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Featured Release Roundup: March 18 2021

Smirk: LP 12” (Feel It Records) LP is the debut vinyl from this one-person project by Nick Vicario of Public Eye and Crisis Man. Like much of the music released on Virginia’s Feel It Records, Smirk has a sound that’s smart, stylish, pop-oriented, and isn’t beholden to its influences. While those adjectives can describe any song on LP, I like that there’s a lot of different stuff happening from track to track. Much of LP is jittery garage-punk in the vein of bands like R.M.F.C., Powerplant, or Gen Pop, and Smirk is great at these catchy, poppy bursts of energy. However, there are also a couple of cool interludes (or “‘Ludes,” as they’re titled on the record) that dabble in synths and tape manipulation, and a couple of tracks built around Dolls-by-way-of-the-Stones bluesy riffing. I tend not to gravitate toward rock with a heavy blues influence, but to me these are the standout songs on LP, particularly “Violent Game,” my favorite track. No surprise for anyone who’s been paying attention, but Feel It Records has delivered another winner.

Body Maintenance: S/T 12” (Unwound Records) After a demo back in 2017, this is the debut vinyl from Melbourne, Australia’s Body Maintenance. Melbourne is thick with great bands, and Body Maintenance meets that city’s high standard for contemporary underground rock music. The chorus effect on the guitars and general sense of gloom will remind you of dark late 70s and early 80s post-punk bands (the label mentions the Chameleons and Sad Lovers and Giants, which are spot-on comparisons), but like my favorite of those bands, there’s a sweet pop center at the core of Body Maintenance’s music. They’re quite good at it too; while this 12” sounds gritty, a bit of studio polish and an eye toward poppier influences like the Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen could pull Body Maintenance toward something like Interpol, which might not be a bad thing… the strong songwriting backbone that’s apparent here could support a range of different window dressings. I also love that this short, 6-track 12” leaves me wanting more, which is only a problem if you’re worried about the more expensive price given that this is an Australian import. If you’re looking for some gloomy, melodic post-punk, I recommend checking this out.

Bad Batch: demo cassette (self-released) 6-track demo from this new hardcore band out of Cleveland. While, according to one of their song titles, Bad Batch thinks “Cleveland Sucks,” they sound (at least to my ears) very much like a band from that city. First, the vocals have the snotty, nihilistic vibe of bands like H100s and Gordon Solie Motherfuckers. Second—and this is a subtler point—it’s always seemed from my (outsider) perspective that Cleveland has a uniquely high degree of cross-pollination between people into straight edge hardcore and people into Japanese hardcore and crust. Or maybe I’m just thinking of Tony Erba? Anyway, Bad Batch’s rhythms remind me of Chain of Strength’s fast parts; the beats are more like doot-dat-doot-doot-dat (as opposed to the “dunk-dat-dunka-dat” of d-beat… a very subtle difference). The riffs aren’t too far away from that sound either, but they also sound kind of crusty; the crusty thing comes out even more when the wah-wah lead guitar parts drop in. I feel like I’m getting in the weeds here, so I’ll redirect your attention to the fact that Bad Batch is very much part of Cleveland’s long tradition of anti-social hardcore punk bands and leave it to you to investigate further.

Reek Minds: Rabid 7” (11pm Records) We flipped out over Reek Minds’ debut 7” on Edger Records last year, and 11pm Records scooped the band up for this follow-up EP. As I was listening to Rabid for the first time I thought to myself, “this sounds like Siege, No Comment, and early Poison Idea thrown into a blender,” and when I checked 11pm’s description of the record, I found they compared Reek Minds to the same bands (and Die Kreuzen, which I don’t hear as much). If you liked Reek Minds’ first EP none of this will surprise you, but I think the production on Rabid is a little heavier, which gives this EP more of that power violence flavor than the first one. Just a little, though… I avoid bands described as power violence because so much of that music sounds too slick and self-referential to me. However, Reek Minds employ a few of the same tools and influences, particularly their heavier mid-paced parts and the neck-snapping changes in tempo and rhythm. Any way you slice it, though, Rabid flat-out rips.

Zig Zag: It Gets Worse 7” (11pm Records) 11pm Records brings us the debut vinyl from this hardcore punk band out of South Florida. While most of 11pm’s releases have been pretty aggro sounding, Zig Zag has a sound that’s fast but punkier. The riffs are brighter (the label’s Blatz comparison is dead on) and the vocalist doesn’t bark or grunt like most hardcore vocalists; their delivery is snottier, reminding me of many early 80s California hardcore bands. Musically, there’s plenty of the 80s-style hardcore we expect from 11pm Records here, but Zig Zag doesn’t seem concerned with sounding mean or tough all the time. There’s an element of irreverence to their sound that’s always there, but particularly comes out on the closing track, “Zig Zag,” which starts with a chunky rock-and-roll riff and climaxes with a bunch of multitracked guitars going wild. It Gets Worse is a little left of center, and while that might alienate some purists, if it clicks with you, you’ll love it that much more because there isn’t anything else quite like it.

Ostseetraum: S/T 12” (Mangel Records) This debut release from Germany’s Ostseetraum strikes me as a cryptic record. I’ll paste the label’s description here because it captures some of this record’s enigmatic nature: “Ostseetraum is a small minimal wave band, which, together with bass, guitar, synths, drum machines and vocals, performs scrambled and annoying music for you.” That description seems to say both a lot and not very much and the record has a similar quality; I can’t seem to figure it out, but I play it often. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been putting the record on while I’m working, and when it would end I would think “that was cool… but what did it sound like?” That sounds like a slight, like I’m saying the music was forgettable or lacked personality, but that’s not what I mean. After giving the record my first attentive listen, I’m reminded of Brian Eno’s assertion that ambient music rewards your attention, but does not demand it. So much of the music I listen to is fundamentally dramatic, but Ostseetraum never begs for your attention. If you’re not totally engaged with the music, the subtle but propulsive electronic rhythms will keep you focused on whatever task you’re working on, but when you stop to pay attention, you’ll hear subtle melodies, interlocking rhythms, and gritty analog textures. It’s a feast for the ears. If you’re interested in 80s minimal synth music or current bands inspired by it (like, say, Molchat Doma), this is well worth a listen, but even among those similar-sounding groups, Ostseetraum’s understated approach is special.

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