Featured Releases: January 6 2021
Rik & the Pigs: The Last Laugh 12” (Lumpy Records) The Last Laugh compiles tracks from two (very different) recording sessions Rik & the Pigs did just before they broke up in 2018, performing a mix of new songs and older ones that had appeared on the small pile of singles and tapes the band released over a couple of years. Rik & the Pigs had a distinctive sound that imbued snotty, early 80s-style punk (think Negative Trend or the Lewd) with a Stones-y swagger and a penchant for catchy choruses. The a-side tracks on The Last Laugh were recorded by Mike Kriebel (of Shout Recordings / the Beat Sessions), giving the Pigs a clear and beefy sound that’s very different from the fuzzy lo-fi recordings they put out when they were active. Rik & the Pigs sound great in hi-def, particularly on “Life’s a Bust,” a punk blues that adds two additional minutes of negativity to the version that appeared on a Feel It Records single in 2016. The b-side’s recording, courtesy Tony Santos, is rawer and fuzzier like the Pigs’ previous records. While the recording is nastier, the material is even more anthemic, particularly the Dead Boys-esque “It’s Alright.” More than just outtakes or leftovers, The Last Laugh is as good as anything Rik & the Pigs released when they were toast of the scene, and I’m glad Lumpy Records got this into the world for the faithful still carrying Rik’s torch.
Mr. Node: I Don’t Go Out 7” flexi (Roach Leg Records) Some of you might remember the Montreal band Thee Nodes, who put out a handful of EPs and did a bunch of touring around 10 years ago. After a decade-long absence, Thee Nodes’ costumed frontperson Mr. Node has reemerged as a solo artist on hardcore punk label Roach Leg Records. I can’t say I saw that coming! While the whole thing is very unexpected, the two songs on this flexi rip, meeting Roach Leg’s consistent level of quality even if it’s a little different from their usual style. Both songs here, “I Don’t Go Out” and “Vaccinate Me,” are COVID-themed, and the songs themselves are powered by a drum machine and guitars fuzzed to oblivion, but the riffs have a classic punk feel and despite the overwhelming rawness of the recording, a solid pop structure undergirds everything. The star of the show, though, is Mr. Node himself, his distinctive squeal instantly identifiable and sounding like no other vocalist I’ve heard before. It all comes together with a very KBD feel, sounding like something that could have come out on Total Punk as easily as Roach Leg, so check this out if you love stuff that sounds both catchy and fucked.
Jailer: Demo 2021 cassette (self-released) New York’s Jailer caught my attention because they share a member with Sirkka, whose 2020 cassette was one of my favorite releases of that year. While Jailer’s tape boasts a stylish design sensibility and perfect DIY recording that reminds me of Sirkka, the sound is very different. Gruff and midpaced, Jailer doesn’t seem to ground their sound and style in any existing aesthetic, and consequently these songs have a classic feel that makes them seem like they could have come from any time or place in punk’s history. The riffs and songs are straightforward, but they just work in a seamless and elegant way. The adjective that keeps popping into my head is “meaty.” If all-flash, no-substance “worship” bands are like empty calories, Jailer is like a big bowl of brown rice, tofu, and vegetables… unpretentious, but nutritious and satisfying. The closest comparison I can come up with would be UK82-era bands like Mayhem or Blitzkrieg… bands that weren’t as intense as Ultra Violent and not as anthemic as Blitz or Crux, but had good, solid songs and a strong sound that can hold your attention without begging for it. The closest Jailer gets to flash are the catchy, multi-tracked lead guitar melodies that pop up a couple of times (most memorably on the closing track, “Human Momentum”), but while these moments might be the ones that stick out on your first listen, it’s the solidly constructed tunes that will keep you flipping this tape.
Asylum: Is This the Price? 7” (Demo Tapes) Demo Tapes, a sister label to La Vida Es Un Mus and Sealed Records, brings us a vinyl version of this obscure 1981 tape from Stoke-on-Trent, birthplace of the almighty Discharge. Formed in Discharge’s wake, Asylum took the “noise not music” aesthetic to its logical limit. In fact, while Asylum may have influenced subsequent noise merchants like Napalm Death and presaged noise punk groups like Confuse and Gai, I think the music captured on this release is even more extreme and chaotic than those bands’ output. While Asylum made their racket with musicians’ tools—guitar, bass, drums, and voice—when i listen to Is This the Price?, I question whether this is music at all, something I rarely do with even the most extreme and noisy music. While there is a hazy sense of rhythm underpinning the drummer’s thrashing and the vocalist’s shouts, I’m hard-pressed to identify even the vaguest sense of order in what is emanating from the guitar and bass amps. Yet, despite my inability to hear any sort of structure, Asylum’s “songs” have arrangements, since there are moments when one or more instruments drop out and then rejoin the cacophony, apparently on cue. Maybe these are songs, but played and/or recorded with such little regard to convention that they have nearly evaporated? I’m not sure, but I know that Is This Price? is a new (low? high?) bar for wildness, chaos, and disorder in my record collection. If that’s your thing, you gotta hear this. If not, then move along… there’s nothing for you to see here.
Barrera: S/T 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus) Visiones Nocturnas is the debut release from Barrera, a punk band from the Mallorca region of Spain. My introduction to this record was someone describing it to me as sounding similar to the noisy stylings of Sial from Singapore. I hear some similarity in the blown-out distortion of the guitars, but Barrera primarily plays at slower, more menacing tempos. The opening song “Confusa La Historia” begins with a swell that leads into a thick, permeable wall of noise. The pounding drum groove is heavy on the toms and pulses with a mechanical, marching-like rhythm. And while the drums hold everything in order, the song feels like a tense beckoning for disorderly conduct. On the surface, Barrera is mostly easily described as a hardcore band. But much like La Vida says in their description, with their restrained, brooding sense of doom, the band evokes a feeling that is alluring, sexual, and dangerous. The singer fumes with this disdainful and hypnotic persuasion that forces the listener to be engaged, but also terrified. The songs collected on this 12” are like a ceremonial gathering around a funeral pyre. I imagine someone being burned at the stake. The sound creates such a powerful illusion of dread. Barrera’s music is nightmarish, yes, but this is a nightmare that I want to revisit.
Ztuped: Are You Stupid? 7” (11PM Records) Esteemed hardcore label 11PM brings us another banger, the debut vinyl release from Washington DC’s Ztuped. The fittingly titled Are You Stupid? really begs this question of the listener. The label’s description compares Ztuped’s music to the lowbrow, drug-addled punk legacy of bands like School Jerks and Cülo. Drugface, whose art has graced several Cülo record sleeves, has even lent a killer illustration for the cover art on this EP. But contrary to the low-IQ hardcore the band name and artwork suggest, it becomes clear very quickly when listening to this EP that Ztuped are too intelligent for their own good. Don’t get me wrong; the hardcore contained within goes off the rails. Still, what I hear is a bunch of young ragers who know how to construct interesting songs. And despite all the chaos, the turbulent riffing and neck-break speed drumming are executed with such airtight precision that it’s difficult to describe what I’m hearing as “dumb.” Cülo were proper mutants whose antics felt deserving of their own Saturday morning cartoon. Ztuped come across more like queer punk cyborgs designed to lead all of us jaded, belly-scratching neanderthals into the future—which admittedly also sounds like an amazing cartoon. Again, you have to ask yourself, “Are You Stupid?” Yeah, especially if you don’t buy this record.