BLAG, Vol. 12: 2017 in Review
Record clerk gripe: When a customer comes in, and asks, “What’s out that’s GOOD?” Sure, it’s innocuous small talk, and a great opening to upsell certain records – an experienced clerk knows how to deduct suggestions by teasing out interests. However, when the question is blurted cold upon entrance, it’s rooted in this belief that there’s absolute “good” music and “bad,” and one look at TouchTunes data proves that’s pretty subjective. My go-to for these requests used to be, “Oh, dude, you’re gonna love this band called Scrotum Grinder…”
Drugcharge / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 8, 2017
Therefore, I shy away from using “The Best...” for my Year End Lists. With nearly every corner of music accessible with a few keystrokes, there’s a lot of music I haven’t heard. Plus, I have a kid, so my day is really spent singing “Wheels on the Bus” over and over and over again, in hopes of distracting her from that endless kid-quest of “What Can I Maim Myself With Now?” Luckily, I live in the same town as Sorry State Records, which is like the Golden Corral of Stuff I Enjoy, so here’s what I went to for multiple servings.
Peppered throughout the post are some outtakes from photos I took with my phone throughout 2017. More can be found on my Instagram feed.
Scarecrow / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / October 7, 2017
Ten Favorites I Whittled Down Using Subjectivity and Bias
ISS, (Endless Pussyfooting) LP (Erste Theke Tontrager)
My review was an old college radio anecdote about this band’s hip hop approach to punk music, and how sampling has musical merit. Once the novelty wears off, you’ve still got wonderfully written songs with a sinisterly sardonic sense of humor. My favorite release of 2017 is a whimsical side project, but, to make a completely meaningless statement, Weird Al has won multiple Grammys.
Bodykit / The Local 506, Chapel Hill, NC / March 4, 2017
Rata Negra, Oído absoluto LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Seth turned me onto the now-defunct Juanita Y Los Feos a few years back, and their ashes teamed up with a member of La Urss for this early 2017 release. It’s hard to pinpoint, whether it’s in her inflection, or pop sensibility, but the way Juanita/Violeta Terroba crafts a hook is incredibly infectious. The Dangerhouse-style punk drives it dark and mean, giving a foreboding stage for the vocal performance.
Fitness Womxn / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 21, 2017
Impalers, Cellar Dweller LP (Magic Bullet Records)
This is a perfect record with perfect punctuation. The opening inhale made me want to throw a chair out the window and the final song – an instrumental rework with an extended guitar solo that never stops – is the kind of rager that subconsciously influences you to depress the gas pedal a little too far. Destroy, oh boy!
Mind Dweller / Neptune's, Raleigh, NC / June 14, 2017
Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory (Def Jam Recordings)
General consensus is that Staples’ homage to Detroit techno pales in comparison his breakthrough: the dark, introspective Summertime ‘06, which it does. But, I’ll wager this record will age well, like how The Wire: Season 2 felt off, but its contextual brilliance was apparent once the show’s canon was finally realized. That’s not to say Staples has a grand vision, but his keen intelligence and curiosity is ripe for exploration.
Public Acid / King's, Raleigh, NC / August 24, 2017
Taiwan Housing Project, Veblen Death Mask LP (Kill Rock Stars)
Much of the music we write about comes down to managing chaos, with some bands exhibiting that skill first and foremost. Harry Pussy was a 1990s noise punk stalwart, and guitarist Mark Feehan continues that bile expulsion with bigger ambitions in Taiwan Housing Project. The songs build to freak-out frenzy, then dissipate to spacey white noise, with some lost folk song in the background, then build again to some scuzzed out rock with haunting vocals. Oh, and there’s a saxophone. Somehow, it all falls in place with this tightly pulverizing structure. I can’t imagine what kinds of demons ping pong in Feehan’s brain, but I’d imagine he has a messy bedroom at the very least.
Nikki Dixx / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / October 7, 2017
Das Drip, demo cassette (self-released)
Das Drip are ex-Whatever Brains, with Rich Ivey also juggling his electronic noise duo Bodykit, and the always cuttin’ up ISS. In this return to fast and loud, Das Drip are going for nervy punk layered with frantic outbursts. The singer brims with paranoia, matching riffs that skitter with precise abandon, both trying to catch up to a rhythm section that’s constantly threatening to take off, but never does. Their cacophony is a delicate balance, which is a feat to see live.
Das Drip / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 21, 2017
Vittna, demo cassette (self-released)
Vittna rose out of the ashes of Blackball, but instead of excruciatingly regimented, tightly-wound hardcore, the band opens it up with to a darker, moodier set of dynamics. This doomy devastation stages a vicious, jugular gouging vocal performance. As a demo, I wasn’t expecting this to be so well-realized, so get it before Jeff cuts his hair and convinces the band to go pop metal.
Vittna / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / July 14, 2017
girlSperm, gSp LP (Thrilling Living)
In modern indie rock radio, there’s a grating trend: the campfire sing-along refrain. I get that it harkens back to youthful innocence, but any authenticity is sanitized by formula and I don’t trust it like Alex Guerrero assuring me it’s not gonna hurt. That said, I’m a huge sucker for call-and-response, and gSp’s unhinged joy gets that. Flipper is the most obvious jumping-off point, especially when a singer holds a yell far longer than necessary, so much that it becomes integral. It’s a cathartic and freeing and spontaneous performance; raw enough to evoke chagrin, but still the funnest thing I heard all year.
Haram / King's, Raleigh, NC / August 24, 2017
Rapsody, Laila’s Wisdom (Jamla / Roc Nation)
Taking a cue from regular collaborator Kendrick Lamar, Raleigh talent Rapsody’s breakthrough full-length continues the beat-heavy jazz-funk sound that dominated To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s a heavy influence, at points stylistically detrimental, but Rapsody’s plenty talented enough to distinguish her ambition past mimicry. Much has been written about her maturity – how this is “grown up” rap – which I feel sells Rapsody (and rap) short. She’s too introspective for vapid party anthems and rhymes too smart to write a dumb hook, so while there’s no clear banger, it’s the densest hip hop record of 2017.
Heat, s/t 7” (Deranged)
“This sounds like if Crossed Out was a bigger flirt,” says my notes. Powerviolence by sheer force and brevity, but instead of “Are we on the same page? Ok, let’s fucking goooooooooo /stop,” Heat inverts and subverts with various influences from the hardcore paradigm flipping blastbeats to mosh to dirge without losing steam, which is a feat considering the song lengths.
Princess Nokia, 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade)
Shout out to No Love vox master Elizabeth Lynch for nodding this at a Bunker show afterparty. Wary of the heavy ‘90s aesthetic and fearing a tone deaf nostalgia trip, the bangers power through with assured savvy. The ‘90s are only a point of reference, and this is a now record. Unapologetic and frank, but with just enough irony to keep one guessing, Princess Nokia’s versatile flow switches between disjointed trap call outs and acrobatic bravado. 1992 only sports one feature (Wiki), proving that Princess Nokia is a wellspring of diss spitting and pop culture non-sequiturs.
No Love / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / November 8, 2017
Other 2017 Releases That Didn’t Make the Above List,
But I Had Some Words About Them
Sial, s/t LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
On a trip to Southeast Asia a few years ago, I kept an eye out for any semblance of a punk scene. The only artifacts were found in Singapore, evidenced by an anti-authoritarian record store and flyers for The Exploited and Terror shows. Sial was what I was searching for, but couldn’t find. The lo-fi production adds wallop to a bottom heavy sound, but this is hardcore that doesn’t lurch. The riffs are fast and the Malay vocals are faster, and it just culminates like this fuzzed-out explosion.
Nurse, s/t 7” (Scavenger of Death)
Every night, when I wash my hair in the shower, I’m more alarmed at how much hair comes off with each scrub. I’m blaming it on this flamin’ hot bit o’ wax: it’s the perfect mix of pummeling tempos with rock’n roll breakdowns, anthemic leads, and a singer that is trying to discharge a kidney stone from his esophagus.
Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love LP (Wilsuns Recording Company)
Let’s establish that Sheer Mag’s crossover success has led to some underground backlash – enough to warrant exclusion on year end lists in these circles, right? The third 7” didn’t move me as much as the second, so I came to the LP expecting a similarly tepid reaction. Whatever to the haters, this album is great. When the title track hit the stereo, my daughter immediately starts squealing and dancing, which immediately forged a bond with this record in one of those irrational parenting moments. To cop a term someone commented on my IG, it’s definitely “Dad rock.”
Bat Fangs, Wolf Bite / Rock the Reaper 7” (self-released)
See my notes here. Full length, like, next month? New music video up there.
Concussion / The Bunker, Raleigh, NC / October 7, 2017
Konvoi, No Rifts digital album (Friends Records)
Konvoi are lovers, not fighters now. While I miss the razor-sharp post-punk aggressiveness, the new album stands on its own merits. It’s warm and fuzzy, and spaces out like the best acid trips. There are fleeting moments that punctuate with acute clarity, earning that tension, then rewarding with some brimming hooks.
Konvoi / Kosher Hut, Raleigh, NC / May 6, 2017
Limp Wrist / Archer Ballroom, Chicago, IL / August 19, 2017
Superchunk, Break the Glass / Mad World 7” (Merge)
Superchunk’s new single doesn’t stray far from their storied trajectory as North Carolina indie rock royalty, save for a poignant, anthemic moment aided with backing vocals from A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis. However, noteworthy for Sorry State neanderthal types is the solid cover of COC’s “Mad World” for the b-side. Local punk historians know COC’s direct influence, but the Raleigh vs. Chapel Hill rivalry has ebbed and flowed over the decades/generations, so this was a nice nod down I-40. Maybe it's the Durham move, I don't know. Anyways, it’s enough of a moment for me to pull Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, from the shelf and read that salacious Scott Williams gossip.
A Giant Dog / The Pinhook, Durham, NC / September 3, 2017
Uniform, No Trending LP (State Laughter / Scavenger of Death)
This sat, unloved, on my shelf until recently, and now I want that time back, so I could have fully digested this record at the time of this writing. Dark, melodic punk and its nuances are difficult to pin down, especially ones as experimental as No Trending. There’s a sardonic detachment mixed with minor chord progressions that remind me of the 1990s mostly-forgotten Pacific Northwest indie band Lync. However, it’s far more ambitious as a punk and garage record, combining melody with this oppressive, cold alienation.
R Ring with special guest TIM REMIS / Night Light, Chapel Hill, NC / April 29, 2017
On the day of this writing, Daniel put this up on the SSR Slack. Everyone knows I drool over anything John Reis related, so file this under "delicious."