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Since Our Esteemed Editor deemed my previous attempt at a column too self-centered, rambling, and perhaps even "faggy," we're gonna try a different tact on approaching this thang. Records! You like 'em, right? OK, then, let's take a look at some recent releases by three totally happening underground rock labels. Let's start this bitch off with what is the no-contest Lord of Noise Rock Labels, muhfuckin Load Records.
In the 90s, we had Skin Graft bringing all sorts of masked insanity to the clamoring hordes (that would be aggressive, nerdy kids who wanted something beyond the ol' 1-2-3-4). Skin Graft had a glorious run, blessing the world with such headscratchers as US Maple, Flying Luttenbachers, (the underrated and totally bizarre) Zeek Sheck, Mount Shasta, Space Streakings, mighty Melt-Banana, Brise-Glace, and plenty of other art-punk super-heroes. I thought it was the greatest shit going for a minute, a cure-all to banal pop-punk garbage and boring-ass "punk" rock. But then Y2K happened and Skin Graft's circuits were scrambled. Just when it seemed as if we were about to plunge back into the Dark Ages, Load came along, shifting its focus from pretty alright but nothin-special "noisy" rock (remember Thee Hydrogen Terrors?) to full-on freak explosions. Of course, Load, like any great label, started out as a reflection of its local scene, and the art-student mecca (Talking Heads, dude!) of Providence RI was entering a goddamn renaissance of real-deal Noise Rock, emphasis on both words. Inspired by the anything-goes creativity of the fading Chicago Now Wave scene and Skin Graft's Dada/Pop Art attack, Load picked up the gauntlet, threw a fresh coat of Dayglo paint on it and BAM! CRASH! ZAP! there were lots of new fucked-up bands to spazz out with. Ten years later, Load is a brand name, and while all their releases aren't total mind-blowers, they at least warrant a closer look. Yeah, "Get to it, windbag," I hear you say. Wish = command.
At this late date, Load has expanded its focus far beyond Providence city limits, going across The Pond even. It started with Norway's punch-drunk Vikings, Noxagt, and continues with Finland's HETERO SKELETON, who feature some dudes from the much-lauded New Weird Finland psych-folk stream. Hetero Skeleton is not folk music, unless you consider the sounds of amp-torture to be folk music (admittedly, these old world definitions are being strained and rearranged with each new day). Despite the Finnish origins, the album is called En La Sombra Del Pajaro Velludo, which means Loud Ass Shit Made By Robots Who Are Trying To Quit Smoking, and is divided into two parts. The first is called "La Oracion Del Muerte" and sounds like Hair Police trying to approximate a BYG side (ie. free jazz through amps to eleven). The second part ("El Serpente Del Amor") lets the horns shriek a little higher in the mix and you can even make out drums and garbled, slobbering vocals. This shit is blown-out like a Teengenerate rec. If you can take early Sightings, you might eat this one up. Which brings us to AIR CONDITIONING and their new one, Dead Rails. AC are from the fertile and small-town sleazy Allentown PA scene that gave us Pissed Jeans, among others, and used to converge on the Jeff the Pigeon venue (where this LP was recorded) and maybe still does. The Sightings reference works real nicely here, as AC trade in the sort of distorted-to-the-brink-of-pain guitar scree as that group. But, you can also hear echoes of speaker-destroying Japanese hard-psych like Mainliner and High Rise. There's not quite as much Blue Cheer worship as those bands, but there are still some overtones of heavy rock pummel and groove, especially in the lumbering, monolithic final cut, "Accept Your Paralysis/Cephalexin.". Just hope you like some white noise with that riff. One band I just don't get/like on Load is WHITE MICE. They have all the classic Load signifiers: Satanic mouse costumes, towering amp stacks blasting unholy loudness, goofy album/song titles (the LP is called BLASSSTPhLEGMEICE and there's tracks called "Mousestasssh Ride" and "Turban Sprawl"), etc. To me, though, they come off as the noise scene's very own Anal Cunt, which isn't exactly a compliment. They sound like gODHEADSILO trying to play dress-up with some Scandinavian black-metal. It's just corny and the music is redundant. Live, it didn't move me much more. Taking a break from the kill-yr-eardrums assault, we have the debut full-length from SILVER DAGGERS, who hail from LA and are part of that city's thriving art-punk scene centered around DIY venue, The Smell. Although their name is most certainly an Electric Eels reference, Silver Daggers sound nothing like the greatest punk band ever (yeah, you know it), instead they explicitly recall Euro art-punk squall like The Ex, and, most of all, the incredible Dog Faced Hermans. This means you get lots of bass-heavy grooves paired with slashing guitars and squawky sax courtesy of Mika Miko's Jenna Thornhill. Now, this being 21st century US punk, there is the inevitable synth action, but it is tastefully used and doesn't get in the way of the tumbling, yet controlled rhythms. Also, these songs do not approach the astute political and social commentary of a Dog Faced Hermans cut, but it's still thrilling to hear the kids trying their hands at these sounds. I really like the lonely sax intro to "Faithful Unlawful," which segues into a pounding Gang of Four-esque bass/drums lockdown. New High & Ord was recorded by Mike McHugh and has cover art by Gary Panter(!). Jumping right back into the noise fray, we have what may be my favorite of the recent Load spew, MONOTRACT, which features Carlos Giffoni who, besides playing in various musical combos, organizes No Fun Fest, which is like the noise scene's mini-SXSW (I'm sure he'd love that comparison). Not positive of the exact instrumentation on here, but I would guess laptop, guitar, and drums. This clash between the organic drums/guitar and the swirling, grainy sounds of the computer gives Trueno Obscuro an interesting tension. The drums sound great, weaving in and out of the noise, which is curiously and blessedly non-harsh. And there are songs here, with understandable vocals and everything! Pretty radical in this milieu. Hmmm, here's a strange, but entirely appropriate, comparison: Laika. When Nancy Garcia sings on this sucker, and sounds are a-buzzin like a rainforest and the drums lay down that tribal beat...yeah, it kinda sounds like Laika (after being raped by Merzbow, of course). Who's Laika? Yeah, well, don't ask, but they were good and an unexpected precursor to the sounds herein. So, I fucked up last review cycle and forgot to do USAISAMONSTER's newest one, The Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age. It's fucking good. More stream-lined than the double-LP Wohaw, Sunset continues USA...'s record-a-year streak in fine fashion. More homeless-man-who-is-a-really-good-guitarist rants from Colin and more of Tom's multi-part epics about These United States, pre-European ruiner invasion. Manifest Destiny, my ass. Finally, while not on Load, we would like to mention Lightning Bolt drummer extraordinaire, Brian Chippendale's solo project, BLACK PUS. So far he has self-released three hand-packaged CDRs, of which I have 2 and 3 (MetamorPus). If you've heard Chipps' other project, Mindflayer, than you have some idea of what's going on here: piercing, feedback vocal noise slathered over frenetic drums that sound like Dave Lombardo taking a gander at Rashied Ali's recorded work. Just in case you think this shit ain't punk, here's the lyrics to 3's fairie stomp, "Earth Ain't Enuff": "come by my neighborhood/to buy my neighborhood/come at the crack of dawn/singing your slimy song/wearing a fresh pressed suit/crafted from wireless loot/then grab my neighbors place/leading the property race/buy all the water too/earth ain't enuff for you." (www.myspace.com/blackpus)
Now that we're done with that cacophony, let's focus on the triumphant re-emergence of legendary '90s indie, Siltbreeze. After taking a lengthy sabbatical, Tom Lax decided to get back in the game (like Michael Corleone) after having his ears pricked by some great new bands. We all know about Times New Viking, who have been rising fast n' bulbous and are now signed to Matador. But let's check out the newbies cuz this latest batch of releases yields three of the best records of the year so far. The mysterious DER TPK (Teenage PanzerKorps) charge hard out of the gate on Harmful Emotions with "Theme Control," then get all cloudy and faraway on "Headless Voice," and that encapsulates much of what they do. There's a distinct Dead C vibe running through this LP, but it's tempered with a Wiry commitment to short songs. The staticky, dramatic vocals and droning guitars are tempered with powerful, straightforward drumming and weird edits that interrupt songs just as they start to float away. You've also got fast punkers like "German Jesus" and "Blood Math" and ginchy, disconnected cuts like "Catholic Radio" and "Government Christians" (apparently they have issues with God). Needless consumer guide: If you have to chose between the Los Llamarada LP and this, go with Harmful Emotions; they're good for you! Now, for what could be fave LP of the year, now, and six months from now. SAPAT's Mortise and Tenon is one of the best homages/extensions to/of Krautrock I've ever heard. Not that it is a slavish imitation, far from it. It kind of sounds like what I've always wished No-Neck Blues Band would (and occasionally actually do) sound like. Starts off with "Vulvasonique," a lovely drone that very slowly and deliberately builds to a full-on senses-encompassing blissful rock-out called "Maat Fount," and goddamn is it beautiful; like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. And that butterfly takes wing on "Dark Silver," which gives off hints of second-album Amon Duul and....Fuzzhead! Yup, this album reminds me of Fuzzhead at their best, which makes a lot of sense cuz Fuzzhead used to be a major player in the '90s neo-psych scene (and they're still around and still great, goddammit). Mortise and Tenon is a head record the way they used to make 'em. It plays through various moods and sounds; graceful and spacey one moment, rocking out with lysergic guitar leads the next. There's little of the Beefheart vibe found on last year's 7", but this is just as good. From Kentucky, no less! Also hailing from a sort of backwoods, PINK REASON should be familiar to most regular TB readers. After the art-punk jag of Der TPK, then the graceful psychedelia of Sapat, Pink Reason is the perfect late-night come-down. Cleaning The Mirror is a drowsy mix of cough-syrup vocals, stoned acoustic strumming, distant almost-bluesy leads and occasional electronic beats and FX. The over-all effect is mournful, but the resignation seems to take on a Nietzschean slant. This record might not kill you, but it will make you stronger.
(Warning: I live with one of the proprietors of the following label and also he is in one of these bands, so take it with a grain of salt, I suppose).
Recently, Brooklyn scene-heroes/godfathers, Oneida, started a label, Brah, that is basically an imprint of their label, Jagjaguwar. Oneida gets to choose all the bands and lets Daddy do all the heavy-lifting, which is perfect if you think about it. After putting out some so-so records by friends' side projects, Brah signed Brooklyn bros Part and Labor and Pterodactyl. Around the same time, Parts and Labor started their own label, Cardboard. For these two releases, Brah/Jag released the CD, while Cardboard put out the LP. Blue Jay is PTERODACTYL's first long-player and it does not disappoint. All the spastic energy of their live show is translated along with studio touches that make this record one of my favorites of the year. This is headphone punk. "Polio" explodes in a frenzy with a manic drum beat and weird trebly guitar figures as the mutli-part high-pitch harmonies come out you like a swarm of bees. "Safe Like a Train" is reprised from an earlier 7" and sounds like Fake Train-era Unwound. "Three Succeed," too, was on a 7", but this version really nails the swelling noisy guitar and creepy harmonies. "Ask Me Nicely" is manic Ptero-style hardcore, threatening to derail at any moment. But, like the best of their songs, it manages to be memorable and unnerving. This record takes a step forward for any noise-rock bands trying to write interesting songs that feature innovative sonics. It ends with "Esses," their finest moment to date. Innovative sonics and catchy songs are nothing new to PARTS AND LABOR. Mapmaker is their third LP and shows why they are one of the best bands currently going. Last year's Stay Afraid was a watershed moment, combining noise with a Husker Du-like ear for melody and songwriting. I'm probably saddling Parts and Labor with a burden they don't want, but, then again, they are sort of asking for it. They represent a sort of post-[insert famous date here] cautious optimism that actually comes off as sincere and artfully accomplished. The lead off cut, "Fractured Skies" has punishing drums and squealing electronics, but also an uplifting horn part that swells like a cleansing wave. This LP isn't quite as bombastic and anthemic as Stay Afraid, but it shows a few other sides, like the danceable "The Gold We're Digging," and the fast n' fun one-minute hardcore of "Camera Shy," which could've been on a Blasting Concept comp. The whole SST thing really comes home to roost with their cover of Minutemen's "King of the Hill." Just to clarify. this is not "Brooklyn hipster shit," it's just really fucking good music. OK then. Finally, Cardboard has released a CD by LA's GOWNS, a guy and a gal who have done time in groups like The Mae-Shi and Amps For Christ. Red State has an underlying political pulse throbbing through it, but the first thing that struck me was how much the first track, "Fargo," sounds like vintage Laurie Anderson; not an influence you hear bandied about much, but one we wish was. There's a desolate, 4 AM atmosphere to these songs, all mushed out on drugs and loneliness.
A few more things to mention:
Davis CA's KDVS radio station is one of the finest in the country, holding its own with the standard-bearer WFMU, and they have now started a record label. Their first release is by Sacramento's WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE SON, GOD? (partial to Horus myself). A three-piece who alternate mathy rock with sky-reaching psych interludes, this LP could have used a few more months in the oven cuz it feels half-baked. Titan it up and then we'll talk.
Hey! Have you ever heard of WOLF EYES?!? Shit, you're Aunt Wilhemina probably has a limited edition cassette made out of rat skin and boar sperm, so get with the program, loser! What's the program? The one where you hit "scary noise" then "boring thunder beat" then "demonic harsh scream" then "sucking sound" then you get it mastered. For reals, ya'll, no doubt WE have put out some quality recs and played some burnin live offerings, but enuff already, aight? You need their new record like a hole in your belly. It's called Human Animal (Sub Pop), about as dumb a title as you could expect, but these guys don't sound like animals, not even geeky human ones. It sounds like they are playing thru the Wolf Eyes (tm) pedal. Maybe they see themselves as the heir to the wonderfully fucked tradition of outsider Michigan art-spew, but Destroy All Monsters this ain't. Where's the humor? Where's the dynamics? Where's the beef? If Whitehouse and Throbbing Gristle were really into Swans and The Melvins........well, they would've made some really rad records. All respect to the entity of Wolf Eyes as such, but I am goddamn sick of their music.
Contact Erick: mindnomind-at-yahoo.com
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