Wednesday, September 30, 2020


Cyanide Tooth - Midnight Climax Operation [Ever/Never]
You’ve been living through a nightmare all year long but if you’re still thirsty for more, cue up Cyanide Tooth’s long-awaited follow up to 2014’s The Whole Tooth & Nothing But... CT might share Holy Molar’s taste in puns but this is no early 00s San Diego spazz-core revival. This is dense, conscience-collapsing gloom. The central reference point is industrial music—back when it was industrial music and not the Industrial Music Complex. There’s grisly throbs and surely a buddy-buddy relationship with Dada. Employing decimated drum machines, constant signal overload and just generally plugging things into the wrong holes, Midnight Climax Operation is an ugly piece of work. A tape only a deeply psychotic mother could love.

Approaches run the gamut from jackhammer on the eardrum (“Press the Mesh”), extended musique concrète composition (the title track), fucked-in-the-head poetry (“Headline/Heartline”) and magnetic and electronic signal manipulation that will literally teach you a thing or two about heartburn (“Heartburn”). The title track fills the b-side for a 25 minute long and surprisingly gentle punch in the stomach and that’s where Cyanide Tooth sounds most at home without betraying the claustrophobia embedded in the oxide. It’s a truly tweaked and kaleidoscopic journey of audio grit and grime. 

Just when you think you’ve hit the noise floor, Midnight Climax Operation reminds you there’s no bottom.

Embarker - Jetta and the Mountain [Send Help]
When the handsomely wrapped Jetta and the Mountain arrived I had no idea that M. Barker had pivoted from Philly noise malingerer to author of children's books on tape. Jetta and the Mountain certainly sounds like a fable from a 21st century Aesop. Definitely a better career move because noise tapes aren’t paying the bills like they used to. I was happy for him. Then I listened and realized that, nope, it’s the same old Embarker. Good for me, bad for the kids. 

Jetta continues an ever so slight softening of the Embarker stance. It’s been 12 years since the earful of white hot needles contained in the self-titled LP, which has endured as one of AuxOut’s preferred harsh platters. Like the past two cassettes, Jetta wades into more tranced out waters. No one will accuse Barker of being genteel in his approach but Jetta offers just two savage synapse-busting freakouts (“Speed Merchant” and “Settle Back Easy Jim”) giving way to slightly mellower offerings the rest of the way. The frequencies are still over amplified but you can put your feet up and relax to them. Or at least I can in my sleep-deprived state. 

Barker sounds like he has a future career in scoring artsy crime thrillers on the extended piece “Your Dreams Come Through” expertly quickening pulses and heightening tension. Even when he eschews the trademark percussive Thump und Drang of “Is this Acid Bro?” things don’t sound so sweet; “Bliss Work” and the title track work up thick atmospheric clouds of poison gas. No hippy dippy horseshit here, even in the “quiet” moments. That said, a choir of tape machines with slack belts provides a pleasant if unsettled interlude on “Point Significance”. Is that the most tender, cuddly Embarker moment yet? I think so. Maybe those children’s stories aren’t so far off after all.

ISS - Too Punk for Heavy Metal [Total Punk]
I fully subscribe to the notion that ISS are the 21st century’s first and only punk band. They’ve put out three of the best records to arrive in the last five years ((Endless Pussyfooting), the self-titled EP and last year’s Alles 3rd Gut) and this single isn’t quite that good. Still, I can’t think of a better band to grace the grooves of Total Punk’s final 7” single. (Side note: Total Punk abandoning the 7” is a tough blow to the endangered format. I hope their disappearance isn’t inevitable; not sure why they’ve gotten so expensive to press and ever-rising postal rates hurt too. Still, it’d be a damn shame to see the format fade away. Guess I need to do my part and buy more 7”s.)

Following the tried and true bite-the-hand-that-feeds strategy, ISS address “Too Punk for Heavy Metal” directly to Total Punk/Florida’s Dying head honcho, Rich Evans, hilariously ribbing the handstamped Total Punk M.O. Just another in their long line of scene-skewering masterpieces. The tune details being ignored various times by Richostensibly early in ISS’s tenurebefore he asked them to do a Total Punk single, when ISS, the facetiously introspective lads that they are, had to ask if Total Punk truly deserved ISS after such ill-treatment?

You can read the lyrics in their entirety on the front cover but the choice-est passage for me is “Suppose I am a Total Punk? With one of those contracts signed in blood? One that says I gotta write a song about a garbage dump? I’m sunk”. Anchored by a 3-note bass riff, the track is a bit different than the usual ISS approach, heavily emphasizing the groove and wallowing in a minimalist mid-tempo lurch. It’s definitely designed to showcase the lyrics but that doesn’t mean they can’t work in a killer guitar lead and they sure do. 

The B-side is billed as two tunes but in reality it’s a single minute long song. It’s good too, but only three minutes of new ISS material leaves my stomach growling. (Keep that record flippin’) It’s not like I’m complaining though. ISS has a knack for getting their songs to permanently live inside my head and “Too Punk for Heavy Metal” is no exception. I actually had a dream where I watched a hand-drawn A-ha-esque music video for the song (though that dream might have been more appropriate for Puffy Areolas’ “Lutzko Lives!”). 

Am I really sure the world deserves ISS? I’m not. But I’ll keep buying their records as long as they make ‘em.

Maximum Ernst - Bring Your Own Pencap [Ever/Never]
A manic who’s-who duo of NYC underground scuzz, Maximum Ernst is Ever/Never’s art-scum empire overlord Josh Gordon on guitar and, the man of a thousand FCC violations, WFMU “radio personality” Creamo Coyle on drums. While the duo is often seen in freak-jazz mode alongside wind-whipping legend Daniel Carter, Bring Your Own Pencap brings their own unadulterated huff ‘n puff chugjam steez directly into your walkman.

Fidelity challenged and mostly wordless, these guys know their audience. Side B hits a nice plateau, sounding like Sightings with no limbs at their disposal before turning classic rock with a fuzzy little number on your El Camino’s AM radio. Reminds me of the echoes of Back Magic’s dingy Indiana basement but recorded in a moldy NYC locale that’s surely 10x more expensive. I love livin’ in the city.

Maximum Ernst - Time Delay Safe [Ever/Never]
What’s that you say? You still want more Ernst? Well here I am to deliver Maximum Ernst. In advance of their vinyl debut this fall, NYC’s most popular music duo dropped this little tape Time Delay Safe and if that isn’t the name of a boutique guitar pedal, it will be now! 

TDS is a total about face from their previous tape Pencap, as well as their work with Daniel Carter; it sounds like a completely different band. They’ve traded in elastic thwacks for the metronomic precision of drum machines and freewheeling feedback for heavy signal processing. The side long opening track “Signal Thru Flames” is a heady meditation on abusing tape of human speech over skittering drum patterns and lunging sub-oscillator notes. By the second half of the track, Maxi has gotten fidgety and tired of the reverie and the noise starts invading, peaking filters and in-the-red gain boosts overtaking the composition.

I’m partial to the tape’s second side myself, with the pick of the litter being the kosmische vibes of “Orb-like”. Best use of drum machine on the tape with a distorted 1/8th note hi-hat setting the pace with some kick and wood block providing accents. Spread on a few layers of swirling synthesizer and you’re in an instant trance. Wisely the duo keep things pretty static before subtly introducing harmonic variations in the home stretch. “Glass Enclosure” feels a bit like part two of “Orb-like” ditching the drum machine and coasting on cresting waves of toasty synth.

Time Delay Safe is so radically different from Maximum Ernst’s previous work, I’m wondering what’s next? Proto-reggaeton club jams? If the current trajectory holds, I can’t imagine it will sound anything like Time Delay Safe

Kevin McKay - Neutral Mind [Cudighi]
Just like the cudighi sandwich, Kevin McKay makes his nest in the state of Michigan. The frigid temperatures must be at work in McKay’s neutral mind because he loaded up this dual-spooler with some icy pop. Neutral Mind largely sounds to me like a curious infusion of two very popular British bands that I have never really thought about in combination before. Belle & Sebastian and Radiohead. 

“Material” kicks off the tape with a blast of jangly pop that could be placed anywhere from C86 to the first two Belle & Sebastian LPs but with a certain glacial production value all its own. It’s my favorite due much in part to its driving nature and on-point rhythm section. McKay’s intonation is strikingly similar to Stu Murdoch’s and feels perfectly at home on “Material”. As Neutral Mind ventures forth it gets moodier, glassy-eyed, taking on a bit of a relaxed post-rock vibe. So if you’ve ever longed for a post-rock Belle & Seb, your wish has been granted.

Now I also mentioned Radiohead and to McKay’s credit he is not attempting to imitate Radiohead (always a terrible decision) but there’s something about the fey, drawn out syllables over chilly, processed tones that calls to mind Yorke & Co. One Radiohead is already more than enough Radiohead for me (I write this with complete awareness that this is the minority position) so I certainly gravitate to the more uptempo numbers like “Headspace”, “Pattern Maker” and “Ligature” over more extended cuts like “System”.

Overall, this type of sound is a less-is-more situation for me, 20-25 minutes is probably optimum and Neutral Mind runs twice that. There’s some variation from track to track but the tape largely has the same pallor across its duration. Your mileage may vary on that point though. If you hear one track and love it, definitely buy the tape because you’ll love the whole damn thing.

Mosquitoes - Minus Objects [Ever/Never]

If this UK avant-rock combo set out to name themselves after the worst species ever created, they succeeded. I’m currently suffering from an S.I.A. (swelling itching ankle) and I will never forgive the mosquito who caused it. Mosquitoes might be God’s sick joke on the human race but Minus Objects is emphatically not. 

This is my first proper introduction to Mosquitoes. I've seen warm internet ink spilled on their behalf and heard one or two tracks on radio shows, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing baby. From the looks of it, their releases actually sell out which is a hell of a trick to pull in this day and age. 

The whole affair is terribly mysterious with nothing more than the artist name, title and label insignia adorning the black-all-over package. They take on the elements of conventional rock instrumentation (guitar/bass/drums/voice) and then fool you into believing you aren’t hearing any of those things. Mosquitoes are certainly filling the vacuum left by Sightings (thank you!) but actually they aren't all that close to the famed NYC combo (at least not on this record). This 12” is more monastic, more out, even running far from the rock & roll precedent of turning up your amp loud. You might be hearing didgeridoos, you might be hearing Gregorian chants, you might be hearing any number of untraceable sounds. Lotsa bass, lotsa space but the ‘Skeeters don’t belabor any of their ideas. Nine tracks at 45 rpm for 25 minutes, just lovely—I’ll continue to holler from the rooftops to any artist that will listen: “Keep your releases short. Everyone benefits.” (Found a promo code and I’m ordering bumper stickers as we speak.)

At times, Minus Objects evokes a US Maple 45 played at 33 rpm and the more bands there are in the world that remind me of US Maple, even in such an oblique way as this, the better. Although the last track has a proper chord strum and cymbal crash, it’s honestly a stretch to categorize this as “rock” in any way, and that’s certainly not a criticism. The next evolution of avant-garde rock & roll has arrived and it’s these bloodsuckers. I’m now adding every previous Mosquitoes release to my discogs wantlist. Wish me luck.

Private Anarchy - Central Planning [Round Bale]

A midwestern art-punk record called Central Planning sounds like it’s the new Tyvek album I’ve been waiting ages for (will it ever come?) but, in fact, it is the debut LP by Private Anarchy a.k.a. Clay Kolbinger who has traversed many stranger climes with the likes of Davenport and the underground’s true MBV: Maths Balance Volumes. I’ve always thought MBV is at their best when they meld splintered pop/blues/rock structure with their witchy brew of gnarled tape such as “Roofbeams” on the Lower Forms LP and their cassettes on Taped Sounds and Bum Tapes (“Tried to Make a Call” is a bonafide pop smash). To Kolbinger’s credit, his own Private Anarchy is a much different animal (not that I wouldn’t love a full LP of slosh-pop from MBV… hint.)

Central Planning is a different animal and a strange one too. Oftentimes, it sounds as if there’s no chords, barely any distortion and the bass is just as likely to carry the melody as the guitar. Kolbinger has a penchant to mold Mobius strip-like riffs that cycle in strange, serpentine ways. They manage to be catchy despite sounding deliberately evasive. A little early 00s Dischord comes to mind in terms of the sound of the record (like maybe Fugazi on its deathbed or parts of the second Q and Not U album) and I have to imagine the minimalism of Wire is firmly nestled in Kolbinger’s mind. Still, it’s hard to pin down any exact reference points, which is always the best compliment to give a rock record. 

Whether it’s the sputtering earworm “Man in Shards” or slack strummer “Misery Switch”, the LP finds a way under your skin seemingly without breaking a sweat. Kolbinger’s connection to Graham Lambkin and Kye records is on display in “Accumulation” which sounds delightfully indebted to Lambkin’s and Adris Hoyos’s schizophrenic, whispering masterpiece The Rise of Elklink. Nailing those left turns into dead ends is what really makes skewed rock albums take flight and, predictably, Kolbinger has that part on lock.

Throughout Central Planning, it’s clear Kolbinger has stumbled onto—or perhaps worked fastidiously toward, as the 135 labor hours listed on the back cover suggest—a sound all his own. I feel like this LP is just the first thread pulled and there’s heaps more Private Anarchy for Kolbinger to unravel—I hope Kolbinger feels the same.

(I don’t really include artwork as part of a record’s value but I do appreciate the thoroughly novel cover art on display.)