Featured Releases: August 12 2021
Pinhead Music: The Underground Sights and Sounds of Keyser, WV zine This zine is a portal to another world that I didn’t even know existed. Keyser, West Virginia is a tiny town with a population of less than 6,000. I grew up in a similar-sized town in southeastern Virginia (like Keyser, our main employer was a paper mill… I wonder if the cabbage-like funk of the mill also permeated Keyser?), so when I read the description for this zine I knew I had to learn more. I couldn’t find any traces of a music scene where I grew up in Franklin, Virginia, so I wanted to hear about how this happened… how a small, out of the way place could spawn anything that might be referred to as a “scene.” Fortunately, Pinhead Music satisfied my curiosity and then some. The zine has three main sections: an introductory essay that explains the author’s (Vincent Albarano) background and how he discovered the scene, and two long interviews, one with a filmmaker who made a Super 8 film called Psychedelic Glue Sniffin’ Hillbillies and another with musician / Red Nail Music label owner Bunk Nesbit. I was unfamiliar with the art that came from Keyser—I had never heard of the film or any of the artists or musicians mentioned in the zine, and didn’t even stop to check out any of it online until I finished reading—yet I was rapt with attention the entire time. I put this down to Albarano’s curiosity about the scene and the passion his interview subjects have for their work. There’s so much detail about this little, more or less isolated universe that you almost feel like you’re there, but at the same time it’s presented with an utter lack of pretension, like it’s the most natural thing in the world for all the freaks in a small, isolated community to find one another and make art. After I put down the zine, I checked out a clip of Psychedelic Glue Sniffin’ Hillbillies on YouTube and spent some time listening to music on the Red Nail Music Bandcamp site, half-wondering if this entire zine was an elaborate hoax. But it’s not… it’s a whole world of vital underground music and art, served to you on a platter. You don’t get more niche than this and most people probably have no interest in this zine or in the culture it documents, but for the curious, Pinhead Music is the key to a real treasure trove.
The Daleks: OK 7” (Breakout Records) Italy’s Breakout Records reissues this UK band’s lone, obscure single, originally pressed in 1980. The Daleks remind me of the Newtown Neurotics; like that band, their songs are built around basic pop structures, but played rough around the edges and with lyrics that are earnest in a kind of heartwarming way, particularly on the anthemic b-side track “This Life.” I’m a huge fan of this style when it finds the right balance of pop sensibility and punk grit, and the Daleks nail it, with the tougher, oi!-ish “Rejected” lending a bit of contrast to the more melodic “This Life” and “Man of the World” bringing together elements of both. The tracks are good, but I also love the sleeve. Breakout Records has recreated the record’s original foldout sleeve, which not only includes lyrics and photos of the band but also information on where and how they made it (including the names of the printers and how much they paid for the jackets, center labels, etc.) and (my favorite part) loads of photo booth shots of teenage punks with a diverse range of fashion senses. While I like it when labels like Radio Raheem include a wealth of archival material along with their reissues, in this case the original document is so rich that a near-exact reproduction is precisely what you want.
Record Aficionado Volume 3 book I picked up the first Record Aficionado book several years ago and tried to bring some in for Sorry State, but they weren’t doing wholesale. Thankfully, that has changed, and we got copies of Volume 2 (which focuses on Revelation Records) and this third volume, which covers hardcore punk from the US between 1985 and 1990. The book’s intro states that the goal of the Record Aficionado series is to “contextualize (the records covered) in an artful way,” and that’s precisely what it does. For each of the records the book covers, you get a detailed image of the front cover, some pressing details, and a smattering of scans of other documents, including lyric sheets, promo materials, advertisements, vintage zine reviews, and other ephemera. The zine reviews are my favorite part of the book; zines back in the 80s were so mean! It seems like half of the reviews in the book are negative, which is funny since most of the records in the book are punk canon at this point. There is also a section containing vintage ads for many of the stores and distributors that sold these records back in the day, which is also awesome to see and is an under-documented part of the underground punk network. Interestingly, unlike a lot of recent books that treat punk rock as (high?) art, rather than reproducing everything as closely to the originals as possible, Record Aficionado filters all of this original material through its own aesthetic, including the print job, which is black and white with a single green spot color. I love that Record Aficionado doesn’t try be encyclopedic or comprehensive… it’s just a smattering of cool shit that will lead you down various rabbit holes to other cool shit.
Indre Krig: demo cassette (Roach Leg Records) One of the hottest labels in the land, Roach Leg Records, brings us another ripper, this time from Indre Krig, a project band based in Boston and Copenhagen. The sound is fast, 80s-inspired hardcore punk with catchy, shouted vocals a la Electric Deads and Kalashnikov, and given Indre Krig is partially based in Denmark, I can’t imagine those aren’t direct influences. That being said, Indre Krig sounds a little tougher and less melodic than either of those bands, with an emphasis on speed and power over tunefulness. The production is clear and powerful with the perfect amount of grit, the riffs are catchy and memorable, and the songs are arranged dynamically to hold your attention. If you pick up Indre Krig’s tape because the visual aesthetic reminds you of other releases you’ve liked on Roach Leg or Chaotic Uprising Productions, you’re not gonna be disappointed… this is the sort of precisely executed, powerful-sounding hardcore those labels have cornered the market on.
Devastation: Fucking Bastards cassette (self-released) This is a pro-dubbed reissue of a 1997 cassette by this hardcore band from Connecticut. Members of Devastation went on to a long list of bands later in the 90s and 00s, including Behind Enemy Lines, Caustic Christ, Destroy, Brainoil, Mankind?, Blanks 77, State of Fear, and many, many others. Devastation, however, has remained obscure. These 6 tracks were meant to be Devastation’s half of a split 12” with Distraught on Tribal War Records, but Distraught never recorded for their side, so then it was slated for a split LP with Detestation, who broke up before they recorded, then Devastation themselves broke up and aside from a (presumably) few cassette copies distributed in 1997, this is the first time the world is getting to hear it. And it rips! To me, Fucking Bastards sounds both timeless and very much of its time. You can tell from the band’s logo and the title of the tape that Devastation was working within a tradition of raw, Discharge-inspired hardcore. However, like a lot of bands in the 90s, their riffs and songs relied on more complexity than Discharge’s, betraying the influence of the more precise and musical version of hardcore that took hold in the US. Another band working from this playbook at the same time was Totalitär, and Fucking Bastards reminds me of the records Totalitär was making in the early to mid 90s, particularly in the similarly throat-shredding yet slightly tuneful vocals. If you’re into deep cut 90s US punk or the history of Discharge-inspired hardcore worldwide, you’re gonna like this.
Hwanza: demo 7” (Discos Huayno Amargo) South Korea’s Hwanza released these songs as a demo back in 2019, but Huayno Amargo wisely decided these tracks needed to be on vinyl. While Hwanza is based in Seoul, you’d be forgiven for thinking this band comes from the contemporary Los Angeles hardcore scene populated by bands like Blazing Eye and Hate Preachers. Like those bands, Hwanza has a gritty hardcore sound that has one foot in the big, crowd-pleasing mosh riffs of bands like Gag and S.H.I.T. and another in the world of cult 80s Japanese punk. While the music is energetic and explosive, it has a cultish, artsy sense of cool that I love. The artwork has the same vibe, combining a handmade aesthetic with creepy, damaged imagery. Hwanza may not be as on the nose as their labelmates Pesadilla in emulating old Japanese punk, but by borrowing the high energy level of the best contemporary hardcore punk bands, they arrive at something that’s just as strong, if not stronger.
Pus: S/T 7” (Discos Huayno Amargo) Discos Huayno Amargo brings us the debut record by this new band from Peru. The label’s description calls them “Pandemic inspired Peruvian Black metal Punk hardcore;” if you take out the first three words, they could also apply to Philadelphia’s Zorn, and if you like the Hardcore Zorn EP that we just put out on Sorry State, there’s a good chance you’ll be into Pus as well. Like Zorn, Pus blends hardcore, punk, black metal, and goth into such a fine pulp that you can’t point to any individual part and say “that’s the black metal part” or “that’s the spooky part.” The music is energetic like the best hardcore punk, has the richness of texture and oppressive atmosphere of black metal, and just a hint of the campy spookiness of goth (I don’t think the record’s Sisters of Mercy-esque color scheme is an accident). Our age of information and access to everything can lead to a lot of unoriginal music, but it also leads to bands like Pus who take a bunch of things they think are cool, smash them all together, and end up with a sound that feels fresh, exciting, and contemporary.