Featured Release Roundup: February 18 2021
The Smog: Set in Stone / Lost My Mind 7” (Going Underground Records) This is the third single from this Japanese punk band, though it’s the first one I’ve heard. Those of you who have followed Sorry State for a while may be familiar with the two albums we put out by LA’s Rough Kids or the album we released from Japan’s Louder, and if you liked any of those, Smog has a very similar sound. To me, these bands are some of the truest heirs of 70s punk like the Buzzcocks, Generation X, and the early material by the Jam, marrying classic pop songwriting with a big guitar sound and energetic delivery. While it’s not too far away from bands like the Marked Men and Radioactivity, it doesn’t sound like “garage” to me, and it certainly doesn’t sound like pop-punk… it’s just classic, timeless, tuneful punk that seems impossible for a modern band to get right until a band like the Smog nails it. Both tracks are strong, but for my money the b-side, “Lost in My Mind,” is the stronger of the two, with its varied dynamics and bursts of melodic, Bruce Foxton-esque bass playing. I’m hoping we hear more from the Smog, particularly if, as with this record, it’s available at a great price from a US label.
Covid SS: demo cassette (Planeta Destrozado) Debut release from “a quarantine band formed between Mexico, Chile and Argentina.” I’m not sure if they wrote and played these songs remotely, but it sounds very natural and organic to me, like a band playing in a room together. The style is cool. The drums play a mid-paced d-beat, but the riffs remind me as much of punkier UK82 bands like the Exploited and the Insane as they do of Discharge. But then most of the songs have these trebly, melodic lead guitar parts a la Kill by Remote Control-era Toxic Reasons, and the vocals have a catchy but aggressive style that reminds me of Criaturas. Oh, and the sound is super raw, which adds a little salt to counteract the sweetness of some of those guitar riffs. At the end of the day, Covid SS’s demo sounds like punk, like it could be off the P.E.A.C.E. comp or some killer international tape comp.
Beton Combo: Perfektion ist Sache der Götter 12” (Static Age Musik) Reissue of the 1981 album by this German punk band. I wasn’t familiar with Beton Combo before this reissue, but the label’s description posits this as a key release in the history of German punk. It’s worthy of being revered, as this is a diverse, powerful LP with strong production and a passionate performance. The UK punk influence is palpable here, not only with some Pistols-ish moments, but (particularly on the a-side) some oi!-ish parts that sound like Beton Combo might have been listening to Sham 69 and Cockney Rejects. Interestingly, the a-side is mostly faster / punker sounding songs, while the b-side skews toward moodier, atmospheric songs informed by the post-punk scene. Beton Combo formed in 1978 and didn’t release this, their first record, until 1981, so perhaps this LP includes tracks that were conceived and developed over a longer period. That could be a reason this LP feels more fleshed-out and diverse than a lot of punk records, but thankfully Beton Combo had lost none of their punk energy by the time they recorded. Besides the great sound on this reissue, Static Age Musik’s version adds a thick booklet full of vintage photos and flyers and lyrics for all the songs. An excellent record that anyone with a taste for early international punk will love.
Nosferatu: Live at This Is Austin cassette (No Solution) Just what it says on the tin, this is a live recording of Nosferatu destroying at This Is Austin fest. I love Nosferatu—how could I not love a band that takes so much influence from Koro?—but they have little regard for fidelity even on their proper studio releases. This recording is “deep CD bonus tracks” or “questionable Soulseek download” quality, but even through the murk you can tell that Nosferatu is destroying this room. This is a niche item, but I know plenty of you out there are proud members of Nosferatu’s niche.
The Mall: Zone 12” (Fixed Grin) Vinyl reissue of the 2020 cassette by this project out of St. Louis featuring (or, rather, consisting of) Mark Plant from Broken Prayer. (Vinyl Conflict referred to the Mall as “someone from Sorry State’s bargain bin playing beep boop music,” a barb you shall pay for, Egger!) I wanted to get copies of the cassette when it came out, but I never made it happen, so this vinyl version is the first time Sorry State is carrying Zone. Worry not, though, because this is the far superior version. In case you didn’t catch Zone on YouTube (or Soulseek, who is thanked in the insert), the Mall is a hardware synth project in the vein of Molchat Doma or Special Interest’s more electronic material… and if you haven’t heard those bands (where have you been?), imagine the mechanical rhythms of dance music paired with melodic synth lines and dressed up with the noisier, grittier textures of DIY. Zone isn’t pop music—the vocals are too harsh and buried in the mix—but it’s not exactly noise or dance music either… it’s in the spot on the Venn diagram where those things overlap. Like the aforementioned bands, this only takes a listen or two to get its hooks in you. I’m very glad Fixed Grin preserved this on vinyl. And while the packaging looks from the outside like a budget job with a stickered DJ sleeve, when you dig in you’ll find a purple insert that matches the band’s color scheme and a thick, beautifully designed lyric booklet / zine full of awesome cut-and-paste artwork.
The Mall: Every Particle 7” (Fixed Grin) The new label Fixed Grin Records released two records by the Mall simultaneously: a 12” vinyl reissue of their Zone cassette from last year and this, a new 2-song single. As much as I like Zone, Every Particle is even stronger. The production is clearer and more powerful, with the kick and snare sounds in particular fuller and heavier, the prominent and persistent boom bap pushing Every Particle more toward dance music. While that motorik drive gets you out of your seat, multiple synth lines criss-cross the mix with earworm melodies. I should also note that Mark Plant—the person behind the Mall—was in Sorry State’s own Broken Prayer, and while he played guitar in that band, the Mall sounds like a logical progression. If Broken Prayer was bringing influences from noise and minimal synth to hardcore punk, the Mall is a hybrid of noise and minimal synth with vestigial traces of hardcore, particularly in the shouted vocals, which are bathed in distortion and reverb. If you’ve enjoyed Molchat Doma’s ramshackle DIY approach to New Order or Special Interest’s punkified take on noise and dance music, Every Particle will be right up your alley.
The Nerves: Hanging on the Telephone 7” (Splattered!) Splattered! reissued this classic four-song EP from the Nerves last fall, but they sold out so quickly I wasn’t able to write about it. Now that we have a healthy restock, I thought I’d direct your attention to this classic. Most people will know the title track from Blondie’s version, which is the first track on their classic album Parallel Lines. Way fewer people know the song is originally by the Nerves, who released this lone EP back in 1976 (though interest in the band has resulted in many archival releases in subsequent years). The Nerves were ground zero for the late 70s power-pop sound that sometimes overlapped with the punk movement, and even though this record came out in 1976, it sounds like a lot of the skinny tie new wave that took the radio by storm around 1979. Take the beat sound of the early Beatles, give it a Byrds-inspired jangle, and exchange the saccharine lyrical subjects and bright major key progressions for something a little more “adult” and sophisticated. While the Cars and the Knack represent the more commercial end of where that sound went, records by the Db’s, Chris Stamey, and their disciples (like the Replacements and early R.E.M.) were truer to the Nerves’ template. Even if you could take or leave all of those bands, though, this 4-song EP is raw, energetic, and singular enough that it should be in your collection, particularly if your tastes encompasses pop-oriented punk bands like Generation X, Blondie, and 999.