Best Compilations/Reissues of 2020

February 5th, 2021

OK, I know, enough about 2020. But first, let us not forget these blasts from the past reignited with reissues in 2020, nor the compilations that gave us a glimpse into a what a better 2021 could hold…

 

100Flowers-DrawingFire

100 Flowers Drawing Fire + LP (In The Red)
Of the hundreds of Record Store Day releases dumped in 2020 over the course of 3 pandemic-induced “drops” (not counting the Black Friday drop, which unofficially makes it 4, adding dozens more dumped), this one was the only essential one. Expanding to 12 songs from the original 5-song EP released in 1984, this reissue includes additional tracks pulled from compilations and their debut 7″ into an updated version of the deluxe kraft board packaging printed by the original letterpress masters responsible for the original release’s distinct package, Independent Project Press. And while it’s not a complete collection of singles and compilation tracks as noted by the hype sticker, missing some of the great tracks from comps like Keats Rides A Harley and Life Is Ugly So Why Not Kill Yourself, or especially the awesome 100 Years of Pulchritude CD from 1990 which seems to only exist online and on pirated MP3 CD-Rs, it does have some killer tracks. For example, revel in the death rock glory of “Reject Yourself”, a song that permanently warped me when I first heard it on the Hell Comes To Your House comp as a teenager many, many years ago, sounding something like a feral, mutilated version of Christian Death on a psychotropic bender. All the songs on this pressing sound fantastic, so if your local record store has a stash of these among the dozens of unnecessary Eve 6 live LPs, do yourself a favor and give this quality release a quality home.

 

Der Moderne Man - Unmodern

Der Moderne ManUnmodern LP (Rockers Records)
If you’re not signed up for Sorry State Records newsletter, you may consider signing up to get their scoop on what’s going on in the punk world with thoughtfully curated stock and reviews. (Order some records from them while you’re at it, as they always ship fast and have tons of great stuff on their house label and in the bins of their brick and mortar store.) Thanks to Sorry State, two reissues by this band from Hannover, Germany were highlighted and articulately reviewed in one of their weekly newsletters, revealing a true buried treasure of early ’80s postpunk. While their debut album 80 Tage Auf See is also worth checking out, this sophomore release is the stronger record with much more developed songwriting, production and packaging. Unmoderne is a uniquely sharp record, and actually quite modern-sounding despite the title, with a severely austere rhythm section and angular guitar shards, all mixed together with a dour German edge. It’s a remarkable record that still holds a powerful charge nearly 40 years later.

 

The Ex - History Is Whats Happening

The Ex – History Is What’s Happening LP (Superior Viaduct)
Sifting through the discography of one of Holland’s most prolific punk bands over the last three decades, it’s a challenge to know which of their dozens of releases and collaborations capture the quintessential document of The Ex. While I’ll still stand by the essential Singles. Period. collection of their early 7″ vinyl output as the best place to start, the tastemakers at Superior Viaduct made an excellent decision to reissue their debut LP and this, their sophomore release. Long out of print and difficult to find, the songs on History Is What’s Happening still burn with the spare, crackling fire of Disturbing Domestic Peace and their early singles, but have a tempered inertia driven by their trademark brand of particularly skeletal Gang of Four-style postpunk, forcefully propelled with throbbing, transcendent basslines, jagged guitar shards and vocals with the spitting intensity of UK anarcho-punk collectives like Crass and Conflict. Along with their debut LP and singles, this album delivers some of the strongest material this band had to offer.

 

GISM - Detestation

G.I.S.M.Detestation LP (Relapse)
Of the 55 songs spread across the four sides of Radical Records’ 1984 International P.E.A.C.E. Benefit compilation, none were quite as puzzling as G.I.S.M.’s headscratching ditty “Endless Blockades for the Pussy Footer”, which sounded ridiculous, but also hella amped up in a great way, yet sort of goofy, in a bad way, but memorable, and… ? Were they a put on? Was this punk lost in translation? Or something next level? In the ’80s there really was no label to attach to them or describe the sonic attack they forged with that track, nor to explain the cult they developed as their legend grew with bootleg releases, earning a spot as a common reference point for Japanese hardcore punk, not to mention being adopted by metalheads, crusties and freaks alike. So finally, nearly 40 years later, Relapse records has unleashed an authorized version of their 1983 vinyl debut Detestation, including special editions that now go for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market, just like the original. With 2020 ears, you can hear a thread that winds through the merging of metal and punk in the late ’80s crossover and thrash metal bands, with galloping riffs, guitar solos, and dual leads, through the gruff growls and gross subject matter of the death metal that followed it, through the shit-fi buzzsaw aesthetic and relentlessness of black metal after that. It remains a puzzling piece of punk and metal history, only it’s much more obvious now that above all, they were next level and totally ripped like no other band in 1983.

 

Killed By Meth - Vol 5

Killed by Meth #5 LP (It’s Trash)
Since 2016, London, Ontario’s It’s Trash label has dispensed an annual dose some of the finest cuts of rust belt garage grit cobbled together with a few “stars” of the scene alongside some relatively obscure groups. Highlights from this 2020 batch include one of best Archaeas tracks I’ve heard, featuring some bleating sax buried under a tough riff that pounds into Flipper meets Drunks With Guns dirge territory, Black Planet’s stomper “Crimewave”, Mononegatives’ thug pop “Lifestyle”, The Stools’ rabid and reckless “Bread Box / Wagon”, and Cleveland’s Au Shovel wrapping up the collection with a track called “Flies On Shit”, sounding kinda like a warped version of the Country Teasers covering a Royal Trux hidden track. As with the four previous editions in the series, Killed by Meth Vol. 5 adds another sturdy chapter of documenting whatever weird punk garage noise damage is flaring up in the more remote corners of the North American wastelands.

 

Slug - The Out Sound

SlugThe Out Sound Digital (Magnatone)
On the 25th anniversary of their swansong The 3 Man Themes, these ’90s LA noise rock legends released a remastered version of that double album, plus their 1996 effort The Out Sound. While The 3 Man Themes has received its share of deserved critical acclaim for expanding upon the creative modus operandi of their earlier work, early work which this very blog has lovingly praised here, here, and here, and which has been collected for your streaming convenience here, I always felt like The Out Sound never got enough credit for being the bridge from their more straightforward sludgery to the experimental heights of their later output. While their last album did introduce more krautrockian motorik elements, heavy dub, and 1990s ambient-du-jour, The Out Sound stretched songs to Swans-length duration and intensity, introduced Heavy with a capital H guitars (“King of Ghosts”) and added a psychedelic texture to their trademark 2 guitar, 2 bass assault, while also allowing some space and relief from its density for some insane sampling and sound collage tracks (“Craw” and “Lofthouse”) and drifting echoey dub that slowly builds and releases (“Coordinate Points”) with a masterful sense of longform dynamics before a crushing 11-minute conclusion (“Kitti Thai Spicy”). The Out Sound is a great place to start for noobs as it’s a good, representative collection of their unique sound, right at the center between the aesthetic of their rough and tumble early work and their epic double album conclusion.

 

Giuliano Sorgini - Occulto

Giuliano SorginiOcculto LP (Four Flies)
Nine songs from a primo ’70s Italian B-movie soundtrack maestro, rescued from oblivion and housed together for the first time in this stunningly packaged collection. The spartan budget Sorgini had to work with resulted in minimal yet spaciously lush Moog exercises, supported with funky drum machine beats and an oddly charming warmth to the eerie menace of the horror movies they were intended for. Fans of Argento film faves Goblin, or descendants like Zombi and Benni should take note, as this definitely scratches that itch but with more of a funky spin, like the beat on the track “Telecinesi” which nods along with a beat that always feels a half-step behind. Other tracks remove the beat altogether and instead bide time with a dark and drifting experimental feel, often sounding like some of Coil’s more chilling tracks or perhaps even an analog version of the nightmares Aphex Twin brought to life digitally on Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Released the day before Halloween, Italy’s Four Flies label bestowed one of the greatest treats of all.

 

Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987

Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 2xLP (Captured Tracks)
Hats off to Captured Tracks for this exceptionally well researched and curated collection of mid-80s indie jangle pop. Representing a swath of disparate regional scenes, this compilation threads together bands from college towns where the touring network was just beginning to connect local-level and regional scenes to build the thing known as indie rock today. It’s long overdue, as postpunk era UK scenes had more press support stateside during their reign and have been tirelessly documented in C-86 compilations and reissues for decades now, while only a handful of US groups have had that level of exposure. The heads at Captured Tracks know their shit too, as this comp contains some local KC bands that I knew nothing about, plus they were responsible for an amazing 2013 box set of Nebraska’s criminally underrated gloomy jangle pop masters For Against’s essential 1987–1990 releases, which are a perfect example of the fertile sonic ground they’re mining from on this set. Respect. Highlights include the The Darrows, whose track “Is It You” is a dead ringer for the aforementioned For Against, complete with shimmering pastel colored guitar and deep veins of melancholy, The Bangtails, a KC area band linked to a NFZ fave Mudhead, and the Crippled Pilgrims’ track “Black and White” who give the telltale jangle guitar of this scene a middle eastern twist. You can sample the 28 tracks collected here on streaming channels, but you may consider throwing down for the complete package, which is well worth the reasonable price tag as it includes an 80-page perfect-bound book with heaps of photos, flyers and comprehensive backstories for all the bands involved. Even the short blurbs on the record sleeves offer excellent bit-sized chunks of info for each track, making it a handy companion for exploring the lesser traveled backroads of mid-80s indie rock.

 

TSOL-BeneathTheShadows

T.S.O.L. – Beneath the Shadows 12” (Dink)
Young skatepunks with hungry ears in the mid-to-late ’80s always ran the risk of pulling up aural turds in the search for sonic gold. In the not-so-glorious pre-internet days, there was an all too common pattern of SoCal hardcore bands with killer tracks on skate videos or punk compilations that would catch young skatepunks’ ears, ears with a hunger for energetic and raging tracks to help fuel aggression sessions at the local halfpipe, only to dupe the poor saps with obnoxiously bad albums of watered-down, “matured” material. Young and clueless skatepunks would be lured to the record store in search of a band’s sonic gold, only to be served the most weak ass slabs of tepid shit. Tepid shits like The Brigade’s The Dividing Line, Social Distortion’s Prison Bound, and the mother of all punk rock disappointments, Bad Religion’s Into The Unknown. Late ’80s T.S.O.L. was already a sketchy proposition, as this staple of the LA punk scene transformed into laughable Hollywood glam-blues buttrock as evidenced by the amount of hairspray apparent on the covers of certified turds Revenge and Hit and Run. Betting some hard-earned minimum wage money on a used copy of Beneath the Shadows was a gamble. Was it pre-suck T.S.O.L.? Or was it worthy of the scabbed, sweaty skatepunk’s dollar? It was on the Alternative Tentacles label and the cover art was inspired by The Clockwork Orange, which were good signs. Yet as soon as the piano starts on the lead track “Soft Focus”, a young skatepunk was sure they’d been had, as this wasn’t the raging punk they were so desperately in search for. Luckily, one particular skatepunk (yes, that skatepunk was me) didn’t dump it and eventually learned to even love it in the context of records by goth era Damned or the chilly new wave of Magazine. Heck, the title track even echoes the minor key bleakness of the downer riff from The Stooges “I Just Wanna Be Your Dog”, except with a sweeping bit of keyboards and a touch of the haunted horror punk of T.S.O.L.’s Dance With Me LP. As a second chance for all those aged skatepunks who may’ve missed or dismissed it, the UK label Dink has given it a proper vinyl rerelease, packaged in a sleek gold-foil stamped version of the classic cover, so you can be sure that it’s got at least a bit of sonic gold.

 

Twisted Nerve - Never Say Goodbye

Twisted NerveNever Say Goodbye (Archive Vol. 2) LP (Secret Records)
One of the highlights from Sacred Bones’ Killed By Deathrock compilations was this Scottish quartet’s track “When I’m Alone”, which only hinted at the quality of their bleak, minor chord milieu. Thanks to Secret Records, we now can savor that A-side from their debut 45, plus their Eyes You Can Drown In EP, their Five Minutes of Fame 7″ and a pair of tracks from 1980′s Mint Sauce for The Masses compilation, tracing their beginning as fiery 1-2-1-2 punk stompers to the goth postpunk that earned them a retroactive deathrock tag. Imagine the rolling tribal drumbeat of Killing Joke, augmented by bleak Joy Division-style basslines, echoed vocals, and a heavily processed guitar swirl that mutates from a buried fuzz to a reverb cocoon. Yep, it all sounds good on paper and even better on vinyl.

 

Other reissues and compilations worth a look:

Coil  Musick to Play in the Dark LP (DAIS)
Druids
– Spirit Compass 10″ EP (The Company)
Esplendor Geometrico – Necrosis En La Poya 7″ (Discos Esplendor Geometrico)
Mortician – Zombie Apocalypse LP (Relapse)
The Pathetx: 1981 12″ (Third Man)
Sauna Youth – The Void Digital (Self-Released)
Slug – The 3 Man Themes Digital (Magnatone)
Twisted Nerve – Séance LP (Secret Records)
United Mutation – Dark Self Image  2xLP (Radio Raheem)
Black Riot: Early Jungle, Rave and Hardcore - Various Artists 2xLP (Soul Jazz)
Warsaw Pakt – Needle Time LP + 7″ (Munster)

 

Best Singles/EPs/Demos of 2020

January 19th, 2021

Like the previous post of Noise for Zeros’ best albums of 2020, this list of singles, EPs, and demos isn’t limited to a top 10 either. Below are 13 releases that made an epically shitty year a little less so, one small chunk at a time. Many are debut releases for bands that hint at great things to come in 2021 and beyond, plus you’ll find a list of runners up that also helped chip away at the monstrosity of the year 2020…

 

Arts - Graveside Summoning

Arts: Graveside Summoning 7” EP (Youth Attack)
Don’t know if it’s a bias stemming from my background, but black metal made by hardcore punks often sounds better to my ringing ears. Maybe it’s because they usually don’t try so hard to be edgelords, or if they do, they come off more like resolute nihilists than pathetic sociopaths. Arts, featuring Mark McCoy, Youth Attack label head and member of hardcore giants Charles Bronson, Holy Molar, Das Oath and many more, knows how to put enough snarl and bite into Arts’ black metal stew to retain a sinister and raging tone that’s often absent with latter day black metal. Whereas many black metal releases tend to drone on into tedium, Graveside Summoning pulls you in by the throat with four ripping buzzsaw guitar-driven tracks before fading back into the fog, leaving you craving more.

 

CHEW - In Due Time

C.H.E.W. In Due Time 7″ EP (Iron Lung)
Killer hardcore punk from Chicago, this 5-track eruption positively blasts out of the speakers and doesn’t let up. Doris Carroll’s vocals chew up all the frustration and anger of modern life and spits it out in the form of seething rants, threats and roars. Each instrument plays an important role and is played tight as fuck, as breakdown after breakdown distills savage tones and lets each element of the attack be heard, from snarling noise pounders to blazing d-beat ragers. The drumming on this record is particularly good, adding flourishes and fills that really add to the quality and intensity of the songs. You’ll wanna find a vinyl copy if possible, as the songs seamlessly bleed together so that your bedroom circle pit doesn’t have to stop.

 

Crushed Soul - Family Of Waves

Crushed SoulFamily of Waves 12″ EP (Dark Entries)
San Francisco’s well-curated Dark Entries label has made a name for itself by reissuing top-shelf early electronic, new wave and dance music, notably bringing lost classics from Algebra Suicide, Patrick Cowley, Nagamatzu, Severed Heads and more out of relative obscurity and into renewed acclaim. In particular, their exceptional BART: Bay Area Retrograde compilations should be of note with choice cuts from Chrome, Factrix, Tuxedomoon, The Units and more. That said, they’re not solely a reissue label and have been actively cultivating new talent which also deserves your attention. Case in point, this 4-song debut EP from Berlin producer Steffie Doms’ Crushed Soul project, which pounds out hard techno with a dark wave/industrial edge that’s simply unstoppable. From the moment the first beat kicks in on the lead track “Gravitational Field”, Family of Waves builds and builds with layers of sound, only to recede and build back up again. In her skillful hands, these songs mesmerize and could easily extend to an album-length release without losing any potency. With any luck, there’s a Crushed Soul album in our future.

 

Hack Sabbath - Paranoise

Hack Sabbath – Paranoise 10″ (Waffle House)
This 10″ single by Hack Sabbath is exactly what its moniker implies: Black Sabbath tunes hacked up and jacked up with bombastic beats. It’s a loving tribute to the metal gods, turning “The Wizard” into “The Wizhard”, “War Pigs” into “Warped Pigs” and the godfathers of metal into unholy drum and bass bangers. Novel but notable.

 

Human Impact - Transit / Subversion

Human Impact – Transmission / Subversion digital EP (Ipecac)
After the release of their debut album in March 2020, this supergroup made up of members of Cop Shoot Cop, Swans, Unsane, and Xiu-Xiu, released a handful of digital releases via Bandcamp that continued, and in this case, perfected, the densely plodding assault of their only physical output. This double track release was my favorite because “Transmission” fully captures the best elements of the players’ formidable resumés with Chris Spencer’s unmatchable Telecaster riff hammer, the heavy low end pummel of Phil Puleo and Chris Pravdica’s rhythm section and the mastery of JF Coleman’s sampling and effects. Track two, “Subversion” has none of those qualities, but instead makes a detour into freeform noise and sound collage, making a perfect segue into whatever is heading your way next, which hopefully is another track from these standout purveyors of dense noise rock.

 

ISS - Too Punk For Heavy Metal

ISS – Too Punk for Heavy Metal 7″ (Total Punk)
This North Carolina duo’s punk sampling game alone is reason enough to check in on their releases, as their cultivation of choice classic punk cuts is masterful and hides its tracks well, making sure that lifted riffs and lines are given life as completely new songs that entirely stand on their own. Even their Bandcamp header currently tweaks the classic G.I.S.M. motto “Punks Is Hippies” to “Punks ISS Hippies” which deftly illustrates how these audio agitators operate. Like their limited edition cassette Spikes, also released in 2020, featuring packaging with actual punk leather spikes thematically connecting to songs about spikes in COVID-19 infection rates, this 45 cleverly plays with the concept of sleeve art and lyrics that essentially roast Total Punk’s label head so that he was forced to reckon with their barbed quips whilst hand-stamping hundreds of these singles. Brilliant.

 

Loss Prevention - Shoot To Kill

Loss Prevention Shoot to Kill 7″ EP (11pm Records)
A timely release for a year that saw the disgraceful pattern of unarmed black people being killed by police persist with the horrendous murder of George Floyd. As protests and disorder spilled into the streets, this raging Kansas City hardcore quintet released the soundtrack of resistance as the city, and country, descended into chaos. With incendiary cover art and a cadre of KCHC’s brightest fires, the four songs on Shoot to Kill slab positively blaze and explode as a musical force strong enough to battle the lethal forces of institutional racism and police brutality.

 

Milk - Bricks

Milk –Bricks 7” EP (Hysteria Records)
I apologize if you’ve come to expect nothing but blown-out, distorted, and effects-overdriven guitar here, but the squeaky clean, straight-up guitar sound on this 7″ from Nagoya, Japan is so killer, I simply can’t pass up mentioning it as one of the best EPs to come out in 2020. While I’m endlessly fascinated with noise and the gnarliest tones in music, the wound-up, relatively lightweight guitar tone on Bricks is a real thrill to behold, especially since it revs along at 100mph, clocking 6 songs in about 8 minutes. And even though the guitar doesn’t have the usual grit you’d come to expect on a hardcore punk EP, the relentless pace and barking vocals keep things heavy and interesting, sounding something like a record of a Minutemen tribute band covering the Circle Jerks’ Group Sex played at 45rpm instead of 33.

 

Na Noise - Open The Door

Na NoiseOpen the Door at Roundhead 7″ (Holiday Records)
You’ll notice an abundance of hardcore on this list, mainly because its shorter, faster, louder format is so well suited for smaller slabs of vinyl and cheap cassette demos, plus there’s a history embedded within those lauded formats that have unlocked whole new worlds for formative minds. This New Zealand duo’s debut single is an exception to that trend and it draws from a musical palette that goes back a couple more decades with an intoxicating blend of ’60s surf guitar and bouncy psychedelic doo-wop played over thriftstore exotica beats. Both sides of this 45 have irresistible appeal, as warm, harmonizing vocals and a spacious atmosphere that capture every sound and allow them to swirl around in your head.

 

Psykik Vylence

Psykik VylencePsykik Vylence cassette (Self Released)
The prolific Erik Hart (aka “not” Erik Nervous) not only pumped out a slew of Bandcamp solo releases like the Bugs!! LP the Nutty Buddy Devo covers EP, and a soundtrack for The Spits new album promos in 2020, he also found time to unleash some blazing 1-2-1-2 hardcore via his Psykik Vylence project. Nervous’ trademark hard-charging guitar is in full effect here, but even more thrashy and harsh and accentuated by throaty screamed vocals instead of his usual punk shouts and synth-core sheen of his other solo work and releases by his Erik Nervous and the Beta Blockers band. If you like Erik Nervous or you like hardcore, you won’t want to miss this one.

 

Powerplant - A Spine Evidence

Powerplant A Spine / Evidence 7″EP (Iron Lung)
Following up 2019′s most excellent LP, People In The Sun, Ukrainian Londonite Theo Zhykharyev offers up 5 songs spread across this 33rpm 7″ EP, further sharpening the winning qualities of his growing body of magnificent postpunk-damaged synth punk. The lead track features some Bauhaus baritone vocals that are sure to tug on goth ears, while musically the bouncing, reverb-y bassline keeps the churning guitar and sustained synth moving along at a pace that kicks the Tubeway Army vibe up a few notches to something more in the vein of early Lost Sounds. From there, tracks bounce between mid-paced manglers with charming hooks and killer build ups, while some plow full steam ahead, like the end track “Hurtwood”. For a one-person operation, the tones Zhykharyev achieves for all elements — drums, synth, guitar, bass, and his killer vocal style — make Powerplant releases essential listening.

 

ScienceMan-MatchGame

Science Man – Match Game 7″ EP (Swimming Faith)
Leading up to the late 2020 release of the Science Man II album, Buffalo’s most deranged spin off psycho from the Radiation Risks let loose this aberrant chunk of inventively punishing noise rock as an amalgamation of oppressive drum machine beats, giant pounding riffs, seething howls, disembodied voices, and odd sound effects that put an ominous spin to everything your ears and brain are being subjected to. It’s like some of the punchiest strands on the heavy end of early AmRep output (think King Snake Roost, God Bullies, Halo of Flies, of course) being grotesquely mangled and re-engineered in an unsterile lab environment, then electrified overamped into the form of this entirely new beast.

 

Sniffany and The Nits - Greatest Nits

Sniffany & The NitsThe Greatest Nits 7″ EP (Thrilling Living)
Clever punk from the UK with killer songwriting chops that keep your attention with paranoid tension, plus bursts of swirling punk riffs and the occasional stomp down and chord shift. And that doesn’t even include Sniffany’s wonderfully theatric storytelling that cycles from breathlessly anxious spoken passages to maniacal barking and shrieks in the best possible way. The four songs here earned a lot of play in 2020 — we can only hope to be lucky enough to hear more from Sniffany & The Nits in 2021.

 

13 more releases we were lucky to hear in 2020:

The Cool Greenhouse – Alexa! 7″ (Self Released)
The Cowboy – Feel the Chi Releasing from You 7” flexi (Feel It)
N0V3L / EXEK – NOV3L/EXEK SPL1T 7” (L1BR4RY)
Freon – PYK Demo (11pm)
Gaffer – Demo (Helta Skelta)
Human Impact Contact and Genetic digital singles (Ipecac)
Irreal – 2020 EP 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Nutrition – No EP 7” EP (Neon Taste)
Orphans of Doom Orphans of Doom 7″ (The Company)
Pig Destroyer – Octagonal Stairway 12″ EP (Relapse)
TI-83 — Demo (self-released)
Vile Reality — Detached Demo (self-released)
Xylitol – I’m Pretty Sure I’d Know if Reality Were Fundamentally Different Than I Perceived It to Be 7″ EP (Thrilling Living)

 

Best Albums of 2020

January 3rd, 2021

While I appreciate the critical art of evaluating an entire year’s worth of albums and honing it down to a list of 10 essential releases that were arguably the most important or noteworthy of that year, I didn’t feel like giving in to that particular convention since 2020 certainly didn’t follow convention (or even civil etiquette) either. Time not seeing live bands, haunting record stores and supporting local venues was instead spent mailordering a shit ton of music and prowling Bandcamp for hours on end finding nuggets of sonic salvation to help push through this most unfortunate of years. So instead of the usual list of my top 10 albums, here are my top twenty…

 

ADULT - Perception Is As Of Deception

ADULT.Perceptions Is/As/Of Deception (Dais)
Released in April 2020, this Detroit duo’s latest batch of icy electro darkwave couldn’t have been more fitting during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adam Lee Miller’s unrelenting EBM pulse plodding under Nicola Kuperus’ commanding howl unwittingly made a fitting soundtrack for the isolation, misinformation, and social unrest that followed its release. Stylistically, this album has a more weathered aesthetic than their previous albums, as the punchiness of the EBM beat here is less Front 242/Nitzer Ebb glare and more haunted Clock DVA/Skinny Puppy creepy crawl, but it’s still lively enough to reveal a prescient and chilling worldview that ADULT. has been bringing into focus since 1998.

 

Alien Nose Job - Once Again The Present Becomes The Past

Alien Nose JobOnce Again the Present Becomes the Past (Iron Lung)
After being primed with 2019′s HC45 7″, Melbourne’s Jake Robertson came through for the noiseniks with an album’s worth of 1-2-1-2 hardcore punk that smokes through 14 tracks in an exhilarating 24 minutes. As mentioned before, this version of Alien Nose Job leans more towards the fury of Aussie greats Leather Towel than Robertson’s more indie/garage rock leanings in The Hierophants and Ausmutants, as the frenzied tempo rarely lets up, coming off like an amped up amalgam of the ’80s SoCal hardcore punk scene warped through a kaleidoscopic barrage of modern day satellite beams. The only respite from the barrage comes with a few new-wavish keyboard textures and interludes like “The Day After” and, literally, “Piano Interlude”, strategically placed to increase the impact of songs like “Present Becomes the Past” and “Sound of Sirens”. It’s a blast from the cold war past that swiftly negates the common complaint that the creative possibilities of hardcore punk are limited, as this ripper exists in a deliriously fun and inventive space that makes a 40-year-old style sound fresh and thrilling again.

 

Brandy - The Gift Of Repetition

BrandyThe Gift of Repetition (Total Punk)
After a solid debut LP and killer 45, this pedigreed noise rock trio from NYC with members from bands like Basic Cable, Pampers, Pop. 1280, Running, and others delivers an obnoxiously loud and stupendously fun stomp across 8 tracks on their sophomore LP. Saddling up to the same weird drinking hole that feeds weirdo noisepunk bands like west coast representatives Lamps and Mayyors, Brandy brings a ruthlessly spartan rhythm section, some buzzing synthesizers, brutal guitar bursts and a smirk to hits like “UFO’s 2 Heaven”, an alternate recording of “Clown Pain” from their Total Punk 45, and the insane album closer “Insane Screensaver”, which kicks in like a skipping Feedtime record to deftly deliver the gift of repetition. The biggest difference between this LP and their debut long player is that the vocals are no longer buried and obscured in the mix, so you’re actually able to decipher some of their lyrical gold on The Gift of Repetition. Plus, the guitar tone is a bit more focused here. While their debut, Laugh Track, is a monster in its own right, The Gift of Repetition comes off a little less sinister with a bit of dark humor. It’s more Cows than Brainbombs but a monster nonetheless. Give yourself the gift of The Gift of Repetition.

 

ClockOfTime-PestilentPlanet

Clock of Time – Pestilent Planet (Static Shock)
This band featuring Seth Sutton from NFZ faves Useless Eaters, Exit Group, and others, along with Corey Rose Evans from G.L.O.S.S. and members of Diät, Berlin’s Clock of Time delivered their debut LP in the form of a cold wave death rock, pounding and spitting with indignant punk disgust at a time when we needed it most. Along with False Brother’s Uncanny Valley (see below), Pestilent Planet fit the dire mood of 2020. In fact, coming out in the spring as the pandemic hit, Uncanny Valley reflected the new, uncertain times that fell upon us, while Pestilent Planet, released in August, seemed to embody and capture the weary hopelessness and disgust of humanity’s lesser qualities as the pandemic wore on. Informed by dark early UK postpunk, like those recently given reissue treatment by the Sacred Bones label, bands like 13th Chime, Part One, Vex, and the Killed By Deathrock compilations, Clock of Time taps into the times with a perfectly crafted dose of intensely poignant and austere postpunk, amped up with a level of bleakness that’s wholly their own and absolutely essential.

 

The Cool Greenhouse

The Cool GreenhouseThe Cool Greenhouse (Melodic)
With the passing of Mark E. Smith in 2018 and the subsequent conclusion of one of early UK punk’s most prolific and unique voices, there’s been a void that desperately needed to be filled. Despite a number of imitators and/or groups clearly influenced by The Fall, none of them really even come close or scratch that perennial itch enlightened listeners have for a new Fall album to absorb, savor, and embed within the greasy folds of the reptile brain. And while I imagine Tom Greenhouse, the genius namesake behind The Cool Greenhouse, has long tired of people making that obvious stylistic link, there’s no mistaking the utterly original and contemporary spin he’s brought to that style, as evidenced by a series of requisite singles, demos, and finally, this, his first album-length collection of songs. The stripped-down, bedroom punk take on Mark E. Smith’s three R’s of rock n’ roll (repetition, repetition, repetition) infused with the simultaneously tense but effortlessly cool effect of clashing notes walking hand in hand with clean minor chord guitar strum and junkyard organ blurps, instantly snatches the ear and, thankfully, proven to encase those greasy brain folds of the reptile brain in that fantastic way that only The Fall had been able to do for decades. And while I, as a clueless Yankee bloke, still scratch my head at 98% of what M.E.S. was rambling on about, the dry wit and LOL humor of The Cool Greenhouse comes through loud and clear, taking shots at alt.right d-baggery with “Cardboard Man”, internet trolls with “4Chan”, and the mundane absurdity of 21st century life by means that are anything but mundane. Here’s hoping that our reptile brains are lucky enough to be treated to decades of The Cool Greenhouse too.

 

Deerhoof - Teenage Future Cave Artists

DeerhoofFuture Teenage Cave Artists (Joyful Noise)
I’ve casually checked in on Deerhoof over the course of their 26 year (!) career, from Holdy Paws to Milk Man to Friend Opportunity and beyond, but for whatever reason I hadn’t paid them much attention lately. That changed in 2020 when Future Teenage Cave Artists started getting some heavy rotation on the local college radio station, each track making my ears perk up to wonder which Deerhoof record these golden nuggets were coming from and whether what I was hearing was even Deerhoof, as these tracks stretch into territories as of yet unexplored by them or any other indie rock band for that matter. Nothing on this record is straight-up or lacking the obvious exploratory homework necessary to create music so startlingly innovative and fresh. Sure, you’ll be able to latch on to a few pop hooks and choruses here and there, mangled beyond any direct source of inspiration, but those easy, predictable pop structures fall apart and dissolve in ways that keep this from being rote and basic. That’s not to say that their experimental bent — which admittedly is part of what kept them at arms length for me at times — prevents the melodic pull of their skillful songcraft to burrow deep into your brain. Unlike some “difficult” experimental rock records, Future Teenage Cave Artists has that magnetic melodic pull that makes you crave these songs from the first time you hear them as well as thousands more spins as you discover more and more layers of brilliance in this exquisitely-crafted labyrinth of chop pop. They’ve found a sweet spot that’s avant-garde while also being pretty dang catchy, all without relying on any predictable and tired pop tropes. If this isn’t their crowning achievement, so far, this album most certainly is going to be considered a landmark record from a landmark group.

 

Deradoorian - Find The Sun

DeradoorianFind The Sun (Anti-)
By the time the track “The Illuminator” hits halfway through Angel Deradoorian’s third solo album, you will either be totally on board with her spiritual art rock headtrip or you’ll be a clueless dolt whose tastes should face some serious introspection, perhaps while allowing this soul-seeking triumph to lead the way. Easily one of the coolest sounding songs to emerge in 2020, simultaneously calling back an age of free association beat poetry and wild jazz flutes, while also channeling some neo freak folk filter and a rock steady 4/4 beat, it served to bring much-needed chill vibes and critical contemplation as 2020 continued to spin out of control. Surrounding that killer track, Deradoorian also channels some krautrock-style jams that evoke Can’s Tago Mago escapades, while other tracks feature her lush layered vocal harmonies, sounding something like what I imagine Stereolab unplugged might sound like or The Breeders covering forlorn Persian love songs. The aching, underlying guitar buzz on the closing track “Sun” even hints at the dark groove of Black Sabbath’s quieter songs from their early records (see “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid for example), which perhaps reveals some influence from her time playing the role of Ozzy in a Black Sabbath tribute band, Black Sabbath Cover Band Rehearsal (aka BSCBR), featuring members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Uniform, Liturgy, Orthrelm, Krallice and others. You’d be hard pressed to find a better use of 53 minutes of your time. Highly recommended.

 

Duma

DumaDuma (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
It’s not often that you hear something that grabs your attention and stops you in your tracks. OK, there are some novel attention-seeking artists who may cause you to pause and pay off the WTF moment they’re so desperately looking for, but it doesn’t really hold or deserve your attention more than a few minutes or listens. I’m talking about something that perks up your ears, defies easy categorization, and continues to baffle and enthrall many listens later. Truthfully I can’t remember the last time that I experienced that type of enchantment by an album, so when I found myself considering the dizzying caterwaul of this Kenyan grindcore duo for the first time I took note and gushed about my new infatuation on this very blog. While familiarity has softened the shock of the new, this blazing, gnarly debut from Duma still captivates.

 

Facs - Void Moments

FacsVoid Moments (Trouble In Mind)
The heads at Trouble In Mind have a real knack for putting out releases by guitar-centric groups that breathe new life into the standard instrumentation of rock and roll. For example, 2019′s Everybody Split LP by the Australian group Possible Humans did not appeal to me much on paper, but holy hell, what an awesome, enchanting record that is. One of my favorites of 2019. Same with Mountain Movers, Sunwatchers and a handful of other groups that stand out despite their conventional instrumentation and genre constraints. With Facs, the standard guitar, bass, and drum elements are all there, as well as the genre tags and references we’re all familiar with, but this record is leagues away from any idea your mind might construct from those flimsy clues about what’s captured on Void Moments. Here, on their third album, Facs’ audio alchemy conjures an otherworldly space only hinted at on their earlier records of drifting postpunk, with a shimmering guitar tone masterfully crafted in the studio, weaving through breathy vocals and staccato hi-hat, creating a space that’s unlike anything else you’ll find in the rather dull world of guitar-based indie rock. A real headfucker with headphones, Void Moments demands your attention and will provide many substantial listening sessions. Not to be missed, this is Facs best work yet.

 

False Brother - Uncanny Valley

False Brother Uncanny Valley (Iron Lung)
Four years after their killer 8-song demo, Kansas City’s finest postpunk bummer get a proper vinyl release and it doesn’t disappoint. Released in April, the timing on this chilly fucker seemed prescient, as people continued to shut themselves in quarantine and were trying to figure out if things were ever going to be “normal” again. Ah, to recall those heady days of thinking that it’d only be a matter of weeks or months. We all know how things got worse, but Uncanny Valley stayed true and continued to offer a soothing salve for a year we’d all like to forget.

 

Lars Finberg - Tinnitus Tonight

Lars FinbergTinnitus Tonight (Mt St Mtn)
Even though it’s a collection of recordings dating back to 2018, Lars Finberg ensured that the epic shitshow that was 2020 at least had a healthy helping of his sideways surf punk and inverted riffs to help ease the suffering. After last year’s excellent Un-Psychedelic in Peavey City release by Finberg’s band The Intelligence, ya gotta be grateful for an album’s worth of garage punk gold in a year full of shit.

 

Napalm Death - Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism

Napalm DeathThroes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (Century Media)
As dubious as you may feel about a 38-year old band containing zero original members present at the genesis of the alienating grindcore genre, you may want to set that doubt aside and take note at what these Birmingham brutes achieved in 2020. Being at the forefront of the whole grindcore genre, Napalm Death has proven its mettle time and time again by stretching limitations and drawing from the innovative spirit that belched out their violent, incendiary bursts. Whether slowing things down to a trudge, bringing in contemporary blackened metal and hardcore punk influences, un-conventional ideas as followers codified and confined grindcore to the limited creative scope the genre may seem to have on the surface, ND continues to push away from those constraints while still delivering with flair some of the fiercest grindcore of the modern day, keeping you on your toes with thoughtful arrangements that prevent it from feeling like an exercise in tedium. Songs like the album closer “A Bellyfull of Salt and Spleen” noise pound with the fury of early Swans or Missing Foundation, while industrial postpunk influences like Killing Joke are clearly felt on the pounder “Amoral”, capturing the primitive future of their earliest apocalyptic warnings in a sickly definition that only a modern recording studio and production process could capture. The bonus tracks version pays literal tributes to the band’s influences with inspired covers of one of Sonic Youth’s best tracks ever, “White Kross” from their underrated album Sister, as well as a version of Rudimentary Peni’s “Blissful Myth” which sounds pretty fucking amazing played with the heft of one the metal world’s heaviest hitters. It’s a thrilling listen and a bold declaration that this band is far from irrelevant nearly 40 years after it’s inception, especially in 2020.

 

Obnox - Savage Raygun

ObnoxSavage Raygun (Ever/Never)
Not long before Lamont Thomas’ magnum opus Savage Raygun came out, I’d noted how much of a killer track “Scenicide” was from his contribution to the Killed by Meth #3 compilation, as it’s definitely one of the best on that record, and was thinking I was about due to dig further into the top-shelf Obnox catalog. Then, low and behold, just as one of the first pandemic Bandcamp Fridays occurred, the wise heads at Ever/Never unleashed this masterwork from one of the garage punk scene’s most inventive geniuses. From initial listens streaming on Bandcamp through countless spins on the turntable throughout the year, every track across the four sides of Savage Raygun delivers sonic salvation. Including a rerecorded version of “Scenicide”, Savage Raygun threads together a mix of influences so broad that it seems like they couldn’t possibly hold together and flow as well as they do, but somehow Obnox makes the journey through Stoogian garage punk through hip-hop, krautrock, and damaged soul music all make sense, adding one of the best chapters to a body of work that has no peer. And while you can sample it via Bandcamp and other streaming services, this treasure will earn its space in your collection with a beautifully designed gatefold jacket and sleeves featuring gorgeous illustration by Raeghan the Savage. In a year with very few bright spots, this certainly was one of them.

 

OpticSink

Optic SinkOptic Sink (Goner)
This debut album from Memphis duo Natalie Hoffman (Moving Finger, The Nots) and Ben Bauermeister (Girls of the Gravitron, Toxie, Magic Kids) hums with the primitive buzz of early synth punk pioneers like the Screamers, Nervous Gender, and Suicide, but with a contemporary minimalist tilt that warps and bends electronic waves into something both fascinating and chilling at the same time. Hoffman’s detached vocal delivery and hypnotic synth work lays down an ominous vibe, while Bauermeister’s rollicking replicant drum machine pulse artificially sparks some electrifying inertia into the mix, both players leaving a human trace that prevents the 8 tracks from ever feeling robotic or rote.

 

Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu –  Mestarin Kynsi (Century Media)
Now on their fifth proper album, this Finnish quintet continues to stretch their sound ever outward, well beyond the codified trappings of the black metal scene that sprung them into the world circa 2007 and into new directions that exist somewhere in the nexus of psychedelia, space rock, experimental post-rock, and the avant garde. They pretty much defy standard genre constraints; the only tell-tale anchor to heavy metal might be the troll-style black metal vocals and massively sick riffs, but layered with electronics, horns, and whatever other cosmic reverberations these Finns are channeling. No strangers to tranced-out repetition, each track on Mestarin Kynsi goes 7+ minutes into uncharted sonic territory and take the listener on a ride that’s unlike any other. In fact, of their records this one has required the most spins to fully appreciate. My favorite Oranssi Pazuzu release is still probably 2013′s Valonielu, just because it’s the one that really pulled me into their universe, but the continued mystery and detail found within Mestarin Kynsi, as an admittedly more challenging and unconventional listen, may end up being the new favorite, at least until their next album is released. Really looking forward to following this band’s trajectory, wherever it leads.

 

Orphans Of Doom - II

Orphans of DoomII (The Company)
On account of their name, you may dismiss these KC heavyweights as one of a legion of doom bands currently chug-chugging away in the world today. Yes, their music is chock full of sludgy riffs and Sabbathian influence, but the Orphans of Doom are hardly another run-of-the-mill metal band. Focusing on the more expansive and progressive elements of their Black Sabbath lineage, they keep things interesting with Matt Pike-quality riffs that twist and bend and come at you from a variety of angles, with a touch of NWOBHM-style melodic leads and some unexpected texture, like the wigged out electronic effects in “The Last of Me (The Captain)” or the vintage organ hum on “Fever Dream”. “The Ornamentalist” in particular showcases the novel way they morph and twist riffs, as the song chugs along about halfway through, methodically contorting into new shapes before circling back with a reprise of the original riff. Bringing the best prog elements and songwriting chops of Mastodon with the barbaric heft of High on Fire, this, their sophomore album, confirms that they’re one of the standout metal bands of 2020.

 

OhSees-ProteanThreat

OseesProtean Threat (Castle Face)
I remind myself with some prolific artists like John Dwyer not to get lazy about keeping up with their overwhelming deluge of output. I got lazy about keeping up with Jay Reatard’s endless stream of releases from his many bands, collaborations and solo projects thinking that the quality would eventually suffer with the quantity, but that certainly wasn’t the case and now I’d be hella stoked if he were still alive and crankin’ out killer record after killer record. Dwyer and the Osees (née Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, O.C.S. etc) had a particularly productive pandemic year with at least 7 releases by my Discogs count and of those I heard, this one definitely kept my attention the most. As onboard as I was (and still am, frankly) for sprawling double album psych releases like 2018′s Smote Reverser and 2019′s Face Stabber, Protean Threat stands as one of the stronger Osees records in recent memory because it’s highly focused and covers a lot of sonic ground within its shorter songs. Also, Dwyer’s ever-evolving songwriting chops are really flexed here, not only covering some of the righteous psychedelic rippers you’ve come to expect with the latest incarnation of the band with songs like “Gong of Catastrophe”, but reaching in some new directions like the Doors-style keyboard bop of “If I Had My Way” or the synth-heavy “Wing Ruin” that feels like it could be a lost track from an early release by The Units. In fact, there’s a bit of a ’70s fusion vibe on Protean Threat that’s a welcome addition to the Osees ouevre, making the 13 tracks here a blast to cruise through. And even if you haven’t been along for the ride lately and crave classic Thee Oh Sees lineup tunes, the spazzy staccato pounder “Dreary Nonsense” will definitely hit the spot, but in a genetically modified way that keeps it fresh. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but I will definitely vow to tune into the Dwyer universe as often as it’s transmitting in 2021 and beyond.

 

Rubber Blanket - Our Album

Rubber BlanketOur Album (Spacecase)
The second appearance of Lars Finberg in this list, this time teamed up with members of LA’s Wounded Lion to create nervy synthpunk with vintage gear (+ saxophones!) that channels some late-70s/early 80s Bay Area outfits like The Units and Vector Command, LA’s legendary Screamers, or even the audaciousness of Nebraska’s Better Beatles. Lyrics bring a layer of fun to the otherwise chilly electro vibe, evident from the get go with a reference to The Vandal’s “Anarchy Burger” in the first track, “Scented Candle”, and the conversational rambling of “My Family” or the absurdist lecture of “Owl Vision” that chalks up the value of art against the Harry Potter franchise… or something to that effect? All I know is that I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and it still makes me smile and appreciate Our Album even more.

 

Schonwald - Abstraction

SchonwaldAbstraction (Manic Depression)
Ravenna, Italy’s dynamic duo of Alessandra Gismondi & Luca Bandini delivered their fifth album in 2020, their best yet, which is really saying something after 2017′s solid Night Idyll and their previous releases of atmospheric, shoegazing coldwave. What they’ve perfected on Abstraction is the alluring balance between the ethereal goth glaze of Gismondi’s haunting vocals with the transcendent spectral shimmer of Bandini’s guitar play, fused together with a danceable but chilly beat, bass throb, synth and effects galore. Their sound instantly washes over you and pulls you into their hypnotic trance as each element layers into an echoey haze. It’s a sound distinct enough to earn its own genre tag: Shoehaze? Coldgaze? Postwave? Whatever you want to call it, it’s a spectacular example of the possibility that lies within all those root genres and one of the most breathtaking albums unleashed in 2020.

 

Stuck - Change Is Bad

StuckChange Is Bad (Born Yesterday)
One of the other nice benefits of 2020′s Bandcamp Fridays, besides channeling money directly to artists, is that it got a chance to flex its recommendation algorithm a bit more now that people were giving it more attention. Apparently my listening habits generated a recommendation for this Chicago’s quartet’s debut album and I’m very grateful for that. Expanding from the sonic soil that sprung complex postpunk guitar greats like Drive Like Jehu, with a writhing Polvo-style guitar sound, and perhaps even a bit of Television-style dual guitar and bass interplay, Stuck keep things interesting with sharp songwriting and an earnestness across the 11 tracks of their debut LP that have made Stuck my new surprise favorite band.

 

Lars Finberg

November 25th, 2020

Tinnitus Tonight LP
Mt.St.Mtn, 2020

Lars Finberg - Tinnitus TonightBeing a jaded old fuck who’s been subjected to more mediocre indie rock than one should reasonably bear, often not by choice, I tend to get rankled by music that doesn’t even try to conceal its influences or attempt to bring a single original thought to the table. When I hear an album like Tinnitus Tonight it’s hard to fathom why most bands and artists can’t bother to push themselves creatively just a little bit or at least find a well of inspiration that hasn’t been sucked dry for decades. It’s exhausting to find exceptional music, but perhaps the glut of mediocrity is the very thing that elevates the best records to the top of the stack.

The gift Lars Finberg has to disfigure rock riffs into minor chord marvels should serve as a glowing example for those who feel the need to pick up a guitar and make some noise to share with the world. Using the conventional tools of rock and roll flavored with a mix of garage punk, post punk, synth punk and mutant surf, Mr. Finberg, with seemingly effortless cool, has crafted or contributed to countless albums with bands like The Intelligence, Puberty, Rubber Blanket, A Frames and more, all with a magnetic pull and genius lyrics that stand out from the indie rock heap and reveal an exceptionally creative mind that’s actually done its homework.

Although this is his second solo release, this recording actually predates his debut album, Moonlight Over Bakersfield, and the songs collected here do cover some uncharted territory that exists somewhere between the refined sound of Moonlight and his more widely known work with The Intelligence. Ranging from the clean acoustic strum that grows with swells of surf guitar and vintage synth blurts on “Lord of the Files V2″ to the pummeling bass line and gnarly freeform guitar squeal of “Public Admirer” or the surprise synth blasts toward the end of “Kitchen Floor”, Tinnitus Tonight isn’t a mere collection of shelved material, it’s another proof point that creativity isn’t finite and that Lars Finberg’s particular strain of creativity expands even further than his prolific discography.

So kids, before you start a band and expect anyone to fawn all over your musical genius, study up on how you can defy mediocrity like Lars Finberg and then get to work. Thank you.

The Intelligence · Tinnitus Tonight

Buy Tinnitus Tonight at Mt St Mtn

Mudhead

November 17th, 2020

The Jumbo Sound of Mudhead 7″
Self-Released, 1988

The Jumbo Sound of MudheadSpinning the recently released Captured Tracks compilation of mid-80s proto-indie rock, Strum & Thrum, The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Kansas City area represented with a track from The Bangtails which made me feel the need to call out the long lost haunted postpunk of The Bangtails-related band Mudhead. Anchored by the driving drumbeat of The Bangtail’s Archer Prewitt (The Sea & Cake, The Cocktails) and the off-the-rails wailing of fellow Kansas City Art Institute student and Nebraska punk luminary Mott-ly in a dense swirl of dual guitars and hypnotic basslines, this droning 33rpm single comes off as the unpredictable midwestern cousin of NYC no-wave pioneers Live Skull amped up with the unnerving intensity of a band like Of Cabbages and Kings, lit with a goth-tinged hue of Burning Image-style death rock. Tinnitus-tainted readers may appreciate this deeper peek into the festering KC underground that also produced the much more accessible Bangtails. If the single catches your ear, be sure to check out a live version of “Eleutheromania” taken from the 1988 Live in Lawrence compilation where Mott-ly “knocked satellites out of orbit… screaming like Elmer Fudd being raped by a werewolf on a bad acid trip” as an astute alt weekly writer once wrote.

DOWNLOAD

Mudhead – Eleuthermomania
Mudhead – Charlie’s Golden Ticket

Mudhead – Eleuthermomania (Live)

The Spits

October 31st, 2020

The Spits VI
Thriftstore Records, 2020

The Spits VIJust in time for Halloween in the epically shitty year 2020 comes a gift from one of garage punk’s greatest gifts: Spewing up from the post-apocalyptic Michigan wastelands that birthed this malformed mutant punk troupe infamously known as The Spits, comes LP number six , a full nine years after their last LP. It’s hard to believe it’s been 9 years since In The Red Records unleashed their classic record number 5, especially because, like their other releases, it hasn’t lost its fire and flavor at all over those 9 years. Stylistically The Spits don’t break any new ground on VI, but that’s not what you go to The Spits for time and time again. You go to The Spits to get your clock cleaned by catchy-as-fuck punk blurts that barely reach the 2 minute mark, slathered in fuzz, weird vocal FX, and so-simple-they’re-brilliant lyrics stitched together with an uncanny ear worms and a tinny trash rock beat. Recorded in various basements in the midwest by midwest bedroom punk luminary Erik Nervous, this record is a slight departure from The Spits’ Seattle output, but worry not, as the sound you know and love is all there, mixed for maximum brain-frying impact on cassette 4-track.

Although it appears to have sold out on its October 30 release date from the Spits’ Thriftstore Records Big Cartel site, you might be able to snag a copy on black or red vinyl elsewhere on the interwebs. Like all The Spits’ previous records, you’ll need this one and give it many spins.

LINKS

Listen to “Breakdown” on YouTube
Listen to “Up All Night” on YouTube

 

 

Duma

September 24th, 2020

Duma

Duma LP
Nyege Nyege Tapes, 2020

There’s grindcore in Kenya? My ignorance of that fact, which honestly shouldn’t be all that terribly surprising given the reach of extreme metal throughout the world, admittedly piqued my interest in this group. The stunningly brilliant cover image definitely set up some pre-conceived expectations of gnarly metallic hyper chug and gore-centric themes, standard fare for the grindcore genre, but I’m thrilled to report that this not only blasts itself well outside any genre constraints, it’s easily one of the most original forays into extreme music these tinnitus-tainted ears have heard in a long time. This guitar-free grind is rooted in dense, polyrhythmic percussive blasts peppered by washes of noise that make this monster feel more like something from your record store’s industrial/experimental/noise section than the metal bins. In fact, other than the pulse-shredding percussive blasts, the only other recognizable hallmark of grindcore here are visceral vocal growls and wails, which thankfully veer well past cartoonish into crazed. Take some harsh power electronics, mash it up with chopped up gabber beats and bits of William Bennet’s post-Whitehouse project Cut Hands and you’ve got something nearly as terrifying as this monster.

Best Singles/EPs/Demos of 2019

January 19th, 2020

Alien Nosejob - HC45 7″ EP (Iron Lung)
In 2019, Iron Lung continued to kill it with a steady stream of left-field weirdness, power violence, pedigreed punk, and truly raging hardcore, as showcased on this ripping EP. While the vinyl release won’t be available until sometime in early 2020, it’s been tearing up Bandcamp and streaming portals with its amped version of bedroom weirdo punk that could hang with the other stars of that realm, like Janitor Scum, Erik Nervous, Neo Neos, CCTV, etc. It appears that this is a departure from the typical Nosejob sound, but I’m really hoping for a HCLP full-length release as HC45 definitely leaves you craving more.

 

Bummer - Thanks for Nothing 7″ EP (Learning Curve)
Following up last year’s Holy Terror album, KC’s loudest riff mammoths serve up 2 new tracks of weighty grunge sludge, plus a couple classic digital tracks that haven’t been committed to vinyl until now, including an epic cover of Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” that honors that ’90s staple of disenfranchised youths with a few extra tons of electrified spite and volume. There seems to be a moment of ’90s noise rock rumbling up from the fringes of the metal and hardcore scenes with Bummer being one of the best examples of bands revitalizing the core elements of volume, distortion, and force into something compelling and significant in the second decade of the new millennium.

 

Crisis Man - The Myth of Moderation 7″ EP (Digital Regress)
Starting with the bouncing stomp of the title track, this Oakland wrecking crew reignites the wild spirit of hardcore with five tracks of fiery fury, complete with guitar riffs that twist themselves inside out from their own inertia and scatter unexpectedly as barking vocals and tempo shifts prod the listener from complacency. They’ve mastered the hardcore technique of building and releasing tension without relying on cliched chugga-chug breakdowns, while also managing to add a righteous swagger to their breathtaking mess. The closing track “Superlunary” wraps it all up with a defiant pounder of a riff that keeps that wild spirit focused and alive.

 

Homeless Cadaver - Fat Skeleton 7″ (Iron Lung)
Coming out of the gate in early 2019 came this total rager from Iron Lung’s Systemic Surgery series, which apparently means that it’s limited to 200 and includes a fancy diecut and risograph  print, so don’t snooze on a copy or be happy streaming it. The A-side serves up punchy, staccato riffs with just enough slop around the edges to keep the ugliness dripping wet, while a rabid psycho with an Ausmutants flair shouts you down between howling synth spasms. The flipside “Art. Eat It.” downshifts into a churning stew of repetitive guitar fuzz decorated with harsh electronic effects and punishing vocals, all serving as an earworm to relentlessly remind you of the aural and psychic trauma this 7″ slab of plastic (or digital stream) has just inflicted upon you.

 

Loose Nukes - Behind the Screen 7″ EP (Beach Impediment)
Holy shit, this one ripped my head off the first time I heard it and continues to kick it splattering blood and grey matter down the street. Six raging tracks of fierce hardcore punk played at breakneck speed, only letting up on the second-to-last track “Rizzo’s Dead” for a queasy Rudimentary Peni-playing-Flipper downer riff before exploding into the last track “I Could’ve Been A Killer” which sounds like a Poison Idea 45 played at 78rpm. Ridiculously relentless. Remarkably raging. What’s not to love?

 

Mitraille - Hoopschroot 7″ EP (Belly Button)
As mentioned in this post, Belgium’s Mitraille’s first vinyl release wreaks havoc on the garage punk form, energizing it in ways that defy convention and keep the listener throttled to the last, ripping note. A stellar vinyl debut that’s not to be missed.

 

Rainbow Grave - No You 12″ EP (God Unknown)
OK, so Discogs lists this as an LP as do the distros and even the label who released it, but I’m going to call it an EP since it’s got 6 songs and clocks in at 34 minutes. It is almost LP length, especially with a couple of tracks that churn past the 7 minute mark, and it certainly carries the heavy sonic weight of an LP with a relentless pounding and contempt, but I still want to call it an EP if it doesn’t eclipse 40 minutes. Regardless, this beast is built upon the throne of Flipper’s darkest dirges, Drunk With Guns’ ugliest ugliness and the harrowing menace of the Brainbombs — a particularly effective approach to sonic annihilation that becomes especially severe as blasts of howling saxophone penetrate the distorted din. One-dimensional hate vibes here with very few frills and very oppressive riffing and bombast. It’s a beautiful thing to succumb to.

 

Scorn - Feather 12″ EP (Ohm Resistance)
After eight years of silence, Mick Harris‘ Scorn project reignited in 2019 with this shimmering slab of black, black wax, thumping deep dark bass on three distinct versions of the title track plus closer “Whatever Is Touched Turns.” Priming the world for a new full-length release Cafe More, this 4 dose set makes an excellent quick hit of atmospheric space dub, full of echoey effects and slowly shifting tectonic subwoofer slides that requires half the downtime of the 48 minute album. Contemporary Scorn takes a starkly minimalistic approach compared to lush classics like Logghi Barogghi, but only in form and not atmosphere, as each track pulls the listener into a dense but simplified domain that’s uniquely Scorn and uniquely breathtaking.

 

 

 

Skull Practitioners - Death Buy 12″ EP (In The Red)
As the first few seconds of  the first track “Death Buy” fade in with a wicked groove, a heavy vibe is set and exploited for genuine guitar freakouts and psychedelic delights that might be the feedback of ethereal brainwaves Simply Saucer launched into the universe over 40 years ago. “Grey No More” shifts things in high gear and powers along an MC5 motorway through a mountain of guitar roar. “The Beacon” finishes off the A-side with another stomper complete with sliding guitar flourishes and a feverishly-paced Gun Club seediness. “Miami,” the lone track on the flipside, stretches another heavy dub-flavored groove that effortlessly chugs past the 10+ minute mark before ending with a harsh lock groove that’ll leave you salivating for the LP that’s in the works.

 

Tokeback Mountain - Tokeback Mountain Demo (Self Released)
In case you were unaware, at any given time the quaint college town of Lawrence, Kansas, is home to dozens of bands well worth your attention. In 2019 this band of weirdos is the cream of the crop, shredding your psyche and shaking your shitter with seven tracks of nutty guitar-drum-psycho noise rock. Like Bunnybrains on amphetamines, the ramshackle genius of songs like “Bong Rip Yr Dick Off” and “HyperMart,” an ode to a long defunct KC area Wal-Mart experiment in retail monstrosity, or the queasy throbs of “Banquet” prove to be some of the finer moments in outsider rock in 2019.

Best Albums of 2019

December 31st, 2019

Acrylics - Sinking In (Iron Lung)
After rounds of small doses in the form of demo tapes and 7″ releases, Santa Rosa’s (and probably California’s… and maybe even the United States’) sharpest hardcore punks released their first official full length in 2019. And while many young, raging bands can’t quite manage to extend the fury of their short-form ragers to proper album length, I’m happy to report that Acrylics not only fill two full sides of an LP with killer, grade-A punk, they do it in a way that leaves you wanting more. So even though this is the first Acrylics release with songs that surpass the 4 minute mark, none of the tracks on Sinking In drag or feel like filler, including a pair of atmospheric interlude tracks. Instead, Acrylics’ warped vision of what hardcore could be, not what it was, burns bright and cements their place as one of the most vital punk bands of 2019.

 

Andy Human & The Reptoids - Psychic Sidekick (Total Punk)
The slow trickle of killer 45s from Andy Human & The Reptoids after their 2015 debut album spurred even higher expectation and really built anticipation for this, their sophomore album. Coming out at the beginning of 2019 it easily eclipsed most of the “best of 2018″ hyped bands that already started sounding stale a few weeks into the new year, and kept smoking synapses through the heat of summer and on through the end of the year. Destined to be a classic, this might just be the brightest jewel in the impossibly dense resume of Andy Human, whose time and efforts in an obscene quantity of excellent bands such as Jackson Politick, The Beatniks, The World, The Cuts, The Time Flys, and probably a few dozen others yet to be exposed, has resulted in a fully realized work of art that sounds great at first listen and gets even better over time. It’s instantly catchy, yet hardly conventional as songs and lyrics careen sideways and get slathered in layers of mystically weird texture and dimension. Not only one of the best from 2019, but surely one of the best of the decade.

 

Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent)
As one of a handful of metal releases that stood high (cough) above the metal multitudes, Denver’s Blood Incantation have paid their dues in the form of a stream of steadily solid, interesting twists of the death metal formula. From their early demos and especially with their first Dark Descent releases Interdimensional Extinction and Starspawn, this Denver quartet has adapted an astrological bent to the technical death metal spectrum. As incongruous as icy cold, alien themes are to the very human blood and guts and gore that 99.9% of death metal bands gurgle out, Blood Incantation somehow makes it work by layering in psychedelic flourishes, commanding song structures, and studio wizardry to the very recognizable staples of the genre. As Voivod’s sci-fi aesthetic and off-kilter keys made them a unique specimen in the thrash metal world, Blood Incantation are charting a new course that adds layers and complexity to death metal without getting too proggy, or worse, mired in cliché.

 

Dan Melchior Band - Negative Freedom (In The Red)
Over the last two decades, the name Dan Melchior has merited a seal of quality whenever attached to a musical artifact. From early Billy Childish-influenced garage stompers through the bad vibes of the Broke Revue or Dan Melchior und Das Menace’s essential catalog, all the way through more experimental solo records like Assemblage Blues, he’s covered a lot of ground within the generally limited garage rock set. Every release is immediately identifiable as a Melchior product, while also tweaking any known formulas or confidently pushing the envelope into inventive new terrain. Negative Freedom in particular showcases one of his strongest amalgams of expert songcraft and inventive sonic textures, with guitar sounds being mutated and processed into strange new shapes and augmented with masterfully dispensed analog synth buzz and fuzz. Sample the echoplexed beat of “One Dollar” and its wild guitar spasms or the downer drone of “They Insulted Me in Mojo” seasoned with decades of sarcasm and spite and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more worthy slab of wax to throw your expendable or non-expendable income at.

 

Dead Normal - There Is Nothing Left but the Enjoyment of Senseless Destruction (Harbinger Sound)
Along with Rainbow Grave’s No You, this welcome blast of negativity from Barcelona’s most snarling noiseniks is an appropriate response to madness bubbling over in 2019. And while it could be argued that Dead Normal draw heavily from the soundwell of 1980s Whitehouse, it can also be said that they bring a thrilling, albeit slightly more accessible take, on power electronics and screaming lunatic vocals. In fact, it seems mighty fucking appropriate to level this degree of scorn towards society versus the personal S&M of 1980s fetish taboo of prime Whitehouse, as Dead Normal’s split male/female shouts eviscerate humanity’s weaker tendencies and bring reckoning to the state of the species in 2019. And where subtle rhythms could be found in Whitehouse’s squall, Dead Normal bring a stronger, martial pulse to the aktion, bludgeoning the chance of this being an exercise in mimicry or mediocrity.

 

Full of Hell - Weeping Choir (Relapse)
Ever pushing the boundaries of hardcore, punk, metal, noise/experimental whatever “music,” Full of Hell once again exceed their previous output by rescrambling whatever faint templates any genre may contain and obliterating the listener with a level of extremity that only a time like 2019 could bring. At first listen it’s too much to take in and truly requires a few spins before it even makes a lick of sense, and when a picture does finally come into focus, it quickly shifts into volatile territory again. I feel my age listening to Weeping Choir, as there are many moments where it ventures down annoying avenues, like the machine gun-esque blasts that lead from the sound collage of “Rainbow Coil” into and out of “Aria of Jeweled Tears” but you have to appreciate the offense of the severity and the overall reach of what Full of Hell does. The range of aural assault from the sound collage of “Rainbow Coil” to the epic churn of  “Armory of Obsidian Glass” as it nears 7 minute mark to the Halo-style pound of “Angels Gather Here” or the sax-enhanced freakout in the middle of “Ygramul the Many,” it all adds up to help define Weeping Choir as a truly unique listen.

 

Hash Redactor - Drecksound (Goner)
The promise of Hash Redactor’s excellent 2017 demo comes to full fruition on their debut LP, rising to the top of Goner Record’s remarkably strong 2019 release pile. Mixing the tense churn and burn guitar punk of Memphis’ Ex-Cult and the nerve of Nots, featuring member of both bands, Drecksound brings a ringing American twist to the gnarled sort of Australian growl that birthed the likes of bands like feedtime and Grong Grong. But in addition to the thick, knuckle-dragging driving bass lines and guttural vocals of the Aussie version of the sonic virus, Hash Redactor injects brilliant twin guitar interplay that sounds like a woozy Delta version of Marquee Moon played with steady, young hands. Along with The Intelligence and Possible Humans’ offerings in 2019, Drecksound was in heavy rotation and continues to spin often at the NFZ compound.

 

The Intelligence - Un-Psychedelic in Peavey City (Vapid Moonlighting Inc)
Over the span of 15 years worth of essential LPs, EPs, and singles, not to mention the stellar solo record Moonlight Over Bakersfield, Lars Finberg’s prolific output and contributions to other bands in the garage punk gamut have put him in league with likeminded overachievers like John Dwyer, Jay Reatard, and Ty Segall. All are driven to crank out music at a pace that’s hard to keep up with and even though Sir Finberg’s name hasn’t grabbed the rapt critical attention his peers receive, his output in my opinion is of an even higher quality as it continues to earn longer stints on my turntable than nearly any other. Layered with an increasingly diverse palette of sound and exceptional wit (the album title alone is one of the best of the year) his group The Intelligence continues to offer up some of the most satisfyingly scrappy garage sonic poetry committed to vinyl. Like album cover’s fake marked down 50¢ price tag, the latest offering from The Intelligence is the hidden, unknown gem in the thriftstore bin that’s absurdly more valuable than the public at large knows.

 

Oceans of the Moon - Oceans of the Moon (Castleface)
To fill that fizzling void that once throbbed with the vibrations of Six Finger Satellite, stemming from the nucleus of Helios Creed and its primitive Chrome origins, Castleface thrusts forth a malformed cyberorganism called Oceans of the Moon, which somehow cycles out the initial heat of its predecessors for a chilly, calculated future shock. Sharp, contained guitar clips cut sparse marks in time as the motorik beat throbs on, with tracks like “I’m On a Roll” sounding something like a Wire LP played at 16rpm. Executed by Providence mutant rock all-stars with a rap sheet that includes La Machine, The Chinese Stars, and Landed and more, Oceans of the Moon delivers the freakified soundtrack for your cyber armageddon post party.

 

Possible Humans - Everybody Split (Trouble In Mind)
A description of Possible Humans’ sound probably wouldn’t get me excited enough to give it much playtime among the giant piles and raging streams of music that offer much more compelling reasons to earn some time between your earholes, but fuckin’ A, this album has completely saturated and colored 2019. Maybe it’s because they’re Aussies and Australia has been churning out a ridiculous amount of quality groups lately, but I still can’t explain why a fairly conventional guitar-based indie rock band can sound as essential as this debut LP. While comparisons to Guided By Voices and Wire are somewhat accurate, the ebb and flow of their songs lean more towards GBV, but with a twinge of dejected collegiate rock like For Against or the psychedelic twist of Radar Eyes. Whatever the reason, it’s earned a lot of spins on the NFZ turntable in 2019 and will likely earn many more.

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Typically I like to keep these to a tight list of 10. It feels like lazy editing, but what the heck, it’s been a rough year and these excellent releases also helped keep toes tapping and pulses pounding…

Black BeachTapeworm (DSPS)
Boy HarsherCareful (Nude Club)
ExhumedHorror (Relapse)
Foster CareEl Abuso (Total Punk)
The Natural Man Band – Living in a Chemical World With… (Lumpy)
Nots3 (Goner)
ObsessióObsessió (La Vide Es Un Mus)
POW!Shift (Castleface)
RaktaFalha Comum (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Tomb MoldPlanetary Clairvoyance (20 Buck Spin)

Stalins of Sound

December 1st, 2019

Stalins of SoundTank Tracks LP
Slovenly, 2014

While their singles on Volar Records were fun electropunk that paid homage to Métal Urbain and the charming dummy punk of The Spits, this debut from San Diego’s Stalins of Sound ups the recording quality and songwriting to a level that rivals the work of any of their influences or contemporaries like The Lost Sounds. Like the crazed army vet who stole a tank and plowed through the streets of their hometown back in 1995 — the inspiration for the album art and title — the Stalins manage to steer their sound in directions that no one can see coming, pulling the best aspects of drum machine punk ala Big Black, the raw industrial burst of Babyland, and the coming-out-of-your-skin fury of Black Bug.

LINKS

Buy Tank Tracks at Slovenly Records

Stalins of Sound on Bandcamp