Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category

Best Reissues/Comps. of 2012

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Buzzov*enRevelation: Sick Again – (HydraHead)
When they were around, these North Carolina freaks were the band at the far end of sludgy, heavy, underground metal. New Orleans’ Eyehategod were more visible and hyped as the South’s heaviest, but for me, Buzzov*en was the real deal. Grim, fucked up and plagued by an existence as extreme as the low-end punch of their music, this band existed (tenuously) in a league of its own. Here’s an official reissue of their swansong LP in all its glory, complete with tons of movie sample lead ins and unrelenting, time-perfected heavosity.


Chalk Circle
Reflection – (Mississippi/Post Present Medium)
Deep from the depths of the early ’80s DC punk scene comes this postpunk shock that’s forceful, amazing and way ahead of its time. Kudos to Mississippi and PPM for compiling these tracks and bringing Chalk Circle to light. The recording quality and playing varies a lot, but the spirit of their scrappy, earnest sound can’t be dampened.


Cheap Beer
Various Artists – (Replay Records)
It’s easy to bag on local scene compilations since they generally end up being about 80% crap. And I can name a handful of Lawrence/KC comps that fit that exact description. With that said, you can really appreciate the exceptional quality of this LP put out from the punkrock tastemakers at the Replay Lounge. If you question the state of Kansas punk in the year 2011, just check out some of the killer tracks captured here from bands like The Mouthbreathers, Spook Lights, Fag Cop, Nature Boys, Dark Ages, Up The Academy, Muscle Worship, Jabberjosh, This Is My Condition and more.


Coalesce
Give Them Rope – (Relapse)
When this monster was originally released in 1997, I’d pretty much chalked up Coalesce as some sort of nu metal band. A colossally stupid assessment, for sure, almost as colossal as the mighty riffs found on this, their much-touted debut LP. And while I still prefer some of their later releases, it’s great to get the definitive package that includes the controversial remixed version (read more about that here) along with the original version that redefined heavy.


Short, Fast & Loud #24
10″ compilation (Six Weeks)
Although a good percentage of this comp is unmemorable and indistinguishable from leagues of like-minded bands across the globe, the sheer spirit and continued inertia of the SF&L scene is always worth a listen. With a mix of long-running outfits like Brutal Truth and Lack of Interest to some of the more recent heros of speedcore like Extortion and Wasteoid, this blazing 10″ lives up to its namesake, while the zine documents of how this scene has practically become its own genre.


Skullflower
Carved Into Roses/Infinityland/Singles 3xCD- (VHF)
A massive 3-CD Skullflower reissue collecting the squalling range of mid-1990s releases that transition from freeform noise to chugging hypno-drone. The history of Skullflower is well documented with dozens of CD and LP releases that range from essential to mildly interesting. This collection captures one of the band’s more interesting periods in a completist’s snapshot with some harder-to-find singles on one disc, and 2 of their LPs from this period on the other discs.


Spits
Spits – (Slovenly)
With their fifth eponymous LP out in 2011, it was about time their 2000 debut got reissued. Looking back, it’s amazing how fully developed The Spits sound was straight out of the gate. They were born weird and have remained weird. Classic stuff from a band that’s anything but classic.


Terror Visions
- World of Shit – (FDH)
Although this Jay Reatard project was ultimately treated as a footnote along with his other Screamers/synthpunk influenced groups (Nervous Patterns, Angry Angles, etc), Terror Visions did carry some clout as evidenced by this reissue, inserting the overamped, way out of control energy of The Reatards into the synthpunk realm. I never saw Lost Sounds as a new wave band, despite the tag always being thrown at them, but compared to Terror Visions they were.

Best Singles/EPs of 2011

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012


Black Bug
Police Helicopter 7″ (Hozac)
After cranking out one of the best LPs in 2010 (now reissued on CD on the tUMULt label) Black Bug serves up another slab of overdriven electroshock punk. With killer male/female tradeoff vocals and a frantic energy that’s akin to chomping on live wires, the 3 tracks on Police Helicopter are yet a another demonstration of this Swedish group’s best-in-class chops.


Double Negative
Hardcore Confusion Vol. 1 – (Sorry State)
This longtime NCHC group’s first two in a series of four 7″ releases came out in 2011. Of course both volumes are shredders, but this first installment has some of their tightest songs yet, especially “Writhe” which takes the roar of their debut LP and channels it into the crafted, churning song structures of their second LP. Can’t wait for the next volumes.


The Dreams
Body of Michael 7″ – (To Roccoco Rot)
This 3-song tour 7″ continues The Dreams’ track record of delivering quality jams. Like their digital singles and the excellent Morbido album, this single features their peculiar brand of psycho dub weirdo jams including the chillicious “Afrikaner Dub.”


Manipulation
2 – (Sorry State)
A year wouldn’t be complete without at least one totally ripping hardcore 7″ and thanks to Sorry State records we’ve got one of the most raging ones right here. Like their first 7″, this one goes for the throat with a relentless barrage of escalating riffs and maniacal vocals.


Mouthbreathers
Anxiety – (In The Red)
Killer garage punk with a huge guitar sound, turned up to eleven and crackling raw electricity. Players include dudez from Rooftop Vigilantes and Blood on the Wall. Loud, brash, catchy, and perfect for drunken singalongs, it’s hard to keep this one off the turntable.


The Nature Boys
- Rabies 7″ – (San Huevos)
The debut release from these Kansas punks flows with the rollicking ease of The Minutemen and the raw intensity of The Alley Cats’ male/female vocals. The Nature Boys take early SoCal punk as a starting point and ramp it up into a frenzy that’s too much fun to ignore or forget.


Pop. 1280
Thirteen Steps - (Blind Prophet Records)
Each Pop. 1280 release gets nastier and more primitive, but not in the way you may expect. Instead of amped up volume and distortion, Pop. 1280′s songs recoil into monotonous, riffless dirges that taunt more than roar. Even with the texture and artsy elements stripped from the sound of their killer Grid EP, Pop. 1280 ups the ante with this solid 2-song single.


Soft Moon
Total Decay 12″ EP – (Captured Tracks)
If you love Luis Vasquez’s ultra-atmospheric darkwave, you’ll be pleased to know that 2011′s Soft Moon offering measures up to the tidal wave of amazing records he put out in 2010. As a reader of this blog, you’ll also be pleased to know that he veers into noisier territory on Total Decay — a fitting title that hints at the restrained squall that adds interesting texture to his enveloping and seductive sound.


Ty Segall
- Spiders 7″ – (Drag City)
Not only is Ty Segall prolific, but his output is always top notch. And even better, he’s never afraid to venture into new territories, like the heavy slow-mo sonic burn of this awesome 45. The sludgy buzzsaw guitar is so slow in fact that I had to be sure that my turntable was at the right speed. Chalk up another golden single to the staggeringly awesome Ty Segall discography.

Best Albums of 2011

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Cheveu1000 – (Kill Shamen)
Technically this was released in 2010, but it was late late December 2010 at least and I don’t even recall seeing it until a few months into 2011, so fuggit we’re gonna call this a 2011 release. In any case, it would have secured a place on the 2010 list because it’s as brilliant as their previous LPs and twice as catchy. Many reviews of this brain melter claim that it’s their most accessible and conventional release yet, but I don’t hear that. There’s less cut-up lo-fi audio scrap, sure, yet it’s anything but conventional. It’s got enough crackling energy and unexpected turns along inserted into some killer riffs and Cheveu’s unique brand of garage punk hijinx. There’s even a Vanilla Ice cover that’s gotta be heard to be believed. I usually can’t bring myself to rank top 10 lists, but for 2011 this was definitely album #1.


The Chewers
Every Drop Disorganized – (self-released)
It took almost a year to determine whether or not this album was weirdly brilliant or just plain weird. Beginning with the odd name and goofy cover art, this band’s deliberately off-kilter fuzzy bluespunk goes from weird to weirdly brilliant, somehow existing within a universe where TFUL 282 covers Killdozer‘s most lumbering numbers while floating in a Xanax haze. An acapella ode to pancakes? Two-minutes of primitive grunting? If that doesn’t make sense to you, than The Chewers probably won’t either. But if you seek a 42-minute diversion from normalcy, chew on this for a while.


Crystal Stilts
In Love With Oblivian – (Slumberland)
Although it hasn’t been as hyped quite as much as their early EPs and debut album, the Stilts’ sophomore effort pushes their alluring sound into even more interesting territory. Adding some echoes of classic psych (“Sycamore Tree” rings like a lost Silver Apples track) and the detached cool of The Velvet UndergroundIn Love With Oblivian cements Crystal Stilts status as mandatory listening.


The Get Up Kids
- There Are Rules (Quality Hill)
For the longest time I’ve wanted to like this band. They’re local heros and many trusted tastemakers insisted that they were worth my time, but ugh, I just couldn’t get past their formulaic and predictable mix of nauseating, saccharine-sweet pop-punk. With this record I’m finally on board. The songwriting maturity and aged grit on There Are Rules is all aces, with layers of artfully textured sound and unexpected turns that never gets dull or predictable. If your eyes roll at the mention of this band, you owe it to yourself to give the Kids one more chance.



GG King
- Esoteric Lore – (Rob’s House)
While GG King’s singles took this ex-Carbonas rocker’s sound into slightly gnarlier territory, Esoteric Lore turns the gnarly knob (please note: there needs to be a band called the Gnarly Knobs) up even further with 17 tracks of raging punk. Like hearing How Could Hell Be Any Worse-era Bad Religion, The Germs, and the Circle Jerks for the first time, Esoteric Lore instantly feels like a classic. It sounds kickass right from the start and continues to deliver after many spins.


Iceage
New Brigade – (What’s Your Rupture)
If you took the punchiness and catchiness of The Futureheads with sped-up Gang of Four angularity and injected some hardcore intensity, you’d have something close to what this Danish quartet has created with their debut record. Unlike anything else within the genres it straddles — punk, hardcore, post-punk, indie rock, alternative what have you — Iceage takes the best qualities of all of them and pushes them together in ways that demonstrate some masterful songwriting skills. New Brigade delivers a fresh sound well deserving of the hype.


The Pheromoans
It Still Rankles – (Convulsive)
After a handful of promising singles, this UK band serves up a proper album of rambling, baffling, so clever it’s stupid scrap punk that aligns with the trajectory of The Fall to The Country Teasers to The Guinea Worms. Initial spins seem clumsy and inept, but their spontaneous and witty methods soon reveal themselves as an entertaining if ramshackle listen that becomes more fun with each listen.


Thee Oh Sees
Carrion Crawler / The Dream - (In The Red)
I’m guilty of being wowed by the ‘new’ and will sometimes lose interest in a band I love just being distracted by whatever’s got my attention at the time. Many times I’ve found myself at the record store with a new, unknown band’s record in one hand and a longtime favorite band’s newest release in the other, struggling to decide which to go with. Take a chance with a new band, or go with the known? It’s hard to go with Thee Oh Sees since they’ve had a staggering amount of output, but holy shit they continue to rule and this LP sits right up there along with The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending the Night In, Help, and Warm Slime.


Total Control
Henge Beat – (Iron Lung)
Sharing members with Aussie garage punk heros U.V. Race and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, this side project has gelled into something on par or greater than the sum of its parts. Cool and detached with heavy electronics and a plenty of perfectly refined guitarwork, Henge Beat has roots in ’80s synthpunk greats in the vein of Gary Numan, Killing Joke, and Joy Division but stretches that sound into a contemporary space. Like the GG King album mentioned above, this record has a timeless quality that promises to make Henge Beat a new classic.


Watch It Sparkle
Rocket Surgery – (Like A Shooting Star Records)
After seeing this Seattle band’s killer set at the Replay last spring I found a new favorite band. Luckily they were touring to support their newly released album, which promptly made its way to my turntable and heart with a savvy mix of guitar-driven mod punk and nervy vocals. Read more gushing here.

LISTEN TO TRACKS FROM THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2011:

Best Reissues/Comps. of 2010

Sunday, February 27th, 2011


A Frames
333 3xLP- (S.S. Records)
Super-deluxe reissue treatment of this Seattle band’s recordings from their first single through their second LP. Being one of the most interesting bands in the last decade, it’s an impressive body of work that somehow reduced angular postpunk to it’s most mechanical and rigid form without becoming dull or tedious. There’s a lot of heart in the A Frames discography and 3 LPs worth of it have been beautifully archived here.


Attitude AdjustmentThe Collection CD (Taang!)
Like the no-frills collections of early Poison Idea and Battalion of Saints, Taang! offers up another essential disc full of great ’80s hardcore/thrash, this time from Bay Area legends Attitude Adjustment. Starting with their punky and hard-to-find Pusmort debut LP American Paranoia, to their even more-rare and heavier No More Mr. Nice Guy LP and the crossover metal of the Out of Hand LP, it’s great to see that these killer tracks are finally getting their due. I’ve often considered the rough and tumble No More Mr. Nice Guy album as one of the best crossover punk/metal records ever alongside Poison Idea’s War All The Time and Corrosion of Conformity’s Animosity LP.


Christie Front DriveChristie Front Drive LP+DVD (Magic Bullet)
It’s hard to remember what emo meant before the term was perverted to describe the bizarre melodramatic genre of Hot Topic mallpunks in eyeliner, but there really were some great ideas found in the earnest beginnings of “emo” as found in bands like Boys Life, Braid, The Promise Ring, and of course Rites of Spring. Denver’s Christie Front Drive fit into this equation with one of the more interesting takes on the genre, with a masterfully-controlled, majestic sound that completely sweeps you away. While many emo bands used a transparent formula of quiet/loud dynamics, Christie Front Drive were able to seamlessly shape this technique into a slowly building arc that absolutely pulls you in and floors you. Originally released on Nebraska’s Caulfield Records in 1999, this record was CFD’s swan song and one of the best examples of what emo could be, before the term became a 2-dimensional joke. Watch for another reissue from Magic Bullet of the rest of their discography this year.


Grind Madness at the BBC: The Earache Peel Sessions – Various Artists 3xCD (Earache)
A roaring collection of extreme metal that sounds as radical today as it did when it was recorded in the mid-to-late ’80s, including Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Godflesh, Carcass, Extreme Noise Terror, Heresy, Intense Degree, and Unseen Terror. This package captures the birth of the grind genre with liner notes from some of the UK scene’s luminaries and 118 bursts of throat-shredding, blast beats, and breakneck riffage. I’ve always been a fan of Peel sessions. They often capture recordings that have an atmosphere that’s a bit more raw and closer to a live sound than a band’s studio material, and these tracks in particular capture these young bands giving it their all. Mick Harris’ (Napalm Death) account of stressing out the BBC’s studio engineer in the liner notes is not only funny, it really sets the scene for just how radical and noteworthy these recordings were and still are today.


The New Hope
Various Artists LP (Smog Veil)
Most regional compilations tend to be weighed down by a few bands/songs that aren’t as full-on as the rest, but this reissue of an early ’80s Cleveland release has an unbelievably great mix of 1-2-1-2 hardcore and wastoid art damage that elevates this city’s already legendary punk status even further. This extended collection of primo tracks from classic punk bands like Starvation Army and Zero Defex (Drop the A-Bomb on Meeeeeeee!) to lesser-known weirdos like Spike In Vain, P.P.G, and The Guns begs one to scream “This is Cleveland, Fuck LA! And Boston! And DC! And NYC! And Texas! And…”


The Fall
This Nation’s Saving Grace LP (Beggars Banquet)
With an absurd amount of LPs spanning over 4 decades, it’s a challenge to definitively call out a favorite Fall record. There are so many incarnations of Mark E. Smith’s postpunk juggernaut that range from the scrappy and brash late-1970s sound to the electronics-drenched LPs of the mid-1990s to the last couple of punchy LPs of the 2000s, that there’s too many versions of the trademark Fall sound to find a single release to hold onto the most. And while most Fall faithful would point to one of the early LPs as being the most essesntial, I’d probably go with this 1985 masterwork, which tethered their sound to bombastic beats and bleary-eyed off-the-cuff cool that captures the best elements of The Fall sound song after song. For a concrete example, just check out “I Am Kamo Suzuki” about the singer of the German krautrock band Can (how cool is that?) where Smith’s meta rambling cleverly diffuses the shock of huge drums bursting into an otherwise tranced-out, drifting song. Total genius and endlessly listenable.


Man Or Astroman?
- Is It… Man or Astroman? (Estrus)
I kinda took for granted how great this band was, and didn’t even realize that their debut LP had gone out of print. Throughout the 1990s you could count on seeing beautiful new Man Or Astroman releases with regularity, and most used shops of any value will have at least some of their catalog ready for you to explore. Here is where it all began and after listening to it again (I haven’t heard the repress yet) it’s clear that despite their relative popularity with the indie rock scene, this Auburn, Alabama quartet was the absolute best of the surf rock explosion of the 1990s. Glad to see it’s not been forgotten.


Steel Pole Bath Tub
Unlistenable LP (Permanent Records)
The tuned-in noisemongers at Chicago’s Permanent Records not only have one of the finest shops in the country, they also run one of the more discerning labels going in the post-MP3 age. The excellent decision to reissue this little-heard beast on vinyl is all the proof you need. Read more about this sludgy monster here.


John Wayne
Texas Funeral LP (Third Man Records)
I still have the dubbed cassette a record store friend of mine gave me when this oddity was first released in 1985. At the time it was a total WTF moment to hear this countrified freakout. It remained a novelty for years; an oddball pleasure that slowly worked itself from random listens into steady rotation. This spoof of a down-and-out country legend complete with studio banter and drunken rambling is not to be missed.

Best Singles/EPs of 2010

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

The DreamsNegativ Streets Digital Single (Beko Box Volume 2)
Although A.H. Kraken and The Anals are great bands for gnarly, ugly grunt rock ala Brainbombs and Drunks With Guns, both tend to be hard to listen to on account of their noisy, repetitive, tension-filled aural endurance sessions. I know that’s antithetical to this blog, which happily embraces noise, but The Dreams are the best band yet from the French duo who are the common thread among these groups. The Dreams remove some of the clashing guitar tones and replace it with chilly keyboards and minimalistic songs that give their sound enough air to really keep things interesting.


Ex-Fag Cop
Gimme Fag Agenda 7″ EP (Batshit Records)
After an appearance on The World’s Lousy With Ideas Vol. 4 comp and a couple raging shit-fi 7″ hate bombs, this Lawrence outfit changes their name to from Fag Cop to Ex-Fag Cop, seemingly just to fuck with everyone. While not quite as blown out as their other recordings, Gimme Fag Agenda does add some sinister tones to the mix, bringing to mind the warble of The Necessary Evils. Another notable difference is female vocals on ‘Remembered Future of A Dark Psychic History’, adding even more dimension to the mega-fucked Fag Cop/Ex-Fag Cop sound.


Lamps
- The Role Of The Dogcatcher In African-American Urban Folklore 7″ (Fan Death Records)
Finally had a chance to see this band live and my understanding of their blunt-force caveman stomp upped my fandom a couple notches. This song in particular is one of the best in their catalog with a killer loud-to-quiet maneuver that contrasts their trademark abrasive squall with clean and snappy verses supported by a burly, bouncing bass line. It’s good enough to completely make up for the weak B-side.


Moon Duo
Escape 12″ EP (Woodsist)
This might be a cheat since it’s considered an LP-length release by some, but 4 songs, even if they sprawl to the 6-8 minute mark, equal an EP in my book. Regardless, this release definitely earns “best of” status as it’s the ultimate culmination of everything Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo have done thus far, that being blissfully tranced out krautrock with atmosphere so thick and enveloping that you simply can’t turn it off. From the the second ‘Motorcycle, I Love You’ starts until the last title track, this extended EP has established itself as a high water mark of the genre.


Rot Shit
You’re Welcome 7″ (Columbus Discount)
Ugly, plodding heavy punk rock that skewers the state of punk rock with bursts of saxophone skronk and giant Stooges riffs. Songs like ‘Hipster Grandma’ aim to offend and distance this band from growing a fanbase, which I reckon they’d be fine with anyway. Pure vitriolic fun! Maybe punk isn’t dead after all…


Sex Church
6 Songs by Sex Church 12″ EP (Compulsive)
Snotty but subdued Velvet Underground-style psych with the repetition and volume of Spacemen 3 and just enough punk edge to distinguish it from bands travelling similar avenues like The Black Angels or Royal Baths, or even Echo and the Bunnymen. There may be a lot of bands doing this sort of thing, but this band’s guitar tone and layers of echoey haze make them one of the most interesting of the bunch.


The Soft Moon
Parallels 7″ (Captured Tracks)
This is what I’d always imagined Blank Dogs should sound like. Atmospheric, cool, synth-driven darkwave that completely envelops you without getting into cheesy goth gimmicks. The title track is one of the coolest downbeat tracks ever, with pitchshifting bass rumbling underneath a hypnotic, motorik beat — the epitome of cool. There are a number of artists mining 1980s darkwave for inspiration, but The Soft Moon have actually brought something new into the mix.


The U.V. Race
I Hate You 7″ EP (Fashionable Idiots)
There’s a quality to this band’s sound that’s simultaneously tense and loose, resulting in a warped catchiness that’s reminiscent of feral postpunk from the early ’80s or maybe Flipper pushing out some pop tunes. The four songs on this record get out-of-tune and ugly, but ultimately they’re fun in a demented way. The final track ‘Garbage in My Heart’ is a grade-A warbling dirge in the vein of The Butthole Surfers in a heavy quaaludes fog.

Charles Albright - I’m Happy, I’m a Genius 7″ EP (Permanent Records)
Like fellow Californian Ty Segall, Charles Albright has a knack for overamped, blown out garage punk. And where Ty Segall’s sound veers into ’60 psych territory, Albright’s focuses more on the ass-stomping guitar crunch. The guitar sound on this 7-song buzz saw is so ridiculously loud that only a true songsmith could craft catchy hooks within the din of this in-the-red recording space.


Vermillion Sands
20 Hours / The Last Day 7″ (Trouble In Mind)
Their Mary 7″ made the list in 2008 and since then I’d kinda written them off after some of their more countryfied releases. But this single could not be any better — both tracks are absolute gold A-sides with a slight country twang played with the songsmithing on par with the greatest of The Minutemen catalog. Totally fun Italian party punk with thickly-accented vocals.


Best Albums of 2010

Monday, January 3rd, 2011


Black Bug
Black Bug LP (FDH Records)
My favorite release of 2010. It’s a fiery burst of electro-buzz synth punk that absolutely kills. Blown out production and crackling femme vocals give this slab a brutally dark, fierce sound that pretty much mows down anything else heard in the last year. And it’s not one of those records that loses it’s charm after a few listens. Its pounding industrial-strength synthpunk anthems stick in your noggin and your gut with the force of electrocution.

DisappearsLux LP (kranky)
Their 2008 singles were solid (two of the tracks appear on this album) and created a sense of anticipation for an LP, since their songs have a laid back Velvet Underground vibe that seems natural for a long format release. Lux smartly mixes up their core sound with a couple speedier tracks and some unexpected grit and effects that subtly textures their otherworldly, chiming tone.

Double NegativeDaydreamnation LP (Sorry State)
Years in the making and overcoming a series of setbacks including the theft of some recording gear, Double Negative’s second LP finally became a reality and it was worth the wait. The snazzy embossed and foil-stamped cover and retina-searing navy on hot pink lyric sheet make it a bold visual statement, but the sounds are decidedly emboldened as well, adding a twisted complexity to their speedy hardcore attack.

Guinea WormsSorcererers of Madness (4rd Year in a Row!) 2xLP (Columbus Discount)
It’s impressive that the Worms were able to save up two records worth of scrappy material and make a double LP that keeps interesting over 4 sides of vinyl. I loved their Box of Records 7″ but the flipside sorta goes on too long, so I was a little skeptical that this release might get a bit gratuitous. But thankfully, they’ve got plenty of unexpected and weirdly incongruent songs that’ll keep your foot tapping and head scratching. Was that a sax bleat? Is this a reggae song? Does that guitar twang make this a country song? Everything is skewed in a Country Teasers or Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 way, where things are almost recognizable but far from normal. The album title alone describes what kinda of insanity you can expect from this double slab of crazy.

Naked on the VagueHeaps of Nothing LP (Siltbreeze)
I casually followed this Aussie group but never really felt they were worth my time until this heap of downer wave slipped into my consciousness early last summer. Their previous releases were intriguing, but they seemed like cerebral exercises in tuneless, droning postpunk endurance. Heaps of Nothing does drone, and the vocals do get deliberately off-key, but this time it really works to create an atmosphere that slowly pulls you in. It’s my new go-to record for when I need a hit of dark, dreamy drone.

Nothing PeopleSoft Crash LP (S.S.)
After becoming a bigger fan of this Sacto band in 2009, and after their excellent 7″ on Permanent Records early this year, this LP was one of the most anticipated releases for me in 2010. And wow, did it ever deliver. While 2009′s Late Night was a slo-mo lithium version of their glam punk churn, Soft Crash goes straight into space with wild Chrome-like tangents and an assortment of synthetically-altered art rock that continues to satisfy after countless spins. Absolutely essential listening for the 2010s.

Pollution®SMUT (C6 Recordings)
Along with Double Negative, this NYC band has raised the bar for hardcore in 2010 with an intensely volatile mix of thrash, math and noise. The rhythm section alone slays 99% of the band’s peers, starting and stopping on a dime, jolting tempos from oppressive dirges to ripping blast beats. Add to that massively chunky guitar and vicious vocals buried in the din and you’ve got a record that will be talked about and referenced for years to come.

SlicesCruising (Iron Lung)
Pittsburgh has been producing some raging mid-paced hardcore with bands like Kim Phuc and this quartet of pressurized aggression, fitting somewhere alongside hardcore bands like Condominium and Cult Ritual, with creepy experimental tracks sandwiched between tense bursts of powerful hardcore. It’s noisy, jabbing, anxiety-ridden pummeling of the highest order.

Subtle TurnhipsTerd LP (Hozac)
Every year there’s a French band on this list and this year it’s a band who’s been around for a while but under the radar. Their loose and wild take on Swell Maps-style noisepunk always sounds good and remains fresh after many spins.

TyvekNothing Fits LP (In The Red)
Like Siltbreeze label mates Naked on the Vague, Tyvek’s singles and 2009 LP were interesting, but a little too unfocused to demand much time on the turntable. This record, however, plays to all their strengths: spartan songs played with punked-out abandon, sorta like early SoCal punks (TSOL, Black Flag, Bad Religion, etc) covering Wire as amped-up teenagers.

Major Surprises

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

After Nirvana exploded from the underground into popularity in 1992, ushering a wave of so-called “alternative” bands, major labels began haphazardly plucking up every indie band in sight in hopes of finding the next band to blow up into the mainstream. Most of these signings resulted in instant turds from underdeveloped and uninteresting bands, or they marked the decline of once-relevant indie groups that were suddenly being marketed with the cheesy sheen of the Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion to the fickle masses. However, there were a few notable exceptions. The following records were financed and/or unleashed by major labels and were actually as good, if not better, than their releases on indie labels. With the recent and welcome rash of indies reissuing back catalog releases once put out by dying or dead major labels, it’s interesting to recall a handful of the great albums buried among the major label heap of the 1990s.

Boss Hog – Boss Hog (Geffen, 1995)
As great as their AmRep releases are, Boss Hog really hit their stride with this major label debut. While Cold Hands sounded like Big Black on a bender and the Action Box double 7″ and other early releases were basically Pussy Galore 2.0, this eponymous ripper had all the snarl of their indie output with the solid production and refined songwriting of a major label release. Their next album, Whiteout, charitably released on the top-notch indie In The Red label, ironically served as their major label-sounding turd — it’s soulless butt boogie and the weakest release in their catalog.

Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime (Interscope, 1994; Swami, 2002)
It’s funny to think that there once was a time when this band’s name wasn’t constantly being dropped as a major reference point, and when a band as challenging and ahead of its time as Drive Like Jehu would have a major label release that equaled or perhaps surpassed the quality of their indie label output. After a solid LP on Headhunter and a single on Merge, this swan song LP was released with small fanfare and no one seemed aware that it would soon be a highly sought-after classic of post hardcore that’d go out of print and quickly fade away from the used stacks. Band member John Reis (Pitchfork, Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes, Night Marchers) finally got a proper version of this masterwork back in print on his Swami label in 2002 and the band’s legend continues to grow.

JawboxFor Your Own Special Sweetheart (Atlantic, 1994; Dischord, 2009)
Jawbox shocked the indie world when they jumped from the stalwart DC label Dischord to a mega major. Zinesters foamed at the mouth bemoaning this unholy transition from the pinnacle of earnest punk independence straight into the belly of the corporate beast, and it was puzzling to any Jawbox fan why a major label would have any interest them and moreso, why Jawbox would have any interest (or delusions) in becoming rock stars. It was a surreal time to be sure, but forgetting about all the debate and vitriol of the day, the fact of the matter was that this album didn’t find Jawbox softening their sound or catering to any marketing ploys, and this album remains one of the best in their catalog, with a lush, deep production framing their solid postpunk songwriting and bombast. Evidently the universe has corrected itself: since Dischord put out a lovingly-packaged rerelease of this classic last year.

Jawbreaker – Dear You (Geffen, 1995; Blackball, 2004)
I never was much of a Jawbreaker fan during their heyday. Unfun and 24-Hour Revenge Therapy were adored and played by my friends constantly, but I never really got as excited about them as everyone else seemed to be. Strangely, that all changed with their major label debut. It’s hard to pin down why the songs on Dear You did it for me while their previous records just didn’t. With this record I finally heard what everyone was so amped about: Blake Schwartzenbach’s raspy vocals, pure pop punk hooks, poignant lyrics, tight musicianship etc. It wasn’t the slick production that did it for me. In fact, I usually go the opposite way when it comes to fidelity — just look at some of the bands I champion on this blog! No, there’s just a quality to this record that has always wins me over. As much as I wish it were the other way around, my favorite Jawbreaker record was their major label release, Thankfully I can now get the indie reissue on Blackball Records and clear my conscience.

The Jesus Lizard – Shot (Capitol, 1996)
Like Jawbox, Chicago’s Jesus Lizard were subjected to a lot of shit for bailing on their longtime indie label Touch & Go. And while I would consider this record to be one of their least essential (all the T&G releases are fuckin-A required listening and essential if ya didn’t know) it’s still leagues above the majority of “alternative” shit major labels and indie labels were putting out by the ton at the time. While the legend of The Jesus Lizard would be tarnished with their next and final release, Blue, Shot serves as the last great album by one of the decade’s best underground rock bands.

Steel Pole Bath Tub - Unlistenable (Zero to One, 2001; Permanent Records, 2010)
Okay, so this is sort of a cheat, since this album was never actually released by Slash Records on account of being deemed “unlistenable” by some A&R geniuses after it was recorded in 1996. What did they fuckin’ expect from one of the noisiest of the ’90s noise rock bands? Although Slash never put this mangled beast out, the band finally regained ownership of the maligned album and released it themselves on CD in 2001, and just this year, Chicago’s sage label Permanent Records saw fit to press this monster up on vinyl. Of the band’s discography, this LP is the most abrasive and extreme, a warbling Butthole Surfers-like codeine haze with vocals so buried or processed that only the slightest sliver of a tune can be unearthed upon repeat listenings. A decade ahead of its time, it hints towards the mutation of noise rock that would result in bands like Black Mayonnaise, Rusted Shut, Slices.

Jay Reatard

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

1980–2010

It’s been a month since the Memphis garage maestro died and I’m still recalling all the raging records he left behind. I remember the first time I heard The Reatards, blown away by the intensity and freshness he brought to the safe, conventional confines of the garage punk scene. Jay really took it to the next level and influenced a whole generation of in-the-red ragers as a mere teenager. He continued to evolve and was never afraid to push into new territory, as demonstrated with the darkwave synthpunk of the Lost Sounds, or the jerky, angular postpunk of Nervous Patterns and Angry Angles. Even his last solo release, Watch Me Fail, the most polished and commercial album of his career, his masterful combination of KBD-style primitive punk and classic pop tweaked convention enough to make his music his own distinct beast. It’s ridiculous how many quality releases the guy had under his belt. It may have seemed like overkill at the time, but ya gotta be thankful for the massive back catalog he left behind without even reaching 30. Here are a few of my favorites…

DOWNLOAD:

The Reatards – “Blew My Mind”
The Reatards – “Sick When I See”
The Reatards – “Teenage Hate”

Final Solutions – “Eye Don’t Like You”

Nervous Patterns – “Beautiful Brutal”

Angry Angles – “Apparent-Transparent”

Lost Sounds – “Dark Shadows”
Lost Sounds – “You Don’t Know Remote Control”
Lost Sounds – “Black Flowers”

Best Singles & EPs of 2009

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Finally — the second installment of the NFZ Best of 2009. January was a blur and there were a lot more singles and EP releases to sort through, so it took a bit longer to narrow ‘em down to these ten…


1. Mayyors – Deads 12″ EP

After two hyper-hyped 7″ releases, it’s almost embarrassing to have this at the top of this list because it will no doubt go down as one of 2009′s most-hyped releases. But fuck, at first listen it’s clear what all the hype is about with this Sacramento noise punk crew. Taking a page from the intense short sharp shock style of no wave bands like Lake of Dracula and Curse of the Birthmark and channeling that noise into barely controlled bursts of melodic chaos, Deads is the best four songs this band has released so far. It’s scary to think about where they can go from here.

2. Gary War - Galactic Citizens 12″ EP (Captured Tracks)
I finally caught up with this bedroom psych master this year, absorbing last year’s excellent New Raytheonport LP, so 2009′s Horribles Parade on the Sacred Bones label and this killer 12″ EP were at the top of my must-have list. While oddball bedroom psych pop is all the rage these days, with “groups” like Pink Noise, Ariel Pink, Blank Dogs, Dead Luke, Pink Reason, and tons of others pumping out cassettes and limited vinyl releases of lo-fi weirdness, Gary War’s output piles on way more weirdness than the others, who often offer little more than slightly tweaked pop songs. With layers and layers of effects and warbling out-of-left-field sounds piled on solid pop song structures, Gary War’s records reveal surprises with every listen.

3. The Fresh & Onlys – Horrible Door / Laughter is Contagious 7″ (Trouble In Mind)
This fairly new Oakland group launched into indie stardom with a slew of releases and numerous interviews in 2009 and it was this 45 from Chicago’s awesome Trouble in Mind label that made me a believer. Sort of in the realm of the Thee Oh Sees‘ modern blow-fi take on ’60s punk psych, the Fresh & Onlys concoct an addictive sonic stew that gets better with every listen.

4. Statues – We’re Disparate 7″ (P. Trash/House Party Records)
This Ottowa Sudbury, Ontario trio specializes in tight, full-caliber pop punk, which only a handful of bands can do well. And they do it especially well, as evidenced on this tight 45. Angular enough to have a sneer, but tuneful and poppy enough to pair nicely with bands like The Futureheads, Jawbreaker, and the ultimate pop punk band, The Buzzcocks.

5. Crash Normal – Flying to NY 7″ (Plastic Idol)
This smoker earns a spot for the A-side alone, since the B-side is a spot-on cover of The Country Teasers‘ “Hairy Wine 2″ that sounds more like the Teasers than the Teasers. “Flying to NY” shows this Parisian duo at their best, with a raw, scrappy garage punk tune that’s on par with the genius of The Intelligence.

6. Condominium – Barricade/Big Plans 7″ (Fashionable Idiots)
It’s taken 26 years, but finally the B-side to Black Flag‘s My War album has been adopted by hardcore kids. Not to sound like a bitter old fart, but I’ve been championing that record for fuckin’ decades to deaf ears who chose to focus only on early BF without realizing how groundbreaking and heavy that plodding monster from BF’s late period is. Thankfully, the kids these days with their internets or whatnot are taking in all this history and creating some pathologically intense, lumbering hardcore that has roots in the My War sound, as showcased in this perfectly brutal 45 and releases from their peers, Cult Ritual and Kim Phuc.

7. Sex Church – Dead End 7″ (Sweet Rot)
Even if I weren’t a sucker for repetitive trance garage psyche, this Vancouver band would be aces on account of the noisy and raw edge they bring to their dark-tinged music. There’s a crackling coldness to “Dead End” that’s instantly absorbing and perfect, like a Velvet Underground for the new millennium. Sounds cheesy, I know, but of the hundreds of bands going for this type of sound, Sex Church has absolutely wired their interesting take on that sound and it’s leagues better than the rest. The flipside “Let Down” is an epic downer that’s something akin to a raw version of The Dead Boys playing a funeral dirge in an echo chamber.

8. The Sess – Authentic Black Coke / Brain Ruster 7″ (Slovenly)
Righteously named, The Sess (pronounced “Sesh” as in “session”) pop off a fun pair of partypunk tunez that sound like they could’ve been one of the highlights from the 1983 Hell Comes to Your House Part II compilation that featured rollicking country punk ragers from classic bands like The Minutemen and Mau Maus, or maybe one of the more aggro songs from The Plugz discography. Both tracks clip along with support from a garagey bit of organ and enough loose ends to keep it raw, warm and fuzzy.

9. Kim Phuc – Weird Skies 7″ (Deer Skull)
The 3rd single by these Pittsburgh mutants further cements them as one of the most intense heavycore bands of the day. And by heavycore, I don’t mean that mallrat by-the-numbers chugga-chug pap that your retard cousin’s into. This is the real deal, tempered (or distempered) with late Black Flag blowout guitar bent into swirling riffs that hook you into their terrifying world.


10. Dark Ages – Vicious Lies 7″ EP (Cowabunga)
I’ll admit that I’m guiltily gobbling up all these classic thrash retread bands the kids are into these days. Deep down I want them to push their music out of the confines of established genre standards, but spinning this 33rpm rager from one of KC’s fiercest bands makes me forget all about higher aspirations and retro guilt. These kids are for real. With a sound that harkens back to the late ’80s glory days when thrashy hardcore 7″ EPs pushed the genre into vicious territory with heavy breakdowns and high-velocity, raw throated intensity, Dark Ages keeps the HC spirit alive with a strong dose of politically-charged hardcore.

Best of 2009

Friday, January 1st, 2010

BEST ALBUMS


1. The Intelligence – Fake Surfers (In The Red)
The number of bands that get better with each release are few. This Seattle mainstay is one of those few, making each album a notch or two better than the previous release. From scrappy-but-awesome beginnings to this well-crafted, thrilling LP of weirdo/garage/punk/whatever, The Intelligence continues to make some of the most interesting and inventive records with their endlessly cool, multi-layered sonic cut-and-paste aesthetic.


2. Hex Dispensers – Winchester Mystery House (Douchemaster)
This breathlessly addictive album showcases some of the tightest and solid punk rock out there. Sort of poppy with hooks and choruses galore, Winchester Mystery House avoids the usual pitfalls of the played-out pop punk genre with unforgettable crooning vocals (Danzig minus the cheese) and a horror aesthetic that plays out like a midnight matinee.


3. The Spits – s/t (IV) (Recess)
It’s hard to pin down the dumb genius (whuh?) of The Spits. Lots of bands’ records sound great the first few times you hear them, but gradually sound less and less interesting. The Spits’ records have the opposite effect. Even as a diehard fan, my first listen to their fourth self-titled album evoked the same response as my previous experiences with their records, which is me thinking, “that’s it?” There’s something about their puzzling, silly lyrics and rudimentary pogo punk that doesn’t set in until the 3rd or 4th listen, and by that time, they’re your favorite band again. Dumb genius!


4. Dan Melchior und das Menace – Thankyou Very Much (S-S)
It’s easy to overlook and dismiss the work of such a prodigious talent when there’s more releases put out in one year than most put out in five, but you gotta give Dan Melchior props because nearly all of his records are top notch Billy Childish-style garage punk blues. And when you have one of the best labels around putting out a double-album by the guy, you know that that’s gonna be essential listening.


5. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head (Mute)
Just before the release of this record I’d become a fan of their self-titled 2007 release and wasn’t expecting this record to bowl me over as much as it did. Usually, when the indie hype machine starts chortling out the heavy praise this record’s been getting, it means that the band has softened up and polished their sound enough to become marketable to the fickle indie/college rock crowd. But fuck, this is a monster full of shrieking, feedback shrapnel shot from a roaring wall of sound that’s as massive and raw as anything you’ll find in the noise cult underground.

6. TV Ghost – Cold Fish (In The Red)
It’s been a while since such a destroying record has hit my turntable.
The Cramps comparisons this Indiana group have had thrown at them only slightly reflect the dangerous guitar twang that emanates from this heavy slab of noise pound. The Birthday Party hits a bit closer, but still doesn’t give enough credit for the sinister and twisted world these sounds come from. Echoey, evil, and way off kilter, this monster slays pretty much everything that attempts to cover this dark territory.


7. Ty Segall – Lemons (Goner)
Like Dan Melchior, Ty Segall seemed to have a new release coming out every other week throughout 2009 — not counting releases or reissues from his other bands The Traditional Fools or The Perverts —so you’d assume that there might be a few weak spots in his discography, but alas they all smoke and this LP is the perfect showcase of this garage punk wünderkind’s talents. Catchy hooks and an surly surf guitar sound frame his rollicking, reverb-drenched vocals and stomping beats, with the brilliantly tweaked pop sensibility that Kurt Cobain used to make grunge palletable for the masses.


8. Converge – Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
Metallic hardcore in this day and age is a played-out scene. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of horrid little groups that clumsily throw together a few of the extreme elements that Converge perfected many years ago, rendering this genre lifeless, boring, and worst of all, unimportant. If only they spent as much time on their songcraft as they do on their 3rd-rate ripoffs of Jacob Bannon’s iconic artwork and plastering their band logo on overstocked merch tables, they might just breathe some life back into an otherwise dull scene. In the meantime Converge has continued to hone and perfect their state-of-the-art metallic hardcore, pushing it in new directions, while maintaining the intensity and precision of their earlier releases. All their releases on Epitaph have been high water marks for that scene and this one’s no exception.


9. Mika MikoWe Are Xuxa (PPM)
This LA group that emerged from the energetic all-ages Smell scene has aged nicely into a seasoned band that can at once sound current and fresh while also capturing the rawness and daring of the early LA Dangerhouse scene. Songs like “Sex Jazz” and “Keep On Calling” which add some blaring sax blasts could be mistaken for X-Ray Specs or The Subtonix, while others connect Siouxsie & The Banshees to Bikini Kill with a streaks of carefree fun. An excellent cover of The Urinal‘s “Sex” also secures this LP a top spot among 2009′s releases.


10. AFCGT – AFCGT (Uzu Audio)
This and Factums’ Flowers LP were the two best headscratchers from 2009. Both skirt any sort of convention or predictability and both continue to sound great after repeated spins on the turntable. This cryptic LP from the hybird band made up of The A-Frames and Climax Golden Twins is nudging out the Factums record simply on account of it being released first and the fact that I’ve already said my piece about that great record here. Many have said that AFCGT sound like the amalgamation of those 2 groups, but I don’t see that at all. This is an entirely different animal, perhaps leaning more towards the sprawling compositions of CGT, but there’s really not much to connect either band to the sonic terrain covered on this record. It’s more aggressive and less jazzy than their 10″ release, all while keeping a certain modicum of sophistication, which make this record even more exciting and unique. I’m looking forward to their Sub Pop LP, coming out later this month.

BEST REISSUES

1. Loop – A Gilded Eternity 2xCD (Reactor)

2. The Units – History of The Units, The Early Years: 1977-1983 CD (Community Library)

3. Cheveu – Cheveau LP (Permanent Records)

4. 13th Chime - Discography CD (Sacred Bones)

5. Dog Faced Hermans - Hum of Life LP (Mississippi)

6. Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange LP (Kranky)

7. The In’bred – Legacy of Fertility CD (Alternative Tentacles)

8. Jesus Lizard – Goat LP (Touch & Go)

9. Jesus Lizard – Liar LP (Touch & Go)

10. Jawbox – For Your Own Special Sweetheart LP (Dischord/DeSoto)