Featured Release Roundup: July 2, 2020
ISS: Too Punk for Heavy Metal 7” (Total Punk) This new two-song single from North Carolina’s own ISS is the final single on punk institution Total Punk Records (the label will keep going, but will drop the hand-stamped sleeves and focus on 12”s). In much the same way they take samples from classic punk records and bend and twist them into new songs, ISS has turned the Total Punk aesthetic against itself. The a-side track, “Too Punk for Heavy Metal,” takes several swipes at Total Punk and its owner and, to add injury to insult, they put the lyrics on the record’s cover, forcing Rich at Total Punk to stare at them for hours on end while he hand stamps hundreds of sleeves, like Bart Simpson writing out his offenses on the chalkboard. Fortunately, Rich at Total Punk has a sense of humor and an ear for a great track, because “Too Punk for Heavy Metal” is as great as anything ISS has done so far, taking a Dead Kennedys bass line and adding the perfect disco beat the original never had. The b-side dips back into the Rudimentary Peni catalog for more sample material, and while it’s not as anthemic as the a-side, it reminds me of a classic b-side in that it feels looser and more introverted. 100% Total Punk and 100% essential.
Lockheed: Conflict Delirium 7” (Blown Out Media) Usman wrote about this debut EP from Löckheed in his staff pick a few weeks ago, and now the vinyl is in. It’s easy to see why this would grab Usman’s ear, because this is top-shelf, memorable d-beat with a healthy Totalitär influence. It’s pretty on the nose stylistically (the vocalist even sounds like Poffen), but there are so many details here I love. The recording is strong; while the tones are all powerful and gnarly, there’s a lot of separation between the instruments, which makes it feel spacious whereas so many d-beat bands’ recordings are dense and claustrophobic. The drumming is also stellar. I love it when fast punk drummers play behind the beat; it makes me feel like I’m bombing a hill on a skateboard, going super fast but feeling chill with the wind rushing past me. The kick drum is also high in the mix, but the playing is so precise that it works. Great songwriting, great execution… there’s nothing here a d-beat fanatic shouldn’t love.
Cadenaxo: Lenguas Podridas 12” (11pm) I’ve heard several people mention how great Tenochtitlan, Mexico’s Cadenaxo are live, so I was pumped to check out this 12” from 11pm Records. It’s easy to imagine the crowd going off to this band, because the way Cadenaxo combines big, mosh-worthy riffs and blazing d-beat makes it hard to sit still. The beefy parts remind me of Warthog or S.H.I.T., while the ripping parts have the propulsive feel of Impalers or Vaaska, with plenty of the latter’s catchy, anthemic quality. I just love how upbeat and punk this record feels… it has a sprightly energy that many bands find it difficult to capture on a recording. There’s nothing unexpected or weird here, just well-written, well-executed, infectious hardcore punk.
Freon: PYK cassette (11pm) Debut cassette from this new hardcore band out of St Louis. I’m not sure what the title PYK refers to, but I suspect it might be a reference to Poison Idea’s Pick Your King EP, which seems like an important influence on this tape. The guitar sound is straight Pig Champion, and the tightly wound riffage on tracks like “Crisis Aborted” betrays a lot of time spent studying the GOAT’s every move. I get a little whiff of straight edge hardcore in places (as I do from several 11pm bands), but this isn’t positive, good-living shit… not only are their lines of cocaine on the cover but also the vocals are way too mean for that. After the intro intro’s slow build-up, this is one of those hardcore EPs that feels like a dead sprint for its entire runtime. Recommended for fans of fast hardcore that doesn’t waste a second of your time.
Redd Kross: Red Cross EP 12” (Merge) Merge Records takes Redd Kross’s debut EP (from back when they were called Red Cross) and brings it back into print, beefing up the package with some excellent bonus material. I have a lot of friends who view the Red Cross EP as total godhead punk, and while I love it, it’s never gotten its teeth in me as deep as it should, probably because I’ve never been able to track down an original copy. Revisiting it now, though, it’s fucking great. I mean, “Cover Band?” “Clorox Girls?” “Standing in Front of Poseur?” These are bona fide punk classics, exactly the catchy, song-oriented west coast punk I adore. While Red Cross’s name was an obvious nod to Black Flag, these songs sound less like Flag and more like Dangerhouse / Masque-era LA punk or the more melodic sounds of the Simpletones or the Cheifs. As for this reissue, the a-side presents the original EP, while the b-side collects a bunch of demo tracks. While the demos date to a few months before the proper EP, the sound is clearer and beefier and I could see how some people would prefer these versions. There’s also a live track by pre-Red Cross band the Tourists that’s well worth hearing. It’s crazy that, even though they were so young when they recorded this EP, there’s still a pre-Red Cross band to dig in to. As you would expect from Merge, the sound, the design, and the presentation are all on point. If, like me, you’ve never laid your hands on an original, this is an essential grip.
The Sound: Physical World 7” (Reminder Records) Reminder Records is a new reissue label from Jeremy Thompson, formerly of the great Sing Sing Records, and they’re starting strong with this much-needed reissue of the first single by the Sound, which has never been reissued. I was excited to get this because I’m a massive fan of the Sound. Their first two LPs, Jeopardy, and From the Lion’s Mouth, are unheralded post-punk classics, both of them overflowing with classic tracks. (Their LPs after that are decent too.) Jeopardy is a particular favorite, and if you’re a fan of how the Chameleons combine punky energy and post-punk brooding with big pop hooks, you’ll agree. As for this single, it’s not as great as the albums, but it’s worth hearing if you’re a fan. The first two tracks are upbeat punk with a mechanized groove that hints at where the band was going. Adrian Borland was a huge Joy Division fan, and it’s not unlike the early Warsaw-era tracks that found that band using punk rock as a jumping-off point. The closer is an early version of “Unwritten Law” (which would appear in a different version on Jeopardy), and I’d say it’s one of those Wizard of Oz moments of stepping from black and white into technicolor, but it’s more like stepping from punk’s flat plastic day-glo into the grey and grittily textured world of post-punk. Whereas the first two tracks are all bluster, “Unwritten Law” breathes, showing off the memorable bass work that gives Jeopardy so much of its power. While Jeopardy is hardly a high production value affair, these tracks are even grittier and grainer. It’s hard for me to say how this single would land with someone who isn’t familiar with the albums, but as a fan of the Sound, I’m stoked to have this.
Paragons: Abba 7” (Fan Club) Fan Club repress of this great, obscure garage single from North Carolina circa 1966. An original will set you back upwards of two grand, and I can see why… this is as brilliant a slice of 60s garage as you’ll find. The a-side pulls out all the stops with a great guitar hook, a huge chorus, and even a rousing call-and-response part. The vibe reminds me of Them’s best tracks, but it could have just as easily come from London or Canada or Peru or anywhere that was pumping out garage bands as quickly as teenagers could lap them up. While the a-side has been comped several times, the b-side hasn't gotten out there as much, and it’s worth hearing. More mid-paced, it’s driven by a Byrds-y guitar line and features some great fuzz guitar too. North Carolinians will be particularly interested in this, but this is a heavyweight for any deep 60s garage head.