Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, November 30, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Ooh baby, this is a good one. A four-way collaboration of koto, trumpet, floor tom and oboe/English horn released through percussionist Jacob Heule’s Humbler label. Maybe you’ve heard that combo before but I certainly haven’t and it works to perfection on Brittle Feebling.
With computing becoming a bigger part of musical performance and composition every day, an album like this of masterful physical manipulation, whether via breath or limbs, sounds more beautiful than ever. Beauty is a rare thing, or so Ornette tells us. Really it’s just that Brittle Feebling envelopes me in the illusion of a tangible experience and makes me feel goddamn human. Heule’s involvement in a project has signaled quality for a long time now but I think this may be the best I’ve heard yet from the Heule extended universe. Definitely grab this one.
With a name like Budokan Boys, I was expecting wacky hijinks of some sort, like a turd-tier pop-punk band that rode the Blink 182 wave to a slot on a Warped Tour side stage and a goofy video on MTV2. But I also figured the high-minded likes of Tymbal Tapes and Ever/Never aren’t dipping into reissuing forgotten early 00s pop-punk (at least not yet!) so the Budokan Boys must be a far more intriguing act than the name suggests.
The opening track “The Magic Beggar” totally threw me for a loop because it didn’t totally throw me for a loop. A somber but fantastic psychedelic dirge, reminiscent of latter day Scott Walker except you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a living nightmare. Gorgeous sheets of saxophone blanket the whole thing reminding me how sadly underused the instrument is in atmospheric contexts. It is a truly incredible introduction, but not all that odd. However, things only get stranger from this point.
The architecture of the album sets up a spiral from its most straightforward song “The Magic Beggar” through increasingly strange pieces that gradually cease to resemble songs in any sort of conventional sense. The opening triad is completed by highlights “Dee Wants Death” a tweaked jam that grooves hard on overdubbed sax lines and trap beats and the frenetic “Rip U”. A lot of bands claim Suicide as an influence but few actually manage to channel what made them so great, that is seizing the listener’s body with caustic syncopation and possessing the listener’s mind with inescapable distress, but the Boys do on "Rip U". And they do it with a wink and a nod, uttering the opening lines “I feel so bad for Frank/It was only a prank”.
Like Laurie Anderson and The Residents before them, Budokan Boys are intelligent weirdos splashing around in the kiddie pool of pop music. They shove their way down bizarre (and sometimes hilarious) corridors but So Broken Up About You Dying remains a haunted piece of work. The CD is dedicated to recently deceased relatives of both members “who did not live to hear the album but nevertheless helped shape it” and you get the sense that grief is quietly lurking behind each outlandish joke. The title track is a wild plunge down a grief-stricken rabbit hole with a voice processed to the point of sounding inhuman cataloging strange behaviors in the wake of the death of a close friend or relative. The queasy histrionics of “A Dead Soul” and “Sleeping Doggies” could only be products of perturbed minds.
The epitome of Budokan Boys’ beguiling nature is probably “Beach” which is an acid house deathtrip lead by a voice somewhere between Cookie Monster and the dude from TV Watchers uttering the refrain “Life’s a beach until you fry”—complete with samples of seagulls and bacon frying at the appropriate moments. The voice is repulsive, the lyrics are bewildering, the thumping sequencers are thrilling and it all works somehow, though I can’t explain why.
Although Budokan Boys don’t sound much (or at all) like them, the duo reminds me of artists like Chrome, Royal Trux, and the aforementioned Walker and Suicide. Artists who, in their time, understood pop music well enough that they could retain its essential oils (memorable melodies, engaging rhythms, flare for drama) while functioning in a paradigm completely outside pop music as the world understood it. So Broken Up About You Dying is at once confounding, grating and exhilarating, but most of all, it’s a thoroughly impressive record. Recommended!
Confession: I haven’t been paying much attention to Crazy Doberman. This wasn’t a conscious decision. I knew it was a jazz-noizz thing. I knew there was a John Olson connection. (I dig John Olson as much as the next guy but once he hit musical project #666 I stopped keeping track of new ones.) I knew they were probably really good.
I thought the outfit was headed by Tim Gick of TV Ghost fame (if you don’t have Mass Dream, grab it, Gick sounds like David Byrne Byrne-ing in hell) but apparently I’m wrong. I swear that’s never happened before. The internet tells me that the group grew out of Doberman which Gick wasn’t even a part of (though he does seem to be an important member in the collective now.) So basically, I forgot what I “knew” and approached this tape like a newborn babe who doesn’t know shit about Crazy Doberman, and I must be doing things right because this tape is great!
This fantastic set was recorded for Spin Age Blasters on WFMU, which is part of the radio rotation at AuxOut HQ. You can always count on DJ Creamo Coyle to bring delightfully off putting sounds to the airwaves and Crazy Doberman is no exception. The sounds here are surprisingly heady, not as abrasively skronkadelic as I anticipated and I’m all for subversion of expectations. There’s no info on the tape so I don’t have a clear picture of how many musicians were included in this iteration of Crazy Doberman or the exact instrumentation. Educated guess says winds, brass, synth, drums, organ and guitar are all in play here. Some behind-the-scenes content got edited in so at various points you overhear some murmuring tech talk like “turning down the post fader”. Love it. Whether it’s the horns locking horns in a vacuum near the beginning of the second side, spacey loops and carnival organ on the first or the riveting final freakout this is grade-A stuff.
Crazy Doberman sound like the kinda band who really rocked a hollowed-out bomb shelter in Nineveh, Pennsylvania one October evening and the 15 people who caught the gig can’t stop talking about it. Gonna have to keep an eye on this Doberman going forward. The performance is recorded really well so credit goes to the engineers at WFMU too!
Spilled plenty of internet ink on NYC whathaveyou duo Maximum Ernst last month and it was all leading up to this point: their vinyl debut, a 45rpm 12” appropriately titled Hallmark of a Crisis Period. It isn’t the concept album tracing the continued decline of the greeting card industry that I was hoping for when I read the title, but hey, you can’t have it all.
Last month, I noted based on the duo’s history that this 12” would sound completely different than prior releases. I wasn’t totally right but I wasn’t wrong either as the duo does stretch out into new terrain. The 12” gives us two sides of Max’s face, “Un Menace Natural” is a subtle cauldron of dread like the Yellow Swans got so good at brewing, while “Hallmark of a Crisis Period” goes in a totally different direction. “Natural” is so good that even 12 or so minutes feels too short. When I reach the end groove I feel like it should continue on the second side. The side definitely evokes some dingy beach imagery early on but are those seagulls calling or squealing feedback? Are those waves crashing or blasts of white hot noise? Either option is equally disconcerting. The piece builds slowly and I love that Ernst never relinquishes its subtle, guiding hand, opting for a lingering uneasy feeling rather than explosive conclusion. Excellent work.
“Hallmark” finds the duo incorporating poetry elements for the first time, having previously manipulated tape recordings of speech but here the echoing lyrics are spoken and even written down on the insert. Clarity ain’t exactly the goal as the voices are processed, slowed, sped up, looped, and overlapped as they appear at various points across the stereo spectrum. Intermingled with blaring organ and overloaded synth signals, this ain’t the cheeriest composition in the world. When the duo lets the distortion rip near the end, it’s clear Maximum Ernst is in full-on crisis mode. I’m enjoying the compositional prowess exhibited on this record and I’m hoping they plan to further develop this skill set.
I came of age in the “rap rock era” and despite this disadvantage I went out and made something of myself anyway. Just like when God sent the messiah to eradicate Satan, he sent Lamont Thomas to eradicate the stench of Fred Durst from my memories. Under the guise of Obnox, Thomas has been synthesizing punk, hip hop, funk, kraut-rock, etc. into a thick, grooving mess for less than a decade, yet it feels like he’s been doing it for many decades given that he’s dropped about 5000 records in the past nine years. One of the inner sleeves showcases the front covers of 25 Obnox releases and that’s not even the complete discography!
Savage Raygun is a heavy record, 20 tracks sprawling over two LPs and judging from the mere sliver of Thomas’s discography I’ve tackled, this is Obnox’s best. The killer funky kosmische punk of “Heaven” throbs on literally floor shaking bass. It felt like a bomb went off the first time I played it with the stereo cranked. It’s not the only bassquake on the record either. The chorus “If you wanna get to heaven/You’re gonna have to learn to dance” is an ethos I wholeheartedly support. Speaking of dancing, try to restrain yourself when the fuzzy funk of “Return Fire” comes on. “Scenicide” is an early 70s basement ripper making sure you know those drawings of electric eels and Pure Hell records on the inner sleeve aren’t for show and naming a track “Hawkwindian Summer” makes no bones letting you know where Thomas is jetting from. Thomas has managed to incorporate every musical obsession he has into one project. No easy feat.
Thomas enlists some collaborators for a few hip hop cuts sprinkled throughout the record and I’m partial to the grimy future-funk of “How to Build a Bum” which features vocals from Mellowxzackt and beat production from Mike Mike Dustyloops. Thomas saves the best for last, however, sampling the guitar lick from “Southern Man” and christens the hypnotic burner “Young Neezy” (ha!). Sorry Neil, this isn’t your riff anymore, this is an Obnox jam now and forevermore. Get over it. Highlighting individual songs doesn’t tell the whole story though, as the hulking Savage Raygun is best digested in total as an immersive portal into Thomas’s mind and basement.
A non-musical note that must be mentioned is that the artwork by Raeghan the Savage is pretty fantastic all-around but one of the inner sleeves features a product advertisement for the titular Savage Raygun, a “plasmatic category racism reducer”. The ad is packed with so much witty commentary on racism that cuts right to the bone, I can barely scratch the surface here. There’s a Dead Boys parody jingle, there’s the painfully funny warning that “Honestly maybe this [raygun] isn’t actually such a good idea when they out chear mistaking phones, wallets & Lord knows what else for real guns” and so much more. Most important is the asterisk'd fine print that “for the most persistent & egregious kinds of hardcore systemic racism: please get up, get out into your neighborhood, and participate in community lead actions to help destroy racism in all forms.” The artwork should be hanging on a wall in every home in America and it’s certainly worth grabbing this record if only to have it in yours, especially with this many sick cuts to feed your stereo.
As an avowed music fan since I was a little kid one of the best things about music is I am constantly being reminded of how little I know. Case in point in this reproduction from ZZK Tapes of an early 80s promo tape by German group Pionier Serios. I love German stuff from this era, yet I’d never heard of Pionier Serios. I believe Berlin has never received legit circulation but thanks to magnetic media duplication (hallelujah!) enough copies spread through the decades that we are blessed with the opportunity to listen on our very own cassettes today.
Armed with an MS-20, Prophet 5, Farfisa and live drum kit that sounds like a drum machine, the group kicks off the tape with their sickest jam “Das Beste”. Ascending four-note bassline, organ stabs and atmospheric filter fuckery coalesce into an eternal head nodder, made all the better by two German voices speaking simultaneously (each voice panned hard left or right). Reminds me of the style mimicked by Six Finger Satellite on “Hans Pocketwatch” but creepier, more minimal and obviously more German. It even has a bit of 39 Clocks’s effortless lethargy too. I love this shit.
Pionier Serios have an M.O. which is to build a song around a repeating pattern and melody and they get a surprising amount of mileage out of this simple approach. “Ich” do-si-dos around a squirly keyboard riff with lots of panting and laser sounds right out of a kinky video game. There are some heavy DAF vibes on “Treiben” (sweet!) managing to sound even more dictatorial than the hall-of-fame duo while “Tanz!” presages Kommissar Hjuler’s legacy of lunacy. A lot of this style of music is meant to have the cool, detached, moody vibe but Pionier Serios are too weird for that. God bless ‘em for it.
This Sky Furrows LP came out of nowhere. I saw an announcement about it, happened to sample the “lead single” on my morning commute and I was hooked, smashing that preorder button as quickly as I could. The quartet from upstate NY is comprised of poet Karen Schoemer and a trio of veterans from psych-rock collective Burnt Hills: Phil Donnelly on drums, Mike Griffin on guitar and Eric Hardiman on bass. Sky Furrows isn’t loose-limbed basement improvisation though, this is a highly literate and musically mesmerizing platter.
Poetry-rock is such a high-wire act. First, the words and delivery have to be on point. You can’t have the verbal aspects wear out their welcome. Second, the musicians have to find a way to support and empower the words while remaining unobtrusive—and they must do this without being boring. Sky Furrows just fucking nails it on all counts. Musically, there’s a hypnotic repetition at work but the melodies are so strong and memorable that the repetition never becomes tiresome. Additionally, they weave in dynamic shifts at appropriate moments, rejecting stasis in spite of the repetition. Griffin’s experimental work as Parashi comes through several times like on album highlight “Ensenada” where his guitar mimics waves crashing. The rhythmic section of Donnelly and Hardiman is air tight, seamlessly guiding the songs and Hardiman might be the secret MVP with his locked-in but melodically varied bass lines.
Schoemer’s words are dense and beautiful and it's too far above my pay grade to provide any enlightening insights. She blends impressionistic storytelling, philosophical intimations and the occasional pop culture reference, weaving lovely, musical turns of phrase like “between what we say and what we mean, civilizations come and go” and “mere physics had carried us, consciousness without will”. Schoemer’s work is so great here that I’ll even forgive the dig she takes at one of my favorite movies (“F Murray Mozart tedious”).
SST Records gets namechecked in the first track so that’s immediately where your mind goes in terms of reference points. I’d say that’s pretty accurate and include Slint’s Spiderland as well. Sky Furrows really have their own thing going but there is a bit of Sonic Youth (a la “Tunic (Song for Karen)”) in the mix, as well as the wordy, brilliant Slovenly, the best SST band this side of SY and Bad Brains (hope I didn’t singe your brows with that hot take). On the second side of the record, a fuzzed-out guitar solo at the end of “36 Ways of Looking at a Memory” signals a shift to a more punk stance for the rest of the record as “The Mind Runs a Race and Falls Down” and “Foreign Cities” amp up the volume and quicken the tempo which provides a stirring contrast to the placid swirl of the first side.
Sky Furrows is masterful and a goddamn delight to listen to. One of the best things I’ve heard all year, new or old. Recommended!
Ever/Never continues to unearth fantastic artists I’ve never heard of with Staffers, a project lead by Ryan McKeever who’s based in DC but originated from Omaha, NE. Staffers come on strong like a heartland Ben Wallers (The Rebel, The Country Teasers) or fellow Nebraskan David Nance’s early tapes and the blustering Ever/Never debut In the Pigeon Hole is loaded with great songs.
Side A is nearly flawless, its peak being “Pastor Carson” one of the best songs of 2020. Riding a raucous riff and McKeever’s droll refrain of “I won’t go to hell again”, it will have you smashing the rewind button over and over. The side-ending ballad “The Gutter” is a highlight with McKeever beginning the chorus with the optimistic “I’m free now...” and hilariously completing the thought with “...to crawl back in the gutter”. McKeever packs the cassette with sardonic lyrics throughout and the Washington DC bar The Brixton seems to be the number one target of his ire getting called out on both “On Staples” and appropriately “Fuck the Brixton”. Separating Staffers from your average 21st century punk band are some fantastic arrangements such as incorporating pedal steel and sax into the rough and tumble Stephen Foster-gone-punk squeals of “Brixton”. The first side alone is well worth the $5 price tag.
My only reservation about Pigeon Hole is that a lot of it sounds pretty imitative of Ben Wallers—the closing ballad “Just Another Tuesday” could be a cut on the Teasers’ The Empire Strikes Back. It is a great imitation though, as good or even better than some Wallers material I’ve heard. I’m not paying it too much mind because it’s clear McKeever is a gifted songwriter and I’m sure the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to hear it.
This reissue (never-issued?) is a couple years old but I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while now and goshdarnit I’m gonna do it. Courtesy of Almost Ready (a label I’m forever indebted to for bringing Zoomers into my life) is the first (and only) vinyl release by Trash Monkeys, a late 1980s Miami punk band now most notable for its membership of future Harry Pussy alums Mark Feehan and Bill Orcutt. Orcutt left the band at some point so no idea if he’s on these recordings or not (very little info is included on the sleeve). Orcutt or no Orcutt, this is an essential little 7”. There’s a solid but unremarkable hardcore tune “Hitchhiking for Housewives”, a hilariously strange and catchy Jacques Brel-esque goof “Puppies, Puppies, Puppies” and a real contagious Violent Femmes-ish folk-punk tune “Clairvoyant Housewife” (they definitely got a thing for housewives… perverts?)
All great tracks, well the hardcore one I could take or leave, but I’ve saved the best for last, Trash Monkeys’ glorious, stumbling theme song “Trash Monkey Universe”. Led by a slurred, screeching warble, the singer sounds like he’s about to fall over. The song starts with the words “I was feeling lost and alone” but I can’t tell if the lyrics are loaded with pathos or complete nonsense. The central refrain is “Trash monkey universe/Hey mama, where you goin’?” so I think it’s a coin flip. Regardless of the un-parsable lyrics, the tune has one of the sweetest, most infectious melodies I’ve heard. I’m not even sure what to compare it to. Can’t think of a band that’s managed this much unbridled nonchalance in every aspect of musicianship yet has the songwriting chops to rival Jeff Lynne. One of the best songs I’ve come across in the past couple years, “Trash Monkey Universe” is a masterpiece plain and simple. Endlessly replayable. Totally essential. Utterly trash.
Dang, “333” seems to be a popular title for your album. This is the second time I’ve reviewed an album with the title and that doesn’t include my copy of the A Frames 3xLP compilation which also shares the title. Even more albums I’ve never heard of appear on Discogs. Curiosity got the better of me, so I googled “what does 333 mean” and apparently it’s a holy number. The number of the trinity. I guess it’s half of 666 so that’s significant? But Black Francis already told us that God is 7 so now I’m more confused than when I started. Guess I’ll just write about the music.
This 333 is a compilation by Illinois’s long running Midweirdo outpost Green Tape collecting its series of three minute tapes (c-3s). Naturally, the c-3s are collected on a 3” CDr which accounts for two out of the three 3s. The series stretches all the way back to the mid 00s, though I’d only heard three (Holy shit! There’s the third 3!) of the entries before. I dug into the great tapes by *e* and Napoleon Blownaparte in detail HERE while I somehow ended up with mp3s of Barrabarracuda’s no-wavey contribution to the series (dedicated to the Yellow Swans no less) wayyy back in the day and even played it on the air. Elsewhere, the comp runs the gamut from beautiful folktronica miniatures (Alanthebox) to blaring lo-fi messes (Monster Monster) to gentle singer-songwriter vibes (Peoplemath).
333 reminds me of those 7” compilations in the 90s with 10 or so bands contributing minute long songs or experiments (think Teenbeat 100 or the Xpressway/Drag City joint-venture I Can Hear the Devil Calling Me). My one qualm is that Russian Tsarlag’s second tune “Bleach Party” runs three minutes which seems to violate the spirit of things (is this an extended cut?). I’m not the biggest Russian Tsarlag fan in the first place and the plodding “Party” drags the comp’s momentum a bit.
Overall though, 333 is an eclectic blast darting from one manner of underground expression to another in three minute chunks. It creates a kaleidoscopic effect, experiencing the breadth of the past 15 years of the no-audience underground in a half-hour sitting. And like the old saying if “If you don’t like the weather, just wait three minutes”, if you don’t like what you’re hearing just wait three minutes for something completely different.