Wednesday, July 24, 2019


I'd been thinking that it was sort of a slow year for new music that really caught my attention.  I mean, there's been some good stuff, sure.  But no real record of the year sort of contenders for me yet...  until all this stuff suddenly came out.  Just in this batch of reviews I'm counting at least 3-4 year end favorites.  And a lot of Relapse stuff.  They put out a lot of stuff recently that I like, no favoritism or payoffs present.  So take that as you will.  Perhaps I'm just getting more picky in my old age.  Whatever the case you ultimately can be the judge, I'm just the tour guide.

ALPHA HOPPER, “Aloha Hopper”
Alpha Hopper are such a difficult band to pin down in terms of sound that I looked up my own review of their last album and decided it was completely inaccurate, and then googled other reviews to see if anything stuck out and still nothing really nails it.  But that’s great!  They are a rather indescribable band in regards to labels.  However, to say they are a freaky punk/post-punk band could be an umbrella term I suppose.  Either way, on their second full length the Buffalo group break out 11 new off-the-wall rippers that have a continuous frantic, nervous energy to them.  That tension is often ramped up by vocalist Irene Rekhviasvili whose loud, brash, and bratty voice can either completely turn potential listeners away out of annoyance, or be seen as the essential component that adds to the band’s unique nature.  I’ll admit, when I first heard this band I was thrown off by how up front her vocals were and wasn’t sure if I wanted an album full of that.  But after a couple listens I came to the conclusion that it’s fucking awesome and it totally fits into the bands aesthetic.  As for the music I don’t know what to tell you.  There’s no bassist (just two guitarists), but they use some bass distortion in parts to add that low end (like the slow-low riffing in “Blood Test”).  “You Eat” has a driving, rhythmic flow that adds some very Jesus Lizard-esque slide guitar on top.  “Line In/Line Out” takes some more Jesus Lizard cues in that serpentine crawl, but with more space effects.  And it can be said the band owes a debt of gratitude to Fugazi’s experimentation with guitar sounds while keeping things catchy and almost anthemic, though I’d be hard pressed to find a weirder sing-along than the closing bit of “Dawn Of the Knife Mask” and it’s repeated chorus of “And the fools, they’re not people, they are ghouls.”  If that helps with descriptions then I’ll just add one more thing- this is a really fucking cool record and I’m really happy the band finally has something new to offer the world.  It’s weirder and better for it/because of it.  (Swimming Faith/ Radical Empathy)

CHERUBS, “Immaculada High”
Cherubs last outing, the comeback “2ynfynyty” record (and accompanying “Fist In the Air” EP) was a riotous blast of feedback-drenched, glorious noise rock head-fuck orchestrated by three guys who melded their fuzzy crush with Beach Boys melodies.  It was damn near perfect.  They seemed headed in a more pop direction (to the extent that could occur through off-timed filthy noise rock) and I was fully prepared for a catchy follow-up.  However, “Immaculada High” is a bit different to me.  It took a few listens before it really caught on.  For starters, the recording feels significantly different.  It’s less in-your-face and ‘bright’, for lack of a better word.  It’s more subdued.  And instead of the band’s pop tendencies coming more to the front they instead opt for some more psychedelic vibes, particularly through Kevin Whitley’s strained, nasally vocals.  They open strong with “Turista”, an expected amalgamation of Cherubs molten, off-time groove confusion and Whitley’s strained howl.  Next up is “18 the Number”, a quick and dirty number that has just as much freaked-out aggression as well-worn Cherubs tracks of yore like “Carjack Fairy” or “Shoofly”.  But it’s the tracks that work a bit outside of the band’s comfort zone(s) that I’m still sorting out.  I guess that’s a good thing because they’re challenging to describe.  Whether they work or not is debatable but it’s cool to see Cherubs flexing on something a bit new, which for a band that took a twenty year break only to come back with some of their best material, is pretty cool.  “IMCG” plays with a tripped-out sort of dub fever dream, while “Cry Real Wolves” works a disco beat across a sweat-filled single riff for three minutes, and “Full Regalia” maintains a creepy stalking bass line with somber noise and an almost post-hardcore approach.  And then the band goes with primal aggression and collapsing beats for under two minutes on “Pacemaker”, while “Nobodies” closes out the record with a dumptruck of a riff crushing any notion of a band purely hooked on…  well, hooks.  It’s a varied experience on this latest Cherubs record and I’m totally down for the ride.  They choose to try some different things and go in an almost opposite direction of what people may have expected their next move to be.  (Relapse)

EXHALANTS, “Trample the Cross Under Foot”
Texas dudes who went and made one of my favorite records last year return with a new EP that was intended as a tour-only sort of thing when they hit up the West Coast a couple months back.  These songs were definitely recorded on the fly as they are definitely not high quality by any means.  Generally that’s something that irks me a bit seeing as getting a decent recording is significantly easier these days than it was 10-15 years ago.  However, as Exhalants excel in being loud, chaotic, and noisy, the subpar recording is hardly a crime in their case.  It sort of works for them.  And I have some degree of confidence that they will more than likely re-record some of these songs for a proper release later on down the line.  Either way, they drop five new songs that lean big on a slow and chuggy side of things (especially on the first song) for the most part.  Some of the flourishes inherent to the band- tingling melodies, skronk, and chunk feedback heaviness, and tense abrasiveness- are on display as well.  I know, as far as the recording goes, this doesn’t hold a candle to their LP, but it’s new Exhalants stuff and I’ll take it.  I’m hoping to hear more from them soon.  (self-released)

GIANTS CHAIR, “Prefabylon”
23 years.  It’s been 23 years since Giants Chair released a record.  I mean, they were most definitely broken up for a long time.  But a couple years ago they decided to give it a go again and now here we are with a wonderful new LP from them, easily my favorite of the 90’s Midwestern ‘emo’ bands, though they certainly leaned heavier on an indie, or post-hardcore style of playing (think Superchunk, Drive Like Jehu for immediate reference points).  I can’t overstate how great I have always felt this band was.  Their impact may not be immediate because they are not the household name that other well-known bands of that era/style became, such as Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, or Texas Is the Reason.  But they have always been one of those groups that is your favorite bands’ favorite band.  And this should continue that trend.  This new release finds them back in the pocket- vocalist/guitarist Scott Hobart picks up right where he left off with his extremely distinct way of playing and singing (his other ongoing gig for years has been in the country/honky tonk vein) that combines melodic, but angular playing that can open up as big as the sky.  Drummer Paul Ackerman’s playing is incredibly tight and as together as ever, while bassist Byron Collum fills the gaps and I hope to god he still has that weird spinning doo-hickey on his amp that makes it seem like not only is it amplifying his bass but also gathering meteorological data as well.  As far as the songs go they’re great.  Most of the record runs at a similar tempo, which is fine, but it lacks a little of the speed and stop-start precision that made “Purity and Control” such a great tune, or the slow burn that gave tracks like “New Orleans” such emotional heft.  What you do get is 10 excellent tracks that are Giants Chair through and through, and that’s an extremely rare thing because there’s only one Giants Chair and it’s been over two decades since they released any music.  If there’s any big noticeable change it’s that while many of their lyrics in the past felt a little more cryptic while still yanking at the heartstrings, things here feel a bit more direct and intentional, even slightly political at points.  And maybe part of that is just being in your 20’s versus your 40’s and having life a little more figured out.  But while many reunions kind of just go through the motions while pining for that long-lost youthful recklessness and coming up as a somewhat bland copy of themselves Giants Chair never got huge by any means and remained humble.  They remained a band’s band.  And I think part of that relieves them of pressure to have to come back with something big.  They just came back as themselves and wrote some great music to go with it.  What more could you ask for?  I know I personally never thought I’d hear from them again.  I’m exceptionally glad I did.
*Currently available as digital only, vinyl coming soon.  (Caulfield Records)

GRIZZLOR, “Coolness Factor 6” 7”
It’s been a minute, but Grizzlor have returned with a quick, four song 7” about leaving Earth because it sucks, being turned away by aliens because humans suck, and space nukes.  It’s all sci-fi thrashy, trashy noise rock that only Grizzlor can do.  While some of their material errs towards repetitive, riffy, sludgy heaviness this one is all quick blasts of their faster, punker side.  Basically anything Grizzlor does is great and this is no exception.  If you liked them before you’ll be perfectly content with this as well.  What could possibly go wrong (aside from space nukes and shitty aliens?).  Paranoid ramblings, gigantic bass, meaty guitars, and fast beats.  Get weird. (Learning Curve Records)

METZ, “Automat”
“Automat” collects Metz’s early material- their first couple of independently released 7”s, as well as a couple comp tracks, and up to the “Eraser” 7” they released a couple years back.  You get to see them evolve through this. Oh, and the record comes with a bonus 7” with three different, very random covers on it- Randy Numan, The Urinals, and Sparklehorse (talk about varied influences).  From the get-go of “Soft Whiteout” it’s pretty clear the path that Metz chose to take was one where noisy, yet catchy and abrasive punk collided with pop hooks hidden under all the cacophony.  And they’ve really nailed down their niche there.  But there’s some early material where they gave some heavy and ugly noise a whirl too, as evidenced on “Lump Sums” (which is a fucking awesome song, but on a bit of a different path than Metz ended up taking).  “Ripped On the Fence” messes around with a long, drawn out spacey ending that bears some semblance to Sonic Youth’s more blissed-out moments.  But from there you get a couple demo takes of well-known tracks that made it on to full lengths, their Sub Pop 7”, as well as the aforementioned “Eraser” 7” (one of their best songs period).  While there’s 12 tracks on the record (and the other 3 on the bonus 7”) this is a somewhat abbreviated collection as the songs from the Mission Of Burma split, the Sub Pop 30 7”, and the John Reis-collaboration record are all absent.  I would suggest seeking those out too.  Fuck it, just really get anything Metz-related to be honest.  They’re an excellent band and if you get a chance to see them (which shouldn’t be tough, they tour constantly) do it and get blown the fuck away by how incredible they are live.  (Sub Pop)

TORCHE, “Admission”
It’s Torche.  You know exactly what you’re getting.  Sure, there’s some variation.  Sometimes they work the cement mixer falling off a cliff angle and other times it’s pop songs tuned to ‘wrecking ball’.  But you always know it’s them.  Five full lengths and a solid decade-plus into their time as a band Torche not only have a sound that is completely ‘them’, but their albums have kind of a similar arrangement as well- strong opener, a couple upbeat and catchy songs, introduce some ‘bomb’ string heaviness (this record’s “What Was” compared to “Restarter”s “Undone”), a couple more catchy songs, one track that goes slow and uses that bomb string for most of the song (this album’s “Infierno” vs. “Meandrathal”s title track).  It sort of feels like the band is staying in their lane a bit and giving the fans what they want.  There’s nothing wrong with that either.  Torche don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  They do what they do extremely well and it’s always pleasing, so I’m sure no one is asking them to change it up greatly.  The only real switch up here is bassist Jon Nunez switched from bass to second guitar, while Eric Hernandez, frontman for hometown pals Wrong has come in to fill the bass spot.  It’s really a no-brainer as far as replacements go.  And for Torche to be Torche is really a no-brainer either.  Luckily, no else can do it the way they do, so may as well let them keep being themselves.  I’m not going to complain.  (Relapse)

VICTIMS, “The Horse and Sparrow Theory”
Victims have been a band for ages.  They have a lot of material out.  Every time they release something new I think, ‘oh, they’re still a band?’  That probably has to do with living in the United States and they’re a European band, so it’s not like I’m keeping tabs on all their activity because most of it happens several thousand miles away from me.  That all being said, this new album has some cool artwork and continues to blend their d-beat/hardcore/somewhat doom-y punk into a vitriolic stew that is difficult to not want to at least repeatedly punch the roof of your car as you’re steadily increasing speed on the highway and cursing other motorists.  I can’t recall, in all honesty, the nuances of their previous work, and how it stands up to this.  But it’s an enjoyable listen nonetheless and takes many cues from groups such as From Ashes Rise, who also were quite good at not just playing d-beat (adding various melodies and tempos to their sound), but were primarily considered a d-beat hardcore band.  I could kind of do without the lengthy mid-point track, which is mostly a sample of some government goon discussing, at length, how global warming has contributed to war and refugee crisis’s.  And while the vocals remain gruff and bellowing, fitting accordingly with the music, they deter very little from ‘dude with a low howl doing this the entire record’.  They’re minor gripes for an otherwise good hardcore record.  (Relapse)

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