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Featured Release Roundup: April 8 2021

Spread Joy: S/T 12” (Feel It) Sam from Feel It Records sent me a digital version of this debut from Chicago’s Spread Joy a few months ago, knowing I would like it. He was right. I usually don’t really get into a record until I can get the physical version on my turntable, but I liked this record so much and it was so suited to the emerging spring weather here in North Carolina that I had to put it on my headphones whenever I went for a walk. Spread Joy’s sound is often angular, bass-driven punk that exists halfway between the Suburban Lawns’s art-punk and the pop-oriented, more English take on that sound that reminds me of anything from Delta 5 to Shopping. Certain songs lean in one of those directions or the other, and the band excels at weaving back and forth between nervier and groovier rhythms. And there’s plenty of pop in the mix to keep you singing along. At only fourteen minutes long it hardly overstays its welcome and is just on the edge of feeling like an EP rather than an album (sort of like Saccharine Trust’s Paganicons). Fans of the aforementioned sounds or similar bands like Collate and Neutrals, don’t miss this one.

CDG: Unconditional 7” (Domestic Departure) If you just hit “add to cart” on the Spread Joy record, you might as well add this one too, because it appeals to a lot of the same sensibilities. The Venn diagram of people who would like both bands is in Mastercard logo territory, if not more… if I were more business-minded I would offer a bundle price for grabbing them both. If you can opine on the relative merits of Slates versus Hex Enduction Hour (I definitely can), CDG makes music for you. Not that CDG sounds exactly like the Fall (but sometimes they sound a lot like the Fall). For one, CDG often uses funky grooves (like the Zamrock-ish “Degraded Dialect”), something the Fall didn’t tend to do, but that was a big part of that UK DIY / post-punk / messthetic (although CDG resides in Portland, this is very Anglophonic). If you have any fucking clue about what I’m going on about right now, you need this. It’s exactly how on the nose you want it to be, right down to the distinctive sleeve design and the sneaky pop hit that closes the record. I also love that, while a lot of bands of this ilk release singles, this is modeled on longer 7” EPs like the Television Personalities’ Where’s Bill Grundy Now or the O-Level record, and like those EPs, this feels weightier and wider in scope than a two-songer.

Rata Negra: Una Vida Vulgar 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus) As La Vida Es Un Mus’s description states,Una Vida Vulgar is the third and best album by this band from Madrid, Spain. I’ve listened to all of Rata Negra’s records as they’ve come out, and while I loved the first two albums, Una Vida Vulgar feels like a significant leap forward for them. I’m not gonna lie, this record is pretty slick. Listen to the first two tracks and see if they’ve lost you. The layered, vocal-oriented production and pop songwriting wouldn’t be out of place on a Warped Tour compilation, and the second (and poppiest) track, “El Escarmiento,” reminds me of Jimmy Eat World circa Clarity (probably a deep reference, but I’m very old). The thing is, though, Rata Negra is fucking great at this shit… their singer is incredible, the songs are great, and the sunny vibes keep me coming back to the record. If you’re on board with those two tracks, when Rata Negra returns to their more familiar shouty, nervy punk sound on the third track, “Desconfía De Ese Chico,” the band’s existing fans will feel like they just got a warm hug. Una Vida Vulgar is that rare feat: an example of a band growing and evolving without abandoning what they were great at. And even without that context, it’s a great summertime, windows-down record.

Haldol: Negation 12” (Play Alone Records) Negation is the fourth 12” from this band that started in Nashville, Tennessee, but has spent most of their time in Philadelphia. I’ve listened to all of Haldol’s 12”s, and I’ve liked them all. Their self-titled 12” from 2015 is a phenomenal record, and predated the current death rock revival by several years (there’s currently a death rock revival, right?). While I was lukewarm on their previous record, The Totalitarianism of Everyday Life, Negation recaptures the fire of that self-titled record by pushing past its sound rather than returning to it. While Negation still has death rock-isms like chorus on the guitar and tom-heavy drumming, the guitars are janglier, the singing more expressive, and the songwriting more pop. Once again, Haldol is ahead of the trend; while everyone else is going Christian Death, they’ve gone full 4AD, sounding more like something you’d see on 120 Minutes in the late 80s than a band on a flyer for a Madame Wong’s gig. That seems to imply a softening of Haldol’s sound, but that’s not the case at all… they play with the revved-up energy of bands like the Cult and the Jesus and Mary Chain… it’s pop music as much as it is art project, and listening to it provides all the immediate pleasure that pop music is meant to.

Headcheese: S/T 12” (Neon Taste) Like the Spread Joy record, I’ve been rocking the digital version of Headcheese’s debut 12” while I anticipated the vinyl dropping. This record premiered online back in February, and I kept that tab open for weeks, playing the record over and over. Admittedly, this is right in my wheelhouse. Headcheese sounds like Career Suicide and Long Knife had a baby. They have CS’s knack for writing short, catchy songs that fall in that perfect Jerry’s Kids / FU’s space of punky hardcore. However, Headcheese shares Long Knife’s heaviness, Jerry A-ish vocals, and fondness for the grooves you hear on War All the Time and Feel the Darkness. Another way of coming at this is that Headcheese takes the brevity and speed of Pick Your King, but combines it with the song-oriented approach of PI’s later records. And they are fucking good at it. Fans of the White Stains and Fried E/M records should watch out for this too. The dapper color-matching on the jacket and vinyl is icing on the cake.

Lethal: demo cassette (Survival Unit Records) I was listening to this demo from New York’s Lethal and I thought to myself, “are there any GBH records on the cover of Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes?” It turns out there aren’t (as far as I can tell), but the thought is à propos of this band’s sound. Like PI and GBH, Lethal plays hardcore that’s fast, loud, and firmly in the pocket. You know who is on the cover of Record Collectors? Motorhead and Battalion of Saints, and Lethal has a lot of those bands in their sound too. As with all of those bands, great riffs are the building blocks of great songs that build to big, anthemic choruses, and the whole thing is put together with a sense of dangerous, nihilistic energy. Great production too, with a beefy sound that accentuates rather than diminishes Lethal’s grittiness.

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