Featured Releases: July 15 2021
Erik Nervous: Bugs! 12” (Violent Pest Records) We’ve been fans of Erik Nervous for a while now, watching his music get better and better with each release. Nowadays he’s pretty much king of the Egg Punks, though I wouldn’t even call Bugs! egg punk anymore… this record doesn’t sound anything like the Coneheads, lacking the lo-fi production values, goofy sense of humor, and sloppy playing style that characterizes most bands playing in that milieu. Instead, Bugs! is a record that sounds much more classic. I’m a sucker for that sound that sits in the fuzzy space where hardcore, classic punk, and garage rock blend together. I loved it when the Dickies did it in the 70s, when the Zero Boys did it in the 80s, when Teengenerate did it in the 90s, when the Carbonas did it in the 00s, and I love what Erik Nervous is doing right now. While I want to put Bugs! in that tradition of high-intensity, riff-oriented punk, it’s also of a piece with recent records by bands like Dark Thoughts and Liquids; I think of these bands as pop-punk for (and likely by) people who also listen to Gauze. That might seem like an off the wall reference for something so catchy and song-oriented, but listen to “Our Hungry Fruit,” the first proper track on Bugs!, and tell me you don’t hear it… that track is a 50-second slice of lightning-fast, acrobatically played hardcore that sounds like something from Selfish Records rather than Lookout!. It’s the only song in that vein, but fuck… what a way to start the record! From there, Erik returns to the nervy, catchy punk that he’s known for, delivering his best batch of songs yet. Erik has released multiple EPs of Devo covers (specializing in fleshed-out versions of early tracks that only exist in raw, homemade recordings), and it’s clear that he’s moved beyond imitating superficial aspects of Devo’s sound—the robotic rhythms and triumphant synth melodies—and has internalized the great songwriting that found its best expression on Freedom of Choice. Like the Psico Galera record I also wrote about this week, this is one of those records I just can’t stop playing… every time I flip past that awesome red, black, and white artwork I have to throw it on, and I never regret the choice.
Toxic Waste: Belfast 12” (Sealed Records) Sealed Records digs up another gem from the 80s anarcho scene’s deep well, this time from Belfast’s Toxic Waste, a band that played politically charged anarcho punk in Northern Ireland during the period of violent unrest known as the Troubles. I wish I had more details about Toxic Waste’s story, but I feel certain the band’s environment fuels some of the potency that is so apparent on this disc. Belfast is actually a reissue of a reissue, since this record’s original 1987 pressing included tracks from earlier releases alongside rerecordings of older tracks (with a couple of folks from D.I.R.T. subbing in) (also worth noting if you’re a fan of D.I.R.T.: Toxic Waste sounds a lot like D.I.R.T.). As for the music, I hear elements of many sounds that were popular at the time, from bruising, Riot City-style punk to the Subhumans’ more adventurous, proggy vibes (I hear this in the fast and noodly bass playing) as well as the more pop-oriented side of anarcho I associate with Zounds and Hagar the Womb. The mix of styles keeps things interesting, portioning out bits that are more raging, more instrospective, or more melodic without spending too much time in any particular groove. Toxic Waste attacks whatever mode they’re playing in with energy and passion. Their playing feels loose and Crass-like, organic and alive, and the recordings are clear and punchy, perfectly underproduced. Fans of vintage anarcho punk can’t go wrong with this record.
Candy Apple: Sweet Dreams of Violence 12” (Convulse Records) I’ve been keeping an eye on Denver’s Convulse Records for a while, but when this LP from Candy Apple showed up, the eye-catching artwork demanded closer inspection. I’m a sucker for graphics that combine high art pretension with punk thuggery (see also: most of Gag’s artwork, but particularly the This Punk Shit Is Cool But I Hope I Am Rob Zombie When I Am 28 12”), and Sweet Dreams of Violence nails that vibe (even moreso on the additional photos on the back cover and insert). As for the music, the first part of the record will sound familiar to anyone who has followed the Denver hardcore scene over the past several years. A lot of recent bands from Denver, Candy Apple included, combine elements of early 80s USHC and late 80s NYHC with a hint of black metal and a production style that resembles blown-out 4-track experimenters like early Royal Trux and the Dead C. It’s a unique and instantly identifiable sound and that’s the vibe for the first few tracks of Sweet Dreams of Violence. But then the record takes a turn. From the third track forward, Candy Apple works in grungy noise rock riffs that remind me of Nirvana’s Bleach and the less melodic parts of Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me. While the hardcore stuff is good, this material is even more exciting, with great riffs that are a perfect match for Candy Apple’s lo-fi, blown-out production. If your tastes span both hardcore and noise rock, I recommend giving Candy Apple a shot.
Zodiak: S/T 7” (Distort Reality Records) After a flexi and a split 7”, Tokyo’s Zodiak gives us their debut stand-alone release on the perfect US label for them, Distort Reality Records. In case you missed those earlier Zodiak releases (which, I believe, were all recorded at the same session as the four tracks that appear here), Zodiak is part of their country’s long tradition of abrasive, exciting hardcore bands. The guitar sound is an ear-piercing squeal that it almost hurts to listen to, like they heard the most abrasive Disorder recordings and thought to themselves, “this is cool, but it could use even more treble.” Rather than manic pogo beats, Zodiak’s rhythms are heavier and groovier; while I’m sure there are Japanese bands I could compare them to (like maybe Kuro?), it really reminds me of North American bands like S.H.I.T. and Blazing Eye, the latter of which also bears some similarity to Zodiak in the vocal department. There are a lot of bands working in this vein but one thing that separates Zodiak from the pack is that it doesn’t feel so on the nose. One thing that initially attracted me to Japanese hardcore is that it didn’t seem like it was made for Western consumption… the lyrics were full of idioms I didn’t understand, and the graphics and design felt like they were referencing conventions I didn’t know about. Zodiak gives me that same feeling with their inscrutable lyrics and their colorful, collage-style artwork. If you’re looking for that sense of wonder rather than just another record that sounds like Discharge or Confuse, this EP is for you.
Mindkiller: S/T 7” (Distort Reality Records) Distort Reality brings us the debut 7” from Mindkiller, a new band featuring people who used to be in Khiis, whom you might remember from their releases on cool labels we like here at Sorry State like Distort Reality, Discos Enfermos, and La Vida Es Un Mus. I don’t know how much of Khiis’s membership carried over to Mindkiller, but the sound is similar and if you like Khiis, this is a no-brainer. The sound is heavy and metallic yet catchy and memorable, sitting somewhere between Death Side’s Wasted Dream and the Cro-Mags Age of Quarrel, though the shouted vocals and penchant for moshable mid-paced parts also reminds me of Torso (a band I also referenced when describing Khiis). Just as Torso takes Totalitär-inspired d-beat and makes it palatable to the straight edge crowd, Mindkiller takes the triumphant gallop of Burning Spirits hardcore and infuses it with the best elements of American hardcore.
Neighborhood Brats: Confines of Life 12” (Dirt Cult) Like the Erik Nervous album I also wrote about this week, Confines of Life is a new record from a band I’ve liked for a long time (this is Neighborhood Brats’ third full-length) that sits in that zone where hardcore, punk, and garage rock overlap. However, Neighborhood Brats have a different recipe. Where Erik Nervous’s music is grounded in the Dickies’ and Devo’s tightly wound rhythms, Neighborhood Brats foregrounds influences from melodic SoCal hardcore (everything from the Adolescents up to Night Birds (and yes I’m aware Night Birds are from New Jersey)) and anthemic ’77 UK punk. It’s the latter element of their sound that shapes my favorite tracks on Confines of Life. Check out “Miss America Pageant,” which starts with a classic-sounding riff that would make Derwood from Generation X proud, or “Transitional Housing,” which borrows the rock-and-roll swagger of my favorite UK Subs tracks and climaxes in a chorus that is straight up transcendent. Moments like this shine even brighter because Confines of Life is such a diverse record, with plenty of ripping hardcore and bouncy, melodic surf alongside the anthemic punk. And then there are the lyrics, which examine contemporary American social issues with the bluntness and clarity you want from punk rock. I know some people don’t have a taste for this kind of melodic hardcore, and that’s fine, but if you like this style, you’re fucking up if you sleep on Confines of Life.