Featured Release Roundup: April 15 2021
M.A.Z.E.: II 12” (Lumpy Records) Lumpy Records released a 12” from Japanese punk band M.A.Z.E. back in 2019, and II is their new album, also on Lumpy Records. M.A.Z.E. fits right in with the Lumpy Records crew. M.A.Z.E. doesn’t have Lumpy’s penchant for very low fidelity, but they share the label’s appreciation for Devo-inspired quirkiness and an assertively creative approach to punk rock. On II, M.A.Z.E. reminds me of Warm Bodies, and while they’re not as fast and their guitarist isn’t as virtuosic as underground axe god Ian Teeple, the knotty rhythms and out of the box vocal approach are similar. M.A.Z.E. never settles into a groove on II; like the Fall or Can, each song has its own unique pulse, and the players build out from that central rhythmic structure, not so much jamming as playing a cool part and then changing to a different, also cool part. Weird Punk, Egg Punk, Devo-Core… however you want to describe it, if you’re into labels like Lumpy and Erste Theke Tonträger, M.A.Z.E. should be on your radar.
The Mind: Open Up the Window and Leave Your Body 12” (Lumpy Records) We last heard from the Mind in 2019 when Drunken Sailor released their first album, Edge of the Planet. The Mind is a cryptic bunch (zinester Brandon Gaffney’s description for Lumpy tells you essentially nothing about it), but reaching back into my files, I find the Mind is a cross-country project featuring members of Homostupids, Dry Rot, Pleasure Leftists, Cosmic Sand Dollars, and more. In case those names mean nothing to you, let me sum it up for you in meme speak: it weird. There’s something Residents-y about the Mind’s presentation, how they insist on misdirecting you and not revealing too much about what is behind the music. While this might frustrate a newsletter writer just trying to whip up a fresh variation of “if you like X, you might like Y,” it forces you to take the music on its own terms, and the Mind has a lot of terms. Lots of the lyrics are about space and technology (“The Pod,” “Magna Carta of Space,” “Voices of a Distant Star”), the vocals are charismatic and melodic (their singer reminds me of Elise from Brain F≠), and the music is all over the place, sometimes post-punk-y, sometimes more electronic, sometimes new age-y, and often quite melodic and catchy. The aggressive eclecticism keeps me from getting on firm footing as a listener. That might turn off someone less adventurous, but I recommend putting this on, turning off the lights, and letting it take you where it’s going to go.
Mentor: Chapter Black 7” (Smoking Room Records) Chapter Black is the debut 7” from this hardcore band out of the Bay Area, California. Like the Texas bands I’m also writing about in this update, Mentor is an 80s-style hardcore band that plays blistering fast, has precise and catchy riffing, and a raw recording style, but the overall presentation is a little different. Instead of sounding like a blown out analog recording, Mentor’s sound is bathed in distortion and reverb effects (particularly on the vocals), which (to me, at least), gives them a vibe that resembles the 80s-leaning bands on Youth Attack like Repos, Suburbanite, and Cadaver Dog. That being said, Mentor is more straight up 80s USHC than those bands, and scratches that itch very well.
Soldier’s Disease: No Flags Fly Here cassette (B.L.A.P. Tapes) Texas has been sprouting Koro-influenced hardcore bands at a pace that’s making me consider picking up and moving there, and the latest name on the roster is Austin’s Soldier’s Disease. Like Nosferatu and Violent Christians, Soldier’s Disease borrows Koro’s quick changes, epic drum fills, and manic, compressed rhythms, but perhaps even more than those bands, Soldier’s Disease’s songwriting still has a punk (maybe even pop?) core. While a lot of ultra-fast music can stray into grind or other derivatives of metal, Soldier’s Disease sounds like they’re playing great punk songs at insanely fast tempos, which is pretty much exactly what I want from music. Another thing that sets them apart is that something about the bass sound reminds me of early 80s Japanese hardcore. I’m not sure if it’s just the way it’s recorded (lots of low end and very little attack) or the way it’s played (which incorporates some of the bounciness I associate with 80s Japanese punk bass) or some combination of both. Regardless, Soldier’s Disease reminds me of both classic 80s USHC and obscure 80s Japanese punk, two styles that are pillars of my listening diet, and they do both proud.
Perro de Prenda: Vol. 1 cassette (B.L.A.P. Tapes) Perro de Prenda is another killer hardcore band from Texas. Their tape is out on the B.L.A.P. label (presumably named after a Koro song and affiliated with other Texas hardcore bands in this vein) and they share a lot of characteristics with the other bands you might know from this scene, including the very raw, noisy, and analog recording style. While Perro de Prenda is as intense as those other bands, their style is a little different. Mostly that comes down to the drumming, which never breaks into a full-on fast punk beat, but holds down a lot of tom-heavy, anarcho-influenced rhythms. That gives Perro de Prenda some of the brooding menace of early Amebix, though the riffing is in a fast hardcore style so I don’t think anyone would say they sound like Amebix at all. On Vol. 1 you get four tracks of this anarcho-influenced hardcore and a fifth track that sounds like it uses some backwards tape effects. Ending on that artier note makes this feel even more like a killer old anarcho demo. Great stuff, and I see there’s a Vol. 2 up on bandcamp, so let’s hope we see a tape version of that soon.
The Spits: VI 12” (Thriftstore Records) VI is the new album from the legendary and long-running punk band the Spits. Despite its title, I’m not sure whether it’s actually their sixth album… I’d say it’s more like their seventh or eighth, but regardless, they have quite a few full-length albums under their belt. When I first listened to VI, I thought about how the Spits are now in the territory of bands like the Ramones, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden. All these bands have large catalogs that more or less stick to the same style, and while a lot of listeners feel like they only need the classic albums, a dedicated contingent of fans ride hard for the entire catalog. It’s easy to dismiss these long-lived bands as successful branding exercises, or (a little more generously) to say that they found a “formula” and stuck with it. I don’t think that’s the case with any of these bands, including the Spits. I don’t want to name names, but there are plenty of bands that stick to the same style for a long time, and plenty of those bands suck and never get much better than that, no matter how long they continue plying their trade. But for a band like the Spits, it seems more like they’ve found a comfortable pair of jeans they want to wear for the rest of their lives. The jeans look good on them, can be mixed and matched with different clothing items and work in a variety of different contexts. And just as a person is not their jeans, the Spits’ are not just their sound. Inside the Spits’ fast drums, distorted guitars, and catchy keyboard lines is some fucking great songwriting. This hit me on my third or fourth listen to VI, when the track “Kop Kar” came on. This song is fucking great! I can’t imagine anyone but the Spits doing it, and it can stand toe to toe with the classics from across their catalog, whether you’re talking about “Rip Up the Streets” or “Let Us Play Your Party.” And it’s not the only good song on the album, either. They’re all good, some of them are great, and none of them suck even a little. By using the same logo on all of their albums and not giving most of them titles, the Spits invite you to dismiss any particular record as “just another Spits album.” They’re playing you. This isn’t just another Spits album, it’s another fucking great Spits album.