Archive for the ‘2020s’ Category

Best Singles/EPs/Demos of 2020

Tuesday, 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

Sunday, 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

Wednesday, 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

The Spits

Saturday, 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

Thursday, 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.