Saturday, October 31, 2020

ROCKTOBER 2020

Happy Halloween!

Bruckmann | Djll | Heule | Nishi-Smith - Brittle Feebling [Humbler] 
Ooh baby, this is a good one. A four-way collaboration of koto, trumpet, floor tom and oboe/English horn released through percussionist Jacob Heule’s Humbler label. Maybe you’ve heard that combo before but I certainly haven’t and it works to perfection on Brittle Feebling.

Tactility is at a premium here. Amplify the slightest scrape and I’m in audio heaven and this disc hits all the pleasure centers. Every squeak, creak, acoustic throb, clattering shiver and occasional “musical” sound is rendered with immediate clarity thanks to Heule’s work recording, mixing and mastering. The ensemble works over a vast dynamic range. Tense. Spacious. No one overdoes it, even when things start to get fierce. Most interesting to me is at certain points the group manage to emulate a musique concrète sound collage vibe in the live setting which is a sight for the ears to behold. 

With computing becoming a bigger part of musical performance and composition every day, an album like this of masterful physical manipulation, whether via breath or limbs, sounds more beautiful than ever. Beauty is a rare thing, or so Ornette tells us. Really it’s just that Brittle Feebling envelopes me in the illusion of a tangible experience and makes me feel goddamn human. Heule’s involvement in a project has signaled quality for a long time now but I think this may be the best I’ve heard yet from the Heule extended universe. Definitely grab this one.

Budokan Boys - So Broken Up About You Dying [Ever/Never]
With a name like Budokan Boys, I was expecting wacky hijinks of some sort, like a turd-tier pop-punk band that rode the Blink 182 wave to a slot on a Warped Tour side stage and a goofy video on MTV2. But I also figured the high-minded likes of Tymbal Tapes and Ever/Never aren’t dipping into reissuing forgotten early 00s pop-punk (at least not yet!) so the Budokan Boys must be a far more intriguing act than the name suggests.

The opening track “The Magic Beggar” totally threw me for a loop because it didn’t totally throw me for a loop. A somber but fantastic psychedelic dirge, reminiscent of latter day Scott Walker except you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a living nightmare. Gorgeous sheets of saxophone blanket the whole thing reminding me how sadly underused the instrument is in atmospheric contexts. It is a truly incredible introduction, but not all that odd. However, things only get stranger from this point.

The architecture of the album sets up a spiral from its most straightforward song “The Magic Beggar” through increasingly strange pieces that gradually cease to resemble songs in any sort of conventional sense. The opening triad is completed by highlights “Dee Wants Death” a tweaked jam that grooves hard on overdubbed sax lines and trap beats and the frenetic “Rip U”. A lot of bands claim Suicide as an influence but few actually manage to channel what made them so great, that is seizing the listener’s body with caustic syncopation and possessing the listener’s mind with inescapable distress, but the Boys do on "Rip U". And they do it with a wink and a nod, uttering the opening lines “I feel so bad for Frank/It was only a prank”.

Like Laurie Anderson and The Residents before them, Budokan Boys are intelligent weirdos splashing around in the kiddie pool of pop music. They shove their way down bizarre (and sometimes hilarious) corridors but So Broken Up About You Dying remains a haunted piece of work. The CD is dedicated to recently deceased relatives of both members “who did not live to hear the album but nevertheless helped shape it” and you get the sense that grief is quietly lurking behind each outlandish joke. The title track is a wild plunge down a grief-stricken rabbit hole with a voice processed to the point of sounding inhuman cataloging strange behaviors in the wake of the death of a close friend or relative. The queasy histrionics of “A Dead Soul” and “Sleeping Doggies” could only be products of perturbed minds.

The epitome of Budokan Boys’ beguiling nature is probably “Beach” which is an acid house deathtrip lead by a voice somewhere between Cookie Monster and the dude from TV Watchers uttering the refrain “Life’s a beach until you fry”—complete with samples of seagulls and bacon frying at the appropriate moments. The voice is repulsive, the lyrics are bewildering, the thumping sequencers are thrilling and it all works somehow, though I can’t explain why. 

Although Budokan Boys don’t sound much (or at all) like them, the duo reminds me of artists like Chrome, Royal Trux, and the aforementioned Walker and Suicide. Artists who, in their time, understood pop music well enough that they could retain its essential oils (memorable melodies, engaging rhythms, flare for drama) while functioning in a paradigm completely outside pop music as the world understood it. So Broken Up About You Dying is at once confounding, grating and exhilarating, but most of all, it’s a thoroughly impressive record. Recommended!

Crazy Doberman ‎– Live On Spin Age Blasters [Mind/No Mind]
Confession: I haven’t been paying much attention to Crazy Doberman. This wasn’t a conscious decision. I knew it was a jazz-noizz thing. I knew there was a John Olson connection. (I dig John Olson as much as the next guy but once he hit musical project #666 I stopped keeping track of new ones.) I knew they were probably really good.

I thought the outfit was headed by Tim Gick of TV Ghost fame (if you don’t have Mass Dream, grab it, Gick sounds like David Byrne Byrne-ing in hell) but apparently I’m wrong. I swear that’s never happened before. The internet tells me that the group grew out of Doberman which Gick wasn’t even a part of (though he does seem to be an important member in the collective now.) So basically, I forgot what I “knew” and approached this tape like a newborn babe who doesn’t know shit about Crazy Doberman, and I must be doing things right because this tape is great!

This fantastic set was recorded for Spin Age Blasters on WFMU, which is part of the radio rotation at AuxOut HQ. You can always count on DJ Creamo Coyle to bring delightfully off putting sounds to the airwaves and Crazy Doberman is no exception. The sounds here are surprisingly heady, not as abrasively skronkadelic as I anticipated and I’m all for subversion of expectations. There’s no info on the tape so I don’t have a clear picture of how many musicians were included in this iteration of Crazy Doberman or the exact instrumentation. Educated guess says winds, brass, synth, drums, organ and guitar are all in play here. Some behind-the-scenes content got edited in so at various points you overhear some murmuring tech talk like “turning down the post fader”. Love it. Whether it’s the horns locking horns in a vacuum near the beginning of the second side, spacey loops and carnival organ on the first or the riveting final freakout this is grade-A stuff.

Crazy Doberman sound like the kinda band who really rocked a hollowed-out bomb shelter in Nineveh, Pennsylvania one October evening and the 15 people who caught the gig can’t stop talking about it. Gonna have to keep an eye on this Doberman going forward. The performance is recorded really well so credit goes to the engineers at WFMU too! 

Maximum Ernst - Hallmark of a Crisis Period [Ever/Never] 
Spilled plenty of internet ink on NYC whathaveyou duo Maximum Ernst last month and it was all leading up to this point: their vinyl debut, a 45rpm 12” appropriately titled Hallmark of a Crisis Period. It isn’t the concept album tracing the continued decline of the greeting card industry that I was hoping for when I read the title, but hey, you can’t have it all. 

Last month, I noted based on the duo’s history that this 12” would sound completely different than prior releases. I wasn’t totally right but I wasn’t wrong either as the duo does stretch out into new terrain. The 12” gives us two sides of Max’s face, “Un Menace Natural” is a subtle cauldron of dread like the Yellow Swans got so good at brewing, while “Hallmark of a Crisis Period” goes in a totally different direction. “Natural” is so good that even 12 or so minutes feels too short. When I reach the end groove I feel like it should continue on the second side. The side definitely evokes some dingy beach imagery early on but are those seagulls calling or squealing feedback? Are those waves crashing or blasts of white hot noise? Either option is equally disconcerting. The piece builds slowly and I love that Ernst never relinquishes its subtle, guiding hand, opting for a lingering uneasy feeling rather than explosive conclusion. Excellent work.

“Hallmark” finds the duo incorporating poetry elements for the first time, having previously manipulated tape recordings of speech but here the echoing lyrics are spoken and even written down on the insert. Clarity ain’t exactly the goal as the voices are processed, slowed, sped up, looped, and overlapped as they appear at various points across the stereo spectrum. Intermingled with blaring organ and overloaded synth signals, this ain’t the cheeriest composition in the world. When the duo lets the distortion rip near the end, it’s clear Maximum Ernst is in full-on crisis mode. I’m enjoying the compositional prowess exhibited on this record and I’m hoping they plan to further develop this skill set.   

Obnox - Savage Raygun [Ever/Never]
I came of age in the “rap rock era” and despite this disadvantage I went out and made something of myself anyway. Just like when God sent the messiah to eradicate Satan, he sent Lamont Thomas to eradicate the stench of Fred Durst from my memories. Under the guise of Obnox, Thomas has been synthesizing punk, hip hop, funk, kraut-rock, etc. into a thick, grooving mess for less than a decade, yet it feels like he’s been doing it for many decades given that he’s dropped about 5000 records in the past nine years. One of the inner sleeves showcases the front covers of 25 Obnox releases and that’s not even the complete discography!

Savage Raygun is a heavy record, 20 tracks sprawling over two LPs and judging from the mere sliver of Thomas’s discography I’ve tackled, this is Obnox’s best. The killer funky kosmische punk of “Heaven” throbs on literally floor shaking bass. It felt like a bomb went off the first time I played it with the stereo cranked. It’s not the only bassquake on the record either. The chorus “If you wanna get to heaven/You’re gonna have to learn to dance” is an ethos I wholeheartedly support. Speaking of dancing, try to restrain yourself when the fuzzy funk of “Return Fire” comes on. “Scenicide” is an early 70s basement ripper making sure you know those drawings of electric eels and Pure Hell records on the inner sleeve aren’t for show and naming a track “Hawkwindian Summer” makes no bones letting you know where Thomas is jetting from. Thomas has managed to incorporate every musical obsession he has into one project. No easy feat.

Thomas enlists some collaborators for a few hip hop cuts sprinkled throughout the record and I’m partial to the grimy future-funk of “How to Build a Bum” which features vocals from Mellowxzackt and beat production from Mike Mike Dustyloops. Thomas saves the best for last, however, sampling the guitar lick from “Southern Man” and christens the hypnotic burner “Young Neezy” (ha!). Sorry Neil, this isn’t your riff anymore, this is an Obnox jam now and forevermore. Get over it. Highlighting individual songs doesn’t tell the whole story though, as the hulking Savage Raygun is best digested in total as an immersive portal into Thomas’s mind and basement.

A non-musical note that must be mentioned is that the artwork by Raeghan the Savage is pretty fantastic all-around but one of the inner sleeves features a product advertisement for the titular Savage Raygun, a “plasmatic category racism reducer”. The ad is packed with so much witty commentary on racism that cuts right to the bone, I can barely scratch the surface here. There’s a Dead Boys parody jingle, there’s the painfully funny warning that “Honestly maybe this [raygun] isn’t actually such a good idea when they out chear mistaking phones, wallets & Lord knows what else for real guns” and so much more. Most important is the asterisk'd fine print that “for the most persistent & egregious kinds of hardcore systemic racism: please get up, get out into your neighborhood, and participate in community lead actions to help destroy racism in all forms.” The artwork should be hanging on a wall in every home in America and it’s certainly worth grabbing this record if only to have it in yours, especially with this many sick cuts to feed your stereo.

Pionier Serios - Berlin [ZZK]
As an avowed music fan since I was a little kid one of the best things about music is I am constantly being reminded of how little I know. Case in point in this reproduction from ZZK Tapes of an early 80s promo tape by German group Pionier Serios. I love German stuff from this era, yet I’d never heard of Pionier Serios. I believe Berlin has never received legit circulation but thanks to magnetic media duplication (hallelujah!) enough copies spread through the decades that we are blessed with the opportunity to listen on our very own cassettes today. 

Armed with an MS-20, Prophet 5, Farfisa and live drum kit that sounds like a drum machine, the group kicks off the tape with their sickest jam “Das Beste”. Ascending four-note bassline, organ stabs and atmospheric filter fuckery coalesce into an eternal head nodder, made all the better by two German voices speaking simultaneously (each voice panned hard left or right). Reminds me of the style mimicked by Six Finger Satellite on “Hans Pocketwatch” but creepier, more minimal and obviously more German. It even has a bit of 39 Clocks’s effortless lethargy too. I love this shit. 

Pionier Serios have an M.O. which is to build a song around a repeating pattern and melody and they get a surprising amount of mileage out of this simple approach. “Ich” do-si-dos around a squirly keyboard riff with lots of panting and laser sounds right out of a kinky video game. There are some heavy DAF vibes on “Treiben” (sweet!) managing to sound even more dictatorial than the hall-of-fame duo while “Tanz!” presages Kommissar Hjuler’s legacy of lunacy. A lot of this style of music is meant to have the cool, detached, moody vibe but Pionier Serios are too weird for that. God bless ‘em for it.

Sky Furrows - Sky Furrows [Tape Drift/Skell/Philthy Rex]
This Sky Furrows LP came out of nowhere. I saw an announcement about it, happened to sample the “lead single” on my morning commute and I was hooked, smashing that preorder button as quickly as I could. The quartet from upstate NY is comprised of poet Karen Schoemer and a trio of veterans from psych-rock collective Burnt Hills: Phil Donnelly on drums, Mike Griffin on guitar and Eric Hardiman on bass. Sky Furrows isn’t loose-limbed basement improvisation though, this is a highly literate and musically mesmerizing platter.

Poetry-rock is such a high-wire act. First, the words and delivery have to be on point. You can’t have the verbal aspects wear out their welcome. Second, the musicians have to find a way to support and empower the words while remaining unobtrusive—and they must do this without being boring. Sky Furrows just fucking nails it on all counts. Musically, there’s a hypnotic repetition at work but the melodies are so strong and memorable that the repetition never becomes tiresome. Additionally, they weave in dynamic shifts at appropriate moments, rejecting stasis in spite of the repetition. Griffin’s experimental work as Parashi comes through several times like on album highlight “Ensenada” where his guitar mimics waves crashing. The rhythmic section of Donnelly and Hardiman is air tight, seamlessly guiding the songs and Hardiman might be the secret MVP with his locked-in but melodically varied bass lines. 

Schoemer’s words are dense and beautiful and it's too far above my pay grade to provide any enlightening insights. She blends impressionistic storytelling, philosophical intimations and the occasional pop culture reference, weaving lovely, musical turns of phrase like “between what we say and what we mean, civilizations come and go” and “mere physics had carried us, consciousness without will”. Schoemer’s work is so great here that I’ll even forgive the dig she takes at one of my favorite movies (“F Murray Mozart tedious”).

SST Records gets namechecked in the first track so that’s immediately where your mind goes in terms of reference points. I’d say that’s pretty accurate and include Slint’s Spiderland as well. Sky Furrows really have their own thing going but there is a bit of Sonic Youth (a la “Tunic (Song for Karen)”) in the mix, as well as the wordy, brilliant Slovenly, the best SST band this side of SY and Bad Brains (hope I didn’t singe your brows with that hot take). On the second side of the record, a fuzzed-out guitar solo at the end of “36 Ways of Looking at a Memory” signals a shift to a more punk stance for the rest of the record as “The Mind Runs a Race and Falls Down” and “Foreign Cities” amp up the volume and quicken the tempo which provides a stirring contrast to the placid swirl of the first side. 

Sky Furrows is masterful and a goddamn delight to listen to. One of the best things I’ve heard all year, new or old. Recommended!

Staffers - In the Pigeon Hole [Ever/Never] 
Ever/Never continues to unearth fantastic artists I’ve never heard of with Staffers, a project lead by Ryan McKeever who’s based in DC but originated from Omaha, NE. Staffers come on strong like a heartland Ben Wallers (The Rebel, The Country Teasers) or fellow Nebraskan David Nance’s early tapes and the blustering Ever/Never debut In the Pigeon Hole is loaded with great songs.

Side A is nearly flawless, its peak being “Pastor Carson” one of the best songs of 2020. Riding a raucous riff and McKeever’s droll refrain of “I won’t go to hell again”, it will have you smashing the rewind button over and over. The side-ending ballad “The Gutter” is a highlight with McKeever beginning the chorus with the optimistic “I’m free now...” and hilariously completing the thought with “...to crawl back in the gutter”. McKeever packs the cassette with sardonic lyrics throughout and the Washington DC bar The Brixton seems to be the number one target of his ire getting called out on both “On Staples” and appropriately “Fuck the Brixton”. Separating Staffers from your average 21st century punk band are some fantastic arrangements such as incorporating pedal steel and sax into the rough and tumble Stephen Foster-gone-punk squeals of “Brixton”. The first side alone is well worth the $5 price tag. 

My only reservation about Pigeon Hole is that a lot of it sounds pretty imitative of Ben Wallers—the closing ballad “Just Another Tuesday” could be a cut on the Teasers’ The Empire Strikes Back. It is a great imitation though, as good or even better than some Wallers material I’ve heard. I’m not paying it too much mind because it’s clear McKeever is a gifted songwriter and I’m sure the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to hear it.

Trash Monkeys - Trash Monkey Universe [Almost Ready]
This reissue (never-issued?) is a couple years old but I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while now and goshdarnit I’m gonna do it. Courtesy of Almost Ready (a label I’m forever indebted to for bringing Zoomers into my life) is the first (and only) vinyl release by Trash Monkeys, a late 1980s Miami punk band now most notable for its membership of future Harry Pussy alums Mark Feehan and Bill Orcutt. Orcutt left the band at some point so no idea if he’s on these recordings or not (very little info is included on the sleeve). Orcutt or no Orcutt, this is an essential little 7”. There’s a solid but unremarkable hardcore tune “Hitchhiking for Housewives”, a hilariously strange and catchy Jacques Brel-esque goof “Puppies, Puppies, Puppies” and a real contagious Violent Femmes-ish folk-punk tune “Clairvoyant Housewife” (they definitely got a thing for housewives… perverts?) 

All great tracks, well the hardcore one I could take or leave, but I’ve saved the best for last, Trash Monkeys’ glorious, stumbling theme song “Trash Monkey Universe”. Led by a slurred, screeching warble, the singer sounds like he’s about to fall over. The song starts with the words “I was feeling lost and alone” but I can’t tell if the lyrics are loaded with pathos or complete nonsense. The central refrain is “Trash monkey universe/Hey mama, where you goin’?” so I think it’s a coin flip. Regardless of the un-parsable lyrics, the tune has one of the sweetest, most infectious melodies I’ve heard. I’m not even sure what to compare it to. Can’t think of a band that’s managed this much unbridled nonchalance in every aspect of musicianship yet has the songwriting chops to rival Jeff Lynne. One of the best songs I’ve come across in the past couple years, “Trash Monkey Universe” is a masterpiece plain and simple. Endlessly replayable. Totally essential. Utterly trash.


various - 333 [Green Tape] 
Dang, “333” seems to be a popular title for your album. This is the second time I’ve reviewed an album with the title and that doesn’t include my copy of the A Frames 3xLP compilation which also shares the title. Even more albums I’ve never heard of appear on Discogs. Curiosity got the better of me, so I googled “what does 333 mean” and apparently it’s a holy number. The number of the trinity. I guess it’s half of 666 so that’s significant? But Black Francis already told us that God is 7 so now I’m more confused than when I started. Guess I’ll just write about the music.

This 333 is a compilation by Illinois’s long running Midweirdo outpost Green Tape collecting its series of three minute tapes (c-3s). Naturally, the c-3s are collected on a 3” CDr which accounts for two out of the three 3s. The series stretches all the way back to the mid 00s, though I’d only heard three (Holy shit! There’s the third 3!) of the entries before. I dug into the great tapes by *e* and Napoleon Blownaparte in detail HERE while I somehow ended up with mp3s of Barrabarracuda’s no-wavey contribution to the series (dedicated to the Yellow Swans no less) wayyy back in the day and even played it on the air. Elsewhere, the comp runs the gamut from beautiful folktronica miniatures (Alanthebox) to blaring lo-fi messes (Monster Monster) to gentle singer-songwriter vibes (Peoplemath). 

333 reminds me of those 7” compilations in the 90s with 10 or so bands contributing minute long songs or experiments (think Teenbeat 100 or the Xpressway/Drag City joint-venture I Can Hear the Devil Calling Me). My one qualm is that Russian Tsarlag’s second tune “Bleach Party” runs three minutes which seems to violate the spirit of things (is this an extended cut?). I’m not the biggest Russian Tsarlag fan in the first place and the plodding “Party” drags the comp’s momentum a bit. 

Overall though, 333 is an eclectic blast darting from one manner of underground expression to another in three minute chunks. It creates a kaleidoscopic effect, experiencing the breadth of the past 15 years of the no-audience underground in a half-hour sitting. And like the old saying if “If you don’t like the weather, just wait three minutes”, if you don’t like what you’re hearing just wait three minutes for something completely different.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

SEPTEMBER 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.)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

AUGUST 2020

Whoa... this is the first post since the pandemic-fueled lockdown here in LA. My family has been very fortunate; we are healthy and still have jobs but my wife and I have been working full time (in her case, more than full time) while also taking care of our ever-active one year old daughter full-time at home. All in all, we're very thankful to be in the position we're in compared to the desperate circumstances that have beset so many people. That said, it's been nearly impossible to find spare time (and, more importantly, energy) to allocate to thinking and writing about music. I've got a pair of very interesting LPs I've spent some time with over the past several months for today's post and then going forward I'm going to try switching to a quick-hitter format with short blurbs on releases. I'll try to corral my loquacious tendencies in order to get some kind of briefer AuxOut content out into the world, most likely in irregular intervals but hopefully much more often. Thanks to any and all who read the site, I hope you are staying healthy and enjoying music every day.


Benjamin Dean Wilson - The Smartest Person in the Room [Works of Love]

I’ve been wrestling for months with how to accurately describe The Smartest Person in the Room, the sophomore effort from Benjamin Dean Wilson, Tulsa’s turtlenecked troubadour of note. On one hand, it doesn’t sound like anything radical but on the other, it’s quietly the most ambitious album I’ve heard in that hazy bullshit genre we call “singer-songwriter” in some years.


The record’s release has a perfect story for some future rock-doc: Cincinnati’s Works of Love is a record label established by novelist Luke Geddes who used part of his book advance to start the label (badass) and serendipitously came across Wilson’s debut LP while browsing eBay listings for Jonathan Richman records. An impulse purchase led to Geddes falling in love with Wilson’s music and offering to make his follow up the inaugural release on Works of Love.  


Wilson’s reedy vocals, somewhere between David Berman and the tinny tenor of James Taylor’s voice, belie the density of The Smartest Person in the Room. It’s verbally dense (the word count for each song must be stratospheric) with tastefully orchestrated arrangements that can keep up with the cavalcade of vocabulary. There are so many blink-and-you-miss-’em melodic nuggets crammed into this record that it’s far too overwhelming to try to capture them in this review. However, one of the keys to Wilson’s production is that, despite the wide array of instrumentation—we’re talking guitars, bass, drums, piano, viola, organ, synth, multiple male and female voices and more, he maintains a very spacious, naturalistic atmosphere for the album. 


To call Wilson’s tracks merely “songs” is almost a disservice as they are long, winding narratives of quotidian snark with ever shifting arrangements for each act. The Smartest Person in the Room feels like a collection of short stories nearly as much as it feels like a record. With songs usually unfurling to 7-10 minutes in length, Wilson often ignores verse-chorus convention opting for constantly evolving movements. Probably too literary to classify as pocket symphonies but structurally there’s a symphonic element at the core of these songs. Clocking in at just four minutes, “Ridgemore Hotel” sticks closest to typical pop song format but even that’s chock full of little key shifts and detours.


Positioning the title track as the opener is a smart choice by the smartest person in the room as it's the most immediately hooky (I was singing the ambling “I come from a family full of idiots” chorus to myself after a single listen) and nestles into a comfortable middle ground between Wilson’s firm grasp on pop songwriting and his more grandiose gestures that arrive in short order. The rest of the album ranges from the beautiful chamber music vignettes of “Mr. Paranoid, Lizzy, and Her Family”, the ten-minute finale of “Vitamin Supplements”, an amusing epic of con games and rackets, and “A Difficult Decision for Ronny Giovanni”, a comical minor key funk tune about the modern day descendant of Don Giovanni.


Wilson’s best work comes on “Won’t Say It Again...” a wry, disturbing portrait of an immature (and deranged) schmuck who can’t fucking deal with being separated from his ex-wife, all the while proving exactly why she’s better off without him. The song winds through the narrator’s bizarre stream of conscious including how butchering a deer reminds him of his ex-wife, straining to live in a movie flashback of his life and, ultimately, in a final unnerving kissoff, the resolution to hold his feelings inside and give his ex-wife’s address to a local serial killer. It might be Wilson’s best work as an arranger as well, finding various combinations of timbres to underscore the fluctuating tone from segment to segment, including an unexpected, hummable harmonica-led conclusion.


As alluded to, The Smartest Person in the Room is a dense record and after many listens I still notice new lyrical and aural details in every song each time it’s on the turntable. Wilson is truly doing his own thing; his peculiar voice (literally and figuratively) stands out from the leagues of forgettable singer-songwriters out there and that is so goddamn refreshing. Thank you.



The Shifters - The Shifters [Digital Regress]

Melbourne’s The Shifters' boastful, pie-in-the-sky online dating profile would describe themselves as Desperate Bicycles-meets-The Raincoats-meets-The Fall. This sounds like the best band that ever existed, certainly on par with using an eight-year-old profile pic. Except, in this instance, it's actually pretty true. The other reference point is mid-80s Flying Nun, think pre-Terminals bands like Scorched Earth Policy and The Max Block. If DigiRegress had pulled the wool and said The Shifters’ debut was a reissue of a cassette from 35 years ago rather than five (the truth), I'd be inclined to believe them. This LP miraculously sounds like it came from that era, one of the best in history, and I desperately want to know how this feat was managed. 


So The Shifters sounds like a million, but what about the songs? Well, they’re pretty fucking impressive too. Eight killer songs with no filler in sight. Each one is a hook-laden, instant-classic in its own way. The first two tracks “Creggan Shops” and “Captain Hindsight” made it as the A- and B-sides of a single in 2016 and it’s easy to see why. “Creggan Shops” seems like The Shifters’s mission statement if there ever was one. It’s got the fixation on areas of colonial strife, in this case Ireland, (songs “Algeria” and “Tel Aviv” appear later on the side) evoking brutal images of kneecapping alongside clever esoteric puns (“R.U.C. again and now you don’t”), over a scrappy brew of stepping guitar riffs and melodica wheeze. “Captain Hindsight”, alternately, breaks into an utterly gorgeous violin melody over murmuring bass and needly guitar thrums. The band ratchets up the tension on “Algeria” with a descending four-note bass line and thumping tom pattern. Vocalist/lyricist/guitarist Miles Jansen is impeccable on the mic and his sloshed Aussie accent sounds more on edge than usual here.


VU’s “Heroin” has many, many great grandchildren by now and The Shifters add another to the litter with “The American Attitude to Law”, working the extended two-chord format into their own style while singing about sliced achilles tendons, suing the internet and namechecking YouTube to timestamp it in the 21st century. “Benedictine Man” must be about Benedictine monks, I can only assume given Jansen’s historical proclivities, and it showcases the catchiest chorus on the record (you will be hollering “He was a Benedictine man!” in no time) with dual guitar riffs to match. The country-fried “Colour Me In” has a strong whiff of The Statler Brothers’ “Flowers on the Wall” without actually sounding like it and if “Algeria” seemed intense, the band really gets their blood pumping on “Stuck in the Middle” about as full-throttle as the ragtag group gets on the album.


In addition to the quality of the songwriting, the performances are perfect across the board. Drummer Ryan Coffey isn’t afraid to ignore his cymbals and even his snare occasionally giving each song a fresh rhythmic center while the two guitars and bass expertly intertwine loose, twangy single note lines maintaining space and allowing each other to stand out at different points. Angus McLean is The Shifters’ secret weapon playing both violin and melodica, wringing out all manners of lyrical melodies, rhythmic plucks and occasionally sawing skronk. If the rest of the band is the bones, he’s the flesh “colouring” the band in.


I remember seeing The Shifters tape pop up on several best of the 2010s lists which inspired this purchase and, for once, the lists were right! Do I have a new favorite band? I just might!


Much gratitude to Digital Regress for bringing this gem stateside. Right now DR is having a moving sale (20% off everything) so you can grab The Shifters along with other sweet Antipodean (and American) sounds for some low, low prices. Buy it.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

FEBRUARY 2020

TV dinner Education - Nya Perspektiv [Cudighi]
I'd never heard of TV dinner Education before and the little bit I saw about them described the duo as a psychedelic band. I dig psychedelia but I was thrilled when I listened and realized this band is so much more. TV dinner Education is a duo of Loti Solovitsky contributing voice, drums, FX and tapes and Julesy Bejbi presiding over prepared toy guitar and tapes. Though it might not be readily apparent by that list of instruments, there are some strong strains of mutant disco and the more affable (yet avant-garde) areas of no wave and its latter day acolytes.

There's also a hearty dose of bizarre sonic emulsification, which they stick right up front ("Dyslectic Clam: A"). I love hearing a band kick off a record with their weirdest track; it's a heavy duty power move that gets you excited for what's to come. "Clam" is a five minute clatter and scrape fest that falls somewhere between sloooooooow-motion Brian Ruryk and the weirder parts of the Sightings discography. What a way to start! TV dinner Education then immediately juxtapose the power trip with the contagious simplicity of "Easy Busy". There's certainly a dub vibe to it, and an adventurous hip hop producer could sample the shit out of it and make a really hot beat.

"Easy Busy" conjures visions of a pared down Gang Gang Dance, stripping away the polyrhythmia down to the heart of the groove. This continues on "Excellent Choice" which immediately leaps out as a favorite (excellent choice!) after a tumultuous middle section freakout the duo lock into a strangely captivating guitar/drum pattern. Elsewhere on the tape, you hear the voice of an evil spirit luring you into a deep dark forest ("Little Birds") as well as a throwback bassline ("External Borders") that recalls the brief era in the 90s where you could find success being in a funk-metal band. What a time...

Nya Perspektiv is chock full of invigorating sounds and TV dinner Education achieve the rare feat of pumping out grooves without sacrificing a lick of their abrasive aberrance. Check this crew out!

Woollen Kits - Maths [R.I.P. Society]
I have a Kits LP which is solid, heavily channeling Beat Happening replete with the Australian version of Calvin Johnson on the mic. I liked it enough to grab this 7" platter at the local shop and I'm so glad I did.

Roaring like an amped up, totally punk Beat Happening, "Maths" is a straight up banger with the kind of ascending/descending riff you'll be replaying endlessly in your nog while you fall asleep and it will still be there when you wake up. A tad surf-y, with plenty of fuzz, it's rock & roll bliss plain and simple. The singer's voice is so deep it gets a little lost in the lo-fi slop and it would have been nice to have a voice that could cut through a bit but that's a minor gripe for a tune this bulletproof.

"Out of Town" is a better fit for his voice. It's a bit burlier and the playful, sing-songy quality of the melody of "Maths" is absent here. The monotone voice is met with a chunky two-chord riff and the perfect couple is all each other ever wanted in a mate. Now who can explain this extra "L" in Woollen? An Aussie thing or are they just trying to add some edge like Jaill?

Saint Black - Saint Black [Semi-Permanent]
This self-titled full-length from New Jersey's Saint Black arrived in my mailbox at the perfect time. Lots of early Dead C, early Smog (there's a track here called "Down to the Sky" which doesn't fall too far from "Sewn to the Sky" hmm...), Sentridoh, Stefan Christensen and Sacred Product have been on the turntable of late and the black Saint is surely trying to continue music history in that home-recorded trajectory.

Saint Black is lo-fi. Not lo-fi in the sense of conventional sounds on a meager budget, but lo-fi in the sense of packing his songs with all kinds of weird shit that you'd end up murdered for if you put it on a studio pop record. You can hear the hiss, so Saint Black rightly left the noise reduction switch in its off position on his four track. "Saint Body" is the weirdest moment with some strange out of place sounds littering the stereo spectrum. The song sounds like it was recorded standing next to a pneumatic paint shaker, and if that wasn't enough, someone starts banging on the door in the left channel out of nowhere at one point.

With a voice reminiscent of a Charlie McAlister-Calvin Johnson lovechild (this is an inordinate amount of Calvin Johnson mentions today) that kinda sets the scene for the style of these songs. Mid-tempo, drawn-out vowels, mundane yet quirky lyrics. You can certainly hear a Beat Happening vibe lurking in "What Passes for Gas?" and there's a self-ascribed "pacific northeast" tag on Bandcamp making me wonder if that's a knowing nod to the sounds of Olympia. Saint Black recalls another Pacific Northwest staple on "Full Cuck Press" which has a touch of the early A Frames sound when their finely honed cyborg rock was in its fuzzy embryonic stages

The record kicks off with a pair of highlights, the 25 second "I'm Tender" and the hit of the album "Touch No Evil" arrives afterward with an instantly hummable melody that's slowly papered over with all sorts of audio gunk. That's the one finds it way creeping into my mind unannounced. "Saint Vacation" shows that, when he wants to, he can play things straight and deliver a very nice low key pop number even if he can't help himself from abruptly sheering the track off at the stem with a harsh tape edit.

The Saint generally keeps things short (right move!) aside from the four and a half minute plaintive declaration of love, "Alex", which is nice but would gain potency in a slimmer frame. A couple of the tracks ("Laugh or Puke" and "Breed Concept") don't make much of an impression and unfortunately they arrive back to back, but Saint Black is onto something and, considering this is his first album, I'm really curious to hear where he goes from here and how he develops as a songwriter going forward. He's not afraid to wear his idiosyncrasies on his tape and that quality gets more refreshing by the year.

St. Dad - Do as I Say Not What I Do [no label]
Speaking of saints, I have the perfect segway to this month's baby/parent-themed review! It's the 10th anniversary of this parenting manual Do as I Say Not What I Do and by now St. Dad should be mentioned in the same breath as Dr. Spock right? Well... maybe not. These guys sound like they're 17 tops, but hey the world is probably full of 17 year old dads so who am I to judge? They hailed from somewhere in Florida but to my palette they have a bit of that Clevo nutwad flavor, like a truly dumb electric eels or, more recently, the brilliantly dumb Bad Noids.

They're probably not the best guys to be taking parenting advice from but they manage to get one or two things right on "Jobs and Junk" with observations like "Everybody's doing it/Jobs and junk" and "Pour another cup of coffee/Down my throat" because, man, dads get tired, especially at work.

The record sounds positively wretched which is right in my wheelhouse and, to be fair, the band is surprisingly tight and melodic but with a wild-eyed neighborhood tough like Gustavo on the mic, St. Dad takes on the same fly-off-the-handle character. His hyper-nasal, generally unintelligible sneer 'n whine is the EP's defining quality. Quite handily, the Dads offer up their lyrics scrawled slightly more intelligibly in a booklet. Without it, I probably wouldn't have realized the record ends with the immortal couplet "I've cut my own head off/Now I'm blind". These are some maladjusted lads, writing songs about selling their grandma on eBay and disturbingly, but fittingly, they save their catchiest riffs for their saddest track "The Unwanted Child".

The sleeve with a lovely multi-colored screenprint job is curiously professional looking, how'd that happen? Do these guys have a well-adjusted older sister or kindly aunt looking out for them? It's a  curious discrepancy that only adds to St. Dad's mystique.