Sunday, October 31, 2021

ROCKTOBER 2021

Had an eventful Summer with the family and me relocating to Portland, OR. After a bit of a delay, the stereo is set up and the reviews are in...

Cured Pink - Current Climate [Ever/Never] 
If you recall, the early 2000s brought us the post-punk (ugh, hate that term) revival where—twenty years hence—everything from ‘79 to ‘82 was new again and many of the most popular indie bands of the day had some sort of roots in Joy Division or Gang of Four. Even though the most popular bands often weren’t all that good, they were still head and shoulders above what passed for “indie rock” a decade later. After listening to Current Climate, the fourth (and final?) Cured Pink record, I’m becoming irrationally confident that—twenty years hence—we’re heading for a post-punk revival revival. Cured Pink are too good to be popular, but if someone’s dropping the kind of grooves that are packed into this CD released by NYC’s Ever/Never, there’s bound to be some other lot of shitheads peddling the bland, watered down versions to greater acclaim and notoriety. 

The opening seconds are intriguing, slipping out like the impeccably coiffed offspring of early Simple Minds and the first Menomena album. There’s some PIL and Pop Group in the mix (though the lacerating histrionics of those crews have been quite tempered). This Heat stands out most as a historical guidepost, and not even because Cured Pink necessarily sound so much like them, but both groups are “band synthesizers” meaning that they pull a wide range of sounds, textures, rhythms and combine them unobtrusively, molded in a new form. The chilly bliss of “Sunshine”, a pint of Mutant Disco strut (“The Surveyor”) and shards of early Art of Noise-ish sampledelica and coy Flying Lizards-style strangeness all just make sense together, as smooth as peanut butter or shaving cream. “Another Urban Fox” brings heavy, spartan jazz-dub vibes, sounding like De Facto drained of its Latin influence to the point that they don’t actually sound like De Facto, I’m just experiencing a spiritual resonance between the two. 

I’ve spent more time name-dropping than describing the sounds, and this is actually a pretty lame review (even for me) but I keep listening to Current Climate and it keeps sending me spiraling off into inadvertent nostalgic meditations where I’m reminded that while everything new is actually old, everything old is always new. Make of that what you will as you listen along. 

Hatchery - Obscured by Foliage [Music for People] 
You may remember the skronkaphonic outfit Tiger Hatchery (or maybe you don’t), but this tigerless Hatchery is an entirely unrelated skronkaphonic outfit. It’s one of the many brainchildren of LDS-level musical procreator Max Nordile (Preening, Violence Creeps, Nothing Band and countless others) and if you’ve heard a single thing Max has done before you’ll recognize the uncoordinated, flailing limbs. Hatchery stands apart from Nordile’s “rock and roll” bands. More of an insomniac jazz vibe. Obscured by Foliage is possibly the work of an ensemble but I get the sense that this is Nordile hunched over the Tascam in the wee hours overdubbing detuned guitar, organ tones, sax wail, rattling bells, tom thumps... is that a cowbell? If you’re still listening to spraypainted Graveyards CD-rs in 2021 this creep jass is for you. 

Maximum Ernst - Perfect Mixer/Matchless Pair [Ever/Never] 
I believe I already rolled out the YS comparison when I reviewed Maximum Ernst’s debut 12” but if the shoe still fits... The lead off track “Open Table” on Perfect Mixer/Matchless Pair, the latest from these NYC skuzz skunks, takes me back to the early days of D. Yellow Swans action. Basking in noise, flirting with songcraft, with a weaponized drum machine and thumping bass loop thrusting your head in the toilet bowl. Multiple layers of drum machines figure prominently throughout the cassette, whether the shuffling hip hop groove of “Vanity Mirror Universe”, the entrancing stereo-panned klang of “Suspended Sentence” or the gallop-to-pummel trajectory of “Richard Motor Hits The Wall” which ends in strange, forbidden experiments being performed on an unsuspecting guitar. I can’t go before mentioning the 42-second bizarro interlude “DFCS” which Men’s Recovery Project must have forgotten to stick on their last 7”. All the fucked up children of the world, you know where to go. 

Morvern - Not What I Heard [ŠOP] 
Morvern is a Slovenian songwriter who, to my great pleasure, is often channeling the lo-fi pop of the late 80s/early 90s (there’s a song called “Balance Yr Heart” so this won’t come as a surprise). “Unspoken Words” is ‘the cut’ of the tape (so much so that I stuck it on a guest playlist). Really great angsty hooks volleying between thin production rambling along on a sputtering drum machine and a thick chorus of fuzz guitars. “Our Little Tribe” harbors the faintest echoes of Frank Black’s post-Pixies solo ballads. I love Frank Black so I don’t dole that comparison out willy nilly. Not What I Heard tends to sound best at quicker tempos like on the springy, c86-ish “Jesus Saves”. The slower tunes are a little more of a mixed bag, enjoying the psych slowburn of “Time” and Air-influenced “Kaleidoscope” but not vibing as much with the beachier offerings (“Lost Sun Gods” and “Eyes on Me”). But hey, never been a big fan of the beach so there you have it. Fun tape with some great tunes, check it out especially if you're a dunderhead like me when it comes to the Slovenian scene. 

Mustat Kalsarit - Yö [Cudighi] 
LA’s Cudighi Records has been killing it as of late having dropped a deeply affecting cassette of instrumentals by Dan Melchior, two quality “songwriter” albums from complete opposite ends of the spectrum by Psuedo Desnudo and Seth Thomas and this burner of a tape by Finland’s Mustat Kalsarit. If you had handed me in the form of a tattered LP with a photo of some longhairs with unkempt mustaches somewhere on the jacket, I’d have sworn it was an undiscovered private press gem with no more than 69 copies populating the globe. But it’s not! Incredibly, it was recorded somewhere in Finland during the 21st century. And you don’t have to lay down five benjamin franklins to snag a copy! The sweetest win of all. 

Absolutely gorgeous spitting fuzztone, the inimitable cadence of (often call & response) Finnish lyrics—naturally, incomprehensible to these provincial ears—well-grounded songwriting, dual guitar leads really stretching out those octave pedals, the record is a wonder. So simple but so rare. What’s the secret Mustat Kalsarit? You’ve practically solved the mystery of the universe here. 

It feels a bit strange picking out individual numbers because they’re all so good. ’s tapestry is woven seamlessly with lovely psychedelic drag-outs and raving mad Nuggets-esque rockers but the driving, bummed-out synth-lead hypnosis of “Elää Vaan” really stands apart. Top to bottom, this is a primo fucking album. I’m hooked. I’m going to have a hell of a time tracking down the Mustat Kalsarit Finnish-released back catalog but I’m committed. Time to talk to my wife about planning a long overdue trip to Finland. Recommended! 

Noise - Tenno [Moone] 
I got a lot of weird shit in my home music library and I’m damn proud of it, but I don’t have anything that sounds like this record Tenno by the appropriately christened Noise. The first time through, my honest reaction was “what the fuck was that?” a rare occurrence for these jaded ears. The recording sounds like crap but in a mysterious way that begged me to dive back in. After many more listens, do I understand this record? No. Can I explain this record? Hell no! But when it’s on the turntable it reshapes your living room or your basement or wherever your turntable happens to be. The light looks different. Your brain works differently. Is your brain working? You don’t actually know. Are you even alive right now? Come to think of it, you’re not sure. I was not hip to Tenno’s presence on this rock hurtling through space but apparently it’s Japanese, it’s from 1980 and lunatics pay hundreds of dollars to get their hands on a copy. Moone Records has come along and made this record available to the non-lunatic portion of the populace surely in need of its inimitable charms.  

Ignoring what all the youtube tutorials tell you about signal-to-noise ratio and taking their moniker to heart, Tenno sounds like the group set the mics up on the far end of the room and cranked up the preamp to make up the difference. The result is a sonic temple with horrid acoustics, but sub-standard aural architecture never stopped devoted believers before. I imagine a non-religious person might say Tenno is the closest thing they’ve had to a religious experience. Droning organ and voice, guitar (though I'm not sure I've ever picked it out) and occasional drumming create a vortex of maddening dissonance and unparalleled blistered beauty.

What is this record? The only loose reference point I can provide, dear reader, is the feeling of the two seconds of audio before the Lady in the Radiator opens her mouth to sing “In Heaven”, but an entire album. And come on, if you’re not the least bit tickled to find out what that experience is like for yourself, are you even alive right now? 

Max Nordile - Walk Thru Parts 1 & 2 [Music for People] 
More unlistenable than the Hatchery tape and this is in no way a criticism. It’s actually a compliment! Obsession with tactile sounds is featured prominently and I share that obsession. The world hasn’t caught up with me and Max but that’s okay. You can keep your Taylor Swift and your Ramones, World. Max and I are more than content being riveted by amplified chafing and incidental signal interference. The first side is kind of a stunner, a lovingly sculpted something of walkie talkie static, squeaks, scratches and rumbles. Broken cable buzz looped into the dance hit of the summer. This thing is going straight to #1 on Radio Free Radio! The second side is a bit ho hum compared to the highwire act of the first but I’m still feeling it. The only thing that pisses me off about Walk Thru Parts 1 & 2 is the unacceptable amount of dead air on each of the sides after the music concludes. Get some shorter tapes Max! 

Psuedo Desnudo - First Man from the Second Millennium [Cudighi] 
I dug the bright primary color scheme of this tape immediately though it offers no clue to the sounds inside. I was pleasantly surprised to find that First Man from the Second Millennium is a distinctly oddball album of lo-fi pop. My ears were met with “Do as Kings” and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it (other than I love it). I thought of This Kind of Punishment but I don’t recall them ever doing sauntering numbers with bongo drums. It’s a wonderful song and one that occupies a completely unique space in the music compendium of my brain. 

Psuedo Desnudo covers a lot of terrain elsewhere: the garage-funk gibberish of “Dalu Zoo Hondales”, the twee brass romp “Eros’ Hex” (flashes of Architecture in Helsinki), deadpanning a UK accent (???) on “Loveless Peking Heat”. The zippy title track features a big beautiful earworm of a chorus. All organ stabs and seasick guitar, sounding like Tronics on acid. The claustrophobic jingling and synthy unease on “Dog Bark, Not Find” reveal that Psuedo Desnudo should have been opening for Tuxedomoon in 70s San Francisco. Now where did I set down my time machine? 

I get why the aliens on the cover are worshiping Psuedo Desnudo and its special blend of curious idiosyncrasy and rigorously tested pop intuition; there is nothing more thrilling than discovering a new and true outsider gem. Look no further. 

Seth Thomas - The Songs of Seth Thomas [Cudighi] 
If there is such a thing as a morning record, The Songs of Seth Thomas is a morning record. I can’t imagine this tenderness aggravating even the most debilitating hangovers. There’s a drawing of a man asleep nestled with a cuddly kitty cat on the cover, so Seth’s not pulling the wool over anyone's eyes here. Or is he? Sounding very much like a guy wearing a turtleneck sweater in the early 70s, these songs were recorded in Portland (OR), Egypt, Palestine and Germany and I’ve already got a back story brewing in my head. Thomas is a spy (you see, a name as commonplace as “Seth Thomas” must be an alias) and he’s just blowing off steam from his stressful dayjob taking refuge in gently plucking his guitar and not raising his voice above a whisper.

Belaboring this silly digression, the songs themselves are often quotidian ruminations, surely the work of a highly perceptive, isolated individual skulking in the shadows of life. My favorite aspect of the record is the arrangements, which are fan-fucking-tastic. I’m a sucker for chamber- anything but this is some high-quality shit. Produced and arranged by Jon David Russell, there’s a near endless list of delicately employed instruments: harpsichord, celeste, sousaphone, flugelhorn, and so it goes. Russell’s work in concert with Thomas is essential, with the arrangements feeling like they are in constant conversation with Thomas’s voice, sometimes listening, sometimes responding. The instrumentation forms a perfect pairing for Thomas’s pleasing but sleepy vocals. Haven’t heard a flat out lovelier record in 2021 than this one.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June 2021

Here is the long delayed second batch of reviews of 2021. I've had a bunch of personal stuff going on this year that has vacuumed up what little free time I had coming into the year so its been tough getting done the amount of writing I want to, let alone getting anything done on a regular monthly schedule. I still have a bunch more great stuff to write about so stay tuned. I'm hoping the second half of the year will allow for more time to dedicate to writing.


Eyes and Flys - New Way to Get It [no label]
 
Eyes and Flys, Buffalo’s best band nowadays (at least in the purview of this coastal elite), dropped a new single earlier in the year and not only does it continue their strong showing, it might be their most complete and best single to date. 

This 7” finds the Flys doubling down on their punk energy [times] pop touch [divided by] sub-par fidelity (the sweet sounding kind) formula they’ve been experimenting with. I think they’re getting somewhere. The titular “New Way to Get it” is one of their finest songs yet. Acoustic strums and peppy handclaps are nestled into the band’s slashing energy with Pat Shanahan’s raspy shout made even more sandpapery with plenty of gain on the mic. The song functions as the band’s modus operandi in my mind. In a world where everyone seems to be lost in the 21st century spotified wilderness (and incessantly complaining about it), Eyes and Flys have returned to the ways of the DIY forbearers making home-made 7” singles of (seemingly) home-recorded tunes with all rough edges kept intact as valuable, essential qualities. New way to get it, indeed. 

“Free to Go” is squeezed onto side A, with measured amounts of jangle sprinkled into its fast ‘n chunky riff formula. The B-side is a Nerves cover, “Many Roads to Follow”, which features some Spector-y bombast at bargain basement costs. 

Three songs, all good and all unified in their aesthetic. Eyes and Flys have tried a few different things in their previous singles but I think they may be honing a “sound” now. I’m excited to hear what the next one’s like. 

Monokultur - Ormens Väg [Ever/Never] 
More high quality shit from the Big Apple’s most highly respected cultural center, Ever/Never Records. Ormens Väg is the Swedish duo Monokultur’s second LP for the label and if the caliber of this record is anything to go on, I hope they snapped the act up to a six-album deal. Monokultur have the rare ability to seem really strange to the straight-laced crowd and deliciously poppy to a weirdo like me. From track to track they aren’t even weird in the same way, nor do they deliver hooks in the same way. 

I have a hard time pinning down Monokultur which is the most exciting/aggravating thing to encounter as someone tasked with writing about music. The duo manages to show many sides of themselves while maintaining a seamless atmosphere through the album. “Demokrati” has me asking “are they the 39 Clocks of the new millennium?” “Pennen I Handen” recalls the bleary-eyed folk-pop of Ignatz. At times I’m getting a kind of somnolent Comet Gain vibe (like on “Bär Deras Saker”). If David Lynch ever plans on making another Twin Peak he oughta book Monokultur for a month-long residency at the Roadhouse. I can already envision the molasses throb of “Decennium” and its 50s rock & roll meets synth spook stew playing over the end credits. Monokultur might be at their best on tracks like “För Sent” and “Människor Och Träd” which marry a strong grasp of melody with a detached, sometimes mumbling vocal. The songs seem to be blown along like a leaf in the wind, drifting but determined to find a home. 

I might be zeroing in on an analog for Monokultur and it’s Maths Balance Volumes (if they weren’t quite so damn weird). Both groups are similar in that they seem creatively restless, willing to try new things and break a few rules, but will never (or may be unable to) get away from whatever special recipe makes them sound like them. And, hey, if Monokultur turns out to be my new Maths Balance Volumes, they are indispensable. 

Mystic Inane - Natural Beauty [Cleta Patra/La Vida Es Un Mus] 
Just because 2020 was the year of terrible surprises, doesn’t mean it was bereft of kickass surprises. #1 on the list: new Mystic Inane!? I had long given up hope that arguably the best discography of the 2010s would grow any larger but it fuckin’ did. I don’t know if these were recordings from years ago when the band was active. I don’t know if the quartet reconvened for one last rodeo. And I really don’t care. I got more Mystic Inane, something I never thought possible. I’m playing with house money for the rest of my life. 

Natural Beauty tempo-wise is the most hardcore MI record as we don’t get any nasty “Deep Creep” trudges or unhinged frothing at the mouth a la “Eggs Onna Plate”. But that’s a-okay because we still get four great, speedy songs out of the deal. 

Lead by a sick riff and riotous snare rolls, it is impossible to not start a mosh pit on the disco floor when “Death of a Disco Spiv” is blaring. “Mystic Ignorance” (pronounced “muh-sssstic ehhhh-nunce”) might be the best of the bunch shifting between an angular riff and ringing chords lending bombast to MI’s workmanlike punk ethos. “Peckerwood Nero” is my daughter’s favorite, as she started singing along to the “ooh ooohs” at just 1.5 years old. Mystic Inane really knows how to connect with the children. 

Candice Metrailer is one of the finest guitarists of recent times and she kills it on this record as usual. Her lead at the end of “Mystic Ignorance” is so good and so brief it kills me. Her interplay with Nathan Cassiani’s work on bass is one of the things that has always made Mystic Inane special and this is no different on Natural Beauty

Mystic Inane was one of the best bands around during their brief tenure so (if you haven't already) buy all their records and enrich your life. 

Opposite Sex - High Drama [Spik n Span] 
Ah New Zealand, surely the greatest contributor to rock music on a per capita basis. Must be something about the culture there because they’ve cracked the code. Great bands have stayed together and stayed great making strong records one after the other, avoiding burnout and conflicting egos and whatever other reasons that cause bands to splinter. 

Well, here comes a member of the new guard, Opposite Sex (who have been around for at least a decade themselves―not exactly new), with a new record High Drama on a label named for one of the country’s greatest contributions to music of any era. I have Opposite Sex’s last record Hamlet (they got a thing for drama) and it has some great songs (noise rock excursion “She Said”, chamber ballad “Complicity” and the Snapper-y kraut-punk raveup “Regicide” to name a few). The LP found the band trying on several different hats and looking good in most of ‘em, but High Drama seems to strive for a more unified sound. There are no guest contributors or dramatic left turns into different genres and as a result the band sounds even more confident. I don’t even hear any overdubs, very much a band in a room vibe. Opposite Sex is clearly comfortable with their sound and who they are as a band.

High Drama opens on a ferocious note with “Shoots Me like a Knife”. With male-female vocals playing off each other, a rollicking rhythm section and mangled guitar, Opposite Sex sound like the B-52s if they were the types to beat your ass with a bicycle chain. Equal parts pep and savagery. This idea of taking two sides of a dichotomy and smashing them against each other carries on throughout High Drama. There are two main poles in NZ underground history, Flying Nun and Expressway, and while the band sits somewhere in between, they lean heavily toward Expressway’s oddball embrace of noise and distaste for convention (especially on a track like “Nico”). “Robotica” captures both sides with a an Aislers Set-sy evocation of 60s girl groups existing simultaneously with Live Skull-esque guitar grind. The drifting twang of “Breath in a Dish” vaguely calls to mind The Renderers, another NZ band that carved out its own little hole, not quite sounding like anyone else. 

“Combine Harvester” swerves all over like an intoxicated driver, bopping along in aggressive but bouncing fashion. The jauntiness brushes uneasily against a wah-wah’d feedback frenzy and bassist and singer Lucy Hunter's serene singing of the chorus “You were the love of my life / Now I don’t care if you fall / Into the long, long loving arms of the combine harvester”. Behind the mellifluous veneer, Hunter sounds pissed and hurt and pulls no punches. Discarding any sugarcoating whatsoever, Hunter gets as blunt as possible on the unfettered indictment of misogyny, “Dick on a Throne”, over a slinky bass line and freelancing guitar recalling one of my favorite Birthday Party tunes “Yard”. 

High Drama’s centerpiece, however, is clearly the nine minute “Owls Do Cry” which features Hunter’s best vocal work. Working from a coo to out and out rage and back again, her peculiar phrasing leads the loping, feedback dappled tour de force through its peaks and valleys before unleashing her voice at the summit to rip the song apart seam by seam. Closing on “Dinosaur” is a bold move since it stands well apart from the preceding album. Lead by male vocals, its loose, rambling nature belies the simmering tension that steadily builds with no release granted. The gambit pays off as High Drama leaves you with more questions than answers, eager to flip the record and start again.
 
Von Hayes - Wa La! [no label] 
Philadelphia’s Von Hayes first came to my attention with Moderate Rock, a fine CD of GBV-indebted pop perfectly suited for my car stereo. Wa La! is the two-piece’s follow up (naturally named after a quote in a letter from Tobin Sprout included on the jacket) and a massive step forward in my eyes (and ears). Top to bottom this is a great set of songs, not a runt in the litter, and there’s more variation and inspiration to the arrangements as well. 

 Wa La! is loaded to the hilt with earworms, I’ll only touch on a handful but rest assured they’re all present and accounted for on record. The album kicks off in perfect fashion with 65 unplugged seconds of “Topy” forging headlong into the martial snare rolls of home-brewed stadium rocker “I’m Tired”. Von Hayes know how to bookend as they send you off on the soaring “Message to the Sparkled Egg Star” so in love with rock & roll you’ll want to start your own garage band. Between those high points are a bunch more high points: the solemn, weary “No Title #11” takes its chances throwing a lonesome vocal on a bed of scraping violins and it pays off in spades, “Zamp” is smeared with Like Flies on Sherbert-ish idiot-savant guitar overdubs colliding into one another, “I Had No Idea it was Today” is a soulful mid-tempo number that’ll get under your skin like a depressed tick, “Decades in the Breaking” is a “California Dreaming” for a new generation, and some Strapping Fieldhands influence comes to the fore in the shambling psych-folk spectacular “Quarantine Dreams”. 

I’ve been listening to Wa La! for months now and its charms have yet to fade. This is one that’s gonna stick. I don’t make year end lists but if I did Wa La! is the kind of thing that would go on ‘em. Recommended!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Auxiliary Out x I Heart Noise Mixtape // Side B: IHN

Here is Side B of the collaborative mixtape* AuxOut is creating together with label/forum/blog I Heart Noise comprised of choice 2021 tunes. 

6 favorites from the year so far as picked by IHN: 


2. Patricia Brennan – Solar [Valley of Search]





Check out AO's picks on Side A HERE

*not actually a tape in any way, purely archaic parlance in these digital times.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

APRIL 2021

Freelove Fenner - The Punishment Zone [Moone] 
Having recently released such charmers as Lithics’ Wendy Kraemer EP and Tashi Dorji’s and John Dieterich’s Midden, it’s not surprising that Phoenix’s Moone Records would have an ace up its sleeve. The Punishment Zone is the first recording in seven years from Freelove Fenner, the Montreal-based trio that gave the world one of the best songs of the last decade. Freelove Fenner’s music exists out-of-time to a degree due, in part, to the group’s eschewing of 21st century recording methods (digital software, screens, etc.) opting instead for a 100% analog and fastidiously documented recording process. The results bear this out as each collection of songs they release is ornately crafted and polished by hand to a stunning gleam. 

The biggest reason to get excited about a new Freelove Fenner record is that they simply don’t sound like anyone else. At least nobody I’ve heard. I can put on my rock critic cap and get sort of close: a more dexterous Young Marble Giants, a sprightly version of Run On’s marimba-led tunes or the negative image of The Raincoats where the ragged edges and loose threads are perfectly hemmed, the blaring and scratching supplanted by purring and gliding. The Monochrome Set with a heart of ice? Maybe Marine Girls fit in there somewhere? None of those comps are really satisfying or especially accurate. Freelove Fenner is certainly entrenched in the last four decades of indie pop (particularly the kind emanating from across the pond) but somehow emerged a hardened gem with a clarity index all its own. 

Well, if artist comps aren’t going to work, I better start throwing adjectives out. If “crystalline” had a sound then here you go. The Punishment Zone is effervescent but never sugary, like what I imagine an extremely expensive bottle of champagne to taste like. I’ve settled on “lucid dream pop” for my shorthand descriptor of the band’s music. It’s narcotic but in perfect focus; no sounds are blurred or buried. No sound is misspent. In fact, the record ends with “Whatever Grows” which is built on a chugging synth riff, a far cry from anything in the shoegaze sector. Yet, I can’t escape that listening to The Punishment Zone in broad daylight makes me feel like it’s midnight. The record’s opening notes of “Find the Man” play in my head constantly, like the clandestine password to gain entry to a nocturnal club of unfurling shadows and occasional shafts of diffuse light. The crisp groove of “New Wave Pool” is something that will never permanently vacate your mind and the carefree jaunt of “Perfect Master” will make you feel happy. That’s right, this record will make you happy! What more could you hope to gain from a spinning plastic disc? 

Diamonds take time and so do Freelove Fenner LPs. Immaculate doesn’t happen overnight, The Punishment Zone took seven years! You could wait another seven years for a new Freelove Fenner record, but you’d be a damn fool when you can hear a new Freelove Fenner record right now. I suggest you live in The Now. 


Dan Melchior - Odes [Cudighi] 
An instrumental solo guitar album is a your-mileage-will-vary proposition in my mind. Albums of the ilk, generally speaking, are reliably enjoyable but there’s also so damn many guitar players out there recording instrumental guitar albums. You have to be doing something truly different or otherwise special to stand out from the crowd. And as a guitar player, there’s a particular hurdle that any such album needs to clear: is listening to someone else play guitar more engaging or rewarding than me actually grabbing my guitar and playing myself?

This cassette, Odes, by the prolific punk-of-all-trades Dan Melchior clears that hurdle. Melchior has released a shit ton of records; I haven’t heard most of ‘em (though I recommend the two he did in collaboration with Russell Walker (The Pheromoans) for Kill Shaman) but I definitely hadn’t heard him in an instrumental mode before. Sadly, Odes has a tragic inspiration as Melchior dedicated the album to his late wife Letha Rodman Melchior. 

The first side is fantastic from the moment you push Play. The plaintive acoustic guitar in “Louisiana Honeymoon” sets the tone, drifting listlessly until joined by a second glistening guitar forming a magical partnership. As someone who enjoyed a Louisiana honeymoon, the track brings up lovely memories for me. “The Story of Love” hits me hard every time, my eyes start watering when I hear the first few notes. It’s this quality that makes Odes so special. 

There’s no technical virtuosity on display, each song features two (maybe three?) tracks of guitar, one playing a cyclical arpeggio and the other improvising in consonant fashion. It’s simple, but very pretty. However, the way Melchior recorded the songs is instrumental to their beauty. Recorded on a 4-track and a karaoke machine with the reverb button engaged, notes emanate and drift from the fuzzy ether, blending and blurring with one another. “Night Song” truly sounds like a song playing in someone else’s memory. Incidental sounds and imperfections pop up in subtle ways giving the music a genuinely human character. 

An analog signal, and its inexact and unreproducible harmonic nature, is as close an inanimate entity gets to an organic lifeform in my estimation and Melchior uses this to express so much without uttering a single word. Odes is a testament to the literally indescribable power music holds and the depth of feeling it can imbue. It’s repetitive. It’s meditative. It’s mournful. It’s truly remarkable. 


Preening - Dragged Through the Garden [Ever/Never] 
Last time I checked in on Oakland’s Preening, I said they are the only neo-no wave act I’ve gotten on board with since my teen years. That fact has remained. Their sound hasn’t changed drastically since then, still most clearly channeling James Chance and his merry band of petty criminals, but I do think Preening comes across a bit more refined on Dragged Through the Garden, a new 12” on Ever/Never, the trio’s first release of the 2020s. I know “refined” is a ludicrous word to use in the same sentence as Preening, but the chaos is more cleverly controlled and consistent on Garden so what do you want me to say? “Distilled” is too clinical and I quite like the mental image of Preening earning a certificate from Emily Post. 

Previously, I would have said while Preening doesn’t forsake the groove but they never let it get in the way of their skronk, but the sword swings both ways on Garden. The rhythm section of Alejandra Alcala (bass) and Sam Lefebvre (percussion) are totally locked in over all 12 inches, delivering on-point, unconventional patterns throughout, grounding the songs without sacrificing the least bit of oddball intrigue. Speaking of oddballs, Max Nordile (name a band, he’s been in it) heads up the rag tag trio putting his lungs on full display whether heaving frequencies through his saxophone or not. In the past I’ve stated I prefer Alcala’s vocals (who sadly provides only secondary vox on the record) and that Nordile’s vocals are kind of annoying. On Garden though, his voice seems to have taken on a new Boredoms-like character, so either Nordile’s vocals are exactly the same as they’ve ever been and I’ve just finally grown accustomed to them, or he’s found the right brand of annoying vocals that tickles my fancy. 

“No Season” immediately stood out and stuck with me after a single listen with Nordile’s “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na no season!” whittled into my brain with a pocket knife. Easily the catchiest number here. Off kilter sax lines drive “Economy Head” and “You Gave It Away” in an almost Psychedelic Furs-ish fashion (think “Dumb Waiters”) while Alcala and Lefebrve edge “Autocon” just a little into the mutant disco direction, suggesting the trio might be capable of ushering in a full scale 1980 NYC renaissance on their own. “Face/On” (from Greasetrap Frisbee) remains Preening’s high water mark but it’s got competition in “Rapt Fashion” calling to mind a guitarless take on the esteemed Ex Models and their ability to meld spastic abrasion and contagious hooks. 

While the trio homes in tightly on history’s no wave rippers, the end of each side brings a left turn of sorts. “Red Red Lava”, for instance, is more in line with Nordile’s whacked out solo work, curdled no-fi slop with a sax melody struggling to find its way out. The EP’s finale, “Extortion (Version)” was assembled by Andy Human (name a band, he’s also been in it) and Brett Eastman who mixed and mastered the record. I’m pretty tired of the lazy tacked-on “dub version” thing so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it after spotting it at the end of the tracklist. To my pleasant surprise, the track actually isn’t all that “dub”. Instead it’s a bit more reminiscent of early industrial-experimental-whathaveyou acts like Cabaret Voltaire or This Heat. From what I can tell, Human and Eastman pulled all the sounds from the previous 15 minutes and sculpted them into a mechanical lurch that belies the funked up wig outs that preceded it. Plus points for subverted expectations. 


Spiritual Mafia - Alfresco [ANTI FADE/Ever/Never]
 
From “In a Big Country” to the Fairlight to Lubricated Goat, Australia has an ironclad claim as one of the most important countries in rock history. It’s certainly one of my favorite countries rock-wise; I buy any interesting-looking record I come across if I can confirm it originates from Australia. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed. I’ve even fantasized about doing a write up just on Australian records I have in my collection, but let’s face it, I don’t even have enough time to stay on top of the stuff in the mailbox that I should be reviewing. Fortunately for me, the debut LP by Spiritual Mafia is the best of both worlds. It’s a brand spankin’ new mailbox arrival and a bonafide Antipodean top end killer. 

From its inception, Ever/Never has been a US pipeline from the land of Oz having put the likes of Australian ex-pat rockers DeGreaser, Ballroom and The Wilful Boys in American earholes. Meanwhile ANTI FADE has spent the last decade documenting the heavies of the Australian scene. So even though the ragtag gang, assembled from across the far reaches of the land down under (there’s even a banana bender in the bunch), is a complete unknown, it’s got some unfuckwithable backers making you take notice. Once you hear Alfresco though, it makes sense why those bastions for good tunes would be all about these guys. The record is a bloody bonzer! Miraculously, Spiritual Mafia has emerged with their own sound from day dot. ...That’s no small miracle. 

Alfresco is loaded with paeans to outdoor dining, taking baths and lounging poolside. That makes them sound like they could be a shambling goof troupe with a gutful of piss a la Taco Leg. But oh no, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Spiritual Mafia sounds imposing (but not abrasive). The lyrics are quotidian (yet sinister). The singer sounds like Dugald Mackenzie (RIP) but on sedatives. (I like him.) Spiritual Mafia gives off a curiously casual vibe, like they’re barely lifting a finger yet still rock hard enough to put you in an ambo. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything quite like them before. 

The first thing you hear is the single note staccato guitar of “Lunch”, not so much a kick in the pisser as an insistent, mounting pressure on the pisser like a swollen prostate. It gets the pulse pounding and the bass thumps the track to life as the singer literally invites you to lunch. “Body” pulls the same trick with a good 30 seconds of the same chord before dropping the hook in arguably the catchiest tune on the record. Atmospheric turntable scratching crops up on “Body” and all over the album. Lest you think there’s a wave of neo-nü metal acts plaguing the golden shores of Australia (that’d truly be the last wave), Spiritual Mafia employs turntables like fellow Aussies The Stickmen used to, casting a spectral pall over the proceedings. Take your party elsewhere. 

Speaking of partying, “Smiles” is a quasi-KC & the Sunshine Band cover, making liberal use of the lyric “That’s the way I like it” in a tonedeaf deadpan. I’d definitely party with the bros but they got a softer side too. Put your sunnies on and relax cause the tight little number “Poolside” is actually filled with beautiful melodies if you really listen. You'll be ready for a cuddle in the sunshine in no time.

It’s hard to say which track is most memorable, but the two 10+ minute behemoths at the end of each side certainly make an impression. “Hybrid Animal” is a psych-grunge dirge jam with a distinctly Australian flavor. Alice in Chains meets Exhaustion? I don’t know what the constant shouting of “three legged dog” means but it makes perfect sense. (Maybe I’m onto something with that Alice in Chains bit?) Has there ever been an “Australian PIL”? Cuz Spiritual Mafia might be it after slinging the hefty bass groove on “Bath Boy”. Synth swirl drowns everything out at one point turning the hypnosis hallucinatory. I’m sure the lyrics have a sordid connotation that I’m blissfully unaware of so I’ll just take them at face value and sing them to my daughter while I give her baths. Finally some dad rock for the discerning listener. No surprise it came from the land down under.

Six songs not a minute wasted. Find me a better record this year. Go on, find one! Grab a coldie cause it’s gonna be hard yakka mate. 


Vicious Fence - Dropout [Total Life Society] 
Vicious Fence - Primitives [Total Life Society] 
Vicious Fence is a newish band led by Cleveland-based Matthew Wascovich and featuring members of Mudhoney, Urinals and AuxOut fav, Slovenly. Debuting with simultaneous 7" singles (with a studio album reportedly in progress) Vicious Fence is wasting no time. 

Given the past sonic transgressions of this motley crew, the most surprising thing to me is how “classic” Vicious Fence sounds, which isn’t a bad thing in the least. There’s a punk heart beating inside satisfying, decades-tested songwriting moves. That each song is stuffed with a hearty dose of Hammond B3 organ surely adds to the retro-now vibe. 

Of the four songs across the two singles, “Dropout”, is the easy pick. A rollicking two minutes that demands repeated needle drops after the first go round. A terse riff is dressed up in flanger with aforementioned organ moves propelled by heavy toms. The flipside features the pensive, downcast “Same Cell Different Paint”. Attacking from a different minor-key angle, the band dares to invoke the classic Brainiac refrain “nothing ever changes” (ballsy move for an Ohio-based band) and acquits itself well. Wascovich’s vocal style reminds me of someone that I still haven’t been able to identify and it’s driving me crazy. I guess I’m gonna take that failure to my grave. It’s a classic, complete single: rave up on side A, ramp down on side B. 

The other single is good too and a bit different. “Primitives” rolls along with a wistful bounce, congealing into an unexpected mid-tempo blues stomp. An easy groover to be sure. “Primitives” is backed with a track called “Humanoid Front” which suggests there might be some Edge/Creed brain scanning going on but the number is 50s rock & roll to its core with a seesawing chord progression in the chorus. 

All in all, two quality singles made by seasoned vets. I’m curious to see what they do across an entire album.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

DECEMBER 2020


Eyes and Flys - Eyes and Flys [no label]
Eyes and Flys - Coastal Access [no label]
Eyes and Flys - Everyday Life [no label]

A month or two ago I read about a band in Maximum Rock & Roll and ordered some self-released DIY 7”s for three bucks a pop from their Bandcamp. If it weren’t for the involvement of the internet, I’d have thought I stumbled upon a time machine back to 1993. This band in question is Buffalo’s Eyes and Flys and in case you missed that issue of MRR, I’m here to share a few words about ‘em.

Going chronologically, the first single kicks off with the eponymous “Eyes and Flys” which marries a sweet stomper of a riff suitable enough to be any band’s theme song with muffled monotone shouts. The rhythm section is really snappy with a buoyant snare pattern and a walking-but-still-rocking bassline. A lovable moment at the end of the song comes when someone says “Cool.” before the engineer hits stop. Seals the deal for me.

Side A’s shagginess gives way to Side B’s lethargy. Sleepy and sparse with an engaging bassline, “Fall Asleep with the TV on”, is a winner too but in a totally different way. Echoing drum and tambourine hits and acoustic guitar keep things in a relaxed state. The throughline between the two songs (and all of the Eyes and Flys material) is Pat Shanahan’s drawling vocals. I’m reminded a lot of Pink Reason’s Kevin Failure and how his deep speak-sing remained steadfast as the band navigated its various permutations.

On the second single, “Coastal Access” is a breakneck blast of jangle-punk spiritually emanating from a foul-smelling Twin Cities tavern in the mid-80s. Definitely a belligerent looker. On the flip, the “Black Flowers” apple doesn’t fall so far from the “Coastal Access” tree but mixes things up nicely. A driving, chunky bass riff puts wind in its sails until it opens up at the bridge with jangling acoustic guitar. A vaguely eastern and totally sick guitar solo caps it off with aplomb.

The most recent single features a far more yin and yang approach. First off the starting line, “Everyday Life” is a proud descendant of the Flipper/No Trend negative wave with killer tom-heavy drumming, ultimately falling somewhere between early A Frames and Perverts Again. It doesn’t take many listens before you start hearing Shanahan shouting “everyday life” in your head over and over as you’re trying to get work done or do your grocery shopping.

Predictably, my most played side is the oddball, “Wait for the Sun”. It begins and ends with bits of the song slowed down and then slips into a melodic ballad that pairs acoustic and electric guitars sans rhythm section (perhaps a tad Eric’s Trippy in its mellow, homey vibe). Despite the softer arrangement, Shanahan still sings like he’s fronting a hard rocking band which adds to the song's charm. “Wait for the Sun” is simple but hits all the right notes with its chord progression comfortably nestled in the loose, home-recorded feel that I never tire of. All the songs covered here are great in one way or another but this is the special one for my money.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eye (and flys) on these guys. Sounds like they have plenty more singles left in the tank to me.


Home Blitz - Practice 2018 [no label]

For fifteen years, Daniel DiMaggio's Home Blitz project has been one of the best in the game but it’s been five long ones since the world has heard any new Blitz material. While we didn't get a full length, DiMaggio returned this year with a fascinating 12” on Sophomore Lounge and this little self-released number which donates all proceeds to the G.L.I.T.S. and Survived & Punished organizations.

My understanding is that this Practice 2018 tape is one new song (“The Lawn”) that presumably didn’t make the cut on the 12” and then a collection of practice recordings from 2018 (duh.) The practice recordings are split pretty evenly between an eclectic group of covers and renditions of songs from the last Home Blitz LP, 2015’s Foremost + Fair. Foremost + first, “The Lawn” (no relation to The Lavender Flu’s modern classic of the same name) is fucking great! I dig the 12” and can see why “The Lawn” maybe doesn’t fit on it but it’s my favorite of the five new Home Blitz songs ushered in this year. It’s classic Home Blitz material, packing several songs worth of power pop moves into a ramshackle but highly competent glittering prize. It’s a song that doesn’t exactly have a chorus or even that much repetition (the middle section is an extended duel between a wild electric guitar and a toy piano) but it's immediately catchy and replayable anyway. DiMaggio has always had a knack for lodging a line from every song in my brain forever and for “The Lawn” it comes late when DiMaggio coos “I walk on tiptoes when I’m feeling extra confident”. I can’t imagine any Home Blitz fan not falling head over heels for it.

“The Lawn” is the reason the cassette is a must own but the rest of the tape is fun too. The covers—from the likes of 70s power poppers The Orbits and The Scruffs, contemporary pop star Camila Cabello, English folk traditionals and a hidden fragment of “Erica’s Word” by DiMaggio's favorite band Game Theory—give a pretty damn good idea of how Home Blitz became Home Blitz (though why Home Blitz is so good is an alchemy solely of DiMaggio's devising). The Cabello track is particularly interesting because I was unfamiliar with it and, based on the Home Blitz version, I’d of pegged it as an 80s not-quite-power-ballad pop hit I missed. After looking it up on Youtube, it’s definitely not that. Leave it to DiMaggio to isolate the immutable strains of songwriting that run through every generation’s version of pop music, even when they aren't readily apparent.

Particularly interesting to me are the scruffy live-wire versions of four songs from the ornate and polished Foremost + Fair. As good as Foremost is, I’m still partial to the fizzier early Home Blitz sound so getting a peek into a parallel dimension where DiMaggio retained that sound for the LP is a true delight. “Seven Thirty” in particular rocks even harder here and the album version already leaps from the speakers in the first place. 

If you've never heard of Home Blitz, grab the first LP Out of Phase pronto (still in print thanks to Richie Records/Petty Bunco) rather than the cassette. But if you're well-acquainted with DiMaggio's magic, go grab this tape and support worthy causes. I'm sure your accountant can designate it as a tax write-off too. Everybody wins!


Quietus - Volume Five [Ever/Never]

New York City combo Quietus’s fifth album, logically named Volume Five, instantly reminded me of William Carlos Whitman’s cassette Burn My Letters from a couple years ago when “Eau Dormante” first played over the speakers. Both records sound classic and also a bit out of time twenty years into the new millennium. As a man who spends most of his day professionally (and personally) living in the past, nothing is more pleasing than to hear records still being made with this certain 80s/90s je ne sais quois.

Quietus puts its best foot forward with leadoff track “Eau Dormante”. Lurching to life, the band joins in a midtempo stomp while the spirit of Joey Santiago freelances with a hot axe and endless sustain. That right there is enough to get the hairs standing up on the back of my neck and the song hasn’t even really begun. Geoffrey Bankowski’s restrained, breathy vocals add a lot of character to the song (and the whole album really). I get strong Ian McCulloch vibes (minus the accent) from Bankowski's delivery and, at times, some less hip reference points come to mind like Bono and maybe even a bit of Bobby’s little boy Jakob Dylan. Other than a mournful, perfectly adorned trumpet solo near the end, “Eau Dormante” never really changes and the track is all the better for it.

Elsewhere on Volume Five, “Pedagogy” blossoms into a Spacemen 3ish trudge replete with a languid bassline and requisite guitar feedback over its ten minute runtime. At two and a half minutes, “Reflex of Purpose” is by far the shortest and fastest tune on the disc, functioning like the little brother of “Eau Dormante.” It arrives at the perfect time leading into the final two songs, “Baldwin’s Silk Scarves” and “Posthemorrhagic”, two of the longest compositions on the album. 

“Scarves” introduces a new wrinkle with a slinky groove and twin guitar interplay, each chiming off one another. Author James Baldwin is the titular “Baldwin”. I know nothing of his silk scarves nor do I recall hearing a rock song about him before; he’s certainly a worthy subject. Bankowski dreams of a conversation he had with Baldwin where they discuss various subjects such as “drinks”, “France”, “rage” and my favorite: “good sentences.” 

“Posthemorrhagic” is no less verbose but it moves at the pace of a waltzing snail over the course of ten minutes. Around two-thirds of the way through, the tune sheds the rock band segueing quietly into a deconstructed arrangement of piano and brass. It’s unexpected and quite lovely. Bankowski’s somnolent voice reenters singing over his newfound surroundings with the band eventually resuming for the final moments. That whole section, around four minutes in length, is something special. Recommended if you like a soundtrack to your sleepwalking.

Monday, November 30, 2020

NOVEMBER 2020

Jacken Elswyth/Ryan Eyers - Betwixt & Between 6 [Betwixt & Between]

This is the third entry in Jacken Elswyth’s Betwixt & Between split series that I've reviewed and, from what I've heard, this is Elswyth’s best work yet. The banjo is Elswyth's weapon of choice and he wastes no time digging into the the lengthy "Lone Prairie" with its quick hypnotic arpeggios and bowed drones. Captivating in all the right ways. Elswyth ups the ante with "The Caravan" a fantastic Welsh folk tune I'm completely unfamiliar with. It's the first time I recall Elswyth singing on one of these and I hope he does more. A calm and confident voice over minimalist drones, its nearly an a cappella tune and Elswyth handles it with aplomb. Elswyth wraps up his section with two banjo improvisations, the first of which is played through a dirty amp adding a pleasing grit to the sparkling twang of the strings. Spectacular work all around.


Ryan Eyers contributes five solo drum workouts evenly divided into three minute sections. Eyers's performances are completely accessible and not avant-garde in the least (unless you consider all solo drum performances to be avant-garde for some reason). Quite a change of pace for this blog when it comes to solo percussion. The pieces are extremely rhythmic and paced rather quickly making it easy to jump right in and tap the foot. The final track impressively delivers a melody via tuned toms as well! It's an energetic set while maintaining total focus. Dig it.


Hand of Food - Swimming Mindlessly [Ever/Never]

Ever/Never has done it again! Last month I flipped my wig over the Budakon Boys Ever/Never debut and this month they rolled out yet another left-field head spinner, Hand of Food’s 12” debut Swimming Mindlessly. Billed as New Age music for the new age, this isn’t a 90 minute cassette of flute samples and Jupiter patches [INSERT "ain't nobody got time for that" meme], this is a 20 minute dose of instant headclearing tailored to the post-millennium attention span. I mean, the only way this could get any better is if it was an app.


Harp strums, cymbal shimmer and flute flutter welcome you in but there's an occasional interruption in the signal, mildly inconveniencing your serenity. What could this mean? The fun really starts on "Absolutely Relaxing" with a movie trailer voice directing you to "take a trip back to carefree times" and commanding "you have to relax now" over a bed of foggy tones. The track ends with an "absolutely genius" final line which I will not ruin for you. "Your Inclination for Adventure" is more oblique, mixing in field recordings of talk of butlers and dinner reservations among blankets of synths and rainfall samples.


The record hits its strangest point on the title track which takes an utterly bizarre interview about an utterly bizarre real life encounter with a sea creature and then makes things even more utterly bizarre by doubling, slowing down and chopping up the spoken accounts. Thankfully a printed insert is included with the full text of the interview so you can get the full (utterly bizarre) picture. Oddly enough, "Swimming Mindlessly" happens to be the prettiest moment on the record with a lovely, lonesome melody drifting throughout. The record wraps with the most perfect guided meditation I’ve ever heard. I hesitate to mention anything more lest your experience be spoiled. Just trust me on this, it's epic.


This is a tough one to review because I want to give away all the punchlines, but no, no, I must be strong for you dear reader, for Swimming Mindlessly is yours to discover on your own. The way to spiritual oneness is not through me but through yourself. You will feel calm. You will feel invigorated. You will be your best self. Swimming Mindlessly might be an exceedingly clever joke but it's not just a joke because its music is actually effective and even affecting. What can I say? I’ve been touched by the Hand of Food.


Max Nordile - Building a Better Void [Gilgongo]

Max Nordile has played in about every other band that has come out of Oakland in the past decade+, having his hand in bangers from Preening, Violence Creeps and Uzi Rash Group (and I’m sure many more that haven’t found their way to my ears). Building a Better Void, Nordile’s solo vinyl debut via Phoenix’s Gilgongo sheds the punk trappings of many of his projects falling somewhere between his oddball projects, The Blues and Nothing Band. There’s a bit of the lighthearted avant-garde experimentation of The Blues (which I find to be charming and rather excellent) as well as some of the Beefheartian aggravation of Nothing Band which I haven’t quite gotten a handle on, making Building a Better Void a totally weird and inward record. 


Most of Void’s tracks could be categorized as songs, but just barely. “Deep Face”, “Site Traffic Prolonged” and “Wispy” remind me a bit of Maths Balance Volumes’s sloshed, obliterated take on “structured music”. "Site Traffic Prolonged" is my pick because it sounds like Nordile recorded his vocals inside a shed along with four people beating rugs. Somehow, Nordile finds a way to take those anti-rock vibes into far creepier territory than ever before. Speaking frankly, Nordile’s vocals give me the fuckin’ willies on most of these tracks; I can only assume they’re the cross-product of some unnatural processing and Max just being a naturally weird dude.


Forsaking any vestige of songcraft, “Dilligent Pores” charges forward into 100% pure musique concrète. The extended piece on the second side staggers forth pieced together via glue stick with a tick-tocking harmonic loop, murmuring field recordings, fumbling about with string instruments, fuzzy feedback, harmonica huff & puff and much, much more scrape and clang. The blemish on the record is “Milk Mtn”, a real low-grade no-fi art-rock patience tester that I’ve been annoyed by every time I’ve listened. But if you’re making records like these and you don’t alienate your listener at some point, you’re in the wrong business.


Fans of the fuzzy, warbling music-my-family-members-will-ask-me-to-turn-off genre ought to add this to their Xmas list pronto.



Patois Counselors - The Optimum Seat [Ever/Never]

North Carolina's Patois Counselors are a band that initially took some time for me to warm up to but I came to really dig their debut LP Proper Release. and even went back and tracked down their first EP on LA’s excellent Negative Jazz label. The EP showed a scuzzier production aesthetic which I quite liked but also illustrated that the Counselors had made an impressive leap in songwriting prowess between it and their first album. It would be unrealistic to expect such a sizable leap on their follow up album for Ever/Never, The Optimum Seat, but they certainly don’t lose any ground. Rather the group simply gives their sound a few tweaks here and there and delivers some of their best songs in the process.


The Optimum Seat plays with a more streamlined aesthetic than Proper Release. What you gain in cohesion you do lose in the lovable oddball moments (“Terrible Likeness”) but perhaps it's a stronger record for it. What makes Patois Counselors special is that they seem to have ingested all of rock music since 1980 and come up with their own perfectly engineered sound, not quite placeable at any point in history except right now. In The Optimum Seat I hear pop-sensible punks like pre-John Hughes Simple Minds or The Psychedelic Furs (also pre-John Hughes, naturally) yet it holds a completely different vibe from either of those outfits. I hear the early 00s when every smart band (and most dumb ones) were biting Gang of Four's rhythm section. I hear the time in the 90s when hip hop infiltrated high-brow rock a la Royal Trux’s Accelerator. (“There Goes Our Guru” is nearly the Counselors' first foray into recording a proper hip hop track.) I hear Au Pairs in the steely, momentous groove of “Big Pop Plays the Standards”. But none of this satisfies, Patois Counselors just sound like Patois Counselors and that's it.


It's hard to find fault anywhere on the album's first side. Impeccably sequenced, its most important decision was placing "Realities/A Series of Viceroys" first. It sets the tone of the record for Patois Counselors' continued scrutinizing of 21st century living and, most importantly, it's a totally exhilarating earworm. “The Galvanizer” arrives later and it is incredible. Challenging "Making Appointments" for the coveted title of Best Patois Counselors Song, it shows off the stronger strain of disco and funk influence running through this record without sanding down any edges or curtailing any wild compositional impulse. It sounds at once like the tightest groove you've ever heard and completely out of control. Through the transitive properties of Patois Counselors, you cut any movie scene to this track and it's instantly cool as fuck. It's just physics.


My only qualm with the record is there’s a minor lull at the beginning of the second side. The first two songs are solid but lack the same punch as the rest of the record, “Efficiency Now” jolts things back into place, however, quickly followed by “Give Me Voltage”. "Voltage" sounds like it could have been on the last record, and been one of the best songs at that. It's a gut-busting send up of the modern human condition where a dead battery = dead brain, but you may not even notice because the chorus is so damn catchy. This idea is spun into so many memorable phrases like “I lost my charge at the battle of tedium”, "Lift the curse of power shortage" and "Without a power source, how will I manage?" reminding you that Patois Counselors are the total bulletproof package: words, sounds and songs. The gentle instrumental coda "Southern Living" caps off the record giving you just enough of a breather before flipping the record to start again.


Great record. Great band. Not too many that can hold a candle to the Counselors right now.



Sewnshut - Sewnshut [Sluggish Tapes]

Way behind on writing about this tape which was birthed in my ancestral home of Norway. Always feel a bit out of my depth speaking about instrumental electronic music but I’ve never backed down from a challenge (or at least I pretend that’s true).


On this self-titled tape from Sewnshut, looping synths abound and simple drum patterns pitter patter in a pleasantly crunchy fidelity reminiscent of old video game soundtracks, but without any direct link to that style and its cheesy trappings. The tracks that hit the hardest are the ones possessing the strongest melodies with “Diminutive Mute” and “Temporary” forming a nice pairing of minimal and maximal. "Diminutive Mute" has a pair of intertwining plucked lines over minor-glitch drums while “Temporary” layers several echoing melodic riffs eliminating all negative space.


Drum programming is rarely thrilling to me so it’s no surprise that it’s my least favorite aspect here, I’d rather just be set adrift in cascading synth-swirl and go where the electric current takes me. However, the final and best track “Choke” eschews the conventional synthetic kick/snare/hi-hat for a thumping sub-oscillator stab, definitely the moodiest and most intriguing song here. It's simple, but there's something about a gently modulated sawtooth being repeatedly interrupted by an ugly, clunky sound that really works.



Sissy Spacek & Smegma - Ballast [Gilgongo]

Remember how Emily Dickinson had that poem about a poem being so good that it takes the top of your head clean off? That’s kind of the situation with Ballast, a collaborative effort between long running collage-core duo Sissy Spacek and even longer running “out there” outfit Smegma. It all started with six people (Smegma and Sissy Spacek members naturally) making rackets in Portland, LA and Cleveland, then John Wiese (who is a member of both groups) took charge of the recordings molding them into the maddening, impossibly precise slab of whizbang collage that it is today. In short, the LP issued by Phoenix’s Gilgongo (following last year’s CD release on Wiese’s Helicopter label) is a wild, heady ride like being on board a rollercoaster barreling through a modern art museum.


My favorite work from Wiese, at least up to this LP, is the record on PAN where he mangled Evan Parker’s saxophone. Much to my delight there’s some saxophone mangling on Ballast, but that’s not all. Far from it. Wiese is editing from a wide variety of source audio: percussion, horns, slack strings, synthetic sounds, processed audio, field recordings, vocal scree, sampled music, and so much more I’ve forgotten or haven’t picked out yet. In the span of a few seconds you’ll hear an avant-garde jazz excursion, a harsh noise tape, and a dub record crashing headlong into one another inside Wiese’s super collider. I’m definitely reminded of the junk-scrape collage works of personal hero Brian Ruryk, but the range of source audio is so much broader here. Furthermore, the play within the stereo field is fantastic, a joy in a good pair of headphones and certainly worth rejiggering your home stereo to have the speakers positioned as far away as possible on opposing ends of the room


There is so much fine detail, delivered at such a breakneck pace that it's truly mind boggling. An endless well of pleasures. This rules!



Max Zuckerman - The Corner Office [Galtta]

Taking its aesthetic cue right from the Heaven 17 playbook, Max Zuckerman’s The Corner Office goes straight for the pastel jugular with his satirical take on soft white yuppie-funk. Zuckerman pulls no punches, using plush production to belie dark and icky lyrics such as on "Gaijin" about fetishizing "Oriental" women, building to the final couplet "Now you're leaving me and darling please don't go/I don't understand your language, mostly when you say 'no'". Oof. It's got a killer chorus and a ripping guitar lead making it easy to return to. David Lackner's mournful sax line on "Busy Day" perfectly sets up the tale of excess, work-related stress and alcoholism (“He has two daughters and a wife he hasn’t spoken to in years” “Another drink will ease his mind”). Keep in mind this is played at a speedy, funky pace.


There are great little moments buried throughout that manage to be memorable despite being brief. The minor-key break on “Airplane Girl”, for instance, would have been sampled to death by enterprising hip hop producers had it been released in 1984. The Corner Office is unapologetically muzak-y with soft sax and flute drizzled all over the silky guitar tones and smooth synths. I'm not always in the mood for it but there's plenty of brains behind this operation and when the mood strikes The Corner Office works very well. The final verse on the tape sums things up nicely: "Right angle to the sky/There are those who'd have me crucified/Envious of my success/Abided by their righteousness/Because neither Jesus nor the Prophets/Got the corner office"


Recommended to those living the high life while unknowingly hurtling headfirst for financial ruin and a decent shot of prison time.