Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 

CHOKEHOLD - With This Thread I Hold On (Good Fight Music https://goodfightmusic.merchnow.com)

Certain bands are needed for specific times, and the world needs Chokehold right now. Fortunately, the band heard the cosmic cry for their classic brutality and answered the call with With This Thread I Hold On, a devestaing work of sheer aural barbarism. The chugging riff, screamed vocals, and riotous low-end force of the opening “2.0” announces the bold return of this much beloved but woefully underappreciated act. Complete with spin kick inducing breakdowns, the work of Chokehold is pummeling but not without an adherence to the power and the lure of a huge hook. These vets craft songs; they are not merely stringing together angry rants under the guise of twenty-first century hardcore. “Profit Over People” thunders along a path of mosh-ready hardcore power, blending politics with intelligent lyrics and bone-shattering intensity. The guys attempt to burn down the world on “Silenced”, as Chokehold’s raw, violent playing illicit comparisons to other weathered gods such as Terror , Vision of Disorder, or Earth Crisis, along with the fury of a young act like Knocked Loose. The results are virulent blasts of blood-spitting rage such as “G.O.D.” and “Instilled” that seamlessly blend hardcore and thick metal grooves into slabs of relentless intensity. I cannot hear this enough.

MASKED INTRUDER III (Pure Noise Records http://www.purenoise.net)

Masked Intruder return with their brand of free-flowing, good time punk. Borrowing from 50s rock n’ roll (“Mine All Mine”) or playing with more reckless bombast (“B&E”), the guys hold every song together with an affinity for soaring guitar, richly harmonic vocals, and clean production. The classic Queers influence abounds on III and there is nothing wrong with that. The driving “All of My Love” is a textbook example of guitar-fueled power punk-pop. Despite the sheen that one hears across this record, there is also just enough grit to prevent Masked Intruder from crossing over from melodic to unnecessarily saccharine. The sun-kissed fare of “I’m Free (At Last)” and “Please Come Back to me” are still rooted in punk’s most raw nature, and even the loving “Maybe Even” still rattles. Masked Intruder are not afraid to sing songs of lost love and frustration, but their work is also accented by a resounding faith hat life can get better, as heard wonderfully on “Stay with Me Tonight” and through the fuzzed-out guitars of “Dream a Little Dream”. This is a perfect band when your anger has subsided, but not your need for assertive guitar punk.

DEAD SWORDS - Enders (Human Blood Records https://deadswords.bandcamp.com)

Dead Swords features Alex Rosamilia from Gaslight Anthem and former I Am the Avalanche member Corey Perez, and together, the two produce chilling, deeply haunting musical beauty through vastly panoramic songs that are each a complete and complex musical journey. While this could be played in coffee houses, the impact of more forceful guitars makes this a stirring collection of staggering magnificence. “Tonight” is largely acoustic, and its lush nature is obvious, but the more bombastic aspects of the song, highlighted by stirring keys, provide majestic, celebratory moments. “Black” and “Fumetsu” hum with a controlled but readily identifiable rage, as the duo deliver shoegaze with the addition of crushing, antagonistic qualities. Bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine are instant comparisons, but the guitar playing on “Letters” slices through the calm with the intensity of a black metal outfit. The ghostly figure in black that adorns the cover is a perfect representation of this band’s collective vision. The music is intriguing more than terrifying, but that does not take away from the eerie elements still heard within. Dead Swords balance aesthetic pleasantry with doom-laden intimidation, most expertly heard through the chugging riff of “Perception”. The song propels itself into a realm of conventional metal before launching skyward into a lush crescendo. Two mysterious “interludes” (numbered 4 and 5) are spooky reminders of the band’s breadth of creativity, as odd spoken word pieces are delivered in whispered vocals over a wall of subtle hiss and noise. The title track is a ten-minute excursion into the sonic depths of splendor, meshing walls of sound with intimate songwriting. Masterfully mixed by Kevin Dye, the record is a journey trough sound that is both intriguing and unnerving. The musical complexity and sense of dynamic power make Dead Swords a staggering achievement.

THE DEAFENING COLORS - Run Pass Option (www.thedeafeningcolors.com)

The Deafening Colors are a band with a deft touch for serene, atmospheric beauty that sounds distinctly unique yet somehow familiar. The six tracks on Run Pass Option hang in the air like melodic apparitions as minimalist lyrics, genteel song structures, and understated guitar playing, specifically from John Arthur, work together to create a swirling mass of beauty. The hushed singing on “Saracen Revisited” provides the track with a subtle uneasiness that juxtaposes the more kinetic, musically disjointed “Count on a Crime”. The latter includes fuzzy guitar but still retains an adroitly soft pop touch. “Crash Course” mirrors this approach as well, while soft riffs and beautiful melodies, particularly a strikingly warm two-part harmony, enliven “Love on Television”. The lonesome “She Moved to Oklahoma” includes woeful keys accompanying soulful, ethereal vocals that revel in 1980s studio antics. The band sounds like they are from another time and planet, not a bunch a guys who recorded this little gem in Weehawken.

SUNBATHERS - A Heat Wave (https://sunbathersmusic.bandcamp.com)

Sunbathers cannot wait for summer, and this four song EP is the perfect way to shed late-winter/early spring ennui. “Honeysuk” opens with 80s synth-pop sensibilities and a devotion to funked-up, dance club energy. The song radiates fun with the refrain “I want you all the time” driven by a steady bassline. The same approach is heard on “Bare”, an equally light-hearted blast of sunshine that blends modern R&B with splashes of indie pop. This is screaming for mainstream success, and I can easily hear much of this featured in a commercial for mass consumption. The appropriately titled “Intimacy” bumps and grinds with varying degrees of enthusiasm, eventually finding a groove that climaxes with the lines “I feel like an animal/make me beautiful”. The closing “Sugar” is the most gentle of the bunch, delicately kissed by affectionate sax. I would not normally gravitate towards this style, but sitting in my basement with dirty snow on the ground and a chilled rain falling, A Heat Wave is just what I want.


FEMME DE CHAMPAGNE - Impulsive Sky (reverbnation.com/femmedechampagne)

Everything about this is stunningly beautiful, maybe too pretty in fact, at least for my more hardscrabble tastes. The delicate piano riffs that runs “Sois Gentil” is lush and majestic, matching the equally stirring vocals of Babette Novak. Sophisticated, refined, and mature, Femme De Champagne play music for adult cocktail parties in which only the finest liquor is served and everyone knows their limits. Sung largely, but not entirely in French, Novak has an angelic voice, and “Shimmering Lights” and my favorite, the soaring “Famished Heart” are masterworks in song structure and deft performance. Only a trio, Novak is supported by Fran Kondorf and Mike Collins on bass and drums respectively, Femme De Champagne have a massive sound, enveloping a room with their ethereal prowess. My mouth left agape and me utterly speechless, I am drawn to talent such as that displayed by this Chicago outfit. Impulsive Sky exists for lovers of jazz, blues, and old-fashioned Broadway-level skill. It is refreshing to know that artists like this still exist.

NAT FREEDBERG - Better Late Than Never (Rum Bar Records rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com)

Nat Freedberg, known for his work in the legendary Upper Crust and the Satanics, brings bluesy, sultry rock n’ roll for clubs that overuse the smoke machine and the audience left their phones in their cars. Freedberg displays impressive chops through Better Late Than Never, with “All My Love” and “I Think I Die and Went to Heaven” as examples of dusty slabs of gritty rock n’ roll steeped in rockabilly blues. “If I Could be the One” struts with exuberant confidence with Freedberg adopting a subtle twang for the chorus. I could not help but love a song called “Heavy Metal Cow”, and rightly so as it includes the lyric, “heavy metal cow/I wish that you loved me”. Everything on Better Late Than Never combines early rock brazen attitude with punk’s snarky quality and wraps it around huge hooks and soaring choruses. The lead single “Madame Butterfly” is a roundhouse punch of a tune that is the embodiment of everything one is treated to throughout the record. It is a delight to hear Freedberg express himself and place his various skills on display.

THE SUCK - In-Cog-Neat-O (Mom’s Basement Records www.facebook.com/MomsBasementRecords)

Here is a band that does not live up to its name. The Suck play fast, agitated, blasts of pop punk in the purest of fashions, blending speedy riffs and smart-aleck lyrics. “#youredead” may sound like a collection of kids trying too hard to make a contemporary cultural reference with a song title, but the track’s buoyant energy grabs the listener from the opening second, and this theme carries through the next seven pieces. With The Cola on vocals and the Dunk and the Alien on guitar, The Suck already have a great nucleus, but it is the drumming of the Basement and the bass playing from the Problem that set the band apart on tunes like “Death Machine”, “Catfish”, and the very funny “Vape Store”. The stodgy among us with grunt and say they have heard this all before and that Ben or Joe did it better, but The Suck have the same energy and love for the genre as the giants who preceded them. It is next to impossible to listen to “Basement Buzz” and not have the urge to throw things round, and that to me, is all I need to hear. Go find this now.

THE CARVELS NYC - “Life Is Not a Waiting Room” EP (Tarbeach Records www.tarbeachmusic.com)

Some bands make life very to understand; simply put, if you do not love the Carvels, you do not love rock n’ roll. If rock should be swagger and attitude wrapped around angst-fueled talent, then Lynne Von Pang and her crew are all you need. Printed on gorgeous, deep-blue vinyl, the record opens with “Life is not a Waiting Room”, a track that jumps out of the speakers with a blaring sax from “Sweet” David Spinley, rousing guitar, and Von Pang’s snarky and richly melodic vocals. Incorporating classic NYC punk vibes with rock’s original sense of bombast, the Carvels make the past the present with an explosive mixture of fun and frustration. While they do not take themselves overly seriously, the Carvels craft sharp lyrics, particularly on “Scarcity”, with its opening line of “I just write a love letter to the person I might have been”. The song’s mid-tempo pacing and garage meets doo-wop approach mirrors what one hears on the soaring cover of “I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy”. Both tracks allow Von Pang to fully explore her dynamic vocal range and masterful delivery as guitarist Brian Morgan, bassist Mike Dee, and drummer Steve Pang play with a simmering boil that balances raucous energy and refined prowess. The three songs are over far too quickly, and I can now sit anxiously and wait for a full length.

DOC ROTTEN - Illusion to Choose (docrotten.bandcamp.com)

Produced by Bouncing Soul Pete Steinkopf, Trenton’s Doc Rotten play old time hardcore that puts the listener in a headlock and never loosens his grip. “Mind Control” is merely a fleeting sample of the twelve blistering tracks on Illusion to Choose, as the band injects heartfelt harmony into the work one hears here, highlighted by “Questions”, striking a balance between teeth-rattling power and refined song-crafting talent. “Hold Fast”, “So Long”, and “Listen Up” are all sing-along anthems with high energy and a hint of Rancid-style groove. With a pair of guitar players (Andy K and Wes) who also share vocals, Doc Rotten produce a rich sound that resonates both warmth and fury, rounded out by bassist Doug and drummer AJ. With an ability to play with a tempo on “Federation” and the bluesy “Sick and Suffering”, the band proves that they have the chops to write much more than just two minute blasts of rage. Smart, insightful, and at times even downright fun, Illusion to Choose is contemporary punk with a true, but not worn, sensibility.

LOST WAX PROCESS - “Mix Tape” b/w “Pushing Out” (Sonopherique Records https://lostwaxprocess.bandcamp.com)

As a person who was recently hired as a Political Science professor, I adore three of the members of Lost Wax Process who share the same job. Mark Copelovitch, Andrew Kydd, Michael O’Russa, and Jon Pevehouse play intelligent and interesting pop. “Mix Tape” is an ode to late 80s and early 90s indie pop with an ethereal guitar riff and easy on the ears vocals from O’Russa. I prefer the slightly darker groove of “Pushing Out”. While still resonating with a pop-kissed jangle, the song reverberates with more energy and tells a rich story. Fitting to the job of three quarters of the band, this is the embodiment of college rock, harkening back to the days of indie rock’s earliest rejections of over-production and celebrates songwriting. Familiar yet still invigoratingly fresh, Lost Wax Process is gem I am thrilled to discover.

TULLYCRAFT - The Railway Prince Hotel (HHBTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

Having been immersed in college radio in the mid-90s, I did become aware of the twee and cuddlecore movements and lovingly remember my first encounter with Tullycraft. Incredibly, more than twenty years later, this Seattle outfit continues to hang on to their collective innocence, blending the most pop-friendly tempos and sprinkling in lighthearted, sentimental lyrics that point out the most minute of details with good natured sarcasm. Titles like “Has Your Boyfriend Lost His Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” and “Lost Our Friends to Heavy Metal” reveal the band’s penchant for writing buoyant tales of self-awareness and growth that sound like 1995 never ended. “It’s Not Explained, it’s Delaware” is a quirky, slightly faster effort that rattles more than the majority of the other songs on The Railway Prince Hotel and features a subtle country giddy-up along with more pronounced guitar, while the jazzy “The Cat’s Miaow in a Spacesuit” is a demonstration of shrewd instrumental control. The genteel nature of the title track and the closing “Vacaville” can sometimes overshadow the intricacy of the songs, but there is a great deal happening here. Tullycraft is incredibly impressive all these years later.

PAVO PAVO - Mystery Hour (Bella Union Records www.ballaunion.com)

This is the type of story that always gets to me-Pavo Pavo is the work of prolific musical duo Oliver Hill and Eliza Bagg, or at least it was; the pair are no longer together as a couple but continue to produce majestic music together. Beginning as a friendship while studying at Yale, the two came to collaborate on various musical entities, and Pavo Pavo’s work is a soaring testament to two highly distinctive talents. The record began as a form of therapy as the two addressed the realization of a crumbling relationship, and the hunting nature of Mystery Hour reflects the anguish felt during the recording. The songs ache as they swim through the air with Hill’s voice resonating with anguish on “Mon Cheri”, lamenting as he gazes at a picture and notes how he “will never adjust to the dark”, while Bagg’s exquisite soprano vocals often carry the majority of the material. Deeply emotive keys along with poignant guitar work create an individual universe for each song, at times both intimate and expansive. “Check the Weather” is extraordinarily beautiful, as a mid-tempo dance beat propels an 80s synth groove with shared vocals longingly stating to “stay here at night”. “Close to Your Ego” is a gripping tribute to the challenges of any emotionally strained relationship, as two people balance what they want for each other along with what they need for themselves. Lush and gorgeous, “Around Part I” and the instrumental “Around Part II” are stirring works, while the sullen closer “Goldenrod” features the vocals of Hill and Bagg working in such close proximity that they seem to blend together as one. It is a fitting metaphor for the pair and they work effortlessly well together but still look for aspects of individuality. This is a lovely record about a painful process.

THE SAXOPHONES - "Singing Desperately Suite" EP (Full Time Hobby Records www.fulltimehobby.co.uk)

The saxophones do not play music for the upbeat and celebratory. Singing Desperately Suite is an EP of heartbreaking work that resonates with sadness and negative self-reflection through the lyrics of vocalist Alexi Erenkov. Written sporadically throughout 2018, including the appropriately crafted “Crude Advance” during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, the band, accented by the dynamic Alison Alderdice and Richard Laws, offer ambient folk that is far more griping than one may expect from such a genre. The jazzy, thirty-second introduction of “Prelude” gives way to the morose “Singing Desperately”, a song of dark introspection and regret. Minimalist musical accompaniment allows for Erenkov’s vocals to garner full attention as he bemoans the failures of relationships with the recognition that the blame should be placed aggressively on his shoulders. While “Crude Advance” moves at sloth’s pace, the lyrics of loneliness and longing become all the more affecting due to the haunting instrumentation. The closing “You Seem Upset” is a brief piece with hushed vocals and delicate playing. The dreamlike atmosphere may induce some to become somnambulistic, but I was enticed by the openness expressed by Erenkov. He is wrestling with his own lack of empathy and why it exists throughout the world. The song ends too quickly, much like the release itself, and one feels as if The Saxophones have only begun to explore an issue of great significance.


AGEIST - Babyface (Arctic Rodeo Records http://arcticrodeorecordings.com)

Whenever a band is described as “old men playing in a band no one has heard of”, I know I am gong to be a fan. Ageist is much more than old guys still bashing out noise like if they stop they will die, for there are truly gifted musicians here. Go do a little research on your Google machines, kids, and look up the resumes of members Eric Odness, Frank Bevan, Arty Shepherd, and Tucker Rule, then be prepared to be highly impressed. The opening “Lead Legs” is an eruption of distortion-laden, 90s grunge guitar on top of relentless drumming and warped vocals. The title track teeters on chaos and displays a masterful control as the riff ebbs and flows to allow the vocals to alternate between violent diatribe and controlled purposefulness in manner than embodies the record as a whole. For a collection of grizzled, seen-it-all men of experience, there is not a second of rest to be heard on Babyface, as “Breathe In” and “Kicked in the Head” include angular, thick bass lines that wrap themselves around the sharp guitar segments to create dense and heavily melodic songs that revive the sounds of twenty-five years ago with ease, largely because guys like Ageist invented the sounds from twenty-five years ago. “USA vs. USSR” is built around a thriving guitar riff and a pulsating bassline that deftly alternates in a loud/soft power-play that creates a tension that is nearly tangible. For those interested in bands that attempt to recreate the intricate ferocity of 90s indie punk, go listen to Ageist and gain yourself an education in how this style should truly sound.

JD HANGOVER s/t (Hound Gawd Records www.houndgawd.com)

This six song EP delivers distorted, stomping, punishing blues and does so effortlessly. Stiv and Roberto Villa make the blues sound dirtier and muddier than ever on “Broken Bones Blues”, a distortion pedal snapping romp that quivers with energy, while the steady thump that opens “Barrelhouse Queen” is instantly riveting. The two sound as if they are sitting right next to the listener, as each song has an intimacy that conveys a rough and tumble fury accented by flashes of cutting guitar noise and drone. “Headspinner Blues” is aptly named with its thunderous low end and heavily distorted slide riff, but I fell for the meandering grind of “Down at the Public House”. Sounding as if it is crawling along a liquor slicked barroom floor in desperate search for an exit, the track is a unsettling display of blunt guitar angst and waves of noisy power. I could listen to this for hours as long as the drinks keep coming and there was no need to go home. Entertain your inner deviant and celebrate debauchery with a wild ride of a release. Hound Gawd knows how to find the real jewels hiding in the world.

BOB MOULD - Sunshine Rock (Merge Records www.mergerecords.com)

Bob Mould may have moved to Berlin and grown a beard that provides him with a grandfatherly appearance, but his fury has not come close to dissipating. Do not be fooled by the cheery disposition of “Sunshine Rock”-the buoyant title track to Mould’s latest collection of sardonic guitar angst-for this not a light-hearted romp, but by Mould’s standards, it, along with “Sunny Love Song”, and “Camp Sunshine” are downright dreamy odes. The consistency of the term “sunshine” is intentional but not overbearing as the sun motif does not become redundant. Instead, it is juxtaposed with the biting guitar force of “What Do You Want Me to Do?”, a track in which Mould seems to be oscillating between overwhelming frustration and begging for forgiveness (“Now you’re home and I’m a total mess”). Truly flexing experienced guitar muscle, “Send Me a Postcard”, a cover of the Shocking Blue anthem, and the biting “I Fought” are two of the more iconic moments on a superbly delivered collection of powerful tracks. Harkening back to his 90s solo work, “Sin King” is a clever play on words (“You’re sin king our democracy”) while a blanket of distorted guitar spreads across a vast musical panorama. With a subtle, danceable quality, “Lost Faith” is a somber lament (“I’ve lost faith in everything”) before Mould gives himself a rousing pep talk and declares, “Life is so complicated, don’t let your hopes and dreams disappear”. “30 Dozen Roses” is a painful tale of a broken heart on the jagged rocks of a searing riff with Mould proclaiming, “olive branches piled up at your door, you don’t let me come inside your place no more”, and one is treated to a reflective, more wistful veteran on “The Final Years”, as Mould ponders about his “sense of misplaced rage”. Sunshine Rock is a snarky title for unsteady times crafted by a master who still produces voluminous gems at a crushing level of intensity.

WILLIAM TYLER - Goes West (Merge Records www.mergerecords.com)

William Tyler leads an adroitly skilled collection of players through ten serene and expansive tracks, each progressively more sprawling in scope. While delicate, Goes West is still able to capture the rugged terrain of the untamed West with an intimacy that is both haunting and soothing. The tracks seem to mesh effortlessly into each other, specifically “Call Me When I’m Breathing Again” and “Eventual Surrender”, two pristine works of genteel guitar playing from Tyler and Meg Duffy and expertly placed percussion from Griffin Goldsmith. “Rebecca” exudes a joy that is clearly a celebration of the person for whom the song is named, while “Not in Our Stars” has an ethereal and atmospheric quality befitting its name. “Venus in Aquarius” and “Virginia is for Loners” both exude a more country feel that could easily be the soundtrack for your next covered wagon journey through the Oregon Trail. As I listened, I was perpetually curious about what lyrics would have done for these tracks, but ultimately, the record was exquisite without any vocals, allowing the songs to breath and roam unencumbered. Like the land it references.

DAN FRANCIA Come Back to Life (Exploding in Sound Records http://www.explodinginsoundrecords. com)

Much of Dan Francia’s new solo record was written as he was working at New York’s Noguchi Museum, and that is important to note; for like the legendary sculptor, Francia does not adhere to any one school of thought in regards to his art. His songs are consistently beautiful in nature, but vary in degree of experimentalism, from the refined beauty of the title track (including the poignant lyric, “tell me you love me before you go to bed”), to the subtle cacophony of “Pass it On” to the more direct, sixteen-second noise-fest “I’m Not Insane”. With polyrhythmic structures merging with free form horns, “Ghost Stories” is a perfect embodiment of all Francia is as an artist. The song begins as if it is simply a collection of gifted players each performing a solo piece collectively en mass before settling into a more cohesive groove until that structure completely unravels into a John Zorn-like eruption of sound before once again finding a more well worn path, and then launching into a full meltdown as the song moves towards its conclusion. Challenging, intriguing, and even a little exhausting, it is a fascinating four minutes of creative genius. The fist single is the antithesis of much of the record, as it is an iPhone recorded pop gem called “Stereotype” that features Nora Dabdoub of Shea Stadium as the centerpiece of the song, and Francia harkens back to Lou Reed’s work from the 1980s as a source of inspiration for the song’s tone. Meanwhile, the keys that carry the nineteen seconds of “I’m Ready for Death” possess a haunting quality to them and they mysteriously dissipate in favor of the lush “No Matter What”, clearly the most conventional of the works here. With gorgeous backing vocals, the song is a delicate ode to trust, optimism, and love. “Can’t Forget” opens rather serenely before devolving into a furious mountain of rage with noisy, angular guitar ripping and shredding through the air as brazen and relentlessly intense vocals define the song’s vitriolic nature. This is a brilliant start to the new year.

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GRIM DEEDS - Gree! (https://grimdeeds.bandcamp.com /album/gree)

Well, the calendar has turned to a new year but existence is still dismal for Grim Deeds, and we all benefit from his misery. Gree! is another collection of biting, cynical tracks that discuss problems but offer a dearth of solutions. For those who love self-loathing and punk rock guitars, Grim Deeds is all one needs in life. The jangly guitar on “I’m Not Allowed” (a brilliant song about how life takes away all of one’s fun), “Four Letter Words” (which include the terms “life” and “love”) and “Mostly Miserable”) are closer to pop nuggets, but the more aggressive “Shithole Town” and “Life is a Nightmare” are two of the bright spots (relatively speaking) on Gree!. Grim Deeds comes through boldly through a very commendable cover of the Motorhead classic “Ramones” and highlights the stupidity of social media on “Facebook Wisdom”. The rapid fire playing of “Stress Addict” and the dark humor of “Sad Cannibal” embody all the Grim deeds is-a wildly self-flagellating, twisted musical visionary whose suffering helps me, and I am sure many others, fight through life’s daily tribulations.

KLEENEX GIRL WONDER - White Lacuna (Reasonable Records https://kgw.me/album/white-lacuna)

Kleenex Girl Wonder, aka Graham Smith, has been kicking around for more than two decades producing gorgeous and whip smart pop. White Lacuna is another step forward in the evolution of this vision, as the ten songs presented here are soaring blasts of pristine pop goodness that are both remarkably light in texture but are not without depth, both lyrically and musically. Although drummer Matt LeMay, keyboardist Ryan Smith, and guitarist Thayer McClanahan assist Smith at times, Kleenex Girl Wonder is a vehicle for Graham Smith’s unique outlook on life. “A Sweet Person” overflows with grace as free flowing, jangly guitar works in perfect congress with Smith’s vocals. “Hope All is Lost” admits that “giving up has a certain seductiveness” and the expansive “Angelina” is a shimmering jewel of a song. The danceable “White Witch” seems to fit perfectly alongside the more raw, acoustic energy one hears on “Emerita”, and Smith commands both songs with glorious ease. “History of Ice” is a sterling opener with a density to the ethereal pop sweetness, while “Worry the Well” has a bouncing bassline and biting lyrics (“you’re still broken hearted and impotent”) that makes the song my favorite of White Lacuna. The longevity and the continuous creativity of Kleenex Girl Wonder remains incredibly impressive.

OBNOX - Bang Messiah (Smog Veil Records www.smogveil.com)

Bim Thomas is noisy, one-man wrecking crew whose legendary status is well earned and expands far outside his home of Cleveland. Bang Messiah will only continue to enhance that reputation, as the record is a sprawling mountain of occasionally chaotic, at times refined, and constantly engaging fury. The opening “Steve Albini Thinks We Suck” is a visceral punch to the face through a mass of noise, but when one reaches “I Hate Everything”, the song plays out like a 1960s psychedelic garage gem replete with harmonious vocals accented by soaring cymbal crashes and a ethereal guitar riff. This dichotomy of the unbridled and the precise makes Bang Messiah such an enchanting listen. While “Cream” is an atmospheric beauty, “Enter the Hater” is a rugged, muscular wall of guitar force. Thomas mixes and matches hip-hop (“Rally on the Block”) with distorted noise-core (“Off Ya Ass”) and he excels at all he attempts. This is not an easy listen but nothing experimental should be; rather, this is a wild ride across numerous genres and styles with Thomas continuing to refuse to cower to the expected. Bang Messiah is too dark in nature to correctly label as “fun” and doing so would minimize the impact of a visionary artist, but there is something inherently enjoyable about being bashed from limitless directions throughout the dozen songs one finds within this record.

THE BLANKZ - “It’s a Breakdown” b/w “You’re Not my Friend Anymore” (Slope Records www.sloperecords.com)

The Blankz provide another glorious explosion of punk-pop goodness that explores just how bad things really are but do so without entirely ruining the listener’s day. The Blankz have an uncanny ability to inject Blondie-esque, New Wave keys into rugged punk riffs to produce apologetically catchy tales of sarcastic woe. “It’s Breakdown” sums up the current state of affairs in this nation with the line “hang myself or hang around/It’s a breakdown” as an infectious hook propels the track. “You’re Not my Friend Anymore” addresses the pitfalls of living through social media with references to disliking posts and the sorrow associated with disconnecting virtually. This Phoenix band plays angry, passionate punk for confusing and frustrating times.

BURLY - Self Titled Demon (Five Kill Records https://www.fivekillrecords.com)

This upstate New York outfit plays gentile, nearly fragile music that is majestic in its beauty. The songs on Self Titled Demon revolve around fragments of memories and faded glimpses of events in one’s life and are lush in their beauty. Each of the songs meanders along at a steady, albeit deliberate pace that incorporate muted jazz-inspired sax and the exuberate warmth of the vocals. Everything the band tries works here, from the inconspicuous genius of the drumming to the whistling that accents “Snowden”. With references to smoking pot through a corn cob pipe (“Happy Bday”) and meeting with friends in Providence, Rhode Island (“Kent Lame”; a song whose dissident guitar is rapturous), the music of Burly brings the listeners into intimate moments as if all parties involved are old friends. “Branches of Blood” has an understated darkness, while the line “You’re not a person that I think about a lot/ And I don’t mean for that to come off as a slight” in “Happy Birthday” is somehow both illuminating and heartbreaking. This is a gorgeous collection of five lovely and painstakingly constructed songs.

GRANDCHILDREN (https://grandchildren.bandcamp.com)

I am a sucker for great romances, and Grandchildren is just that, plus a dazzling band musically. The seven songs are the tales of Alecks Martray and Shari Bolar, two highly skilled songwriters who met while Martray was on his first tour with Grandchildren, and nearly a decade later, the two present seven musically dense and powerful tracks. The opening “Ok, I’m Waiting” is more traditional pop fare with soaring harmonies and a staggering gorgeous arrangement. It is an intriguing start to the record, as Grandchildren pride themselves on their highly eclectic mixture of folk, rock, pop, lo-fi, and electronic touches. The rollicking “Zuni” possesses a hootenanny, front-porch sing-along sensibility accented by lush atmospheric beauty and the shared brilliance of Bolar and Martray. The bluesy “Phantom Pains” has a thicker guitar riff that exists is sharp contrast to the spectral nature of “Want it Bad”, a song of engaging warmth. The shared vocals and lyrical refrain of “I don’t believe the wicked/I don’t believe the poor” make “Gravity” another highlight from a collection of distinctive tracks. “Motherboard” feels as if it fell from the late 1960s as it blends pop and psychedelia into a flawless mass. The genteel closer, “Only One” exudes a sensuality while a quietly infectious drum loop propels the effort. This is striking and impossible to hear without being moved.

MARSHMALLOW COAST - Memory Girls (HHBTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

The opening “Warm Bodies” sets the tone for delightfully canorous release from a truly distinctive band. Marshmallow Coast play electronica for those who normally hate electronica, as this is largely pop-kissed gems that have hints of electronic flavoring. The beats are understated and heavily groove-oriented, occasionally co-existing with both serene keys and more bombastic guitar playing, best heard on the masterful “Take You On”. “K. Freeman Enslaved” is a perfect encapsulation of all the band is-jangly guitar holds hands with a retro dance beat and a layered vocal delivery hovers between a whisper and a panicked conversation. “Sinz of my Father” radiates with a tangible 1980s vibe from the robotic vocals to the instantly catchy groove, the song is akin to opening a vault from the past and one can nearly envision the dancers from a JJ Fad video grinding to this. The playful “Foxy Boy” is anchored by a steady throb and spacious, jazzy saxophone that pushes the song into R&B territory. As we approach a new year and hope for the best, it may be difficult to find anything more unique than the work of Marshmallow Coast.

NIGHT BEATS - Myth of a Man (Heavenly Records http://heavenlyrecordings.com)

Danny Lee Blackwell leads Night Beats through twelve tracks that sound like they have arrived from another era. From the flamenco sounding, sultry “I Wonder” to the 1960s pop bounce of “There She Goes”, Myth of a Man is the type of record that takes the listener far away from current troubles and places them firmly in the grasp of a highly gifted songsmith. The closing “Too Young to Pray” is a gentle love ballad ensconced in a web of haunting lyrics. The innuendo-laden “On Thing” has a guitar riff that ricochets off the walls and reverberates with psychedelic energy and encapsulates the varied talents on display throughout the work. It is among the finest pieces on Myth of a Man, which is a record that strolls and saunters with Texas-sized confidence on “Wasting Time” and “Let Me Guess”. The theme of the work addresses how many people seem to exist solely to hurt and manipulate others, and just how painful it can be when it happens to you. Blackwell examines fleeting moments of happiness, such as the refined beauty of “Footsteps”, a sterling gem that is matched by the jazzy groove of “Stand With Me”, a rack with a guitar riff that would make Carlos Santana beam. This is wonderful musical escapism delivered by a collection of highly skilled players.

TRANSGRESSORS - They Made Her a Criminal (Super Secret Records https://supersecretrecords.bigcartel.com)

This Texas act plays old time rock n’ roll with a heavy drawl and a gun-slinger’s sense of confidence. Exuding cowboy swagger, the Transgressors rumble through “You’re Running Wild” and “Ask Me No Questions”, while the Americana vibe of “Maddux Creek” channels Johnny Cash as the song gallops along while telling a wild yarn of potential violence. (“Put that knife away, son”) This same tone returns on “Driving Nails in the Floor for You”, as The Transgressors again infuse their work with Southern fried colloquialisms and slide guitar. “I’d Die to Kill for You” saunters forward with a strong bassline and more lyrics of murder and mayhem. For those who believe that the Stratocaster is the be all, end all of rock instruments, The Transgressors are your band-a gritty, hard-driving collection of players who clearly believe that the trends be damned and they stay true to rock’s honest and earnest outlaw origins.

For more Rich Quinlan reviews, click here...

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