Sunday, December 22, 2019


Natalie Rose LeBrecht - Mandarava Rose [Galtta]
Galtta Media is one of the more consistent purveyors of experimental sounds having defined an electronic- and jazz-tinged forcefield around itself yet still find ways to subvert expectations. Last year's Nick Stevens tape came out of left field (yet somehow made perfect sense) and I loved it. Now we have this tape from Natalie Rose LeBrecht and I feel the same, it fits right within "the Galtta sound" while feeling like a departure as well.

This is a heavy tape, it's probably 70 minutes long so you gotta clear your schedule to give it the proper attention. Not difficult listening but demanding, and certainly affecting, in its way. Uneasy listening, shall we say. It's worth taking the trip if you can swing it though because it's a heady one, and easy to get lost in if you allow yourself to.

LeBrecht drizzles layers of acoustic and electric pianos, organ and voice on top of one another creating this whirling, swirling, twirling vortex of sounds in space. With an opening title like "Rishi Stars for Turiyasangitananda" it's evident that Alice Coltrane is an influence, but LeBrecht is on her own tip, exploding notions of what a pop ballad can be rather than jazz. The eleven minute jaw dropper "Rosebud & Lotus" is baroque pop in slow motion, feeling alternately like you're paralyzed in a foggy piano bar witnessing a blurry chanteuse waft wispy croons from the corner of the room, and sinking deep, deep into your chair in the cinema as the lights exponentially dim save for the glowing tableau enveloping you, offering some metaphysical communication you can't parse. David Lackner joins on wind instruments providing subtle accents but it's really LeBrecht doing the heavy lifting here, concocting such sorcery with a deft pair of hands.

Another highlight, "Autonomy Dream", is a wonder in its own right, with LeBrecht pushing her voice further into a higher register supported by a funereal organ melody replete with a somber sax solo by Lackner. LeBrecht is equally magnificent when not unraveling lengthy tendrils of sound over 10 minute run times. "Hear Today" winds down the tape in under four minutes with LeBrecht wistfully exhaling over a simple arpeggio before drifting away amid organ gleam and a rattling flute.

All in all, Mandarava Rose is a mysterious, transporting tape that I'm nowhere close to fully exploring but I'm comforted knowing I'll be rewarded each time I return to it, continually discovering new alleyways to slip down for years to come.

Von Hayes - Moderate Rock [no label]
This is my first encounter with Von Hayes, apparently a band involving Graham Repulski. I wrote about Repulski and his impressively bang-on body swap with Bob Pollard on Success Racist here and Von Hayes seems to add a Tobin Sprout to the equation as two singers trade songs on this one. (The other guy sounds like Colin Meloy from The Decemberists without the shtick.) As one would expect Von Hayes doesn't fall too far from the Graham Repulski tree which is cradled right between the roots of the GBV grand oak so that's "the sound" here. Although, Moderate Rock is lo-fi in method more than aesthetic as the recording is pretty clean overall. The arrangements are simple, usually two guitars, voice and a simple drum machine track (though some songs feature live drums) and that's it. It's a tried and true formula that has worked (and alternately not worked) time and time again.

True to its title, all the songs on Moderate Rock are solid and easily digestible but most don't particularly stand out. Nothing soars like "James Run" on the Repulski tape I have. However, in its second half the album hits its stride, starting with the highlight "Pissanthemum" (for some reason the CD features a few titles belonging on a Bloodhound Gang album like "Urinal Cookies") which takes things to an even simpler place than usual with finger picked acoustic guitar and electric guitar feedback backing up the best vocal performance of the album. "Man of Few Verbs" is an uptempo college rock ditty with a catchy guitar riff. "Zeroes and Victims" splits the difference somewhere in between the previous two, making for a nice string of hits in the album's closing frame.

If you're unfamiliar, I'd recommend tracking down Repulski's Success Racist first before moving on to Moderate Rock, but if you've got that eternal itch for early 90s era college rock like I do, Von Hayes does the trick, sounding especially good on the car stereo during the commute home.

Brandy - Laugh Track [Monofonus Press] 
This team up of Running and Pampers members (now there's a band I should consider reviewing for the baby-themed AuxOut segments) sounds exactly like you'd expect. That's a good thing in my book as Brandy retains the relentless ground 'n pound DNA of both groups. The bass player from Pampers and bass player from Running both play here but it sounds like one picked up a guitar (I'm guessing Matthew Hord of Running is the one who stuck with the low end here).

Despite the mathematics of porting over only one member of Running to Pampers' two, Brandy hews a little closer to Running even though they ditch the neverending feedback for a tight, precise sound. I don't hear as much of the garage rock influence present on the Pampers LP which I'm all good with, 95% lean noise rock action is how I like it.

"You're a Dentist" (an oblique Punch-Drunk Love reference I'm hoping?) kicks off the record with thumping drums and fucking shakers! Drummer is groovin' for probably a full minute before the bass starts rumbling. It's one of the best intros to a noise-rock record in recent memory. Pretty much every track relies on the same tried and true formula of two or three note riffs repeated ad infinitum, unintelligible vocals, with occasional guitar solo/feedback moves as the trio stomps every toe they can on their way to the back door. They're all good but it's hard to pick out one from another. (The penultimate and accurately-dubbed "Urgent Blowout" is pretty gnarly though.) In total, it's a twenty minute 45rpm drubbing and you're out, certainly with a few more bruises than before.

Brandy isn't doing anything especially new—Mayyors, Lamps and any number of other bands with a similar ethos come to mind—but it's doing it really well. Keep shakin' boys.

Tim Cohen - Laugh Tracks [Captured Tracks]
From Laugh Track to Laugh Tracks, this month's baby-themed selection, though not limited to simply babies this applies to all parent-child relationships—and probably beyond those as well.

Penned and sung by Tim's dad Robert Cohen, "Small Things Matter" is an ambling piano ditty I came across on an old episode of a radio show on my drive to work; I was singing it the rest of the day and thus had to track down the record or I'd surely die. "Small Things Matter" is a rare song that I come across far too infrequently. An expression so heartfelt and genuine, devoid of any pretense or irony, that it achieves a sort of universal purity—and I say this as a person who believes that nothing is universal.

The older Cohen ruminates on the difficulty of explaining all the bad shit in the world to a child: how can you be truthful without things sounding so hopeless? His solutions are things like doing small favors for your neighbors or lending "a helping hand to someone further down the ladder" because small things do matter. It's hard to keep it together after the final couplet "Small things matter/Give a sad face laughter" as I think of my daughter and all the joy she brings to everyone who encounters her. I have an inkling you'll feel the same about one of your loved ones as well when you hear it. I can only hope she'll want me to sing a song like this with her when she grows up.

Laugh Tracks is a really solid pop record worth hearing but it belongs in the home of every family because of this song.

Saturday, November 30, 2019


ISS - Alles 3rd Gut [Sorry State]
Admittedly, I've spent most of 2019 digging through the music of years (decades) prior but I'll be damned if there isn't a better 2019 release than the latest ISS LP. I normally stay away from label "marketing" but Sorry State calls ISS the 21st century's first and only punk band and it's so perfect I wish I'd thought of it. From the classic punk reference (Crime, just in case you're unfamiliar) to the biting, corrosive wit to the fact that it's just the goddamn truth, it is the perfect summation of North Carolina's ISS. There's basically no reason to read this review when that sentence exists. But I'm writing it anyway, go figure.

I discovered ISS a few years ago when I heard "It's a Chore" (an anthem that immediately etched itself in my brain with acid) off of their scorcher of an LP (Endless Pussyfooting) and then they followed that up with a 7" EP which was improbably just as good as the full length and clearly the best short form release of last year. Now it's 2019 and another year, another ISS classic. In case you're unfamiliar, ISS is the only punk band of recent vintage that has discovered a truly innovative approach. They've tastefully combined samples (of punk and punk-adjacent music) and live instrumentation with educated, incisive and sidesplitting assessments of "the scene" into airtight, economical song structures. They're thoroughly original, thoroughly now and thoroughly punk.

Alles 3rd Gut had me psyched by the title alone, they sampled DAF on the previous LP and I was ready to dive into a new DAF-inspired punk-techno ISS. This record isn't that and there isn't much Einstürzende Neubauten influence either despite the cover, but it does expand on their sound in numerous ways, and most importantly the songs started living in my head after just 1 or 2 spins. I could gush on and on about every single track but to save everyone time (including me, most importantly) I won't.

Some of the songs fit well into signature ISS territory like the standout "Fake V Flake" encapsulating the continual spinelessness of moderate politicians ("calculating infallible ways to remain noncommittal"). They stay on the political tip in "Barron Wasteland", imagining a horrifying future under Barron Trump's reign over thick fuzz bass. I love these guys so much I even forgive their dig at LA in the track. The funniest song title of the record "Shoko Ones Pt. 1" takes aim at cults as the group brilliantly turns "Aum Shinrikyo" into a catchy refrain.

As usual, there are a couple of tunes indebted to hardcore like "DDYSWHP" a gutbusting portrait of a former frat brat wallowing over his newfound role of minivan-driving dad ("I used to have a frat car/Now I drive a Windstar/A 2003, no nav or CD, boo hoo/Everyone yells at me wanting to play nonsense from their iPods/But they're all forgetting there ain't no goddamn AUX in Daddy's Whip"). There's "Mac N Me" as well, a vicious screed about entitlement in the 21st century music industry ("Why won't they ask What's in My Bag?/I wanna be the new Sheer Mag/Fly me in to play a fest and then you'll check me out on Tiny Desk/I'll just try not to O.D. like Jay did").

What's most exciting about Alles 3rd Gut are the new directions ISS pushes themselves in. They try out some mellower tunes ("Nut" and "Diet Yogurt") and they're some of the best songs on the record with major hooks. "Elevator Shaft (feat. Miss Lady)" is a bizarre duet painting some Misery-esque narrative (I think?) over a catchy-as-hell melody (and kicking in Giorgio Moroder bass at the end). Channeling 2 Tone, ISS tackles ska in their skewed way with "White Man in Hammerpants", a brilliant satire of the modern white douchebag listening to Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro podcasts at the gym. "Aromatherapy" slows things down for a bit of dirge rock sludge, an unexpected move but they're great at it which shouldn't be unexpected. There's some sax work here that I feel like is sampled from some free jazz record but I'm not the one to call to identify free jazz samples.

The reason why ISS records have been so good is because of the bulletproof songcraft and with the shifts in style on Alles 3rd Gut, this fact has never been more apparent. The songs are still designed with utmost efficiency in mind inviting endless re-playability; they're just now doing it in more ways. Music isn't a competition but these guys are the champs right now. I can't wait to hear where they go with the next record.

Mrs Dink - Diabolique [Degenerate Trifecta]
Sharing a name with one of my favorite 1950s thrillers, Diabolique (well, Les Diaboliques if you're going by the original French title), is a good way to get me interested in hearing your record. This disc is the work of Mrs Dink, purveyor of Washington state techno outpost Degenerate Trifecta.

After a suitable "intro (by Mr Dink)" builds the suspense, the curtain raises and Mrs Dink drops "Cuz I L!ke !t" built around an infectious loop of a muted chime (or synthetic equivalent). It's a hell of a way to start the show but the rest of the disc is packed with stellar jams.

"Classy as $hit" has a charming supplemental literary passage courtesy of Pete Hope but, more importantly, it THUMPS. The thundering kick rumbles like a timpani as Mrs Dink weaves several trance-y synth melodies together and lays on this great shaker-like percussive loop that I can't pinpoint. "zOmb!e dIscO" serves up several walking melody lines and a killer percussive shudder that sounds like a dumpster closing while the cheery tune "G.P. (JUST BE)" radiates positivity. Heavy duty uplift. "My Thru$ting Sexu@lity" features a sequenced synth line that is just odd enough that it might fit somewhere into DAF's Virgin trilogy if it were more out of tune. (And a title like that certainly encourages the thought.)

The best joint of the album is probably "Juli3's Repl@cement" lead by its contagious synth melody which is reminding me of another track I can't quite place, maybe The Juan Maclean's "You Can't Have it Both Ways"? The track builds over seven and a half minutes always on the brink of being unleashed, leaving the listener suspended in a constant state of anticipation.

The disc crams in 69 minutes, including three remixes, which is a lot for an old blogger to digest but also a lot of bang for your buck. Buying this record supports a good cause as well; Mrs Dink is donating all proceeds from the sales of the physical and digital releases of Diabolique to the Lambert House in Seattle, a safe space and resource center for LGBTQ youth. For a diable, Mrs Dink sure is an angel.

Turkish Delight - Howcha Magowcha [I Heart Noise]
Three cheers for I Heart Noise and its cassette reissue campaign of Boston's Turkish Delight. This is cool for two reasons: one) I'd never heard of Turkish Delight and probably wouldn't have without IHN's guiding hand and two) I love to see the cassette tape being employed as a reissue format as well. Vinyl reissues are great but they're expensive and there are a lot of records of yore that deserve to find new listeners but may not yet generate the financial return needed to (responsibly) undertake a vinyl pressing.

Howcha Magowcha, originally released in 1998, is chock full of great tunes and Turkish Delight tastefully change up their approach throughout. "Go Baby" swings from a bubblegum grunge "whoa-whoa-ah-oh!" chorus to a noise freakout while "Gull Bite" commits to grinding skronk. "Li Colt Vas" has a bit of a Swirlies vibe with the shoegaze influence dialed down (speaking of un(der)heralded 90s bands...). "No Sky" makes for a fascinating concoction of artsy 4AD vibes (This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins), 70s riff rock and early 90s "college-core" (like when Sebadoh played really fast and angry).

The wild-eyed, gleeful "Smooth Karate" features a refrain I can't make heads nor tails of ("sex with you's like watching Kung Fu baby") backed by that Fred Flinstone tippy toes sound effect layered over a thick, chugging bassline. It rules. "Don't Look at Me" recasts Sonic Youth as a kraut-funk band and makes for a fun foray into heavy rhythms. The rhythms are back on "Thimble" and Turkish Delight makes a convincing case they could moonlight as an ESG and Liquid Liquid cover band if they wanted, while still maintaining their rough and ready sound.

"All Choked Up" is the pick of the litter, sounding like Pixies if Kim sang Francis's songs (with a little bit of Flipper's "Talk is Cheap" mixed in there too) and if you write a song evoking Pixies and Flipper, you're pretty fucking ace.

The end of Side A sags a little bit as "Sea Quest" might be a little too wobbly for its own good, slowing down the album's momentum and "Metronome" doesn't do much to regain it but overall it's quite a strong record. Many thanks to I Heart Noise for bringing it to my attention and getting it in my ears, I know others feel the same. Moral of the story, if I Heart Noise reissues something you better check it out.

Whettman Chelmets - Alas... The Sun is Shining and You are Still Alive [Submarine Broadcasting]
This is the first record I've heard by Whettman Chelmets and I wasn't too sure what to expect. I guessed maybe a bit of droney atmosphere, and I was a little bit right but Chelmets mostly has some other tricks up his sleeve.

Alas... The Sun is Shining and You are Still Alive comprises a trio of tracks all named for a piece of that phrase. Opener "The Sun is Shining" comes off a little like the shoegaze-synthpop hybridists of the early 00s like Dykehouse and M83. I'm also detecting The Cure seasoning in the mix as well. The production is a bit thin and sizzly, rather than the more typically lush choices of this genre. I don't necessarily mind it but I think maybe some vocals would have filled it out and made for a more satisfying piece overall.

"You are Still Alive" settles into a smeared, spiky long-form drone track recalling Yellow Swans' "shoegaze period" (mainly the At All Ends LP before they decided to call it quits). "Alive" isn't as dynamic as the Swans (who is? no one) but it kicks up quite a racket and makes for a perfect 9 minute blizzard of electricity to hurl yourself into.

The middle track "Alas..." is my favorite work here, it seems specifically placed in the center of the album because it splits the sonic difference between the other two. However, it also incorporates new elements not seen in those tracks. There's a nice thumping kick, processed acoustic guitar (which lends a wonderful organic touch to the proceedings without sticking out like a sore thumb). It's a dynamic composition with a laundry list of interesting production details, odd little melodies and sounds cropping up here and there. The final 90 seconds or so really hit hard so make sure you got your stereo turned up for the proper experience. Nice work.

Alas... The Sun is Shining and You are Still Alive clocks in under 20 minutes and I feel like Chelmets was focused and to-the-point in constructing the release, giving me a well-defined taste of what he's about. Brevity is a musician's friend and it can be yours too.

The Dipers - How to Plan Successful Parties [Omnibus]
This month's (vaguely) baby-themed selection: The Dipers' first and only release How to Plan Successful Parties which I guess you might call a "mini-album" (a term I've never really understood) because it's probably too weighty to be an EP but a 7-song punk full-length doesn't sound quite right either. Luckily, that nerd cataloging bullshit goes out the window when the record's on the turntable.

The Dipers were a trio of two A Frames and one Unnatural Helper (before he became an Unnatural Helper, I think) and the whole thing was recorded by Chris Woodhouse (Mayyors, Karate Party), one of the best engineers the rock & roll world has ever seen. With all that talent involved, it's fair to worry that the album may not be the sum of its parts but it most certainly is. The record was released in 2004 but was actually recorded back in 2001. Fuck me, that's almost 20 years ago now. I'm sure there's some story behind the delay but I don't know it, and rock & roll is timeless anyway.

As you'd expect, A Frames is certainly a reference point and if you like A Frames you're most certain to dig on The Dipers. If you don't like A Frames then I... I... I won't finish that sentence. Riff-grooves a la A Frames figure dominantly but fuzzy, garage-ier production supplants the usual robo-thug approach. This leads to stuff that you wouldn't find on an A Frames record but still delivered with their usual rigor. "It's Not Pretty" could be a theme song lead by an out-of-tune, slam-bang riff you're accustomed to hearing from Crash Normal or Dipers drummer Lars Finberg's band The Intelligence. While the stand out "Shake" is a party anthem full of the the kind of rock & roll swagger A Frames purposely avoid. After seven solid bangers Parties ends, fitfully, with a cascade of noise. Fun and inexpensive, the record completely justifies having a band called "The Dipers" (ick) in your home library.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Patois Counselors - Proper Release. [Ever/Never]
I've been wanting to write about this record for a while because it's an example of how there's no substitute for buying and spending time with a record. The full length debut from North Carolina's Patois Counselors, Proper Release., was praised uniformly by voices I trust and I heard several tracks played on various radio programs/podcasts but I just wasn't fully connecting with what I was hearing. I wanted to hear what everyone else seemed to hear, I just didn't.

I think the last straw was Yellow Green Red naming it the best full length of the year (a coveted honor to be sure) and comparing them to Tyvek (a band I grew to unabashedly love very slowly) and Men's Recovery Project. The MRP comparison ("'Terrible Likeness' is the best song Men’s Recovery Project never wrote"more on this later) is what really caught my eye because who else sounds like The Project? Do I trust my ears listening to some compressed mp3 stream on a few occasions or do I trust a reputable label and a cadre of music nerds with better record collections than mine? Well, I've found from experience, the answer to this is always the latter. So I bought Proper Release.

Given some time to sit with the record (well, listen to it, I was probably up on my feet groovin' most of the time) I think I isolated the hurdle that my ears had been tripping over. Patois Counselors' impresario Bo White's voice and cadence sounds a lot like Beck and that guy from Cake. There's nothing wrong with that. But it was just weird and a bit off-putting. I first became aware of (obsessed with) music when Cake and Beck were ruling the alternative charts, so I'll probably need a psychiatrist to sort out this uncomfortable fixation for me cause it must go way back. I resisted for the first couple listens but there was something undeniably beguiling about the record. I bought the record because I knew it was something I wanted to wrestle with, something I wanted to deliberately spend time with and not simply give up on when I don't love it after a listenhaving a small fistful of dollars invested always provides a little added motivation as well. With each listen, my initial resistance melted away bit by bit, the heavens parted and I saw the vision I'd longed for. This is a damn fine record.

After careful consideration, I think "Making Appointments" is the Counselors' finest moment. It feels like a track I would have caught once on MTV [insert "when they played videos" proviso here] and been like "Whoa! Who the hell was that band?" scrambling for pen + paper when the band name flashes on screen in the final seconds. Artsy video, maybe one of those where some things are black and white and some things are in color. I'd see it one time and never have the chance to see it again because it was too weird and cool for the general public so the single didn't chart, the album didn't sell, the A&R guy responsible gets a pink slip, the band gets dropped.

The track is a delightful recipe of burbling synth, insistent bassline, Marc Ribot-lite guitar jabs, what sounds like a wooden train whistle I had as a kid, and a piano chiming in with an infectious counter-melody. All lead, of course, by White's fuzzed out lethargy on the mic. "So tired of making appointments that I just quit" is one of the most succinct, universal statements of 21st century living I've heard; the perfect call to inaction leading one of the catchiest tunes in some time.

If Patois Counselors got a chance at a follow up single when "Making Appointments" failed to chart then "The Modern Station" would have been picked due to its classic-sounding, indelibly catchy rock chorus. White slips in "Sheered his library card because he's through it!" one of my favorite lines on the record, as well. It's not like it'd be an easy choice though. Jittery opener "Disconnect Notice" with its anthemic refrain of "The bills are unpaid!" against a mass of sputtering synths and bent strings would be a solid pick. The frantic "All Clean", which finds the crew huffing on some Brainiac ether and dancing like jacked-up jerks, would be ace. If you wanted to chill things out a bit, the slinky rubberband bass groove of "Get Excitement" with snatches of synth and guitar jetting in and out is a go-to. Or pick a nod to the forerunners like "Repeat Offender" and its spastic and infectious chorus, punctuated by a Mark E. Smith-styled "Repeat offend-uh!" or the Andy Gill-like guitar skronk stabs, grooving bass line and synths drizzled all over the damn place on "Last Heat". Hell, one of the top tracks is actually the instrumental "Pffones" which opens the second side, all futuristic mood setting, the punk counterpart to a Deltron 3030 interlude.

One of the truly genius moments is "Terrible Likeness", that's "the best song Men’s Recovery Project never wrote" I mentioned earlier. There's definitely a strong whiff of Men's Recovery Project (in their heavily Residents-ish mode) but Patois Counselors use that approach to go in their own direction. White frets about his disproportional facial features and general dissatisfaction when confronted with images of himself ("You are reminding me that flaws are inherent/Some combo of my parents"). Once again he isolates a uniquely 21st malady and skewers it. I'm reminded of all the time I and others have wasted handing back the iPhone and saying "I look terrible in these. Take some more." as the cycle repeats. The zombie-like chorus of voices chanting "agreed" in response to White's complaints perfectly mirrors the conscripted photographer's resigned desperation to hurry it up and get it over with. Plus, there's a slick g-funk sine-line.

The craziest factoid about Proper Release. is that there are nine(!) credited Patois Counselors: three guitarists, three synth players, bassist, drummer, and White (credited with voice, recording and mixing). Needless to say there's quite a bit going on in these tracks. More than anything else though, what's remarkable about Proper Release. is the songwriting. Pretty much every track here is an earworm in one fashion or another, each jam packed with peculiar hooks all its own. Whether tackling US health insurance in morbidly hilarious fashion on the exhilarating "So Many Digits" or peer pressure and acting like a jackass for a source of entertainment (the wistful finale "Target Not a Comrade") White always finds an unexpected lyrical angle to match the startling sonic concoctions.

Ever/Never is entering the esteemed ring of labels where I'll pretty much buy anything I come across at the record store if its emblazoned with their logo. I know it will be satisfyingly off-center and I'll probably end up loving it. This is the finest E/N record I've heard yet.

Final Cop - Broken Windows [Skrot Up]
Hailing from the prolific, ever-expanding universe of German Army, comes the offshoot Final Cop (credited as a duo of Vern Ore and Peter Kris) with this cassette released by Denmark's durable Skrot Up imprint. The label and artist have a relationship dating back to the first German Army tape I heard which feels like eons ago now. Happily, German Army hasn't slowed down one bit since then.

Fans of German Army, will have no trouble vibing to the sounds of Final Cop as its roots are still planted in the nascent Industrial genre of the late 70s and early 80s before Metal got its grubby little fingers all over it. Final Cop sounds darker though. The duo is geared more toward the crumbling of once-modern infrastructure, taking comfort in the caress of static electricity and the plush mounds of dust in the breaker box, standing apart from German Army's aural-anthropological expeditions to cultures outside the "western" milieu. If that pompous sentence isn't workin' for you, then I'll just say the tape has some cool sounds.

From the whispery, eerie slow-surf guitar strums and crispy drum machine of "Paradoxes" to the great "ooh-wah" synth sound buried way down deep on "World Analysis" Final Cop delivers their share of choice moments on Broken Windows. "Buried" is the operative word here as all the human elements at work sound collapsed upon while the drum machine rides above the fray. The fastest, loudest track"Moral Majority"arrives submerged in layers and layers of corrosive distortion. The vocals are reduced to mere voltages throughout, alongside the guitar buzz and drum machines. (If you do happen to make out some intelligible words while listening, then you're hearing the spoken samples rather than the live vocal.) The Cop sounds sharpest (or maybe I should say most indistinct) on the sullen throb of "Tahnahwah Comanche" punctuated by sharp snare hits, smeared with banshee electronics, as well as "Locke Lakota" an industrial shoegaze trip hop amalgam with a blurry but forceful hook. If any of the litany of adjectives used in this review sound appealing then you know what to do.

Writhing Squares - Out of the Ether [Trouble in Mind]
Maybe it's the Philadelphia connection, maybe it's the duo thing, maybe it's the heavy kraut-rock influence but I can't help but think of Writhing Squares as the yang to Blues Control's yin. Or maybe it's vice-versa? All this duality gets confusing. Blues Control is great when I wanna chill, but let's face it, most of the time I wanna rock and the Squares could scratch that itch blindfolded with two hands tied behind their backs.

Writhing Squares is comprised of Kevin Nickles (whose work I enjoyed on the first Taiwan Housing Project LP) on saxophone and flute and Daniel Provenzano taking care of bass duties with both guys chipping in on keys, percussion and vocals. The duo follows up their 2016 debut In the Void Above with Out of the Ether, continuing their mission to make the cosmos terrestrial-bound.

The title of the opening track "Dirt in My Mind's Eye" is about as perfect as it gets for this band, alluding to both the heady abstraction and persistent grit and grime of their sound. The metronomic drum machine ticks along as Nickles wails on the sax and Provenzano lays down some riffs but it's really just a warm up for what's to come. The duo gets downright punk on "Steely Eyed Missile Man" with a speedy drum machine, grooving riffs galore and a Mark Mothersbaugh-like yap. It'll make you move. "Bloodborne Hate and Black Book Mass" rides what's probably THE killer melody of the record with the sax and bass doubling the same line for true two fists to the gut action. Provenzano delivers a genuinely angular groove on "I Turned to the Mirror" setting up some sweet flute action. I'm usually a sax man, but the flute sounds even better within the Writhing Squares context. The way the flute's airiness plays off the dirt-caked bass is magical. Yet, it's a late developing organ melody that steals the show on this one. They attack from all sides.

The Squares really unfurl their wisdom on the sidelong jammer "A Whole New Jupiter". Unusually swirling right from the start, the track marches along diligently with Provenzano dropping wah-wah heat. The world needs more dudes shredding on bass while working the wah. Great move mid-track where everything drops out except the ever-reliant drum machine, and the guys take a break before bringing everything back and revamping the track in a whole new, optimistic form anchored by a lovely saxophone melody. Things kinda soar actually. Some true puff out your chest, I can take on the world vibes. Crucial jam.

The Siltbreeze debut was good but the Squares have taken things to another level with this one. Five tracks, all not-so-silent assassins. Pretty fucking great.

Eyeball - Paradox of Eternal Limits [no label]
The eyeball in the circuit board cover lead me down a path of expecting heavy electronics with a sci-fi/psychedelic angle. That's not really Eyeball's game though, the North Carolina quartet is delightfully difficult to pin down, but the underused tag of "space rock" may be the best genre to nestle them within. Paradox of Eternal Limits is a four track EP with the band modulating their sound differently each time out.

"Acid War" works with a bit of a Sabbath-y riff motif but with a surprisingly clean guitar tone. Eyeball have an interesting sound, keeping the instrumentation pretty clean but dialing up distorted vocals courtesy of Myriam Martian amid the spacey synths, grooving bass line and hand percussion.
The track features some proggy elements but without getting hi-falutin' and show-offy. Prog for the people!

The eight and a half minute "Inside the Moon"is a definite high point right from the Tangerine Dream-like synth intro. With the obvious caveat of no one sounds like Elizabeth Fraser, Martian's vocals take on a Cocteau Twins-like presence but a touch huskier. My favorite aspect of the track is either a processed violin or a synth controlled by violin (or just one hell of a dialed in, realistic envelope generator). It is a gorgeous sound and Eyeball takes full advantage of it. The track is a little trance-like and even at eight and a half minutes, I wouldn't mind it floating on a little longer. Eyeball keeps finding new territory to explore as it drifts into the sounds soft-jazz EVI (I think) by the end, and they sound like they could jam forever and really test those eternal limits. I was gonna suggest someone cut together some scenes from Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Moon with the track and throw it up on youtube, but Eyeball has already done their own video.

"Astral Projector" marks another new direction with a pagan-folk vibe and time-travel-themed lyrics replete with flute, rhythmic acoustic guitar strums and a tambourine & shaker rhythm section. Eyeball finally cuts loose on "The Red Minimum" with a thuggish bassline pounding the ground and a great little synth counter-melody that I wish was louder in the mix. Ms. Martian's vocals are blazing on this with strangulated sounding processing. My preference is to push all levels into the red but Eyeball manage to sound heavy and urgent here with pretty clean production. Bravo!

Four different stylistic variations under the Eyeball umbrella, paradoxically (hey! that's in the title) they sound the best at their toughest ("The Red Minimum") and at their most demure ("Inside the Moon").

Francesco Covarino - Olive [Thirsty Leaves]
This month's unapologetically baby-themed selection. I mentioned last month I love free percussion+musique concrète but free percussion+a baby girl is pretty good too. The solo album Olive by Italian percussionist and head of the Tsss Tapes imprint, Francesco Covarino, was recorded "a few weeks before [his] daughter was born" as noted in the jacket. The album title was inspired by his unborn daughter, in Francesco's words:
"In the first sonogram, she was just a little thing, the size and shape of an olive, so “Olive” was the name we used to refer to her during almost the entire pregnancy. While recording this music, I was thinking, “When my daughter grows up she will listen to this and think: ‘This is what my dad was like when I was about to be born’.”
Aww, isn't that sweet? I'm getting dusty thinking about it. Covarino has a very inviting style, and despite only percussive instruments at his disposal, subtle melodies reveal themselves willingly along with the rhythms. A half hour divided into 16 bite-sized morsels, Olive has a vignetted quality as Covarino transitions fluidly through different dispositions. The first four track sequence is case in point. The CD begins meekly, quiet enough that you'll be turning that volume knob up a little more then expected, then the second track ("oliva#56") thunders through with loud, rousing tom hits, leading into the third track ("oliva#85") which gets the rhythm rolling faster seguing perfectly into "oliva#30" which is quite evocative and moody. That's only the beginning of Olive's story, Covarino guides you down several invigorating pathways for the full 31 minutes. Excellent recording and mastering make this a delight on the stereo, unusually pleasant to relax and soak in for a solo-percussion effort.

As to be expected, my favorite track here is the weirdest one, the sixteenth to be exact, where Covarino eschews conventional drums completely for this garbled, rubbing of stones or some such object. It's great! But I make special mention because it, and the preceding track, are only available on the CD release and not on the digital version of the album. You gotta get the CD cause that track is the best note to end on. Olivia Newton-John said it best: baby, let's get into physical media.

Sunday, September 29, 2019


Waxy Tomb - Imminent Fold [Gilgongo]
Well, here’s a tricky one. Every so often you run across a record that seems to taunt you while you write about it. With every attempt at description, I hear a ghostly scoff of “Nice try...” One must forge on through the aural and authorial wilderness, however, for the chance at arriving anywhere close to the desired destination. Dither and die.

Waxy Tomb is Jules Litman-Cleper, ostensibly a human hailing from this terrestrial plane, though I’m skeptical. Ah, the age-old ‘alien music’ trope. Overused? Quite. But, I swear, this time it’s really true. I have no trouble picturing an extra-terrestrial researcher poring over hours and hours of static and suddenly happening on Imminent Fold beamed from another dimension. Frantically attempting to explain to the skeptical powers-that-be that these are songs. Sir, sir! If you pay attention there are rhythms, melodies and (inaudible gasp) even words: “This is pop music.” An astonishing revelation sending chills up several spines.

Though it is far from a one-to-one comparison, I keep coming back to Sightings as a point of reference for Waxy Tomb. Both artists make it a point to work within traditional(ish) song structure but eschew any traditional approach in doing so. For Sightings, it’s the power trio rock band. For Waxy Tombs, it’s synth pop.

If you revisit the beginnings of synth pop, when Kraftwerk had sufficiently infected the minds of Daniel Miller and John Foxx, inspiring their respective synthetic discharges, things were weird. The Normal is weird. Metamatic is weirder. And then Gary Numan somewhat accidentally becomes a pop star and the form gets progressively straighter, more refined, more digestible. Imminent Fold is the result of an alternate history where synth pop never catches on, instead becoming a permanent refuge for the strange. The outcast form enduring mutation after mutation for four long decades until this LP emerges.

Is it a stretch to call Imminent Fold a pop record? Probably. But that’s the point. Litman-Cleper is re-imagining what one can do with familiar features and creative building blocks. But what does it sound like? Digital synthesis brain scramble, violently swinging between severe two-second loops of thump-click-bloooop and hare-brained drip and splatter, smothering an amorphous being who sounds like she’s attempting to communicate to a new race for the first time. Not haphazard, but employing structures a mere mortal can’t comprehend. The LP’s 18 tracks don’t feel like songs so much as nooks and crannies of one big bulbous, misshapen growth (handily approximated on the cover).

A big lyrics book (yes, real words are being sung and spoken!) is included, appropriately stylized to the point of illegibility. Looking like a fucked edition of those Magic Eye books with the hidden pictures I could never see as a kid (and probably still can’t as an adult either). It feels like a momentous event when I make out a phrase in the book and on the record at the same time. 

Sometimes when I finish reviewing a recording, I feel like my journey with it is complete. I know it back to front and have extracted everything there is to know. I certainly don’t feel that way about Imminent Fold and I don’t expect I ever will. Too many unattainable secrets lie within these grooves. A pop record I’ll be listening to the rest of my life and still never figure out. How often does that happen?

Kyle Motl - Augur [Metatrope]
San Diego-based contrabassist Kyle Motl reminds us all that the double bass is quite overlooked in the avant-garde solo improv zone. I've got loads of recordings of this ilk using guitar, percussion, violin etc. but the only other example of solo double bass I recall having in my library is an excellent tape by Andrew Scott Young (of Tiger Hatchery fame). So Motl has some fresh earth to plow, and plow he does.

Motl makes his instrument quaver and quake. Sometimes swelling to a burly, hulking mass, sometimes reduced to a frantic whimper. Tones heave and wheeze, subject to insistent palpitations. Contrabass truly is an incredible instrument, capable of mammalian squeals, didgeridoo-esque drones and timpani-like percussive thunder ("Augur II") in Motl's masterful hands. I couldn't blame you if you thought "gee, that's a ripping sax solo" on the particularly impressive "Phosphene II" where Motl manages to both take the lead and provide accompaniment for himself—a one-man-band of the highest order. Another curve ball, "Augur III" almost has a 70s crime movie vibe, somewhere between moody and slinky while "Augur IV" nearly sounds like a drum solo.

Augur is about as good as solo improvised performance gets. Diverse approaches and timbres abound; Motl doesn't fall into any repetitious habits, always finding a fresh approach to his instrument. Motl wasn't on my radar before, but he definitely is now. (By the way, the cassette sounds fantastic and according to the credits we have Matt Baltrucki (recording/mixing/mastering) to thank for that. Thanks Matt!)

Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich - Midden [Gilgongo/Moone]
[Skip to the second paragraph to avoid the navel gazing] Ah, Deerhoof, so many memories from my high school days. There was the time I reviewed their album Milk Man in the school paper and actually had parents lodge complaints about it (I had to meet with the principal over them!) And there was the first time I listened to a Deerhoof album. I was staying with an out-of-state friend for my 15th birthday celebration and when asked for a gift idea I requested Reveille by a new band I heard about called Deerhoof. My friend and his mom generously granted my wish and eagerly suggested we play the CD on the way to lunch while I politely declined, hoping to avoid judge-y looks during the clatter that would surely emanate from the car stereo. They insisted against my protests, and you know, things were actually okay through the first few tracks but then "No One Fed Me So I Stayed" started blaring on the speakers and the bomb was dropped "Do you actually enjoy listening this music?" It took a little while for the mushroom cloud of atomic-awkwardness to clear and needless to say they didn't play any more of my CDs in the car. Despite, the rocky first go, I unabashedly dug Reveille and, now listening as an adult in a place of my own, shielded from taunts of the unconverted (ha!), I can say the same about Midden.

I've been a fan John Dieterich's elastic and kinetic guitar fireworks in Deerhoof but had never ventured into his improvisational work and Tashi Dorji is a name that sounds familiar but I'm pretty sure I'd never heard him play. So Midden functions both as an educational course for yours truly and a portrait of slammin' six-string skronk etched in ethenyl. 

Each guitarist takes one channel. My guess is that it's Dorji on the left and Dieterich on the right. I love the inauspicious beginning as the first side begins with several seconds of near silence before the twin guitars start chiming. Bent notes build quickly to a thick, noisy thrum early on then the duo briefly approaches "regular" guitar jazz and even settles into a delicate moment before later kicking up dust in a Hototogisu-lite shitstorm. And that's just the first side.

Supposedly, this recording documents the first time Dorji and Dieterich played together, but the two are so in sync with one another that I'm struggling to fathom that this could be true. They have the uncanny ability to ride same the dynamic shifts blow by blow. It's a seamless journey through peaking levels and tempered valleys.

Throughout Midden, the most notable trait in my mind is that both players inhabit this nether region between dissonance and consonance; there's no real melody or harmony but there's the specter of both amid the gristle and grind. It's difficult to properly describe but this is the kind of out there record that could get the uninitiated into out there records.

If Midden can be this excellent as a first-go, the possibilities are scary if these guys started playing together regularly. Could the world even handle it? You know what, fuck what the world can handle. I'm ready so let's do this. Tashi and John gimme your best shot, blow my mind.

Gilgongo is killing it with this recent trio of LPs, all of which are worth tracking down.

Derek Erdman - Coyote (Archives Vol. 1) [Sanzimat International]
Ohio has birthed too many great troubadours to count (Tommy Jay, Peter Laughner, Jim Shepard, Pollard/Sprout, and on and on) but one that had never showed up on my radar is Derek Erdman. This probably isn't too surprising given that Erdman is a particularly odd duck when compared to those above.

In addition to Erdman's solo material, Chicago's Sanzimat International has collected material from Erdman's groups Beauty Pageant, Double Decker Bus, The Future Cobras and Witch Duck amounting to 30 tracks recorded between 1991 and 2004. (Dates for each track aren't specified, and it's not clear if the tracks fall in chronological order) The tape flies by, however, as the 30 tracks comprise brief songs and even briefer interludes (some lasting a handful of seconds).

Coyote really runs the gamut: rolling piano pop with titles that double as lyric sheets ("Everybody Likes That Girl", "Do You Want It, Do You Need It, Do You Love It"), post-Violent Femmes frustration pop ("On Again, Off Again"), melodic tape experiments ("Carom", "Crayons"), soundtrack-y pieces ("Thirty Minutes Over Dilemma"), spacey synth-goofs ("Gorf-y"), various flavors of GBV-ish balladry ("Teenagers & Hamburgers", "Hello Claire" (twice), "Hoping That You'll Never Know", "The Ballad of You") and morose noise-sludge-pop ("I'm Thinking About Getting Married"). Sometimes it's just an unholy conflagration of all of the above ("That's Portrayal (6-Hour Megamix)").

Most tracks hew to a rough-ish fidelity but "Drunk" (credited to Beauty Pageant) is a lightly polished 90s pop tune that would have felt right at home on college radio (and maybe was!) The two tracks credited to Double Decker Bus stand out with the K Records-style shamble-pop of "You Will Never Know" and "It Really Happened" which sounds like the communal goof-folk territory Happy Jawbone Family Band has been mining in the 21st century (a la "No More Smoking Pot in the Bathroom").

All of the above is great stuff, but the track "He Knows That I Love Him" which arrives at the tail end is the reason this tape must be owned. A minute and a half of gentle pop bliss. I swore that it had to be a cover, that I already knew the song, that I'd been hearing it all my life. I searched and searched and have never come up with anything, leading me to believe that Erdman tapped into some eternal pop spirit of the late 20th century and delivered this song straight from the gods. The track feels so familiar and comforting in all the right ways, a gem of sweetness and charm. Utter perfection. Take it easy on your rewind button now cause you'll be needing it when you get this tape in your clutches.

There are one or two moments on Coyote (Archives Vol. 1) that can be annoying ("Zork-y") but overall it's eclectic and endearing, and for someone who has no clue who Erdman is, it's quite the adventure.

[EDIT: Sanzimat International sent in a photo of the full archive from which Coyote was culled]

Men's Recovery Project - Make a Baby [Vermiform]
Men's Recovery Project is one of the more fascinating 90s "rock" acts; they were a hardcore band morphed halfway into a neo-Residents outfit. (The metamorphosis completed on their masterpiece of a final LP, Bolides Over Basra, one of the more cherished records in the AO archive.) Anyway, they have a record called Make a Baby and I'm obsessed with my baby so it's getting a review. (You'll likely be seeing some random baby-themed selection each month on AuxOut for the foreseeable future.)

With 8 tracks on a 45rpm 7" platter, the Project wastes no time packing Make a Baby with weird hardcore ("Why We are Lazy"), bleep-bloop interludes ("Ant Propolis"), jokes ("Man Urinating, Laughter") and Commercial Album rejects ("Man Hole"), obviously that's a compliment. The pinnacle is the final track "Enjoy Life" with its Flipper-level philosophical insights into what it takes to be happy: "Work hard/Show promise/Make friends/Establish trust/Fall in love/Man a vehicle/Make a baby/Win approval" I followed this path exactly (seriously!) and I'm living proof that it really does work! I oughta negotiate a little endorsement deal in exchange for the MRP records I'm still on the look out for. There's no substitute for inspiring testimonials.

Make a Baby is one of the cheapest MRP project records you can score ($2.75 on Discogs as we speak) and it's one of several essential documents of the 90s' most entertaining prank-punk wackos. So, yeah, buy it already.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


I have a daughter nowwhich kicks fucking ass—so I've tried to hew toward shorter releases for the most part, to fit better within the diminished amount of free waking hours. Now let's get blazin' through these reviews filled with love and low on sleep.

Tyvek - Changing Patterns of Protective Coating [no label]
Tyvek is back! It's been three horrific years since Tyvek's last release, the 2016 long player Origin of What, and while there are a lot of things ahead of "no new Tyvek" on the official list of Shittiest Things About The Last Three Years, it still sucked for everyone. But want to know what doesn't suck? That's right, this single!

I shall not mince words, "I've Not Thought Once" and "We're Back" are two of the best songs Tyvek has manufactured. You got the scent of early 80s UK DIY and a whole lotta Buzzcocks-fueled power pop endorphins (especially on "We're Back"). Tyvek's hooks tend to be of the delayed release variety for me; it takes several plays before a song gets stuck in my head. Not immediately, but intensely gratifying, and I've grown to love them for it. Not the case here. It feels like Kevin Boyer plunged a syringe through each ear, injecting each side directly into my brain.

The two tracks are glued together by an instrumental two-parter "30th" and "34th/Market" which ends side A and opens side B. It could easily feel like filler, but it's actually really good too, pleasant midtempo jammin' with a touch of Trompe le Monde twang at the end of "34th/Market". But it's the two aforementioned songs that are the star attractions, whether it's the contagious guitar melody of "Thought" or the caffeinated slash and boogie of "We're Back", I'm pleased as rum punch when the needle's in the groove. I just wish I had a lyric sheet so I could make out Boyer's message to the incel community on "We're Back".

So when's the LP?

John Collins McCormick - Ad for Nails [Gilgongo]
It warms the cockles of my heart that Tempe, AZ's Gilgongo Records is still chugging along better than ever (15 years folks! That's like four decades in 2000s experimental DIY label years). Gilgongo has received its fair share of praise from AuxOut over the years, and judging by the three LPs the label is rolling out next month, there's plenty more on the horizon.

On his debut LP, Ad for Nails, John Collins McCormick emulsifies solo percussion and a bit of musique concrète and that's a cocktail I'd happily intake intravenously 24/7 if I could.

The piece for which the album is named takes up the entirety of side A. Dropping the needle immediately emits a roar of red hot, thunderous drums (though fidelity cools later on). The notes say the piece contains sounds recorded around the Midwest so there's editing going on but it's hard to tell to what extent. At times it seems like McCormick might have some kind of mechanical assistance (a la Eli Keszler) rather than overdubs? Definitely a sheets of sound scenario. The jump cut to the second portion is a favorite moment shifting from a free percussion-as-noise tape feel to a more spacious recording with two pieces of metal infinitely grinding around and around (definitely some Aaron Zarzutzki vibes, which the world could use plenty more of). A few subtle oscillator tones materialize signaling the advent of something. And sure enough, that something arrives in the form McCormick taking up sticks again and working the kit in a much jazzier fashion this go round. There's a few computery glitches woven here and there. There might even be some didgeridoo and bagpipe in here?? More likely to be more oscillator or bowed something or other, but at this point who the fuck can say? Ah, then comes the palate cleanser of distant seagulls and cooing crickets. Out of the fog of near silence comes McCormick once more with a nice little percussive coda. Total banger, and not like every other free percussion weirdo out there either.

The second side, "How to Consider it Done", is the "weirder" one, leaning a bit more to the concrète side of things, which is just dandy with me. Besides, Johnny was probably exhausted from the workout he got on the first side. There are snatches of people speaking and industrial machinery mixed in among rattling percussion. McCormick moves away from drums toward quieter, close-mic'd hand-manipulated percussion which I always find thrilling. The smaller the gesture, the more tactile the texture, the greater your pleasure. We get more birdsong, some sonar blips at one point, various split second musical samples. In one particularly indelible moment we witness the sounds of an electronic can opener in the midst of a mental breakdown. The piece is more free flowing and less structured than the first sidesurprisingly restful too. According to the notes, elements of this performance were recorded live for radio at Northwestern University so that may have something to do with it. Some people like sitting on a beach and listening to the waves in order to relax, but I'll take sitting on my couch and listening to McCormick any day.

The insert for Ad for Nails matter-of-factly states: "For best results this record should be played." I'd have to agree! I inadvertently tested the limits of this premise as during the first spin I had left the turntable set to 45rpm. I'm happy to report that it passed. Those "20+ minute" sides flew by! It sounds good at the designated 33rpm as well, so any way you play it you'll be satisfied. Hell, I bet it'd sound great if you played it backwards too, if you're into that sort of thing.

Still don't know what a "gilgongo" is but after 15 wonderful years, I'm still enjoying the mystery.

William Carlos Whitten - Burn My Letters [I Heart Noise]
Shame on me for not writing about this earlier, as this cassette was probably my favorite 2018 full length if I took a proper accounting, which I almost never do. I foolishly thought if I waited long enough I'd magically offer up a truly profound bit of prose befitting this excellent tape. But it hasn't happened so you're stuck with this.

Bill Whitten previously lead a pair of bands (St. Johnny and Grand Mal) who I had never come across (though they're sure as hell on my radar now) so I really had no expectation of what Burn My Letters would sound like, much less any idea of who Bill Whitten was. Many thanks to Boston-area institution I Heart Noise for introducing me.

I'd spill thousands of words if I dug into every great song on Burn My Letters, and I'm already struggling with my resolution to keep things shorter, so I'm gonna focus on the album's top two tracks. I Heart Noise cleverly picked these two irresistible numbers to float out digitally before the release and I was hooked. I don't spend much time listening to music on digital devices, so the fact that I became so addicted to a pair of songs I had no choice but to listen to on computer or phone is a marvel. "Burn My Letters" and "In My Borsalino, Pointing a Revolver" are hands down two of the best songs of the decade, pure ear candy. The rest of the album is fantastic too, there are plenty more good songs, but these are the central pillars holding up the temple.

The title track kicks off the tape, fueled by the interplay of piano, organ and guitar lines and a doggedly simple drum beat as Whitten waxes poetic about "hair the color of tarnished cutlery." The framework of the song is simple, but Whitten has a gift of building little melodies on top of one another, conjuring up an endlessly listenable number with ease. "Borsalino" is similar but imbued with a tougher rock & roll stomp. After a spacey intro, the guitars are switched on and Whitten starts tossing out the names of poets, revolutionaries, French new wave directors and other people you'd want to hang out with. (I suspect "borsalino" may be a nod to Alain Delon as well.) Anchored by an unassuming but supremely catchy guitar riff, the track's strut is unbeatable and Whitten could have stretched it to "Sister Ray" length and I'd still be on my knees begging for more. I don't often comment on "coolness" in these pages but the tune is impossibly cool. A savvy director is gonna come along one day and license this track, and then take all the credit when it transforms a run-of-the-mill scene into some thing magnificently memorable.

You have to reach back a bit to find suitable comparisons (masters of melancholy like Elliott Smith, eels and Sparklehorse) with some production tactics you'd find on a Creeper Lagoon record but Whitten has his own flavor. My favorite Whitten mode leans into his unhurried swagger, delivering lines like "it was your emptiness that appealed to me" in a husky, haggard drawl that sometimes sounds half-asleep in the best way possible. Burn My Letters never exceeds mid-tempo at any point yet it features some of the most invigorating and propulsive tracks in recent memory. Whitten also proves himself just as adept at the delicate ballad throughout the tape especially the concluding duo of the imposing "Every Man for Himself" and lovely "100 Days".

Burn My Letters feels out of time, like I've unearthed a gem from 25 years ago that's patiently watched the hands of the clock confident that due adulation will be arriving eventually. There's a warmth to Burn My Letters that seems harder and harder to find these days. In fact, given I Heart Noise's reissue project of underserved 90s act, Turkish Delight, I thought maybe Burn My Letters is a reissue as well—it just sounds so classic. But it's not, it's the year 2019 and we are still blessed with people who can write some goddamn enduring songs. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Jacken Elswyth/Quinie - Betwixt & Between 4 [Betwixt & Between]
Some months ago a mysterious tape showed up in my mailbox from the UK. It had this cool drawing of a mermaid-chicken-man creature, and quite obviously, I had no clue what it would sound like. This type of sensation has happened more than a few times over the years, and, let me tell you, I don't always end up a winner. But sometimes I get lucky and this is one of those times.

Jacken Elswyth takes the first side and showcases several sides of the banjo. "Improvisation for Bowed Banjo and Shruti"is a great little piece merging Indian and Appalachian worlds making for some kind of banjo raga thing. Elswyth's take on Fahey's take on the traditional hymn "In Christ There is No East or West" is quite scenic. "The Banks of the Green Willow" is a lovely little change up as Elswyth sings a traditional tune as he walks through the woods, with a chorus of birds singing and leaves crackling underfoot. So much texture and a handsome vocal performance. Love it! The woodland sounds segue perfectly into "Improvisation for Banjo and Brushes" which features a rustling backing track of brushes rubbed across the banjo's membrane while Elswyth lets it fly over top. The piece features my favorite instance of Elswyth's playing, there's a touch of Bill Orcutt to it, simultaneously brutish and lyrical with the scrape of the backing track amping up the tension. A+

The brief "Improvisation for banjo and delay (25.1)" is the only piece I don't connect with as much. I can't find fault with it but I tend to prefer acoustic stringed instruments sans electric effects. I like my whiskey neat and my banjo dry. Just rubs the right way, I don't know why. (That's fuckin' poetry if I do say so myself.)

As charming as Elswyth's side is, it was Quinie's side that really bowled me over. Hailing from Glasgow, Quinie arrives with a bag of folk songs under her arm. I'm not sure if these are traditionals or what, but Quinie's take on them is undoubtedly her own. Occasionally a capella (or usually near to it), her side is bold and self-assured.

The gorgeous "Whas at the Windy" is nothing but Quinie's voice and a touch of reverb but for most tracks she devises subtle accompaniment for her voice. The opener "Red Yoyo" perfectly encapsulates her approach, judiciously employing chimes, rattle and whistle to create a sparse backing track. She nails it. I'm not even sure what I'm hearing on "Jean" maybe heavy accordion tones and some kind of insistent kazoo(?) On "Link and Scone" Quinie sings over nothing but the clatter of echoing percussion. Each track seems to have a different arrangement but they all fit together seamlessly.

The most memorable of Quinie's vocal performances comes on "Cock Sparra" (or "Cock Sparrer" to all you punks) as waves of reedy organ lap at her feet. There's a wondrous instrumental post-script that concludes the song, once again proving she's as skilled a composer as she is a performer. The breathtaking final track "Blue Boat" doubles the length of the next longest track and it's tremendous to have an extended track to get lost in. The accompaniment is among the most sparse on the tapethe song's nearly a capella but it returns at the ideal moment. After Quinie's voice fades, foggy bass saxophone (or at least that's what it sounds like to these hears) mourns in the darkness for a few moments more and that's it.

I'm really doing a poor job of describing this and that's the beauty of it. There are so few elements, that there isn't so much to describe in a quantitative sense. It's Quinie's magnetic and incomparable performance that produces such personal magic. Something you have to experience for yourself because these words certainly won't translate it properly. But, trust me, it's great.

Quinie reminds me of Laurie Anderson if she disappeared into the hills of Scotland for a few decades and re-emerged fully intoxicated by the Scots folk tradition. I love Laurie Anderson and I don't throw her name around willy nilly so that should give you some idea of how taken I am with Quinie's work. Such power in both her voice and compositional prowess. Her vision here is fully realized and utterly perfect. I am blessed that her music appeared in my mailbox.

Two distinct sides that perfectly complement each other. Very hard quality to find in a split. I could listen to this tape all day. Recommended!

Venom P. Stinger - Walking About [Drag City]
How did I make it to 30 years of age before someone told me about Melbourne, Australia's Venom P. Stinger?! I'm pissed at the world because of it. I don't have a strong case, however, because our Chicagoan chums at Drag City reissued all of the output from the "classic" line-up (before singer Dugald MacKenzie bowed out) back in 2013. I was literally living in Chicago when this happened! Obviously, I was pretty jacked up on Portillo's and Pequod's and didn't exactly have my wits about me. But let's not dwell on the good times, because Dugald MacKenzie surely isn't on "Walking About", the finest two and a half minutes the Stinger squad ever laid down.

If you already know V.P. Stinger, you've probably stopped reading by now ("I've listened to this thousands of times, mate, I don't need you to tell me about it. Get over yourself!") but if you don't, their biggest claim to fame these days is that Mick Ward Turner and Jim White took a left turn post-Stinger, going on to form Dirty Three with Warren Ellis. (Ward Turner previously played in the fantastic Aussie hit squad Fungus Brains as well.) Sure, Dirty Three are alright but wait 'til you hear Venom P.

Is paranoid punk a codified subgenre yet? If so, "Walking About" is the flagship anthem. The opening salvo "They got my car/They got my house/They got the keys to my door/I can't get ooooout!" is probably felt as deeply in 2019 as it was in 1988. MacKenzie exhales the lyrics with such desperation that you're instantly looking over your shoulder, rifling through drawers for anti-anxiety medication even though you were having a great fucking day just a minute ago. Ward Turner provides one of the most gripping riffs I can think of while White barrels down the street with his inimitable jazz-drummer-impersonating-punk-drummer style. Moving at an intelligibly breakneck pace, merely slowing to shout "walking about" a few times, the track is one of the most arresting compositions in the pantheon of Western music, right up there with the fourth movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.

The B side "26 Milligrams" is really great too and probably deserving of its own A side. I struggle with the guilt of not flipping the record often enough. "Walking About" being so good is no excuse to neglect "26 Milligrams". Self-flagellation seems like the appropriate action here but I'll substitute telling you about it instead. Coming on like a pissed off "Shot by Both Sides", "26mg" is one of the more "classic punk" sounding Stinger tracks, sounding like The Clash if they were a bunch of fucked up miscreants instead of a successful rock group. Dugald doesn't hit the same lows he does on "Walking About" (thankfully) but there's no lollipops or sunshine to be found either. Backed by a frenetic two-chord stomp, MacKenzie drops tortured stanzas like "So learn no more to cry/All our ways they change/From a gland, into the core/I think it's slowly eating me away". It'd choke you up if you weren't too busy moshing in your living room.

I might've survived three decades without Venom P. Stinger but I'm not gonna let my kid suffer the same fate. She's gonna be the coolest girl in school when she's rocking a homemade Stinger tee on her first day of preschool.

メトロノリ Metoronori - "?" Letter [Cudighi]
Short tapes are like manna from heaven. Relatively few artists have earned the right to make an album lasting over 40 minutes, so next time you're thinking about dropping your second c-90 in a calendar year (you know who you are) think a little bit longer about it. Thankfully, this is not a complaint I have to lodge with the curiously titled and unpronounceable "?" Letter, which clocks in gracefully under 20 minutes. メトロノリ Metoronori is an artist hailing from Japan (although the label Cudighi records is local with a delicious looking logo in tow) and this is my first experience with her music.

I was immediately taken with "?" Letter because the first two tracks don't have proper drum tracks and I love it! It's a brave move and pays off in spades. "Blue Sheer" features shards of vocals and synth gently tumbling through space in a frenetic but pleasing manner. メトロノリ Metoronori instantly creates a little pop world of her own. "まだ" is mellower owing much to a lovely synth phrase. Quite a beautiful piece, somewhere between contemporary electronic pop and neo-classical composition.

So the first two tracks really knocked me out, and the rest of tracks are good too but メトロノリ Metoronori introduces traditional beats and, unfortunately, it causes the rest of the tape to sound just a tad more conventional by comparison. Not a deal breaker by any means, just that I think the tape would have gone to another level if the initial (beat-less) aesthetic she established had carried though its duration. Abstraction really works for her.

"Course 辷る" reminds me a bit of Enon's electronic moments, though pushed far more outré while "鬼の目" features catchy filtered synth swells. The last track "空で、動かないで" nearly returns to the same initial aesthetic as the drum track makes only a brief appearance and it sounds great, giving the wonderful little song room to move and breathe.

It's abundantly clear that メトロノリ Metoronori is more than capable of making great techno-pop, but on a few tracks she shows she can make something even greater and it's my selfish wish that she pushes herself further in that direction. メトロノリ Metoronori's compositions are inherently rhythmically sophisticated so the beats feel superfluous and perhaps slightly cramp her fascinating pop structures. Still, beats or no beats, "?" Letter's vibe remains in tact, one that is soothing but entirely present, never hiding behind a haze to achieve its remarkable dreamlike effect.

If you are a person who (a) really digs electronic drum tracks or (b) isn't as finicky as yours truly (good for you!) then you'll probably find no fault whatsoever and think it's a perfect way to spend 20 minutes. Its brevity makes a delicious little morsel that you'll want to flip time and time again.

Richard Papiercuts - Twisting the Night [Ever/Never]
Ricky Papiercuts has traveled a long way since that noisebomb River of Shit 7" with Chinese Restaurants (and an assist from Barack Obama). Now he's making tunes that my dad might even dig. I've got the first Papiercuts LP A Sudden Shift but I missed his second and there definitely must have been a sudden shift (nailed it) because Twisting the Night eschews the Beefheartian skronk and  punk edginess present on his debut. (Although on "The Riddle", Papiercuts does briefly paraphrase Scott Walker's "Farmer in the City" when he deeply bellows "Today I am a citizen" signaling he hasn't left the avant-garde completely.) This refinement/softening (you pick) isn't a bad thing in the least as I quite like the four songs that Dick has come up with here.

The sound on Twisting the Night is akin to 80s-era Bowie or less synth-y Tears for Fears (who Papiercuts did cover on A Sudden Shift), with a bit of U2 and full pop-mode Psychedelic Furs swirling around in there too (particularly on the rockin' epic "Starless Summer Night".) The EP is chock full of great horn arrangements, driving guitar lines and twinkling keys with Papiercuts's confident baritone leading the way.

Timing is everything and the first track "A Place to Stay" lands a sentimental bulls eye at this exact point in my life. I think I still would have appreciated it ten years ago, but I certainly appreciate it more now. Papiercuts expertly and honestly weaves a portrait of the anxieties that marriage and a child can bring but also the love, comfort and reassurance that comes part and parcel. A trade-off you never regret. (A bunch of smiling kids adorn the inner sleeve leaving no question that Papiercuts is aiming squarely for the middle-aged softy demographic.) Propelled by a galloping bassline, synth-string swells, and soaring sax and trombone lines, you really feel like "yeah! I can figure this life stuff out too!" Thanks for the encouragement Richard!

The closer, pseudo-title track "World and Not-World (Twisting the Night)", is all chorus. Built upon a little sequenced synth line, Papiercuts keeps building and building on the same melody, folding in more instruments until it ends abruptly on a quiet ping. It's hard to pick a standout track because they're all so evenly matched. The sentimental pick is "A Place to Stay" for me but an argument could be made that "World" may be the record's most succinct and catchiest composition.

Nerd note: this 12" EP was cut at 33rpm with the same four songs (same versions too) appearing on both sides. Still not sure why. Maybe it's to help out the parents out there? If your kid gets her sticky fingers on side A, just flip the record and it's no worse for wear. The CEO of Ever/Never has publicly professed his love of the 45rpm 12" (seemingly the perfect format for this very recording) so Mr. Papiercuts must have some serious weight to throw around behind the scenes to implement such an eccentric format choice.

Slovenly - Drive It Home, Abbernathy [Ajax]
Despite several records on SST and New Alliance, California's Slovenly have remained under the radar in the decades since their dissolution. Not all that surprising considering they don't share a whole lot in common with Greg Ginn nor Mike Watt, sonically speaking anyway. They were an offshoot of Saccharine Trust yet didn't really retain any of those characteristics either. Nevertheless, Slovenly were an excellent, eccentric band that everyone should hear and I've chosen to write about this EP because in spite of its wretched artwork, it's short, it's really good and (unlike the rest of the Slovenly discography) you can track it down for dirt cheap if you keep an eye out (one of my best dollars spent!).

The thing about Slovenly is that they tend to be wordy, too wordy for some. I often wonder if that Lifter Puller/Hold Steady guy happened across a Slovenly record many moons ago and thought "I bet if I dumbed this down and threw in a couple Springsteen riffs, I could make a killing off the shtick." Comparing a band I don't like to a band I really like doesn't seem like the best foot to start on but somehow I ended up here anyway. Slovenly isn't The Hold Steady though.

This 7" finds Slovenly trying out a few different styles that complement one another over the course of four tracks. The small-size platter also forces the band to be more economical so the tracks steer away from the more languid approach of some of their LP work. "Seeking Equilibrium" begins with an odd quasi-island rock vibe, but whatever supposed relaxation there was quickly wears off and the lyrical anxieties set in. Struggling through the fog of melancholia and wrestling with his "supposed sanity", Steve Anderson opines "I'm thankful for my days off". Me too, man, me too. The track volleys between soothing violin with shimmering keyboard and in-the-red shredfest. It's one of those instances where the lyrical theme is aurally translated (and successfully!) as the instrumentation embodies a muddled mess of emotional states. Kinda mindboggling that the track works but it absolutely does. One of my favorite songs of theirs.

"Obviousness" embraces the angst head on with fuzzy strained vocals, though it also sounds like every stringed instrument is being played with a slide making for an oddly smooth contrast to the voice. The drums also sound like they've been treated somehow, like the snare is being run through a delay or something. Again, quite bizarre, yet satisfying

"Welcome Home" stands out in the Slovenly discography. There is a female vocalist (Trish Scearce) singing along with Anderson and even taking the lead for a bit. It's the only track where this occurs (at least on the Slovenly records I have) and feels quite good. It's a jaunty tune with a jangling earworm riff and wonderful, stuttering violin melody. Guest violinist Sam Goldman makes a damn good case that he should have been a full-time member as his contributions are among my favorite aspects of the record. Even with a lyric mentioning infanticide, the track sounds downright pleasant.
"Sixth Fingerless" is an abstract instrumental with fragments of voices and guest trumpet courtesy of Phil Smoot. It's a restful way to end the action-packed EP.

All in all, it's 10 minutes well spent, and who knows maybe you'll find yourself to be as fond of Slovenly as I am.

Exhaustion - Phased Out [12XU]
Blaxxx - Blaxxx [12XU]
Manateees - Croc N My Pocket [12XU]
Like everyone else who likes music, I've enjoyed 12XU's makeover this decade. Formerly in the business of exporting Spoon offshore, they've since been hustlin' various flavors of a baseball bat to the face (The Unholy Two, Burnt Skull), a really good Gotobeds record, reissuing Stick Men with Ray Guns (the Lord's work) and a host of other records that I haven't heard yet but probably kick ass. I'm sticking with this trio of 12" EPs today.

Exhaustion dropped one of the finest Australian exports of the decade, their debut LP Future Eaters on Aarght!, so now I have a standing order to grab any record emblazoned with some arrangement of a bold uppercase E, X, H, A, U, S, T, I, O, and N. (They stick out like a sore thumb when rifling through the bins so bang up job by Exhaustion's in-house marketing team.) Phased Out struck me as a bit of a curiosity. Two tracks on side A and two remixes on side B. Um, okay... I'll take remixes over an etching or some other non-audio decoration though. And to be honest, I really wanted to know what the hell a remixed Exhaustion song would sound like.

Exhaustion build on the trance-punk vibes of their debut, but where everything moved pretty slowly there, Phased Out ramps up the tempo. The title track features some EXCELLENT drumming, militant dance floor pummeling. A barrage of toms, serious thwack-thwack-thwack from the snare and thump-thump-thump from the kick. I'm not often one to zero in on drums during rock tracks, but drummer Per Byström can't be ignored here. The drumming fucking rules on "Colleague" as well but it's supported by some killer industrial feedback grind calling to mind Sightings and Angels in America. Totally relentless rhythms. This is my kind of headbanger's ball.

The trio (though a fourth member, Mark Barrage, is credited with "FX" on this release) has an uncanny way of conjuring a blurry sound, that somehow feels forceful and overtnever getting lost or looking directionless in the process. Not entirely unlike the Spacemen 3 ethos, but delivering a very different product. Exhaustion don't sound druggy though, and what's so great about the band is there isn't any easy shorthand adjective to describe them. Their sound isn't radically different but it's absolutely their own. If I'm picking an adjective, I'll just go with captivating.

Now that I've had my ass thoroughly kicked, how about those remixes... not too bad actually. They're definitely odd, and perhaps obviously the tracks aren't a seamless translation to the club but I have a good time with them on the turntable. Aussie punk royalty Mikey Young opts for the traditional synth-throb remix genre, throwing in a stepping synth-bass line. Not taking any chances but it's a tried and true method I can't fault. And you're taking a chance by remixing an Exhaustion track in the first place. I'm a sucker for disco, so when he starts laying on the synth-string counter melodies, I'm all in! I actually find myself pulling out the record just to hear this track which surprises me more than anyone. Seemingly borrowing the drum track from "Love to Love You Baby" the "Colleague" remix by Rites Wild has more of a dark late 90s techno vibe to my ears. Doesn't get me on the dance floor like Young's remix but it would be nice mood music in a splattery Refn flick.

So with Blaxxx and Manateees, it's clear 12XU has a fetish for band names spelled with three letters in row. I shudder to think what Exhaustion had to give up at the negotiating table to avoid rechristening themselves Exxxhaustion before signing on the dotted line.

Blaxxx seems to be one of those one-off "we happen to be in the same town for a day so we might as well record some raging hot-as-shit rock & roll" type of bands. A four song mash up of Bim Thomas (Obnox) on drums and microphone with Orville Neely (bass) and Tom Triplett (guitar) of OBN IIIs is about as wailing as you'd expect. And, yeah, they push the all the levels into the black

Leading off with the eponymous killer "Blaxxx" is a bangin' move because it immediately gets you in a savage mood. It's got my favorite groove on the record and there's some wailing sax buried down deep and a combustible solo on the breakdown. I don't know Bim's stuff too well (outside of Puffy Areolas) but Obnox is an obvious reference point, or a less psychotic Puffys (if you can even fathom such a thing). "Cut 'Em Down" is the easy choice for a single, with the shout-along chorus and mirrored riff. A well-placed "woo!" doesn't hurt either. I haven't heard all 300 Obnox LPs Bim has dropped this decade so forgive me if I'm off base, but this is the most Obnox-y jam on the record.

On the flip side "Let Me Hold Your Hand" features a spoken intro from Bim making it clear that Blaxxx is the real music and in turn they should be getting all the money. An amusing beginning but the track is the obligatory dirge, a thick as molasses fuzz trudge. The final Blaxxx track (of all time?) "Get a Hold on Your Life" is a genuine firestarter that will keep you blastin' even after you lift the needle. It literally sounds like the tape is a degree or two below its flash point, and the trio is about immolate themselves in a legendary rock & roll death by basement inferno. This one rivals the title track.

The record flies by leaving lots of room for future plays, a perfectly designed 45rpm 12".

I mostly just bought Croc N My Pocket because the cover is hilarious. Manateees was on the endless list of band names that rattle around in my head even though I don't really know who they are or what they sound like. I thought maybe there was a connection to another band but couldn't remember (turns out it was True Sons of Thunder. Nice.). But, hey, when the rubber meets the road sometimes a hilarious cover and a reputable label is all you need to lay down the cash.

The initial impression the EP makes isn't quite what I expected. There's a surprising bit of jangle on "Buoyant Life" matched with pissed off vocals (which fit the MO I presumed). "Under the Gun" is speedier but there's still a weird amount of proper minor chords in use here. The production is notable because it's not quite lo-fi but has a thin sound (1 vox track, 1 guitar track, 1 bass track, 1 drum trackno overdubs) reminding me of late 70s and 80s indie records where the song had nothing to hide behind. "Stellar" adds Manateees to the long list of punk bands singing about aliens and/or outer space (The Twinkeyz, The Zoomers, Outer Spacist, Tyvek and, uh, Blink 182). It's a solid addition.

Things get weirder on the second side. "River of Death" is all evil vibes holding a strange prog/metal fixation (replete with a half-time bridge and dramatic chord changes) with bad news lyrics about heavy topics like "chemical waste". The main dude really gets shrieking at one point and you know he ain't fucking around. Best track of the record for sure. "On the Run" is up there too, really locking into a fast punk rave-up with multiple jaw harp solos and a sick whistling breakdown. Wacky as shit and totally catchy. Feeds my earlier observation that they only have four tracks to work with and the vox were sacrificed to make room for the jaw harp and whistling. Can't say they made the wrong decision. "Witch" is no Sonics cover but it is the most KBD-style track, going harder and faster than everything that preceded it with a pretty sweet octave line. Oh yeah, then it turns into an extended metal-tinged breakdown with Bathory-esque yelping.

Crazy record and I feel like I don't quite grasp exactly what Manateees are all about, which makes me think I do probably grasp exactly what they're all about.