Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


ABRAHAM - Debris de Mondes Perdus (Pelagic Records; pelagicrecords.bandcamp.com)

Switzerland’s Abraham is a band of devastating heaviness that is pushing extreme metal in a staggering bleak direction. The intensity of the music is palpable, yet there is a beauty to the darkness of Debris de Mondes Perdus, as well. The opening “Verminvisible” is atmospheric and haunting, a combination of black metal and shoegaze that comes to epitomize the disconcerting nature of the record. Many of the songs on Debris de Mondes Perdus are not built around a hook, but rather an intricate mixture of fear and power; Abraham is a band that produces soundscapes more than songs, as each track becomes a miniature six-minute world rather than a fleeting musical vision. Adding to the uniqueness of Abraham is the vocal style of drummer Dave Schlagmeister-his vocals are ethereal, matching the guitar tone and visceral nature of the music. “Blood Moon, New Alliance” is a thrash/grind masterpiece of raw, wildly emotive playing caked with a disturbing layer of grime. The track is a crippling array of abrasive vocals and furious playing. All of Debris de Mondes Perdus is an amalgamation of multiple forms of extreme music congealed into a mass of unfathomable force. “Maudissements” is a constant rumble of imminent destruction; just a rogue wave of a song that decimates listeners. The majority of the songs are six minutes and longer, with only “Our Words Born in Fire” clocking in under four minutes, but that song’s angular, scathing aura is highly uncomfortable. Each work produces a sense of being surrounded and trapped under the weight of the songs. The slightly more glacial pace of “Fear Overthrown” introduces a more prominent black-metal aesthetic, also heard on the brilliant “A Celestial Forest”. Abraham is a band that represents the next logical step in the evolution of metal’s more distinctive underground. If one is to believe that black metal represents the darkest personality trait of extreme music, then Abraham is equipped to physically embody the terror that such music can produce. The songs are noisy, dissident, and chaotic with a purpose-every note on Debris de Mondes Perdus is well crafted and maliciously deliberate. This is an expansive, exhaustive, and exhilarating listen.

JANE LEE HOOKER - Rollin’ (Ruf Records; wordpress.rufrecords.de)

The supremely gifted Jane Lee Hooker takes the fundamentals of American blues and injects other forms of true American musical inventions, from rock to R&B and even gospel. The result of this spirited concoction is the stirring Rollin’, a superior and at times spiritual celebration of sleek and sophisticated blues played with great resolve and sensuality. The band includes an array of talented players who have spent time tearing up filthy clubs and sleeping on floors in still sweat-stained clothes. While raw punk aesthetic may not be heard on Rollin’, but there is still an edge to all that Jane Lee Hooker does, even the slide guitar on “White Gold” has subtle intensity. The honky-tonk swagger of “Runaway Train” is a gem near the conclusion of the record, exploding with the band’s double guitar barrage from Tina Gorin and Tracy Hightop. The band’s blazing rendition of Johnny Winter’s “Mean Town Blues” is a guaranteed live staple with a grinding take on this classic. “Lucky” starts with vocalists Dana Athen’s breathy voice accentuating each syllable she delivers, and the track’s deliberate grooves embodies the band’s ability to play with the emotions of the listener, bringing them to the precipice exultation before slowing down and repeating. The glorious sound of Rollin’ allows each player to be properly represented. As Athen’s voice is instantly the main attraction, guitarists Tine Gorin and Tracy Hightop shine throughout the record, offering a combination of blazing riffs along with exquisitely bluesy-soaked harmonies. The rhythm section of Mary Z (who, along with Hightop, played in The Wives, one of the most tragically underappreciated bands in punk history and I loved everything they ever did) and “Lightin’” Ron Salvo help solidify each work, such as the tale of loneliness and longing (“Drive”) and the swing of “Weary Bones”. Every song from Jane Lee Hooker creates a new atmosphere, from the haunting “Jericho” to the heartbreaking yet rollicking “All Good Things”. The ocean of talent in Jane Lee Hooker culminates in a sterling record of expert musicianship and exactly the kind of sophisticated wake up that rock so desperately needs.

WEREWOLF JONES - Premium (Big Neck Records; bigneckrecords1.bandcamp.com)

There are certain musical locations that have a district sound, and Detroit is among the front of the line in terms of instant recognizability. Full of grit and pugnacious angst, the city has spawned a legion of genre-shaking acts, and Werewolf Jones follows in the footsteps of giants. The opening “Careless” is a raw meeting of The Dirtbombs’ energy and Death’s proto-punk intensity. Aaron Cohen’s bass plays a prominent role on most of the pieces here, while Adam Hunter pushes his vocals out to a dangerous ledge. “Jobless” is a grimy slab of inspired punk rock led by Hunter’s Cobain-like guitar tone and Heath McManus’ bombastic drumming. “False Prophet” captures an early 90s indie rock vibe, as if the song was being released on a hand-printed and numbered seven-inch single, made with love in a kid’s bedroom. The song’s fuzzy guitar and waves of distortion are celebrations of superb noise, and this is also heard on “I Got It All”. Hunter creates riffs that violently tear across the musical landscape while also retaining a notable groove, as one hears on the abrasive “Escape Me” and cutting “Taste of Metal”. I truly fall for the pure speed and hardcore force of “Fixing”, a ninety-two second blast of rage. Werewolf Jones has a dazzling record with Premium, and this is a band of incredible promise.

KLAZO - Demik Dementia (Big Neck Records; klazo.bandcamp.com)

This duo plays raw, basement tape-style punk that pushes the enthusiasm and paint-stripping energy of the Germs through a grimy meatgrinder. The result is a mass of fury that sounds like the Stooges’ Fun House merging with the lo-fi groove of Deep Valley. The opening title track a torrent of Rob Yadautas’ blunt guitar and storming low-end decimations from drummer Jesse. With only one of the eleven tracks lasting more than two and a half minutes, the intensity comes in bruising bursts, and is encapsulated by “Fast N’ Loose”, a song that sounds as if the band is playing through a hurricane. “Too Many People” is a seventy-two second detonation of noisy garage punk buried in a wall of distortion, with Yadautas screaming about how there are “too many humans”. “J.R.A.” mimics the other tracks on the record but is just slightly slower in tempo which allows for a groove to emerge. Most of the work on Demik Dementia, including the relentless “Fantastic Plastic” and “Clones in Chrome”, is hyperactive, borderline untamed punk angst wrapped in a blanket of hazy anger that is the musical equivalent of a twenty-car pile-up on a slick highway. Blurred in guitar haze, Klazo combines the fearless nature of Negative Approach and morphs it with reckless fun of The Damned to bring classic punk aesthetics into a modern age. While Klazo could pass a (much louder) 1960 garage act, their commitment to vehemence makes them a dynamic band.

SCIENCE MAN - Nines Mecca (Swimming Faith Records; swimmingfaithrecords.com)

This riotous Buffalo outfit plays ten blazing songs with nothing beyond two and a half minutes. The entirety of Nines Mecca is a tohubohu born in fire and unleashed upon a world that needs them. Science Man brings smart, intense hardcore that mashes noise, post-hardcore, and old school influences on “Cinema C.E.N. S.”. Beginning with a brief squall of feedback, the song becomes scathing aural abuse that is profoundly enjoyable. There are no pauses, room to breathe, or guitar solos here, as the record simply decimates the listener. The galloping “Super Charger” is furious but not without a great hook buried within the din. On top of the speed and aggression is a subtle darkness woven into each song, best heard on the musical miasma that is the instrumental “Adventure Spit”. The guitars on “The Wait” and “Birth of a Mountain” are played with a skirr and are both particularly vicious slash and burn tracks. John Toohill is the genius behind Science Man, and hopefully this Western New York powerhouse gains greater recognition.

CRISIX - Full HD (Listenable Records; www.listenable.eu)

This Barcelona outfit plays a bruising collection of scathing thrash with all the energy of youth but with the skills of a far more veteran band. The members of Crisix were clearly listening to their uncle’s 80s metal cassettes, but they never become predictable due to their ability to alternate tempos just enough to keep songs interesting, along with a technical skill that makes Crisix a pivotal piece of the new thrash canon. “Extreme Fire Hazard” includes a classic galloping riff along with devastating gang vocals (also heard on “Speak Your Truth”) and a relentless low-end assault upon listeners. While speed has always been the hallmark of any good thrash act, Crisix does not simply attempt to break land speed records. Rather, the guys understand how to write a strong hook, such as the bombastic title track and “The Many Licit Paths”. Crisix famously released the “Pizza Ep” in the midst of a pandemic, which led to twenty different Spanish pizza shops using the band’s logo on pizza boxes, so Crisix has a rare trait for metal bands: a great sense of humor (“Macarena Mosh”). To their credit, Crisix did not allow a little issue like a global pandemic hold them back, as they released their own film, a video game, and even a cookbook (Speed Metal Kitchen of Doom). Channeling the raw edge of Vio-Lence and Dark Angel, while concurrently imbued with the fun of Municipal Waste, Crisix is a band that hopefully finally gets to the States to unleash their fury and talents.

TREASVRE - Stick the Knife In (treasvremusic.bandcamp.com)

There is so much to love about Treasvre, a San Francisco-based act that may be synth-driven, but is certainly not devoid of guitar. “Run Away” is built around a surprisingly chugging riff and the cherubic vocals of Sabrina Simonton (also playing synth) and bassist Samantha Peña. “Letting Nature Take Its Course” is a noisy amalgamation of heartfelt, personal lyrics addressing the anxiety felt by so many during the pandemic that led to life changes, and in the case of Peña, for the better. Drummer Evan Dulaney propels the effort forward, accompanied by the guitar efforts of Jason Zaru and Julian Balestrieri. The pseudo-dance hook of “Face in the Crowd” masks the desperation of the lyrics and the huge riff that concludes the work is among the finest highlights of a sterling record. The title track begins much more innocuously before erupting into a densely powerful chorus, led by the exceptional duo of Simonton and Peña. Addressing a breadth of emotions, Treasvre experiments with fragility and resolve without ever sounding musically disjointed. The closing “I Just Want to Be Loved” has a tone that matches the effort’s sad sentiments. Once again anchored by an understatedly dense riff, the combined voices of Simonton and Peña providing exceptional dynamic range. Treasvre is a band with a truly distinctive sound, blending a multitude of ideas and influences into a gloriously new approach.


DIE! DIE! DIE! This is Not an Island Anymore (diediedie.bandcamp.com)

The opening wave of guitar squall and wall-rattling basslines of the title track sets the pace for an aggressive, abrasive record that blends noise, shoegaze, and raw punk into an amalgamated mass of raw power. This New Zealand trio pushes musical bounds throughout this record, from grindcore level fury to distortion fueled math rock. Led by the vocals of guitarist Andrew Wilson, there is an anger within the walls of everything Die! Die! Die! Creates, but it is not void of hooks. Granted, one must search to find them, but buried within the occasionally indecipherable chaos lies very astute songwriting. Original bassist Lachlan Anderson returns to the band, which is rounded out by the maniacal drumming of Michael Prain. The fifty-five seconds tempest “Takaparawhau” is a ball of clamor that will remind many of In Utero-era Nirvana, but all of this sounds like Steve Albini’s dream of what a band would sound like if he could create one in a lab to unleash upon 2022. “Losing Sight, Keep on Kicking” is a blinding force of metallic guitar and harsh vocals that someone produces a chorus that forces itself into one’s mind and lives there for a while. The angular, jagged guitar work heard on “8 Months in the Lighthouse” allows each member to take centerstage throughout the track. The thunderous work of Praid somehow rises about the din created by Wilson, while the duo steps back and gives Anderson his own isolated fury. Collectively, the band word with the tightness of Don Caballero or Arcweldr, crafting beauty from destruction on “Vanish (But That’s my Hometown, Marcus)” and “Never Tire Looking at the Sun”, the latter of which has a searing riff and majestically distorted screamed vocals, accented by saxophone compliments of Nathan Haines. The throat-ripping vocals “Imagine Spending So Long Making Other People Feel Like Shit” is the perfect conclusion to a record that presents a simultaneous dichotomy of disturbing and exhilarating.

THE DISTRICTS - Great American Painting (thedistrictsband.bandcamp.com)

Rob Grote leads the trio The Districts through nine dreamy, quasi-Cure indie pop, reflecting upon the beauty and ugliness that is America in 2022. The lush, majestic vocals bely the darkness within several of the songs, including “Revival Psalm” and the delicate “Do It Over”. The band has a pronounced skill to produce music that hangs wistfully in the air, such as the beautiful “Long End”; with its pronounced drumming and fragile riff, the track has a breathy, endearing quality. “White Devil” begins with a thicker guitar riff and evolves into a rollicking piece of driving rock n’ roll powerhouse of a song reminiscent of the Plimsouls or Material Issue. “Outlaw Love” kicks off with a subtle garage vibe as a throbbing bass drum and ethereal guitar riff fill the air before Grote enters with his luxuriant vocal approach. “I Want to Feel it All” is a different type of journey, as the song features what sounds like mechanized drums and a staggered, breathy lyrical delivery before once again finding a warm groove that envelopes the listener in an infectious chorus. There are varying personalities to The Districts, as they can be playful and highly up-tempo, or somnambulist, but regardless of approach, everything they do is extremely engaging.

MICKEY LEIGH’S MUTATED MUSIC - Variant of Vibe (wickedcoolrecords.bandcamp.com)

Mickey Leigh has been kicking around, making great music for six decades and his expertise shines through each track here. Variant of Vibe is perfectly titled, as each song presents a variant of rock n’ roll with a straightforward, earnest nature. Leigh is the brother of the immortal Joey Ramone, and there are traces of that band’s ear for pop woven within grittier song structures. “No Fun Anymore” is a classic, rattling gem that borrows from Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers with its penchant for a big hook and harmonious vocals. Leigh bounces all over the musical map, from the downhome country of “Standing in the Dark”, the delicious pop-punk of “Oh Christine” and “Spanish Eyes”. Sophisticated and smart, this is the type of record that can only be made by someone with more war stories than tattoos and more riffs than social media posts. “Where the Truth is on Trial” is a mid-tempo reflection of the sad reality of the world today where indeed, what should be accepted as truth is all too easily discarded. “Lost in Space” has Ramones-like tempo, slightly borrowing “Pinhead” for a riff, and a shared affinity for hypnotic harmonies. This is not a Ramones tribute band, but a delightful compendium to the best qualities of the diversity of rock n’roll.

NEQUIENT - Darker Than Death of Night (Nefarious Industries; www.nefariousindustries.com)

The term “nequient” means unable to do something, but this Chicago outfit has all the talents necessary to devastate listeners with blackened, metal-punched hardcore. Bands of this ilk can often become repetitive, but not with Nequient; on Daker than Death or Night, the band alternates tempos from furious grindcore energy (“Death Bridge”) to slightly slower and thicker anthems (“Wrongs”), all the while remaining singularly focused on crafting punishing yet musically sophisticated extreme hardcore fury. The metal influence shines through repeatedly here, with “Worshippers of the Apocalypse” and “Eradicate the Malignancy”, two song titles that could easily become band names with illegible logos, if they are not already, bringing together the worlds of noisecore, grind, and death into one flesh-shredding eruption of blunt force musical trauma. Shifting between raw screams and guttural death metal growls, vocalist Jason Kolkey is a monster, raging his way through ten blistering tracks. However, the work of drummer Chris Avgerin is simply jaw-dropping. On “City Killer”, Avgerin plays like he has eight arms, supporting a song that is simply an eruptive masterpiece as rhythm section partner Keenan Clifford delivers thunderous basslines that help drive each of these roaring pieces. “Bootlicker” is equally flammable, blending D-beat crust punk with aspects of more technical metal, thanks to the superior playing of Patrick Conahan. For those seeking something new within the metal underground, Nequient should satiate every need, as these guys take a multitude of influences and grind them (quite literally) into a destructive wave of violence. This is amazing.

ONCE HUMAN - Scar Weaver (Ear Music; www.ear-music.net)

Ever since the ominous chime of a church bell introduced the world to Black Sabbath, metal has continued to evolve, and Once Human continues that trajectory. Blending traditional elements recognizable to all metal fans, particularly a pummeling low end and virulent vocals, Once Human also laces their songs with industrialized, contemporary features. The latter makes sense when one learns that Logan Mader, formally of Machine Head, is a founder of the band. Aspects of Mader’s previous band is heard throughout Scar Weaver, perhaps in no finer form than the crippling title track. Abrasive and incredibly aggressive, much of Once Human’s work is a lesson is musical decimation, but not without a sense of melody buried within the ruins. Vocalist Lauren Hart has a truly remarkable vocal range; her guttural yelps and growls could put her out in front of any death metal band, but her soaring clean vocals are exceptional. “Where the Bones Lie” is a debilitating effort, but the ferocity of song is more greatly intensified when Hart alternates her delivery. Taking an aim at contemporary political frustration, “Deadlock” is an angular, complex work that again displays the guitar acrobatics of Mader while also celebrating the reach of Hart’s voice. Surrounding the two focal points are second guitarist Max Karon, drummer Dillon Trollope, and bassist Damien Rainurd; the additional muscle provided by each makes efforts like “Deserted” and the galloping rumble of “We Ride” hit with even more pronounced savagery. Once Human takes pieces of thrash, the technical brutality of death metal, and the sheer creativity that has defined the vast expanse of twenty-first century metal and bands and churns those ideas into a simmering cauldron.

SWEAT - Gotta Give it Up (Pirates Press Records; www.piratespressrecords.com)

Everything about this band, starting with the vocals of Tuna Tardugno, works perfectly. Sweat injects a new life and increased level of musical proficiency into hardcore across ten blistering efforts. This LA outfits brazenly carries itself with swagger more than teen angst and plays riffs that harken back to more traditional street punk but can also deliver blasts of pure adrenalin-infused viciousness with frightening ease. The head-smashing “Machismo” (Dull my patience. Sharpen my disdain. You can ooze machismo but stop driving me insane”) is among the finest representation of the band’s wide repertoire of aggression. “Bastard” and “Hard Grunge” are both imbued with a subtle bluesy quality that captures something distinct about Sweat: this is a band designed to be loud and destructive, but quality song crafting is truly at the heart of what they do. “Life/Death Complex” is a highly combustible effort that straddles the line between sophisticated musicianship and sheer brutality, while the eighty-nine seconds of “Mental “is a geyser of force that tramples anyone unfortunate enough to be in its path. Launching out of the gate with “Hit and Run”, Sweat is the musical equivalent of Mike Tyson’s adage that everyone has a plan until they are hit in the face-one may prepare to listen to Sweat with certain expectations, but those sentiments are instantly destroyed. The closing “Poor Execution” perfectly encapsulates the band, as Sweat blends speedy hardcore with thick riffs into one crushing mix. I am very happy that this one found its way to my hands.


OMNIBAEL - Rain Soaks the Earth Where They Lie (cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com)

The opening “Mind is a Mess” is a glorious assault on the senses with devastatingly aggressive noise that would have Masami Akita smile. The shrieking, agonized yelps make the song beautifully nightmarish, as blasts of guitar squall slash through the track. The low, ominous rumble of “Last Days” brought me back to early noise masters like SBK, Throbbing Gristle, and Can. Dense, monolithic, and terrifying, the song’s claustrophobic nature envelopes the listener with a sense of unavoidable doom. “Last Days” could be the score to the greatest horror film yet to be produced. The screams buried within the waves of noise on “The Repetition” is both an exhilarating and unsettling listen. Layering distortion, guitar squall, and a steady but disconcerting beat, accented by pounding blasts of fury, the song morphs into and expansive ball of noise. As the listener waits for a detonation that never comes, “The Repetition” becomes a staggering and nearly exhaustive experience. “Nothing Tastes better Than Deceit” is a punishing slab of industrialized grind mirroring the best of Godflesh’s work. “Rung Keep” feels like a respite, as it is four and half minutes of subdued noise that does not allow the listener to feel settled, but it, along with “Sound of the WW2 Story” offers only a temporary departure from the aural assault of the previous works. “Flowing Backwards” slowly builds upon itself to produce a thunderous mass of force. If pain could be manifested in the form of music, it is Omnibael. I am fascinated by this record from the opening second, and with subsequent listens, I hear more intriguing arrangements. Concluding with “Shut Out the Light”, Omnibael blends the harsh outer limits of black metal with the lawlessness of noise music. As “Shut Out the Light” fades quietly, it acts as a sullen conclusion to a thrilling and uncompromising record.

WAIT - The End of Noise (theartisanera.com)

The spectral brilliance of Wait’s The End of Noise is due largely to the band’s core members-Max Phelps and Charlie Eron. Both former members of tech-metal superlatives Cynic and Defeated Sanity, the pair hooked up with Alex Weber of Malignancy to construct a soaring work of ethereal, sophisticated metal. Manipulating tempos with staggering ease, the seven pieces of The End of Noise are seamlessly linked in sound and tone, but also highly distinct. While the songs are meandering, fleshed out efforts of complex musical visions, the record does not surrender harmony, nor is this a contest to insert as many riffs as possible into one track. Wait produces music that explodes upon itself with stunning intensity that may speak to experienced and highly skilled musicians (i.e. the opposite of me) more profoundly than less refined fans. By no means is Wait too challenging to enjoy, but the exceedingly difficult level of technical strength may leave some speechless. The labyrinthian “Reviere” featuring the line “nothing matters at all” and the otherworldly “Earth’s Last Orbit” soars with staggering power and grace. Heavy and meticulous, Wait’s songs are all a controlled burn. The songs never feel like they will spin out of control, but the polyrhythmic nature brings listeners to the edge of chaos. “I Climb Downhill” hammers away at the listener, but the song is more symphonic than sinister. The closing “A Path to Travel” is over eight minutes of pristine playing that is both erudite and features deftly refined abrasive edges. This will excite listeners about the future of metal.

THE DOLLYROTS - Down the Rabbit Hole (wickedcoolrecords.bandcamp.com)

The Dollyrots have been consistently good for over twenty years at a time when most bands cannot provide twenty solid minutes. Down the Rabbit Hole is a sterling collection of rarities, B-sides, and covers that gives a wonderfully comprehensive look at this band’s mastery of punk-pop. The covers are wildly entertaining, including a scorching version of Nirvana’s classic “Breed” and Kelly Ogden spitting honest vitriol on the band’s interpretation of Lisa Loeb’s ubiquitous MTV hit “Stay”. From injecting ever more harmony into Bowling for Soup’s “High School Never Ends” to adding speed and fury to The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron”, Down the Rabbit Hole is a blast of a listen. The band also pays tribute to some of the best punk in history with Rancid’s “Ruby Soho”, “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones, and “Punk Rock Girls” from the true masters of the genre, the immortal Queers. There are other moments of levity, as The Dollyrots do a shockingly faithful version of “Earth Angel” from The Penguins and a rollicking version The Contours’ wedding favorite, “Do You Love Me?” In addition to the karaoke entertainment, there are also plenty of originals to satisfy fans old and new. The sing along nature of “Get Radical” and the bass-heavy “Rebel Angel” lead the way for me, but the energy of “Too Much Fun for My Health” and the soaring “oh-oh-ohs” that kick off “Little Miss Impossible” are as close to perfection as any band of this style could ever hope to achieve. I was introduced to the Dollyrots with “Because I’m Awesome” and have been a devoted fan ever since that gem, so I love having this treasure chest of unique mementos from the band. A powerhouse of enthusiasm live, the tracks included on Down the Rabbit Hole capture the band’s intensity and contagious fun-loving nature. After almost two years frustration and anger, let 2022 be a year in which The Dollyrots bring some enjoyment into our lives with a tour, and bring a number of these covers along for the ride.

SHOTGUN FACELIFT - Dakota Blood Stampede (Eclipse records; eclipserecords.com)

It cannot be easy to be Shotgun Facelift. The band hails from the ultra-conservative North Dakota, where I can imagine that groove-oriented metal accented by slight metalcore touches are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Despite the limitations of their surroundings, this five-piece has been hammering away with their own brand of extreme force for nearly a decade now, and Dakota Blood Stampede is a masterwork of modern metal. Vocalist John Huber screams, barks, and growls his way through ten bruising efforts that were recorded live in the studio with all the members jamming together at the same time. The result of that method is a record that does capture a genuine energy on the furious opener “I Am” and the circle pit inducing “Five Dollar Bastard”. Not surprisingly, the band is driven by a dual guitar approach from Damian Goulet and Matt Person who place “Bury Me” and the thrashy title track on their shoulders and generate brain-rattling yet memorable riffs. Shotgun Facelift is not looking for technical excess, but simply want to decimate any club they play and make the heads bang. The guys will succeed in making the kids move with the thick grooves one hears on “From the Dirt” and “Mark of Cain”, two of the rowdier tracks included here. Bassist Curt Decamp and drummer Jody Smith build an impenetrable wall of aggression throughout the record but truly shine on “Famine” and “Pull the Trigger” which answers the question of what Hatebreed would sound like if they tried to imitate Morbid Angel. There is nothing revolutionary happening on Dakota Blood Stampede, but a song like “Open Place to Bleed” is a thunderous blast of twenty-first century metal. Shotgun Facelift are an amalgamation of various styles and influences, and I enjoy what these guys are doing for their sound varies but never sounds disconnected. Hopefully, for their collective sake, the band finds a new state to call home.

SULLEN GUEST - Phase (facebook.com/SullenGuest/)

Sullen Guest is my introduction to the world of Lithuanian doom metal as I must thank my intrepid editor for seeing that description in the opening line of the band’s bio and sending this my way. Addressing the stages of grief with Phase, Sullen Guest create atmospheric blackened metal that incorporates doom and death metal qualities without delving fully into the realm of DSBM (Depressive Suicidal Black Metal for those of you with decent self-esteem). The opening “Come with Me” is a cathartic listen with multiple swings in tempo, penetrating vocals, and a rattling riff. The song’s monolithic sound, defined by raw, buzzsaw guitar and haunting screams, also features a fleeting yet lush bass solo and a soaring guitar bridge. This is not standard black metal and Sullen Guest clearly enjoys the challenge of defying standards. “Voice of the Subconscious” begins with an eerily low growl which sets the tone for the rest of the panoramic nine and half minute opus. Like its predecessor, “Voice” introduces varying moods into a labyrinthian tableau of death-like metal that moves deliberately but not at the glacial pace usually associated with doom metal. “Assent” begins with a brisker rapidity before sliding into a more traditional doom configuration. With a guitar tone reminiscent of Slayer’s “South of Heaven”, the band marches towards impending doom with an understated beauty. I cannot quite make out exactly which stages of grief are specifically addressed in the songs, as they all sound tragically depressive, but this is a fascinating release. Sullen Guest should appeal to those who appreciate more intricate and sophisticated metal.

TOUCHED BY GHOUL - Cancel the World (touchedbyghoul.bandcamp.com)

It is fitting that Touched by Ghoul recorded Cancel the World at Steve Albini’s studio, as the opening “Better Than Me” is an explosion of nervous energy wound tightly into a ball of delightful ferocity that embodies everything that brilliant noise rock should be. Amid the chaos throughout the record, guitarist/vocalist Angela Mullenhour manages to supply strong vocal harmonies over the top of metallic riffs supplied by both she and Andrea Bauer. The sludgy “God Hospital” is anchored by a galloping riff of dense force tempered by deceptive tempo changes. There is an extraordinary amount of talent within this band’s scintillating din, along with courage to greatly alter their delivery. “Lost at the Costco” dramatically lowers the abrasiveness to produce a shockingly melodic pop song that is still highly anti-pop. While angular guitar and cutting vocals will garner the lion’s share of attention for Touched by Ghoul, the power source for the band is found in the rhythm section of bassist Alex Shumard and drummer Paige Sandlin; the duo propels the mid-tempo groove of “Sitcom” as easily as producing the thunderous backbeat for the eruptive title track. Disjointed guitar noise appears on many of the efforts here as Touched By Ghoul borrows from darker 90s indie noise, but the band bobs and weaves between acidic noise and refined, orthodox song structures. One of the finest examples is “Yacht Problems” which rumbles with a crushing arrangement with Mullenhour demanding “tell me you love me” as a skull crushing groove carries the track. This was ironically recorded just before the world was indeed cancelled due to the seemingly unending pandemic, but it is the perfect way to begin your 2022.


BODY/DILLOWAY/HEAD (Three Lobed Records www.threelobed.com)

The nearly seventeen-and-a-half-minute long opener to this stirring work is beautifully obtuse noise music. A mass of tape loops, hushed buzzing, and muzzled mumbles mesh to craft a mesmerizing piece of visionary art. Aaron Dilloway is a highly productive artist, and for this assault upon the senses he works with Kim Gordon and Bill Nace, and the product harkens back to the wonderfully bizarre constructions of acts like Grey Wolves or Intrinsic Action. The start/stop, heavily garbled noises are perpetually disconcerting, and there is extraordinary depth to the noisy salad of experimentalism presented here. The din grows progressively louder and more distressing, leading the song to sound increasingly claustrophobic and suffocating. Bits of guitar riffs slash and hack their way through the dense haze, manufacturing a uniquely distressing sensibility. The final three minutes are the musical equivalent of taking one’s final breath with the acceptance that death is imminent; all anyone can do is close their eyes and drift into the unknown. The conclusion to this song is somehow both soothing and eerily somber. “Goin’ Down” is quite lush and nearly majestic in nature, particularly when compared with its predecessor. However, the song’s vast openness is fascinating and its complex arrangement. The song acts a cleanser before “Secret Cuts”. The final piece of the trilogy emphasizes guitar noise more effective than the previous two efforts as Gordon’s unearthly vocals are overheard jutting in and out of the mix. The soundscape leave’s the listener increasingly disorientated and striving to figure out exactly what is swirling around inside one’s head. This haunting work is an enigma of a song, as it has a tangible psychedelic quality, but at the ten-minute mark there is an eruption of guitar squall that chillingly and suddenly falls silent. The concluding two minutes is a soaring mind-altering experience in which those in the song’s path are sent twirling into an abyss. What lies with the darkness is a mystery, but the excitement of this record is the desire to find out.

STEVE CONTE - Bronx Cheer (Wicked Cool Records; stevecontewcr.bandcamp.com)

Known to most through his work with the New York Dolls and Michael Monroe’s band, Steve Conte has more recently become somewhat of an anonymous legend to a new generation of fans through his musical work on television shows, particularly the ultra-hip Cowboy Bebop. Bronx Cheer has many components of classic proto punk, especially the scorching “Liar Like You”, a two-minute firestorm of speedy guitar playing straight out of Stooges’ Detroit. The trashy, late 70s sleaze of “Recovery Doll” is both a tribute to early rock n’ roll with its doo-wop backing vocals, but also an homage to a New York City when Times Square was dangerous and not family friendly. The bluesy romance of “Wildwood Moon” swings briskly as it tells a tale of innocence and love that ended too quickly. The subdued “Flying” is emotionally gripping and couples perfectly with “Guilty”, as both songs employ a more deliberate tempo and beautiful backing vocals from Sophia Ramos, LaJuan carter, and Nicki Richards. “My Degeneration” is another blues-drenched gem and may also be a subtle nod to fellow Wicked Cool Records stablemate, Jesse Malin, who led the criminally underappreciated DGeneration in the mid-90s. Andy Rouke of the Smiths and Blondie’s Clem Bourke act as the rhythm section on “Gimme Gimme Rockaway”, a flawless closer to this loving tribute to New York. A seamless mix of punk, blues, and no-frills guitar rock, Steve Conte will teach some and remind others of what true rock n’ roll sounds like.

THE HUSHDROPS- The Static (Pravda Records; pravdamusic.com)

The Hushdrops have been a Midwestern favorite for quite a while; the Chicago band is highly regarded in their hometown, which makes this record all the more bittersweet. Drummer Joe Camarillo passed away at only age 52, and the two surviving members of Hushdrops, Jim Shapiro and John San Juan, wanted the record to act as a loving tribute to a talent who left far too early. The result is a sprawling collection of highly catchy, skinny-tie 70s-era power pop. “Monday” explodes out of the speakers with a crisp, richly harmonious arrangement that sets the stage for the remainder of the record. Songs vary in terms of length and intensity, with the instrumental “The Lummox” and the tongue in cheek fifty-six seconds of “Carrie’s Got Acid” proving that the guys can have a little fun. However, the strength of Hushdrops is poignant songwriting with highly descriptive lyrics, such as those heard on “Psychic Space” and the lovely “The Sweetest Pium”. Each song was recorded live and “Tomorrow Takes the Sun” and “Jenniffer’s Grandpa” are the finest examples of this, with the latter, also the most raucous of the bunch, possessing the energy of a young bar band playing their first gig. There are moments in which terrible tragedy can become celebrations, and while this may be the last music the Hushdrops create, the record is a beautiful encapsulation of the love of songwriting that exudes through each track, particularly the 60s-inspired, feel good energy of “One of the Guys”. This is for those who love authentic rock n’ roll that is not afraid to hold hands with touches of 90s alternative.

SKUNK’D GUNK - Cassette Compilation (www.dihd.net/)

I get up in the morning because of compilations like this. Apparently, Skunk’d Gunk is a yearly release, but sadly, this is my first exposure to it, and that makes me sad because now I must find out what I missed out on for the past several years. The one band I recognize here is the indominable Human Adult Band and their closing “Ceased to Exist” is a bruising wall of noise wrapped in distortion and run through a bass cabinet to result in a dense, rib-smashing work of brilliance. I have always found a Brian Jonestown massacre vibe with this band, and I am so happy they were on this. (Of course, it makes sense-this compilation is released through the band’s own label) The other acts associated with this are equally engaging, albeit not quite as crushing. There is a pair of eerie, fascinating experimental noise efforts from Stefan Christensen (“Hiss Reflection”) and Psriens’ “Redux”; both works walk a twisted line between warm and chilling, quiet and off-putting. I found myself becoming uneasy as the songs wafted around me and the feeling was amazing-the finest compliment I can bestow upon this collection is that I want to hear more from every band on it. The fleeting three-minute samples are not enough, for it is very clear that the songs included merely begin to reveal the limitless abilities possessed by the artists involved. The off-kilter noise of Drums Like Machine Guns (“Guitar Center 2”) and Jim Schmidt’s “Ten Pictures” push the boundaries as to what defines what proper song structure should be, and both brilliantly manipulate tone and form to create wholly unique pieces. I was particularly intrigued by the delicate ambient noise of “Knock” by Syko Friend, as the song hovers wistfully and leaves a profound impact despite its fragility. The gutsy, folk punk of “Tripping Hazard” by Wasnt Wisnt is a wonderful transitional track from the garage punk fury of the earlier songs to the highly expansive experiments that define the latter part of the record. The opening salvo of “It’s Alright” by Big Blood and “Villain” by the Nolls are the most conventional of the songs here, but the former has a mind-numbingly heavy bass lined and vocals delivered from the bottom of a distortion pond. A similar vein is heard with the Nolls, as the band clearly invested in fuzzboxes, as the noisy waves of “Villain” will drown children and unsuspecting adults. I wish these compilations could be monthly.

BIG D AND THE KID’S TABLE - Do Your Art (Side One Dummy Records https://sideonedummy.com) With a cover inspired by the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle, Big D and the Kids’ Table give the masses their first record in eight years. Do Your Art rattles with suspiring speed and angst at times, but this is largely another healthy helping of the band’s feel-good ska. The bounce of “Too Much” smacks of an autobiography as David McWane admits that people often said, “that boy is too much”, while “Sociopath” may be the melodic song one will ever hear with a topic that sounds like a female Ted Bundy. The busy noise of “Metal in the Microwave” is a fun injection of speedy fury into an otherwise lighthearted anthem. The Doped-Up Dollies, a band fronted by Brianne McWane, highlight a trio of track on the record, including “Beautiful Way”, a majestic and gentle piece that floats effortlessly. Big D and the Kids’ Table have an uncanny ability to craft sinewy and richly textured pop songs constructed around ska hooks. “Strong and Fair” is a bubbly effort that jangles with pure joy and is a perfect contrast to the third piece of the triumvirate, “Forever a Freak”. With “Freak”, a blazing tempo is imbued with classic 50s rock elements including a raucous sax solo and dazzling female backing vocals to create a number that sounds like it could thrill the teeny boppers on Bandstand. This is the secret of Big D; as much fun and as adorable as some of these songs are, the band is also fearless in its craft, as “You Buggin’” proves. Working with legendary noise artists, Melt Banana, the song is forty-nine seconds of intelligible chaos that is sheer genius. There are even a few B-movie breaks, such as “Teenagers from Outer Space” and “Baby Ruth, Zagnuts, Zero, Chicken Dinner, Bit-o-Honey, Snickers, Milky Way”, with the latter acting as a flawless introduction to “Militant Humorist”, with its perfectly sardonic lyrical content and smooth rhythms. I know the members of Big D and the Kids Table have been very busy with various projects over the past few years, but eight years is far too long in between releases.

RISE AGAINST - "Nowhere Sessions" EP (Loma Vista Records https://www.lomavistarecordings.com)

Chicago’s stalwarts bring six songs to this EP, with three songs coming from the band’s most recent release, June’s Nowhere Generation. “Talking to Ourselves”, “Broken Dreams, Inc.”, and the aforementioned title track are surrounded by a Misfits cover (“Hybrid Moments”), a stab at CCR’s “Fortunate Son”, and a scathing version of their 2008 effort, “Savior”. The band’s voice, Tim McIlrath, described this as a “live expansion” of the work that was released to much excitement earlier this past summer. The songs are louder and bolder, are reflective of the talent Rise Against has, and are sure to create interest in Nowhere Generation from those who did not grab it upon its initial release. The songs from that full length that are featured here roar with energy, and Rise Against craft smart, biting tracks that tackle issues of loneliness, boredom, and complacency for those sitting in study hall or are decades beyond such woe. My only question concerning this is simply, why? Rise Against fans will certainly love it, but three tracks from the album, an old gem and two covers is really geared for the most ardent of followers. I enjoyed all six songs particularly the bruising “Broken Dreams, Inc.”, but I am not fully sure as to why this was done.

DAN VAPID AND THE CHEATS - Escape Velocity (Eccentric Pop Records; www.eccentricpop.com)

Not surprisingly, Dan Vapid and the Cheats deliver a brand of harmonious punk-pop with huge hooks that will instantly remind many of the legendary bands with whom Vapid has performed. This is a man who cut his teeth with some of the finest acts of the genre, including the immortal Queers, and his expertise shines through on Escape Velocity, but Vapid does not shy away from serious topics here. “Burning Questions” has the protagonist considering the reality of her existence while “Runaway Jane” features a woman finally fed up with life as it currently exists and wants desperately to start over again. Contemporary frustrations are captured on the insightful “Middle America” and “Cyber World”, and the record collectively explores issues of separation and loneliness, two dominant emotions over the past eighteen months. While “Runaway Jane” is my favorite, “Guilt and Relief” confronts the stresses of a relationship that is dying and ultimately reaches an emotional crescendo in which it must end for the emotional benefit of the people involved. “Robots” laments how technology will replace all human workers, and how we gaze upon the future with hope, but we are having our futures decimated by our own advancements. Relationships and their difficulties dominate the lyrical content of Escape Velocity (the title itself is a reference to leaving a disastrous situation), and the tone is quite mature. This is not a story of the boy getting dumped at the prom, but two adults coming to understand that what they thought was real has collapsed and they must move forward independently. “Bitter and Sour” embodies the pain of feeling trapped amid a life choice from which there seems no escape (“I don’t wanna live my life bitter and sour”). Fittingly, the record closes with “Midnight Blue”, a song caked in country dust and a tone that Hank Williams would appreciate. It is an appropriate way to close a warm and richly fulfilling record.

THE STONE EYE - South of the Sun (Eclipse Records; www.eclipserecords)

There is a lot happening with The Stone Eye. This Philadelphia based stoner-sludge-garage-power rock outfit is incredibly impressive. Each song is a labyrinthian excursion through a maze of guitar warmth that wraps the listener up and refuses to let go. The aural journeys one takes across the sprawling majesty of South of the Sun is akin to finding out what would have happened if the Grateful Dead lived long enough to play with the Sword. Sinewy guitar playing is heard throughout, but “Witches and Raptures” and the stunning “Ethereal Visons” exist as two remarkable tributes to the skills of Stephen Burdick and Christian Mechem. Their delicate, intricate, and often bombastic interplay carries each song, but Wolfgang Noll’s bass work and drummer Jeremiah Bertin are equally integral to what this band achieves. Swaying back and forth between heavy, grunge-inspired fuzz on “Hallway House” and “Gone Away” to atmospheric dreamscapes on “60/26” and “Aleutian Summer”, The Stone Eye is a band that musicians will begrudgingly admire only because they are jealous of what this four-piece can do, and fans will stand with mouths agape at how only four guys can sound like a small army. There is a delightfully playful peculiarity to this band that makes each song its own unique adventure, and they have a dazzling mastery on display on the trippy “Prescence of the Mind”. Many bands adopt a loud/soft dynamic, but to do so without sounding trite is incredibly impressive, and The Stone Eye borrows from 60s psychedelia, Zappa’s free-form genius, and injects angelic vocals that cascade lovingly to formulate a creation that is wholly unique. Imagine Sleep channeling Captain Beefheart and one has a sense of what is bubbling here. This was a true surprise, and I am so lucky to gain exposure to this, as this is a reminder that there are bands out there still pushing rock’s boundaries.

SNARES OF SIXES - Moonbladder (jwalton.bandcamp.com)

When my intrepid editor includes a note that this release will satisfy my desire “for something weird”, I am intrigued. When I suggested to a dear friend that she listen to a thirty-minute song called “Moonbladder”, and her response was an instantaneous, “absolutely not”, I knew I had a gem before me. James Walton, performing here as Snares of Sixes, is a wildly talented visionary, and I have long appreciated his work with Agalloch, but I never knew about the vast depths of his creative visons. Assembled with a team of friends (including Don Anderson of Agalloch, Peter Lee of Lawnmower Deth, and Lauren Viera of Dreadnaught) at various global locations, “Moonbladder” is nearly a half hour in length, and it is a wild ride. With aspects of ambient, noise, and chilling samples, the song is a broad tableau of experimentalism and uneasy brilliance. James Plotkin mastered this nightmarish whirlwind, and it is fitting, as there are subtle nods to the aural trickery mastered by Merzbow and Sunno))). Walton has created a work that reflects the mysterious power of the moon, a celestial being that has much control over our earthly realm, but Walton imagines the moon descending “into our forests and oceans”, he said, creating a musical vision that is both warm and inviting, and shockingly unnerving. Opening with a low rumble of heavy distortion that approaches ominously like a train approaching a victim stuck helplessly in a disabled car, the song announces its presence with a shroud of darkness and foreboding. The tension grows deliberately throughout the opening moments of “Moonbladder”, with a glacial pace that mimics a horror soundtrack. By the ten-minute mark, one is transported into a dreamlike state with ethereal beauty and subtle yet jarring bits of din. The shimmering sound collage that dominates the middle portion of the voyage is truly lush and mesmerizing; an absorbing departure that creates a sense of calm that washes over the listener. As the song progresses into its final third, a subtle drumbeat becomes more pronounced, then quickly dissipates and a slow, rolling, musical fog rolls in to create a sense of confusion and claustrophobia. During the twenty-fourth moment, chilling, child-like voices are heard buried within the swirling mass of multi-instrumental daring that makes me happy that I listened to this in the afternoon with the sun streaming through my windows. Alone at night or in a darkened room with powerful headphones is probably the best way to hear this, but once the ghostly children appear, I need my daylight. The closing three minutes features a majestic male voice that dominates the landscape of this incredible achievement. Challenging yet undeniably fascinating, “Moonbladder” is an intriguing powerhouse of a piece.

SCOTT VON RYPER - Dream State Treasure (Tri-si-ent records/Silver Door Records; www.silverdoormusic.com)

Scott Von Ryper first gained notoriety with the Australian duo The Back Ryder before joining The Jesus and Mary Chain as their permanent touring guitarist. After decades of writing, touring, and releasing music, Von Ryper emerges with his first solo record, the appropriately titled Dream State Treasure. A sprawling eight song collection of warm and highly emotive works, the lush musicianship and engaging lyrics make Dream State Treasure a richly engrossing experience. “Over and Over” hums like a forgotten Oasis song, as it is both richly melodic and densely lush in its production. A similar chord is struck on “Goodnite Goodbye”, a delicate piece whose subtle intensity is particularly memorable. With minimal instrumentation, the song’s sound-similarly heard on “Devil’s Son”-is enthralling. With most of the work propelled by poignant lyrics and piano that sets a somber yet captivating mood, Von Ryper has a brusque, breathy vocal style that allows each word to hang in the air like a lyrical apparition. The funeral procession pacing of “Lucifer” is one such example. While moving methodically along on piano, the song’s closing two minutes are highlighted by extraordinary backing vocals and drumming that brings a depth to the song’s already unique sound. The aptly named “Pulse” radiates greater intensity than its counterparts as it rattles along with fuzzy guitars buried neatly within the mix. The diaphanous “Oh My Lord” and the closing “Reckoning” are harrowingly beautiful, with the latter encased in a somnambulist state with genteel piano and haunting vocals working together in an enchanting yet unnerving congress. The unsettled loveliness of the two closing efforts captures the times during which the record was recorded, with early ideas budding in 2018, but the record truly coagulating during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The songs on Dream State Treasure are like so many of us during the past yar and a half: wandering but not lost and despondent but not lifeless. A fascinating combination of darkness and splendor, Dream State Treasure is a stirring debut.

KIRA - S/T (Kitten Robot Records www.kittenrobot.com)

For those of a certain age (i.e. old), Kira was the incredible bass force with Black Flag as well as playing alongside Mike Watt in dos. Her more recent career has involved dialog editing for films and television, with projects ranging from A Star is Born to Game of Thrones. However, her new collection of songs is a daring journey in which Kira is the focal point of all the efforts. Much of the work is mesmerizing minimalism, a sound reflective of the work she does in Hollywood. The ethereal strings on “Avoiding” are particularly moving and reflects what Kira hopes to achieve; a collection of haunting, delicate works that still hit with an emotional ferocity. The opening “Silence” is indicative of the entire record, as it is given ample room to breathe. There are plenty of quiet moments throughout Kira’s collection in which silence is all one hears. Kira does not feel a need to fill each second with sound, as she is content to allow her voice, her subdued by stimulating basslines, and simple but powerful drumming to drive “Trance”. Her voice can take a wispy, forlorn tone or a dramatically heart wrenching conveyance, but the lyrics are delivered with a spoken word aesthetic. On the jazzy closer, “In the Quiet”, Kira declares, “A wave overtakes/a sadness awaits/erases the calm”, and the pain is tangible. The sinewy “Unsolicited Advice” is captivating in its serpentine nature, both understated and impactful. Perhaps “The Ghost” best captures the nature of Kira’s work; it is a song crafted during periods of solitude and isolation, and it is as stirring and devastatingly solemn. The song, like the entire record, is a robust work from a highly gifted songwriter with more than a lifetime of experience. Kira also knows that much can be said in only a few well phrased lines-others should take note.

THE SHINING TONGUES - Milk of God (actualsizemusic.org.uk)

The core members of The Shining Tongues were the central components of The Infinite Three who decided to continue playing music together after the tragic death of drummer Paul Middleton. The survivors, Daniel Knowler and Sam McLaughlin, create a collection of impassioned, modern folk with a lot of help from their friends on the stirring Milk of God. Blending a wide array of styles, from shoegaze to ambient (“Humming Dissolving”), the record is a complex journey through loss and reemergence. “Undefiled Absorption of Supreme Bliss” is a delightfully noisy effort that captures the wide range of emotion one hears throughout the collection. The bluesy folk of “Buildings” is reminiscent of Automatic for the People-era R.E.M. and is the perfect single to introduce fans to what this band can achieve. “Rice” is a straightforward alterna-rock effort which more chiseled guitar playing, but it still retains the down-home qualities one hears throughout Milk of God. The closing “Make Us eat” has a dark, droning aspect even when the guitars go electric for the gripping conclusion. This is beautiful music that is born of pain and loss; the cathartic nature of the songs is palpable and is a tremendous tribute to a friend.

THE HIGH 70s - Glitter Box (thehigh70s.bandcamp.com)

This is simply amazing; the High 70s bring the sweat and swagger of 70s rock n’ roll and run it through the modern meat grinder of twenty-first century Los Angeles. “Accidents Never Happen” is so infectious that it should have a Covid variant named for it, as The High 70s borrow liberally from a classic dawn-of-the-80s goth sound and inject a silly amount of energy. Imagine the Sisters of Mercy on molly and you have the start of what The High 70s can bring. Vocalist Chris Williams has a true Iggy Pop vibe on all that he sings, and he keeps a snarky snarl even when tracks like “Astro Van” gets a little bluesy. The title track of Glitter Box could easily be a hold over from Ziggy Stardust Bowie, as guitarist LJ Scott channels his inner Mick Ronson and “Hemlock Girl” grinds along with a strong bass groove and accents drummer Princess Frank. This theme of bass happy bounce continues with “Invisible Wall”, a song that emphasizes The High 70s ability to make songs both melodic and dark. The angular post-punk of “Natural Selection”, a song on which Williams’ barks, “do your fucking job” is particularly impactful, and the gritty, Detroit-style proto-punk of “Secrets” is my favorite track of the bunch. The longer, ethereal “We Have Nothing to Lose” is quintessential Joy Division moodiness that moves powerfully and dramatically. The High 70s are a glorious trip back to the future of rock and will remind people of the days of grimy LA talent.

MENTAL TORMENT - Ego: Genesis (Metallurg Music https://www.metallurg.net)

This Ukrainian band blends the most atmospheric aspects of black metal with the skull crushing brutality of death metal into a mass of thick, punishing gruel. The lush piano that opens “Acceptance” is a marvelous rouse for the musical inhumanity that is found once it subsides. “New Days Old Wounds” continues this bleak path of bombastic dread, and the band draws ethereal similarities to depressive black metal stalwarts Nocturnal Depression and Woods of Desolation. The emotive “Untitled” hits with great ferocity perhaps of its glacial pace. The mix of doom/sludge metal heaviness, along with atmospheric black metal ambiance, and death metal vocals create a viscous mass of terror. The expansive musical tableaus of each of the seven songs are both exhilarating and intimidating, and Mental Torment are not averse to a few dynamic tricks, such as those one hears on “Black”, as guitars are given a unique tone and are nearly playful in their experimentalism. “Oblivion” is led by majestic keys, and the songs finishes with a pummeling two minutes, and rightfully draws this cinematic metal record to a close. The band remains largely anonymous but do a little sleuthing and find out about these guys.

COCKTAIL SLIPPERS - Shout It Loud (Wickedcoolrecords.bandcamp.com)

The Cocktail Slippers have not released a record in seven years, and it is no wonder the world is such a divisive, disastrous mess; this is a band that brings pure fun and limitless energy into rock n’ roll. The Oslo outfit blends a wide array of styles to formulate a pristine collection of infectious pop-influenced punk that has a few rough edges as well. The one constant component of what the Cocktail Slippers do is enjoy themselves. The effervescent nature of “Be the One” cascades of out the speakers, as the Slippers tap into a Donnas-style groove, channeling the Ramones via Slater-Kinney. Emphasizing melody over mayhem, Shout It Loud is a party that everyone remembers, and nothing was broken. “Say My Name” is reminiscent of Shonen Knife’s finest elements, and even when they slow the pace on “You and I”, the song retains a gritty authenticity and heartfelt lyrics (“Can’t help feeling that our love is not a lie”). I am particularly taken with the bubblegum goodness of “She Devil” and the dreamy “Too Good to be True”. Both tracks include huge hooks and display the band’s ability to tap into a pop fetish without abandoning their more raucous tendencies. Perhaps the most shocking moment is the closing cover of Deep Purple’s “Hush”. Played with a scorching level of intensity, the Cocktail Slippers take the classic rock radio staple and make it a pit-inducing musical punch to the jaw. “Night Train” and “Like a Song Stuck in My Head” are a return to a sound that resembles what would happen if the Dollyrots met the 5,6,7,8s at three in the morning in a coffee shop. All of Shout It Loud is a delight, and I really do not want to wait another seven years for new music.

CRISIX - "Pizza" EP (Listenable Records; www.listenable.eu)

I really needed this; Crisix is a monolithic blast of classic crossover fury. Hailing from Barcelona, Crisix blends ferocity with a sense of humor, like a European Iron Reagan. It can be a struggle for many metal bands to let loose and have a few laughs, but Crisix blends their animosity with a few jokes along the way. “World Needs Mosh” crushes everything in its path, capturing the Bay Area thrash of the 80s and should certainly inspire some murder in the front row. The Jurassic Park-inspired “Raptors in the Kitchen” is fifty-five seconds of pure DRI speed and abrasiveness, while “No Tip for the Kid” is blazing thrash gem work that nods to guitar player BB Plaza’s days as a pizza delivery guy. “Tough to Cook a Song” is equally loud as its three companions but features samples from a metal-themed cooking show, proving that neck-snapping metal can be delivered while smiling. The band’s greatest skill is their ability to support each song with thunderous playing; it is certainly fine for thrash bands to enjoy themselves, but without the musical chops, the music can quickly slide into parody. Such a fear is not the case with Crisix-this collection of skilled maniacs will be laughing all the way to the pit.

ASTORIA STATE - "The Suffer, The Salvage" EP (astoriastate.com)

The trio Astoria State deliver very melodic modern rock with a handful of classic emo characteristics throughout the six songs on The Suffer, The Salvage. Danny Resnick and Jesse Carroll met each other in conjunction with a Red Jumpsuit Apparatus tour and the two j oined forces to write songs and form their own unit. Joined by bassist Cameron Horst, the music Astoria State alternates between burly guitar and ethereal harmonies. The opening “Damage” creates a template for the EP as Resnick’s powerful vocals mesh with an impactful loud/soft structure, resulting in a song that ebbs and flows with pristine effectiveness. Resnick delivers deeply personal lyrics that expose a sense of vulnerability within the bombast (“You know we’re in this together/forever and always through the good and bad days”). In the manner of bands like Cursive and Taking Back Sunday, the topic of love is not taboo on The Suffer, The Salvage, as Resnick ruminates about whether it is better to have known love and thus pain, or to have remained alienated from such feelings (“All in all it’s not so bad/Only drinking when I’m sad”). Both “Leave it to Me” and “War” are buttressed by a panoramic structure that creates a dynamic musical environment. “War” takes the listener through the struggles of a relationship, noting, “we’re bending at the break just like before”. Both songs also build their choruses around massive hooks as Astoria State create expansive works with great depth and usually do so in three minutes. The Suffer, The Salvage subtly implements a late 90s/early 2000s sound to craft songs that are a refreshing shift away from rock’s contemporary malaise.

DAVID DUCHOVNY - Gestureland (GMG/King Baby)

It is always easy to snicker when celebrities release musical ventures, and to be fair, many have not helped alleviate this skepticism. From William Shatner to Bruce Willis to America’s never-ending nightmare Kim Kardashian, many have tried and either stalled or completely imploded. Gestureland is David Duchovny’s third record in six years, proving that this is more than a passing infatuation with music but rather a skill the legendary actor is looking to hone. No one is going to confuse David Duchovny’s vocal range with Robert Plant, but Gestureland has a wide array of strong elements. The no-frills, late-night bar rock of “Nights are Harder These Days” opens the record and I wish other efforts followed its Stones meets Crazy Horse blueprint, but Duchovny wanders down a path of folksy Americana for much of Gestureland. “Holding Patterns” and “Everything is Noise” have subtle beats as their foundation, but without a forceful guitar presence, Duchovny’s vocals become the primary focus. While his skill as a vocalist is certainly commendable, and well beyond anything I could ever try, Duchovny has limitations as a singer, and this is evident on the gentle “Chapter and Verse”. Throughout this reserved work, Duchovny sounds as if he is reading lines for a character to which he is not fully committed. The X-Files and Californication star does not embarrass himself at any point, but as the songs become increasingly subdued, the onus to carry the track falls upon Duchovny. The warm “Stay Until” is replete with touching lyrics of heartbreak, but it stalls musically and does not reach its full potential in its current construction as a stripped-down ballad. “Tessera” suffers this same fate; as genteel strings waft, Duchovny strains to express the breadth of the song’s emotion. Much of Gestureland is quite haunting, including the piano kissed “Call me When you Land” and “Sea of Tranquility”, and it is intriguing to think of what these songs could be if the hands (and throats) of more practiced singers, as the latter could easily be a lost Springsteen gem. This is not a poor attempt at all by a man who inspired Bree Sharp to ask “David Duchovny, why won’t you love me”, but instead, is another reminder of how difficult singing and songwriting truly is, and why is it an astounding gift to possess.

PINK TURNS BLUE - Not Even Trying (Orden Records pinkturnsblue.com)

Pink Turns Blue first emerged in 1985 and in 2021, their brand of stirring post punk, accented by glittering guitar and deceptively emotional vocals, is desperately needed. Singer Mic Jogwer delivers his lines with a level of monotone disengagement, capturing a darkness within the opening title track. As a steady bassline throbs behind him, Jogwer laments how it appears that people are “not even trying to save our world”. When he states how he is “getting ready to go now to the other side”, there is a chilling detachment reminiscent of Ian Curtis. “So Why Not Save the World” and “I’m Gonna Hold You” are tales of frustration and alienation from the contemporary world, with the latter song depicting the act of escaping into love as one’s only source of hope (“Now I wanna take care of you/I wanna hold hands with you…those bad days are gone”). With swarths of guitar cutting across the song’s landscape, “I’m Gonna Hold You” is reminiscent of the Cure of their creative peak. Reubi Walter and Paul Richter surround Jogwer, and Pink Turns Blue and the trio channel their anger into stirring works of sorrow that also include messages of inspiration and melancholy beauty, particularly heard on “You Still Mean so Much to Me”. The members of Pink Turns Blue are infuriated with what they see around them, but there is no resignation in their words. “It Fades Away” may not be brimming with optimism, but this song of despondence is juxtaposed by “Never Give Up”, a work celebrating the virtue of determination amid a bleak reality. “Summertime” hums with a sparkling warmth constructed by masters of emotionally penetrating darkwave, and “Brave New World” emphasizes the fragility of the world and the fear that can naturally produce. Pink Turns Blue emerged in the midst of the Cold War, a period of history that somehow feels quaint when compared to the current environment of terror, climate change denial, and the increasing threats against human rights in numerous forms. Nothing on Not Even Trying will make listeners feel like everything will be alright, but that is the point; people need to wake up and act, and this record is a brilliant call to arms.

JOSIE COTTON - Pussycat Babylon (kittenrobot.com)

Josie Cotton is a legend. Even if her career had ended with the Valley Girl soundtrack, it still would have been enough to solidify her as a dynamic performer thanks to her legendary hit, “Johnny, Are You Queer?” Luckily, Cotton never stopped making music, and Pussycat Babylon is either a record of delightfully melodic fury, or perhaps delightfully furious melody. Either way, this collection of electro-punk rattles between aggressive and refined, experimental with pleasingly accessible, and does so always with a grin. “The New Hong Kong” has a sexiness offset by a playful innocence that embodies the breadth of visceral reactions Cotton’s music can create. Other efforts, such as the rocket-propelled energy of “Recipe for Disaster” and the title track will make all the heads bob and the bodies move. The mischievous “Stop Iggy Pop” and “All I See is the Face of Bruce Lee” capture pure dance-pop sweetness, and while “If a Lie Was Love” possesses a more serious nature, it remains passionately energized. “Super 8” adopts a quasi-R&B vibe, and this sultrier approach is matched by “Hey Now”. Closing with “Hi, I Like You”, Cotton puts away some (but not all) of the synthesizers and replaces the keys with guitar strings to generate a punky track to finish off a fun and intriguing record. Pussycat Babylon is highly caffeinated, wildly infectious, and undeniably fun.

JOEY CAPE - A Good Year to Forget (Far Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

Like so many people, Joey Cape, a punk rock stalwart with Lagwagon, had a devastating 2020. For Cape, he saw the death of his father, the dissolving of a twenty-year marriage (“a long way back from a twenty-year nap” he states), and a bout with Covid. This pain manifests itself throughout A Good Year to Forget, as he notes on the title track, “Remember when you earned your keep, now you drink yourself to sleep”. The songs are poignantly heart wrenching, particularly the jarring body shots of “The Poetry in Our Mistakes” and “It Could be Real”. The latter is a man reflecting upon how one finds a meaningful relationship and doubting the ability to do so. Ultimately, the despondency of the song is softened by a glimmering sense of hope that the protagonist can indeed find something powerful. For those of us who are searching and perhaps even lucky enough to have found someone we hope can complete broken lives, Cape’s words are an extension of the humanity one feels throughout each effort. The haunting chords of “We Might Be Wrong” gives the song a low cloud ceiling of sorrow, as Cape’s voice drips with despair. “Under the Doormat” is filled out by more prominent drums and a richer guitar tone without minimizing the suffering within a collapsing relationship (“I’m not the enemy/I know you’re not the enemy”). Cape is a powerful storyteller, honest and unafraid on “Check Your Ego at the Door” and “Fictional”, as the latter critiques the pseudo reality of social media posts (“I wanna be like them/They never have to pretend their pleasant dreams/my nightmares”). “Come Home” is a deeply moving closing track whose abrupt ending is both jarring and cathartic, thus encapsulating the emotional power of the record perfectly. A Good Year to Forget uses one man’s agony to perfectly paint images of far-reaching suffering, and does so majestically.

QUICKSAND - Distant Populations (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

Quicksand has faithfully maintained a sterling reputation and fervently devoted fans since the early 1990s, and Distant Populations supports why both of those traits remain true. Quicksand’s music is timeless, somehow celebratory of their origins while also sounding decades ahead of their time. Moody, heavy, and wildly emotive, the opening “Inversion” references “distant populations you never even see” and sets the musical and emotional bar for the next ten tracks. The opening riffs of both “Lightning Field” and “Colossus” hit with devastating force, and instantly lock in with the band’s instantly recognizable groove from Sergio Vega and Alan Page. Massive in scope, “The Philosopher” is the finest embodiment of Will Yip’s production; the song resonates warmth while still sounding like a monolithic block of force. Walter Schreifels has always written lyrics of depth and purpose, and a year of frustration and social isolation gave him ample time to detail the disturbing irony of the “connectivity” of modern life on “Rodan”, noting “share the same existence, doesn’t make a difference”, and “Phase 90” looks at life through the lens of a man who, like so many, is easily diverted (“Trying to finish the book I was reading/Put it down for too long/got distracted by other things”). In short, Distant Populations brilliantly illuminates the sad truth about contemporary life-we all seem to have too many disruptions in our collective attempts to be “in the moment”; in reality, so many lives have become diluted through screens and despite the ability to have instant communication, people have lost the ability to connect. It is the perfect record for the disaster that has been and seemingly continues to be the past eighteen months. If there really is no hope for a return to life as it once was, at least Quicksand can be the soundtrack to the end of history.

ACID TONGUE - "Blossom EP" (acidtongue.bandcamp.com/album/blossom-ep)

On the opening “Home”, Acid Tongue-also known as Guy Keltner and Ian Cunningham-somehow mesh aspects of garage rock and 70s AOR radio. The result is a pristine, glittering piece of sing-along progressive yet accessible indie pop that captured my attention and refused to surrender. The rousing chorus of “All my friends are finally back home” is delivered with relief and contentment, as the track exudes a truly genuine hopeful nature. Collaborating with different colleagues on the four efforts, Blossom is connected through the happiness that is woven throughout the release, but each of the collaborator brings a unique set of skills to the already exorbitant talent of Acid Tongue. Libra jumps in on “Home”, and Calvin Young is a highlight of “All Out of Time”, an effort strengthened by strings reminiscent of ELO’s heyday. The flirtation with 70s disco-hugged pop rock becomes a full-blown relationship on “Rock n Roll Revelations”, a soaring anthem replete with slick production, boundless soul and thoughtfully critical lyrics (“Ain’t no angels nowadays, they didn’t like out backwards ways. And we’ll all be punished now. Ain’t no use is askin’ how”). The concluding “Take Me to Your Leader” is given greater musical girth through the presence of Death Valley Girls, and the chanting of “USA, Play all day, Love Our Way in the USA” is both dripping with sarcastic bite and playful innocence. Acid Tongue is a nearly impossible band to adequately capture, this making them deliriously fun. Blossom is a musical witches brew of funk, pop, soul, rock, and psychedelia, all imbued with a defiant spirit of non-conformity. My advice would be to ignore any fight to figure out the best label and simply enjoy what is a band that is an incredible amount of fun.

FEROCIOUS DESIGNS - A Matter of Time (ferociousdesigns.bandcamp.com/album/a-matter-of-time)

Recorded on GarageBand over the better part of the last decade, singer-songwriter Brian Kelley is the man behind Ferocious Designs. Kelley has been writing songs for over thirty-five years, but as he noted, “between the pandemic and recently turning 50”, the time was right to finally release properly recorded and produced songs unto the world. The opening “What a Time to be Alive” was initially inspired by the continued bickering among world leaders concerning climate change, but more recent global events place a new level of gravatas into the words. The five songs on A Matter of Time are largely piano-based pop efforts with touches of controlled progressive rock. Kelley offers extremely personal lyrics, reflecting upon the current state of the world through the eyes of a man with enough years lived to accurately note how greatly times have changed. This theme is highlighted on both “Get Back in Line” (“The world keeps on passing you by/But you refuse to let go/Of some sense of values imagined/From a long time ago”) and “Years Go By”. With a clear line of influence from the 80s pop of Genesis and Simple Minds, this pair of songs truly embody the lessons Kelley is offering to listeners. The closing pair of “Lay it on the Line” and “You and Me Against the World” are decidedly more expansive works, coming in at over six and minutes respectively. As someone from within Kelley’s age group, his affinity for 80s pop acts such as Naked Eyes, Spandau Ballet, and even Johnny Hates Jazz was wildly apparent throughout A Matter of Time, but this reaches a climax on the closing duo of tracks. The New Jersey-based performer returns to the role of sage warning those who will listen on “Lay it on the Line” (“Life's not worth living if you don't take a stand and champion the causes of your fellow man”) As one world expect, “You and Me Against the World” is a classic tale of a relationship attempting to defy the odds in a cold world. While not the most original of ideas, Kelley’s gentle piano and understated percussion creates a poignant musical bed. For fans of nostalgia that is easy on the ears, Ferocious Designs has a name far more intimidating than its music.

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS - Hologram (Dedstrange Records https://dedstrange.bandcamp.com)

A Place to Bury Strangers, the product of Oliver Ackerman and his fascinatingly dark view of a world that is only getting darker, returns with Hologram, a blistering collection of ear-splitting post-punk, ambient chaos. Many bands are loud, but A Place to Bury Strangers rattles with a fury across the five songs of Hologram that defies traditional definitions of volume, constructing a din that represents the angst, confusion, isolation, and defeatism of the pandemic. The songs are abrasive, frantically intense, and relentless in their ferocity. The opening “End of the Night” bounces with a warm dance groove before evolving into a mass of noise accented with heavily distorted vocals and a claustrophobic sensibility. This same sense of dread and discomfort comes across on “I Might Have”, a biting anthem fueled by heavily distorted guitar that blends punk, grunge, and space-rock psychedelia into one swirling mass of terror. The brief “Playing the Part” is a bit of a respite from the twisted metal that dominates the earlier efforts, but yet, the song also possesses a dense melancholy that exudes despondency in a beautifully poetic manner. The tangible melancholy of “In My Hive” is conveyed through Ackerman’s vocals. While largely monotone, there is still an extraordinary reservoir of meaning and depth of purpose annunciated in each syllable. His delivery is haunting and penetrating, becoming an extension of the music itself instead of hovering above it. The closing “I Need You” is chilling; with elements of early Cure, the song’s mystifying nature straddles the line between the beautiful and the nightmarish, encapsulating APTBS perfectly. I am mesmerized by the closing anthem to what it an exhilarating musical experience; A Place to Bury Strangers is intentionally not easy, and the concluding wall of noise that crashes upon the listener may overwhelm some, but for a band that has repeatedly built upon previous success, Hologram is, thus far, the pinnacle of what APTBS can achieve.

THE WIND-UPS - Try Not to Think (Mt. St. Mtn Records http://www.mtstmtn.com)

The Wind-Ups will be a full band now that (seemingly) the world is crawling back to some form of what normal can be. However, until that time, the Wind-Ups is really just a sole player, Jake Sprecher. Over the course of eleven songs, Jake only hits the two-minute mark twice, bringing forth the most elementary, and therefore best, aspects of punk’s incipient stages, namely Johnny Ramone-inspired guitar buzz, Stooges haze, and Television’s love for atonal beauty. All of these glorious traits shine through on “Lockdown”, a raw, stomping track that lasts a whopping three and half minutes. Sounding this work are quick gut punches of blistering speed and deceptive harmony. “Cat in the Hat Hat” and “Much to Do” truly sound like something Dee Dee Ramone wrote but forgot to show the other guys, while “I Wish You Would Call” connotes Johnny Thunders attempting to figure out Phil Spector’s legendary “Wall of Sound” by himself and missing a few knobs, but the earnest, gritty nature of the work is triumphant. The biting “Drinking Bleach” rattles with garage punk adrenaline, blending one part Candy Snatchers with one part Jay Reatard, and “Jack Green” is the best hidden gem on a record overflowing with priceless works. Go find this immediately and see them when they tour before we’re all sent back into our holes again.

THE ’94 KNICKS - "T2 EP" (the94knicks.bandcamp.com)

The ’94 Knicks play a style of music reminiscent of that great team's style on the floor of the Garden; it is gruff and a little chaotic at times, but there is also a symmetry that works perfectly. “(note to self)” embodies this aesthetic, as squalling guitar noise introducing both the track and the EP, as shared vocals of Sam Braverman and Inna Mkrytcheva fight to be heard above the fray. Borrowing from 90's grunge and an appreciation for off-kilter pop, the song captures the ’94 Knicks. Mkrytcheva’s vocal refrain of “you leave it up to me/I’ll give you everything” is both sultry and vulnerable, again transfixing the listener as the band creates a flailing dichotomy of tone and tenor. A similar dynamic is heard on “Mermaid Parade”, as Braverman delivers a dead pan, monotone vocal performance as swirling harmonics and a bombastic low end, compliments of the bass and drums detonating around him. The furiously driving guitar riff that impels “M.A.D.D.” is the perfect accoutrement to Mkrytcheva’s scathing lyrics, as she declares “so do your worst, I did it first”. The ’94 Knicks create intricate noise, as each song is a whirling ball of force and power that is abrasive and aggressive, but supremely thoughtful. The lyrics of “People You may or May Not Know” are slices of suffering, tragedy, and confusion written with magnificent empathy. The refined pop elements woven gently into the song act as a buttress to the darker aspects of the effort. “People” is my favorite of the five songs here, due to both the sheer emotion of the playing and the heartbreakingly powerful attention to details one hears in the lyrics. “7 Years (Pt. I and II)” is a clattering effort that takes listeners back to early 90's Sub Pop and unvarnished garage punk fury. “Seven Years” is the ideal representation of the collective EP, as the track is delightfully obtuse, surprisingly heavy, and ultimately unforgettable.

KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZZARD - Butterfly 3000 (KGLW Records)

This band has been on my radar for years and I am routinely impressed by all their creativity, but I was truly caught off guard by Butterfly 3000. Delicate, lighter than air psych pop bubbles over with joy, at least musically speaking. Lyrically, Butterfly 3000 is a journey about introspection, self-analysis. and in some cases, struggle. Butterfly 3000 marks another stage in the evolution of this wildly talented Australian outfit, and the joyful headspace one hears on “Shanghai “is infectious, as it swings with a smooth R&B style while a lush groove cascades past. “Dreams” includes the lyrics, “I only wanna wake up in my dreams/I only feel awake in the night”; upon first glance, these phrases may strike one as innocent or even playful, but it is obvious that there lies an omnipresent darkness within the psychedelic ear candy one hears. This is not so much a song about being happy in one’s mind, but rather absconding from the world into which we wake each day. Much of Butterfly 3000 feels like an escape from the drudgery of existence, and “Blue Morpho” truly embodies the richness of the band’s progressive sensibility, as the song meanders peacefully, while the effervescent nature of “Interior People” masks the poignancy of the words (“I got a sensory roadblock/I’m in a binary mind lock”). “Catching Smoke” features expansive synth loops and profound solipsism (“Everybody here is catching smoke, looking for the ephemeral, riding on a yellow-bellied brown snake, sipping on hedonism”). Written during the high point of the pandemic, the video game-like mannerisms of “2.02 Killer Year” is highlighted by the words, “Is it enough that we’re a speck of dust, speeding through avoiding stuff?” The concluding title track is a stately finishing statement, as a message of hope and guarded optimism rings, “Hope you don’t let this world crush you, for it’s beautiful out”. Pristine and beautiful, Butterfly 3000 is an intriguing listen from a and clearly fearless in its desire to challenge itself and its audience.

LOST SYMPHONY - Chapter III (lostsymphony.com)

Lost Symphony is the band that allows both sides of a person’s brain to meld together perfectly; scathing guitar work and destructive metal intensity coincides with deftly played classical music. This might sound trite at first, or another desperate musical crossover, but rest assured, Lost Symphony are neither of those two things. Not only is this a work of pure adoration for both styles of music, but it is also a collection of supremely gifted players demonstrating what happens with a gathering of virtuosos decide to make music together. Richard Shaw, Marty Friedman, Nuno Bettencourt, and Alex Skolnick are among the staggering talents who handle a series of guest guitar responsibilities, and there are numerous other luminaries making appearances as well, including Dave Ellefson, Friedman’s longtime comrade in Megadeth. “Acceptance” and the deeply impactful “Bargaining Depression” are sprawling, operatic, anthemic works of grandiose majesty whose emotional breadth comes through the powerful of instrumentation of not only the instantly recognizable names to metal fans, but especially the work of Siobhán Cronin, whose electric violin only intensifies the ferocity ad depth of the songs. Never without a sense of humor, the cheeky title of “Decomposing Composers” is the moniker of a blazing work of dynamic speed and texture. The song roars at blinding velocity with Cronin acting as the pace setter, while drummer Paul Lourenco is given ample room to display his talents. The intricacy and the beauty of the songs will leave mouths agape and people speechless. Benny Goodman and his brother Brian are the masterminds behind this idea, with Brian tackling the imposing responsibility of crafting arrangements, while Benny is also producer and multi-instrumentalist. Surrounded by other permanent members Cory Paza on bass, and Kelly Kereliuk on guitar, Lost Symphony is a cooperative of boundless skill and an equally fearless vision.

2ND GRADE - Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited (Double Double Whammy Records http://www.dbldblwhmmy.com)

On my initial listen to 2nd Grade’s “As Long as We Can Talk About it”, I was immediately longing for my days on college radio, for Pete Gill’s vocals harmonize with the innocence and joy of a child, as surf-style pop pulsates and wafts blissfully. This is the type of DIY indie pop that invigorates listeners and proves that songs recorded in a carpeted bathroom at a friend’s house can convey emotion one cannot recreate in a million-dollar studio. Gill, a lyrical savant who was homeless and broke in 2018 and filled his time renting swan boats and writing dozens and dozens of songs, crafts delicate nuggets of life’s fleeting moments. “Superglue” is transfixing effort about finding that perfect counter-soul (“I spent most of my life drifting in and out of lost-and-founds/But you complete me/ Like I never knew that I was broken until you came along with your superglue”), and “Work Til I Die” may only have two lines of words (“Work til I die/But spend my free time with you”), but song’s simplicity emphasizes its beautiful adoration of its subject. The majority of the work clocks in under two minutes but still make an impact despite the brevity; only the sardonic “Held Back” is fully developed at over five minutes, although the concluding moments include Gill’s hilarious reading of the list of credits for the recording, production, and even the catalog number of Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited. Somewhat heartbreaking nature, (“All the other kids are off for the summer/All the other kids were cut slack/All the other kids are off getting dumber/I’m being held back”) jangly guitar playing from Catherine Dwyer and Jon Samuels explode into bursts of raw power accented by the drumming of Will Kennedy and bassist Jack Washburn to capture a sound reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub’s pinnacle. While the fully produced songs are sterling in nature and tone, there is an endearing quality to Gill’s acoustic demos. His voice resonates powerfully, and the stripped-down nature allows for each syllable to be fully appreciated as the raw versions are imbued with Gill’s ability to capture complex feelings of longing, love, and disappointment in only a handful of statements.

THE CATENARY WIRES - Birling Gap (Skep Wax Records www.skepwax.com)

If a chain is catenary, it hangs under the assumption of its own weight, and the songs on Birling Gap are emotionally weighty, sophisticated pop songs that resonate with the warmth of genteel, late 60s psychedelia. When Amelia Fletcher asks, “Can’t things stay the same?” on the closing “The Overview Effect”, her childlike tone strains as she answers her own question with the next line, “can’t stay the same”. The shared vocals between Fletcher and guitarist Rob Pursey connote early Mamas and the Papas. One could easily imagine Phil Spector working with this English five-piece, as the dual vocals of Fletcher and Pursey perfectly balance each other, making efforts like “Always on My Mind “and “Mirrorball” both sweet and poignant tales of love in a rather hardened world. “Mirrroball” opens with a Herb Alpert style horn, and is lyrically set in an “80s disco” and while Fletcher acknowledges that it was “not cool”, she also notes that “we both paid to be there”, offering a subtle self-deprecating humor to a song about falling in love. Once the couple at the heart of the song see each other, there is a revelation (“Found out the song is about people lost and lonely/ I’d heard it but I never knew/ Found out the song is about something real/but only because of you”) The ethereal nature of each track offers ample room for the songs to breathe, and the five members work in ideal tandem, particularly drummer Ian Button and his rhythm section partner Andy Lewis on bass. While keyboardist Fay Hallam sprinkles an influence upon every song, the Button-Lewis duo establish an especially solid foundation on “Alpine” and “Liminal”, with the latter embodying the definition of pristine pop. “Canterbury Lanes” borrows early Bee Gees and meshes it with 5th Dimension harmonies and subtle late-era Beatles studio symphonics, allowing the band to display all their talented wares. “Like the Rain” is a delicate, acoustic effort carried by Fletcher’s richly touching vocal delivery and haunting lyrics (“We talked for years, our phobias and fears/spent so much time in our own minds/ it’s over”). Catenary Wires merge the most refined aspects of classic Mersey Beat and Haight Ashbury sounds and produce a stirring pop record from a seemingly different era that sounds particularly needed now.

DOG PARK DISSIDENTS - ACAB For Cutie (Say 10 Records; dogparkdissidents.com)

This dynamic duo of Zac Xeper and Jon Greco deliver five highly distinctive blasts of politicly savvy, socially conscious, and at times, quite funny tracks that range in style to searing hardcore to spastic electronica. “Pronouns” features lyrics that are certainly direct (“say the goddamn pronouns motherfucker/Or I’ll cut your eyes out”) while a flesh-melting riff shreds through all fifty-eight seconds of this scorching opener. The door that Pansy Division kicked open almost thirty years ago is hacked to pieces with an axe by Dog Park Dissidents, as they weave messages of support for the LBGTQ communities on “Class Struggle” (“Queer lib is class struggle/Unless you’re living in an airtight bubble”). A more melodic slab of punk, “Good Boy” addresses the protagonist’s “Puppy”, reminding him that he’s “a good boy” in a song of soft, compassionate love (“When living in this world make you uneasy, I will be here to caress you sweetly/ And remind you that you’re incredible/When it gets loud in your head, listen to this instead”). Puppy returns on the strutting “Bad Dog”; replete with a nearly bluesy swagger, the tracks reveals yet another side of this remarkably intriguing act. However, as much as I hope to someday be in a circle pit as the previous four efforts are played, I must admit that the dance-club inspired “RuPaul’s Frack Race” is my favorite effort of the bunch. Sardonic, biting lyrics (“Yas, Queen, sashay to the guillotine”) are spat out over the top of an infectious groove accented by scintillating guitar. I am so happy this was sent my way-it could be the soundtrack of my summer.

HURRY - Fake Ideas (Lame-O Records; hurrymusic.com)

If you were never able to get “Stacy’s Mom” out of your head, wrap your mind and arms around Hurry. Fake Ideas is a sterling collection of pristine power pop heavy on the hooks and light on the intensity. Hurry brings listeners a ten-song collection of heartwarming guitar fun that occasionally turns the amps up to a solid eight (“Doomsday”), but much of the work glides effortlessly along a steam of smooth vocals and easily palatable riffs. The opening “It’s Dangerous” (“Baby, it’s dangerous to feel anything so strongly”) is a smile-inducing blast of ear candy, matched by the bubblegum bliss of “Slogging Through the Summer” and “Where You Go, I Go”. Matt Scottoline has an ideal vocal style for this brand of emotionally driven work; his voice reflects a wide array of sentiments, from vulnerability to optimism on “How to Cope” and “Keep Being Yourself” respectively, while “Oh, Whitney” will be the theme song for every post-pandemic summer love. He is joined on guitar by Justin Fox, whose solos add a controlled burn to many of the tracks, included the trio listed above. Drummer Rob DeCarolis and bassist Joe DeCarolis are occasionally lost a bit in the vocal and guitar centric mix, but their time keeping skills are integral to the construction of the cascading harmonies that dominate Fake Ideas. Underneath the breezy melodies lies a layer of difficult personal exploration, as Scottoline acknowledging his own anxiety throughout the lyrics. The dichotomy between painful and pretty makes Hurry more than another pop-happy indie rock. When having friends over for that long-awaited barbeque, Fake Ideas is the perfect summer record; it is fun, easy on the ears, and will not upset anyone in the crowd.


KILLER CRUSH - S/T (Outloud Records/Laptop Punk Records)

Killer Crush describe themselves as two friends from New York and Germany, but do not include much of a bio. However, after a little internet sleuthing, Vincenzo (@sirvincenzothe1st) and Luarenz Ebert (@laurenz_182) are the duo who dabble with a wide array of sounds and styles. “Wait” opens the record with a tight emotional grip and a level of tangible aggression, which is quite an achievement for a folk song (“I wait for you, I wait for us, too”). There is frequent dichotomy among the efforts on this self-titled release, a ten-song collection that was initially intended to be an EP, but eventually grew into a full-length as ideas continued to flow. “Street Light” rattles in the vein of classic indie rock, features a driving bass line, and lyrics that address a confounding relationship peppered with words of hope (“If you stick by my side/we’ll be invincible”). The permeating sorrow of “Make the Rain Go Away’ is matched by “September Rain”; apparently rain truly inspires waves of depression among the duo in Killer Crush, as the latter is a heartbreaking lament about a failed relationship (“I brush my teeth and start to think of you/ if only I could find a way to turn back time/ so I would never have to miss you right here by my side”). The band’s ability to swing from morose and sullen to impassioned and rollicking is captured on “My Love is Gone”, a pop-kissed blast of guitar-led alterna-rock, and “French Kiss”, a spritely track comprised of guitar verve and words, this time, of adoration and longing (“No matter what I’ll do/my heart keeps wanting you”). “Maria” is a warm, tender tribute to a summer love, highlighted by the poetic nature of the message: “There are moments when I’m thinking of your eyes and presence/ and your picture-perfect smile of an angel/I’ve never felt like this before”. The band bares their souls musically and lyrically, and after nine such anthems, it is fitting that the record ends with “Love Song”, a celebratory work about finally finding authentic love (“There’s something about the look on your face/That makes me forget all the internal pain/I need you to know/I want you to know”). This is a sentimental and poignantly affecting listen from a band that taps into 90s indie, bubblegum punk-pop, and even touches of 60s harmonies to create a wonderfully moving experience.

UGLI - Fuck (mybandisugli.bandcamp.com)

When a band names their album Fuck, one can safely assume that mainstream acceptance is not Ugli’s primary goal. However, Ugli should not be written off as a band merely attempting to shock people. The buoyancy of the opening “House Pet” is initially jarring as I was expecting music that would be loud, destructive, and yes, ugly. Instead, the members of Ugli sonically investigate the origins of grunge and incorporate cascading waves of fuzz and distortion throughout their work. “When I was in Love” is one such voyage; a five-minute piece of self-reflection (“Joy is so complicated and alien to me”) driven by the penetrating voice of Dylan Durante, whose guitar work is bolstered by that of Andrew Iannarelli to create a wall of hazy power. Ugli writes songs that are the antithesis of their moniker; the tracks are fully developed, fleshed out, and explosive. Yes, there is a punk aesthetic to what this four-piece attempts, but the adroit musical finesse one hears on “Mourning Coffee” is staggering. The song is ultimately brought to a rousing climax with Durante emoting “I don’t ever want to die/ I don’t ever want to be alive”. “Superball” bounces like Bossanova-era Pixies with Durante feverishly yelping, “Hey waste space!”, and although “Why be Pretty?” utilizes a classic loud/soft structure, there is a deftness to the work that prevents redundancy. Along the way, drummer Teddy Paulin sounds like he is swinging baseball bats behind his kit, and bassist Lucas Gisonti generates a warm backstop of sound. The closing “Naegleriasis” is an eight and half minute opus that begins as genteel blanket of serenity before erupting into a thunderous force. The song’s second half features saxophone and trumpet woven neatly into the fray as a deluge of distortion-laden guitar leaves Durante fighting to keep her vocals above water. While I initially found the title of the record disconcerting, Ugli has beautiful music to offer here.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM - Blood in the Water (AFM Records; www.afm-records.de)

For nearly the entirety of their career, Flotsam and Jetsam have been “Jason Newsted’s first band” before he famously joined a moderately successful San Francisco act named Metallica. This is tragically unfair, as Flotsam and Jetsam are far much more than just another thrash act from the era of dirty, white, high top sneakers and jean jackets with back patches, for they have always been a highly skilled unit capable of crafting intricate and punishing metal with intellect to match their musical barbarism. Blood in the Water has a classic F&J sound led by vocalist Eric Knutson whose voice has evolved and aged gracefully, soaring on the opening combination of the title track and “Burn the Sky”. This one-two opening salvo is an announcement that this current Flotsam and Jetsam has the same energy and hunger as thirty years ago, but with age comes increased confidence and dexterity. For those who remember Doomsday for the Deceiver, much of Blood in the Water will sound refreshingly familiar but not redundant. The galloping “Brace for Impact” channels classic West Coast thrash in both title and tempo (and coming from Arizona, Flotsam is close enough), while “Cry for the Dead” could easily have been found on No Place for Disgrace with its tempo manipulation and six string acrobatics from Steve Conley and Michael Gilbert. “The Wicked Hour” is stylistically among the record’s finest moments, a rousing slab of sleek thrash force that is matched by “Too Many Lives”. The latter is a showpiece for bassist Bill Bodily and drummer Ken Mary, as the two build an immovable foundation for a song that explores a breadth of metal’s dynamics, with a wall of sound building around and then falling upon the listener. “Grey Dragon” is pure speed and authentic metal imagery as Knutson’s voice both ascends majestically and growls fiercely while Conley and Gilbert unleash a vicious double guitar assault. What connects all the work is F&J’s ability to find a hook in the midst of the fury; each song has a memorable chorus or bridge that allows the work to be both technically superior yet accessible to those without musical skill (i.e., me). The songs remain equally impressive as the record moves towards its conclusion. As the only song under four minutes, “Undone” is a ripping blast of blunt force musicianship that is centered around a warm, harmonious chorus that fits ideally within the bed of fury that is the rest of the song. Blood in the Water is not a comeback, nor is it a trip down the alley of metal nostalgia; it is the pronouncement from a band who is finally on the cusp of broad success decades after it was initially deserved.

CHOICES MADE - Reason for Conflict EP (Cursed Blessings Records; www.cursedblessingsrecords.com)

As if there are not enough reasons to love our well-behaved neighbors to the North, Canada now gives the world Cursed Blessings Records and its crop of scalding punk, highlighted by Choices Made. Living above the giant meth lab that is the United States has clearly gotten to these guys, as their brand of hardcore is ferociously straightforward, authentic, and furious. Only one third of tracks on this six-song EP reach two minutes in length, but Choices Made stuff an extraordinary amount of anger into small spaces. The punishing hook of the opening title track merely sets the stage for neck-snapping, fist-throwing hardcore with vocalist Josh as a significant surprise. Eschewing the more traditional guttural growl, Josh adopts a clean vocal style and emphasized melody. These traits give “Greed” (“Don’t let desire turn into greed”) and “Nothing Without” shocking harmony without diminishing the intensity of the playing. “Don’t Waste My Time” captures the finest aspects of Hatebreed’s metallic hardcore, as guitarist Steve delivers a patulous riff while drummer Mike and bassist Andrew control the tempo to craft heavy, sing-along choruses that will get the bodies flying. “What’s Your Plan” has traces of Anti-Flag’s sharper edges and political intelligence, as Josh notes, “Make it count/Things need to change/We won’t survive/ With this divide”. However, the band sums up the theme of the record and a perfect lesson for everyone on the closing “Sideroads” with this piece of advice: “Let’s change course and be decent humans”. It would be nice to see that happen, and even better if can be done while listening to Choices Made.

FRED LEE AND THE RESTLESS - Sleepwalking in Daylight (Lövely Records;llyrecords.com)

If one did not know the history of Fredrik Lindkvist, singer for Swedish hardcore giants Totalt Jävla Mörker, one could never imagine that Fred Lee was Fredrik. Adopting styles ranging from 1950s and 60s Americana folk to classic rock, and even a little country, Sleepwalking in Daylight is a honky-tonk record for those who do not even know what honky-tonk means. “I’ve Tried” and “These Times are so Fucking Dark” are two anthems that may sound inspired by boots scootin’ across a floor, but there is still a subtle punk layer heard beneath the twang. The latter is a rather frustrated, despondent take of the world’s current condition, and Lindkvist is not hesitant to air his grievances about global politics from his home in Sweden, even if many of his observations may hit close to home here in the US. On “Capitalist Market”, down tuned guitar accompanies lyrics such as, “Twisting the truth with corporate fake news” and the singer proves that punk frustrations can be expressed in a multitude of styles, as long as the angst is genuine. A boisterous, anthemic, classic rock approach belies the understated aggressive tones buried within “Weight on My Shoulders” and “Devil’s Chokehold”, while the fleeting “You Were Anyone but Not Anywhere” is a warm burst of classically structured folk that is a pseudo love song (“I have a mind for you to clear, my dear”). Singing as alter ego Fred Lee, Lindkvist sings a song of home by channeling the Newport Folk Festival on “New Sweden”, blending his penchant for sharp lyrics and equally pointed musicianship. Closing with the musically genteel but emotionally gripping, “A Letter to a Friend”, Lindkvist announces, “I tried to get better because I don’t know how/Been such a wreck for too long now”. This one is worth doing a little homework, for understanding about the origin of Fred Lee makes this record all the more engaging.


GUIDED BY VOICES - Earth Man Blues (roughtrade.com)

By the time anyone finishes reading this article, Guided By Voices will most likely have written, recorded, and released another collection of songs, but the band’s staggering thirty-third album is a rollicking collection of vaguely connected efforts. An ambiguously conceptual coming of age album, Earth Man Blues sees Robert Pollard and his mates crafting efforts about the life of Harold Admore Harold, but honestly, the story here takes a backseat to a number of inspired anthems that see GBV having fun with their traditional, lo-fi rock genius. The meandering “Dirty Kids School” blends Americana and garage rock into an amalgamation of all that GBV is, namely a band that constructs rich harmonies where other bands would see only barren land. The guitar driven, traditionally styled “Trust Them Now” and the bluesy “Sunshine Hello Girl” are two of the finest moments, with the latter opening with jangly Sixties riff before launching into a dirty blues lick that screams Out of Our Heads-era Stones before concluding with a flurry of controlled psychedelia. The melancholy “The Disconnected Citizen” reflects just as the title describes, the terminally frustrated and bored American who seems unfulfilled and detached from everything; while this is not Robert Pollard attempting to make a truly defined political statement, one can argue that it is as close as GBV will ever do. The alt-country “How Can a Plumb Be Perfected” rolls gracefully through the air with Pollard’s vocals offering controlled angst and esoteric ruminations that may or may not be about an actual plumb. Thumping groves dominate “Test Pilot” and “Ant Repellant”, two of Earth Man Blues’ grimier works and two of my favorites, with the later sounding like a forgotten gem from the Heavy Metal soundtrack. The record closes with “Child’s Play”, ninety-seven seconds of energized, highly engaged guitar fun that ends abruptly and leaves the listener both somewhat confused and delighted, essentially embodying GBV’s career. Earth Man Blues is exactly what people come to expect from GBV, which is an intriguing batch of songs that may or may not mean what one initially believes but are worthy of multiple listens.

BEASTWOOD - Long Road to Ho (Coffin and Bolt/ Golden Robot Records; goldenrobotrecords.com)

If you can recall the world when going to a club was a regular activity, I need you to remember the smell of the unwashed bar, the stickiness of the floor, and the unapproachable men’s room in your favorite hangout. Beastwood is that scenario set to music; a loud, sweaty mass of pure hedonism and debauchery. This four-song EP begins with “Electric Gangbang”, and that should let anyone listening know what Beastwood is as a band. The songs are overflowing with big, crunchy riffs and a thunderous low-end. Long Road to Ho is a collection of bruising, punch-throwing, no-frills rock that should accompany the sound of someone being thrown down a flight of stairs. The aforementioned “Electric Gangbang” and “Denim Venom” take Black Label Society’s brand of classic metal fury tinged with whiskey-soaked blues and add deep Southern sludge. “Girls of Gold” actually includes the beautifully tongue-in-cheek lyrics “thank you for being a friend” and “you are a pal and a confidant” and is so heavy it may raise Bea Arthur from the dead. The closing “Degenerated” is a crushing cover of the Regan Youth classic (also famously remodeled by NYC legends D Generation); although Beastwood slows the tempo down a bit, the chorus hits with equal ferocity as the punk masterpiece. This is a fun stopgap release until the band’s next full-length, and this will keep fans feeling excited for this band’s future.

LOU BARLOW - Reason to Live (Joyful Noise Records; joyfulnoiserecordings.com)

I am feeling a little overwhelmed writing about Lou Barlow, as his career is one of the most important in the history of indie rock. From Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. and Folk Implosion, Barlow has left an indelible imprint upon forms of guitar-rich, emotionally powerful music. Reason to Live is an acoustic record that crackles with Barlow’s easily recognizable voice and insightful lyrics. Recorded at home in Massachusetts, Barlow strips away the distortion of his earliest work for ta beautiful intimate recording. “In My Arms” has its origins in 1982 and finally sees a proper release as the opening track of this dazzling collection. The title track includes Barlow’s adroit storytelling talents (“When they make demands/we’ll be holding hands/as strong as any wall that stands”). “I Don’t Like Changes” has a country-tinged buoyancy also heard on the infectious delight that is “Love Intervene”, both songs exuding a tangible warmth and sense of happiness that defies that standard impression that Barlow has been a dour old soul since his late teens. While the angst of “Over You” rattles with genuine angst, Barlow comes back with “How Do I Know”, a quick blast of acoustic pop. Numerous tracks on Reason to Live are fleeting in length, but anyone who is a fan of Low Barlow knows how the man can do quite a bit in a scant amount of time, and there is not a wasted second throughout the record. “Thirsty” has a driving riff that hits with a surprising level of intensity (“only blood can really quench me”) and stands out within a collection of authentic serenity. A song titled “All You People Suck” is certainly an homage to profound frustration, but the song’s gentle splendor allows for the listener to truly embrace the lyrics and understand that the target of Barlow’s ire is a very specific faction within society (“all you people suck/ you’re the ones that don’t believe/ that were all connected”). It should not surprise that Lou Barlow has constructed a record of staggering beauty during one of the ugliest years in history, and Reason to Live is a celebration of Barlow’s life lessons and exquisite songwriting prowess.

BOB LORD - Playland Arcade (boblordmusic.com)

Movie and television scores are at their best when they create tension or romance or levity without the viewer actually realizing the impact of the music in the moment. Bob Lord has that level of dynamic musical ability; the songs on Playland Arcade are quirky, exciting, or eerie, and each form is equally intriguing. “Fry Doe” begins with a funky bass line and saunters along confidently, propelled by a heavy low-end boogie. One of the most enjoyable moments comes early with the Devo-esque bounce of “Yo Soy Miquel”. In addition to maxing out my knowledge of high school Spanish, the song is delivered with a genuine effervescence that could match The Muppet Show in terms of innocent fun. However, Lord is not interested in making a bubbly romantic comedy on Playland Arcade, as evidenced by the off-putting “Night Sweats”. Blending an unnerving piano riff with subtle ambiance and an increasingly boisterous guitar riff, the song sounds like the perfect accompaniment to a long-awaited sequel to Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The thirty-five seconds of “Lobster Role” is reminiscent of the opening credits of The Love Boat (I apologize for references that are most likely far older than those reading this, but that is why we all have Google, kids), and then the record takes a unique twist after the haunting silence of “Intermezzo”. While “Skee Ball” blasts by in a scant twelve seconds, “Wyoming Vice” hangs around for three and half minutes, highlighted by genteel woodwinds that produce a lush and bucolic sensibility. While relying more upon synth, “Tenderly” creates a similar atmosphere as the aforementioned “Wyoming”, as gentle keys and calypso inspired guitar playing waft ever so gracefully through the air. “Fanfare for a Losing Team” instantly reminded me of classic NFL Films productions, as it possesses all the bombastic exuberance necessary for a highlights package to celebrate a team’s season, even if they went 1-15. The closing “Siege” places the listener inside a fast-paced video game with its speedy groove and hyperactive structure. The song will bring many of a certain age back to the days of waiting in line with a pocket full of quarters hoping that your favorite game would open up soon. Bob Lord’s Playland Arcade is somehow complex and accessible, intricate and fun; his juxtaposition of so many themes and ideas make this a wilder ride than a round of drunken Mario Kart.

HAMMERHEDD - Grand Currents (https://hammerhedd.bandcamp.com)

None of the three Ismert Brothers are even twenty, and yet Hammerhead plays a polyrhythmic, claustrophobically dense brand of metal that defies their ages. The songs across Grand Currents are lengthy, highly complex blasts of churning, blistering ferocity offset by moments of pristine clarity that interweave Gojira style interplay along with the galloping riffs of classic Metallica. Hammerhedd compose pieces that average roughly six minutes in length, most likely outlasting the attention spans of their peers, but within these expansive tableaus one finds myriad of ideas that flow together seamlessly without ever treading upon redundancy or self-aggrandizement. The punishing “Drone” is a barrage of force as guitarist/vocalist Henry barks over the crushing grooves constructed by brothers Abe on bass and drummer Eli. Two fleeting instrumentals (“~hpnocurrents~” and ~intuition~”) briefly offer a reprieve from the band’s skull-battering playing, but these two breaths merely enhance the devastating nature of the overall record, as best heard on “Foundation”. Blending the musical dexterity of System of a Down with the sheer barbarism of Unsane, the song is a concussion set to music. The concluding “Hypothermic Peace” is an eleven and half minute opus of soaring finesse laced with abrasive power. I guess one can maintain this level of energy for this length of time when still in your teens, but the song is a staggering achievement that incorporates prog, classic power metal, and subtle atmospheric touches that make this listen equally exhausting and inspiring. It is difficult to hear Grand Currents and not come away thinking that these three virtuosos have a bright future.

primalage

PRIMAL AGE - “The Devil is Hidden in Shadows” (WTF Records https://wtfrecords.eu)

France’s Primal Age play a vicious and visceral form of metal-baked hardcore, and “The Devil is Hidden in Shadows” is a tease for the release of Masked Enemy, their latest full length, on June 11th. Within the same tent as bands like One King Down, Knuckledust, or Indecision, Primal Age swaddle raw, impassioned vocals around tightly wound guitar riffs and a bruising low-end. The architecture of the song is not going to sound revolutionary, but the delivery is impeccable and with lyrics that explore a straight edge lifestyle without preaching, Primal Age boldly announce their return. Maintaining a career for over two and half decades in the world of hardcore is not easy, but these European stalwarts show no signs of slowing down, and if this is any indication of what will be found on Masked Enemy, Primal Age has perhaps the most intimidating record of the summer on the way.

USELESS ID - Most Useless Songs (Fat Wreck Chords www.fatwreck.com)

With a career spanning over twenty-five years, Useless ID undertakes the daunting task of compiling a retrospective of their finest moments. Naturally, there will be fans disappointed that their favorite track is omitted, but Most Useless Songs achieves exactly what such a collection should; one hears the evolution of a band, particularly their twenty-fist century work. Useless ID can be a bouncy punk-pop act as vocalist Yotam Ben-Horin says, “Baby, please come home because I miss you and all I want to do is kiss you” on “Night Shift”, or the buoyant “It’s Alright”, but can easily shift gears and elevate the angst and replace shine with grit. The crowd-favorite, set-closing “State of Fear” opens the record and acts as a perfect primer for what this band produces, and this fury remerges on “Into the Exquisite”, one of the two new offerings on this panoramic “best of”. The grizzled punks from Haifa, Israel made a home for themselves on Fat Wreck Chords at the dawn of a new century and “Turn up the Stereo” and “Symptoms” are reflective of the classic Fat Wreck sound; namely, a penchant for clever lyrics, crunchy hooks, and infectious choruses. The majority of Useless ID’s catalog is punk played with an appreciation for, but not a blind devotion to, pop aesthetics and this allows the band to flow seamlessly between up-tempo fits of optimism and blasts of more serious intensity (“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and “State is Burning”). Yet, at their core, Useless ID write punk songs for a broad audience, as “Dying Love” and “New Misery” are deeply relatable to those both in and outside of the pit.


THE HAMILTONES - Dracula Invitational, 1791 (swimmingfaithrecords.com)

When one thinks of Buffalo, New York, many ideas may come to mind: people jumping through burning tables as members of the now infamous and somehow still overexposed “Bills mafia”, chicken wings, or maybe even the disastrous presidency of Millard Fillmore. However, most individuals would not jump to surf-punk, but the Hamiltones are here to change that perception with Dracula Invitational, 1791. Acting as a soundtrack for a film that may or may not be fictional, the trio delivers a sinewy mix of tasty Ventures-inspired, feelgood guitar energy matched by the delicious, experimental weirdness that embodied acts like Man or Astroman? and Aqua Velvets. With subtle keys but very pronounced bass, The Hamiltones bash more furiously than many in this genre, particularly on the contradictory titled pair, “What if we Don’t Eat the Musicians?” and “No, Let’s Eat the Musicians”, and the menacing tone of “Oh No, We’ve Made a Terrible Mistake”. The five different “Night Court” interludes are a time for listeners to get up and shimmy, an innocent cleansing of the palette during a record in which a cloud horror film dread is always palpable. The closing “And We Are All Dracula’s” instantly invokes ‘Gloria” from Them, which is fitting as that band’s moniker was also the name of a classic horror film about monster ants. What any of this has to do with the potential release of a low-budget and equally lo-fi Dracula film is largely beyond me, but the Hamiltones will provide more fun than many of us have had in a long time.

THE RUMJACKS Hestia (Four Four Records https://fourfourmusic.com)

From the Pogues to the Tossers, to the Dropkick Murphys, the blending of Celtic musical beauty and punk ferocity can generate truly electrifying music when attempted by the right hands. If one has not already done so, add Rumjacks to the small list of acts who master this style. The band’s fifth record, Hestia-the Greek goddess of the home and certainly a representative of where so many of us have been stuck for the past year-is a blast of heartfelt, poignant tracks played at a neck snapping pace, leading off with “Naysayers”, a track even accented by a lush ska groove. The guys have kicked around for a dozen years, but the addition of Mike Rivkees on vocals has made Rumjacks feel like a brand-new band, and the energy here is overwhelming. The title track and “Through These Iron Sights'' march with a strong and steady beat before the latter erupts into a torrent of blinding speed and pugnacious guitar riffs from Gabe Whitbourne. Hestia plays with listeners’ emotions across the fourteen songs, as “Rhythm of Her name” and “Light in My Shadow” are personal tales of youth indiscretions and the reality of reflecting back upon them so many years later. “Sainted Millions” is such a perfect pub drinking song that your local nun will start throwing back shots without pergaps initially understanding the complex emotional fabric woven within the song’s tone, and “Lizzie Bordon” does a wonderfully accurate and energized retelling of that legendary murder. I certainly hope Hestia and lessened travel restrictions help to make this Australian gem celebrated in America.

OH THE HUMANITY (Hellminded Records www.hellmindedrecords.com)

I would like to imagine that Herb Morrison, the legendary radio broadcaster who cried this iconic phrase during the explosion of the Hindenburg, would appreciate the scathing yet melodic punk of this Massachusetts five-piece. Oh, The Humanity bring an assortment of musical backgrounds to their blistering full length, seamlessly blending the intense with the melodic and accenting the tracks with heartfelt lyrics of hope and the tragic realization that life passes by more quickly than we ever want to believe “Never Worse” is the embodiment of what the band can do; the song is an explosion of raw guitar force that transcends three chord punk, compliments of Chris Dileso and James Silvio, with a driving rumbling bass line from Andy Hakansson. As the verses commence, the song adopts a more subdued nature, allowing vocalist Kevin Athas to being fully heard when he admits “I wish I felt better, but I’ve never felt worse/ Always hoping for the positive and thinking I’m cursed/ Outside I’m fine, but inside I’m dying”. The chorus becomes nearly buoyant as drummer Chris Santoro pushes the song forward, and the effervescent nature of the hook is a wonderfully creative mask to shield the sorrow found within the track (“My punishment for all of this is knowing every night when I close my eyes to get some rest/I’ll toss and turn all night knowing that you’re right”) While “Everyone in Gainesville (Looks Like Someone I Know)” gives a sarcastically funny albeit truthful account of the life of a punk band on the road, with tales of too many beers, too much secondhand smoke, and concerns about surviving long enough to make it to the next show, “Perspective” reveals a more mature side of Oh, the Humanity. One can feel the sense of apprehension in Athas’ voice as he says, “My life is perspective, it’s been changing over time/ As I age, I wonder how much do I have left? When will time catch up with me?”, all the while punishing riffs churns around him. The speedy “Altruism Born of Suffering” speaks to the stark differences between what kids expected life to be and the reality faced by adults, as Athas sums up existence by noted, “We’ve got our whole short lives to get ready to die/ But when we look back/ We want to know that we left our marks behind”. The members of Oh, The Humanity flirt with metal throughout the record, consummating the relationship most obviously on “Dreamer”, a thrashy track of barreling force that again demonstrates profound lyrical introspection that matches the song’s intensity. Oh, The Humanity may have saved the best for last on the closing “LHDM”, which according to the chorus, is an acronym for “live hard, die slow and/or live sad, die miserable”, and the emotional punch delivered by this song is devastating. The longest track of the punch, all fie members here shine, as the track is fleshed out with a longer guitar solo, more subtle shifts in tempo, and poetic turns of phrase that so eloquently capture the reality of living with feelings that are often beyond one’s control regardless of the attempts made to contain them (“It’s so much easier to loathe the sunrise than appreciate another day to be alive”). Oh, The Humanity deliver an emotionally taxing and incredibly cathartic record that illustrates how intellect and insight can be calling cards of great punk rock.

ASSERTION - Intermission (Spartan Records www.spartanrecords.com)

William Goldsmith, who played drums in Sunny Day Real Estate and Foo Fighters, the latter of which I hear great things and there is a feeling they might be big someday, leads Assertion, a thunderous trio that generates serpentine blasts of sophisticated guitar rock. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Tamminga and bassist Bryan Gorder join Goldsmith, and from the opening compelling riff of “Down Into the Depths”, Assertion is a heartfelt return to a time when the phrase “alternative music” meant something special and unique. Each track is a tightly wound mass of stringent power with Tamminga’s voice deftly ebbing and flowing within a thunderous mix. On the brilliantly titled “The Lamb to the Slaughter Pulls a Knife”, the band experiments with loud/quiet dynamics in a method that makes that style seem fresh and invigorating with Tamminga howling “stay wide-eyed” with a chilling intensity. The anxious energy of “Defeated” grabs hold of the listener as one perpetually awaits a chaotic crescendo that never arrives; this is not a disappointment, but rather a demonstration of the band’s ability to masterfully control pacing and therefore the emotions of a song. Subtle use of feedback and distortion act as warm accentuations on the powerful “This Dream Does not Work” (“And after all of the trouble and all of the pain and all of the things you've done/Why don't you disappear and let it all fade away”) and the equally impassioned “The Lonely Choir”. Both songs are representative of Assertion’s ability to create musical edging; the songs reach a point of potential detonation but maintain a modicum of composure that allows listeners to take in eloquent lyrical phrasings. The heavy low-end of “Pushed to the Limit” hits with a particular ferocity and is similar to the start/stop intricacy of “Supervised Suffering”. The latter truly allows Goldsmith to shine as the force of his playing meshes wonderfully with his finite precision, and the result is a song of masterful agony and heartfelt pain. (“Calm down now my baby girl I’m here/And wipe the tears from your beautiful, big brown eyes/No one’s gonna keep you away from me”) The closing “Set Fire” is a somewhat ironic ending to Intermission, as the song remains a very genteel work with hushed vocals and a slow resting heartbeat even as Tamminga speaks the words of “set fire and burn this thing on down”. Borrowing from Thom Yorke, he conveys a world of emotion in merely a handful of sullen words. Assertion is a band that will remind listeners of the power found within well-crafted guitar rock. Go find this.

DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 - Is 4 Lovers (Spinefarm Records https://www.spinefarmrecords.com)

Death From Above 1979, or as their birth certificates state, Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger, have enjoyed a fascinating career of starts, stops, brilliant works, extended hiatuses, and now a new record that continues to see the band’s dance-punk esthetic evolve. The noisy squall that opens “Modern Guy” morphs into a polyrhythmic dark wave effort with heavily distorted vocals and hook that is mirrored by the following “One + One” (“One plus one is so romantic/Let's do something about it”). The two tracks offer a dazzling pair to open Is 4 Lovers and mark the largely aesthetic of the record; namely, loud yet danceable efforts that often sound like there is an underlaying maniacal quality. Replete with a throbbing bassline and furious tempo, “N.Y.C. Power Elite part 1” is a roaring effort that captures DFA1979’s highly unique sound and style. Since first emerging from Toronto in the early 2000s, Keeler and Grainger have witnessed legions of bands incorporate electric components into more traditional rock structures, but DFA remain the band who truly perfected this melding, and one hears this perfect marriage on the hyperactive, overly kinetic energy of “Totally Wiped Out”. However, proving that their songwriting continues to be impossible to truly categorize, Is 4 Lovers fittingly includes “Love Letters”, a song with a far slower tempo but richly engrossing lyrics, “How I’d love to say/”Let me count the ways’’/But it’s not quite right/I can’t see the light/When you’re outta sight/So I try to write”. Closing with the mid-tempo grind of “No War”, Death From Above 1979 declare that they are once again back.

PAT TODD AND THE RANKOUTSIDERS - …There’s Pretty Things in Palookaville (Hound Gawd! Records https://www.houndgawd.com)

One of the great qualities of Pat Todd and his Rankoutsiders is that do not look to do anything more than play old fashioned rock n’ roll. From the opening bar-band energy of “All the Years #1” and “Hello to Mystery”, to the Stones-like blues boogie of “Turn Back the Hands of Time”, a 1970 gem originally performed by Tyrone Davies, the guys blend downhome grit and grime into contemporary rock with a decades-old feel. This is a band for small clubs, cheap liquor, long nights, and brutal hangovers, with “True Romance” and “I Will Lie To You” providing the perfect soundtrack. Todd’s voice, first immortalized in his two decades with the Lazy Cowgirls, is raspy, heartfelt delivery that spins excellent yarns about love, heartbreak, and life’s other sources of pain. Supported by a wild band of Rankoutsiders, guitarists Nick Alexander and Kevin Keller, bassist Steven Vigh and Walter Phelan on drums, the band functions as one collective, beer-drenched entity. Devoid of studio tricks or overproduction, “…there’s pretty things in Palookaville...” is a classic rock record made in an age in which such simplicity is usually shunned. Pat Todd and the Rankoutsiders are indicative of the entire Hound Gawd label as the band tells great stories with sincerity, plays with tenacity, and is not concerned about becoming influencers.

GRANDE ROYALE - Carry On (The Sign Records www.thesignrecords.com)

If you like your rock n’ roll played with speed and intensity, but life is busy and you only have about two and half minutes to give to a song, then Sweden’s Grande Royale is your band. Carry On opens with “Troublemaker”, a two-minute explosion of buzzsaw guitar and ferocious low-end rumble, led by vocalist/guitarist Gustav Wremer. Wremer and his mates - second guitarist Andreas Jena, bassist Samuel Georgsson, and drummer Johan Häll - bring garage rock fury and mesh it with a fatal case of harmony on the bluesy “Staying Dry,” the subtle sleaze of “Let it All Go,” and the scorching “One of a Kind.” Grande Royale plays down stripped-down, bare-knuckle rock that avoids anything but the music’s most necessary requirements: speed, attitude, and absolutely no frills. This is the kind of band that shows up for a show, plugs in, takes fifteen seconds to tune and then just launches into the set and burns the place down to rubble. “Ain’t Got Soul” and “Bang” are two more furious efforts that are anchored by a strong love of melody. Grande Royale is another example of a band dispelling and crushing the myth that rock n’ roll is dead; the genre may be hurting a bit, but it is anything but gone. As long as bands like Grande Royale exist, rest assured that there are kids with guitars in basements right now trying to figure out three chords and a hook. Everything about Carry On is fun and gives home for a mask-less world soon because these guys would be amazing in a small live venue. Until then, play this as loudly as possible.

SKEGSS - Rehearsal (Loma Vista Records

When the opening “Down to Ride” enters my ears, I am initially convinced that I am listening to the Australian answer to the Strokes. With jangly guitar, a rich sense of melody, and robust energy, the song rattles with infectious enthusiasm. However, these traits are found scattered across the baker’s dozen worth of songs on Rehearsal; Skegss also experiment with groove-laden surf vibes and offer poignant acoustic works in addition to their love affair with rock’s more foundational elements. “Valhalla” is a rollicking blast of whimsical musicianship with a memorable hook and classic 50s surf riff than would make the Ventures jealous. “Picturesque Moment” shuffles like a classic pub drinking song should and tells a story accented by sardonic lyrics about drinking and having fun, while “Fantasising” is a soaring anthem with Ben Reed’s impressive range on full display. The band, rounded out by bassist Toby Cregan and drummer Jonny Lani, captures snapshots of life’s happiness and disappointments on the heartfelt “Fade Away” as Reed affectively delivers my favorite lyrics of the record, noting, “Sometimes I feel nothing but hurt in my chest/ Almost thinking more is less/But deep right down I know that it's not true because I know that I have you.” Skegss built a reputation throughout Australia for their grungy, pit-inspiring playing, and while I admire those traits greatly, it is the band’s sweeter moments to which I am more fervently drawn. “Running From Nothing”, “Curse My Happiness”, and the gorgeous closer, “Empty” (including the teary-eyed words, “You’re more than my mate/You’re more than my soul/ And we get to make our life/What it is as we grow old”) are insightful and inspirational honest works of emotional vulnerability. There is much to evaluate here, as Skeggs can be three bands in one on Rehearsal, and someone is destined to find a style to enjoy. Although the band has been an Aussie favorite for quite a while, this is their introduction to America, and a highly impressive one at that.

ATRIA - Moonbrain (Gold Robot Records; www.gold-robot.com)

Travis Atria is frighteningly talented and Moonbrain is ten pieces of irrefutable evidence. The opening bombast that kicks off the title track quickly gives way to an ocean of sweeping, gorgeous playing that has influences from the finest aspects of jazz, funk, and soul. The record is a sensuous, inspiring collection of songs that revolve round a theme of love and hope at a time when it is most needed. Moonbrain sounds like a record from a different world and a different time; “Love Theme” could easily be found on any mid to late 70s soundtrack with its silky chorus and gently pulsating groove. The gentle “Suite-What’s the Word Coming To?” is another elegant song that sparkles with its lyrics about the power of love (“So much beauty in the world/love is the only perfect truth”) and Atria’s sense of confusion about the global state of our lives. Atria uses biblical language on “Lucky” by quoting several beatitudes, reminding people that the meek shall inherit the Earth” and “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” over the top of a buoyant groove. The funk-pop off “Shine” shimmers with a massive wall of blissful funk that resonates with joy. Atria’s songwriting prowess is staggering, as each effort is intricate and musically complex, but he also allows each work to breathe. This ability to balance airy and sonically dynamic creates a dichotomy of smooth, effortless sounding grooves and boundless energy. The lustrous “Jazz Cigarette” glides effortlessly with a pristine beaty, while the malleable musicianship of “No Name Street” has a Zappa meets Mayfield sensibility. This is brilliant.

GREAT SHAKES - S/T (catsclawrecordings.limitedrun.com)

Great Shakes may feature players from Belgium and Netherlands, but they sound like the kids next door breaking into the local skate park. Theis self-titled released initially saw the light of day in 2019 but is now repackaged on cassette, and if this one was not on your radar screen two years ago, make up for lost time now. The two songs are warm, harmonious efforts with rousing gang vocals and introspective lyrics. The opening “The Flood” is among the fiercest songs of the bunch and instantly grabs the listener by the throat. The song’s chunky riff and punk adrenaline blends perfectly with the aggressive melody put forth by the four earnest members, and yet Great Shakes prove to be much more than any one label. Beginning with “Summertime Alone”, the guys allow their pop tendencies to shine as the song, replete with soaring “woah-ohs”, blends Social Distortion with Get Up Kids. “November Star”, “Confessions” and “Falling Forever” are each slickly delivered, speedy nuggets of discretely intense punk-pop and inspired group vocals that will get the kids singing along at live shows (remember those?). The latter’s chorus takes the finest qualities of emo’s second generation and releasing them in one cathartic explosion. There is a string of powerfully energized punk anthems, beginning with “Ordinary Life” and lasts across the final six songs with the closing duo of “Never Gonna Die” and “Say Goodbye at the End” as a serendipitous combination of punk angst and a ferocious sugar rush. More than standard pop-punk, Great Shakes melds 90s emo elements into a contemporary sound that should hopefully get more attention the second time around.

SPEED STROKE - Scene of the Crime (burningmindsgroup.com/street-symphonies)

Hard rock that sides into the realm of glam metal often faces an instant backlash of criticism and dismissal. To be fair, these reactions are not fully unjustified due to the legacy of the hairspray, make-up, and eventual predictability of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. The guys of Speed Stroke never experienced the self-indulgence of Hollywood in the 80s because they are far too young and the band also hails from Italy; however, Scene of the Crime could easily share space with anything from BulletBoys to Firehouse to Steelheart. The mandatory power ballad arrives with “No Love”, the centerpiece of the record, with nine other guitar-driven rockers surrounding it. This style has a special place in my heart, as Shout at the Devil was among my gateway drugs into the world of rock n’ roll at age ten, so I really cannot batter what Speed Stroke is doing. The minute-long intro that creates tension before the eruption of the opening riffs of “Heartbeat” should make people smile as this not music designed to change the world, end racial strife, or settle humanitarian crises. This is light-hearted escapism, and frankly, bands like Speed Stroke will be a blast to see when masks come off and the world allows itself to breathe and have fun again. The sleazy grooves of the title track and “Red Eyes” combine with the band’s effervescent energy to become unavoidably enjoyable. Speed Stroke is a guilty pleasure of a band, a secret you share with only the closest of friends. The bluesy accents one hears on “After Dark” and “Who Fk’d Who” sounds like Junkyard collaborating with Bang Tango, and if that is appealing, then get out there and soak in all of the excesses. The record draws to a close with the midtempo “One Last Day” that sets up the more aggressive closer, “Hero No.1”. While some listeners may find this passé or cliché, and it undoubtedly is at times, the larger lesson to be taken away from Speed Stroke is that for all of the proclamations that rock is dead and no one plays guitar anymore, these guys are happy to bring back a time when seemingly everyone did.



TROJAN WARFARE - S/T (trojanwarfare.bandcamp.com)

Seventeen-year-old Troy Donohue from Rockstar Racecar was clearly bored during his time in quarantine and decided to create a little “heavy metal side hustle” with his brother Wolverine on drums and Gerry Griffin on bass. The songs are standard, hard-driving metal fare but I was caught off-guard by the appearance of the immortal Ross the Boss from the mighty Dictators and Manowar on “Chained to the Cross”. Ross lends his guitar prowess to the track which addresses Donohue’s disillusionment with the promises made by faith (“Why is everyone different? Why can't we be the same? Answer me, why'd you put everyone Under a different race and name?”) The Thin Lizzy-esque “Nuclear Burn” assists Trojan Warfare in the quest to cover the most battle-tested metal themes; namely lawlessness (“Outlaw”), ancient mythology (“Helen”) and obviously, mass destruction with the push of a button. Donohue is an old soul, as the work of Trojan Warfare borrows more from Aldo Nova than Spirit Adrift. “Falling” is a plodding, mid-tempo effort with a thick groove and easily memorable chorus, while “Freitag” ditches the distortion for a stripped-down, clean sound and is a warm, pop-influenced track. The ten-minute opus “Lost in Space/Another Day” sounds like Moon Tooth re-recording Kiss’ Music From the Elder, blending prog metal with theatrical qualities. Trojan Warfare throws a wide array of styles and sounds at people here, and while it may sound a touch disjointed at times, the central trait is that this is a lot of fun.

CAMERA - Prosthuman (www.bureau-b.com)

Camera has only existed for a little more than a decade, yet their sound captures the timeless elements of Kraftwerk, Can, and other leaders within the signature “Krautrock” movement. The vast majority of Prosthuman is simply instrumental and allows listeners to be swept up the mechanized precision of the songs, but to Camera’s credit, there is a boisterous humanity felt within each track. The opening “Kartoffelstampf” includes subtlety abrasive guitar soaring above a beautifully hypnotic beat that sets the tone for the record. The band plays dramatically with tone, and the fluidity of their playing shines most brightly on “Alar Alar” with its pseudo-reggae rhythm and delicately eerie keys. Michael Drummer remains the one constant in Camera after the departure of two critical pieces from the band, Steffen Kahles and Timm Brockman, the latter of which was a founding member. However, undaunted, Drummer built a new Camera with the additions of Tim Schroeder on synths and guitarist Alex Kozmidi. Prosthuman is imbued with profound emotion across the ten panoramic tracks, as “Freundschsft” and “Chords4 Kurz Vor” are glimmering works of surprisingly genteel musicianship with elegant keys wafting gracefully across a tableau of sound. This less invasive tone is counter-balanced by more aggressive and experimental works, notably the sneer of “Schmwarf” and the serenity of “Überall Teilchen Teilchen Überall”, a song kissed by aspects of traditional Middle Eastern rhythms. There is no one descriptor one can place upon Camera other than to say the songs on Prosthuman are refined and consistently intriguing. While much of the record was recorded in isolation, there is not a tortured darkness to the work of Camera’s new record, but rather glimpses of beauty that provide hope for a better future. The extraordinary emotion woven into the songs makes Prosthuman a fascinating listening experience.

FUORIUSO - Teenage Disease (Volcano Records)

If all this time away from people has taught me anything, it is that I desperately need more sleaze in my life. To fill that harrowing emptiness is Italian rockers Fuoriuso, a band dedicated solely to having fun and writing some filthy riffs. The songs on Teenage Disease are not concerned with global pandemic, humanitarian catastrophes, or political discord. With titles like “Money Money”, “Sex Slave”, and “Alien Girlfriend”, Fuoriuso is LA’s Sunset Strip via Bergamo. Lucky and Van Toxic founded and continue to lead Fuoriuso, and the band stays true to guitar happy slabs of rollicking, old time rawk. However, they have a refreshing brashness as their version of The Doors’ classic “Love Me Two Times” takes the song from a Vietnam-era protest song and drops it into Faster Pussycat’s rehearsal space. The harmonies on “Wake Up” and “Sinners and Bells” cannot be ignored, particularly on the later, as it borrows as much from the Beach Boys as LA Guns. The title track surprises as a mid-tempo effort that flirts with power ballad tenets, while the bluesy “Lost” conjures up Junkyard’s accessibility. The subdued piano ballad “Slowly Walkin’” and the Black Crowes’ inspired “Back in Town” began to sap the vitality from the overall record, but Fuoriuso bounces back with a timeless hard rock formula on “Everyone Lies” and the aforementioned “Alien Girlfriend”. Both of these efforts have a classic stomp and a raucous energy that allows Teenage Disease to finish on a strong note. There is nothing groundbreaking happening here, but Fuoriuso makes music for a filthy night out that provides endless stories and an equally crushing hangover, not sophisticated discourse. This is a band that many people need-just lighten and enjoy yourselves, will ya?!

OMEGA GLORY - II (omegaglory.bandcamp.com)

Sometimes a band packs a huge amount of power into a scant amount of time. Omega Glory, the new(ish) project of former Kill Your Idols leader Bran Meehan, delivers an EP of three songs in roughly four minutes. With Meehan playing all the music and vocalist Sean McCann excoriating his throat, Omega Glory is a metalcore band wrapped in a death metal tortilla and then deep friend in crust. In other words, I love this. “Rule 12” devastates the listener without giving a warning, and its blueprint of a tsunami of down-tuned force is followed on both “Trap Doors” and the fleshed-out “Sama” that clocked in nearly ninety seconds. The lyrics are brief but powerful, much like the EP itself. McCann screams “I’ve lost the will to resist/ The tides and the rising sun/Face down and carried out/Drag me deeper I don’t want to be found” on “Trap Doors”, and this sense of despair and anguish surmises the band’s approach. This may not be a particularly large sample size, but these songs provide the interested with all they need to know.


DEAD REGISTER - "Don’t Fail Me" EP (AVR Records www.deadregister.com/)

The name of this EP can either be a plea for support and help or a dire warning marking one’s potentially final chance. When one listens to the music of Dead Register, the latter seems more plausible. The dark, ambient shoegaze created by husband and wife duo M.Chvasta and Avril Che is simultaneously menacing and stirring, as “Don’t Fail Me” is enveloped by a dreamy haze while Chvasta’s voice digs through the beautiful din. Methodical and crushing, the music of Dead Register is what might happen if the guys in Ride listened to Sleep for six straight months and then decided to record. Surrounding the title track of the EP are three live efforts and a very cool remix of “Failed”. I am amazed at the intimacy one hears on “Ender”, a tumultuous dirge of dark wave terror, and Justin Broadrick would be impressed with the devastating opening of “Circle of Lies” before the song’s initial devastation wafts into a more serene, albeit no less intimidating, delivery. “Fiber” is a glacial entity of a song, rumbling with devastating bass and squalling, expressive guitar playing. The song feels like it overwhelms the players themselves, and the concluding scream encapsulates the emotive nature of the music. The work of Dead Register is monolithic and crushing yet also rife with beauty. The ability to balance such distinct extremes is a tribute to the collaborative talents of Che, Chvasta, and drummer R. Garcia. As the walls fall down around us, I want Dead Register playing.

THE MERCY KILLS - "New Rule" EP (Golden Robot Records www.goldenrobotrecords.com)

This Australian export instantly took me back to the glam-sleaze fury of D Generation and The Black Halos with ripping guitar work and limitless energy. This five-song EP was originally recorded in 2010 but fits in perfectly with where the band is in 2021, and what the world desperately needs. “I Wanna” opens the EP with a stomp which flirts with blunt, industrial force that anchors a sparling chorus. The song is rousing introduction to a band that roars with ferocity and hits with shocking power. The grime drips from “Go” and the title track as vocalist Mark E. and Nathalie Gellé share riffs thrusted along by the rhythm section of bassist Jen X and drummer Josh Black. The Mercy Kills straddles the line between classic rock song structures and punk angst across each track, resulting in a mass of force that is also fiercely melodic. The soaring vocals of “So Many Times” are matched by an equally aggressive musical bed that downshifts slightly for a slick chorus before returning to its original power. A similar density is heard on “New Rule”, and the song’s metallic heaviness is a direct result of the jarring structure constructed by four undeniably talented players. “Fall” has an intro reminiscent of Ministry’s “N.W.O.” and is voluminous wave of dark harmony. I am at a complete loss as to why this band is not huge by this point; everything about The Mercy Kills, from their look to sound, to songwriting embodies all that rock n’ roll should be and sadly rarely is any longer. With an impressive back catalog and an even more staggering collection of acts for whom they have opened, The Mercy Kills are a band ready to be moved to the front of the line of those who still prove that authentic rock n’ roll lives.


CARNIVAL CRASH - It is a Happy Man (Obelisk-records.com)

For anyone familiar with Ritual Tension - and if you are not, you should be - should recognize Carnival Crash. Led by wildly talented Ivan Nahem, the band had a tragically brief shelf life, but their contributions were plentiful and celebratory. The band’s fugacious time together resulted in two critical record sessions captured in this seven-song compilation. The opening “Tell Tale Heart”, a track originally released in 1982 by Ivan under the name “Ivan X” as the B-side to “Edge of Night”, is a bold blast of first generation post punk. The song features an unsettling beat accented by jarring guitar, blending Joy Division’s darkness and shards of New Wave’s energy. “Edge of Night” is a rumbustious anthem that is centered around a heavy low-end groove from John Griffin and elevated to greatness through Norman Westberg’s distinctive guitar squall, a talent which he brought to Swans after the demise of Carnival Crash. It is easy to find one’s self lost in the emotive, atmospheric din the band creates, but one cannot overlook Ivan Nahem’s vocals. While his drumming shines through on “Method 1”, his singing is integral to completing the trenchant noise-rock brilliance of Carnival Crash. Whether coming across as simultaneously imposing and thoughtful on ‘Edge of Night” or reserved and grounded on “Nostalgia”, his delivery completes the mystical nature of the band. Listening to It is a Happy Man is more than a return to the gritty streets of New York City at the dawn of the 1980s, for it is an education about where rock was at that time. The first generation of punks had burned out and New Wave was already showing signs of fading away, therefore bands were free to experiment wildly and ignore any particular label or genre expectations. Carnival Crash meshed controlled chaos with touches of beauty to redefine rock’s limitations at the time. It would be nice to see that type of courage rewarded today.

LOCKED IN - Not Dead Yet (Epidemic Records; www.epidemicrecords.net)

This blistering five song EP marks the return, after seven years away, of Locked In, a scathing hardcore act hailing from Perugia, Italy. The guys do not waste any time on Not Dead Yet, as “Scandal” instantly splits skulls with barrage of metallic hardcore played with a fervor that reflects seven years of pent-up frustration. The blueprint for each track is similar, but within the huge riffs wrapped around a punishing low end and ferocious vocals that occasionally include call and response portions, are a few subtle surprises that gives Locked In a uniqueness within the genre. “Viper Field” taps into the best of Hatebreed’s qualities with a great groove and passionately emotive vocals, but I am most taken with the suddenly clean vocals that emerge in the middle of “Dying City” before the song returns to a torrent of blunt force. The subtle shift in tone Locked In displays on “Dying City” emphasizes the band’s talents and clearly illustrates that this is not merely an homage to American hardcore but rather, a distinctive interpretation of the artform. “No Faith” is a thunderous, adrenaline fueled rant that will delight all fans of Terror and Agnostic Front, while the explosive “Godspeed” concludes the EP with a continued blending of clean and abrasive vocals into a refined mixture of metal and hardcore without stumbling into any of the redundant trappings that can plague metalcore. With a new line-up and an abundance of energy, I doubt it will be another seven years until the next Locked In release.

RITUAL TENSION - It’s Just the Apocalypse, It’s Not the End (www.onaboutnow.com; ritualtension.bandcamp.com)

Ritual Tension is a band with its roots firmly planted in the punk, no-wave, and noise scenes of the very late 1970s in San Francisco before moving to NYC in the early 1980s. The brothers Ivan and Andrew Nahem led the band and Ritual Tension remained an adorned East Village staple of musical daring and individuality, including their deconstructed version of “Hotel California”, until 1990. Now, thirty years after their final performance, Ritual Tension has returned, this time sans Andrew, as a trio on the experimental and wonderfully noisy It’s Just the Apocalypse, It’s Not the End. Without the presence of Andrew on guitar, Marc Sloan’s bass dominates the record, particularly on the rattling “Come Back, Come Back” and the claustrophobic “DanceMF”. Woven within the seven originals are two bold and extravagant covers, “Manic Depression” from Jimi Hendrix and MC5’s “Shake City”. The former may make some discomfited with its disentangling of the original, while the guys slow the tempo and intensify the density of the latter. The concluding “Her Big Night Out” is a fascinating piece of rousing storytelling, as Nahem’s vocals paint a surrealistic tale of one woman’s search for individual deliverance (“Cuts here middle finger-jeez it’s really bleedin’/Well she’s coming up the stairway, comin’ down the hallway/Openin’ it up as she leans against your door jamb”) while Sloan and drummer Michael Shockley create a supremely controlled wave of tumultuous beauty. Ritual Tension never abandoned their artistic interpretation of what punk rock can be, and It’s Just the Apocalypse, It’s Not the End is a free-flowing and fearless display of confidence from a collection of players who have refused, thankfully, to surrender to any expectations other than their own. The world needs more from acts like Ritual tension right now.

RLND - Zealand (Sell the Heart Records, selltheheartrecords.com)

I am not good in math. In fact, I am terrible, so when I listen to a band like RLND (pronounced Roland), I am back in the last row of math class feeling intimidated by the material and awe-struck by those who understand it. RLND is an instrumental, staggeringly talented metal band that blends Tool’s heaviness and creativity with the free-form fluidity of Animals As Leaders to produce nearly an hour of crushing music. Zealand is punishing at times and then equally delicate before returning to ferocity, and that is the blueprint of each song. What I admire, in addition of the musical dexterity of the players, is the band’s subtle humor found on songs titles such as “Keith Sells…But Who’s Buying?” and “Kurt Loader”. The record was actually recorded in the band’s death throes, as drummer Keith Grimshaw and guitarist Joe McClune were suddenly left without bandmates and seemingly without a future as RLND. Fortunately, two friends, Alex Winkley and Sam Zuerner, heard what the previous four-piece had created and eagerly joined. Therefore, Zealand is both a eulogy and a resurrection, and that type of dichotomy is a perfect metaphor for all this band does. “Terry Grosse” begins with a musical sucker punch to the chops before suddenly hiding; the song then lays in wait until the victim has been subdued and is then launches an assault once again. “Public Chiefs” hears RLND blend noise and surgical precision accented by a skull-crushing riff that acts as the centerpiece of the effort, a song structure that one hears on the title track as well. Perhaps the heaviest song of the bunch is the shortest; at only two and half minutes, “Basilica Gel” is, on average, a solid five minutes briefer than its counterparts, but the track starts with unnerving quiet before a rumbling doom metal funeral dirge takes over. While every song among the seven is impressive, RLND saves the best for last with “Specifically Arnold”. The song blends every possible style of metal into one spr awling wall of intensity. At more than twelve minutes, the song takes on a more powerful meaning when one learns that RLND believed the band was ending with the conclusion of the recording of Zealand. “Specifically Arnold” sounds like a band that does not want to say good-bye and will play until the lights are turned off and everyone has gone home. Fortunately, with the band’s return from the brink, this music will live on and perhaps will even be performed live.

SWAPMEAT - Being a Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bills (swapmeat.bandcamp.com)

This Arizona outfit sounds like the product of a sloppy one-night stand between Nashville Pussy and Supersuckers. Being a Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bills is a loud, raucous punk record fried in bacon fat and dipped in tobacco juice. The majority of the songs-initially recorded in 2016 and early 2017-are quick bursts of guitar angst. There is not much musical depth here, but sophistication is not the point as Swapmeat is the soundtrack to a lost weekend, not an intellectual debate. While I admire the clamor of the chaotic “Super Destroyer”, the groove of “Rolling Blacktop” hits more fiercely. The dirty riff of the title track captures the rugged, down-home sensibility of this band’s devotion to rock’s most primal intensity. “Rock n’ Roll” is the standout work here, as it delivers a ferocious, hardcore-influenced blast of fury that has a massive hook and a direct message. (“Lose your mind/lose your head/rock n’ roll, rock n’ roll”) As the record progressed, the songs became increasingly fiery, particularly “V is for Victory” and the bruising “Nose Bleed”. At least 2020 helped get this brought to the public, as quarantine allowed it to be mixed and properly released. This may surprise people that it is from Arizona and not Alabama, but this is all fun.

CRO-MAGS - 2020 (Mission Two Records; missiontwoentertainment.com/)

Most of us cannot have 2020 end quickly enough, but at least the Cro-Mags will help take out this miserable year with a scalding EP. The six tracks on 2020 are fuming blasts of sheer disgust that are the musical equivalent of the scenes of anger, destruction, and madness that adorn the cover. Even when the band omits lyrics, as they do on the bruising conclusion, “Confusion”, the legendary act speaks volumes. The opening “Age of Quarantine” builds slowly over the course of the first ninety seconds before unleashing the classic Cro-Mags musical barbarism that has made this band a stalwart of American hardcore. The soaring melody that accompanies the grinding low end of the title track makes it an equally engaging and punishing work as Harley Flanagan continues to push the sound of metallic hardcore forward on “Life on Earth”, a guitar-fueled punch to the face that resonates with the energy of the band’s earliest releases. The jazzy opening of “Violence and Destruction” belies that song’s eventual ravaging power, as Cro-Mags lock into a ferocious hook. The intensity flows seamlessly into “Chaos in the Streets”, a track that could easily be the soundtrack for the year, and its sing-along gang vocals-style chorus is guaranteed to make the song a crowd favorite whenever the guys can play in front of crowds again. Incredibly, the EP is exactly twenty minutes and twenty seconds long thanks a few seconds of crowd noise. Whether intention or some bizarre form of dystopian serendipity, 2020 is devastating experience, and that fits the year perfectly.

TRANSIENCE - Chaos in Harmony (transienceli.bandcamp.com)

After merely a minute of the opening “Apocalyptic Hypocrite” from Long Beach, NY’s Transience, I am transported back to the mid 90s when emo was fresh and the world seemed so much simpler. The harmonic vocals of Damien Ellinghaus are the perfect accompaniment to the rugged guitar riffs he provides with Kevin Guaranda as the band blasts through five songs on this impressive EP. Ellinghaus stretches himself as a singer and tests the strength of his vocal cords on “Spin Cycle”, the most aggressive effort of the bunch with lyrics that are daringly honest, with the front man stating, “You’ve heard my lies a million times/It goes the same way as before”. I am most drawn to the rich melody and self-deprecating lyrics of “The Failure of Momentum” (“A constant stasis, the basis of psychosis/ A real quick Google search will be my diagnosis”). The song is built around a highly controlled yet highly inspired start/stop structure with bassist Jon Antonik and drummer/drum programmer Luigi Rueda revealing themselves to be a sophisticated duo. “Prima Facie” follows suit with another blast of intelligent modern punk that balances abrasive and refined with expert skill, as a menacing guitar hook punctuates the song’s stark lyrics (“The evidence shows that we’re going to die/ And maybe that’s just for the best”). The closing “Fix You” a poignant, highly impactful anthem about one’s personal demons and learning to live with the pain brought upon by others. The track is a perfect bookend for a very strong release that flows exceptionally well. Each track tells a powerful story and is its own three-minute novel. There are few, if any, happy endings on Chaos in Harmony, but Transience is comfortable in exposing how they, like so many of us, live with far more questions than answers.

TOWNSHIP - Life Starts Tonight (Tee Pee Records www.teepeerecords.com)

Township is a collection of guys who clearly grew up as devotees of classic rock radio, and I am sure they were told on numerous occasions that their station of choice was the “home of rock n’ roll”. The love of blue-collar rock is apparent on the slickly produced, energized guitar boogey that is the centerpiece of the opening title track. Guitar histrionics are heard throughout the record, channeling acts ranging from Boston to Grand Funk Railroad to Zeppelin, but the problem is that nothing here sound uniquely original. Township comes across as a highly skilled group of players trying to return to a bygone era rather than bring more traditional sounding rock into the twenty-first century. “Garden of Our Love” has a guitar/vocal interplay reminiscent of “The Wizard” from Black Sabbath, and while every band reference thus far is a truly transcendent act, Life Starts Tonight feels like an homage rather than a distinctive work of original thought. The opening title track may be the strongest effort of the bunch, as it retains a pop hook that is distinctively reflective of the band and not their influences. Townships’ groove oriented 70s rock flirts with the blues on “Starlight, Motor Grease, and Beer”, and the four channel their inner Bachman-Turner Overdrive on “Ancient Creatures”. There is an interesting backstory to this record, as it was recorded in 2009, but due to shifts in musical directions led by drummer Greg Beadle, frustrations among members, specifically Beadle and singer/guitarist Marc Pinansky, the band saw a series of departures amongst its members. Combine all that with a lack of finding a foothold within the industry and eventually hooking up with a record company that promoted the band’s older work instead of announcing them to the world with Life Starts Tonight, the guys endured a complete dismantling of the act. Within a year, Beadle and guitarist Matt Smart were gone and Township would later rechristen themselves Family Township and roll on with a new line-up. The release of Life Starts Tonight marks the closure of that chapter of the band’s career as well as perhaps an act of reconciliation by Pinansky who felt slighted by the band’s commitment to more driving rock n roll. “Through the Fog” cuts a meandering path over the course of roughly six minutes and invokes huge arena rock tricks that connotes images of a drummer with a huge gong behind his kit and maybe miniaturized Stonehenge models descending down from above the band. This is not a parody band in the least, as every member is a sterling player, but the songs too frequently sound dated and stilted. Family Township has new music coming soon so by releasing Life Starts Tonight, the Boston-area outfit can truly move beyond their previous incarnation and forge a new path.


PETER BLACK - I’m Gonna Cheat as Much as I Can, This Is The Hand I'm Dealt (peterblacksolo.bandcamp.com/)

I must admit, sheepishly, that I dd not recognize the name Peter Black, but a bit of digging into his backstory, and I became even more ashamed. Better known to the world as “Blackie” from the legendary, saucy Aussies the Hard-Ons, Black is a punk rock lifer who has shared stages with bands both huge and unknown since he was barely out of middle school. He continued to record in various forms throughout the first half of the twenty-first century with both the Hard-Ons and Nunchukka Superfly, but the last decade has been committed to solo work. Not only is Black a talented songwriter with a sense of melody that draws inspiration from his self-described “hero”, Paul McCartney, but he is limitlessly creative; in 2016, pre-pandemic lockdowns, Black recorded a new, fully fleshed out song every day of the year! With that type of output, it is not the least bit surprising that I’m Gonna Cheat as Much As I Can is released in tandem with If This Is The Hand I’m Dealt, two records on one day with two entirely different aesthetics. Cheat is a mannerly collection of airy pieces layered with sophisticated harmonies while Hand is a straightforward acoustic release; both are equally inspired and reveal the varied talents of Peter Black. The ethereal “Then I’m Gonna Lick Your Toes” has a sweeping majesty that one may not instantly associate with an act such as toe licking and “Incident at Rozelle” is a buoyant arrangement with Beach Boys-type euphony. Black is supported by an array of gifted friends, including drummer Joel Ellis, longtime Hard-On Ray Ahn, keyboardist/producer Jay Whalley (who truly shines on the closing “Unfurl”), Lauren Friedman, and Heather Shannon. “I’m Not Looking for a Hug” has a great sing-along stomp while “Sky with Diamonds” is a shimmering blast of hook-happy guitar rock that equally harkens back to 60s pop and 90s indie jangle as Black speaks the truth, “and some cliche's aren't cliched after all and some memories not memorable at all.” There are subtle hints of Black’s punk-pop history on the swirling “Steering Wheel Went Soft in My Hands” and the galloping pace and rich “woh-wohs” that dot “Safety Net”, but the music one hears on Cheat is largely serene and overwhelmingly beautiful. Intricate but still highly accessible, Peter Black proves that his affinity for, and ability to produce, precise pop is limitless.

SCARY HOURS - Margins (Pyrrhic Victory Records)

Ryan Struck is a one-man hardcore whirlwind on Margins, a politically charged assault upon the ugliness and hypocrisy that emerged over the past four years but had been long festering. The opening “Worthwhile Victims” sings (screams, really) of asylum seekers in cages, babies in cribs made of chainlike fencing, and “Bible-thumping bigots” over a bed of searing guitar. What I find the most impressive about Struck’s work is the sneaky sense of harmony he injects into each track, particular on “Normal’s Not New”. As he roars about economic disparity and free market, the chorus has a hook that is indefinably melodic. There is a boldness to Struck’s work as Scary Hours from both a lyrical and musical sense, as he successfully covers “How Low Can a Punk Get” from punk godfathers Bad Brains. There is always a risk in covering legends, but this version retains the original fury but is much more than a color by numbers style homage. “Cost of Living” is a rightfully dark blast of angered hardcore with a devastating breakdown and thick guitar riff that channels the best of bands like Cro-Mags and Sick of it All. “Russian Cousin” shifts gears slightly and returns to a less brusque form of guitar post-punk with a blazingly quick chorus. The closing “Shell Beach” is nearly twice as long as any of other tracks, clocking in at nearly five minutes. This expanse of time allows Struck to place all of his skills on display, from rumbling bass lines to cleaner vocals, and put forth a song of greater complexity without becoming repetitive. The desperation of the times detailed is heard in the pained nature of Struck’s vocals and the eight songs on Margins truly are a soundtrack for the angst and fear that will continue to infest the country, even if the occupant in the White House has changed. .

CRUSH LIMBO - Purveyors of Mayhem (crushlimbo.bandcamp.com)

Colm Clark is Crush Limbo and his exhaustion with the past four years of Trump’s assault upon the fundamental ideals of democracy are exorcised on Purveyors of Mayhem. This is an enjoyable listen due to Clark’s ability to balance sardonic lyrics and glimmering pop, but the record allows for a deeper exhale knowing that this pseudo-autocrat has been gloriously fired, an announcement met with global celebrations. “Play-Doh Monarch” and “Despot and the Damage Done” open the record and leave nothing to the imagination about Clark’s sentiments concerning the now former “president” of the U.S. Featuring phrases such as ” cognitively failing” and “morally bereft”, along with the question, “Did his mon and dad simply overween?”, the songs are bubbly encapsulations of the horror show that unfurled over the past four years. The sparse synth of “Narcissistic Prima Donna” provides the song with Devo flavoring as Clark utters playful lyrics (“I wanna, I wanna, Ivana, I wanna”), and “Toxicity Testosterone” summarizes the administration perfectly, as Clark states, “Gonna fight you tooth and nail for that skin on bone/As I rage tweet from my mobile phone”. The title track invokes airy, 70s AM pop as genteel guitar accompanies lyrical depictions of the cohorts involved in the promulgation of this cult, “Perpetual victim on a grievous parade/Yet many still pick him to lead the charade”. “Codependency” may include the finest summation of contemporary America, as Clark, surrounded by a mildly psychedelic 60s vibe, offers the line, “We love easy answers because the tough ones won’t do”. As one ponders recent events, it is incredibly fitting that the last words one hears on the record is “the witch is dead”, and Clark’s Purveyors of Mayhem, while heavy on humor, offers a sobering assessment of one of America’s darkest and most befuddling periods.

REFUSED - The Malignant Fire EP (Spinefarm Records www.spinefarm.com)

Refused have a long tradition of releasing an EP after each record and "The Malignant Fire" proudly continues that institution with four thrilling new tracks and the impressive “Malfire”. Having reshaped post-punk in 1998 with The Shape of Punk to Come, the band has continuously looked to push the boundaries of how music can be both furiously intense yet melodic. The grinding riff of “Malfire” and vocalist’s Dennis Lyxzen wildly emotive delivery about “wolves at the door” make it easy to understand why that song is the focus of the EP. While each of the four-pack of new works is equally impressive (the bass-heavy groove of “Organic Organic Organic” I find deliciously pummeling), the standout effort is undoubtedly “Born On the Outs”. The track utilizes the primary riff of Swedish House Mafia’s “Greyhound”, and the guys of Refused crafted original lyrics to accompany it, and created something entirely new. The riff is instantly recognizable and hypnotic, but the ability to take an EDM classic and contort it into an explosive blast of metallic guitar punk elevates Refused above other bands who may attempt such a crossover. The frenetic pace and energy of the closing duo of “Faceless Corporate Violence” and “Jackals Can’t be Bothered to Dream” make this duo a punishing pair to finish off this fleeting treat. “Faceless Corporate Violence” is a brazenly raw, viciously abrasive effort that demonstrates how Refused transcends genres to produce extreme music with an intellectual component. The song opens with Lyxzen’s screeching the title before the band instantly finds a muscular melody, demonstrating a sound that has made this band unique for over two decades. This EP was initially slated to be released before the band’s most recent tour, but we all know what happened. Regardless of challenges caused by a global pandemic, Refused still find a way to unleash their distinctive brans of ferocity.

SPENCER CULLUM’S COIN COLLECTION (YK records www.ykrecords.com)

The opening track, “Jack of Fools,” channels “Norwegian Wood”, and sets the stage for a record of 60's folk-rock played with extraordinary honesty and reverence for the original vendors of this style. Everything about the record, from the cover art of an isolated Spencer Cullum standing solemnly with his name adorned in Woodstock-era font, through the production, captures a tone from a very different world, best heard on the fragile “Imminent Shadow”. London-born but currently Nashville-based, Cullum has a warm voice that is powerfully soothing as he spins poetic lyrics into beautiful yarns. Even when he decides to eschew lyrics, the work does not lose impact, as the eight minute “Dieterich Buxtehude” captures the atmospheric beauty of that composer’s Baroque style. The gentle keys of “My Protector” sounds like Pink Floyd at their most blithe, and the closing “The Tree” has elements of Dylan woven into its tender delivery. I would certainly not find myself running towards a record of this ilk, but Cullum’s talent is beyond refute-he has a gift for ethereal psych-pop that brings 1965 into 2020.

ALPHA HEX - Alpha Hex Index (hexrecords.bigcartel.com)

This Buffalo outfit has been kicking around since 2014, and Alpha Hex Index is a collection of assorted blasts of quaking, angst-filled guitar with more than a few no-wave noise touches to keep this wonderfully unnerving. “Not the Universe” is replete with angered vocals and equally piercing guitar squall that combine to create a boisterous ball of off-kilter post-punk. The rattling “Enskin” is the embodiment of this band; two minutes of intensity wrapped around sprawling, self-destructing riffs that somehow never fully unravel, and incredibly emotive vocals that introduce elements of math rock with more serrated edges. There is an undeniable art-school experimentalism to this, but each song has a foundation steeped in the best elements of guitar punk, as heard on the soaring “The Goods”. “#572920” is a fleeting interlude that acts as a bit of an intermission, and within the “second act” of the record is my favorite of the bunch, the antagonistic “Wrestles Snakes” and its rugged structure and noise-rock qualities. “#1D2951” is another few seconds of subdued improvisation which recedes silently before unveiling the fearlessly bellicose effort “Spiral”. The helical nature of “Third Man” makes it one of the record’s most musically impressive works, and a demonstration of the limitless creative that exists within this band. With members currently occupying spots in a variety of other Buffalo-area acts, it is uncertain if Alpha Hex is a full commitment or another imaginative side project; regardless of intent, this is an exhilarating ride.

COFFIN APARTMENT - Full Torso Apparition (Silver Stature Sounds; silverstaturesounds.com)

I am the first to admit that some bands just have me at their name, and Coffin Apartment is one such act. To make this experience even more fulfilling, the seven songs waiting for me on Full Torso Apparition were mix and matched masterpieces of chaotic grindcore, sludgy, droning metal, and bursts of crusty death metal with majestically placed flair. Coffin Apartment is proof that the universe can bring geniuses together right when the world needs them the most. Johnny Brooke had witnessed the end of his band A Volcano, and he soon got together with former Same-Sex Dictator drummer Justin Straw. Bassist Brody Mennitto (former Toim) came on board and the twisted brilliance of Coffin Apartment was born. The suffocating riff that anchors “Scavenger of Regurgitation” is augmented by a devastating bass line and pained, wildly emotive vocals. The entire record is a celebration of metal’s most ferocious and unhinged moments, resulting in a melting pot of brutality and aggression. The atmospheric noise that concludes “The Process of Dehumanization” is the perfect combination of ethereal and anxiety-inducing, with the latter including a series of well-placed soundbites from religious hypocrites before launching into a ferocious mass of blackened death that concludes with a wild cacophony of noise. The ability for this band to balance varying elements of extreme metal with jazzlike time signatures makes the listener’s head spin as furiously as bang. “Derelict Paradise” incorporates a Mayhem-inspired groove with power-violence style singing and garnishes it with slashing cuts of noise until the song ever so deftly fades into a mollifying interlude. Slowly rebuilding in both intensity and scope, Coffin Apartment closes the final forty-five seconds with a flurry of vehemence. A similar construct is heard on the opening “Treacherous Tongues”, a track that hits with the subtlety of a brick to the face while meshing hardcore punk, death metal, and the energy of Converge before taking a breath in the heart of the tune and gearing up for a pummeling conclusion. The raw speed and jaw-dropping brutality that opens the majesty “Transient Exuberance” is remarkable, and the guys again indulge in a free-flowing, bass and drums led interlude before returning to finish off what is left standing. Only the two minute “A Quagmire of Filth and Shame” assaults unsuspecting ears without a significant shift in tempo, and the song is a fierce barrage of crushing ferocity. Full Torso Apparition is not an easy listen, but it is utterly remarkable and is another significant step forward in metal’s’ evolution as a genre. I may have found my highlight of the year and my survival guide to the next lockdown.

JULES SHEAR - Slower (Funzalo; funzalorecords.com)

At sixty-eight, maybe Jules Shear is starting to slow down, but it is difficult to tell from the beauty on display with Slower. The man perhaps best known for penning hits for Cyndi Lauper and the bangles, along with masterminding the idea for MTVs Unplugged series, some can certainly argue that hear has not enjoyed the success he deserved. Slower is a gentle, heartwarming collection of piano-driven ballads that illuminate the warmth of his still strong vocals. Joined by John Sebastian on harp for the opening “Sugar All Day”, Shear articulates each word with a penetrating intimacy. Much of Slower allows listeners to imagine that Shear is sitting at a piano in a tiny, out of the way club performing only for them, especially the poignant “Today Like Tomorrow”. Songs such as “It Came Down from Heaven” and “It’s Love” are reminiscent of Warren Zevon’s most expressive moments, as delicate musicianship and beautiful poetry hold hands over the course of four elegant minutes. Shear’s sense of humor is readily apparent on the sardonic “Smart” and “Feels Like Fall”, a Leonard Cohen style tale in which Shear states how “it feels like fall/but it’s spring”. The refined playing of “One Pretty Please” and “Until Now” (with the later acknowledging that the singer is indeed “slower”) are tender works of a masterful storyteller. Spinning tales about relationships and forthright introspection, Slower is a stirring work from a master still finding new methods of expression.


 

EXTRA SPECIAL - "Lazy About It" EP (extraspecial.bandcamp.com/album/lazy-about-it-ep)

Amelia Bushell is Extra Special, both in name and talent level, as "Lazy About It" proves. The five song EP takes listeners on a deeply personal tour of Bushell’s struggles and moments of clarity as a twenty-something with still so much to figure out. The songs are individually beautiful, poignant, and daringly forthright. The opening “I Hate Love” is the finest example of raw, unflinching honesty when Bushell admits that life is painful “when it becomes a fact that the one you love doesn’t love you back”. Wrapped around a bucolic, lush structure and Bushnell’s enchanting voice, the song is a gift to the lonely. “True Fear” follows a similar path, possessing a staggering fragility. Each effort has a heartfelt courage gently embraced by ethereal affection. The warm pop of “Thanks to You” is augmented by elegant keys from Bushell and guitar work from Gary Atturio, and the soothing heartbreak of “Too Hard to Mend” is majestic slice of anguish. However, Bushell does not allow listeners to sulk off into the corner entirely, as the closing “My Car is Parked in Canada” is a more upbeat, semi-traditional pop nugget with drummer Louis Cozza given a chance to shine. "Lazy About It" is the type of angst-filled diary that many will find relatable, delivered by a highly adept songwriter.

THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST - Careless Moon (thenextgreatamericannovelist. bandcamp.com)

What a difference an album makes! I distinctly remember my enjoyment of the debut from NGAN, but Careless Moon marks an almost unimaginable amount of growth in songwriting acumen. The ten pieces on NGAN’s sophomore effort are a whimsical mix of indie pop, gentle psychedelia, and crafty traces of grittier rock. The vast majority of what Sean Cahill and Jason Cummings play is glimmering works of layered, richly textured hospitable shoegaze that is accented by accessible experimentation, as one hears on the flawless “Gravity’s Rainbow”. The soaring guitar of “Wicked” is a marvelous balance to the gentle piano that anchors the lush “It’s Been You”, as the pair pays respectful homage to various genres and talents. There are moments when Cahill and Cummings openly declare their love for other acts, such as the line, “I love to hear you humming to the Fleet Foxes” on the aforementioned “It’s Been You”, but their appreciation for genres of all varieties is encapsulated on the closing “Ice Moon”. Largely a waif-like atmospheric gem, the tracks builds methodically over the course of five minutes into a noisy conclusion awash in distortion and the ironic repetition of “Just a quiet, peaceful death”(a subtle nod to Rage Against the Machine’s “Down Rodeo”) as a riotous din swirls around Cahill. The rockier bursts of “Bad Animation” and “Drag” are a pair of songs previously inconceivable to the early incarnation of NGAN, and the piercing riff and closing scream of “Drag” is as authentic as the meandering country twang of “Kubler”. The playful “Blackberry” is driven by delightful guitar and bass interplay with Cahill’s beguiling vocals declaring that indeed, he does “want everything all of the time”. It is a rare to hear a band evolve so quickly, and this only means continued excellence as NGAN will undoubtedly continue to challenge themselves.


THE BOUNCING SOLS - Volume 2 (Pure Noise Records www.purenoise.net)

It is incredible to think that nearly thirty years have passed since The Bouncing Souls emerged from teenage boredom and became punk legends. The core of the Souls has always been songwriting; even as a start-up act, the band always wrote with heart and depth. Volume Two takes ten classic efforts and completely revamps them through a wide scope of musical lenses. “Late Bloomer” becomes a rambling, country-kissed effort and “Gone” is changed to a gentle pop gem and neither song loses an ounce of impact. Two of my favorites are the centerpieces of the record, as “Simple Man” and “Helpless Romantic” morph into acoustically driven and bouncy pop confessions, respectively. This is a bold step to take for any band, but The Bouncing Souls have been evolving since their days as a ska-punk outfit that set clubs on fire with live shows, and these guys know that fans will stick with them. Volume Two also proves that skilled songwriting transcends genre and superior talent stands alone, and no one can question the skill of Pete Steinkopf, both in and out of The Bouncing Souls along with his vast array of producing credits. Greg Attonito’s voice sounds incredibly strong on “Favorite Everything”, but truly hits fiercest on “World One Fire”, the one original contribution to the record. As he sings, “These are days that could kill us all/We decide to do or die/Find a reason to save our souls/What a time to be alive/It's alright in a world on fire”, he sums up the terrifying uncertainty that plagues so many, proving once again how adroitly The Bouncing Sols can find the most appropriate words and tone. Closing with two acoustic efforts, “Say Anything” and the serene “Ghost on the Boardwalk”, the record fades gently into silence; let’s hope it is at least another thirty years before we say that about The Bouncing Souls.

LUNCHBOX - After School Special (Slumberland Records www.slumberlandrecords.com)

This could not have been titled more perfectly-the “After School Special” was a staple for many in the 70s and 80s and a delightfully awkward manner to gain “real world” knowledge from TV. The acting was terrible, the writing unbearably corny, and the stories always wrapped up neatly, but could never question the sincerity of all involved. The last point holds true with the music of Lunchbox-sounding like AM radio during the days of the Vietnam era through American malaise, the songs jangle with warm vocals and bubblegum psychedelia. “I Really Wanna Know” is the best song The Partridge Family never performed, as Tim Brown and Donna McKean espouse lighthearted funk with ethereal 60s rock vibes. The result is a vast collection of songs that help listeners forget how awful the world is right now and might actually fill people with a sense of dare I say…happiness? It is actually impossible to listen to After School Special and not smile, for the songs convey a lush innocence, as “Three Cheers for Autumntime” blend Mammas and the Poppas harmonies with warm horn playing shoegaze aesthetics, and “Gary of the Academy” is the dream of any ad agency, for the song enters your brain like a kind-hearted, bubbly earwig and refuses to leave. The entire record is a sterling collection of songs that rattle and shake with blissful energy, as “Melt Into Air” conveys perfectly. McKean’s “woah, woah, woah” on “Over Way Too Soon” sounds inspired and genuine, reflecting a true appreciation for a sound that was built around unforgettable melodies and hooks. The indie rock clatter of “It’s Over Now” takes the early 60s and early 90s and melds them into an invigorating combination of deft musicianship and inspirational guilelessness. Perhaps because I am listening to this just hours before the presidential election and I have found myself sitting up at night pondering the death of American democracy that Lunchbox’s music sounds particularly satisfying-the world is going to hell, but no one could tell if After School Special is playing. I may hold on to this one as my freedom takes its final gasps.

STEVE AND THE NOT STEVES (Featuring Fletcher Dragge of Pennywise) - “Cell Divide” (steveandthenotsteves.bandcamp.com)

Anyone reading his is well aware of who Fletcher Dragge and his outfit Pennywise is (if not, boy, do you have a lot of work to do), and Lindenhurst, NY’s Steve and The Not Steves are among a legion of acts who are inspired by Pennywise’s sound, making this collaboration a perfect musical marriage. “Cell Divide” came about through a fund-raising project devoted to aiding touring acts devastated by the ongoing COVD-19 crisis called For the Nomads (visit https://www.forthenomads.org/ if interested in helping out). The song is a perfect blending of seething punk with pop sensibilities that rage against the current deterioration of America as vocalist Steve Schopp barks, “Woke up late in the land of the free/And I won't back down or get in line/The time is now, now is the time/Rise up, resist/Take down, fascist hypocrites”. Dragge’s instantly recognizable guitar tone plays a starring role here, adding significant girth to the song’s driving groove, as well providing a scathing solo. Backing Schopp are the Not Steves - guitarist Michael Ravid, bassist Geoff Sondergard, and drummer Ricky Bustamante - all highly skilled players who work in perfect synch with Dragge as if the Pennywise icon has been a Not Steve for years. With a timely and poignant message and a thunderous hook, “Cell Divide” is a modern American punk anthem that is not without hope-the song calls for unity and sanity to ultimately rule the day; hopefully, enough people can heed the message. The track is four minutes of unrelenting energy that includes a brief build up before erupting into pogo-punk fury balanced by Schoop’s passionate yet controlled vocals. I have had the pleasure of seeing Steve and the Not Steves live many times in the pre-pandemic age so long ago, and this is their finest work to date. Get over to their bandcamp, support an amazing cause, and also check out their video featuring cameo appearances from Sharp Violet, another of Long Island’s best bands and sister act to Steve and the Not Steves.

THELONIOUS MONSTER - Oh That Monster (Immediate Family Records www.immediatefamilyrecords.com)

Breaking up in the mid-90s, Thelonious Monster have picked a heck of a time to return with Oh, That Monster. These well-worn, battle-tested veterans offer a record of varying tempos and intensity levels, but each song reflects the concerns of 2020 America. “Buy Another Gun” addresses the parental nightmare that has become school violence through a buoyant pop-punk structure, similar to the Buzzcocks, while the opening “Disappear” is a riotous explosion of classic Pistols-sounding punk led by guitar players Dix Denney and Chris Handsome. Late 70s punk aesthetics dominate “Trouble” and “Teenage Wasteland”, with the latter being lightly embraced every so perfectly in rock’s earliest surf inspiration. Led by Bob Forrest, Thelonious Monster is a chameleon of band, effortlessly shifting from hard hitting barrages of garage rock energy to the smooth, jazz touches of “Sixteen Angels”. The cheeky title of “LA Divorce” has a funky bassline from Martyn LeNoble and is held together by the steady drumming of Pete Weiss. The genteel “The Faraway” is a wistful piece of nostalgia that can only sound this heartfelt and truthful when written and performed who have lived the experience of watching children grow up and the changes life brings. It is a beautiful conclusion to a powerful record that was an introduction for me to Thelonious Monster. I will now begin hunting down their earlier catalog.


SCIENCE MAN - SM II (Big Neck Records www.bigneckrecords.com)

It took me until my third listen until I realized that Science Man is just that-one man. This enigmatic Buffalo product has a guitar, a drum machine, and more energy than middle school kids after a pallet of energy drinks, best embodied on “The Pit”. The ten songs on SM II have a blazing, surf-friend punk frenzy led by massive guitar as if The Cramps mated with Drive Like Jehu and then gave the baby to Jon Spencer. Drenched in distortion and feedback, then summarily delivered as if in the center of a tempest, Science Man is a one-man wrecking ball, swinging fists and kicking feet in all directions with staggering intensity. “Top of the Crown” is an opening sucker punch to the jaw that would make Rick Moranis flinch, and “Hit the Switch” is my favorite, but if you ask me again in a week, I may very well have two or three new choices for most cherished track. The noisy intro of “Crawling Out” eventually gives way to a heavy yet melodic groove, with “Give the Ghost to Me” is a blazing slab of guitar power. I am intrigued by the experimental noise of “Keeper of the Wyrm”, and immediately impressed with how the song bleeds into the closing “The Gift”. The finale is a more fleshed out effort, lasting well over three minutes, something no other song achieves, but it is also the subtle psychedelic nature of the song that truly draws the listener inside. I am left wondering if this is a possible glimpse into the future of what Science Man may do next. Whatever form his music takes, I am already excited about what will come next.

THE USAISAMONSTER - Amikwag (Yeggs Records www.yeggsrecords.com)

Colin Langenus and Tom Hohmann have not released new music together as Usaisamonster for ten years (their last work was the fittingly titled RIP), and while I am sure that is upsetting for some to hear, I had not heard this band prior to this comeback release, and I really had no frame of reference. On Amikwag, the duo presents a vast array of playful, dreamy, at times, blissfully disjointed pop music. “Permaculture’s Promise” is nearly hypnotic in its serene grace, while the first single “Rapido Amigo” plays with musical structure with a wistfulness that is reminiscent of Zappa’s more whimsical moments. The songs meander and become slightly labyrinthian at times, and even while intriguing, “Verbs” and “Side of the Road” require the listener to work to fully grasp the entirety of the song. The band’s moniker is even more fitting than what it was a decade ago, and certainly a song titled “We Are Not Alone” is also quite apropos, and to that end, this complex effort is also the band’s best. Delivered in both English and Farsi, the song has a somnambulistic sensibility about it that makes the effort perpetually fascinating. I would never run towards a band like this by choice, but I am fortunate to have been introduced to these two multi-talented players. Everything on Amikwag is layered, richly textured and entirely without any traditional rules about adhering to predictable structure.

DEAD END AMERICA - Crush The Machine (Southern Lord Records www.southernlord.com)

Those of us of a certain age remember when the Reagan administration inspired some of the fiercest, most inspiring punk in American history, with the two Bush presidencies coming close to matching the anger expressed in the mid-80s. Now, on the cusp of Donald Trump either losing in disgrace or winning the presidency and thus decimating what’s left of democracy, Dead End America arrive with four scathing pieces of politically charged hardcore from some of the best to ever do this. “Dead White Hands” is an opening gut-punch that instantly recalls the finest days of unadulterated hardcore fury. The four songs on Crush the Machine once again proves that the kids are better off keeping their millennial mouths shut and learning from the masters, particularly Steve “Thee Hippy Slayer” Hanford, who passed tragically just before the EP was finished. Committed to seeing the project through to completion, Tony Avila of World Of Lies, Why Won't You Die, and about one hundred other acts, joined Ian Watts from Ape Machine and bassist/vocalist Nick Oliveri of Mondo Generator, The Dwarves, Kyuss, and Queens Of The Stone Age to compile rage, disgust, and unfettered hatred into an incendiary decimation of American culture. “Bullet for 45” featuring Eyehategod’s Mike IX Williams on vocals, leaves nothing to the imagination, as the track rages against American stupidity and the demise of the American dream. Continuing the theme of a failing America, the guys lambast the gutless wonders of social media on “Twitter Troll”, and Blaine Cook from The Accüsed A.D. offers his indominable vocal style to the blistering “Searching for a Reason”, proving that a band such as Dead End America can say more in one ninety-second song that what most bands can in an entire career. If this election does mean the end of the American experiment, I will ride out the last moments with Crush the Machine playing defiantly.

DFMK - S/T (La Escalera Records https://laescalerarecords.bandcamp.com)

DFMK are a Tijuana, Mexico based outfit that delivers fifteen tracks of garage style punk that captures the best aspects of the Candy Snatchers and New Bomb Turks slamming heads with proto punks like The Stooges. Underpinning each song is a commitment to crafting smart, biting riffs that have unavoidable melody to match the intensity. Any potential language barrier does not matter here, as “Fuera de Lugar” “Obsessión” and the caustic forty-two seconds of Espacious Vacíos” speak a dialect that transcends translation; namely a language of bare bones punk fury. Every second of DFMK is played with equal savagery and includes the Ramones-inspired “Diferencías” and the subtle surf vibes of “Rita”, reminiscent of Night Birds’ best moments. The pummeling blues of “Year of the Snake” concludes this gem, and I consider myself fortunate to have been introduced to this one. The band has a rich discography, and their progression as a band is noticeable, and their future releases will surely only build upon the greatness one hears here.

ALL SOULS - Songs for the End of the World (allsoulsband.bandcamp.com)

It had to happen eventually-there had to be someone naming a record in 2020 about the end of mankind, and All Souls are a fitting band to do so. Lyrically introspective and dark but often musically buoyant, All Souls will keep your spirits up as the world finally explodes. Songs for the End of the World is a tightly wound group of tracks with crunchy and guitar and somber vocals from Antonio Aguilar that often morph into sprawling waves of post-grunge strength. Surrounding him is Erik Trammell, and the duo soar throughout the record, but when their classic New York punk buzz meets the abrasive force of drummer Tony Tornay and bassist Meg Castellanos, songs like “Bleeding Out” and “Lights Out” become gritty stories of those on the outside and suffering. The latter includes the lyrics, “And hats off now to Pedro, He’s working every day and night, He runs for cover when ICE is outside with a light/ And hats off now to Mijo ‘Cause He’s 7 and he’s in the can”. There is obviously a tremendous amount of fodder right now for songs about those who have been forgotten, but All Souls do not merely lament the brutality of existence, but instead, bring these forlorn characters to life. The opening “Sentimental Rehash” is a jittery, over-caffeinated burst of uncompromising punk, while “You Just Can’t Win” is less aggressive, but no less evocative as the lyrics lambast those who turn misguided frustrations into imaginary tales of victimhood (“And on the tube at night your pundits remark bomb them straight to hell and let God sort them out”). The centerpiece of the record is the seven-minute opus, “Winds”. Nearly symphonic in nature, the song is an exploding star of a work that cannot help but leave listeners stunned as waves of guitar intersect with pained vocal intensity and low-end bellowing that harkens to Houses of the Holy as much as it does Windhand. The sonic shifts on “Bridge the Sun” capture the dexterity of All Souls, as this is a band that creates passionate and chilling music. Songs for the End of the World may be a perfect time capsule for where were in 2020; let’s hope we’re still here long enough to look back and appreciate this.

B R I Q U E V I L L E - Quelle (Pelagic Records, pelagic-records.com)

Belgium has not been this brutal and punishing since their treatment of the Congo. B R I Q U E V I L L E (yes, they intentionally place spaces between each letter) plays hypnotic, instrumental metal that moves faultlessly from crushing riffs to deeply soothing soundscapes. The band earned a permanent place in my heart before I ever heard a note after I read about a 2014 caper of theirs: The guys buried twenty copies of their debut album in the ground and gave Facebook followers clues as to where to dig up the vinyl. Even if this band did truly nothing following that stunt, their staus as “cooler than anything your band ever thought of doing” would be permanently cemented. On top of all of this, the guys have been wearing masks on stage long before it was trendy or mandated by government. Luckily for all of us, B R I Q U E V I L L E pressed on and released a follow-up in 2017. Now, three years later, the global COVID-19 pandemic inspires this work of tortured majesty. The songs on Quelle are quite lengthy, with “Akte X” clocking in at over fourteen minutes. Blending doom and black metal with ethereal waves, the band constructs pieces with a jazz-like ability to alter tone and direction quickly, leading to wildly unique and unpredictable journeys. The opening “Akte VIII” and “Akte IX” bleed into each other as if one continues effort, differentiated slightly by “IX” dominated by mesmerizingly crushing riffs. Do not be unnerved by the expansive quality of “X”, as B R I Q U E V I L L E appreciates the idea that songs do not require every second to be filled with sound. The quiet accentuates the loud and the interludes of tranquility only make the inevitable blasts of force more intimidating. The songs are truly resplendent, as the mysterious line-up lead the listener through a harrowing labyrinth, emphasizing serenity that precedes darkness and demonstrates the inarguable agility of the players. The gloom of the record permeates the listener, as each song acts less like a self-contained world but rather a portion of a massive story. One can listen to Quelle and hear extreme music evolving in real time, as “Akte XIII and XIV” are equally haunting and inspiring, capturing a refined dystopian beauty. Recorded in isolation with each member truly distant from each other, the songs are amalgamations of each contributor’s ideas, giving the finished work a profound depth and complexity. It is challenging to find much information about his band, but simply allow Quelle to speak for itself, even without the presence of lyrics.

BANGLADEAFY - Housefly (www.nefariousindustries.com)

I went back to listen to Bangladeafy’s 2018 masterpiece Ribboncutter to attempt to put myself in the proper mindset before attempting Housefly, but that was a fool’s quest-there is nothing that can prepare a person for anything Bangladeafy does, which is why I love this duo. John Ehlers and Atif Haq are master noise manipulators, but rather than the metallic barrage of flesh-ripping sound that defined their earlier work, Housefly has an industrial intonation, blended with highly agitated synth. “Bloom” has traces of Devo, but the more chaotic “Miracles” is a nightmare brought to life as terrifying beats capture the terror of fleeing for your life from a faceless entity that may or may not be one step beyond you, or perhaps the entire episode is all in your mind. The sense of confusion and unease created by Ehlers and Haq is grotesquely beautiful, such as the wild noise collage, “Shortcuts”. Blending Skinny Puppy with Wes Craven 80s horror soundtracks, Housefly is a labyrinthian maze of paroxysmal percussion and turbulent synth best embodied on “Lifeforms”, a chilling salvo of Devo spliced with Foetus that gives Ehlers an opportunity to ravage his vocal cords. Even the twenty-five seconds of piano wrapped in genteel noise one hears on “Pupa” does nothing to settle or reassure the listener, for “Tar” is a frenzied ball of rage. The songs come and go quite literally within seconds, with only two of thirteen songs hitting two minutes in length. Blending qualities of punk, jazz, noise, metal, and ambient all into a churning throng, Housefly is easily the most inimitable and necessary record of 2020. “Youthanor” is every helpless feeling people have had over the past six months rolled into one festering pile of disgust, while the three sparse “Instar” pieces are paranoia-inducing soundscapes; the dichotomy of these works embody both the tortured brilliance of Bangladeafy, and also their fearless commitment to reinvention. I understand that music such as this is an acquired taste for some, but honestly, I cannot understand how people do not simply fall to their knees and worship a band like Bangladeafy. Wake up, people!!

PIMMIT HILLS - Heathens and Prophets (https://gyard.bigcartel.com/)

So how exactly does one move from being members within an adored doom metal band with an impressive twelve-year history to a blustering, blues-metal machine? Apparently, it is a fairly easy adaptation if you listen to Heathens and Prophets, the rumbling mass of power from Pimmit Hills. This neck-snapping four-song EP features the opening “Baby Blues Eyes”, a track that retains all the force of classic metal accented by a distinctive Southern rock boogie ultimately resulting in hook-laden doom. While this may sound like a musical oxymoron, Heathens and Prophets is a torrent of blues-soaked guitar crunch from Todd Ingram, whose meaty riffs dominate each track, and with each song over seven minutes in length, no one here is cheated. When vocalist David Hammerly announces, “She’s a whiskey drinkin’ temptress” on the aforementioned “Baby Blue Eyes”, the line could work with artists ranging from Chris Robinson to Toby Keith, but Hammerly makes it all his own, and the guys around him generate seismic energy on “Ginger”, led by drummer Brooks and bassist Lee Walters III. Produced by J Robbins, Pimmit Hills sound pristine and punishing throughout the mountainous efforts. The meandering intro of “Lost River” glides along in an effortlessly serpentine manner towards to soaring solo that blends aspects of prog’s experimentalism and proto-metal’s rugged humility. The closing “Beautiful Sadness” sounds like a lost gem from the California Jams of the early 70s with its distortion-washed guitar and rolling low-end swagger. There is a familiarity to what Pimmit Hills does that makes them instantly embraceable, but yet their approach to modern blues is also highly distinctive. Metal was the devil’s spawn of the blues, but few bands truly embrace the result of this unholy copulation with the style and finesse of Pimmit Hills. I did not know much about King Giant, the former outlet for these guys, but Pimmit Hills has me excited for their future.

BLACK MAGNET - Hallucination Scene (www.20buckspin.com)

Black Magnet is a one-man industrial tour de force named James Hammontree, and Hallucination Scene is a punishing eight-song voyage of industrialized pain. The influences abound here, and every act to whom Hammontree pays homage is among true giants. The thunderous opener “Divination Equipment” has a stomp reminiscent of Streetcleaner-era Godflesh, while “Anubis” includes a dark ambient sensibility, more akin to Front 242 or Ministry. Where Black Magnet truly excels as a project is the ability for Hammontree to avoid repetition in his work, as each song possesses a strong sense of individuality. “Punishment Map” features a dizzying bed of drum and bass under heavily distorted vocals and significantly fuzzy guitar. Blending noise and brain-shaking drumbeats, Hallucination Scene hits its apex on “Crush Me”, a bleak slab of intensity with a chorus that is the musical equivalent of a power drill to the skull. Refined touches of DSBM are heard on “Hegemon”, while the closing “Walking in the Dark” has subtleties usually found in the work of Chemlab or Pigface. Furious but not directionless, Black Magnet takes the rage of hardcore, the despondency of metal, and the mechanized malfeasance of industrial to produce a record that resonates with disgust felt by and for humanity.

EN MINOR - When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out (Housecore Records www.thehousecorerecords.com)

This one could be a little difficult to explain to someone just emerging from quarantine - Phil Anselmo sings on a largely acoustic project. Anselmo, whose menacing stage presence was the centerpiece of Pantera’s metal dominance at the end of the twentieth century, has provided vocals to myriad of bands from Superjoint Ritual and Down to the Illegals, but aside from his Southern Isolation project, very little in his repertoire sounds like En Minor. One similarity between En Minor and Anselmo’s other bands is his ever-present intensity; the songs many not rival “Mouth for war” in terms of volume, but when Anselmo declares, “Love is but a word and I’m finding it hard to believe” on the opening “Mausoleums”, it is obvious that En Minor is not here to play weddings. Surrounded by guitarists Stephen Taylor, Kevin Bond, and Paul Webb, the sound on When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out is surprisingly dense and deeply emotive. Cellist Steve Bernal exists in lush harmony with the four guitarists (Anselmo offers guitar as well), while bassist Joiner Dover, whose brother Calvin contributes keyboards, and drummer Jimmy Bower work in unison to bring the band slowly into depths of crippling darkness on the haunting “This Not Your Day” and “Love Needs Love”, with the former including the line, ”Had she voiced her pleas, he might have killed his wife” “and the latter announces, “There isn’t a blade of grass that hasn’t been corrupted”. This type of funeral dirge is En Minor’s strength, although the band does not hesitate to experiment with structure, as “On the Floor” dabbles with a slight country twang as Anselmo declares, “Many will mourn as the headless scream, found dead on the floor”. The meandering “Black Mass” and the atmospheric “Warm Sharp Bath Sleep” are two of the finest works that mesh ethereal with gritty to produce a highly unique sound that sound like the soundtracks to vintage horror films, a topic Anselmo knows quite well. On “Melancholia”, the line “Self-loathing feels like the right way of expression” hangs in the air as ghostly guitar work glides above the sadness and confusion. It is an impressive feat to bring the darkest aspects of Americana to light in such a meaningful manner; add this to Anselmo’s ever growing list of distinctive moments.

EXHALANTS - Atonement (exhalants.bandcamp.com)

I admit, I am not a difficult man to please, and the Exhalants had me with the reference to Unsane in their bio. The music on Atonement could cure COVID by scaring the droplets right back into your filthy orifices, as the hard-hitting Texas trio marinates each track in a sonic bath of distortion and feedback that attempts to swallow lead singer Steve whole, but somehow, he fights furiously enough to strain his voice above the controlled chaos. “Bang” is a rolling machine of suffering that pummels all in its path as scorched earth vocals are mimicked by equally devastating playing. It is easy to become infatuated with the sheer force with which these guys play, but efforts such as “Richard” and “End Scenes” demonstrate the dazzling dexterity of bassist Bill and drummer Tom. If you fondly remember 90s noise, Exhalents will remain many of Stalwarts like Unwound and Drive Like Jehu as “Passing Perceptions” unleashes a seething mass of guitar hate and “Crucifix” is bult around Bill’s think bass line and Tom’s volcanic drumming. In addition to his guitar assault, Steve is a highly gifted screamer, consistently pushing his vocal cords to the precipice of destruction all the while remaining incredibly affective. “Blackened” swings a massive hook that becomes the song’s defining riff and a groove to which the band returns in between moments of shrill, piercing, beautiful clatter to produce a stunningly engaging din. It is a band like Exhalants that makes me willing to be the first in line for an experimental vaccine; I need these guys out on the road destroying clubs along the way. Until then, go find this.


ANTHROPHOBIA - Altered States / Grind EP's (www.anthrophobia.com)

After all these years, Frank Phobia may be
sh owing his age; not musically, mind you - Anthrophobia sound as raw and spry as ever on "Altered States" - but the first track on the band’s new record is called “Cliff Notes.” For those under 35, Cliff Notes were used before any online sources to help all of us avoid reading the books assigned in school; the kids today have Sparknotes and about a thousand other ways to get them out of reading, but Frank stays true to the old school mentality-quite literally. The song itself is another familiar blast of hook-laden guitar riffs wrapped around a dense low-end groove compliments of Rob DiJoseph and Dickie Delp, all topped off with Frank’s iconic vocals.

He and the rest of Anthrophobia have always perfectly blended metal, punk, and spatial stoner-rock into a deeply refreshing musical smoothie, and the same formula exists here, but Anthrophobia does not simply rewrite past material. Fans have a choice of purchasing either the standalone, 6-track "Alterted States" EP, or springing for the deluxe 15-song vinyl package, which includes 2017's "Grind" EP.

There are several unique features to this work - we reviewed the combined, deluxe package - with perhaps the biggest surprise here being the lengthy, meandering “Before the Crash.” Beginning quietly, the song is a slow boil of a track with the intensity gradually increasing over the course of seven sprawling minutes, with Brent Black’s dexterity shining most prominently. and the release of Altered States is one of the few events that is a positive during this otherwise nightmarish year.

“Running Out of Time” is a frantic speedball of a song that still retains an easily instantly recognizable melody, while the impenetrable structure of “Take One for the Team” has Phobia growling and snarling through an opaque mass of guitar creativity once again from Black. There is an abrasive, serrated edge to songs like “Grind” and “Ghosts” that exude the band’s adoration for bare-knuckled rock n roll. “Over Reactor”, “Fundamentally Cynical”, and “Cracks in the Ceiling” all roar with blistering ferocity, revealing the band’s punk roots by infusing the songs with constant energy and each of the trio barely hitting two minutes in length. Like so many other people, I want to go to sleep and wake up in January; however, if that remains a physical impossibility, at least Anthrophobia can provide a soundtrack for this current hell.

THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX - Scorpio (Tee Pee Records www.teepeerecords.com)

With all of the frustration and resentment 2020 has brought, The Atomic Bitchwax’s opening song “I Hope You Die” from their latest record Scorpio, is a perfect form of catharsis. It also reflects the mood and tenor of all of Scorpio; it is a massive, pugnacious blast of bluesy, distortion-drenched force. New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, who emerged out of Monster Magnet, features bassist, singer, and lyricist, Chris Kosnik, along with drummer Bob Pantella and guitarist Garrett Sweeny, continues their tradition of Black Sabbath stomp and latter-day Corrosion of Conformity Southern swagger. Scorpio is a boisterous blast of authentic, guitar-heavy rock n’ roll, as the appropriately titled “Energy” has a hook that sneaks up on the listener with a rich tone and blunt force melody, two traits one also hears on the thunderous instrumentals, “Ninja” and “Crash”. Both tracks roar like alcohol-fueled drag racers, leaving behind only the scent of burned rubber and gasoline in their wake. “Scorpio” channels the finest aspects of Blue Cheer as interpreted by 90s grunge bands, and the bass-heavy “Easy Action” is a sleazy brew of sweat-stained bombast. There is relentless energy throughout the record and The Atomic Bitchwax does not rest for even a note, as if the band feels compelled to get everything they have out to the listeners as quickly as possible as a musical last will and testament to the world of guitar-fueled rock before COVID takes all of us. Honestly, if this is the last music I hear before it all goes black, I can live with that. It is physically impossible to not entirely immerse one’s self in the Stones-meets-Motorhead groove of “You Got It” and “Betting Man”, as Sweeney excels on both pieces. There is a refreshing purity to Scorpio that makes it a mandatory listen as every single track will melt the walls of clubs once we are allowed back in them, but this should get crowds moving even if it is livestreamed.

NOFX and Frank Turner - WEST COAST vs. WESSEX (Fat Wreck Chords)

This is a great idea for a split LP. NOFX takes five of Frank Turner’s tracks and applies their melodic punk energy to them, while Turner selects five of NOFX’s songs and transforms them into works of poignant, emotional toil. One should not be surprised to hear that the result of this mash-up is as intriguing as it is brilliant. The bitter” Worse Things Happen A Sea” has a snarky sense of humor illuminated by Fat Mike as NOFX blaze a scorched path through the song, emphasizing the lyrics’ tale of frustration found within relationships. “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” is less a political statement as it a realistic depiction of aging (“Anyone who looks younger than me makes me check my wallet, my phone, my keys”). Bouncing with ska grooves, the song’s hypnotic energy is infectious as Mike’s gruff v oice does a majestic job capturing Turner’s shrewd social commentary. The piano-laden “Glory Hallelujah” is the most beautiful song of nihilism one may ever hear (“There was never was a god”). For Turner, he travels less-worn paths of NOFX’s career, turning “Falling in Love” into a fragile, wonderfully moving track. While “Bob” is reworked as a gritty country song, “Perfect Government” is a swaggering, rollicking rock anthem with ethereal pop warmth. Turner’s voice is smooth and emotive, and his backing band, The Sleeping Souls, take NOFX’s affable punk anthems and place a special emphasis upon the harmonies found within each. “Eat the Meek” reverberates with a tension heard on the first generation of emo bands, illustrating the chameleon-like quality of Frank Turner’s musicianship. There is always a risk on records such as this that the result may seem either too forced or clichéd fanboy adoration; neither is true here. West Coast vs. Wessex allows a collection of imaginative musicians to place their own unique imprints upon each other’s work that reflects a sense of respect and the pure enjoyment of creativity.

GARRISON - TV or the Atomic Bomb (Artic Rodeo Records arcticrodeorecordings.com)

Joe Grillo and Ed McNamara, two veterans from a pair of brilliant late 90s, early 2000s bands, Stricken for Catherine and Iris, respectively, went on to lead Garrison, a seminal Boston area outfit that were a stalwart, but fleeting, Revelation Records act. Having worked with the likes of Kurt Ballou, Andrew Schneider and J. Robbins, Garrison was an incredible, but tragically underappreciated band. It is a little frightening that a band from 2004 seems to be from another time and universe, but Garrison’s hard-driving, guitar charged, proto post-hardcore intensity shines through all twelve songs, but truly glows for me on “New Habits for Old Friends” and “I’m a Lover”. However, do not assume that all Garrison knew how to do was throw musical haymakers; “We Watch the World Come Down” has a huge hook that soars across a majestic chorus, and their raucous take of the Smiths’ classic, “Panic” is a slice of furious perfection. I had “hang the DJ” ringing in my head for hours afterwards, and I could not be happier for it. Blending the power of Unwound with the dexterity of Fugazi and just enough harmony to spice it all up gloriously, Garrison roars on “King of the Century” and “Let’s Fight”. “Stand Up and State Your Name” is a ferocious assault, but has rounded edges that provide a surprising injection of melody within the cacophony of force. “Ego” begins with nearly a minute of deliberately emerging noise before hammering away with a thunderous low-end barrage and powerful vocals. “Twenty-four” is from the band’s first demo and is a raw blast of sinewy guitar work that was a stirring example of what the band would do over the course of eight years. I am so embarrassed to say that I missed out on Garrison the first time around, but thrilled that I caught up now.

HAUX - Violence in a Quiet Mind (Color Study Records www.wearecolorstudy.com)

The music of Haux is able to make emotional pain tangible. Throughout the poetically titled Violence in a Quiet Mind, the London via Massachusetts native sings with an angelic fragility (“You can’t get hurt if you don’t make a sound” is one of the more poignant lines) that has often invoked comparisons to Bon Iver. That is an accurate and wonderfully complimentary statement for both artists, but Woodson Black constructs songs in which lyrics and vocal delivery mesh in a manner that connotes unbearable emotional anguish with a warmth and beauty. With his voice quivering over acoustic guitar, “Salt” is terminally gorgeous, and this structure marks the tone for all of Violence in a Quiet Mind. Accented by stripped-down musicianship, Black courageously presents his soul through often-whispered lyrics of loss and heartache. The most innocuous of phrases take on a profound depth in the hands of such a gifted wordsmith. (One such example is “Hold on to love” from “Of the Age”) The serene “Killers” is highlighted by the repetition of Black’s composed admission, “I forgive you”, and this embodies the staggering power of how language can be delivered with chilling intensity without screaming. “Heavy” is both a dazzling pop song and also an engaging journal entry set to ethereal piano and minimalist percussion. A shattering sensibility is also heard on both the opening “Hold On” and the gut-wrenching “Craving “ (“Craving for your love, craving for your touch”). This is a record to play alone in the dark and simply bathe in the sorrow. 2020 may have provided enough pain for all of us, but the cathartic quality of “Gone” (“Don’t feel like myself when you’re gone”) and “Accidents” is good for the soul. Just be sure to listen to Violence in a Quiet Mind while sober, because this could easily inspire endless drunk texts to your ex whose name you just cannot seem to bring yourself to delete.

ADVERTISEMENT - American Advertisement (Patchwork Fantasy patchworkfantasy.bigcartel.com)

Advertisement’s American Advertisement introduces itself with “Freedom”, a song of buoyant pop rock reminiscent of The Fall, while fuzzier guitar tones hum throughout “Pretty Money”, a sinewy track highlighting the band’s triple guitar line-up of Charlie Hoffman, Carl Marck, and Ryan Mangione. The band fluctuates between uproarious rock energy and more subdued pieces, such as the subtle blues influence on “Days of Heaven”. The raucous “Upstream Boogie” has a Replacements-esque
bar band sensibility that resonates with the finest aspects of bare bones rock, heard later on the piano- accented ‘Shipwrecked Hearts”. “Velvet Queen” and the dark, angular “Tall Cats” take listeners back to the sound of late 80s/early 90s alternative, akin to Stone Roses or Inspiral Carpets with touches of easily accessible psychedelia and atmospheric guitar playing. The band concludes with “Always”, a sweeping, richly harmonious effort with expansive riffs and increasingly aggressive vocals that emerge over the course of seven freewheeling minutes. Advertisement has punk in its collective DNA and when they choose to select to inject elements of their history into American Advertisement, the result is powerful and authentic rock 'n' roll.

HEALING POTPOURRI - Blanket of Calm (Run for Cover Records www.runforcoverrecords.com)

The gentle opening “Dream Vacay” has touches of Pery Ribeiro’s “Girl From Ipanema” and that is more than appropriate, as Healing Potpourri sounds like a band one discovers in a time capsule unearthed after decades of quiet isolation. Breezy, psych-pop defines the beauty of “Blanket of Calm”(including the lyric, “it’s been a perfect day and it’s only one in the afternoon”) and the sweeping innocence of “Think About Us” captures early 70s rythyms with shocking authenticity. The band hopes to create music that “has a feeling of comfort and healing”, and one hears this proven true throughout Blanket of Calm. The degree to which one enjoys this style depends on how much value one places on serenity and wholesomeness. While “Think” connotes images of the Brady Kids or The Partridge family, such references may be lost on many listeners. Ingesting the wistful love song “Laney” (“I love reading her letters ‘cuz the curls calm me down”), makes it amazing to consider that leader Simi Sohota has dabbled in bands ranging from punk to black metal. Any sense of aggression or fury is stripped away here, leaving a collection of highly emotionally charged songs expressed through poignant lyrics that paint vast pictures with minimum verbiage. “Dustin’s Rain Tape” includes references to a friend’s mom’s boyfriend wearing camouflage, changing schools after third grade, and the serenity of listening to the rain while drifting off to sleep. “Pieces” features some of the of the darkest lyrics on the record, (“pieces of my skin rip open, it’s happened again, left feeling sore, don’t wanna think no more”), yet it is set against a bossa nova musical bed that makes even the deepest sorrow seem palatable. A similar vibe is captured through the effulgent tones of the instrumental “La Vida Tranquila”. A Blanket of Calm may be what many of us need right now-it is a luxurious collection of eleven fanciful songs that will not elevate a heart rate, but should reduce stress.

BETWEEN THE RAIN – S/T (www.betweentherainband.com/)

Between The Rain is led by Detroit ex-pat Tim Donlon, and his intense vocal delivery and burly guitar playing hit instantly on “Mudroom”, the opening effort of the band’s two-song EP. Donlon moved to Brooklyn after departing the Motor City and he was fortu nate to meet bassist Victoria Rothman who, along with drummer Roddy Merchant, delivers low-end bombast on both efforts. While “Mudroom” maintains a steady, driving structure, “Fox” features varied tempos. Beginning quietly, the track flirts with hard rock swagger but demonstrates an impressive restraint that makes “Fox” more impactful. Scavenging grunge’s darker corners, Between the Rain produce thinking man’s rock without sacrificing energy for technical proficiency. Both songs are expansive tableaus constructed by a trio that sounds twice as large. This self-titled release acts as wonderful appetizer, but I am hoping for a full course of this band’s talents soon.

MELODY - Teacher’s Pet (Lauren Records www.lauren-records.com)

Melody Caudill is sixteen years old. That is essential to remember as one listens to Teacher’s Pet. Caudill’s five-song EP details the challenges of navigating the waters of high school through the eyes of someone actually still in high school and not angry adults looking back with disgust. Razor sharp sarcasm abounds here as Caudill’s summation of people is quite astute and well beyond her years, while her introspective investigations of self-doubt and insecurities will resonate with those for whom high school is a distant memory. Caudill openly admits on the title track that despite her efforts to be the contrary, “who am I kidding? I am a teacher’s pet”, albeit clearly, a snarky one. The warm jangle of “Hibernate” and “Room 111” capture the authenticity of Exile in Guyville delivered with the delicate beauty of a young Jenny Toomey. “You’re not yourself, you haven’t been for a while/ So I try to help any way I can, I try to make you smile/ Because I like your smile” highlights the sincere sentimentality and innocence on “Hibernate”. Each of the five songs wrestle with the realities of teenage anxieties, as she laments, “I’m tired of making myself lonely” on “Mosquito Bites”, while unrequited love takes center stage on “Superlame”. (“I think it’s super lame that the only one I like won’t look my way”). Teacher’s Pet should be the soundtrack to the summer and Melody should be adored. However, as much I love what she is doing, I hate to break it to her that the emotions and struggles she is describing at sixteen will not go away anytime soon; although, on a positive note, this means that she will be writing amazing songs for the rest of her life.

OWEN - The Avalanche (Polyvinyl Records

Mike Kinsella has a hard-earned, sterling reputation as a singer/songwriter, as anyone knows who is familiar with his work, including Cap N’ Jazz, Joan of Arc, and American Football. The Avalanche, his latest solo release, is a majestic and stirring collection of heart-wrenching songs laced with Kinsella’s cutting self-deprecating wit. “I have a reputation of fucking up to uphold”, he announces on “One with the Show”, and when one listens to stunningly beautiful expanse of The Avalanche, it is obvious that nothing is farther from the truth. The songs are perfect in their haunting nature with precise plays on words. On “The Contours”, Kinsella’s luxurious delivery tells the story of heartbreak and the frustration of never quite getting over it. He acknowledges that he is in therapy but notes, “Turns out all the answers are just questions”. “Wanting/Willing” features my favorite line of the record, when Kinsella contemplates, “I’m not sure if I’m funny or a joke” as gentile acoustic guitar glides sinuously behind him. Again working with Sean Carey and Zach Hanson, Kinsella creates music that is intimate and fragile, yet still overwhelming with its emotional depth. The biting “Mom and Dead” includes lush accompanying vocals from KC Dalager, and “I Should Have Known” is a breathtaking work of self-reflection and profound sorrow. (“Objects in the rear view mirror/ closer than they appear/ except for you, my dear”) At times, emotionally taxing, The Avalanche is a record of insightful, candid work that allows Mike Kinsella’s gifts as a songwriter to shine brightly.

SAME GODS - Worried Eyes (samegods.bandcamp.com)

There are legions of bands that are quite obvious in their homages to their respective influences, but rare is the band that openly acknowledges and celebrates that fact. Same Gods do not even attempt to hide their affinity for darker 90s alternative, as the Helmet, Jawbox, and even Hoobastank (on the bouncy “This Time”) song structures abound. The Helmet parallels I found particularly interesting, as Same Gods makes me think of a mid-90s Helmet spin-off band called Handsome that featured former Helmet guitarist Peter Mengede. Handsome had incredible potential but did not quite fit anywhere within the worlds of alternative, proto-metal and the nightmarish arrival of nu metal and so, a band with limitless talent faded all too quietly into that good night. Fast forward more than twenty years, and Same Gods may be coming together at the right time. There is a hunger for their brand of straight-ahead, harmonic guitar-dense rock, and the band sets the tone early with the methodical build up of the opening “Remission”. The song’s deliberate pace emphasizes Same Gods’ desire to wrap their heavier qualities within a blanket of ethereal force. “The Dark” and “Arrogance” both possess big hooks and melodies that can exist on an island unto themselves without needless comparisons to contemporaries because, quite frankly, there are few contemporaries to which they can be accurately compared. The band features Jon Davis of Another Breath on vocals, Brendan Flynn of Freya on guitar, and a rythym section that includes Of Fortune and Fame’s bassist Shane Conzone and producer extraordinaire Steve Sopchak on drums. Together, these four understand how to craft songs that are both radio friendly (if that still means anything) while also hitting hard enough to be the soundtrack to shoulders and back day at the gym. Conzone and Sopchak truly shine on the concluding title track, a hulking mass of an effort that closes the record with both a strong dose of intensity that is still measured by unapologetic harmony. It is obvious that the world can use the music of Same Gods; the real question is will the world get to hear it?

SEER BELIEVER - Bent (Memory Music www.memory-music.net)

Nick Manske is the driving force behind Seer Believer, and Bent places a new spin on indie pop by merging some of the genre’s finest qualities into a deeply emotional ride over the course of nine personal tracks. The opening “Hard” is one of a few efforts dealing with love and loss, as Manske laments, “It’s been five years now, you should know I’m not look at anyone else” as hazy guitar hovers overhead. “On God” is an excruciatingly beautiful ode to Manske’s brother, detailing his sibling’s final moments and the singer/guitarist’s feelings of loss and guilt. (“I know I should have been there for you but I thought it wasn’t your time to move on”) Reminiscent of Radiohead’s sneaky sense of melody woven with more complex structures, “On God” enfolds the listener, and it is impossible to not share in Manske’s pain. The honesty and raw candor of the lyrics make these songs remarkably powerful; as obtuse riffs barrel through “So Much Like Perfect”, Manske works through his own suffering when he asks, “Why did I ever let go of you?”, only to realize the answer in the very next line, “I guess the drugs they told me to”. By opening “Breaking In” with delicate piano, the song seems all the more massive in scope when Charlie O’Brien’s drums kick in and the song’s tale of chemical abuse takes on a greater poignancy. “Day 1” is another effort that manipulates a loud/quiet dynamic with masterful precision with Manske’s emotive vocals perfectly matching the ebb and flow of the musical intensity. “Love Much” adds a bit more noise to the angular guitar riffs that tears through the heart of the song, while a pronounced bass line is given more room to rattle the listener. Many of these tales include sentiments of regret and even embarrassment for Manske, as he lives with a perception (either real or imagined) that he has significantly let down so many about whom he cares, and “Love Much” details a person who may be beyond saving, but still Manske wrestles with his feelings of distress. (“I looked away so ashamed, I knew he needed my protection”) The dreamy beauty of “Stuck Inside” masks the dark truth about failed relationships explored by the song, and this juxtaposition of ugly truths told through beautiful music makes Bent a stirring listen.

THE FOXIES - "Growing Up Is Dead" EP (wearethefoxies.com)

Any band that rails against the obsession with social media, the surefire cause of the world’s inevitable destruction, as The Foxies do with “Anti Socialite”, is sure to win my respect and I am instantly intrigued here. Huge electronic beats propel Julia Lauren Bullock’s snarky vocals, sounding like the offspring of a one-night stand between Stiv Bators and Britney Spears, as she taunts and teases on “Hyper Hypo”, asking, “I wonder what you think about me”, but the answer is obvious: she does not care what you think about her. The brilliantly titled “Call Me When Your Phone Dies” embodies “Goth Disco”, the genre created by this daring trio (rounded out by guitarist Jake Ohlbaum and drummer Rob Bodley) as a pulsating groove grinds against the listener; this is the soundtrack for that moment when you suddenly find yourself making out in a dark corner of the club with this track distorting your reality, and you never even get her name. “French Boy” is a pummeling effort, fueled by angular electro-punk , while “Neon Thoughts” teases with a huge hook and Bullock’s sex kitten vocals. The EP wraps up with a straight ahead pop gem in “Deep Sea Diver”; if this one does not appear on a soundtrack to a teen drama somewhere then the world truly is beyond help. I gravitate towards the harder hitting works on Growing Up is Dead, so “Deep Sea Diver” is a bit too conventional l for me, but The Foxies have a unique twist on modern electronically-infused rock that is undeniably impressive.

THE LOWS - This is The Lows (www.thelowsmusic.com

The Lows love rock n roll, as in classic, huge guitars with even larger hooks type of rock n roll. It should not come as a surprise, as the five piece calls Detroit is home, and the heavy low end and thick riffs have a metallic edge made famous by that city. “Road Trippin’” is a hard-hitting, blues-drenched ode to living hard and without fear. Saturated in distortion, the song harkens back to grunge-inspired metal without actually crossing over into that genre. Do not be scared away when reading about this band’s opening slots for acts like Candlebox or Puddle of Mudd; the Lows are not the newest imitation of 1993’s model; instead, Angelo Coppala look to bring back a grittiness to guitar rock that is sorely missing. Nothing about this band is airy or ethereal, even when they try their collective hand at a more conventional mid-tempo single with “Love Will Find a Way”. The distortion pedal gets another exhaustive workout on “Purple”, a soaring explosion of guitar finesse compliments of Brandon McNall and Nick Behnan, but the guys truly lock in as one growling machine on “Wake Up”. An appropriate call to arms for modern rock, the song is an explosive barrage of blunt force as Coppala” screams, “You gotta wake up” as if he is singlehandedly attempt to rouse the world from a state of somnambulism as drummer Duane Hewins and bassist Johnny “Wolf” Abel flair with the same controlled chaos as their guitarists brothers in arms. What I admire about The Lows is they simply want to make aggressive noise that stays with the listener after the songs end, and “”Morning Light” and “Let It Go” are additional examples of a band that has found its path and is refining it to perfection. This is arena rock energy without superfluous bravado; simply stated, it is rock for rock fans. Blending sleaze with enough grime and groove to kill COVID-19, The Lows are ready to launch Detroit through yet another musical resurrection.

VARSITY - Fine Forever (Run For Cover Records www.runforcoverrecords.com)

Varsity’s Fine Forever, this Chicago-based outfit’s third full length, conveys all the finest features of contemporary indie pop by traveling back in time, but a little farther than one may expect. Fine Forever is not just a return to the jangly pop of the mid-90s, as “Runaway” and the title track are a pair of efforts that have a clear 70s vibe, particularly the soaring vocal on the latter compliments of the enchanting Stef Smith. Guitarists Dylan Weschler and Patrick Stanton are an ideally matched tandem, playing warm, airy riffs that elevate the majesty of Smith’s singing on “The Memphis Group” while the singer also weaves atmospheric synth swirls into the fabric of the expansive piece. Smith has a keen eye for detailing life’s more fleeting moments with brilliant clarity, noting, “Pillars scared of the community, grown up sleaze, they log on to find their freaks” on the soaring “Shaking Hands”. The Brothers Stolz (bassist Paul and drummer Jake) control “Reason to Run”, a driving, Beach House playing with The Feelies sounding song again equipped with Smith’s introspective lyrics (“Now you know how to push all my buttons, lying down in low gravity”). “Heaven Sent” includes my favorite couplet of the record (“I run the movie in your head, can you just act like you’re interested”) while deftly played pop warmth surrounds and the listener and gives a gentle hug. “Sicko World” concludes the record, and the song apparently has been kicking around in various stages of growth for three years before finally maturing to a point worthy of inclusion on a record, and the wait certainly worth it. Smith declares, “If anyone could read my thoughts, they’d lock me away, I’m just another headcase” as bouncy riffs and equally supple beats tumble around Smith’s beautiful voice until the record softly fades away. This is my introduction to Varsity, and for others like me, do not miss out any farther. Varsity has produced an impressive amount of music in a scant period of time, with Fine Forever boldly displaying a young band brimming with confidence and talent.

THE FREUDERS – Warrior (thefreuders.bandcamp.com)

The Freuders are a highly technically proficient four-piece from Warsaw, Poland that bring psychedelic charms to their brand of post-grunge rock. The opening “Hannibal”, with its chorus of “hanni-bal” is instantly a sing-along track as vocalist Tymoteusz Adamczyk’s voice is enveloped by dense, fuzzy guitar. ”Pulse” is fittingly driven by the bass work of Maciek Witkowski as dreamy, ethereal vocals featuring deft interplay between Adamczyk and his mates wistfully drift in the air. With subtle touches in the style of Mogwai and Red Sparowes, The Freuders have a haunting refinement to their playing, as the title track illustrates through its ability to seamlessly alternate between fragility and strength. Olek Adamski’s accompanying guitar playing helps add to the tenuous nature of the band’s sound-one is never certain if the songs with explode like a star or remain majestically composed. “Dijuth” embodies this aesthetic, and while it does continue a well-worn tradition of a loud/quiet structure, The Freuders have adeptness for constructing songs with unique hooks. The buoyant “Maria Stuart” is another exploration of nebulous guitar rock with hushed vocals and fascinating lyrics. (“Another heart broken, another life taken, another church burning, another light fades out”) Drummer Piotr Wísnioch clears a path on the darker and heavier “Barbed Wire” as Adamczyk and Adamski once again engage in a battle of shared vocal responsibilities, while “Tension” dabbles with a more pop-friendly sound with one foot still planted in early 90s indie. The concluding “Anamnesis III” is the only song no delivered in English by the Polish act and this aspect makes the song all the more captivating. The richness of the distortion-drenched guitar playing works in ideal tandem with a broader vocal accompaniment due to the performance of special guest Lukasz Zurkowski, as well as a concluding two minutes that is steeped in Mother Love Bone-era grunge. This is a familiarity to what The Freuders do, but not repetitiveness. The guys undoubtedly pay homage to influences, but do not replicate them chord for chord. This is absolutely worthy of seeking, for The Freuders merge together various styles into a compact and inspired musical package.


 

LET IT COME DOWN - Songs We sang in Our Dreams (Joyful Noise www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com)

Kramer is a name known throughout the punk and post-punk world dating back to the late 1970s, but many became familiar with him trough his seminal work managing and developing the Shimmy Disc label. Now, entering his sixth decade of musical influence, he has joined Joyful Noise as their Artist in Residence, a position that will see Kramer release a staggering five records this year (!), he has announced plans to resurrect Shimmy Disc, and released Songs We Sang in Our Dreams, a majestic collection of serene beauty under the moniker of Let It Come Down. Joining forces with Xan Tyler, a woman, who fittingly Kramer has noted “hearing her voice in my dreams”, the songs on Dreams are just that-subconscious visions brought to life through warm, poignant vocals and stirring playing. The songs, like dreams, range from lucid to hazy, easily graspable to complex, and the interweaving of Kramer’s musicianship and Tyler’s voice makes the entire collection an impactful listen. The aboriginal tone to the opening “Moonlight” establishes a mood that Kramer and Tyler carry through the rest of the record. While each song is distinct in style and substance, there is a commonality that weaves through this immaculate musical mosaic. Precise and delicate acoustic playing surrounds Tyler’s angelic vocals. “Forget” opens with a Beatles-esque vibe, blending rich pop hooks and subtle psychedelia to create a theatrical experience in barely four minutes. The one-two combination of the stirring “Vicky” and the sensual “Fingers” (“I love to rub my fingers through your hair as you come and go”) are the literal and metaphorical centerpieces of a dazzling collection of songs which also include unique, fleeting interludes of jazzy, spoken word, piano-kissed, weirdness (“One Moon”, “Two Dreams”, “Three Wishes”, and the closing “Four Hands”). The ethereal romance of “Uh-Oh” embodies the overwhelming ecstasy of a relationship so many wish they could have. (“Is this too much love? Is this too much for you? Is it clouding the sun? Or does it warm?” and “It was freezing outside/to keep myself warm inside, I think of you”). Talents such as Kramer are rare, and this release is ideal for both the well versed and those new to his genius.

CLOSE THE HATCH - Modern Witchcraft (Red Moth Records https://redmothrecords.bandcamp.com/)

Glacial in scope and speed, the thunderous sludge metal grooves of Close the Hatch take a genre that can, at least to my ears, become redundant and pepper it with unique subtleties that remain true to what past giants have achieved but also update the sound with adroit skill. The opening “Death of Wolves” easily slides between pummeling and surprisingly serene moments as Steve B’s vocals penetrate into the wall of force provided by he and fellow guitarist, Shaun O. A similar sensibility is heard on the title track, as the song begins as an airy, ethereal piece with ample room to breathe. However, as Shaun H.’s drums begin to hit more fiercely and the vocals intensify, the song becomes increasingly claustrophobic and disquieting. This ability to control mood through tempo is the goal of most sludge/doom metal acts, but it is an intricate skill not easily accomplished. I also appreciate how Close the Hatch do not feel compelled to prolong any of their works-these are not twenty-minute long opuses; instead, the foursome (rounded out by bassist Josh G.) make an immediate impact and move on to next idea. “Thorazine Empire” is three and half minutes of powerful, masterfully manipulated blunt force that revolves around a discernable riff and memorable hook; two traits not particularly prevalent in many bands of this ilk. “Cordial Medusa” and “Attunement” are similar in nature, as they two, are the length of most standard pop songs, but carry an extraordinary amount of weight within their scant time upon the Earth. Creating broad, atmospheric soundscapes that are equally haunting and heavy, Close the Hatch push this particular brand of metal forward, with “Persona Non Grata” acting a template from which legions of other acts should study. There is a celestial beauty heard within these songs reminiscent of the best moments of Candlemass, Neurosis, or Solitude Aeturnus. These guys have created six albums in under a decade, proving that they are not only skilled but also highly productive, and I for one hope that Modern Witchcraft expands the notoriety of this band well beyond their native Ohio.

ELIZA NEALS - Black Crow Moans (E-H Records www.e-hrecords.com)

Having loved her previous work, I am thrilled to hear the latest from blues-rock goddess Eliza Neals, and Black Crow Moan continues her tradition of forceful, classically styled blues-rock. “Don’t Judge the Blues” warns people to not prejudge the performer of this most American of all genres, noting that we are “sisters and brothers” as an all-star collection of players deliver a high-energy groove behind Neals’ commanding voice. Neals is a star with enough talent to illuminate an abandoned street corner at 3am with her performance on the sultry “Never Stray”, but her talents are illuminated through the accompaniment of well-versed musicians such as Bruce Bears, Lenny Bradford, Howard Glazer, Derek St. Holmes, and even her sister, Valerie Taylor. The slow, sexy slide guitar that drives “Why You Ooglin’ Me” connotes the sonic origins of the blues and is the type of song that should not be allowed to be played before midnight. Joe Louis Walker shines on a pair of tracks, adding to the bounce of “The Devil Don’t Love You” and helping to solidify the rousing title track as the finest gem of the bunch. Moving with a poignantly deliberate pace, “Black Crow Moan” borrows from the depths of the blues soulful pain, and the chorus is delivered with the mournful expressiveness of a spiritual. “Ball and Chain” is a dazzling exhibit of Neals’ impressive range, as she moves from guttural groans of frustration through spiraling blasts of vocal gymnastics, holding notes to emphasize the agony of those “mean, mean things” she says were done to her. The concluding volley of the words “wrapped-up” that Neals delivers to conclude the song embodies the finest aspects of what the blues has to offer and harkens back to the best who have ever done it. “Hey, Take Your Pants Off” concludes the record with a blast of old-fashioned fun that is a departure from the emotional anguish one hears on so much of Black Crow Moan. For those who appreciate the foundations of rock n roll, Eliza Neals is a must; do not allow this one to go unnoticed.

MARK LANEGAN - Straight Songs of Sorrow (Heavenly Records www.heavenlyrecordings.com)

Mark Lanegan is most known for his work in Screaming Trees, but that band broke up twenty years ago, and over the course of the past two decades, Lanegan has created a remarkable and varied collection of unique solo work. “I Wouldn’t Want to Say” vibrates through a rich, experimental sound with mechanized vocals and a drum n’ bass style musical bed that quickly introduces a record of varied and profoundly personal songs. My favorite track here is “Internal Hourglass Discussion” which has similarities to the opener, but with a darker, trance style that is richly enjoyable. “Apples From a Tree” and “This Game of Love” are both delicate and immaculate in tone, with Mark Morton of Lamb of God contributing his skills on the former and Morton is heard again on the equally beautiful “Hanging On for DRC”. The latter is a heartfelt ode to Dylan Carlson of Erath, another potential casualty of the drug-addled 90s and early 00’s, but like Lanegan, survived (“We should be gone/you and me still hanging on”). “Ketamine” possesses a similar nature, with poignant and emotionally penetrating lyrics (“Give me some Ketamine so I can feel alright/to hide my true dark nature/to keep it out of sight”). “Bleed All Over” contains a dance groove that is not as robotic as “I Wouldn’t Want to Say”, but with its astral vibes, the song resonates with a distinctive synth-pop sentiment. When Lanegan is not generating wildly creative and hypnotic anthems, the other side of Straight Songs of Sorrow is quite refined. Wistful guitar wafts throughout “Stockholm City Blues” (“I paid for this pain I put into my blood”) accompanied by haunting strings, and “Daylight” has an ethereal drone that is interrupted by sudden guitar rumbles that will violently shake anyone from rest. “Dying Rover” features a guest spot from Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and includes the confession, “I’m just a sick, sick, man”. Regardless of the critical and self-flagellating view Lanegan takes of himself, it is impossible to not be swept up in his ability to bare the frequent ugliness of his own past, for he does so with both an unflinching honesty and a keen appreciation of just how fortunate he is. When he admits, “You could never tell me that enough’s enough” on “Stockholm City Blues”, Lanegan reflects back with a despondent clarity that comes through maturity but also when one looks around to see many of his friends are no longer alive. This is evocative music, particularly when Lanegan strips away the electronics and allows the listener to crawl inside his voice and truly feel the pain being (hopefully) exorcised. Always a talented writer, Lanegan takes listeners deep into emotions and situations few will ever find themselves and does so with limited words; his phrasing is often truncated and therefore more cutting. This may not cheer people up while they are stuck inside with their families, but if one can find time to slip away, Straight Songs of Sorrow marks the passage of time, the agony of self-inflicted wounds, but also the power of redemption and the resiliency to persevere.

THE DIRTY CLERGY - In Waves (Cornelius Chapel Records www.corneliuschapelrecords.com)

The opening chords of “Trials” instantly displays the deck of cards with which The Dirty Clergy plays; namely, big, arena-rock with a touch of blues in the style of Tom petty or even ELO. The deliberate pace of “Born to Lose” invokes images of honky-tonk bars with spit-stained floors and ragged bartenders, and the song’s crescendo builds steadily over the course of four and half minutes. All of this reminds me of Columbia House’s legendary offer of thirteen 8-track tapes for a penny; there is an aura of nostalgia throughout all of In Waves, and this resonates even when the guys borrow from slightly more recent times. “Young Lovers” assembles an Oasis-themed chorus, but regarded of the era from which they draw influences, the music of The Dirty Clergy is material you have heard before, just under different names. The airy, ethereal headspace of “Homesick” and “West Coast” is lovely, but the songs struggle to hold my attention, although the theme of contemporary violence, particularly among America’s youth does give “Homesick” a level of depth worth celebrating. I love all aspects of old-fashioned, no frills, rock n’ roll, but too often, the songs sounded like starting your car in the dead of winter; you can hear them revving up a bit, but the tracks never quite run smoothly. For an Alabama band, there are no country-rock sounding pieces here, and instead, the guys tend to look to crowd-pleasing anthems from the era of Watergate pardons and gas crises. “Parades” has a subtle downhome, folksy sensibility, but the vast array of the material on In Waves is safe sounding rock with just enough outside influences to stay above the trap of falling into the pit of allowing mainstream structures to become mundane. The Dirty Clergy are not here to reinvent anything; in fact, their primary mission seems to provide comfort through the familiar. To that end, they succeed.

PROTAGONIST - Fallout From the Chronicle (protagonist.bandcamp.com)

I was introduced to the voracious punk spirit of Protagonist five years ago, and I am very happy to hear of their return in 2019 with a trio of pugnacious singles. In 2020, the band brings Fallout From the Chronicle, a retrospective of sorts that has the band looking back upon the era of their blazing 2009 release, The Chronicle. The opening three efforts are the aforementioned 2019 singles, but the origin stories of these songs date back to 2007. The explosive power of “The Killing Fields” is a punishing blast of hardcore intensity and impassioned vocals, accented by slightly ska-like breakdowns. The song is, fittingly, homage to looking back upon simpler times, embodied by the closing words, “I wish I was five again/sitting back on the grass/staring at the sun, a smile on my face/without a care in the world”. While “Generation Lost” begins with benign piano, it abruptly shifts gears into a shredding declaration of lost faith (“we do not have your answers”). “Reasoning With Time”, the briefest of the bunch, is a driving yet richly harmonious work that keeps the angst in the forefront but also possesses a melody that one cannot ignore. In addition to scalding originals, Protagonist places their own spin on a classic from two Philly heavyweights Violent Society (“Totally Fucked”) and three tracks from The Boils (“Dependent”, “Paper Dolls”, and “Gone Dead, and Buried”). Acoustic versions of “Iamtheghost” and “Charge” revel the depth of the band and their expert marksmanship as musicians, as each song is equally poignant with thematic similarities. Fallout From the Chronicle is both a retrospective on what once was and a celebration of the present and what is; however, regardless of the ages of the material, it is great to have Protagonist back.

THE NEW REGIME - Heart Mind Body and Soul (Another Century/Sony Records www.sonymusic.com)

Ilan Rubin performed at Woodstock ’99 at age eleven and has never looked back, continuing to provide his drumming precision to Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, and Beck among many others. As The New Regime, Rubin plays every instrument and does so with nearly terrifying ease, moving from NIN-style dark ambience on “Destructive Patterns” to arena-rock vocal harmonies on “Surreal Disasters”. Along the path of these two extremes, one is treated to richly harmonized songs that could even make me dance, namely “Feel No Pain” and the title track. Rubin explores a multitude of styles on Heart Mind Body and Soul, from the haunting and poignant acoustic driven, “She Had Me Wrong” to the anthemic alterna-rock of “I’ll Never Let You Let Me Down” and “It’s Gonna Be Ok”. It is on these aforementioned latter efforts where Rubin truly astounds, as he blends the warmth of Muse and the hook-laded components of Thirty Seconds to Mars into a swirling mass of sound that has mass appeal. The chorus of “Surreal Disasters” is a musical earwig as Rubin’s voice soars and balances aggressive guitar playing and sensitive lyrics with deft ability. The overwhelming majority of the songs have a likability factor reflective of bands that could play a Super Bowl halftime without selling their souls, and for that alone, one must pay immense tribute to Rubin’s extraordinary faculties. Released in three separate segments, Heart Mind Body and Soul has distinctive personality shifts throughout, but there remains cohesion of raw emotion and vulnerability that unifies the sixteen songs. The soft, wistful “Tell Me What You Want” exists perfectly along side the Trent Reznor influenced, synth rage of “Turning a Blind Eye” as both songs are wholly reflective of Rubin’s passionate songwriting. Twenty-one years after opening Woodstock ’99, Ilan Rubin is still dazzling people.

SCREECHING WEASEL - Some Freak of Atavism (Monona Records)

Atavism, by definition, is to revert to an ancestral action or quality, and one can say that Ben Weasel does just that here. This is not a concept record or anything esoteric; instead, SW returns to what the band is always best at doing, which is of course, snarky, pop-slurped punk songs about love, frustration, and the general stupidity one finds in life. The opening “She’s Not Your Baby” is a MXPX-esque warning to would-be controlling tough guys out there as Ben instructs, “She’s not your baby, little man” if “this is the one you want to marry”. Naturally, to some, this will be Ben Weasel lecturing about how to treat women which may arouse some angst, but all I know is this record is a declaration that Screeching Wesel wants to once again hold a master class in pop-punk brilliance. While there are some speedy, quick hits like the rambunctious “Brain in a Jar” and the rockabilly feel of “Problematic”, Some Freaks of Atavism also contains “Bleed Through Me”, a four minute, hard driving effort with a big chorus and rollicking guitar. Failing at love remains a central theme of Ben’s life as “Crying Shame” captures Joe Queer’s aura (“That ain’t nothing but a wedding ring/ a piece of metal on your finger/no one cares”) and “Never Been in Love” which may either be a song of regret or boasting (“I’ve never been in love/I haven’t got the time or inclination”). At their core, Screeching Weasel has always been able to offset punk’s energy with an injection of harmonies to soften the edges without falling into a sugary abyss, and “To Hell With You” and “Dead By Dawn” are the finest examples of this skill. I was truly hoping that the latter was a Deicide cover, but when Ben declares, “tonight I’ll swallow your soul”, one hears a subtle nod to the legendary Evil Dead II. The lanky kid who made BoogadaBoogadaBoogada over thirty years ago may have grown up, declaring himself a “twenty-first century man” in “God Help Us”, but the fundamental instincts of Screeching Weasel return triumphantly on Some Freaks of Atavism, and we are the beneficiaries.

WITCHSKULL - A Driftwood Cross (Rise Above Records www.riseabovereords.com)

I will happily admit that when a band called Witchskull lands in my inbox and the opening track is a CTE-causing blast of rumbling sludge and psychedelic metallic riffs called “Black Cathedrals”, I am instantly transported back to middle school when pentagrams, backwards messages, and the symbolism supposedly found on the covers of Ozzy records had me heart and soul. This entire record brings me pure happiness, and if this quarantine never lifts, at least I can go insane listening to one of most glorious metal records I have heard in a long while. The thunderous nature of the opener is merely an appetizer for the darkness one hears from this bombastic Australian trio. Yes, the Sabbath influences are obvious and plentiful, such the menacing gallop of “Nero Order”, but the groove of “Baphomet’s Child” cannot be merely imitated by listening to Vol.4 on repeat; there is a purity to what these guys do that makes them more than a collection of heavily bearded (two-thirds of the band, anyway) veterans yearning for the 70s. Guitarist/vocalist Marcus De Pasquale has a vocal delivery as distinct and dominant as his guitar playing, most prominently heard on the lumbering juggernaut, “The Silent Place”, while bassist Tony McMahon simply devastates people on both “Black Cathedrals” and the tsunami of blunt musical force that is “The Red Altar”. Collectively, Witchskull prove that speed and ferocity does not always translate into truly heavy music, for the scream that announces the chillingly fierce hook of “Nero Order” will keep listeners up at night. “The Red Altar” is a monolith of a song moving at a glacial pace that allows the listener to hear each bone shatter and ultimately smell their own rotting body before finally succumbing to the pain. The fury of each song is held together by the perfect time keeping of drummer Joel Green, who spent time in Australia’s legendary speed metal beasts, Armoured Angel from the late eighties into the mid-nineties, and his pounding strength impels the speedier, deflagrated nature of “Dresden”. Sleep-meets-Cathedral style stoner rock dominates the ironically warm tone of “March of Winter”. The closing title track is a towering wall of fuzz-out force that envelopes all in its way through a sinewy song structure and obstreperous concluding two minutes. Bang the head that does not bang while listening to this, but if that does not seem like fun, have a couple of edibles and watch to see where Witchskull’s journey takes you.

(D)JURET - De Få Som Kan Se (sv-se.facebook.com/djuretpunk)

Literally translating to “animal” in Swedish, Djuret is a very different type of punk animal. The music is everything one would want in a punk act-the songs are aggressive, fueled by huge guitars, and have a plethora of gang vocals. However, there are instantly noticeable differences about this band that extends far beyond the Swedish language delivery. The work of Djuret are anthemic and fleshed out in a manner that separates De Få Som Kan Se from other punk works. “Trîtt” contains pummeling drums compliments of Könas and an abundance of sing along segments that have the resounding energy of a crazed soccer stadium due to the combined vocals of Förman Fred, Trädgårdslyktan, and Martin Sven Martinsson, the last of whom also delivers spoken word to the opening “Tellus Ab” without sounding the least pretentious. “Piller” has a ska-style breakdown peppered by precise injections of guitar noise while still surrounded by chorale vocals and stirring guitar from Fed. Additional percussion and synth touches are added by Ämil Hednamannen and Dolph, respectively, and nothing done here seems out of place. The alternative version of “Piller” blends aspects of folk, punk, and even the symphonic dissidence of Scandinavian black metal into a nine minute, richly tumultuous, aural stew. This is guaranteed one of the most unique releases of the year as multiple art forms collide in a fascinating experiment that shatters expectations and ignores traditional boundaries.

THE DREAM SYNDICATE - The Universe Inside (Anti Records, www.anti.com)

I am always intrigued by bands that play their music in a fearless manner; often, this means that these artists create music that dare the listener to stay with them, challenging the traditional constructs of what songs should be. The Dream Syndicate certainly throw down the proverbial gauntlet on the twenty-minute opener, “The Regulator”, setting the stage for a swirling, exhilarating journey through five expansive works of musical brilliance. While the band first raised eyebrows and generated confused gazes from those ill prepared for their musical visions in the early 80s, Steve Wynn and longtime counterparts, Dennis Duck and Mark Walton will certainly have The Universe Inside met with furrowed brows and gaping mouths. Despite only containing five songs, The Dream Syndicate treats listeners to roughly an hour of music that is highly non-conventional and yet traditional, psychedelic and still grounded. The luxuriant soundscapes that define “The Regulator” are created through sinuous musicianship, led by the indomitable Steve Wynn, but it is the accompaniment of saxophonist Marcus Tenney and sitar from Stephen McCarthy that make the song such a treasure. Blending Eastern flavoring with soaring electronic jazz and controlled experimentalism, the song is a complete listening experience more than a singular song. The title track is a fittingly morose effort, moving with greater deliberation driven by restrained noise compliments of Wynn’s guitar and his soulful vocals. The subtle alto sax woven so beautifully within the effort gives the song a sensuality and profound emotional power. “Apropos of Nothing” features a more conventional arrangement, but even here, The Dream Syndicate plays with the parameters of pop by infusing subdued dissonance and ambient touches into the song’s vast expanse. With dashing sax work, a jazz-funk bass line, Latin American-inspired percussion, and a serpentine nature that hurdles towards a noisy crescendo before calming its nerves once again, “Dusting Off the Rust” is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ most brazen and inspired moments on Bitches Brew. The Dream Syndicate is a band of visionaries and virtuosos, two adjectives one hears too infrequently today. The Universe Inside is just that; a cosmic, sprawling demonstration of lush poetic beauty. After nearly fifty minutes of extraordinary playing, I am saddened to come to final effort, “The Slowest Rendition”. Gentle and celestial, kissed by elegant sax work and Wynn’s Lou Reed-esque spoken lyrics, the closer is a tender farewell to a record of exquisite grandeur. It will difficult to be moved more profoundly by another work this year.

STRFKR - Future Past Life (Polyvinyl Records www.polyvinyl.com)

Strfkr, the labor of love from Josh Hodges with the delightfully cheeky moniker, returns with more airy pop sweetness. The record has a winding narrative in regards to its creation, as Hodges collaborated with Mathias Janmat and David Hoogerheide, two strangers who became friends while Hodges was in Amsterdam. The pair was introduced to Hodges through a mutual acquaintance who happened to be staying Hodges pace while the singer was in Amsterdam. Once back home in the States, Hodges took the ideas and skeletal songs structures to bandmates Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran, and the result in Future Past Life, a collection of danceable, disco-esque dance pop with a tangible Euro flair. However, while keys float across songs like “Never the Same” and “Second Hand” like apparitions in the one room in the house the previous owners never told you about, the band also demonstrates how acoustic guitars were the building blocks for these songs. The duo of “Better Together” and “Budapest” (the latter featuring fellow Polyvinyl pals Shy Boys) has far more pronounced guitar playing and the keys act as accompaniment. What makes this record work is that each song, regardless of form or tone, works and ultimately succeeds in its goal of creating infectious, albeit sugary, dance music with just enough atmospheric touches to provide Strfkr with an instantly distinctive sound, as if the Pet Shop Boys hung out MGMT. The fragile “Palm Reader” comes and flees quickly as Hodges chokes out the fading message of “just be honest with yourself” around minimalist playing that acts a powerful departure from the upbeat tempos that dominate the record. The band provides an intriguing paradox of sentimental, and at times profoundly meaningful, lyrics wrapped around silky compositions with a production quality that results in a dazzling sheen, best heard on tracks like “Dear Stranger” and “Sea Foam”. “Pink Noise” flirts with shoegaze and softened noise, but still retains a cheerful keyboard riff as the centerpiece, proving that the band takes chances but does not sacrifice their true mission. “Cold Comfort” concludes the record on a false cloud of serenity, for th ere is a highly uneasy nature to the song as the keys sound more ominous than relaxing and the understating loop of noise offers a inescapable feeling of claustrophobia. This final effort was my favorite of the bunch as Strfkr moved away from blissful keys and tuned them down to create musical anxiety. The uncomfortable atmosphere remains after the song fades, and illustrates to me how Strfkr can offer a wide array of musical options to an equally diverse audience.


THE BLACK WATCH - Brilliant Failures (A Turntable Friend Records www.aturntablefriendrecords.com)

This is the eighteenth (!) record from The Black Watch and I have no idea how I missed the first seventeen, but Brilliant Failures is a fine introduction to this band if you are like me and have apparently lived under a large rock for the past two decades. The Black Watch’s sound is a largely dreamy approach to lush pop songs hugged tightly in the arms of jangly guitars and soulful vocals compliments of John Andrew Frederick, who also happens to be a professor of film and literature. The title track includes the line, “all you’ve ever known is brilliant failures”, and despite the use of the term “failures”, there is still a positive quality to the phrasing, solidifying the belief that one learns best from the missteps in life. The ability to find hope in the midst of despair reflects the musical beauty of Brilliant Failures in general, as The Black Watch examines a wide array of pop sensibilities here. “Twisted Thinking” sounds as if the Replacements decided to quarantine themselves for a year with only the Smiths catalog for companionship, while “Crying all the Time!” has a rougher approach that is more aggressive than its counterparts, but still fits majestically within the expansive ocean of sound one hears within. The songs are breezy, often ethereal slices of precisely detailed anthems of profound emotion, best heard on the trippy pop aesthetics of “Red Dwarf Star” and the late 80s/ MTV’s “120 Minutes”-era characteristics of “Mind You Know”, a song that also includes my favorite lyrics of 2020 (“Being happy isn’t easy/It isn’t easy being happy”). “Hodophobia” has a soaring energy that accompanies its hazy vocals and folk-pop structure, accented by gentle waves of guitar, while “One Hundred Million Times Around the Sun” somehow possesses both a dusty stomp and a pristine serenity. A similar tone is heard on “What I Think”, a song that throbs along at a bristling pace matched by immaculate production and a strong delivery. “The Personal Statement” has a despondent beauty as Frederick captures Robert Smith’s poetic melancholy with hints of psychedelic qualities. There is a nearly limitless amount of aspects to love about this record; it looks like I have a lot of music to catch up on concerning The Black Watch.

FIRE IN THE RADIO - Monuments (fireintheradio.bandcamp.com/)

The third release from the Philly-based four-piece radiates energy from the opening blast of “Let’s Get to the Start”. Each song is a controlled explosion of guitar-driven indie rock goodness with just a pinch of pop sweetness and cleaver lyrics (“gravity has always pulled me down” from “Gravity”). Japandroids’ Jesse Gander handles the production of Monuments that offers a bit of insight into the flawless constructs of Fire in the Radio. Each instruments shines and shimmies with infectious hooks, and the band meshes rythym driven alterna-punk with rich harmonies, particularly the glimmering “Rewind”. Monuments brought me back to the 90s as memories of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, the Doughboys, and Manic Street Preachers came flooding back; however, Fire in the Radio take that foundation and injects a modern kick in the vein of bands like Beach Slang and Surfer Blood. With each track hovering around three and a half minutes, Fire in the Radio never wear out their welcome or overuse an idea; in fact, efforts such as “I Said” and “Breaking” leaves the listener desperately wanting more. The stampeding “Ex-SF” proves that the band has the capacity to rattle some walls as they tap into a Jawbreaker-style vibe, and the song’s intensity is magnified by its juxtaposition with the more sullen “This is My Document”. “Sing, Sang, Sung” is a classic break-up song with the cutting line, “Will you miss me when I’m gone/You say we will move on”. I adore this, and Fire in the Radio perfectly embodies the potency of the golden era of indie rock and play with outstanding talent. This will cheer people up as we all attempt to figure out how to exist within the confines of our homes.

LOST ROMANCE - Strum It Again (lostromance.bandcamp.com)

The ability to play truly effective power indie-pop is a fine art and one hears a great representation of this style on Strum It Again from New Brunswick’s Lost Romance. Each of the eight songs are rollicking, guitar-fueled anthems about broken hearts, frustrations, and yes, lost romance, but nothing about them is formulaic. Instead, guitarist and vocalist Gerry Perlinski has complete control over his voice and never pushes himself beyond his boundaries, thus keeping the songs neat packages of well-constructed, grounded rock n’ roll. There is an authenticity to this that cannot be forged, and efforts such as “Heart On a Wire” and “Turn Away” bash away with forthright energy. When Perlinksi says, “It tears you apart from the inside” on the aforementioned “Heart”, one also hears an indomitable rythym section of bassist Dan Haag and drummer Mohamed Amine Smires. This roaring pair provides ample muscle throughout the record. While the songs may address affairs of the heart that lean towards one’s sensitive side, the stories of emotional pain are contrasted with a smash and grab musical philosophy that highlight the poignant “Come Down” and the gritty rumble of “I Want You”. The fuzzed-out tone of “State I’m In” takes me back to mid-90s college rock with a distinctive Archers of Loaf vibe, while “Face to Face” is a slickly delivered slab of jaunty guitar pop, and when the refrain of “let’s go!” hits, it is impossible to not get fired up and sing along, even if you are currently locked away in an effort to escape a global pandemic. A positive energy permeates Strum It Again that is uplifting and fun without minimizing the band’s ability to also grab listeners by the shoulders and shake them. Lost Romance borrows from successful formulas of the past but delivers those ideas through their own distinct lens.


THE GUNGANS - Meesa Meesa Meesa (thegungans.bandcamp.com)

For those of you who are too young, too cool, or too scarred to remember, the title of the Gungans release is a reference to infamous Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks, who was a member of the Gungan species. His role in the Star Wars prequels and the irreconcilable damage wrought by this CGI nightmare should be saved for another time (or revisited by traveling back in time about twenty years), but what cannot be denied is the delightful madness of Grim Deeds, the mastermind behind this side project. As a man who has written songs on topics ranging from divorce to public suicide to a eulogy of Oderus Urungus from GWAR, and even co-wrote and recorded “So Listen, Ben” with a certain Jersey-based fanzine editor, it is not a surprise that he would attach his skills to a culturally maligned, albeit highly acrobatic, side-kick from possibly Lucasfilms’ lowest moment; I only add the caveat “possibly” because the interaction between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen may still be worse. Still, “I Love Jar Jar Binks” is only one song. For the rest of the album, we’re treated to ten rapid-fire, easily memorized blast of sugary, punk-pop heaven. Every song is equally great, but there are some that are more equally great then others. Screeching Weasel/Mr. T Experience riffs run rampant throughout Meesa Meesa Meesa, but particularly buoyant rhythms and appropriately light-hearted backing vocals highlight “Action Figure Collection” and “He’s a Brony”, a loving homage to that distinctive slice of male humanity “obsessed with My Little Pony.” “I Love Jar Jar Binks” wraps itself around a tightly wound riff and a lyrics of true independent thought by declaring “I don’t really care what anyone else thinks/I Love Jar Jar Binks”, and is followed by the delightfully goofy “I Want to be Japanese” (“I want to read more manga everyday”), a track similar in tone and tempo. The Gungans pick up speed for the closing trio of tracks, particularly the Ramones/Queers surf-punk vibe of “I’m a Cretin” and “Laptop Punk”, a song that acknowledges that as “a middle-aged dad” with a “real day job”, it can be tough to be in band, so just Grim has to accept the fact that it is cool to “have fun just writing songs at home”, even if he does so with a “hand me down iPad”. Grim Deeds possesses an ability to both celebrate and properly mock the importance of pop culture and his talents shine brightly once again with The Gungans.

MAYFLOWER MADAME - Prepare for a Nightmare (Only Lovers records www.onlyloversrecords.com)

Oslo’s Mayflower Madame introduce themselves perfectly with the opening chords of “Prepare for a Nightmare,” as coarse, haunting tones instantly transport listeners back to the nuanced dark wave of Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Trond Fagernes has a voice reminiscent of Peter Murphy as he emotes his lyrics with a sense of controlled torment on “Vultures” when he states, “I’m cynical, I’m sick of it all, how did it come to this?” as atmospheric keys from Kenneth Eknes float around his words. A steady, low throb is the fuel for the vast majority of the work here, including the stunning, mid-tempo trauma, “Swallow” (“When you see me tremble at the end of the rope/When you see me stumble at the sight of hope”). The band’s crescendo may be the highly apropos “Ludwig Meidner”, as the song’s stifling nature is reflective of the menacingly tense work created by the legendary Expressionist, with Fagernes’ repeating the ominous line, “I’ll be dancing on your grave”. The band began rehearing in a nearly abandoned industrial building, and one can hear the emptiness and despondency of such conditions throughout the record. The circuitous nature of “Never Turning (In Time)” surrounds the listen with a blanket of suffering and impenitency (“You’re my favorite time to kill/the last flight before my body dies”), an aura also felt on “Sacred Core”. The latter includes a shoegaze pace and ambient vacuity with a terrifying promise from Fagernes, “I’ll get you back at whatever cost”. Mayflower Madame proves that there is beauty in terror and majesty in discomfort; the band never allows the listener to relax, for this is music to be experienced more than simply enjoyed. The songs penetrate those who hear it as brief streaks of guitar delivered by both Fagernes and Håvard Haga intermittently scorch the air, ethereal keys and evocative poetry permeate the atmosphere, and exist to be repeatedly played, analyzed, debated, and the meanings about which will likely never be fully agreed. “Goldmine” is a tale of embittered romanticism (“I gave my heart away to an endless charade…I caught you stealing from my goldmine”) played with just a hint of greater pop efficacy, while “A Future Promise” includes a nuanced hook and places Fagernes on the outside of the action. He is the omniscient narrator here, noting how “she’s sick of giving in/she’s got no patience, she just wants to win”, taking listeners through the tale of one woman’s desire to break free of a failed “romantic notion”. Depending on one’s outlook on life, this could be either the best or very worst band in the world with whom to self-quarantine right now, but personally, this will help me fight through the current pandemic. A band like Mayflower Madame only intensifies my hatred of this virus, for I want this band able to travel to the States and bring their poetic destruction to fans here in a live setting. Indefinably lush, gorgeous, and profoundly moving, Mayflower Madame reinforces all of my cynicism about romance and relationships in one glorious ten-song collection.

TRUPA TRUPA -I’ll Find (trupatrupa.bandcamp.com/album/ill-find)

Building upon the success and magnificence of their previous release, Of the Sun, Poland’s Trupa Trupa return with I’ll Wait, a shimmering work of psychedelically charged indie rock. The opening “Fitzcarraldo” is a living musical dichotomy, somehow simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. The song is based on a film directed by Werner Herzog about the real life escapades of Peruvian rubber kingpin Carlos Fitzcarrald. This constant convergence of the lush and the haunting, not to mention the wildly interesting historical references made by the band through these tracks, makes I’ll Wait a scintillating and intellectually challenging listen. Grzegorz Kwiatkowski emotes the refrain, “all the way to the end of the line” (from “End of the Line”) in a manner that conveys both a childlike sense of playfulness as well as a subtle mania that demands repeat listens. Initially thrust forward by the nimble bass playing of Wojchiech Juchniewicz, the song seamlessly slides into a subdued, atmospheric realm with a tone that conveys a nursery rhyme gone terrible awry. There is a sense that something terrible is about to happen, but it is impossible to predict what exactly or when. “Invisible Door” initially strikes the listener as a 1970s psyche-pop effort as heavily compressed, almost whispered vocals meander above a bed of solemn musicianship. The song’s perceived simplicity masks a depth that reflects Trupa Trupa’s musical mission; namely, to create music that is at times claustrophobic and unnerving but always engaging. The closing title track is musically suffocating, and waves of ethereal controlled noise force Kwiatkowski’s vocals to swim against the tide while he commences with an internal battle, first declaring “I’ll find” before being told by a second, but still his own, voice, “no, you won’t”. The song is replete with nightmarish elements seemingly lucid and incomprehensible. Trupa Trupa’s willingness to address the realities of global hate, particularly the rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, gives their music an additional gravitas, but the strength of any band must be songwriting, and these four are supremely gifted.

Read Rich Quinlan's interview with Trupa Trupa here...

THE CARVELS NYC - "Late Night Heart" EP (Die Laughing Records www.dielaughingrecords.com)

The Carvels NYC, one of America’s great treasures, return with three more blues-drenched explosions of swinging, punk-inspired rock n’ roll. With their focus on rollicking guitar, wailing saxophone, and Lynne Von Pang’s distinctly powerful voice, Carvels NYC sound like a band from a different era but are urgently needed now. The title track of the Late Night Heart EP invokes images of clean-cut kids dancing on American Bandstand with its 50s doo-wop structure and clever metaphorical lyrics, but it still hits with an undeniable ferocity due to the always steady playing of drummer Steve Pang. The same holds true for “Bitter Pill”, a dirtier sounding effort in which von Pang brazenly addresses the failure of a relationship and refuses to apologize for anything by noting, “I am a bitter pill/ that got caught in your throat”. Danny Ray provides flawless sax work throughout each effort, and he plays with an intensity that provides both swirling blasts of force but also a soulful depth as well, reminiscent of Fear’s angst-riddled “New York’s Alright if you Like Saxophones”. “Out in the Streets” is the most conventional track of the three, as the song steamrolls along with von Pang perhaps never sounding more dulcet in her vocal delivery and guitarist Brian Morgan given a greater chance to shine. A wondrous addition to the band is former King Missile bassist RB Korbet, as her backing vocals are noticeable across the trio of tracks, but perhaps more prominently on the closing “Streets”. The Carvels NYC craft another flawless collection of musical enchantments; from song configuration to attitude to production, the "Late Night Heart" EP is a delight.

SUNTITLE - "Pure Forever" EP (Know Hope Records)

This South Jersey outfit have refined their skills over the past year or so with a seemingly endless string of opening slots for big name acts (Knuckle Puck, Set It Off, X Ambassadors), and that work led to the creation of a stirring four song EP in the form of "Pure Forever." The opening “Big Jawn” is a kick to the teeth of guitar force that breathlessly meshes into a dreamy, shoe-gaze track accented by powerful drumming and impassioned vocals. “Squirrel Hill” adopts a similar sensibility with Joe McGarvey and Kyle Fisher’s heavily distorted, droning guitar majestically interwoven with powerful vocals (“Sorry that I’m not sober/Just for a minute/II guess I missed it”) and understated low-end prowess from Peter Bariexca and drummer Dan Mattera. The fleeting title track is the most unique piece of the four, as minimalist playing wafts elegantly past the listener as McGarvey asks the poignant question of “Why can’t I be pure forever?”. The band returns to a classic 90s alterna-vibe on the closing “Milligram” as Suntitle blends start/stop symmetry with intensified singing, a massive hook, and a richer grove. The song is deceptively heavy and truly stands out following the subdued quiet of “Pure Forever”. There are many interesting aspects to this band, and if the quality of this EP is any indication of what the future holds, their time as an opening band will be short-lived.

LORD BUFFALO - Tohu Wa Bohu (lord-buffalo.bandcamp.com)

This is truly unlike anything I have heard before and will be impossible to forget. Blending elements of dark atmospheric, nearly metallic qualities with contemporary folk, Lord Buffalo makes music that is majestic, moving, and at times, frightening. The opening “Raziel” includes an introduction that one should not listen to alone; the first three minutes are an approaching storm from which one cannot escape, and then the voice of Daniel Jesse Pruitt appears and completes the unsettling soundscape. The vast majority of the tracks are expansive, meditative tableaus of musicianship that can be equally dense and ethereal, effortlessly shape-shifting within seconds. The enchanting title track brings the listener into a realm of melodic chanting as piercing guitar slashes through the sky. Harkening the experimentalism of acts ranging from Slint to Xiu Xiu, Lord Buffalo is a demanding listen that requires one’s highest level of attention and focus. “Heart of the Snake” creates psychedelic headspace while connoting images of vast plains and dusty, barren lands. There is tangible beauty in all that Lord Buffalo produce, from the bouncy, fuzzy, folk-kissed pop of “Halle Berry”, a song accented by angular, muscular guitar riffs and a grandiose refrain of “say hallelujah”, to the spacious, hovering “Kenosis”, an apparition of a song that conveys a penetrating sorrow. The vastness of the songs allows Lord Buffalo to create several anthems within one; even the aforementioned “Kenosis”, while largely a work of gentle exquisiteness, includes searing violin that viciously lacerates the latter portion of the track. Every attempt to introduce noisy characteristics into otherwise tender anthems works perfectly-nothing sounds out of place or forced. There is a highly intricate method to Lord Buffalo’s madness, and these songs are built in the manner of how would care a sculpture; there is a solid base and the ornamentation is added in layers to create an elaborate masterpiece. The closing “Llano Estacado” rattles with a scintillating, looping cadence that grips the listener in an embrace that is disquieting. Lord Buffalo does more than play music-they construct listening experiences.

RABID FLESH EATERS - R.F.E. (rabidflesheaters.bandcamp.com)

When I first found speed metal, many, many years ago, it was Rigor Mortis’ blazing “Foaming at the Mouth” found on The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years soundtrack that instantly caught my attention and now, over thirty years later, it is still among my favorites. I mention this as Rabid Flesh Eaters openly pay a lovingly heavy homage to the fellow Texas legends on R.F.E., including the final recordings of legendary vocalist Bruce Corbitt. Throughout R.F.E., the band honors the proud past of Rigor Mortis with updated versions of three scalding RM classics, “Die in Pain”, the enchanting instrumental “Welcome to Your Funeral”, and the all too timely “Contagious Contamination”. While this trio of tracks are my personal favorites for both musical and nostalgic reasons, one should not undersell the intricacy and heaviness of the other five songs found on R.F.E. The expansive “The Fall” is over eight minutes of elaborate, classically delivered metal on which vocalist Ricky Wilson displays his remarkable range and guitarist Mike Taylor formulates challenging riffs without overwhelming listeners. The band’s ability to experiment with tempo and volume make the song an intriguing musical journey that could only be achieved by truly battle-tested and accomplished players. The title track is perhaps the most poignant moment on the record as Wilson exchanges vocal responsibilities with Corbitt, and the late RM/Warbeast singer delivers his lines with a fury and passion that makes his passing all the more morose. Rounded out by John Hill on bass and drummer AJ Tate, Rapid Flesh Eaters boldly and proudly wave the flag of pure speed metal that punches quickly and with blunt force, but balances this assault with dizzying song structures. Rabid Flesh Eaters is not simply mimicking the blueprint of Rigor Mortis; the music on R.F. E. is committed to commemorating both Corbitt and Mika Scaccia, the former RM/Ministry/Revolting Cocks guitarist who passed away in 2012. Scaccia once worked with Rabid Flesh Eaters, and the desire to honor two tragically fallen metal forces flows though the eight songs on R.F.E. This is ideal for those looking for traditional metal free from breakdowns or feet-flying pits.


 

ERIK CORE - Last Call (erikcoregunpowder.bandcamp.com)

I had no idea folk music could be this much fun. Imagine Tom Paxton singing for the Circle Jerks and one can begin to place a big toe in the wild musical pool that is Last Call. Released in early 2019, this is a mandatory listen for people (or fools) like me who missed it upon its initial emergence and is a wonderful primer before Erik Core releases a new collection in 2020. Blending country forthrightness, hardcore energy, and metal ferocity, Core, supported by buddies Al Stingle and Josh Mendoza, blasts his way through eleven songs about living hard, nearly going too far, and somehow being smart enough to see the lessons in past mistakes. The relentless vivacity of “Wild Fire” is matched by the scathing “Rock Stars”, whose refrain of “Don’t believe your rock stars/making all their profits/selling you their dreams” just drips with years of frustration. When the trio slows the pace down, as they do on the dusty “Last Call”, there is a melancholy realism that can only be truly expressed by those who have lived what they write (“Hoping for a better tomorrow/Wishing for a better today/Knowing that even as these words are spoke/Another set of eyes closes for good”). “Freedom of Spirit” retains a hardened Southwestern vibe, while the uproarious “WTF” is simmering mix of combustible angst and sardonic wit about the rampant spread of “heroin in the Midwest”. The band’s greatest skill is that while they have all clearly cut their teeth playing aggressive music (Core founded Gunpowder), the songs on last call are varied in length and intensity level, with “After the Fog” moving deliberately as Core speaks of “tassel dancing peepshows”, “Sandinista, rum drinking partner”, and a “full time demon fighter”. This is an intriguing listen, but the overwhelming high point for me was the expansive, beat poetry nature of “High Noon”. An explosion of authenticity about the suffering faced by so many of the ignored in America, the song takes the listener into jail, the agony of waking up strung out, “covered in piss, puke, and shit”, dying to be saved but not seeking salvation. The track is a masterpiece of fearless writing performed with painstaking strength. I cannot wait for the next record from these guys.

JONNY POLONSKY - Kingdom of Sleep (https://jonnypolonsky.bandcamp.com)

Jonny Polonsky has had an amazing life; as a teen, Black Francis plucked him from an ocean of musicians fighting to be noticed, and he went on to perform with Maynard James Keegan in Puscifer. Throughout the years in between and around these events, Polonsky has played with everyone from Neil Diamond to Tom Morello. On Kingdom of Sleep, the Brooklyn native makes richly atmospheric, and at times, even futuristic sounding music on a record that plays out like one metaphysical experience. “Ghost Like Souls” is a majestic work of with truly other worldly sounding vocals delivered with fragility over a lush, keyboard-driven soundscape. “The Weeping Souls” rattles with a poignancy matched by a visceral sensuality woven within its indie pop/folk structure. (“Oh what can you say after you cry yourself to sleep/And there are no tears left to weep”) It is difficult to avoid using the term “dreamy” to describe the work of Polonsky, but the term is fitting on “No Tears” and the delicate eroticism of “You Turn Me On” (“Let me taste you again/I won’t waste a drop of you”) as breathy vocals hover like a low cloud ceiling above emotionally charged and haunting musicianship. “Aenerone” returns to the meditative dance grove first introduced on “Ghost Like Souls” and is equally beautiful as the opening track. Ethereal keys waft effortlessly into the closing “Willing Eye”, a jangling nugget of heartfelt emotion. The entire record is achingly beautiful and a testament to this man’s boundless experimentalism.

THE GLOOMIES - Are We Getting Better? (thegloomies.bandcamp.com/)

The Gloomies often live up to their name aesthetically, although they may take their moniker from an obscure collection of blue aliens from the Care Bears carton. Regardless, Andy Craig leads The Gloomies through a collection of songs that are warm and lush haunted by fragile vulnerability. On “DNTGTBTTR”, the vocalists admits, “I miss the way we felt when we were young, magic everywhere, screaming in your ear”, acknowledging a sense of loss and a woeful plea for redemption. Even the fleeting DIY “Voice Memo”, of which there are three, take the listener into the band’s creative process and the burgeoning beauty of the ideas that dominate this stunning record. “Sick Like You” hoovers elegantly with intricate guitar playing, and the gorgeous “Mess We Made” is a serene ballad with ghost-like backing vocals of delicate beauty. The fittingly titled “Calm Now” is an ideal closer, as the song is played with refined musicianship that is mesmerizing in its lavish splendor with Craig’s voice sounding as if he lost at sea. The Gloomies are an intriguing band and the work on Are We Getting Better is an impressive illustration of this band’s vision.

ACID TONGUE - Bullies (Freakout Records www.freakoutrec.com)

Seattle’s Acid Tongue is a fascinating combination of classic indie rock stylings and an unrelenting DIY spirit. This conjures images of the heyday of the 90s indie rock explosion, particularly the title track as Guy Keltner announces how “rich kids are bullies” in a falsetto whose innocent sound belies the pain the song exposes. This dichotomy of complex, emotional sorrow and ethereal, musical deftness is expressed on “Jenny Lewis” with the scathing line, “our love is just another inside joke”, and the mid-tempo crawl of “Liars” as Keltner admits, “they don’t tell you it ends like this”. Acid Tongue delivers music that is both somehow highly sophisticated and instantly relatable, like reconnecting with old friends who have changed but still retain much of their old charm. The crawling pace and self-deprecating honesty of “Sometimes” is a heartfelt confession that will be undoubtedly relatable (“Love is a strange world/Love isn’t kind/making me crazier, time after time”). When Keltner declares “bad medication is not the only thing you hide” as he opens the bouncy, nervous “Walk Don’t Run”, he introduces a twitching, infectious effort that perfectly captures the unease of the world in which we live. The driving bass line reverberates with a slickness of 1970s studio chic but somehow still captures the ethos of a garage band playing together for the first time. Keltner, who is accompanied by a wondrous band of skilled players, including primary partner Ian Cunningham, have compiled a collection of heartfelt, occasionally desperate tales, but rather than feel sad about how dark times may be, Acid Tongue tells us on “Forty Years” that, despite it all, “we might as well enjoy the ride”. Not bad advice.

JAH WOBBLE - A Very British Coup (80 Proof Records https://www.averybritishcoup.com)

One may see this as a Public Image Limited reunion of sorts, and the timing is perfect. Jah Wobble, John Wardle on his birth certificate, was PIL’s bass player who famously exited the band in 1980 under scurrilous conditions before releasing his own solo record Betrayal. Forty years later, the need for unique takes on failing British culture and stale pop music coincide on “A Very British Coup”, as Wardle is joined by former mates Richard Dudanski on drums and guitarist Keith Levene. The song is a delightful mixture of atmospheric pop, throbbing bass, understated but impactful drumming, and Levene’s soaring guitar playing. The riff carries the track, seamlessly blending metallic touches with soaring beauty as Mark Stewart (Pop Group) takes the helm vocally and provides a string of sarcastic observations about a nation on the verge of departing the European Union and embarking upon an unknown future with far more economic and social questions than answers. Phrases such as “sordid sentimental, sick souvenirs” and “hypnotism by the radio” are woven within elements of dub step, post-punk, and jazzy disco. Accompanied by tape loops and even Chinese harps, the song is a universe of varied sounds and styles meshing together into a gloriously beautiful condemnation of contemporary England. Only the Brits could be so sardonic and lovely at the same time. Regardless of your interest, or lack thereof, in English politics, this should be required listening, as it brings together legends with decades in their pasts who create something that sounds entirely new.

SHARP VIOLET - “She’s So Strange” (sharpviolet.bandcamp.com/track/shes-so-strange)

Long Island’s most exciting band returns with a new single that demonstrates increasing refinement of their sound and growth within their collective songwriting talents. “She’s So Strange” begins with a controlled, fuzzy mid-tempo riff while vocalist Liz Meehan celebrates strength through individuality (“Her temper runs hot but her shoulder is cold/A child at heart with a soul so old”), but the song changes dramatically once it reaches its furious curious. Driven by the low-end force of Jasmine Fuentes’ furious pounding and a rumbling bassline from Marie Tornetto, along with the dual guitar crunch of Jessica Benenati and Allison Sondergard, “She’s So Strange” becomes an explosive blast of angular punk accentuating some of Meehan’s most poetic writing (“She's So Strange/In proportion to obscurity/Draining my money and my sanity/ She likes the color but hates the taste/ She can't make up her mind so she makes up her face”). One of punk’s founding principles was to celebrate those who are traditionally on the outside of what is considered “acceptable” or “normal”, but in a world of mass conformity in which one’s self-worth is driven by likes on social media posts, it is refreshing to hear a song once again celebrating the idea that people should be who they are and have pride in doing so. When Meehan states, “She’s the queen of the scene/even if it’s in her own head”, she captures a sentiment many feel and does so with her band mates sounding at their best thus far. Overflowing with energy and clearly exhibiting continued musical prowess, Sharp Violet hits fiercely here, providing more proof as to how they are one of the best and most intelligent punk bands playing right now.

THICK - 5 Years Behind (Epitaph Records www.epitaph.com)

Thick is a Brooklyn trio of socially astute punks and 5 Years Behind is a collection of acerbic examinations of how frustrating modern life has become. Thick has released a series of highly impressive singles and EPs, so it with great anticipation that one finally gets their full-length debut, and there is not a wasted second here. On “Bumming Me Out”, vocalist Nikki Sisti says, “anxiety gets the best of me but it won’t bring me/everything that I read is bumming me out” as a warm yet intense guitar riff envelopes the listener. The band has the ability to inject some pop harmonies into their work, such as the sing along “Sleeping Through the Weekend” with its’ blistering funny take on relationships (“I don’t care about your new job/I don’t wanna hear about your paintings”), but the forty-eight second slash and burn blast of “Fake News” leaves nothing to the imagination, and the biting, Ramones-meets-X-Ray Spex “Your Mom” is an instant classic. “Mansplain” begins with forty-seconds of inane comments the members of Thick, including bassist Kate Black and drummer Shari Page, have actually had said to them over the course of their career (“they sound really good for women”) before leaping into a roaring blast of punk aggression. Thick’s ability to balance melodic playing with lyrics often steeped in cynicism and angst, such as the poignant juxtaposition of nostalgia and regret on “Home”, grants 5 Years Behind its profound impact. “I Won’t Back Down” reads like both a personal mantra for Sisti but will ultimately become a battle cry for limitless listeners as well as the band delivers a forceful declaration of independence while condemning the overwhelming ocean of hypocrisy that people battle each day. While it would be easy to simply see the world as a place of unrestrained suffering and ignorance with no hope of improvement, Thick is encouraging people to not quit and to keep having fun even in the midst of the mind-numbing stupidity. This sense of realistic optimism is the record’s most endearing quality; it is angry but not hopeless. Sisti, Black, and Page do not simply scream about the state of the world, but instead want everyone who is fortunate enough to hear 5 Years Behind to know that as alone as people may feel, there are others just like them out there. I am forever a fan.

DEADRISEN - S/T (AFM Records www.afm-records.de)

Remember when metal was defined by gargantuan guitar riffs, pummeling drumming, and banshee wails from vocalists with nearly inhuman pipes? Well, DeadRisen clearly does because this band has each of these features plus much more on their self-titled release. The members of DeadRisen have highly impressive resumes, but bassist Mike Lepond truly stands out with his work in Symphony X. Superbly produced and played with breath-taking proficiency, DeadRisen bring back the days when bands were compiled of members who were virtuosos more interested in exploring the bounds of their instruments than gaining likes on social media. I know I sound like the old guy in the neighborhood, but DeadRisen resurrects a quality lacking in many bands-irrefutable talent. There are endless traditional metal components on this self-titled release, such as the power balled “Reach for the Sun”, but also quite a few very pleasant surprises, such as the flamenco guitar work from Rod Rivera that spices up “The Maker” and “Visions”, as Rivera is the son of a flamenco guitarist and he brings his familial talents effortlessly to DeadRisen. However, at their core, DeadRisen are an old-fashioned metal band determined to breathe new life into the genre’s conventional structure. The galloping riffs that drive “Prophecy” and “Chains of Time” never grow tiresome for old metal fans like myself, and DeadRisen nicely accent this playing with adroitly placed keyboards and messages of rebellion and strength (Vocalist Will Shaw commands listens to “never give up, never give in” and to “conquer our fears” on the aforementioned “Chains”). To help demonstrate their metal chops and pedigree to any potential doubters, DeadRisen take on the always risky task of covering Metallica, the equivalent of covering Zeppelin by an up and coming rock band, with “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, and to their credit, DeadRisen pay homage to the masters (of puppets) with flawless execution. Will Shaw may not have the James Hetfield’s menacing growl, but the end result is a thunderous, nearly symphonic take on a masterpiece. This is not merely a rise backwards in time, but rather a celebration of metal’s heritage as well as its future.

PET CROW - Take the Edge Off (https://petcrow.bandcamp.com)

It is ironic that Pet Crow named their sophomore release “Take the Edge Off”, as the record sound as if it is perpetually on edge; a rattling, noisy, ball of 21st century Feelies pop. “Insomnia” wraps a jangly guitar riff from Sean around the listener and squeezes as tightly as humanly possible while Baz pounds away on drums to create a blast of controlled chaos. The subtle surf grooves of “NOCD” and “One Whole Summer” are propelled by Danielle’s soaring vocals and the song captures the central theme of the band, which is to mesh fun, light-hearted playing with tales of frustration and disillusionment. Pet Crow put together a total package on “What We Doin’?”, a fast-paced gem of garage pop that reveals the skill of bassist Connor whose low-end thump gives the song a more noticeable punk aesthetic. The most interesting of the songs on Take the Edge Off is easily “Controlling”; with its extended length of nearly five minutes, Pet Crow experiment with their sound by allowing the song to breathe and interspersing classic surf-punk riffs with blasts of blunt force and Danielle’s elusively sultry vocal delivery. The title track overflows with 90s indie energy and makes for an excellent contrast with the darker “Hostage”, as the latter is a festival of loud/soft timing and possesses a menacing atmospheric quality not heard in Pet Crow’s other work. There is quite a bit occurring just below the surface with this band and what may strike some as upbeat pop songs upon a cursory listen will ultimately reveal far more when one listens again. The concluding “Prick” has a disarming sensibility until one hears the lyrics “you make me sick/such a waste of life” delivered with chilling impassiveness from Danielle. This intellectual and emotional depth helps to make Pet Crow a tremendous listen and a truly promising band.

STRANGE LIPS - Too Bitter (https://strangelips.bandcamp.com)

Brooklyn’s Strange Lips makes riot grrl punk that is biting, sarcastic, and incredibly relevant on their blistering six-song Too Bitter EP. Each song is a furious musical and lyrical assault led by powerhouse vocalist/guitarist Stephanie MacIntyre, including the sardonic and subtly painful “I Wish Cher Were My Mom” (“She’d be proud of me, just like she is of Chaz, She’d support me, no matter who I am”). Strange Lips, rounded out by Vivian Keating on bass and drummer Jouie StaRomana, take aim at the trivialization of creative people on “Something Simple” (“And they told me make something fresh/You’re got to make something snappy/You lose me-it’s too complex”), and simply annihilate contemporary society on the perfect “Am I Woke Yet?” Obliterating male feminists (“let me talk over you”) and the naïve (“I’m a white girl, I’m so energized/ The Women’s March was my first protest ever”), the song is a brutally honest deconstruction of hypocrisy in less then two minutes. “Change” is a frantic opener that is destined to be a favorite amongst anyone who ever been in a doomed relationship-therefore the entire world-as MacIntyre says, “I’m giving you permission to dig my own grave” with a delivery full of equal parts rage and regret. The closing “Pretty Soon (You’re All Gonna Die)” is dedicated to the NRA and the politicians who suckle at its economic teat, with MacIntyre brazenly declaring, “Well you take your blood money/ Love your semi-automatic/Hush, hush,‘til the red dries to brown/Well I hope you still love it/ With your mouth ‘round the barrel/Suck it down, old man, suck it down”). I absolutely adore this band and the awareness they are attempting to generate; it would do this country indefinable amounts of good for people to listen.


ROSS THE BOSS - Born of Fire (AFM Records www.afm-records.de)

As one of the founding members and preeminent guitar player for metal heroes Manowar, Ross “the Boss” Friedman demonstrated his penchant for scathing riffs and an acute appreciation for melody. Friedman also played a critical role in punk’s early life with The Dictators, and his legacy now slides into its sixth decade with Born of Fire. Everything on Friedman’s latest effort screams of classic metal aggression, invoking acts like Metal Church and Armored Saint, while obviously channeling Manowar’s earliest, fiercest moments. Soaring, wailing vocals cascade across a tableau of driving rythyms and overwhelming speed. The sludgy stomp of “Fight the Fight” is matched by the thrash-inspired “Denied by the Cross”, but each track is punctuated by the octave shattering vocals of Marc Cotoia, particularly the symphonic title track and the pummeling “Godkiller”. “Demonic Holiday” will satisfy your fetish for ostentatious 80s metal excess and “Waking the Moon” is soaked by blues groove reminiscent of metal’s earliest days. Perhaps the finest message one hears on Born of Fire is “Undying”, a rallying cry that can be applied to Friedman as easily as the genre to which he ahs given the majority of his life. AFM once again finds the ability to release music by important artists that may otherwise be tragically overlooked. Find this, revel in the skill displayed, and keep seeking out this label’s roster.

HUMAN IMPULSE - Human Impulse (humanimpulse.bandcamp.com)

There is always a need for angry metal-inspired punk, but our current global climate makes this music more important than any other time in recent history. The Minneapolis trio Human Impulse, featuring veterans of other bruising acts including Ambassador Gun and Path of Destruction, unleash a torrent of fury across six songs that are the musical equivalent to a curb stomp. “Behind Your Back” begins with a deafening wave of guitar force from Andy Hefner who works in perfect tandem with bassist Luke Olsen and drummer Bob Cahill. “Reassessed” is a master class in how to produce scathing metalcore without ever relying upon tired breakdowns, while “The Darkest Hand” is the band’s magnum opus, clocking in at over three minutes. The song’s galloping rhythm is counterbalanced by raw, flesh-searing riff played with savage intensity before burning itself out and fading away in a cloud of distortion. “Pharmacaust” has a classic punk feel, as if Knocked Loose was suddenly possessed by the Damned, with a buzzsaw guitar hook and aggressive backing vocals. The closing “New Wave” is a tank of a song that leaves nothing but a razed landscape upon its completion, as Hefner once again channels Johnny Ramone through Lemmy’s amp to produce a flawless effort that honors the true legends of the genres these guys clearly adore. Go buy this immediately.

MONDO GENERATOR - Fuck It (Heavy Psych Sounds www.heavypsychsounds.com)

Nick Oliveri returns with Mondo Generator after an eight-year hiatus, and he announces his return with blistering intensity. The ferocity of “Up Against the Void” is all one has to hear to grasp the power of Oliveri and his mates Mike Pygmie and Mike Amster. Blending hardcore fury with dense metallic riffs, “Void” is a skull crushing blast of force that is merely an appetizer for a massive, squalling entrée. The blues-dipped, psychedelic grunge power of “Kyuss Dies” is matched later by “There’s Nothing Wrong” as Mondo Generator demonstrate an endless supply of energy across the landscape of this scorching record. The speedy “Turboner” pays homage to pills, fast women, and all other forms of debauchery that makes life tolerable, taking classic rock imagery and creating a thunderous slab of antagonism, while “Death Van Trip” is the leading song on a soundtrack to a horror film not yet made. Mondo Generator never allows the listener to come up for air over the course of fourteen rumbling songs of impending musical destruction. “ “When Death Comes” is a high-speed burnout that blends buzzsaw guitar and blastbeats into a seamless slab of sleek vehemence, a sensibility matched by “It’s You I Don’t Believe”. “Silver Tequilla-666 Miles Away” is the noisiest drinking song ever recorded, and “S_V_E_T_L_A_N_A_S” is a highway pile-up set to music with burly guitar riffs and a bone-shattering low-end thump. Oliveri, Pygmie, and Amster sound like a small army rather then a trio, battering away on “Listening to the Daze” and the menacing “Option 4”; both tracks reveal the band’s penchant for writing devastatingly heavy grooves that are also sneakily catchy, revealing the vets appreciation for both technicality and the almighty hook. Mondo Generator has everything that metal would want, but this band cannot be contained within just one label-with aspects of classic rock, punk, metal, and even slight shoegaze, stoner tempos thrown in for spice, Fuck It is a cauldron of guitar fed rock at a time when we all need it.

TALK ME OFF - Cursed (Smartpunk Records www.smartpunk.com)

Cursed is a record for all the frustrated, self-doubting, and exhausted members of society; therefore, the vast majority of us. Vocalist and guitarist Holly Herzog leads Talk Me Off through a dozen blazingly fast spurts of sing-along punk that revolves around the central theme of general disgust with the quality of one’s life. The opening trio of the title track, “Worry Wart”, and “All is Lost” express sentiments that are readily relatable, namely how fleeting happiness is, and even when one gets a taste of satisfaction, most people cannot even allow themselves to enjoy it, as they are racked by the sense of impending dread that inevitably supersedes success. This may sound dreary and more akin to a one-man black metal outfit, but Talk Me Off balances the sorrow, self-loathing, and angst with rapid playing and an unquenchable thirst for elastic hooks. This is not punk-pop, but the buoyancy heard within Ryan Cacophony’s bass playing, even on “Cut It Out”, a diatribe against the ignorance spouted by people in the name of religion, and “Insidious”, an unflinching self-examination about just how easy self-sabotage can be and how so many simply continue to repeat the same mistakes will encourage people to bob their heads more than throw punches and spin kicks. Rounded out by drummer Christian Moquin, Talk Me Off will bring in a wide circle of punk fans, from those who worship at Joe Queer’s altar to those who celebrate bands like The Casualties and The Distillers. Some of the band’s hardest hitting tracks close out Cursed, as “Enough” and “Get Out” and raw and thunderous headshots that prove that like the best punk records, there is not a second of wasted time or any filler to be heard. Richmond, Va has graced the world with some great bands and talk me Off is certainly continuing a proud tradition.

TRAVELS WITH BRINDLE - Greetings From Rocky Point (travelswithbrindle.bandcamp. com/)

When one reads that a band prominently features the ukulele as a primary instrument, it is far too easy to imagine Don Ho singing “Tiny Bubbles”, and with all due respect to Mr. Hu, Chelsea Spear makes her ukulele rock throughout a collection of six poignant tracks. Greetings From Rocky Point includes first person perspective stories that are elegantly played and lovingly delivered. The opening “Summer Stock” is a blissfully naïve tale of dreams for stardom on Broadway despite “having only one line” during a summer theater stint. Overflowing with youthful glee and tempered by the inevitable disappointments of adulthood, the song is a snapshot of a beautiful memory when responsibilities were almost nonexistent and life revolved around trips to the beach and fantasies of future greatness. Spear’s voice has a warm, richly engaging tone that makes “Happy Birthday, Chicken Boy” endearing, and her attention to finite details makes her songs captivating and extraordinarily vivid. On the fleeting “Where’s Francesca?”, Spears notes how the “wallpaper felt like birch-bark” as she is delicately backed up by cellist Marshunda Smith and Hilary Lahan on percussion. My personal favorite is “Feather”, a heavenly slice of sarcastic suffering highlighted by the use of a singing saw by Leigh Calabrese and Spear noting, “Winter in New England got me feeling like an elephant/Saddled with a day job and seasonal depression”. Spear conveys Liz Phair’s blunt honesty delivered through lo-fi perfection, allowing each word to have resonance and depth as she spins tales of insecurity, fleeting optimism, and enthusiastic hope with a combination of confidence and vulnerability, best heard on the closing “Small Change”. (“I hear that small change in your pockets/ why don’t you throw that small change my way? With that small change I’ll make your morning good”) A Bostonian by birth and now self-described “New Englander in exile” (she currently lives in Berlin), Chelsea Spear is a wondrously talented singer and storyteller. One needs not have traveled to Texas (“Texas Tourney”), acted in small summer theater, or have any idea who Chicken Boy or Francesca are to enjoy a majestic collection of heartfelt songs. Hustle over to her bandcamp page and brighten your day.


ANTI-FLAG - 20/20 Vision (A-F Records/Spinefarm Records http://a-frecords.limitedrun.com)

Anti-Flag has never backed away from a political fight and there is no fight more daunting or nation defining than the upcoming US presidential election. Perhaps taking this title before Mike Bloomberg inundated any type of media known to man with his “hindsight is 20/20” ad onslaught, Justin Sane and his mates in Anti-Flag fiercely expose the monstrosity that has been the Trump presidency and offer a heartfelt call to arms for any individual who cares to listen. What has always impressed me over the twenty-five years of listening to Anti-Flag, first falling for them with the opening chants of “Die for the Government”, was their fearlessness in terms of how they delivered their music. The band never simply delivered two-minute blasts of punk fury, and that trend continues here with the pop-laden title track and the closing “Resistance Frequencies”, an anthem accented by subtle horns. In between these extremes, one hears a collection of flesh-searing blasts, including “Christian Nationalist”, which places the David Duke worshipping racists who feel covered by this current administration on blast, and “Hate Conquers All”. The latter is the opening salvo of the record and features a Trump quote about how, back in his version of the “good old days”, police would treat protestors “very, very rough” in an effort to dissuade them from marching again. The irony of course, is that the so-called Commander-in-Chief is referring back to the days of the anti-Vietnam War movement, a military conflict for which he conveniently found artificial bone spurs just in time to avoid. “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down” and “Unbreakable” are two inspirational rallying cries to those who may feel disheartened by the unflinching support the Trump regime continues to receive or the occasional sense of dread that this criminal may once again be selected to sit in the White House. Anti-Flag reminds all who hear that, like the country in general, all people go through difficult periods but the strong continue to fight through them and become stronger. These anthems of hope and positivity are offset by the expected and completely appropriate bursts of rage, namely “A Nation Sleeps” and “You Make Me Sick”, a pair of blistering modern protests songs that strip away all pleasantries in favor of the stark ugly reality in which America finds herself. The track I find most intriguing is the acoustic “Un-American”; a Springsteen-esque snapshot of young Americans who realize that all they were promised was a lie. The factories are closing, the churches are crumbling, the tales of hope and anticipated success faded into the bleak emptiness of the lives crushed by policies of a self-obsessed, entitled, narcissist. Anti-Flag has never hidden themselves away from the truth, and they do not want you to think that everything is going to be alright, because there is a good chance that it may not be. However, the band also reminds each listener that change lies within them and if they are not galvanized to save the soul of their nation, we will all look back with no one left to blame but ourselves.

ANVIL - Legal at Last (AFM Records; www.afm-records.de)

Before anyone jumps to the 2009 documentary that has come to, rightly or wrongly, define all that Anvil is, one must remember that this is the band that gave the metal world “666” and “Metal on Meal”, two all-time classics that stand up even with today’s heavyweights. I say this because Anvil has become a living punch line for many over the past decade, a sort of cartoon brought to life or Spinal Tap without the Stonehenge debacle. Maybe it’s the old guy in me, but I am so happy to hear Anvil’s newest work, Legal At Last, their third consecutive record with producer Martin ‘Mattes’ Pfeiffer, as it resonates with tangible commitment to a lifestyle of classic metal for all that terms entails. The guys certainly have the legalization of marijuana on their minds on the opening title track, and the comical condemnation of the inconsistencies of U.S. law, “Nabbed in Nebraska” (“Prohibited substance/In different states/While crossing boundaries/Police lay in wait”.). This proud Canadian export have been celebrating the need for marijuana reform for a long time, and Legal At Last is both a nod to their home nation’s decision to uniformly legalize weed, but also a subtle nod that maybe, after all the toil, heartbreak, rejection, and long, sweaty tours with little if any profit to show for their efforts, Anvil be finally be an acceptable vice to publicly discuss. “Talking to a Wall”, “Chemtrails”, and “Gasoline” do indeed take complex global issues and make them relatable to people on a seventh grade level, but so what?! I am not listening to Anvil in search of a doctoral dissertation on the instability of global financial markets; I want raw guitar, rugged vocals, and a pummeling low end, and that is what the band delivers. Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow sounds reinvigorated on “I’m Alive” and the rythym section of legendary drummer Robb Reiner and bassist Chris Robertson are airtight throughout all of Legal At Last, from the mid-tempo grind of “Nebraska” to the Accept-style groove of “Glass House”, and the wall-shaking, blues-kissed quality of “Said and Done”, a late-night sucker-punch of a song that oozes a Motorhead influence. “Plastic in Paradise” is a cynical summation of contemporary society’s obsession with convenience and speed over long-term concerns, and the song’s message is delivered over a thunderous rumble that will undoubtedly motivate a frustrated thirteen year old somewhere to care about the environment. I remember learning about environmental threats through bands like Nuclear Assault and Testament, and my early interest in history was sparked through Anthrax and Iron Maiden, so no one should snicker at what Anvil is doing here. This is also flawlessly executed, meat and potatoes metal with limitlessly massive riffs and absolutely no subtlety. The solo on “Bottom Line” and the opening of “Food for the Vulture” will melt any metalhead’s face, regardless of age or sense of “cvltness”, and there is something to be said for the lost art of crafting songs that are anchored around memorable hooks. This is not a voyage of nostalgia; Anvil are still putting all of themselves into creating metal that harkens back to the past but is still desperately needed today.

OF MONTREAL - UR Fun (Polyvinyl Records www.polyvinylrecords.com)

Of Montreal has been challenging musical boundaries for a quite a while now, and while Kevin Barnes has always been the mastermind behind the band, for UR Fun he actually is the band. Spending his days, sometimes up to twelve hours, in complete isolation constructing hypnotic dance beats and programming drums and synths, UR Fun has a breezy, light-hearted sensibility about it. Barnes admitted that Cyndi Lauper and Janet Jackson were on his mind as he recorded, and certainly the classic MTV aesthetic of the cover coincides with the dance party frivolity of “Polyaneurism” and the handclaps that propel “Get God’s Attention by Being an Atheist”, song that one could easily envision a teenage Anthony Michael hall dancing awkwardly to at the school prom. “You’ve Had Me Everywhere” is every terrible 80s cliché rolled into one song and I honestly do not know if Barnes is just trying to challenge himself and thusly his listeners, or if he is simply messing with people. The track is a tender declaration of love but done as if Barnes was singing with Mr. Mister or Mike and the Mechanics. Coming as the follow-up to the autobiographical White is Relic/Irrealis Mood, UR Fun is less about being swept away by new love but rather allowing one’s self to be truly enveloped by the happiness of being in love and celebrating the innocence of feelings that provide as much comfort as they do nervous energy, best embodied on the mid-tempo synth “Carmillas of Love”. Not all of UR Fun is kind-hearted, overly romanticized naiveté, as “Don’t Let Me Die in America” is a sharp, beautifully sarcastic take on the state of the U.S., with Barnes noting “I don’t even want to haunt this place” as new wave guitar riffs swirl about his head. The darker, “Deliberate Self-Harm” is another effort that takes people by the shoulders, shakes them a bit and reminds them that “having boundaries is abuse”. The trippy closer “20th Century Schizofriendic Revengeoid” asks the pertinent questions: “Why does everyone seem fake? Why does it all seem so unreal?” in the midst of a mildly intensive ayawaska experience. It has always been challenging to capture what Of Montreal is truly about as a band, and even when “they” are only Kevin Barnes, the difficulty remains, and for that, we are fortunate.

WARHAWKS - Stardust Disco (New Rivals Entertainment http://newrivalsent.com)

New Jersey’s Warhawks are furiously hard working guys who have produced a small fortune of music in the past two years, and Stardust Disco picks up where their last releases stopped; namely six blasts of driving rock with a healthy smattering of punk and indie touches. The opening “deliver” is a high-energy mass of roaring rock played in a gloriously stripped down style. With its mixture of thick guitar and massive drums, it would be easy to assume the Warhawks to be a band that only knows one speed until “Dire” comes across your ears. Blending an infectious and soulful chorus with New Wave tines, the song is a mainstream radio gem that will hopefully be picked up by any mainstream radio stations left standing, or at last let it be the backing music to a popular truck ad. As slick as “Dire” is, that song sounds like Viking power metal when compared to “Don’t Give Up Your Heart”, a sugary dance track that affectionately embraces the last gasps of disco that dominated the early 80s. “I can’t wait” jumps back even early and utilizes a 60s vibe to generate a sense of contagious energy and pure fun. I entered into this Ep expecting something very different than what I ultimately heard, but it is highly engaging. The synths that anchor “Other Side of Life” sound like something from Blotto’s immortal “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” and that never makes for a bad day. I am curious to hear where Warhaks go from here, as they are either a band in musical transition or they are having limitless creativity and want to capture it all.

THE INNOCENCE MISSION - See You Tomorrow (theinnocencemission.com/music)

The Innocence Mission play music so delicate that it seems as if one even moves while listening, the songs will shatter, but there is incredible depth to every piece they create. Like gazing into the grey waters of a winter’s ocean, See You Tomorrow is a record of tranquility and gravity. The genteel sway of “I’m Always on Your Side” is a sentiment of both confidence and unwavering love. The warm piano on “The Brothers Williams Said” accents the heartbreaking qualities of vocalist Karen Peris’ voice, as she makes the phrase “see you tomorrow” sound like a poignant promise rather then a simple pleasantry. The bucolic nature of “I Would Be There” and the fleeting “Movie” highlight the guitar talents of husband Don Peris. While his playing never rises above a level of elegant tenderness, it is the structures he formulates on “We Don’t Know How to Say Why” and the opening “At Lake Maureen” that give the songs such haunting serenity. This is music for the darkest of days when one needs a ray of beauty.

MOTIHARI BRIGADE - Power From Below (mbrigade.com/)

“The more you watch/less that you know...More that you consume/more you’ll disappear”. These calls to resistance and change highlight the opening title track from Motihari Brigade’s contemporary take on protest music. Perhaps at no time since the turbulent era of the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon has the country needed a genuine cry to raise collective voices and demand greater accountability for those in power, and Motihari Brigade brings this call to fruition through 1960s and 70s blues, funk, ska, and rock riffs with some horns thrown in for good measure, as heard on “We Don’t Have Real Choices”. The record is a celebration of classic rock styling and modern frustrations, including the dark comedy of “Talking to Crazy”. The song is a clear homage to dealing with people on both sides of an argument who do not want to listen to fact, but merely “know” what they know based on what they feel. The band takes a cue from early rock n’ roll and meshes rollicking rythyms with current political concerns, creating a form of “Bernie Sanders meets Helter Skelter” as their bio states. “Revolutionary Sweetheart” and “Invisible Hand” are both garage rock anthems of Strat-friendly guitar and buoyant hooks then clearly illustrate the well-honed talent within this outfit. Then there is the band’s bold cover of Lennon’s immortal “Power to the People”. It is always a potential stumble to cover a genius, but Motihari Brigade takes the song and reverently constructs a boisterous ska effort that should hopefully excite people to move and to think. “The Leader” sounds like The Byrds at their height, and “What Side Are You On?” wraps this telling question around cooler-than-you’ll-ever-be blues configuration. This is revolutionary rock for a new era of revolutionaries.

DEAD KOSMONAUT - Gravitas (High Roller Records www.hrrecords.de)

I must admit that I am a sucker for a great moniker, and it is difficult to beat “dead kosmonaut” in my book, but this Swedish band has much more to offer than just an eye-catching name. It requires a certain level of confidence to title one’s second full-length album “Gravitas”, but the band’s playing is deserving of such a superlative, for the five-piece borrow influences from metal’s earliest days and create something both familiar and fresh throughout eight panoramic efforts. The opening “Black Tongue Bar” engages in late 60s/early 70s headspace aesthetics before diving deeply into classic rock’s penchant for big hooks and guitar riffs thanks to Fredrik Folkar and Pär Fransson. The slower, bluesy “Iscariot’s Dream” has a familiar stomp, revisited on the groove-heavy “The Spirit Divide”, but Dead Kosmonaut avoids becoming too embroiled in the past. Whether embracing Iron Maiden’s erudite storytelling or UFO’s adoration of soaring choruses, the common denominator is the stirring talent of vocalist Pelle Gustafsson. Rather then only presenting his words in a banshee falsetto, Gustafsson varies his delivery while always displaying a staggering range of harmonics. This is the type of metal that fans of Dragonforce, Helloween, and Dream Theater will truly enjoy, for experimentalism is a central component of the band, and they do not follow a traditional “metal” playbook. From the melancholy piano that acts as a centerpiece of “Hell-Heaven” to the Gregorian-esque chants that open the majestic “Dead Kosmonaut Part I”, Gravitas is a record without boundaries or any adherence to predetermined constructs. The closing, ten minute oeuvre, “Dead Kosmonaut Part II” begins with a methodical, low-end rumble from bassist Mattias Reinholdsson and drummer Henrik Johansson as Gustafsson’s vocals soar overhead with Dickinsonian dynamism. The song wriggles steadily for over six minutes before a burst of cathedral keys accent the already spectral nature of the work. Dead Kosmonaut never reaches the speeds of a “thrash” band or even punches with the continued ferocity of an early Sabbath, but they push the boundaries of contemporary metal by looking to the past through fresh eyes and ears. This will not inspire pits, but with the proper lighting and mood, Gravitas is an immersive listening experience.

MR. ELEVATOR - Goodbye, Blue Skies (CastleFace Records www.castlefacerecords.com)

Tomas Dolas is currently the keyboardist for The Oh Sees, but in his other life, he is Mr. Elevator, a trippy, keyboard-driven act that takes the uplifting strains of 60s psychedelia and meshes them with 80s synth into a one mass of fascinating music. In the midst of “Alone Together”, I was convinced for a fleeting second that he was about to break into the theme song to Sanford and Son before returning to Blues Magoos meets 13th Floor Elevators pop goodness. The ethereal instrumental “Waiting” opens the record in the most delicate of manners and Goodbye, Blue Skies evolves over the course of the ten songs, only a smattering of which hang around for any particularly length of time. “Bamboo Forest” is exceeding airy and lush, with soft keys hovering like a low-lying cloud ceiling, again eschewing vocals. A similar vibe is created on “Anywhere” and “Brobdingag”, with both tracks sounding like the perfect accompaniment to soothing deep-tissue massage with exquisite serenity. A nearly tangible Pink Floyd motif is constructed on “Down” through heavily reverb-socked vocals and panoramic organ notes that shimmer and resonate with warmth. Dolas does not merely focus on music for self-contemplation and meditation, however as both “Live Again” and especially “Kompressor” takes 80s synth and up-tempo beats to sound like the soundtrack to action scenes from Stranger Things. Goodbye, Blues Skies is 1960s music made for those born long after that decade ended but done so with a loving appreciation for the nature of the original sound. This is the kind of record that one puts on and simply allows it to play straight through until completion, as Dolas’ work cascades with a resplendent cohesion that should not be interrupted.

PV KNUDE - The Anti-Terror Album (Released through the Museum for Contemporary Art, Denmark; samtidskunst.dk/en)

Injecting politics into one’s music is always a hazardous proposition, as like with any performer, there is a risk of alienating or even losing, potential fans due to one’s views. When Peter Voss-Knude announces, “This white mainstream folklore not worth fighting for” on “The More”, he is making his ideology quite clear, and whether one agrees with him or not, the beats that are constructed throughout The Anti-Terror Album are inarguably refined and impressive. Spoken word protests are woven within trip-hop grooves, jazzy interludes, and the Danish’s performer’s smooth pop vocals. Opening with “A Racist Nation”, PV Knude throws down an artistic and political gauntlet and he remains committed to this vision throughout the collection, as one hears his defense of immigrants and the condemnation of the ignorance of looking to blame those different from themselves for crime on “Who is Your Criminal?” (“I am not afraid of minorities…I am not afraid of Muslims”.) This is contemporary protest music with significance and depth; nothing on The Anti-Terror Album is just a slogan, but is rather a deeply analyzed and passionate opinion set to a modern soundtrack. “I’m Begging You” contains a glittering hook while august horns accent the beauty of the track. “The Wound of Cinema” condemns the irresponsible nature of filmmakers who celebrate and romanticize wars, both past and present, and the poignant “Jacinda” honors the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who took dramatic steps within her nation following a tragic mass shooting that targeted mosques in March, 2019. This was an education for me, as I never would seek out music such as this, but I am better for hearing it and will definitely search out more from one of the most enchanting and erudite performers I have heard in a long time.

TRUPA TRUPA - Of The Sun (trupatrupa.bandcamp.com)

Some bands are larger than the music they perform, and Poland’s Trupa Trupa embodies that statement, although what they deliver musically is incredibly stirring. I became aware of this band through an article about lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Grzegorz Kwiatkowski’s efforts to combat Holocaust denial and misrepresentation in his country and the band’s hometown of Gdansk; as a topic about which I care deeply and to which I have devoted years of study, I was instantly intrigued by Trupa Trupa’s messages of remembrance and the power of history. The band’s calls for commemoration are made all the more impactful through the unique song structures and distinct harmonies one finds throughout Of The Sun. The opening effort “Dream About” is ideally named, as Kwiatkowski’s vocals float effortlessly within a tense, atmospheric soundscape, creating a song that is equally lush and unnerving. There is a perpetual sense of uneasiness to the work on Of the Sun, as “Angle” comes across on first listen as a gentle, acoustic effort, but there is a subtle maniacal quality about it that never allows the listener to feel completely relaxed. Equally unsettling is the title track whose sparse piano is terrorized by strands of noise wafting menacingly behind the tenderly kissed keys and Kwiatkowski’s ghostly vocal delivery. The collection of songs are consistently edgy and challenging and yet hauntingly beautiful as well. “Longing” has moments of stomping power offset by serene vocals and deftly executed, understated guitar playing. The events of the Second World War are most apparent on “Remainder” as Kwiatkowski and his mates repeatedly cry, “well, it did not take place”, boldly challenging Holocaust denial while invoking early Sonic Youth. For Kwiatkowski, the song’s message is more than artistic creativity-his grandfather was a prisoner in the Sutthof concentration camp, a labor and death camp located near Danzig that took the lives of more than sixty-five thousand people prior to Soviet liberation in 1945. Gdansk was also the location of the macabre discovery by Kwiatkowski and some friends of a collection of shoes from the prisoners of the camp that ultimately came to number more than half a million. Hopefully Trupa Trupa will continue to educate and inform people while also entertaining them, as Of the Sun is a complex collection of work that sways from delicate and refined in nature to sweltering and thunderous, occasionally within the same song. The indie pop warmth of “Anyhow” fades wistfully into “Long Time Ago” and the two tracks act as a perfect illustration of the dichotomy of this band; the former maintains a glistening beauty while the latter builds steadily to a crescendo of squalling guitar force. There is remarkable musical acumen within both songs, revealing a collection of impeccably skilled players. There are voluminous post-punk influences here, perhaps embodied most effectively on “Turn”, a short blast of controlled madness channeling Gang of Four and Wire while hanging out at a Suicide show that is simply exhilarating. The closing “Satellite” is a sprawling, ethereal effort that harkens back to Pink Floyd’s Piper At the Gates of Dawn era and concludes an enthralling and critically important release.

I also strongly suggest checking out this interview to learn more about this band’s inspiring efforts.


ALL TAKEN - “Monsters Anonymous” (https://ampl.ink/Wjqor)

I was fortunate enough to come across this talented LA based band on Twitter, thus proving that not everything about social media is pure evil, and I instantly loved what I heard. Forming and releasing material since 2015, “Monsters Anonymous” is the latest single and my introduction to All Taken, and there is much to celebrate. The band, a trio led by Daniel Daghlarian on guitar/vocals and drummer Avo Karapetyan, later joined by bassist David Eye, plays a style of throbbing rock with pop elements that sneak up on you much like the zombies they describe lyrically. The song is both an airtight piece of guitar-friendly rock and a snarky take on one’s perpetual search for self-expression and individuality (“What scares me is I don’t you scare you anymore”). Built around a perfectly synchronized bass line and backbeat, Daghlarian is given ample room to show off his warm vocal delivery and busy but still catchy guitar playing as he admits, “I’m a spirit bound to this earth/Been struggling with my self worth”. Recording steadily since their inception, I hope 2020 brings more from All Taken, as this could be one of those rare bands that proves that there are still fresh ideas in the punk-pop-rock world.

THE KRUEGGERS - Hysterical Cold Side and Dark Memories (Eclipse Records)

The title of The Krueggers’ new record instantly connotes images of Korn and other 90s nu-metal acts, and the music one hears within is a trip to the not so distant past when grunge was dead, metal was adding DJs, and no one was really sure of what defined heavy. As the dust settled and the new century began, metal ditched the industrial components and scratches for more “core”, but these four young dudes from Sao Paulo drag the 90s back whether anyone wants it or not. “Lying Machine” opens with a Trent Reznor inspired noise wave before launching into a Coal Chamber meets Korn loop, while “Freak Out” is a hard driving, Static X-style stomp. The Krueggers, led by brothers Randy and Rafael Fiora, hit an impressive stride on “Overreaction” as a bluesy riff slithers around a groove-fueled beat constructed by bassist Rikke Galla and drummer Luca Rorato, and the band embraces a more traditional metal style on “Dark Parade” as they integrate the most morbid aspects of Seattle’s grunge underbelly into a thunderous dirge. When The Krueggers eschew the noisier, messier aspects of their songs and focus on the riff as the heart of the song, as they do on “I Set Myself”, the results are impressive, for they channel Black Sabbath muscle and latter-day Metallica hooks. The band truly embraces its penchant for melody on “Bring Me Shine”, a song that borrows from grunge’s well traveled soft/loud path, but The Krueggers imbue the track with an a refined anger edge that will make it both commercially viable and a fan favorite. The title track travels deep into the underbelly of Seattle’s grimiest grunge moments for a Gruntruck-style metallic punch offset by subtle harmonies that occasionally stray too far into Dope Show-era Manson. There is tremendous hope or The Krueggers; once they begin to rely more exclusively on their own originality and eschew blatant homage to their influences, there is a band with great promise.

PINEGROVE - Marigold (Rough Trade Records www.roughtraderecords.com)

One may expect this eight-piece outfit to hail from somewhere within the heart of America’s “fly-over” states rather than Montclair, New Jersey, but Pinegrove masterfully capture an indie rock Americana vibe through Marigold. Evan Stephens Hall has a robust voice that is particularly impactful on the refined fragility of “No Drugs” and “Hairpin”. Marigold is a lush collection of modern folk as “The Alarmist” flows like a gentle steam with Nandi Rose and Dug hall booth providing warm, richly engaging accompanying piano. “Phase” is the sturdiest track of the group, as the song progresses around a tightly wound guitar riff from Hall and fellow guitarists Nick Levine and Sam Skinner while drummer Zack Levine sets a rollicking tempo, a trait one hears sparingly from the band. “Dotted Line” crawls along with lumbering pace but Hall’s enticing vocal delivery takes the listener on a story woven intricately through highly descriptive writing and daring honesty. The delicate nature of the playing one hears on “Alcove” and “Endless” makes both songs stirring pieces of deeply poetic, alt-country beauty, while “Neighbor” is devastatingly poignant as each note strikes the listener with a profound emotional force. (“I’m trying to do right, but I guess I desecrate everything, I loved my neighbor, I loved her courageous behavior”) The title track is an intimate, elegant work that gently concludes the record with the most nurturing of sounds that are soft, soothing, and deeply comforting. Marigold is a truly beautiful record from start to finish.


FACILITY MEN - It’s Fun to Disappear (Big Neck Records www.bigneckrecords.com)

When Teodor Lazar yelps, “I’m anti-social” on the opening “I Forgot You Were My Enemy”, one is launched headfirst into a concrete wall of musical density in the form of Facility Men. Angular riffs collide with bellicose force across the expanse of a dozen tracks of authentic postpunk disdain for all that s conventional. “The Day the Symbols Died” channels Margin Walker-era Fugazi without becoming a karaoke-style imitation. The song structures are intriguing in their claustrophobic sense of panic, highlighted on “Reunion Show”, which is the musical equivalent of a bundle of frayed nerves accented with off-kilter guitar playing and desperate vocals. The band’s bio reads that Facility Men deliver “some of the most singular aggressive sounds to come out of Buffalo’; while early Cannibal Corpse may stand as a challenge to that claim, It’s Fun to Disappear would certainly work as a soundtrack for the parking lot table diving and drunken lunacy of the legendary Buffalo Bills “mafia”. The rumbling power of “The Factory” rolls over the listener with lyrics of working struggles, cages, and minimum wage; the song also kicks off the centerpiece of It’s Fun to Disappear. The triumvirate of “Factory”, “Silver”, and “The Ladder” are fiery and relentless, a trio of bustling, frantic masterpieces fueled by the guitar work of Matthew Smith and bassist Traci Volker. The intensity of the playing never wanes, as “Morning Business” generates an overwhelming visceral response, while the musical detonation of “My Son” is built around hyperactive riff and exhausting drumming from Paul Gizzarelli. The longest track among the group is the eponymous closer. At a respectable 3:30, “Facility Men” is a rattling, unsettling song that does not allow the record to go quietly into that good night, but rather, it leaves one wearied and waiting more.

FIREHEADS/SEX SCENES - Split EP (Big Neck Records www.bigneckrecords.com)

Fireheads live up to their name with six tracks of blazing punk on this Wisconsin-centric release. Take the sloppy but glorious sounds of The Candy Snatchers and Night Birds playing as if wild dogs were chasing them and one gets a sense of this band’s sound. “Way We React” and “Dumb” are relentlessly energized and drummer Alex Ross must collapse at the conclusion of a show, for his Keith Moon meets Dave Grohl vigor carries every second of the Fireheads’ blunt, basement show intimacy. Fuzzy guitars from Bobby and vocalist Tyler blaze away on “Contempt” with a riff that is subtlety down-tuned for extra crunch, while bassist Rick adds an additional thumping line. The bombast is inspired, as Fireheads prove that classic punk with nothing more than a loud and fast aesthetic is alive and well.
Fireheads’ counterpart on this split release is Milwaukee’s Sex Scenes, and every song here is over quite quickly, much like my own sex scenes sadly, but each work also delivers a glorious money shot. The twenty-eight destructive seconds of “Siiick” driven by drummer Gregg Twigg and guitarist Harrison Colby, is exhilarating, while “One Foot” is a curb stomp of a effort, pummeling listeners with Connor Lamur’s low end roar. Sex Scenes base their playing around garage-band energy and a musical recklessness, akin to taking a handful of unknown pills given out by a stranger at a party. Vocalist Zach Otto leads the band through a classic Damned sound on “Warlord” as he cries, “kill the priest, I am the beast you heard about”. In the midst of this glory lies my favorite of the bunch, “Devil Dog”; imagine Danko Jones locked in a room with the Stooges during the recording of Raw Power and the MC5 kicking out the jams and one just begins to grasp the extraordinary potency of this band. The Cheesehead state is well represented here.

SWEET

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