Featured Release Roundup - June 10 2021
Suurkaupungin Haitat: S/T 12" (Svart Records) Compilation of rare cassettes, originally released between 1979 and 1982, from this obscure Finnish punk band. I had never heard of Suurkaupungin Haitat before and (according to Discogs, at least), they didn’t have any vinyl releases before this new release on Svart Records, the chief archivists of Finnish music of many stripes. Suurkaupungin Haitat’s cassettes are so obscure they’re not even listed on Discogs, and I imagine were only distributed through small, local networks. Suurkaupungin Haitat isn’t the second coming of the Sex Pistols or anything, but I am loving this record and I’m stoked it exists. The songs are punky, but don’t stick to a particular style. Some sound like they’re grounded more in proto-punk (like the Velvet Underground’s more rockin’ songs or the early Stooges), while others have a poppier edge that puts them more in line with the Buzzcocks-influenced end of second-wave UK punk. Suurkaupungin Haitat reminds me of Swell Maps too, particularly given the fidelity; most of these tracks sound like single-mic room recordings. The recordings aren’t distractingly primitive, though; you can hear every instrument clearly and the drums and bass sound great. While I don’t think any of these tracks are masterpieces, all of them are enjoyable, and sometimes quite strong. The packaging is excellent too, including an insert with photos, ephemera, and an interview with the band (though it’s in Finnish so I can’t read any of it). This is a niche item, particularly given the import price tag, but I’m right in this target market.
Lost Sounds: Rats Brains and Microchips 12” (FDH Records) A few years ago FDH reissued Lost Sounds’s Black Wave album, and now they’ve done the same for Rats Brains and Microchips, my favorite Lost Sounds album. In case you’re unfamiliar, Lost Sounds featured Jay Reatard and Alicjia Trout from River City Tanlines. While those are reasons enough for the band to warrant your interest, they also had a schtick; they described themselves as “black wave,” which I took to mean they were combining new wave and black metal (I remember reading interviews with them where they talked about how they were into the 90s Norwegian black metal scene). One reason I always liked Rats Brains is because they lean into the concept harder on this record, and it sounds to me like they were self-consciously trying to incorporate influences from Norwegian black metal into their music. This was years before GG King seamlessly blended garage-punk and gloomy black metal, and the seams show more here. The songs that incorporate those elements sound choppy; the title track is a real odyssey that moves between several very different sections. This isn’t a complaint, by the way; those songs (the title track, “Tronic Graveyard,” “Dreaming of Bleeding”) are my favorites. They just sound fucking weird, and that’s accentuated by the grainy, abrasive production. The more straightforward, punkier songs are excellent too. This is Jay Reatard we’re talking about it here, and even though he was a few years from Blood Visions (one of the indisputably classic punk records of this millennium), the guy still had a knack for writing great hooks and songs. While FDH’s version is just a straight repress without the contextual information that accompanies many reissues these days, it adds an unreleased (instrumental) track.
The Smog: First Time Last Chance 7” (Episode Sounds) We last heard from Japan’s the Smog when they released a single on California’s Going Underground Records last year, now they’re back with a new single on the excellent Japanese label Episode Sounds. As I said when I wrote about their last single, I love the Smog’s sound. They’re like a Japanese version of the Marked Men, with a similar knack for alternating between jittery and melancholic modes that never skimp on big, melodic hooks. This single is a testament to how important design, packaging, and presentation can be to a record’s impact, though. When I listened to the digital version of this EP, I remember thinking that it was cool but kind of short. When I got the physical version, though, the packaging blew me away. It’s housed in a uniquely designed fold-out sleeve with beautiful two-color printing and liberal use of hand stamping on both the jacket and the center labels. It’s such a beautiful thing to look over that it made me listen to the songs more closely, and that made me appreciate them a lot more. They’re great songs, particularly the b-side. If you’re one of us who geeks out about the packaging on old UK punk singles that seemed so thought out and creatively executed, this scratches that same itch.
Chubby and the Gang: Lightning Don’t Strike Twice 7” (Partisan Records) Latest single from this UK band that seems to be blowing up. In case you haven’t been keeping up with Chubby’s gang, the group features familiar faces from London’s NWOBHC scene, but they’re not a hardcore band. They’re a pop band, but they play like a hardcore band. That’s but one way in which they remind me of Fucked Up; Chubby and the Gang sound to me like that period when Fucked Up seemed to have a real Undertones fixation, but if you swapped out the Undertones with Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood. It’s anthemic shit. So much so that it’s started to catch on outside the hardcore scene. Pitchfork put the album on their Best of 2020 list and after starting out on Static Shock Records (a familiar name to Sorry State regulars) they’ve moved up to Partisan Records, home of Idles and Fontaines D.C., whose music I’m not familiar with but seem like proper indie bands to me. Anyway, you get an anthem in the band’s usual style on the a-side, but on the b-side we have a loungy track that isn’t punk at all. Here Chubby & the Gang don’t play like a hardcore band; they show a different side of the band, sort of like how the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” single showcased their more Can-informed material on the b-side. Will the hipsters appreciate it or is this just for the punk nerds?
Venganza: La Fiera 7” (Discos Enfermos) La Fiera is the latest 4-song EP by this long-running band from Saragossa, Spain. I’m not familiar with Venganza’s earlier material, but this is some ripping hardcore punk. Venganza isn’t too on the nose with any style. They remind me of Vaaska in that they have a fast, energetic sound that’s tough, but also integrates the anthemic quality of a lot of 80s Spanish punk. The production is full and clear without sounding too modern or too retro, and every song starts with a killer hardcore punk riff and builds to a catchy, chanted chorus. It’s a formula that’s as old as punk itself (older, really), but Venganza doesn’t feel like they’re rehashing a formula, but summoning the true punk spirit. I don’t see Venganza achieving flavor of the week status anytime soon, but those of you who are always down for solid international hardcore punk that hits all the right political and aesthetic notes will enjoy La Fiera.
Qlowski: Quale Futuro? 12” (Feel It Records) Quale Futuro? is the debut album from London’s Qlowski, and it’s a perfect fit with the thoughtful, progressive punk Feel It Records has been putting into the world. Qlowski’s sound is tough to pin down. They have two vocalists, each of whom has a distinctive texture and timbre, and the mix of instruments varies from track to track as well, with some songs centered on synth melodies, some around guitar, and some where the two instruments erupt simultaneously. While I’m sure there are several circa-1980 post-punk bands you could compare them to, they don’t sound like a post-punk revival band. Like their underrated London buddies Sauna Youth (whose Lindsay Corstorphine produced this album), Qlowski sounds impeccably modern, informed by the classics (how couldn’t you be in this age of information overload), but bent on pushing forward with fresh sounds and approaches. Another thing that strikes me about Quale Futuro? is how fully realized a record it is. It looks like Qlowski has been a band for at leave five years, and Quale Futuro? has a developed voice, but it also has a concept that ties together the music and packaging. The songs’ lyrics seem focused on the mundane struggles of modern metropolitan life, and the question in the record’s title contrasts this bleak existence with a future that is not only uncertain, but perhaps even worse than what we have now. This idea gets interrogated further in the zine that accompanies the record, which collects work from many artists and writers, all of which relates to that central theme. We live in a world where Bandcamp feeds and Spotify algorithms usher us onto the next thing, but Quale Futuro? is an album that rewards—even demands—your sustained attention.