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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.