel most emblematic of the Melbourne swamp SPIRITUAL MAFIA come from, thinking here of CONSTANT MONGREL and VOICE IMITATOR’s most recent releases. This one was a slowburner but I’m all about it now.

Ugly Thing Ugly Thing cassette

The Richter Scale label in Oxford has been transatlantically repping the Moreno Valley, CA hardcore scene, or one specific node of it, by running off UK editions of its bands’ extremely short tapes. Being objective here, anyone paying to have a toilet-break-length piece of music cargoed across the world is exhibiting decadence on a par with the last days of Rome. Not totally sure who’s in UGLY THING, but they’ve sprung from the same well as SUNK, REJEX, and PROCESS OF ELIMINATION, all of whom have Richter Scale tapes too, and their demo—four songs in two-and-a-half minutes—is tasty, “take a buzzsaw to a brick wall” HC with cool rabid dog vox and no song titles.

Haldol Negation LP

If I had to offer reasons why you should listen to HALDOL instead of a laundry list of other bands who come from DIY punk culture but play super-styled 1980s gothic rock—and I know I don’t actually have to offer those reasons—one would be their apparent dedication to perfecting their take on the archetype. A lot of contemporary acts like this retain a pretty evident hardcore background, or anarcho fandom, but Negation sounds like a straight-up “released on Red Rhino Records circa 1984” goth opus. Aaron Muchanic brings in a KILLING JOKE-ish vibe by battering heck out of his toms on “Triangle” and “Bull’s Blood” (the intros to which sound almost identical to one another); Geoff Smith drops some cute CURE guitars into “Amuse-Bouches” among other songs and adds some big-venue reverb to plump up his vox for the likes of “The Garden.” The necessity of this type of carry-on is for the individual to decide, ultimately, but HALDOL does ’80s goth about as well as anyone you’ll find in the ’20s.

Poïson Ruin Poïson Ruin LP

Crucial vinyl comp of two self-issued tapes, released about-simultaneously with the second (though you’re way late to grab either), by the solo project of Philadelphia’s Mac Kennedy. POÏSON RUIN is however operating as a band henceforth, which is good news as it invites the possibility of dragging this past lockdown-era online hype status and bringing it to the people. A huge, booming sound prevails across these ten songs, riddled with hooks and accessible in its own odd way: you might catch shards of WIPERS, the MOB, INSTITUTE…and then there’s Kennedy’s whole “peace punk in chainmail” vibe. I do think the dungeon synth element is overemphasised in the bulk of chatter about POÏSON RUIN: not saying those parts are irrelevant, or there for show, just that it shouldn’t make or break the deal for anyone. Essentially, we’re talking atmospheric keyboard intros, or interludes, which foreshadow bombastic anarcho-goth stompers with the arena-bound drama of NWOBHM. “Sacrosanct,” from the first cassette, fuses the rock and synth elements to a greater extent; “Paladin’s Wrath,” from the second, has both the most drawn-out section of new age tinkling and the fastest, arguably hardcore tempo once the rock kicks in.

Preening Dragged Through the Garden 12”

PREENING didn’t invent any of the sounds, or combinations of sounds, you hear on this nine-song EP, but at this point they have fully slapped their own stamp on things, and they were decently distinctive before. The snaky saxophone and juddery bass calls back to early ’80s UK post-punk’s jazzier cats—frequently thinking BLURT, sometimes the POP GROUP—and it’s notable that Max Nordile, on the former listed instrument, plays like an actual jazzer as opposed to a punk who realised the sax’s din-making potential. (Check the slow’n’low “Red Red Lava” for evidence, or for that matter some of Max’s truly wild solo tapes.) His spluttering vox, frequently twinned with the slightly more insouciant tones of bassist Alejandra Alcala, lend a noisier, more abrasive angle to the band, not light years away from TRUMAN’S WATER or someone. Andy Human, PREENING compadre from their weird-punk Bay Area scene and Alejandra’s NAKED ROOMMATE bandmate, pops up at the end of Dragged Through the Garden with a creepy dub remix of “Extortion,” although if there is an original version it appears to be unreleased at present.

Citric Dummies Die Nasty cassette

There needs to be a few CITRIC DUMMIES-type bands around at any given time, otherwise punk might collapse in on itself and lose its intrinsic ability to revel in the theatre of the absurd, or something like that. By “CITRIC DUMMIES-type bands,” I mean ones who write energetic bangers (that aren’t really hardcore or skate punk or garage or KBD-type stuff, although if any of those things are your jam you might like this), with genuinely funny, obnoxious lyrics (that aren’t “anti-PC” or somesuch). BRUTAL KNIGHTS were probably the last band to bat a comparable average on this front to these guys from Minneapolis, and although Die Nasty doesn’t have any lines that have induced actual belly laughter à la “I H8 Birds” or “Where the Fuck Were You?” from previous DUMMIES outings, it’s as ribald as a tape with an opening song called “Your Ex-Girlfriend is Dating a Nazi” oughta be. For some reason you have to download it and/or play the actual tape to hear it mixed properly, and it intentionally sounds like shit if you just stream it, although no doubt some people will prefer that version.

Sick Thoughts Poor Boys / Drug Rock 7”

SICK THOUGHTS are one of those bands, or projects or whatever, that people constantly talk about in terms of how prolific they are on the release front, but this two-song 45 is the first thing under this name for nigh on eighteen months. I guess we’ve all had distractions one way or another. Both sides are pretty on-point if you’re already down with the essential Drew Owen ethos, and even if not, they’re pretty insta-likeable uptempo punk rock’n’roll with power-pop-gone-metal guitar solos. It’s not polished or anything, but no kind of lo-fi either, especially compared to Drew’s recent album as DD DETH. Kudos for also being bold enough to have a drawing of a bunch of skeletons playing instruments as the sleeve art, despite not being an ageing psychobilly band.

Les Conches Velasques Les Conches Velasques LP

This comes ultra-recommended if you fancy hearing some guitar-based underground rock music—stay with me—which ventures past obvious Western comfort zones, incorporating Arabic and African motifs and rhythmic tics into its arrangements without coming off at all tokenistic or white-dreadlocky. LES CONCHES VELASQUES was a solo project at the time of this debut album, released digitally in 2018 and now as an LP with two extra songs; during this interim period Pablo Jiménez, from Zaragoza in Spain, has turned it into a band, one who have a second album due out pretty soon. For now, dig this set of hypnotic trance-punk: sage-voiced (Spanish-language) vox over shuffly Afrobeat percussion, raw buzzy guitar tuned so it sounds like a horn section being played through a transistor radio, lyrics borrowed from early 20th century poet Pedro Salinas or, on one occasion, covering 1960s Ethiopian star singer Asnaqètch Wèrqu. The EX, 75 DOLLAR BILL, and LUNGFISH are the closest comparisons in terms of the “rock band format,” but LES CONCHES VELASQUES (like those groups) works with far wider horizons.

Harry Pussy Superstar EP

Fifteen micro-songs from a rando 1993 session by these Miami noise rock ultras, unreleased until now though HARRY PUSSY headz ought to know “Youth Problem”’ as the opening track on their debut album from that same year. The vibe on Superstar is not wildly dissimilar, which is to say it’s wild—total primordial beast blues guitar from Bill Orcutt, Adris Hoyos’ collapsing drums, red-faced fits passing for vox from both, and apparently a teenage accordionist, which, uh, if you say so. There’s no Mark Feehan on this one, yet it feels like HARRY PUSSY’s closest throwback to mid-’80s FL funnypunk (BROKEN TALENT, etc.) he and Orcutt crawled from. Essential for “Robert Ranks Reed (Alphabetically),” whose complete lyrics are the titles of six LOU REED albums and the grades awarded them by Robert Christgau. Vinyl looks to be long gone/at collector prices now, however.

Warm Red Decades of Breakfast LP

Clangy post-punk burl from an Atlanta band who did a 45 on Chunklet a while back but had evaded me until now; WARM RED’s members don’t seem to be burdened with ex-band bona fides, either, excepting the guitarist who seems like he’s down to play pretty much anything. This, meanwhile, starts off sounding like a mid-period JESUS LIZARD offcut before shifting to a slightly more straightforward groove, bass riffs often lighting the way forward and minor recourse to punk-funk in the percussion, as well as nicely androgynous vocals from Tony Gary. You wouldn’t call Decades of Breakfast polished, exactly, but I feel like WARM RED have within them whatever it was that nudged bands like PARQUET COURTS and OUGHT up a grade of popularity, and might not be mortified at the idea of people enjoying their music.

Puro Odio Demo 2018 10”

Dim memories of peeping this one back in the year of its original cassette release, giving it the thumbs up inside my brain and then not pursuing PURO ODIO in any serious way: a fool’s gambit, because this demo nailed the blackened Oi! sound as well as anyone in recent years. Reissued by Oakland metal label Sentient Ruin (Basque skinheads Mendeku also put it on vinyl earlier in 2020), these six songs are fixated on death and hell—both, in the case of “Darby Crash”—roll at a sinister pace, often cranking up the briskness but always coming off like they’ve got an extra gear to really hammer ya, and are recorded impeccably, cold and buzzing but with every instrument ringing through. Crucial shit if SEXDROME, HOAX, early RASPBERRY BULBS, and earlier CELTIC FROST turn your head when appearing next to each other like so. There was a PURO ODIO 7” in 2019 too, but I could stand to hear plenty more from these two Spaniards.

Youth Regiment Youth Regiment cassette

Geed myself up to wax posi about how the Stucco label (of which Impotent Fetus is a spin-off) is currently doing a killer job of chronicling all these new raw Olympia HC bands on tapes with badly photocopied inlays. Then I noticed that YOUTH REGIMENT, who would otherwise be a glowing example of the form, recorded these four songs in late 2017 and are presumably long done by now, with two (both?) members carrying on in ELECTRIC CHAIR. Youth Regiment is still a worthy document if you dig the Pacific NW scene or geeky mid-paced-and-above hardcore in general. They (and the people who buffed this recording, notably Will Killingsworth on mastering) get that cruddy bass sound and slightly too springy toms just perfect; the bursts of speed kinda remind me of ADRENALIN O.D. and a guitar part or two could grace a LIQUIDS record. In summary, glad this got dug up.

C-Krit C-Krit cassette

Debut tape from new band, likely from Olympia (not that anyone involved lifts a finger in the service of biographical info) and delivering some of the wrongest-sounding hardcore I’ve heard in a while. Six songs, one an incongruous SCREAMING SNEAKERS cover and (most of) the others an absurd blizzard of teen-tantrum vocals, transistor-radio guitar tone, and drums that sound like someone trying to invent the blastbeat. They’ve called one song “The Kids Will Have Their Say Pt.II,” but come off like they’re trying to pay homage to “How Much Art Can You Take?” on the wilful sub-FLIPPER joint “Army Of Cru.” There’s another curveball at the end with “My Eyes Melt,” baked-sounding dub/synth-pop with no punk to be heard—but C-KRIT, whoever they are, makes the transition work. High recommendation for shit-fi stans!

No Negative The Darkening Hour 12″

One of the illest psychedelic punk purveyors out there has some detritus left over from when they recorded their most recent album, 2019’s The Last Offices, and some more from a while before that, and they think we should hear it. Call me a mooning fanboy, but I happen to agree! That being said, I can see why the two A-side numbers got shelved, because they don’t really jibe with the finished item’s vibe. “Perverbial Grave” [sic…I guess?] is barrelling, stumbling blooze sludge I could imagine having come from the same ’80s Aussie scene as, say, VENOM P. STINGER; “Upside Down World” is even more impeccably hamfisted, kinda CHAIN GANG-via-FUGS talky rabble rousing. From a 2015 session, meanwhile, “Raw Deal” is a reverby and vaguely mournful instrumental which precedes “Mon Obsession Personelle”: a French-language quasi-cover of “Louie Louie” with vox handled by Bernardino Femminielli, who seems to be a weirdo pop dude of some kind from Montreal.

Hekátē Μέρες Οργής / Days of Wrath LP

Synth-punk with a deathly pallor from Athens, a take-no-shit attitude nevertheless prevails in what appears to be HEKÁTĒ’s debut release. Ping-ponging between Greek and English for their lyrics, an organ sounds like it’s set to overheat on “Καλοκαίρι 2018,” while “Soapbox” is—in sentiment more than music—as dead-on as first-wave Riot Grrrl’s finest (“You get in my way and fuck up my day / You push me aside then ask me to smile / Ugh!”). A bumpin’ goth-punk bassline and psych-flecked keyboard swirl backs up Lydia’s reverbed-up vox on “Cul-De-Sac,” which along with “Ψυχαναγκασμός” comes off like ES trying out a WARSAW / STRANGLERS gene-splice, unlikely an occurrence as that might in reality be. “Αθήνα,” which closes the album, is billed as a collection of field recordings from Athens, and encompasses some sort of (possibly) tavern-bound balladry, smashing glass, thunder (or are those bombs?) and police sirens. Pretty skilfully assembled, actually, and doesn’t jar with an otherwise rocking set of post-punk.

True Sons of Thunder It Was Then That I Was Carrying You LP

The TRUE SONS OF THUNDER 7″ that Goodbye Boozy put out a couplathree months back was a stoater, and this follow-up album (which reprises the single’s first and best song, “Shake Rag,” and the briefer, goofier “Toob Sock”) keeps the pecker flying high. I say “follow-up” like this release schedule was the product of a laser-targeted promotional drive, but given these Memphis fellows took the best part of a decade to throw this together, we’re probably lucky we got one TSOT rekkid let alone two. This is an excitingly cloudy tonic of post-ELECTRIC EELS/FLIPPER/BUTTHOLES party sludge with a paw or two dipped in the honey jar of Southern rawk and the freakier fringe of ’90s garage punk. Plenty of five-minute-plus cuts here, and not much hyper tempo, but unquestioned reserves of energy – and they’re a crack unit, too, swerving all over the road on the likes of “Get A Hold To It” but always sounding on each other’s wavelength.

CCR Headcleaner Street Riffs LP

Based chiefly off their previous album Tear Down the Wall (the one with the photo of a nude hippy smashing a flaming guitar into a vast stack of amplifiers), I had San Fran’s CCR HEADCLEANER loosely pegged as one of those post-COMETS ON FIRE kinda bands who brought hardcore aggression to their classic rock fandom. This holds from time to time on Street Riffs (“Half a Tooth,” the bits of “Office Buildings” that sound like BL’AST), but pound-for-pound there’s more triumphalist stoner rawk, CRAZY HORSE shimmery noodling, and even a little LUNGFISH mysticism. It’s fun as hell and contains multiple moments that’ll have you in a pie-eyed grin, assuming you can get on board with all the stuff I just mentioned, but it does feel like CCR HEADCLEANER are in a transitory period between noisy freek-rock and actual structured songwriting—without having mastered the second of those things.

Normil Hawaiians In the Stone / Where Is Living? 7″

Originally a weird, scratchy crypto-anarcho collective on the hippier fringes of early ’80s UK post-punk, NORMIL HAWAIIANS’ return was preceded by Upset The Rhythm reissuing most of their back catalogue. Tentative gig action followed, and now there’s a two-song single of brand new fodder recorded somewhere very remote in Scotland. “In the Stone” grows from an alarmingly cruddy electric guitar intro to a wobbly suite of garage/psych organ, tom-heavy drums and spoken word. “Where Is Living?” on the flip again has a poetic bent, bewailing environmental destruction and “self-made prisons” over soft keyboards and, god love their earnestness, birdsong. Not sure how many copies of this exist, but about six weeks ago I did a serious double-take upon seeing a massive poster (like, “next one down from billboard”-sized) advertising it in the city centre where I live. Guessing the cost of such things is through the floor at the moment, so why not.

Drug Victim Mongrel EP

DRUG VICTIM is a straight edge band from Plymouth in England. If I lived in Plymouth I’d probably be straight edge as well, if only as an excuse to avoid its pubs full of off-duty army meatheads. Mongrel, their second release, crams seven songs onto one side of a 7″, balancing lyrics roughly equally between the politicised (factory farming on “Bolt Cutter”; religion, or some iteration of it, on “Dynamite Money”) and the negative/introspective. You can guess from the artwork this isn’t gonna be your corny youthcrew type sXe: I reckon DRUG VICTIM would prefer to think of themselves more on a COKE BUST or VACCINE kinda tip, with thick sludgy sections breaking up the powerviolence tempos. Of the four labels co-releasing it, two are from the UK, one from the US and one from Spain, should that info aid your purchase.

Hard Action Yours Truly / Walk Away 7″

Hard, moustachioed, denim jacket with enamel pins all-dude action, to give these Finns their full title. Their Hot Wired Beat LP was some pretty solid garage-rock-that-emphasised-the-rock stuff, but on the basis of this latest two-song job I feel HARD ACTION is a proverbial singles band—that, or these songs are just better. “Yours Truly” has its introductory protopunk chug usurped by a struttin’ THIN LIZZY-esque riff and wistful, vaguely heartland rock-y vox; “Walk Away” increases the tempo a shade, reserving its rawk leanings for the chorus. SHEER MAG’s first album and TV CRIME’s first singles are decent contemporary markers for this pair of fist-pumpers.

Naked Roommate Do the Duvet LP

Oakland’s NAKED ROOMMATE entered this world as a duo of Amber Sermeño and Andy Jordan, at a point when both were also busy with the WORLD. Although they’ve swelled to a four-piece for Do The Duvet, with extra muscle from members of bands like PREENING and EXIT GROUP, it’s that first-mentioned band which feels like the big sonic clue here. If the WORLD were kinda like YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS as a ska band—minimalist, shivery, but with a very pronounced groove—NAKED ROOMMATE are closer to YMG meets ESG, the most discofied end of early ’80s post-punk rendered extra febrile and delicate. The beats are programmed and synths twinkle and burble blithely, nudging minimal synth territory on “Fill Space,” but Jordan’s guitar and Alejandra Alcaca’s basslines retain meatspace humanity over these ten songs, providing hooks galore as they do so.

Neurotic Fiction Romance EP

Seems like this is to be a past tense review, with NEUROTIC FICTION returning from a longish break by releasing this four-song 7″ only to tell us in the process that it’s their last. Sucks! But we, especially the “we” in their part of the world (the bottom left corner of the UK, basically), had a good run. Romance pushes most of the buttons that made their 2018 LP Pulp Music such a slinky banger—classic twee pop kicked out with the tempo and toughness of classic pop punk, plus some added rockabilly/B-52’S/Johnny Marr vibes—and embellishes this by way of garage/psych organ and weirdo post-punk twists. NEUROTIC FICTION packs so many clever bits into each two-minutes-and-change song, without ever getting flashy with it, but if someone isolated Livi Sinclair’s guitar parts I think I’d be nearly as happy just listening to those on repeat. Anyway this EP rules, this band ruled, go get!

Deep Tissue Patience or Fear LP

DEEP TISSUE are from Philadelphia and pitch their tent somewhere between ’80s goth and ’90s alt-rock, with complementary slick-but-not-too-slick production and outsized, prominent hooks. Their home city is noteworthy, to me, in that Patience or Fear (their debut LP) has me thinking back to a Philly band from a few years ago, DARK BLUE, and how they sounded like something that could find a seriously big audience if they wished. Never happened, for better or worse, and with 250 copies of this record in existence and no current option to tour it’s unlikely to happen for DEEP TISSUE either, but damn if this doesn’t sound like a lost hit. There are some punky, uptempo moments (“Despair,” “Dead Head”) powered by booming toms and Lauren Iona’s strong vocals; things built from textured, swirling guitars which suggest that LUSH and (specifically major label-era!) THROWING MUSES have been closely studied by the band as a whole (“Liminal Space”); and a tiptoe into the deathrock side of the border (“Injury”), although perhaps this album’s great strength is that it blurs distinctions between that, goth, shoegaze and punk by just placing them in one package of fine playing and songwriting.

Invalid Format Actual Behaviour cassette EP

Irrepressible posi hardcore from a Malaysian four-piece on what appears to be their second tape release. INVALID FORMAT seem like they’re in love with the pre-Out Of Step Dischord catalogue above all, and the clean-cut likes of 7 SECONDS those releases inspired, but as well as oompah-oompah rhythms and songs titled things like “Unite Not Fight” and “Stop the Violence”, the guitar has this chiming, ultra-melodic tone which sometimes suggests an early wave Creation Records band playing at twice their normal speed. Nice token bit of wonky surf-rock action on “Dear Little Friend,” too. If you’ve been waiting for something new by MILK from Japan, INVALID FORMAT are both a good stopgap and band in their own right.

Cumgirl8 Cumgirl8 LP

Not sure precisely what music I anticipated on first seeing the name CUMGIRL8—it might be one of those questions where everyone is best off not pursuing the answer—but this eccentric, ramshackle semi-synthesised post-punk wasn’t it. They’re from NYC, and a brief read-up on them only renders them more curious: singer and bass player Lida Fox and guitarist Veronika Vilim are both models, as in big baller runway Marc Jacobs type shit, with drummer/synth tweaker/producer Chase Noelle having played in BOYTOY and others. Whatever Cumgirl8 is, it’s not anyone’s typical catwalk soundtrack: its bass lines somehow simultaneously blunt and spiky, and Noelle bundling up human cowbell thwack and overheating drum machines. “Cherry Nipples” yanks down the tempo to a goth crawl without it contradicting the effervescence around it, or indeed the gawky indie-pop of “Blue Planet,” which follows. Fox’s vocals are very much in that SLITS/RAINCOATS tradition (I might have assumed she was English without the resources to confirm otherwise) and while the CUMGIRL8 trio, two of who are playing music for the first time in this band, give the impression of wanting to cram as much of their favourite music as possible into one album, they pull it off.

Gaffer Gaffer cassette

New-in-relative-terms punk from Perth, Australia, GAFFER played their debut show in May 2019, and snuck this seven-song demo out in March of this year. You can still grab a hard copy at the time of writing, which is nice, but suggests it’s flown under the radar a tad, which kinda sucks. There’s COLD MEAT personnel in the four-strong lineup—I think Kyle Gleadell if the wound-raw guitar tone is anything to go by—and vocals are handled by a British invader, Chris Shoulder, ex-herbert-y post-punx STRUCTURE. Accordingly, GAFFER have that air of heads-down CRISIS-type chunter to their sound, but also a bit of KBD rock-pig flourish and early-wave second-string UK fodder, the latter accentuated by consistently gloomy lyrics about life’s grinding drudgery. They’re not shy of breaking the three-minute mark (“Animal,” “Skin of Your Teeth”), yet this tape fair flies by.

Liiek Liiek LP

The fine line between efficiency and parsimony is walked by LIIEK on their debut long-player, if that’s the best term. Eight songs, fifteen minutes—bam!—could’ve left me wanting more in a less-than-good way, but this type of sharp, skeletal post-punk makes the whole experience work. A Berlin trio who sing in English; a typical LIIEK song weds a clean guitar line to a disciplined rhythm section, with semi-spoken vocals and occasionally chunkier riff breakdowns. “Waterfall” and “Dynamite” have a paranoid funk about them, comparable to SHOPPING, darker/starker moments come closer to someone like NEGATIVE SPACE, and closing number “The Goods Were Properly Packed” rides a choppy disco-punk groove. That, or the presence of songs titled “Crisis” and “Wire” is LIIEK putting their cards face-up on the table. Either way, there seems to be a bunch of neato punk weirdness coming out of Berlin right now, and this band appears fairly embedded in it.

Eight Rounds Rapid Love Your Work LP

EIGHT ROUNDS RAPID is a four-piece from Essex whose guitarist Simon Johnson is the son of the great Wilko Johnson, who held the equivalent position in DR. FEELGOOD’s original/classic lineup. I would usually feel a bit bad about going straight for this sort of trivia at the beginning of a review, but Wilko had Simon and his pals support him on tour twice, so they can’t really object to anyone else leaning on the family connections. As it goes, Love Your Work—the third 8RR album—is a pub-belligerent punk blues affair whose DNA has a fair bit of FEELGOODs in more than a literal sense, and the guitar sound is possibly the best thing about it. That reads like faint praise, I know, but it’s a dead nice tone. David Alexander’s sarky-talky vocals, a heads-down approach to rhythms and occasional breaks from the norm (“Retro Band” eschews the rock for a wobbly and vaguely experimental gripe at, possibly, hipsters which seems to be going for a SLEAFORD MODS thing and doesn’t really work) make this album feel a bit like a BBC 6 Music listeners’ version of HEAVY METAL (as in the Berlin band). That also reads like faint praise, and I suppose is in this case.

Utopian Demo cassette

You might find it hard to get a handle on UTOPIAN, even while their debut demo is getting its hooks into you. That’s partly because they remain mysterious, to anyone cursed with distance at least: they have a location (LA) and first names, but no clear web presence and a moniker that thumbs its nose at yer search engine’s surveillance. Moreover, these six songs pinball between goth, post-punk, hardcore, and noise rock without the result making you feel like the band ought to pick a damn side. Vocalist Sesamie introduces “Circle A” with some portentous spoken word but is swiftly revealed as a fiery yowling force, one which places songs like “Spiritual Vision,” the Spanish-language “Tierra Ajena,” and the pogo-fabulous “U.B.P.” in the orbit of COLD MEAT. Really hope UTOPIAN is built to last.

Gesture II cassette

Berlin quartet GESTURE’s first tape, from eighteen months or so ago, was a more-than-nice example of contemporary death rock, slinky and zippy in equal measure. Its successor, again a six-song affair, ups the mean tempo and borders hardcore stylistically, “Wants In Cells” leaning into this in particular. Opening number “Retreat” has those military-drill stern anarcho drums but an untethered, lurching feel; “Breeding Ground” peaces out before the one-minute mark but fees like it could have developed. Eva Sanglante remains a finely frosty frontperson and, while it appears that GESTURE are now an ex-band (we hardly knew ye!), her latest project MERGING sounds pretty swish on the basis of one comp tape song, if you like gloomy punked-up EBM at least.

The Walking Korpses All Safe and Dead LP

Proving that modern-day Berlin isn’t just a bolthole destination for ketamine-hoofing 27-year-old ravers, the current incarnation of that city’s WALKING KORPSES kicks out glowering goth sludge with a lineup predominantly assembled from what we still call expats but are, I suppose, more properly known as immigrants. Some interesting characters too, including two fellas from SPK splinter group LAST DOMINION LOST; two of post-punk rippers DIÄT (one of whom also released this LP on his label); and singer Jason Honea, who took over vocal duties for SOCIAL UNREST in the mid-’80s and has done the same for WALKING KORPSES after a journey that’s taken him a long way from East Bay skatecore. All Safe and Dead rocks for sure, often relatively conventionally, yet always with a but—awkward, lumbering and clashing, even when a joint like “Autumn Light” bears heavy hallmarks of big coat UK post-punk. Honea’s yelp is closer to BIRTHDAY PARTY-era Nick Cave, with the strep throat of UNSANE’s Charlie Spencer lurking in the mix. Shades/shards of LAUGHING HYENAS, later CLOCKCLEANER and offensively underrated Scottish group VOM can be detected in these seven songs, with a transcendent expansiveness at times (notably final song “Healthy Teeth”) which you could call psychedelic, if psych was less about staring blissfully at the sun than screaming into fog while holding a broken wine bottle.

Geld Beyond the Floor LP

’Twas the prehistoric epoch of 2018 when GELD’s Perfect Texture LP kicked my ass through the top of my head via its solid gold meld of Scando-Japano HC abandon and psychedelic guitar excursions. Beyond the Floor dials down the psych tropes—little on this twelve-tracker zongs out quite like, say, “Parasitic Fucker” off the debut; maybe the gothy scrawling on “Forces at Work” approaches that level—but is every bit as deranged and dangerous. Written and recorded on “pills, meth, booze, weed [and] DMT,” so says the sales spiel: if this is the case, this Melbourne foursome are the opposite of sloppy drunks, cabbaged stoners or too-gone tweakers, rather a destructive forward line dosed on black market medicine by a shadowy team doctor. That is to say: fully sick in-the-red guitar tone, basslines that are sinister but groovy in the same way, say, Kira’s were in BLACK FLAG, foaming provoked-animal vox from Al Smith, maybe some bestial black metal influence in there but it’s such a barrage yer just guessing really… plus the lyric “Pubs open in my mind” and, if you were quick enough (which you weren’t, should you be reading this as a buyers’ guide), a really neat Jack Chick-parody comic packaged with the browny-gold vinyl. GELD are god’s-honest dons.

Stray Bullet Din of Shit EP

An assembly of esteemed UK hardcore hardy perennials here in the form of STRAY BULLET, including but not limited to Crawford Mackay (CLOCKED OUT), Fergus Daffy (NO PULSE) and Brian Suddaby from umpteen bands of which RAT CAGE and HEAVY SENTENCE are the most recent, I guess. They’ve all found themselves in Sheffield with an urge to kick out careening, consistently brisk hardcore, bordering garage punk for the longest, closing number “Consider It Worn.” Sounds like some ’90s bargain bin relic to me, and that’s meant in a good way—bands like OUT COLD or NINE SHOCKS TERROR that are adored by small coteries of heads but whose releases can still be scored relatively cheaply. Chug-into-a-brickwall rhythm parts square up against high-pitched, almost-indulgent guitar solos and Mackay sounds as ready to blow his top as was the case during CLOCKED OUT’s existence.

The Cool Greenhouse The Cool Greenhouse LP

If you’re already hip to this name via the London and Landlords singles or Crap Cardboard Pet EP (the latter making the COOL GREENHOUSE, to date, the only British act to have been released on Lumpy Records, which seems like it counts for something even if I don’t know what exactly), then you’ll know it’s not a band but a person, Tom Greenhouse, with a drum machine. No longer! Here is The Cool Greenhouse, a debut album which turns the COOL GREENHOUSE into a full group, human drummer and all. It’s a bit more hi-fi than Tom’s previous outings, but still agreeably shonky, with the fucked-sounding garage organ remaining in place (now played by Merlin Nova, daughter of THIS HEAT’s Charles Hayward, dynasty fans). Foremost, though, the sense is of a vehicle for Tom’s lyrical outlook: there are a lot of words here, and with most songs between three and five minutes things could have dragged if his verbal rambles didn’t take so many sharp turns and drop multiple inspired lines. A peach of an album upholding the legacy of Jonathan Richman, the FALL, ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER, the YUMMY FUR, the COUNTRY TEASERS and the totality of early ’80s UKDIY.

Alice Bag Sister Dynamite LP

ALICE BAG was one of the initial architects of LA punk and has had a hell of a life since, incorporating education and activism as well as music. Her 2011 autobiog Violence Girl is a crucial read in this respect, but if your current go-to reference point for ALICE is her stint as frontwoman of the BAGS, that’s still a more than serviceable foundation for getting max enjoyment out of Sister Dynamite, her third album under this name. It’s decidedly punkier and higher tempo than its predecessor, 2018’s pop- and ska-flavoured Blueprint, although her backing band and production crew remains pretty much the same. The thread back to that early Dangerhouse Records sound is fully, pleasingly audible, despite the (relatively) slick musicianship and new wave sheen, and there are Spanish-language songs (“Subele”) among paeans to queerness and denunciations of privilege.

Antibodies 2019 + 2018 LP

There’s a quote from some old Jello Biafra interview that’s stuck with me down the years, where he suggests that many great punk bands come from small, remote or unfashionable towns and so develop their own identity rather than replicating a big city’s prevailing trend. Now, anyone who grew up or indeed still lives someplace with a five-figure population count and a scene of wall-to-wall mediocre dogshit will know that it doesn’t work out that way every time, but ANTIBODIES, from Charlottetown on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, prop up the notion majorly through the medium of chaotic weirdo hardcore. As per the title, this is a comp of two tapes from last year and the year before that, brought to vinyl by Drunken Sailor, and despite the 20-song totality averaging little over a minute there’s a freaky psychedelic vibe threaded all the way through in ultrafuzzed guitars, trippily reverbed vox and occasional gloopy electronic interludes. The drummer sounds perpetually on the verge of kicking his kit to bits and more often than not there’s a great essence-of-HC riff that cuts through all the noise. I hear the spirit of anyone from the GERMS to NEOS to HOMOSTUPIDS in this but soundwise, ANTIBODIES have their own sweet niche going on.

Obnox Savage Raygun 2xLP

Pretty rare to complete a calendar year without a new record by OBNOX—a.k.a. Bim Thomas, formally known as Lamont Thomas, formerly known as a drummer for bands including the BASSHOLES and PUFFY AREOLAS—but that’s what we got, or rather didn’t get, in 2019. Dude is back in a big way here though, with a blazing 20-song double-LP that zips by to the degree where the running time isn’t any kind of drag. There are more boom-bap hip hop beats than on any previous OBNOX release, with Thomas showcasing his MC skills with justifiable confidence, but these jams are never any kind of purist anything, with bolts of reassuringly raw garage guitar setting multiple midpaced bumpers aflame. Conversely, psych-punk melters like “Catbird” and “She (Was About That Life)” are bolstered by sick headnodder funk backbeats, and there’s even a NEIL YOUNG homage in the form of “Young Neezy,” not that you’d imagine Neil’s fanbase would much approve.

Es Less of Everything LP

The only previous release by London’s ES, the Object Relations 12” back in 2016, was a more-than-fine intro to their biz, but if it showcased the singularity of this quartet’s sound, I don’t think I appreciated that—not like I’m doing with Less of Everything, their debut album, anyway. Nine songs of slashingly dramatic post-punk with goth, Euro coldwave and Neue Deutsche Welle touches might have you expecting some gloomy plod—and heck, plodding gloomily ain’t illegal yet—but a consistent factor of this album is how energetic it is, bouncy even. ES’s lack of guitar plays a big part in this perception, the three musicians a unified force of rhythm while vocalist Maria Tedemalm talks in ominous tones of closing-in walls and slippery slopes, and if you’ve encountered the individual members in bands past and present (PRIMETIME, SCRAP BRAIN, PUBLIC SERVICE, to name only three) their collective tiger in the tank will come as no surprise. Way more original sounding than music made with these basic ingredients ought to be, and just a blast generally.

Vile Reality Detached cassette

Sooner or later, someone was gonna hit “Vile” and “Reality” when throwing darts at the wall to choose their hardcore band’s name, and I’m glad it was these San Diegans, because this tape is fierce as hell and sounds like a band called VILE REALITY should. Six speedy cuts that generally come in around the 90s-second mark (“Immobilized,” which concludes the tape, is slightly longer) and bundle chuggy mosh parts, air-punching rocker moments and reverb-y, slyly psychedelic touches, topped off by the gruff-not-tough vox of Aaron McQueen. Deserves a vinyl release, although I appreciate the age of just pointing at things and saying “deserves a vinyl release” is not our current one.

Violent Christians No Speed No Punk cassette

Once again, we reach into the “hardcore band name imagery” lucky dip bucket and pull out VIOLENT CHRISTIANS, an Austin ensemble whose debut tape comes via the frequently good Roachleg. You could probably convince someone that No Speed No Punk is an authentic unearthed artefact from some Midwestern scene circa 1984, assuming that wasn’t their specialist subject to start with. “Body Bag” exhibits relatively melodic tendencies to kick us off, but thereafter it’s the kind of ramalama blowout where the vocalist nearly-but-not-quite falls over his lyrics, guitar solos enter and leave within a few seconds and at the end of “Up Your Arse” (these MFs said “arse”), a DIE KREUZEN-like shredder, someone asks, “Are we done?” Hopefully not!

Internal Rot Grieving Birth LP

It’s noteworthy that a record label run by two members of a grindcore band so rarely releases the stuff, but it’s not hugely surprising. Grind (like most genres) attracts the type of people obsessed with it to the exclusion of anything else, and to the inclusion of some pretty generic crud; IRON LUNG’s Jensen and Jon are clearly not that type, so when they help a grindcore record into the world, expectations are of elite tier material. INTERNAL ROT, from Melbourne, matches that expectation. The trio’s past offerings hardly slouched, but Grieving Birth ascends a level again with relentless precision blasts, hideously thick downtuning and vocals that might veer a little far into the “slam death” style for some tastes (suits me fine, personally). Needless to say, you’ll need to take the lyrics on trust, but they’re excellent: gruesome apocalyptica and grouchy scene politics in psychedelically strange syntax, not unlike some of Chris Dodge’s musings in SPAZZ. This album might be considered a standard-bearer for grindcore in years to come.

Man-Eaters Gentle Ballads for the Simple Soul LP

MAN-EATERS emerged from the corpse of TARANTÜLA who emerged from the corpse of CÜLO and if you know the lore of those bands you’ll be primed for Gentle Ballads for the Simple Soul being a sinewy salvo of chemically-altered rocking hardcore punk. You’ll get that, to a point, but you may be unprepared for how vast and preening the riffs are on this thing. A clear-as-daylight love of ’70s arena rock and proto-metal is baked into each of these ten songs: some of the solos could have been ripped from a NAZARETH record, or something equally archaic and pointedly pre-hardcore. The movie sample intros are like something you’d hear on an ELECTRIC WIZARD joint, and “Man-Eaters” (who among us doesn’t love a self-titled song?) tips things into FU MANCHU levels of gum-chewing dudeliness, but tempos here are generally amphetamine-fast. Danny Babirusa—formerly of BLEEDING GUMS, and the only non-ex-TARANTÜLA member—is the perfect vocalist for this sound, one which plenty of bands from POISON IDEA to TURBONEGRO to ANNIHILATION TIME have offered up before, but if anyone’s doing it as well as MAN-EATERS right now they’ve evaded my ears.

Cold Meat Hot and Flustered LP

Perth’s COLD MEAT were practically perfect from their first utterance, the Sweet Treats tape released nigh on five years back. I say “practically” to acknowledge that their atonal KBD clang, personal-political feminist lyrics and ever-changing pseudonyms stuck fast to a template established by GOOD THROB a few years prior. Hot and Flustered, COLD MEAT’s debut album, eclipses that minor issue majorly—this sounds like no individual entity so much as the latest raging entry in a half-century continuum of fucked-off snarky DIY punk. There are hooks on here visible from space, highlighted by a spot-on production, and lyrical earworms in waiting. Ashley Ack, as she goes by this time, is imperious here, one of punk’s current vocal powerhouses for sure, and at certain points (the closing section of “Women’s Work,” notably) seems to channel the spirit of Vi Subversa, the POISON GIRLS absolutely being part of that continuum I mentioned. A blazing band that keeps getting even better.

Hank Wood and the Hammerheads Use Me EP

Get the impression that my take on HANK WOOD AND THE HAMMERHEADS’ discography to date—improving on each release and peaking with their self-titled third LP from 2018—is widely considered uncool, verboten, wrong even. A great pity if so, as this is the stance that allows the easiest enjoyment of Use Me, a four-song EP which carries on down that testifyin’ soul-punk road and adds a little extra spit and polish as it goes. Opening track “Look at You” is one of those textbook Hank Wood vocal shakedowns, where he dresses down some unidentified foe into the dirt but does it with a peculiar affection. “Strangers” is tearjerker doo-wop it’s permissible to stagedive to, “Tomorrow” the chant of the eternal bozo optimist (“Tomorrow’s gonna turn my love around!”) with some unlikely post-punky reverb, and the closing title track pushes some equally unlikely ’90s alt buttons via sugary female backing vox.