Featured Release Roundup: August 8, 2019
Lost Sounds: Black Wave 12” (FDH) This notable part of Jay Reatard's discography is now back in print thanks to FDH Records (the label who released it back in 2001, Empty Records, ceased operations some time ago). Lost Sounds is Jay Reatard’s third most famous project (after his solo work and the Reatards), and with the band receiving a lot of his creative energy through a big chunk of the early 00s, the project is an essential piece of the puzzle for anyone hoping to understand his music. If you’re a fan of Jay’s other work, there are several songs here that will do it for you: “Plastic Skin,” “Do You Wanna Kill Me,” and “Dark Shadows” (among others) are all great tracks that, while not achieving the heights of Blood Visions, are great punk songs. Lost Sounds is best appreciated, however, not as a prequel to Jay Reatard’s solo work, but as their own thing. Not only are the other players’ contributions substantial (particularly Alicja Trout), but also Lost Sounds had a particular framework they were working in, combining synth bleeps and bloops (long before you saw a Moog or a Korg at every basement show) with garage-punk hooks, stadium rock dynamics, and a bit of black metal vibe. Critics tend to overstate the black metal thing, but it comes out strong on “I See Everything,” and it’s a sound that I wish the band had played with more. Black Wave is an ambitious double album with a lot of material on it, and while it’s probably only the super fans who will love every second, there’s a ton of great material here.
Grauzone: Live at Gaskessel 12” (Winterschatten) Just last week I was raving about Grauzone’s Eisbär in the newsletter, and then we get this excellent reissue of a 1980 live gig in the band’s native Switzerland. While “Eisbär” is a minimal synth masterpiece, this live recording captures a different side of the band, relying on more familiar rock band instrumentation and a grittier post-punk vibe that reminds me of early recordings by Warsaw and Joy Division. The sound here is excellent—better than a lot of bands’ studio recordings, even nowadays—and while some songs are stronger than others, anyone with more than a passing interest in the post-punk era will enjoy this front to back. Interestingly, while the scratched out matrices indicate this is a bootleg, it comes with a 20-page booklet full of archival material about the band (which is, sadly for me, all in German). Post-punk deep heads should jump on this one quickly before it’s gone.
Mower: S/T 12” (Japanese Edition) (Splattered! Records) Mower is a d-beat rock-and-roll band from Pittsburgh, and this is a reissue of their self-released debut 12” from last year. You don’t see many reissues of year-old records, but this one makes sense; the original version didn't get around much, the reissue adds much improved packaging and two extra tracks, and the new label is a perfect fit for the band. Speaking of which, Splattered! Records has been making a name for themselves reissuing classic NWOBHM singles, and while that’s not exactly Mower’s style, the band’s amped up, Discharge-inflected Motorhead-isms will appeal to the folks who picked up those reissues. To me, Mower sound like a mix of Annihilation Time’s rock riffing, Inepsy’s hard-charging rhythms, and Midnight’s grittiness; if you drew a Venn diagram of those bands’ styles, Mower would live in the little spot where they all overlap. If you’re a fan of that style, this is a top-notch take on it you’ll no doubt enjoy.
Rakta / Deaf Kids: European Tour 7” (Nada Nada Discos) Released for their recent joint European tour, I believe that this isn’t a split 7”, but a collaboration featuring two tracks with members of both Brazilian groups playing on each. However, I’m not positive about that. I can tell you that each of these two tracks are as brilliant as Rakta’s incredible recent LP, Falha Comum, though they take the echo-drenched dreamscapes on that album and add a ton of percussion and (on the b-side) a bit of industrial-sounding guitar; presumably these contributions come from Deaf Kids as they aren’t a typical part of Rakta’s sound. Like Falha Comum, the vibe is similar to Public Image, Ltd. at their very peak, though these two songs are even more layered. The packaging is minimal—I thought the sleeve and labels were blank until I noticed the band names and track titles printed on the inside of the sleeve—and while it’s a shame that it doesn’t have striking artwork a la Falha Comum, the music is more than great enough to stand on its own.
Mentira: S/T 7” / Flexi (Nada Nada Discos) Second EP from this minimal synth project featuring former members of Gattopardo and Rakta. This is on the minimal end of minimal synth, with a Casio keyboard, drum machine, bass, and vocals. The music is mechanical and monochromatic a la a lot of early minimal synth, but like the best groups the vocals carry the tracks. Nowhere is this truer than on “História Sem Graça,” the track on the bonus flexi that accompanies this single. Here, the vocals latch onto a memorable melody and the synths let in a little sunshine. A low-key record, for sure, but recommended for fans of minimal synth.
Pleather: S/T 7” (Feral Kid) Debut single from this band out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. While that city is the unlikely locale of a fertile hardcore scene, Pleather are more of a punky, jangly, and home-spun power-pop group. The two songs here are the opposite of flashy: the drummer holds a steady beat, the guitarist bangs out the chords with an occasional single-string lead, and the bassist follows the same rhythm and progression. However, the minimalism only serves to highlight how great and catchy these two tracks are. Pleather reminds me of Australia’s Parsnip in that their overall vibe is sweet and sunny, but there’s enough grit there to keep things from becoming twee. If you love simple, well-constructed pop tunes, these two tracks will find a loving home in your collection.
Tom Bonauro: Polaroids book (Vague Absolutes) Vague Absolutes is a division of Warthog Speak Records focusing on small-run editions of items of niche interest, and this is their first non-record project. This is a beautiful little art book collecting 27 Polaroid photographs taken by Tom Bonauro in the late 70s and early 80s. While the book doesn’t include much info—its stark, minimal design places the emphasis squarely on the photos themselves—you’ll recognize several famous faces like Darby Crash, Joan Jett, Tomata Du Plenty, Penelope Houston, and Patti Smith. More important than who the photos depict, though, is how they’re depicted. These snapshots aren’t publicity shots, but candid photos of friends hanging out. They capture a surprising amount of historical detail given the technical limitations of Polaroids, but I find myself paying more attention to how beautiful the photos themselves are. This is a slim volume, and it’s expensive, but it’s beautifully executed, feeling more like something you’d pick up in a museum gift shop than a rough-hewn punk zine.