Sunday, January 12, 2020

PINKO TO TOUR THE WEST THIS SPRING!

Ladies and germs, look to the future, as P I N K O will be touring the West in April in support of "You & You". Get in touch with them if you wanna lend a hand with a show in some of these places.
Here's the dates:
3/27- Austin, TX
3/28- San Antonio, TX
4/1- El Paso, TX
4/2- Mesa/Tucson, AZ
4/3- San Diego, CA
4/4- Los Angeles, CA
4/5- San Francisco, CA
4/6- Oakland, CA
4/7- Sacramento, CA
4/8- Reno, NV
4/9- Redding, CA
4/10- Portland, OR
4/11- Seattle, WA
4/12- Boise, ID
4/13- Salt Lake City, UT
4/14- Denver, CO
4/15- Lubbock, TX

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

NEW YEAR, NEW REVIEWS

I had so much stuff to wrap up at the end of 2019 I had to hold off on posting some reviews until now.  So while a few of these releases are certainly happening right now, a few others are lingering from the later portion of last year, and I'm just getting to them now.  But below you'll see a great variety of music represented and I think there's some cool stuff coming from all angles of the underground, especially as we dive right into 2020.  The majority of these releases reviewed are self-released efforts and sometimes that's where you find some of the best gems.  I'm excited to see what's in store for these groups going forward and encourage you to check them out for yourself!

APOCALYPSE TRIBE, “Ai Mageddon”
Here’s a thing you probably wouldn’t think could exist, but it does, and does so in a really awesome way.  A handful of musicians in Syracuse got together to do this project that, given Syracuse’s hardcore musical lineage, is so far left field of anything the town has produced, yet fits so firmly within the confines of hardcore-punk that if you do not find yourself circle pitting in your living room when listening to this you might also not have a pulse.  Karl from Earth Crisis does vocals, but does not sound like his usual self and really gets to unpack all his tinfoil hat conspiratorial paranoia upon the masses (song titles like “Big Brother Big Pharma”, “The Detention Camps” and “Fake as Fuck News” ought to give an indication), while drummer Corey Koniz (Slapshot) levels the kit as ridiculously fast as possible within the confines of 90 second tracks.  The bass playing is utterly ridiculous and is frequently the standout point of many of the songs.  In all of about 24 minutes you get 13 songs that lie somewhere between Sick Of It All and Rancid freaking out about the end times and mass hysteria.  It’s friggin’ wild.  (Indecision Records)


BRIEF LIVES, “Weird Energies”
I’m not sure what the current status of this band is.  I recall seeing them play a tiny hole-in-the-wall place at Gainesville Fest a few years back and was blown away by their extremely energetic performance and chunky post-hardcore sound.  They went silent for awhile and now, all of a sudden, they have released this record (online only).  Apparently, this was recorded a few years back and shelved until now and I’m not sure why.  Either way, Brief Lives represent Richmond and since the time I saw them I feel like their sound has been mainstreamed a bit.  It’s not quite as heavy as I recalled, but it still sits firmly in that post-hardcore/alternative rock realm, and is an enjoyable listen.  The clean and crisp recording of J. Robbins just pushes that sound further and the vocals, courtesy of local rock god Valiant Himself are…  well, it’s the only part of this I’m lukewarm to.  They have a bit of a mainstream, almost bro-y vibe to them that I suppose could go with the music.  However, I’ve always preferred a bit more of the slightly more aggressive approach to vocals with this style of music.  But that’s just me.  Stoked to hear a cover of Helmet’s “Milquetoast” at the close of the record.  Maybe they’ll play some shows?  Maybe not?  (self-released)


CHRMR, “Warbirds”
I had bagged a bit on this band in the past and it was purely because I had some other idea in my head of what I thought they would sound like versus what they actually did sound like.  Which is sort of stupid when you think about it, right?  So on their third outing the Rochester-based CHRMR go in a bit heavier, but continue to do their own thing.  Pretty much all of the vocals are clean and there’s plenty of times where it works fine, but some parts where a hearty bellow would suit the music a little better.  Things take a little while to get going as they move through their mish-mash of somewhat sludgy smart metal with dashes of proggy parts and wandering melodies.  The group hits their stride midway through the record though with the off-timed heft of massive rocker “Lends”, followed by the Queens Of the Stone Age-set-to-sludge slog of “Victoria”.  Near the records end we get the instrumental dirge of “Deep Fade Event” that drags the bass through Yob territory while atmospheric guitar brings the sound back from the deepest depths of the ocean.  An overall good effort with quite a bit of variety.  (self-released)


FACET, “Duck”
I went to go check this band out on a lark the other week and was highly impressed with what I encountered.  I mean, in terms of bringing it on the live front they still seemed a little green, but they are a new band and there’s always a little leeway to give when you’re just getting going.  But I couldn’t deny that wild bass tone and energy.  Plus, they are most definitely the only band I’ve ever heard cover an Unwound song (“Devoid”, for those wondering) and did it with aplomb.  So, based on that alone it was evident I was in good company.  And after catching them do that cover I went back to this 8 song demonstration and realized, ‘oh, these dudes really like Unwound’.  Imagine those knotty, thick bass lines wrapped around guitar riffs that meld melody and noise under a blanket of fuzz.  However, whereas Unwound deftly weaved between the overwhelming and the subdued Facet seems to add a healthy dose of post-hardcore heaviness to the majority of their music.  I’m not complaining.  It sounds great to me.  More please.  (self-released


NERVER, “Believers Hit”
Nerver are some new cats from out of the Midwest whose gnarly rock attack is already quite advanced for a band so new.  Taking some cues from local peers Bummer in the sledgehammer riffs department, as well as from contemporaries like Superthief in terms of  spazzy noise rock and a variety of musical curveballs at their disposal, Nerver has laid some solid groundwork for their debut. “Boilermaker, Please” may showcase the group at their heaviest and most bombastic, while later in the album “Congratulations” may be the most unnerving (no pun intended), and off-kilter.  Currently, this is only on cassette and digital so those who like small physical media will be satisfied as well as those who prefer non-existent physical media.  (Ghost Is Clear Records)


RULE THEM ALL, “Dreams About…” EP
It’s always interesting to see a band completely rooted in hardcore throw in some curveballs that take them to another level.  Rule Them All certainly have a sound that does not deviate terribly from traditional melodic hardcore.  However, what makes them interesting is their exceptionally talented songwriting is overtly on display, yet still feels sneaky- interesting time signatures, little melodic flourishes, and some quick tempo changes all show up but flow naturally. They somehow combine the more melodic heaviness of bands like Burn, mixed with a bit of SoCal style reminiscent of Ignite if both those bands came up in the Long Island scene.  The vocals are bold, gruff, but still carry a melody and well thought-out lyrics throughout the five songs on this EP.  Definitely one of the more interesting, and fairly new, hardcore bands going at it right now.  (Flatspot Records)


RYOKI CENTER, “Strychnine”
Somewhere between the bombastic, unhinged grunge-y weirdness of Harkonen or Tad and the sinew-y, calculated skronk of Shellac and Multicult lies Ryoki Center.  They meld an exceptionally awesome mix of both the big heavy and the subdued lurking, creating a moody vibe that doesn’t so much leave you down in the dumps as it does make you feel kind of energized about being bummed.  This is quite the stellar debut and a welcome listen that melds some dirty sounds, while being very smart and exacting about it.  “Rural Access Intercept” may be the best example of this on the record, combining an eclectic, wild opening before settling into a trance-like groove for the majority of the song.  Opener “New Leash” lets loose the heavier, wild side of the band and I really can’t imagine starting things off any differently as this is the most energetic track on the whole thing.  A great start from this very interesting band.  (self-released)


UNIFORM OPERATOR, “Kinds Of Light”
Matt LaQue has been in a zillion bands and all of them are quality.  He just has a knack for coming up with great riffs, wonderful melodies, and lots of songs.  Uniform Operator is another of his bands, hailing from Buffalo, NY.  If you were to take Superchunk at their most rag tag and noisy, along with Matt’s vocals, which are a dead ringer for Mac McCaughan, and then add a truckload of grimey bass guitar you get the basis for Uniform Operator.  It’s a wonderful formula, what with short songs with lots of singing, crazy catchy riffs, and a lot of energy.  Here and there their bassist (whom is only listed as ‘Sam’) takes over vocals and brings a more old-school/East Bay pop-punk kind of a feel to a few of the tracks.  The first half of these dozen songs totally slay.  And around the halfway point things lose a bit of steam, but pick back up with “The Red & the Black” (again, Superchunk vibes galore) and “What Action Does” (which, to me, sounds like Burning Airlines at their most aggressive), and closes out with the upbeat rocker “Is There Anyone?”  A definite good use of just over half an hour of your time.  (Peterwalkee Records)


XETAS, “The Cypher”
Listening to Xetas third record (which is my first listen to them at all) I’m reminded of the energetic cacophony produced by Milemarker way back to the early aughts, minus the synthesizers.  They have a way of creating the sort of thoughtful, yet raucous kind of punk bands like Majority Rule and Pg. 99 were capable of, but temper it all with a bit more restraint and a little more simplicity.  There’s a good amount of emphasis on the vocals to make them an instrument of the band, and not just a randomly yelling/screaming afterthought (a point of pride for 99% of punk bands) where there’s decent interplay between the members and some arranged vocal melodies.  This is most evident on “The Bystander” and “The Objector”.  They’re not the centerpiece of the music because it seems all the parts are working equally to create some cool music. So somewhere between uptempo post-punk (“The Teacher” could easily have been a lost track from Mission Of Burma’s “Forget” compilation), and savage screamo-what-have-you lies an exceptionally well-done album from Xetas.  (12XU Records)



Monday, December 23, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR044- THE GREAT SABATINI/GREAT FALLS split 12"


My lord, what a monumental pain in the ass this was to put together.  I mean, probably every conceivable thing that could have gone wrong with this release occurred.  However, none of it had to do with either Great Falls or The Great Sabatini.  They’re both wonderful.  In fact, everything about this release that the bands, and their members, directly did to create this release went smoothly.  It was all the parts not on their end which accelerated my hair loss.  But I’ll get to all that in a moment.  First, maybe a little background on how this all came to be.
I’d been friendly with the guys in Great Falls for years, going back to Demian and Shane’s previous band Playing Enemy, having released their final record over 10 years ago (of course, you know all that because you’ve been reading every one of these interview pieces right?).  I’ve stayed in touch with them since that time and upon moving up to the Northwest I have had the distinct pleasure of seeing them far more often than I had in the past.  It wasn’t long after I got here that I got word they were shopping around for a label to release their new full length and I immediately offered to take on the task.  But what I wasn’t aware of was that they were intending to make this record a double LP and I was a little uncertain if I was up to the large task of releasing a double LP in the way they wanted for a band that wouldn’t be able to tour heavily for it.  In retrospect I think I was just a little afraid.  It really wouldn’t have been such a big issue.  Either way, a good label picked it up and did a stellar job with it.  Still wanting to work with Great Falls in some capacity they mentioned that they had a few other songs recorded for a split they had planned with The Great Sabatini that had been sitting around for a couple years but nothing had come of it.  I thought this was a pretty good idea.
Enter The Great Sabatini.  I’d known of these gents for quite some time.  They were big fans of a number of bands I had released stuff for in the past, as well as pretty good friends with some of those people.  They had even approached me about releasing material for them in some fashion at least once.  There was a sort of extended-family quality to them in regards to their connection to other Hex-related bands and the off-kilter sound they had, which was certainly relatable to other stuff I’d put out.  But I’d always been hesitant because they were Canadian (thus making shipping records always a pain in the ass), and they also were a band that were unable to hit the road all that much.  It was sort of a tough spot.  However, when the idea of this split came up, and they also had already recorded material for it just sitting around, things seemed a lot easier, and I was on board for making it happen.
There was also a brief moment where this almost became a split between Great Falls and Post/Boredom, whom I ended up releasing a full length for in 2019. But at the time Post/Boredom was not quite ready to do a split so soon after just releasing an EP and wanted to just focus on writing their full length, which I had already agreed to putting out.  So instead of remaining strictly Northwest we went with the original idea of going dual-coast and international!
Now since both The Great Sabatini and Great Falls have band members who are very artistically inclined I thought this would be a great opportunity to do some really wild packaging stuff where the members could come up with some really cool ideas and just go nuts with it.  We decided on a few cool aspects to this record:  make it one-sided and have the B-side be an etching, have a letterpressed cover that was hand-screened, and add a really weird locked groove right in the middle of the friggin’ record.  It was pretty off-the-rails all the things we wanted to do to make this special and as awesome as all of those ideas were they were ridiculous to execute.
Now, for Sean from Great Sabatini’s part to create a design for the B-side etching was easy.  Within a week or two he came up with a beautiful design that worked wonderfully.  And with Demian, he created a letterpress design for the cover, which was made and screened right in his studio in Seattle.  So far, so good.  But then things got kind of fucked up.
 That crazy B-side etching, art by Sean Arsenian

I had begun to work with a new person to cut lacquers for me at this time and they had a person they worked with to do record etchings because it’s a separate process involving precision laser-cut designs onto a record lacquer.  Not many people do this.  But he had a person.  Well, right before the record was ready that person decided to quit the business and that me in a lurch.  Thankfully, soon after, the record pressing plant I use had a person who could do this and it was sent off to that new person who, despite some wait, was able to do the job very well.  So I thought, ‘one little hiccup, no big deal’.  From there it went to get plated.  A few more weeks go by and I finally get pictures of the plates and the B-side etching is definitely something else and not mine at all.  Apparently, the B-side plates were mixed up with an Iron Lung Records release and I have no idea how they could have been more different, or mixed up at all.  So a bit more waiting and things get righted.  From there I got test presses.  I always make special covers for the test presses and I wanted to do something ridiculous for those too.  So I got some glossy, reflective paper to print them on and let me hip you to something- if you ever want to destroy a copy machine just send reflective paper through the bypass tray.  It screws up the whole machine.  I couldn’t understand what was happening, but I probably went to three different Office Max stores to make a total of 10 covers and probably mind-wiped three different copy machines into a state of comatose oblivion with that paper.  So, it was a hassle, but kind of funny too.
 Officially the most ridiculous test press cover I have made


Finally, test presses approved, time to get the records pressed.  Well, the center labels for the A-side were never approved and they said I had to have B-side labels, even though it’s a one-sided record.  So now the labels needed to be re-sent and approved, which caused a few more weeks of waiting because the labels have to be printed before the records can be pressed.  And then the color of vinyl that all the records were being pressed onto was out of stock for several weeks so more waiting.
So after a few months of waiting around for everything, a record that was intended to be out in late 2018 was FINALLY out in the world by late-February 2019.  That is why I’m including it in the final installment of this retrospective series because it should have been out last year and not in 2019.
All that long story now leads me to catch up and chat with Sean Arsenian, guitarist and vocalist of Montreal’s reigning, and long-running, kings of weirdo noise rock-sludge-whatever heavy music, The Great Sabatini.
Sean from The Great Sabatini at Heavy Montreal earlier this year


How long has The Great Sabatini been around and how many records have you released in that time?

This past November was 12 years and we have done 4 full length albums and maybe 8 or 9 smaller EPs or splits. 

That’s a lot.  I feel, even though you’ve been at it for a long time, your band goes under the radar quite a bit.  Maybe it’s because I’m in the states and perhaps it’s different in Canada.

I feel like that too.  For awhile  we tried to go stateside as much as we could because we were paying for P2 visas.  So we thought we ought to go there as much as we can.  But as you know from being in bands and putting out records for so long, if you’re not on top of it constantly you get buried.

Sure.  Because it’s so expensive to come over here legally, and it’s such a hassle too.  I’m kind of surprised that you’ve come over as much as you did.

It’s something we definitely tried to do, but now it’s sort of an impractical thing.  Unless there were to be some sort of crazy offer, and that’s not going to happen, it’s not worth us dumping thousands of dollars into trying to get all the paperwork done.  Also, we would probably only be able to do weekends, or something like that.

I always remember Montreal for having a really metallic, kind of beatdown, hardcore scene.  Is that true and if so, how has TGS fit into that, or at all?

I don’t think we ever really have fit into a scene there.  We’ve always been that band that either no one has heard of, no one likes, or the very few people who are into us seem to be really into us.  All the people around Montreal were into us when we first started, and were really generous, cool people.  But they never seemed to understand why we weren’t bigger than we were in their view.  I don’t think we’ve ever neatly fit into anything.
Montreal is a town that has a very big hardcore scene happening, and a really big death-tech metal scene.  And I don’t feel like we fit into any of those places.



How did you get to be friends with the Great Falls guys?

I think it was basically this guy Dale.  He’s from Manitoba and he does merch for KEN Mode.  He’s a very good friend of ours and he’s a good friend of theirs as well.  He has been on the road with us when we did a small tour with KEN Mode in 2011.  That sort of established us as diehard buddies.  And I know he also spent some time on the road with Great Falls too.  So he was always randomly messaging me, and also messaging them, about doing some random project together.  And  I think I’d heard of them before Dale told me about them.  But I thought because of the geographical distance, and their pedigree- they were sort of a world apart from us- Dale was the sort of connective tissue.
Great Falls in Olympia, 2018


So have you actually ever met them?

No!  I’ve never met them!  It’s only through talking to them online.  I’ve been to Seattle probably four times, but never met them.

What was the original idea of this split, or how did it come about, and why did it take so long to come out?  What took so long for it to come out?

Initially Kenny from Corpse Flower Records had spoken to me about possibly working on the split we did with Godstopper that No List Records ended up putting out on cassette.  I think there were some crossed signals there because he said he was interested, but there was some caveat and for whatever reason it just didn’t happen.  But I’m a fan of his label, and he was a fan of the band, plus he knows those Great Falls guys.  So when we talked to Great Falls about actually making this a reality they mentioned they could talk to Kenny about releasing it.  I think they have a bit more credit with him than we do.  I don’t really know him that well, but he was down with the idea.  I know he had a bunch of other releases planned and we were sort of on the backup list.  But it wasn’t for lack of trying, but I tried to see what his release schedule was because we were working on getting out our full length “Goodbye Audio”, and Great Falls was working on getting their album out too.  So I didn’t want to step on his toes with releases, or vice versa, or cross-promoting things.  And there ended up being a bit of a communication breakdown, and it just sort of stalled.  And honestly, I sort of forgot about it because I was focused on just getting ”Goodbye Audio” out.  I just put my back into working on that and making it happen.
And then my understanding was the Great Falls guys asked Kenny if they could just take the project elsewhere, which is where you came in.

I know between you, myself, and Great Falls we came up with some really wild ideas for this record, but previous to my involvement did you have any prior idea for artwork, or direction, or format for this record?

Yeah, I think there was some ideas, like we wanted to make it a one-sided 12”, mainly because of time constraints.  The initial idea was a split 7” and I believe Great Falls had some of their material done and we did not.
So when the nascent idea of this record began I had a song that I wanted, but it wasn’t recorded yet.  I knew how long the song was, and I had the recording session scheduled.  One of the songs on the record was recorded during the “Goodbye Audio” sessions.  So I already had everything planned out.  But because Great Falls already had a couple songs, and it was a certain length of time a 7” wasn’t going to work.  And I had this other song- “Bleeder Of the Pack”- recorded, but it didn’t have a home.  It was just sort of in this digital compilation I had put up on bandcamp years ago.  But I really liked that song and thought it would work well paired with this other song, and then we would have something that could be one side of a 12” with Great Falls two songs.

So the songs weren’t exactly specific to this release.  They were more of odds and ends?

Well, “Bleeder Of the Pack” was sort of like that.  It was out there, but it was an obscure track for us.  Even people who really like our band may not have known about it.  The other song I wrote it knowing that it would be for this split specifically.
Great Falls in Seattle, 2019

Since this record was definitely a group effort between different bands, what’s your favorite part of it that you didn’t contribute to?

Wow.  It’s hard to nail down one aspect because there’s a lot of cool little things on this record that I had nothing to do with.  Like that noise track in-between the two bands is crazy.  I love it.  I love the cover art, and the fact that it was letterpressed.  I love that all the ideas that everyone threw up in the air landed on one thing.  I didn’t have anything to do with that little buffer track, but it’s so cool.  It ties everything together.  It’s not just someone in the middle organizing two bands to get together and do a split and then it just happens.  It was a much more collaborative thing.

Who is the Great Sabatini?

It’s a pretty moronic story.  I was in a band with Rob, who also plays in Sabatini.  We were in a band together prior to this one, and our singer Diego had a song he titled “The Great Sabatini”.  And we were like, ‘what the hell does that mean?’  And he said, ‘it’s a name for self-fellatio’.
We were around 22 at the time so we thought that was real funny.  It’s still pretty silly.  But when we were trying to come up with a name for this project I proposed that name as sort of a joke, but it was the only one that everyone was OK with.  I’m sure you know that naming a band is impossible.

So they agreed on the most ridiculous thing?

Yeah!  Really, it’s meaningless.  It’s not a person, or anything.  It’s just a handle that is sort of moronic.

So, in lieu of that, what’s the best and worst thing about your band?

(laughs)  I could probably give the same answer for both those things.  We all care about this a lot, and we tried to be professional about it for awhile with touring and getting visas, and investing the money we made back into the band.  But we never had any illusions that we would get huge or anything.  There’s that thing about investing your time, money, and energy into a thing with diminishing returns.  And I’m in my 40’s now, so it’s been a long time of doing that.  It’s kind of like a hobby at this point, even though we don’t approach it that way.  It’s extremely rewarding, just doing this and having crazy experiences around the world with these people who are my best friends.  But I’m also probably where I should be financially right now because I’ve spent so much of my time chasing this thing.  But I don’t equate my financial stability with my happiness.

What’s the best and worst thing about Great Falls?  I mean, they share the record with you.

(laughs) I think the worst thing is that I haven’t met them!  I wish I had them more on my radar when I was touring in the Northwest because we could have maybe done some shows with them back then.  So that’s a bummer.  I wish I had known those guys earlier.
But I think those guys just make the most cathartic, disturbing, heartfelt music, ya know? I don’t even know how we’re on this release with them.

There’s always the future.

And that's a wrap!  I hope you have enjoyed all these pieces looking back on the records that were an (mostly) enjoyable task putting out into the world.  For this week help yourself to getting this record for $8 (only $4 for the digital) through the webstore HERE

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

FAVORITES OF 2019. IT'S A LIST.



2019 was a really busy year for me. I put a lot on my plate and aimed to follow through with all of it.  Hence, this year went by incredibly fast.  Of course, I could pat myself on the back and say one of my favorite things this year was celebrating 20 years of operating Hex Records and catching up with all the bands and people that made it what it is, which has been a joyful undertaking.  I could also say that my favorite records were the ones I released this year (the Great Sabatini/Great Falls split 12", The Funeral, "Discography 2001-2004" 2xLP, USA Nails, "Life Cinema", Post/Boredom, "Ritualistic Time Abuser", and Pinko, "You & You" for those keeping score), but I like to shine some light on what others are doing, and doing well.  So here's my favorite records, shows, and events from this year that did not necessarily involve Hex Records stuff.  That stuffs that obvious favorite(s).  But here's some others:

FAVORITE RECORDS OF 2019



ALPHA HOPPER, “Aloha Hopper”
These Buffalo punks make such weird noise that just happens to be really catchy.  It takes a bit to adjust to between the wild bratty vocals and herky-jerky riffs, but there’s so much crazy energy going on that once it gets in your head it pays off in spades.






GIANTS CHAIR, “Prefabylon”
Nostalgia is a weird thing because I do not want to wallow in it, and I know it’s easy to want that old familiar thing and heap praise upon half-assed efforts just because it’s the old familiar.  But Giants Chair never got huge. For me, personally, the expectation was massive and 23 years after their last record the Kansas City trio really did it right.  They got right back into the pocket which made their heart worn Midwest rock so impressive while growing a bit as players.  It’s exactly the best case scenario a fan could hope for.


MANDATE OF HEAVEN, “Least Concern”
I will forever champion Greg Pier and company for being, what I feel, is the voice of Syracuse, for better or for worse.  His extensive body of work as (and with) Mandate Of Heaven has always been self-released, occasionally self-recorded, and remains a constant in a town that I spent the majority of my life in.  Since the century began Mandate has been cranking out a sort of bluesy-grungy rock that intertwines complex melodies and rhythms with Greg’s singular/signature vocal style into something unique and beautiful.  The initial version of this had the tracks in a different order, which I thought was perfect.  The physical CD copy is in a different order, which I don’t think works as well.  But good thing all the songs are winners.  “Human Ashtray” may be one of the year’s best rockers while “Numenoff” may be 2019’s prettiest/saddest ballad.

CLOUD RAT, “Pollinator”
Cloud Rat does grind like no other.  They are Discordance Axis for this generation.  Ridiculously precision next-level drumming, ripping guitars that tackle punk ferocity and emotive inventiveness all in one fell swoop, and vocals that screech through abstract tales of despair/disrepair and repair.  Oh, and they do all this as just a drummer, guitarist, and vocalist.  They’re extremely prolific, but they definitely saved some of their best material for this record, which continues their hardcore-punk-grind streak in new and exciting ways.

USA/MEXICO, “Matamoros”
The noisiest of sludge that barely qualifies as music, but comes in with just a hint of things that somehow get you humming in slow motion. It’s so abrasive in a ridiculous sort of way that I’m stupefied by how much I enjoy it.  Their nearly 6 minute cover of Cherubs “Shoofly” (with Cherubs Kevin Whitley singing it) is, as far as I’m concerned, better than the original.  They close out with the 17 minute long “Anxious Whitey”, which may as well be the sound of a jet engine firing up over and over again and somehow I’m completely enchanted by it.  Fucking Texans.  Those people are nuts.

TORCHE, “Admission”
Sometimes you just seek out consistency.  Torche is a pretty sure bet in that department.  Over their tenure they have crafted a sound so distinctly ‘them’ that there really seems to be no way that they could disappoint.  And on “Admission” they deliver with a bunch of songs both insanely catchy and bombastically heavy, and you know the rest because it’s Torche and they cannot fail.



CHILD BITE, “Blow Off the Omens”
Easily one of the most interesting bands in the ‘heavy’ arena going today.  Their grab bag of weird and obscure influences runs so strong, yet comes across so totally fluid, that it just makes these Detroit rockers come off as completely singular.  Voivod-meets-Laughing Hyenas-meets-Dead Kennedys-meets-saxophones set on fire and thrown off the top rope of the Royal Rumble of musical subgenres.



FAVORITE SHOWS OF 2019



1.13.2019- SUPER UNISON/ SLOW MASS/ U SCO/ HAIR PULLER- High Water Mark, Portland-  Sooo glad I got to see Super Unison before they called it a day.  I love both their LPs and they made me happy.  Slow Mass was an interesting surprise from Chicago, and a couple very solid local openers solidified the gig as legit.
                                  Super Unison

4.27.2019- ARCHITECT/ SHADOW SNAKES/ DIALYSIS/ GONER/ SUNFLO’ER- Apostrophe’s, Syracuse- To be surrounded by so many friends new and old that I barely ever see anymore and playing with bands that all make sense together and having a blast and eating HK.  That’s what it’s all about.

                              Shadow Snakes

5.16.2019-5.17.2019- EXHALANTS/ MARRIAGE AND CANCER- Kenton Club, Portland and Black Lodge, Seattle- One of my favorite locals playing a couple of their final gigs in their most solid lineup and killing it while my new favorite band from Texas utterly destroying ears and everything else with their huge sound and great set up.  So good I saw ‘em twice.
                               Exhalants

7.10.2019- JAWBOX/ HELMS ALEE- Wonder Ballroom, Portland- Seeing Helms Alee is always a treat because they’re one of the Northwest’s finest musical institutions.  Oh, and FUCKING JAWBOX.  I have been a fan since I was a teenager, but never had the opportunity to see them.  I’ve seen J. Robbins both solo and in several other bands, but never with the band he is most known for and oh my god were they incredible.  Still tons of energy, perfect songs, and exceptional playing and having lots of fun.  What else is there?
                                     Jawbox


10.16.2019- CHERUBS/ LOW DOSE- High Water Mark, Portland- Wonderful to see old Philly friends doing this amazing new project and having a ton of fun and passion while going for it.  Low Dose just totally slayed.  Cherubs were a sonic suplex followed by the dazed and confused, seeing stars, after-effect all at once with their noise-laden psych-heavy, totally balls-out rocking insanity.  It was my second time seeing them, which was not as awesome as the first, but I did get to hear all those new songs and that was nice.

10.24.2019- EYEHATEGOD/ NEGATIVE APPROACH/ SHEER TERROR/ FINAL CONFLICT/ THE ACCUSED- Dantes, Portland-  My god, talk about a show packed with so much negatively and skuzzy, dangerous music and I’m surprised I didn’t walk out of the place a murderous junkie waiting to huff fumes and stab regs.  Eyehategod is always a blast as they bring such a gnarly sound even with an altered lineup.  I haven’t seen Sheer Terror in 25 years and NOW I appreciate them to no end.  Maybe it’s because I’m older and more bitter.  I have never been able to see Negative Approach and they sounded so fucking mean they make Annie Wilkes seen downright charming in comparison.
                             Sheer Terror


FAVORITE EVENTS:



DIALYSIS NORTHWEST TOUR- I can’t believe I convinced the other two dudes in the band to come out here and play some shows.  I can’t believe we actually pulled it off either.  I can’t believe all of the shows were fun.  I can’t believe we almost made our money back.


VISITED ALASKA-  Sooooo many flies and mosquitoes. But I also saw glaciers and a whale and otters and some moose.


SYRACUSE FALL AND VEGFEST- There’s like a two week window generally in October in Central NY where things are pretty near perfect.  The weather isn’t too cold, it’s hopefully not raining, and the colors in the trees and hills are so vibrant you’d think you were in a painting.  Driving around all through upstate and into the pit of PA, hiking around, seeing friends and family, right at that time of year, just great.  Oh, and the first Syracuse Vegfest to occur since the last time it was held (10 years ago when myself and my wife put it on) gave me hope when over 3000 people showed up.  The new organizers did a great job.
Some scenic Alaskan beauty

RAN MY FIRST MARATHON-  So it was just a simple 5K.  I usually run almost double that on any given running day.  But I also tend to keep my runs on pretty flat ground, and at times of the day when the temperature is 50 or above.  This was Thanksgiving morning, around 8:30AM, up several hills, and in 30 degree weather.  It was tough.  I did not win. But I didn’t do too shabby either.


BECAME A CERTIFIED O.I.S.INSTRUCTOR-  This all has to do with my day job/career.  I work with folks with disabilities and if you do that sort of work in Oregon you are required to take a two-day training course every year called the Oregon Intervention System, which is like half lectures and topical discussions, and half physical maneuvers to assure the safety of your clients and yourself.  Well, I can now teach that course.  It also certifies me to fully author and train behavior support plans for people on my caseload.  I’m a pretty good teacher I must say.

Monday, December 16, 2019

HXR20YR RETROSPECTIVE: HXR043- NULL, "Act Of Love"


Null is a band that has been going on and off for nearly a decade.  The members get together, write sporadically, and then busy themselves with a myriad of other projects, and find time every now and again to play shows.
The project took a serious backburner role not long after gaining a bit of momentum when vocalist/guitarist Carter Wilson began playing drums in Coliseum.  Coliseum toured very hard and was a full-time project for several years, which left Null as almost an afterthought.  Once Coliseum slowed down and then quietly disbanded Carter went back to spending most of his time in the Birmingham, Alabama area where he was able to reconvene with his bandmates in Null and get moving once again.
Not long after Null released their first full length record, “Sleepwalking Days”.  I really cannot recall one bit about how I ended up hearing this record.  It may have been Ryan from Coliseum informing me of it’s existence, or I may have just stumbled upon it through various internet rabbit holes and discovered that it was members of stuff I was familiar with.  It could have even been through the split they did with Self Defense Family, a group that I follow pretty closely.  Either way, once I got an earful of “Sleepwalking Days” I was not only amazed by the unique sound they were creating, but also how different it was from Coliseum.  Granted, it’s one member who was playing a different instrument in that band than he is in Null.  But still, I was impressed and like all things I get a kick out of I investigated further.  It turns out I had met some of these guys ages ago when I booked a show for bands they used to play in, namely Legion and Die Young, two bands very much in the hardcore realm, and polar opposites of what Null get up to.
I eventually reached out to the band expressing my interest and a couple months later they messaged that they would be heading up the coast for a tour and asked if I could set them up with a show.  So I obliged and saw firsthand the way Null does what they do in a weird basement with other weird bands that, overall, went pretty well.  Upon seeing them I also realized they got that incredible low-end sound from using a synth instead of a bass guitar, which is far from unheard of, but it was cool to see on my end.

As I talked more with the other members we talked about Hex releasing their next full length, whenever that would come to pass.  They related that they were actually quite close to finishing a second record and would send me demos when it was done.  The thing is, they had been a band for a long time already at that point, but seeing as how they were on the backburner for so long they didn’t have the opportunity to do much for most of that time.  So they had this big backlog of songs saved up for whatever and were breaking some of them back out to add to a second LP.
So they sent me the second record.  And I let them know I was good to go whenever they were.  But they asked me to sit on it for a bit in case they wanted to make any last minute changes.  That lasted almost a year.  I thought maybe they had given up on the thing?  And while I waited they did a tour with Young Widows and I again asked them if they still wanted to release the record.  It turns out they did, but they were very perfectionist-minded about the whole thing and really wanted to ensure everything went right.
Between that time and when the record actually came out I had moved to Oregon, found a new pressing plant to work with, new projects to work on, a new job, and other big life hurdles and then there was a big problem with the Null record.  There was an error in the mastering and the whole thing had to be re-cut into a new lacquer before proceeding forward.  That being said, I also found a new place in my neighborhood to cut lacquers (it’s been very convenient for this label to exist in this city), and went through a ton of hassle, but finally got the Null record out there by early 2018.  It was a long process between getting to know these guys, working out releasing a record, and actually seeing the thing done.
So to elaborate more on the group, their long stretch as a band, and the record that became “Act Of Love” I spoke with guitarists Carter Wilson and Kevin Wright.  Here’s what came of it.



So Null has been a band for a pretty long time correct?  There was just a long stretch where you all were unable to do much of anything?



CARTER:  Kevin and I have been making music as Null since 2008.  Those first few years mainly involved a lot of improvised sets, a couple of which were recorded for some tapes.  I joined Coliseum in 2009 and was on tour for quite a bit from 2010-2013.  During that time Null would play sporadically, and then in 2014 we shifted from more improvised music to written material and started getting together the sound and line up that we have now.

KEVIN:  It started as a way for Carter and I to do something heavy when Kayhan (bassist, Coliseum, Yautja) and Jeff were gone doing Die Young stuff and Legion (former band of all members) couldn’t play shows.  At first it was just the two of us but that evolved into adding new people for shows.  But each show was different.  Sometimes the material would only be played with one line up foe one show and we wouldn’t play it again.  Some things were reoccurring, but the line up would shift for almost every single show we played.


How did you all come together as a group?



C:  It’s interesting to note that we come from Birmingham’s DIY punk scene and all started in a hardcore band called Legion.  Some members from Legion went to play in Die Young, some to Coliseum.  Me and Kevin formed Null out of that group while Kayhan went to school in Nashville where he formed his band Youtja.
Around 2013-2014 time I wanted to try and idea for Null that intentionally went against everything we were comfortable doing- cleaner guitars, vocals with melodies, really vulnerable sounds instead of just blowing people away with lots of amps and volume.  Some songs came from that idea and I think it took us by surprise, and we were really into it.  It was new and different from any other band we played in, and we thought it was worth exploring.  Every person in the band was playing an instrument they hadn’t previously played in a band, so it just felt like something exciting to do for people that have been  playing in this small local scene for so many years.  We’re still evolving from that idea and it’s molded us to where we’re at now.

Simple themes and trance-like repetitiveness seem to be at the core of Null’s music and you all do it very well.  I’m often reminded of Lungfish in that respect, except generally more heavy, or sort of stoner rock.



K:  I find a lot of comfort in the repetition.  One of the things that drew me to bands like Lungfish and Om was just finding something simple and getting lost in it.  For m, personally, it’s at the core of my inspiration for the band.  Although, more often than not, it’s very indirect.

C:  Yeah, Null’s music has always dealt in repetition from the beginning, and for me it was about getting into that deeper, vast feeling that we loved from those bands like Lungfish, Swans, Om, and even jazz records I loved with longer form songs.

My understanding is that many of the songs that ended up being on “Act Of Love” were written during, or right around the time of the first LP, but were sat on for quite awhile?  Is this correct?



C:  So by “Act Of Love” all those ideas were in place and I think we had a sense of identity and where we want to go with this band.  We had been playing live for a couple years and made our first album in that time.  I think we took what was working out of that first release and expanded on that for “Act Of Love”.  The songs came really fast after our first record and we toured with the songs before we tracked them.  After we tracked the music we took some time to straighten up the vocal ideas, and then eventually mixed over a long period because of life, jobs, children, etc.

What led to titling the record “Act Of Love”?



C:  “Act Of Love” was taken from the last song we wrote for the record and it was sort of a more global look on humanity’s highs and lows.  Particularly how easy it is to overlook all the acts of human kindness that happen everyday when you see so much injustice, senseless violence, and police brutality, especially through the lens of the American news media.  I think love, kindness, and empathy are very important.

So why use a synth instead of a bass guitar for your music?



C:  Like I mentioned earlier, we were all playing different instruments than we typically do in bands, and our synth player who is normally a drummer doesn’t play string instruments.  But he had synths.  We just tried it out and ended up liking the results.  I was happy about it because I’m a big hip hop fan and doing something with a really big low end was really appealing to me. I think the same goes for Kevin.

How did you arrange the artwork for “Act Of Love” and what was the idea behind the art?  It’s definitely something that I think people familiar with this label would not expect to see.



C:  That is Sara Roberson, a Birmingham artist who also sings in a punk band called Black Hole Kids.  We just had a conversation about all the lyrics and that was her interpretation.  She had done a shirt for us and some designs on a 7”.  I’m just a fan of her imagery and it seemed natural to have her do the cover.

Where is Null at at this point?  I see you definitely play around regionally, but things are pretty quiet on the touring end and recording side.



C:  We are getting ready to start recording new songs.  New material is incorporating bass guitar in addition to synth, using some electronic percussion here and there, and I think it’s heavier than where we’ve been previously.  As far as shows we’re playing local shows and shows around the Southeast, and short runs of shows elsewhere when we can.

What's been the best thing about Null and what has been the worst?



C:  The best thing is that Null is truly a gift that keeps on giving, as far as having an outlet for creative ideas for over a decade now.  I’m thankful for Kevin, who has been a partner in taking on any off-the-wall ideas I’ve had throughout the years and I’m grateful to still be playing with some of the older musicians I met coming up in the punk scene here when I was a teenager.
I really can’t say there is a negative to any of it because I’ve never set expectations for any aspect of my creative life.  I only recognize that the participation in these activities is one of the things that makes me want to be on this planet, and I’m humbled by anyone who has agreed to help us along the way.

K:  I’d say the best thing is just knowing that I always have a creative outlet to express whatever ideas I come up with and to be able to explore that stuff with a group of really good friends and fellow musicians that inspire me constantly to be creative.  Not only in this band, but in day-t-day life and other projects.  We always talk at practice about other bands in town, and all of our favorite local bands have band members that are also in Null.  We are also extremely lucky to have such a solid group of friends in the DIY community in Birmingham who are always super supportive of us.
As far as negatives, honestly, we’ve already accomplished so much in the lifespan of this band that I couldn’t possibly feel negative about any of it.  When Carter and I started jamming silly stoner riffs in a storage unit ten- almost eleven- years ago I’d never have expected it to be what it is today, and to have accomplished what we’ve accomplished.  It’s been a truly positive force in my life and I’m psyched to have gotten to share it with so many friends.

The test press jokes continue.  This is the first to use some letterpress technique on the text 


Well, that’s just far too posi.  There was the thing with having to get the record remastered after it had already been lacquered, which caused quite a delay and that was a bummer.

C:  I guess we’re more well-adjusted than I thought!  Man, I’ve had far worse disasters happen trying to put out records, so thanks for hanging in there with us!

So that's that.  And now, because you know what comes next- all this week LPs going for $5, CDs for $4 and the digital download for $4.  Get 'em HERE or HERE.