Quality versus quantity. Depth versus breadth. These are issues that I struggle to balance all of the time, and lately I’ve been feeling a tension in this dynamic starting to affect my listening habits. There has been so much good stuff coming out lately that I’m acutely aware of my inability to really digest it all. It seems almost criminal to have a record as great as the Testa Dura EP come out and only be able to play it a handful of times before moving onto the next thing, but what if the next thing is just as great? I’m craving that next record that I grow obsessed with, that signals a seismic shift in my listening habits and preferences, but I also know that I don’t have the time in my day and, consequently, the space in my playlist, for the repeat plays that really get you into a record. Why am I writing this? I don’t really know, but this is where my head is at the moment.
I wrote the above paragraph a few days ago, while I was in one of those spells where I felt like I couldn’t hear or experience music in the way that I wanted to. I get like that sometimes… I know that I love music (I mean, it’s pretty obvious at this point), but sometimes I can’t access the part of my consciousness that generates the pleasure in listening… it’s like it’s a walled-off room that I can’t access. However, I spent pretty much all of yesterday writing the descriptions for this post, listening to all of these records over and over, and I feel newly re-energized. And don’t worry, I no longer feel like I’m giving short shrift to Testa Dura… in fact, maybe I should buy two copies for when I wear out the first one…
Testa Dura: Lotta Continua 7” (Even Worse) Well, this one easily wins my “record of the month” award… in fact, if there were an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for “stuff Daniel likes,” you may as well put a picture of this 7” next to it, because it almost seems deliberately crafted to appeal to my particular sensibilities. Testa Dura is one of those 21st-century long-distance collaboration projects, with most of the band residing in Pittsburgh I believe (Jimmy from Annihilation Time / Eel plays guitar and I think Mark Bronzino from Iron Reagan plays drums), but Giacomo from Tørsö, who lives in San Francisco, sings, notably in his native Italian. While I’m sure there are a handful of Italian records that you could compare this to, part of the reason I like it so much is that it has a really similar vibe to the early Dischord releases. In particular, something about Testa Dura reminds me a lot of bands like Deadline and Red C, bands that were a little heavier than Minor Threat or Government Issue, but not quite as heavy and punishing as SOA and Youth Brigade. The riffs are lithe and energetic, in a constant forward sprint that, even as a listener, makes you feel like a ten-year-old who has just chugged a Super Big Gulp. The production is as perfect an homage to the early Inner Ear sound as I’ve ever heard (despite the fact that the kick drum mysteriously disappears from the mix on the last two tracks on the a-side, something a friend pointed out to me and now I can’t un-hear)… it’s warm and analog-y in all the right ways. However, there’s more here than just a blatant rip-off of the Flex Your Head compilation. In particular, Giacomo’s vocals have that unhinged quality that I love in classic Italian hardcore bands like Raw Power and Wretched, and the songs on the b-side have these wild, whammy bar-heavy guitar overdubs that come in twice as loud as anything else in the mix. Between those two things, there’s a touch of weirdness to Testa Dura that keeps them from sounding as in-the-box (read: boring) as bands who hew too closely to a particular stylistic rulebook. While I could point out things that I like about this record all day, I can sum it up by saying that this a pure hardcore record with absolutely no bullshit, and if you have as healthy an appreciation of the 80s classics as I do this is simply a mandatory purchase. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Banshee: Caw! 12” (self-released) While the Testa Dura 7” handily wins my “record of the month” award, I feel the need to make up another award for this Banshee LP… let’s call it the “surprise of the month.” I didn’t even know this band existed, so it was kind of surprising when they solicited me with a full LP, especially given the caliber of bands that the members have been (and in some cases still are) involved with: Green Beret, Male Nurses, Chain Rank, and Combat Zone, among others. However, when I clicked on the soundcloud link that they sent I thought to myself, “man, I think this is really good.” And now that the vinyl is here and I’ve been able to spend a little more time with this I can confirm that it IS really good. So, the broad story here is that it’s people who grew up with punk and hardcore expanding their palette and playing something more rock-inspired. That’s something that’s been going on since punk started, and there are a few different paths available, like the Gun Club-inspired path (this one seems to be favored by New York bands like Fur Helmet and Cheena) or the Thin Lizzy-inspired path (think of bands like Annihilation Time, Barbed Wire, or Sorry State’s own Mind Dweller). However, Banshee take the Stooges-inspired path… in particular (largely thanks to the wah-drenched guitar) Fun House seems like a particular inspiration. Hardcore punk + Fun House pretty much = Mudhoney, and Banshee definitely sound quite a bit like Mudhoney in places, but they tend to ride that in-the-pocket groove a little harder, playing closer to the influence, as bands nowadays are wont to do. As someone who vastly prefers the Stooges to Gun Club or Thin Lizzy, Banshee’s style is definitely my preferred route along the “punk goes rock” path, so I’m predisposed to like this, but I also think that Banshee have a really strong and distinctive take on the style. There’s not really much pop in their sound, but instead the pleasure in listening to Caw! comes from hearing them dig into a groove and take it as far as it can go in much the same way that jazz-inspired bands like Can or Amon Düül II did, but with zero jazz pretension and maximum American rock riffage. Maybe there’s hype out there for this thing and I just missed it, but I’m hoping I can turn some people on to this record because it’s a real beast.
The Shifters: A Believer b/w Contrast of Form 7” (Market Square) Second single from this Australian band, released on Market Square Records, the label run by Paul Messis from Suburban Homes. Like Suburban Homes, the Shifters have more than a bit of UKDIY in their sound. The label’s description mentions the Fall, and while it’s an appropriate reference, that could really mean any number of things. In particular, “A Believer” reminds me of haunting, slightly poppy early Fall tracks like “A Figure Walks” or “Middle Mass,” perhaps infused with some of the Kinks’ peculiarly English poppiness (this, despite the fact that the band isn’t even English). The b-side adds in some really cool, tremolo-infused organ, moving that track more toward the Television Personalities / Teenage Filmstars end of the spectrum. Both tracks are real stunners, and when you throw in some really cool vintage-y artwork you have yourself a real standout single. If you are into this modern UKDIY-inspired stuff and/or you follow current Australian punk (and I admit there’s probably quite a bit of overlap there) this is one I’d highly recommend checking out.
Wotzit: Fish 7” (Killer Boy) New single from this Japanese band with a few releases under their belt, but I don’t think many of them have made it over to the US. This is some wild, out-there stuff that I’m sure that a big portion of Sorry State’s audience will really hate. Quirky, angular, and jazzy, but with a very aggressive approach, I can’t stop thinking of Saccharine Trust’s Surviving You Always LP when I’m listening to this… I’m not sure if that’s a specific inspiration or not (knowing the Japanese punk scene, it very well could be), but it’s almost certainly coming from a very, very similar place, and I think that if you like Surviving You Always you’ll almost certainly like this. Like I said, the deliberate weirdness will be off-putting to some people, but this IS genuinely weird music, so if you seek that kind of thing out I would highly recommend this, particularly if you like your quirky riffs and jazz chords to come with a heaping helping of punk aggression.
TV Crime: Clocking In b/w Clocking Out 7” (Drunken Sailor) TV Crime’s previous single—the great “Hooligans” on Static Shock Records—came out of nowhere and pretty much melted everyone’s faces around Sorry State HQ. There are a lot of bands out there who go for the whole power pop thing, but with that single TV Crime firmly established themselves as being in the same league as bands like the #1s and the Exploding Hearts. Now here’s the follow-up, and while the hooks are just as powerful and memorable, the vibe is slightly different. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on precisely what it is, but these songs just feel a little bit more “rock” than the pure pop sugar on the previous single… a little less Good Vibrations Records and a little more Stiff Records if you’re steeped in the old stuff. As I said, though, both songs are absolutely brilliant, and neither skimps on either the energy or the melody. Someone get these folks down to play the Atlanta Mess-Around, tack Carbonas and Beat Beat Beat reunions on the bill, and we can all just overdose on power-pop and die in a fantastic orgy of chorus melodies and 16th-notes on the hi-hats.
Real Numbers: Frank Infatuation 7” (Market Square) Latest single from this extremely long-running band. I remember getting really into the Real Numbers’ self-titled 12” from 2010 on Three Dimensional Records, and while I’ve checked in with them from time to time, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the band. One thing I do realize, though, is that they’re very much a slow burn band for me. I’m not sure if it’s that their melodies are a little more delicate or sophisticated or what, but it seems to take my ear a little longer to hear them. The first 3 or so times I listened to this record I wasn’t really feeling it at all… it sounded like they had all of the signifiers of classic, poppy UKDIY (the Television Personalities and related bands being a really obvious reference point), but not the tunes to back it up. However, on that third or fourth listen something clicked and then I couldn’t get enough of this record. Like the TVPs, there’s this sense of innocence and naiveté to these two tracks. That’s even true for the b-side, “Leave It Behind.” With its darker, Phil Spector-ish production it reminds me a lot of the Television Personalities’ The Painted Word album, and as is the case with that record there’s a sense of bruised innocence to “Leave It Behind,” like it was written a child that experienced something a child shouldn’t experience. I have no idea if that’s the vibe the band was going for, and I certainly don’t mean that to be insulting (this music is incredibly sophisticated), but I just can’t get away from the word “innocence” when I’m listening to this record. Anyway, it’s a beautiful little single that’s pushed me to do add “check out all of the other Real Numbers records” to my to do list.
Piñén: Vida 7” (self-released) Second EP from this gnarly punk band out of Barcelona. I’m not sure if one person is recording most of the bands in Barcelona, if there’s a lot of sharing of knowledge, or if there’s just something in the water, but pretty much all of the punk rock that I hear from that city has a raw, desperate quality that I love, and Piñén is no different. While some of the bands out of that city have an artsier vibe (Una Bestia Incontrolable, for instance), Piñén are more on the raw punk end of things with bands like Otan, Firmeza 10, and Barcelona (the band, duh). It just sounds so PUNK, like the Exploited, Minor Threat, and Crass all jamming together in a Spanish squat with the shittiest equipment possible. I’m not really sure what else to say about this… it mines similar territory as bands like Exotica or La Misma, but something about this just feels a little bit grittier and more authentic. Regardless, if you’re a follower of labels like La Vida Es Un Mus or Toxic State or any of the aforementioned bands I’d recommend this record very highly.
Katastrof: S/T 7” (Beach Impediment) For a while there I was getting a little tired of all of the Totalitär offshoots. It wasn’t so much that there was a discernible dip in quality, but rather that there were just so many of them. That, and I found myself getting annoyed with the cult that was starting to grow around Totalitär. I love their records, but there’s a kind of groupthink that emerges among the fanbase when a band garners this particular kind of cult status that really turns me off. Anyway, it’s really easy to put all of that aside because Katastrof just rips so unrelentingly hard. Basically, this is the guy from Herätys writing all of the music and Poffen from Totalitär singing over top of it, and while there aren’t any huge surprises, the subtlety and inventiveness of this record have really been blowing me away. There’s something really musical about this release… the songs are clearly constructed with a lot of thought and attention to detail, and the lead guitar playing in particular really takes these songs to the next level. And while there’s a lot of subtlety in the construction of the songs, there’s virtually none in the production or the delivery… it’s just pure savagery, with a heavy but clear tone that explodes out of the speakers. Poffen’s vocals in particular are incredible, with that perfect “gargling glass” tone. I feel like I’m groping around trying to figure out what makes this record special, because I want to insist that it’s more than just a well-executed record in the style of Totalitär. Who knows… all I can say is that I’ve really been feeling this one. If you’re the kind of smart consumer who’s been buying every single Beach Impediment release I definitely wouldn’t advise you to stop with this one.
The Cowboy: The Cowboy Album 12” (Fashionable Idiots) If I’m counting correctly, I believe that I’m on my seventh listen to this debut LP from the Cowboy. Despite the fact that I’ve invested so much time into this LP, I feel like I’m no closer to figuring it out. Maybe I’m just overthinking it… I mean, the band is 2/3 of Homostupids and 1/2 of Pleasure Leftists, and it really does sound like those two bands smashed together, the weirdness of Homostupids fleshed out with the more deliberate and traditional approach of Pleasure Leftists. When you first listen to this LP you wonder how a band came up with this sound, but when you find out the Cowboy’s lineage it makes perfect sense, as if it’s perfectly natural that a band with these people would sound like this. There’s a similar quality to the lyrics here, which seem cryptic on the surface, but maybe they aren’t? Take the track “Smaller Rider,” whose lyrics are, “Father will be home from work just in time / and you’re (sic) mother is still a jerk / Still a jerk but she loves you / Chinese flowers in her hair.” Is there some deeper meaning there? Is there something the lyricist is trying to get at? Or are they just content to put that image out there and let it be without too much intention or analysis? I’m not generally one to analyze lyrics (or even reference them for the most part), but it seems appropriate here because it strikes me as totally analogous to the music. While these songs are undeniably quirky, it doesn’t seem like they were intended to confuse, nor do they feel overly belabored, as if they examined every note and made sure there was no way that it could have possibly been any better. Instead, these songs just seem to be handed to you, to say, “we are songs” and to leave it at that. I’m sure that all of this makes no sense and I’ve communicated essentially nothing about this record, but if you take one thing away it’s that this is definitely more than a “check this out if you like X” kind of record. It’s its own thing, so if it sounds like a thing you might like you should check it out. But this is 2017 and you probably already have, so whatever.
Citric Dummies: Tearing Out My Nails 12” (Fashionable Idiots) Kinda-sorta debut LP from this Minneapolis band. I say kinda-sorta because the a-side is a much-appreciated vinyl pressing of their phenomenal demo tape while the b-side is entirely new. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to revisit that tape when I put this on, because it’s one of the most singular things I’ve heard in quite some time. I really can’t think of a single thing that it sounds like… it’s just unexplainable, so just listen to one of the standout tracks (let me suggest “Cops on Bikes” and/or “Life Is So Horrifying”) and see if it hits you, because I can’t even begin to think of a reference point. As for the new tracks, they dial back the bizarre vocal melodies so they sound a little less distinctive, but they’re still great. Further, they make me appreciate the fact that the vocals aren’t the only great thing about Citric Dummies… the rest of the music is just as distinctive, singular, and brilliant. These tracks on the b-side are super herky-jerky, but the riffs are often very rock-n-roll-inspired and most everything is blistering fast. It kind of sounds like Devo trying to cover classic Crime tracks at twice the tempo, or maybe the Kids if they had tried to incorporate Minor Threat’s stop-on-a-dime changes into their sound. I know those are some pretty wild descriptions, but this is some wild, distinctive, and ambitious music. It’s also really dumb and fun in its own way, so you don’t have to be a musicologist to appreciate it. Definitely another jewel in Fashionable Idiots’ crown, but more importantly it’s essential listening for anyone who wants their punk records not to sound exactly like any of the other records they already have.
Debils: S/T 12” (Static Age Musik) Reissue of this 1981 Swiss punk rarity. I should note that the price is a bit steep on this one, but it’s a German import with an extremely heavy, Stoughton-style tip-on gatefold jacket… it’s a really beautiful item and cost a ton to ship, hence the price. Anyway, despite the late date on this thing there’s really no hardcore in Debils’ sound… this is pure 70s-style European punk, and it is brilliant! I’m not sure why I hadn’t heard it before, because this is a really strong record that can stand right next to a lot of records that people regard as European punk classics. Maybe it’s because the LP is so rare, or maybe because there isn’t a lot attention on Swiss punk (of which I don’t think there’s a lot anyway), but regardless of the reason I’m glad that Static Age is rectifying things. I could pick this apart and say that this aspect of the band’s sound reminds me of this or that band, but basically if you own a bunch of Killed by Death comps or if you spend your time searching out rare, unheard European punk, you’ll want to grab a copy of this. It’s not as explosive as something like the Kids or other well known, heavily comped bands, but it’s remarkably solid with no bad / non-punk tracks a couple of real scorchers. It’s amazing that in the year 2017 people are still finding quality 70s (or, more accurately, 70s-style) punk records to reissue, but here we are.
Spud & the Blood: demo cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
Grimly Forming: demo cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
The MUST: demo cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
The Snails: Coming Soon cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
Caveman Movies: S/T cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
Phoebe: S/T cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
Marción: L.O.V.E. cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
P.E.A.R.L.: demo cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
Framecode: demo 2016 cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
Sunk: S/T cassette (Abnormal Broadcasting)
The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds 12" (mono; audiophile edition; Captiol)
Abuse of Power: When Then Becomes Now 7" (Triple B)
The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds 12" (Rhino)
Various: Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets 12" (Rhino)
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks 12" (Rhino)
The Monkees: Summer of Love 12" (Rhino)
Bolt Thrower: War Master 12" (Earache)
Napalm Death: From Enslavement to Obliteration 12" (Earache)
Trapped Under Ice: Heatwave 12" (Pop Wig)
Samson: Shock Tactics 12" (Real Gone Music)
Jaguar: Power Games 12" (Real Gone Music)
Naomi Punk: Yellow 12" (Captured Tracks)
Guantanamo Baywatch: Desert Center 12" (Suicide Squeeze)
Dale Crover: The Fickle Finger of Fate 12" (Joyful Noise)
X-Ray Spex: Germfree Adolescents 12" (Test Tube Clear with Blue Splatter Vinyl Edition; Rhino)
Iron Maiden: Death on the Road 12" (Sanctuary)
Iron Maiden: Flight 666 12" (Sanctuary)
Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier 12" (Sanctuary)
Iron Maiden: En Vivo! 12" (Sanctuary)
Pisse: Mit Schinken Durch Die Menopause 12" (Beau Travail)
Tics: S/T 12" (Beau Travail)
Blystex: Nasty Licks cassette (Foreign Legion)
Puhelinseksi: demo cassette (Endless Daze)
PIÑÉN: Vida 7" (self-released)
Testa Dura: Lotta Continua 7" (Even Worse)
Spotting: S/T 7" (Aarght)
Rubber Mate: Cha Boi 7" (Total Punk)
Andy Human & the Reptoids: Refrigerator 7" (Total Punk)
Yass: Night Wire 12" (X-Mist)
YC-CY: Todenstanz 12" (X-Mist)
Barbed Wire: Wanna Take a Ride? 7" (Moon Talk)
Various: The Decline of Western Civilization 12" (Euro Import)
Mark Lanegan: Scraps at Midnight 12" (Sub Pop)
Decrepit Birth: Axis Mundi 12" (Nuclear Blast)
Tau Cross: Pillar of Fire 12" (Relapse)
Teenage Bottlerocket: Stealing the Covers 12" (Fat Wreck)
Immortal: At the Heart of Winter 12" (Osmose)
Immortal: Battles in the North 12" (Osmose)
Immortal: Pure Holocaust 12" (Osmose)
Howls of Ebb: Cursus Impasse 12" (Nuclear War Now)
Dame: S/T 7" (Charm School)
Descendents: I Don't Want to Grow Up 12" (SST)
Arcade Fire: Everything Now 12" (Columbia)
Manilla Road: Roadkill 12" (HR)
Manilla Road: Open the Gates 12" (HR)
Death SS: Black Mass 12" (Shadow Kingdom)
Death SS: Heavy Demons 12" (Shadow Kingdom)
Death SS: In Death of Steve Sylvester 12" (Shadow Kingdom)
Kendrick Lamar: Damn 12" (Interscope)
Captain Ganja & the Space Patrol: Tradition 12" (Virtual Label Group)
Sun Ra: The Magic City 12" (Cosmic Myth)
The Shifters: A Believer b/w Contrast of Form 7" (Market Square)
Real Numbers: Frank Infatuation b/w Leave It Behind 7" (Market Square)
Wotzit: Fish 7" (Killer Boy)
Katastrof: S/T 7" (Beach Impediment)
Xylitol: Is Toxic to Pigs? 7" (Thrilling Living)
Cheap Whine: S/T 12" (Drunken Sailor)
Marvelous Mark: Buzzin' 12" (Drunken Sailor)
Cell: Demo 7" (Drunken Sailor)
TV Crime: Clocking In / Clocking Out 7" (Drunken Sailor)
Dead Cross: S/T 12" (Ipecac)
Banshee: Caw! 12" (self-released)
The Cowboy: The Cowboy Album 12" (Fashionable Idiots)
Citric Dummies: Tearing Out My Nails 12" (Fashionable Idiots)
Prom Nite: Dancing to This Beat 12" (Barfbag)
Geros: Genocide or Suicide 7" (Killer Boy)
Crown Court: Capital Offense 12" (Katorga Works)