Monday, September 26, 2016


As the season comes to a close I realize I was just bum-rushed with a plethora of awesome records.  So much stuff that is really right up my alley in terms of what I tend to dig the most.  And a bunch of it shows up here is this review block.  So get cozy, read on, and really give some attention to a bunch of groups that are excelling at making my ears happy.
Oh yeah, Hex Fest is really happening at the end of the year.  You saw the thing about Achilles playing here, right (ahem, look)?  Yeah, stay tuned because in a few more days I'm going to give a few more details on things.  Don't be stupid, keep an ear to the ground, or an eye to the sky because I only advertise using subsonic thumping transmissions and smoke signals.

ALPHA HOPPER, “Last Chance Power Drive”
What the heck did I just listen to?  How many weird subgenres and odd reference points can I shoehorn in here to attempt to describe Alpha Hopper?  You got a vocalist that sounds like Polly Styrene mixed with Yasuko from Melt-Banana.  Musically things bounce from post-punk weirdness with creepy leads, and clunky post-hardcore (think a somewhat more aggressive Unwound at times) to very 90’s riot grrl style, and more modern spazzcore stuff.  It’s a weird stew, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  If you’re feeling a bit adventurous I’d suggest you do the same.  (One Percent Press/Radical Empathy)

So this Providence-based band is kind of everywhere now, seemingly blowing up out of nowhere.  The thing is, though, they have been around for a bit and this LP (which is essentially a demo from a few years back) shows them in an embryonic sort of form.  It shows a group displaying their now-trademark blend of punk chords, deep saxophone flavor, and shouted vocals in both English and Spanish.  But it’s a band that hadn’t quite found it’s footing just yet.  Things don’t mesh as perfectly as they do now.  The ideas are there, no doubt, but the vocals are a little more random and off-rhythm (they still are, to a point, but it works effectively these days to command attention).  The saxophone is a little more present as well, also vying for attention when sometimes restraint makes more of a lasting impression.  I don’t want to knock it because what Downtown Boys are doing now (especially on the excellent “Full Communism” from last year) is so good, and this record just shows what they were working towards.  I guess if you prefer the revolution to come off as a bit more scrappy this is a pretty good place to catch some of that fire.  (One Percent Press/ Radical Empathy)

HELMS ALEE, “Stillicide”
The opening track on Helms Alees’ new record starts with the piano coda that closes out their very first LP, “Night Terrors”, before it mutates into a maelstrom of swirling distortion and thunder.  They have had two records between these two, so it’s kind of interesting the Seattle trio recall a tidbit from their first LP on their fourth long player.  I guess it shows that since that time they have remained a strange, bewildering beast, but have grown in many ways as well.  It’s that touchstone from the past opening a door to reflection, yet showing what’s new.  What remains consistent is how Helms Alee is the bewildering sound of hiking through the redwoods on a foggy morning before reaching a beach in the Pacific Northwest.  You look in one direction and there’s the water- calm and cool.  You look behind you and trees rise up like skyscrapers.  And in front of you are some of the most majestic mountains you’ll see.  It’s at once mesmerizing and beautiful, but you also realize the hugeness of all these things, how little you are, and it’s sort of terrifying and weird.  That’s the sound of Helms Alee.  They can twist and turn with odd rhythms, sinewy melodies, harmonized and haunting female vocals.  But they can quickly hit the distortion and come off as the most thunderous sasquatch of a beast you’ll ever hear between drummer Hozi Matheson Magullis’ polyrhythmic tom rolls, Dana James crushing low end and Ben Verellens howling baritone.  Whether it’s the continuous crush of the title track and “Galloping Mind Fuk” (sic), or the long, slow burn meandering of “Creeping You Company”, to a perfect combination of all their styles (melodic, weird, and pretty to beefy and mean) on “Andromenous” this new LP is really an excellent addition to an already stellar catalog from a great band.  (Sargent House)

KINDLING, “Everywhere Else”
It sure is popular now for bands to do the whole shoegaze thing.  For the most part I’m fairly pleased with the current tidal wave of bands copping this style.  I’m sort of wondering how many of these bands are ex-members of NeurIsis worship bands?  Kindling, to their credit, spring forth from totally chaotic spastic hardcore band lineage.  But that’s not important.  What is important is that Kindling is a good listen.  This is their first LP after a cool little EP last year and it’s filled with upbeat, punk-informed walls of guitars and atmospheric female vocals that bring to mind both the fairly obvious My Bloody Valentine, as well as the sounds of Lush.  They’re not re-inventing the shoegaze wheel by any means, but they certainly do it quite well, keeping things energetic, loud, occasionally heavy, and fun.  Definitely recommended.  (No Idea)

MULTICULT, “Position Remote”
Multicult would probably wholeheartedly agree that they share quite a bit in common, sound-wise, with the revered Jesus Lizard- snarled and howled vocals, knotty and intricate guitar lines, and one of the best damn bass tones you’ll ever hear.  But where Jesus Lizard were all proficient musicians that gave the illusion that all their music was careening off the rails at all times, Multicult present no illusions to how calculated and precise their somewhat misnomered categorization of ‘noise rock’ really is.  Every note, riff, grating guitar scree, or gnarled bass dirge has been fine-tuned to sound exactly as it is intended.  You will hear no difference whatsoever between this record- excellently recorded and engineered- and their live show, aside from a very loud ringing in your ears once they are through since they play so fucking loud.  So yeah, The Jesus Lizard can be master magicians at making you think they’re just being fucking awesome off the cuff.  Multicult offer a very similar level of talent, as well as a strikingly similar sound, but with an air of astounding determination and intention.  This is easily their best sounding record yet and the songs are pretty dang good too.  (Reptilian)

This is the metal issue.  Oh, maybe I should back up.  Night Watch is an art zine featuring loads of artists contributing work towards a theme (hence, ‘the metal issue’) and a couple interviews with some of the artists.  They have had many of the same contributors throughout their run, but have added some excellent new ones as well.  They may as well have titled this the Lemmy memorial issue because he shows up in many of the pieces throughout this zine.  The stand-outs include the Motorhead board game of Life spread, Phil Guys ‘What Me Worry’ Lemmy, Edward Justin Wright’s indecipherable metal guy diagram, and especially Ryan Besch’ Dan Clowes-meets-Charles Burns “Sin Town” piece.  This whole thing is wrapped up in a wildly detailed metallic ink cover.  Fun times.  (Night Watch)

For whatever reason I thought this band was going to be heavier and noisier than they were when I gave their last LP, “Curtains” a cursory spin and sort of dismissed it.  The thing is, this band is really good.  It just takes a little while for their music to sink in.  At least on this new record they very much nailed it, as they say.  Taking the attention to detail, allowing space for songs to breathe, and a similar heaviness and direction of Young Widows, and couple that with some of the pedal board love and rocking nature of a group like Roomrunner I’d say Powder Room have a good thing going on.  There is a bit of confusion with this record as the liner notes allude to all 11 songs being on the record, and in a particular order, when in fact a song from each side is missing and instead show up as a bonus 7” that comes with the LP (probably due to time constraints).  It’s a minor concern though as it all works out in the end.  I especially enjoy when these guys are moving slow, particularly on the creepy and ungodly heavy “Black Dress” (which happens to have a very catchy and sing-along-able chorus) and the bluesy “Workaround” (which also happens to have a great harmonica section that could only be topped by Unsanes’ “Alleged”, but in a far less scummy, far more positive, yet equally heavy sort of way).  Even though the slow and heavy comes off better on this record, opening track “Vanburner” has an alarming urgency that draws you right in with it’s repeated bleeps and galloping rhythm. (Learning Curve Records)

I was quite vocal about this Texas band’s last LP, “Circumambulation” and how I just wasn’t into it really.  I mean, compared to their first two LPs it was kind of a downer, and not in the way that this band kind of pride themselves on being.  I thought, with time, I’d re-visit it and see if things changed.  Nope.  It’s still pretty dull.  So I have to say that it’s very good to know that on their fourth LP True Widow have once again found some of that magic that made their first two records so excellent, but in a sort of different way.  On the first pair of LPs they dished out True Widow really excelled at doing a loud-quiet-loud thing to give their somber shoegaze/stoner rock some great dynamics.  With “Circumambulation” they seemed to mostly give up on that loud-quiet-loud thing and went for somewhat flat versions of their overall style.  “AVVOLGERE” (whatever that hell that means or stands for) continues to sort of abandon the loud-quiet-loud thing, which is sort of disappointing, but they have made the majority of songs here a bit more upbeat and added a considerable amount of hooks in the riffs to keep things interesting.  It’s the small changes with this band that make the difference.  A casual listener might not be able to notice, but it’s at least what I’m picking up, for what it’s worth.  Whatever it is, I’m into it and knew I’d enjoy this record right from the start of the first song, “Back Shredder” once I started humming it for the rest of the day after one listen.  Glad to see they’re back on their game and doing cool stuff.  (Relapse)

VINCAS, “Deep In the Well”
This Georgia three-piece lays out some dirty, greasy rock that both reminds me of Cows in it’s repetitive and wild noisiness, but also of The Birthday Party in it’s stark, creeping evil.  It’s not quite what I had expected, but I’m into it.  Maybe there’s a hint of goth to it, due to the low, baritone vocals and cold post-punk elements.  But it’s a little too loose and erratic to start wearing black nail polish and lighting candles to.  So, I guess I’m getting a bit of a Jesus Lizard vibe too.  But TJL borrowed heavily from The Birthday Party.  So, yeah, kind of back to square one with my references.  Hell, the dudes in Psychic Teens ought to meet up with these characters.  They’d probably really get along well.  Fuck around with this for a bit while watching “Scorpio Rising” and then wander out in the desert for a couple weeks and let the concepts of death and weirdness sink in.  (Learning Curve Records)

Bonus Round:

I’ve made a big to-do about Dischord-related type bands through these older reviews, particularly from the short-lived Slowdime label (Kerosene 454, Regulator Watts, etc).  The label may have been based in DC, and distributed by Dischord, but the bands weren’t relegated to just being from DC.  Case in point, the post-Boys Life/Giants Chair off-shoot Farewell Bend.  The group hailed from that vast expanse of nothingness known as the Midwest and featured the exceptionally unique nasally vocals of Boys Life frontman Brandon Butler, the extra-tight snappy drumming of Giants Chair alum Paul Ackerman, and bassist John Rejba, also of Boys Life.  From the rolling, almost post-hardcore rhythm of “The Pen Ran Out Of Ink” to the more upbeat and anthemic feel of “Go Easy” there’s no doubt that vibe of other mid/late 90’s Midwest emo bands of the Caulfield Records roster is quite present here.  Think more early Jimmy Eat World, the less weird/more rocking aspects of Drive Like Jehu, a good bit of Superchunk, and for a more modern example Boston’s Krill.  A lot of people tend to think the epitome of 90’s Midwest emo might be The Get Up Kids or Braid, but this is pretty far removed from Braid’s poppy technicality or Get Up Kids lowest-common-denominator pop rock, even though if Farewell Bend were to have played with either of those bands (and I imagine they probably did at one time or another) it would work out just fine.  I feel like what they were doing was a great example of indie/emo of the region for the time.  They got a great big room-y recording out this, their lone full length, with a bunch of great rocking songs with substance (even being able to create a great sing-along part out of the line “A little too much time spent fucking around”).  Yet it’s the longest, and most out-of-place song on the record, “St. Christopher” that is easily my favorite.  It’s slow and steady repetition through most of the song of “Help is on it’s way/ Gotta head to the freeway/ Help is on it’s way/ In the Western sky” before it breaks into a very upbeat section, followed by the stop/start crescendo with the chorus of “They say I waste my life/ Maybe they’re right”.  It’s a heck of a song I tell ya.  Currently not too sure of what the individual members are up to aside from Brandon Butler, who played some shows as part of a briefly reunited Boys Life earlier this year and has a very part time band going with Ryan Patterson of Coliseum called Six Bells.  But this here, this is easily my favorite project he has been involved in, even though it’s not the most known.  (Slowdime Records)

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