Wednesday, January 1, 2020


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!

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)

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)

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