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Featured Release Roundup: July 5, 2017

So, I guess I missed last week’s update. Honestly, it’s been a rough few weeks for me. I’m not sure what it must seem like to be part of Sorry State from the outside, but from my end of things it’s a ton of work with extremely infrequent and erratic payoff. Lately a ton of people have been selling us records of all quantities, values, and coolness levels, and while that’s very, very cool, the combination of paying out for all of these collections and the typical sales lull that comes when the weather gets hotter means that our cash is stretched pretty thin and I’m left fretting about whether I’ll be able to pay our bills. I’m a worrier by nature, so this is really not a great position for me to be in, and circumstances like this can put my mental and physical health in a tailspin. I’ve really been running myself ragged, which eventually resulted in a 2-plus week illness, at least 10 days of which included a fever and simultaneous throat, sinus, and ear infections. And of course just because I’m sick doesn’t mean things stop being added to the to do list, which creates more worry and further feeds the cycle. This whole situation makes it very tough for me to step back, relax, and see the bigger picture, but I’m doing my best. However, enough complaining…

Before I get to the proper descriptions, I wanted to write a little bit about the Celtic Frost reissues that just came out. I don’t really feel the need to go through album by album and give you my thoughts on each, but I did want to touch on the topic because I’ve been thinking a lot about Celtic Frost lately. My friend Scott lent me Tom Warrior’s autobiography a few weeks ago and it was a very interesting read. While much of it comes off as brazenly revisionist (not to mention whiny and self-pitying), it was great to get a more thorough chronology of Celtic Frost’s career and get some insight into why they underwent the changes they did (even if you have to read that insight between the lines of Warrior’s then-current take on his own past). One of the things that I find so fascinating about Celtic Frost is how they navigated the dumb/smart axis differently than any other band I can think of. I love it when smart people play dumb (the Ramones being the prime example), but honestly I have no idea whether Celtic Frost are dumb people trying to be smart, smart people trying to be dumb, or something else entirely. They were simultaneously one of the most primitive and neanderthal-like metal bands of all time, but at the same time one of the genre’s most ambitious and least myopic. They were so daring, and the fact that the risks they took failed as often as they succeeded only makes retracing their every step even more thrilling.

It seems like Tom Warrior was closely involved in these reissues, and his meticulous attention to detail is apparent throughout. First and foremost, these records sound incredible, possibly even better than the originals. One of the reasons that I’m often wary of reissues (except when the original pressing is cost-prohibitive) is because most newly-pressed vinyl doesn’t have the depth, clarity, or power of my old records. I have so much 70s and 80s vinyl that blows the doors off of most anything pressed in the past few years. I assume that’s because the fields of vinyl cutting and manufacturing were no longer attracting first-rate engineers and that the art of cutting a loud and powerful record was slowly dying. However, with vinyl’s rise in popularity over the past few years—to the point where it’s once again seen by most music aficionados as the default physical format—it seems as though bigger labels are more willing to invest the time and money to make records sound really good, resulting in things like the recent 50th anniversary pressing of Sgt. Pepper’s (with it’s newly-created stereo mix) and these Celtic Frost reissues. And of course in addition to the superior sound, they also come with a heap of extra stuff. Each LP has a full disc of bonus material, a few poster inserts, and a full-color, 10”x10” booklet featuring a ton of vintage photos, lyrics, and liner notes, all of which are printed with the care and gravity of a big-name museum exhibition catalog. They’re really something to see.

As far as the actual music, I have to admit that Into the Pandemonium may now be my favorite Celtic Frost album. Of course I still love the early stuff, and I think that one could make a good argument that heavy metal has never been more intense than the Morbid Tales album. However, Into the Pandemonium is so artistically uncompromising that the end product has this slipperiness and un-knowability about it. The band’s craft is moving in so many new and unique directions that it’s impossible to know what they were going for or if they achieved it. All you can do is marvel at a track like “Rex Irae…” what is it? Is it metal? Classical music? Opera? How the hell did they make it? Is it just the sound of classical musicians doing their best to play over top of a primitive metal song, or is this exactly what the members heard in their head when they conceived the track? Do the performers appreciate how odd and dissonant the harmonies are, or are they just going for it blindly like Johnny Knoxville trying to skateboard? While there are, perhaps, bigger head-scratchers on the album (“I Won’t Dance” remaining the biggest… were CF really trying to fuse their primitive metal with something like Janet Jackson’s defiant R&B?), “Rex Irae” remains the most fascinating moment to me, not just because the band was bold enough to throw together that bizarre stew of influences, but moreso because it actually works.

Various: Horrendous New Wave 12” (Lumpy) Lumpy’s first compilation LP! I think that I say this every time we get in a halfway decent 12” compilation, but I have the utmost respect for anyone who is able to pull off one of these things, because the amount of work involved in coordinating all of the different contributors is really excruciating. Anyway, I’ve been listening to Horrendous New Wave a lot and the thing that sticks out to me is how it kind of undercuts the very idea of what a compilation LP is. The compilation is, at its core, a marketing tool… it’s a way to introduce people to new bands, a function that reached its most brazen incarnation with the budget-priced label sampler compilation. However, Horrendous New Wave doesn’t introduce you to any new bands, because none of the bands listed on the jacket actually exist. If you’re in the know, you might be able to identify contributions by certain people (Joe Sussman of Muff Divers / Dangus Tarkus / Nancy, Scott Plant of Droid’s Blood / Broken Prayer, folks from Lumpy-affiliated acts like Natural Man and Ms. Lady, Warm Bodies, Gibbous, and Janitor Scum), but the packaging on the record is absolutely no help in figuring out these connections, nor does said information seem to be accessible anywhere online. You don’t even really know what the conceit or point of this compilation is… are the artists giving us their interpretation of “new wave,” or is that something that was added after the fact to tie it all together? It’s altogether unclear, and while I’m sure some people will find this frustrating, I actually think it’s really cool. It reminds me of listening to compilations in the pre-internet era, when you couldn’t just Google a band you were interested in and check them out on YouTube or buy their record on Discogs. I remember getting a copy of the American Youth Report compilation when I was in high school (mail ordered from the catalog that came with my copy of Bad Religion’s Recipe for Hate), but it was another ten years before I would hear more tracks by Modern Warfare, Legal Weapon, or the Flesh Eaters. I guess that what I’m trying to say is that, as a person who is kind of addicted to contextual research, the fact that Lumpy has taken away my ability to gratify that impulse leaves me free to take each of these tracks solely on their own merits, of which they have many.

Blank Spell: Miasma 12” (World Gone Mad) After a handful of tapes and a 7”, Philadelphia’s Blank Spell hits us with their first big vinyl, and man is it a stunner! I think that my favorite thing about Blank Spell is the fact that you can’t really pin down their music to a certain genre. Blank Spell somehow bring together the creepy punk vibes of bands like 45 Grave or early Christian Death with much faster, tougher-sounding hardcore without losing what makes either genre great. The riffs and song structures can be, at times, almost dizzyingly complex, but the singularity of the vibe that Blank Spell creates across these tracks holds it all together and makes it sound unified and composed. The chorus-drenched guitars (something I usually hate, but not here) and herky-jerky rhythms make me think of Davidians and Warm Bodies, but Blank Spell have neither the cold artsiness of the former nor the loose and earthy quality of the latter, instead landing on a kind of confident propulsion that reminds me of well-oiled hardcore bands like Exit Order or Blackball, bands that seem to march relentlessly forward rather than side-stepping or zig-zagging. I know that this is all very vague and I’m getting a real (and, alas, unfortunate) “dancing about architecture” vibe from this description, but the point is that Blank Spell have created a really powerful and singular record, and one that seems destined to become a staple of my summer 2017 playlist. Highly recommended.

The Bug: Humbug; or, So Many Awful Things 7” (Not Normal) I’ve been a big fan of the Bug since they started, but this new 7” brings things to a whole different level, quickly catapulting the Bug to “one of my favorite current bands” status. It’s funny, when I’ve tried to describe this record to people I generally compare it to the Mozart 7”, early Wretched, or call it something like “anti-music” because it’s so loose and wild, but on the other hand I think that what makes Humbug by far the best release from the Bug so far is that they’ve managed to capture things with just a hair more coherence and clarity. Previous, the Bug were so wild and anarchic that at times their expressionistic bursts could sound like a bunch of people wildly banging on their instruments. However, the clarity of the production on Humbug makes it clear that there’s some order to the chaos, if only an incredibly idiosyncratic one. My favorite part of Humbug is listening to the guitar and bass play off of one another… actually “play off” might be too strong of a word, because it often sounds like they’re playing completely different songs. Just listen to my favorite track on the EP, the expertly-titled “Late Lunch Sogged with Grease,” and try to figure out what on earth the bass and guitar lines have to do with one another. I’ve listened like ten times and I can’t figure it out, but I absolutely LOVE it. As with the Mozart 7”, here the Bug manage to combine the almost innocent sense of experimentation of free jazz with the manic energy of hardcore… something that’s actually really, really hard to do in practice. If you love Mozart, or if you tend to gravitate toward hardcore bands with a left-of-center aesthetic (Mystic Inane, Lemonade, Warm Bodies) this should be at the top of your list of stuff to check out.

Pierre et Bastien: Musique Grecque 12” (SDZ) Latest record from this French band who have been around for a couple of years. It’s been out for a few months now, but due to a shipping mis-hap we’re only just now getting our copies. I think it’s worth the wait, though, as Pierre et Bastien play some of the catchiest and most memorable garage-punk around. While the punchy and clear production can make this sound at first glance like some of the standout modern garage bands like Marked Men, Radioactivity, Video, etc., when you listen to these songs closely there’s a real Euro-punk vibe to them, particularly the marriage of dense, catchy riffs that recall the Stooges or Radio Birdman with a detached, almost robotic vocal style that sounds a bit like Devo or Kraftwerk, though perhaps not quite as inhuman as either. Complimenting those low-affect vocals is the way that every song seems to bob along at roughly the same tempo, giving this album a hypnotic quality that you don’t typically hear from stuff in this genre. If you’re looking for that big, catchy chorus this might not be for you, but if you like ’77-style punk as well as heartbeat-steady rhythms this one just may catch your ear.

Mikey Young: Your Move Vol 1 12” (Moniker) Solo debut from Australian Mikey Young, who you may know as the guitarist of Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, the Ooga Boogas, and others I’m sure. While Young’s work with bands spans a pretty wide breadth, this solo project seems to extend the line of thought begun on Total Control tracks like “Liberal Party” and “The Hunter.” However, since none of these tracks have vocals, the overall vibe is quite different. I really like how it’s tough to pin a genre tag on Your Move Vol 1… though there’s a steady pulse, the beat isn’t insistent enough to call it dance music, and though the instrumentation is largely similar the lack of vocals keeps it from being classified alongside new wave and minimal synth music like the early Human League. Instead, the closest thing that I can think of vibe-wise is non-heavy Krautrock like Neu!, Kraftwerk circa Autobahn, or maybe Harmonia. The layering of sounds is quite dense (mostly synth and drum machine, though I do hear a little bit of bass and I think even a heavily treated guitar at one point), but that steady pulse holds it all together as you listen to the different sounds swoop in and out of the mix. This is the kind of album I can have on in the background while I’m reading, or it can hold my sole attention if I’m listening to it while I’m working out. It’s really a beautiful little record, and if you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned I think this is well worth your time.

Wiccans: Sailing a Crazy Ship 12” (Dull Tools) This new full-length from Texas’s Wiccans is a nice surprise… I’m not sure I even realized they were still together, but as is the case with similarly unexpected recent full-lengths from other Texas bands like Glue and Institute, I’ll certainly take it. Wiccans have always seemed to have one toe in the garage scene (which makes sense as they’re from Denton and share members with several garage-ier bands like Bad Sports, Video, and Radioactivity), but Sailing a Crazy Ship is pure hardcore, if somewhat quirky. It’s actually kind of tough to pin down precisely what is so quirky about it, because Sailing a Crazy Ship is almost uniformly fast and loud, but it just doesn’t sound like any other hardcore record. The production and mix emphasize aspects of the music that most hardcore bands don’t tend to place the focus on, particularly quirky, angular guitar riffs that would be just as at home in a Video song if they were played about 3/4 as fast and didn’t have the snarling, manic vocals (which, as Jeff pointed out to me, sound quite a lot like the singer for Glue). And like Video’s best stuff, this LP feels like a real journey… not just a sequence of riffs or songs, Sailing a Crazy Ship seems to go somewhere, and better yet goes somewhere I didn’t expect to go and didn’t even really know existed. That Wiccans manage to be so original while keeping pretty much everything I love about hardcore in the first place is a real achievement.

Entombed: Left Hand Path 12” (Earache) I was born in 1979, so I’m old enough that my journey toward underground music started a little bit before Nirvana broke, but not quite early enough that I was a full-on metalhead in the 80s. As I entered my tween years, I searched out the most intense and weird music I could find, groping around in a number of different directions… Metallica, Faith No More, Guns N Roses, Sonic Youth… whatever I could get my hands on. And even after Nirvana kind of changed everything in 1992, some metal still slipped onto my playlist here and there… Biohazard, Pantera, Slayer… basically anything that could match the intensity of the punk rock I was discovering at the time. However, sometime around 93 or 94 (when I was 14 or 15) I learned enough about the punk rulebook to understand that metal was verboten, and I pretty much stopped listening to it (with the exception of bands like Converge, Cave In, and Dillinger Escape Plan, who at the time weren’t really classified as metal, at least to me) for a very long time. I give you this long introduction because when I finally got metal-curious again (I’m guessing this is sometime in the mid-00s, after a solid decade of listening to pretty much nothing but punk and hardcore), Entombed’s Left Hand Path was one of the things that really grabbed my ear. I remember my bandmate Matt from Cross Laws giving me a big stack of metal CDs by bands like Celtic Frost, Asphyx, Sodom, Bathory… stuff that was a little too underground for me to have come across it when I was a teenager in the pre-internet age. While I have come to really love all of those bands, at the time Left Hand Path was the record I couldn’t stop listening to, and sitting down with it again now that this reissue is available, I’m still struck by how punk rock it sounds. Despite the fact that it is indisputably a death metal record—there’s nothing a death metal record should have that it doesn’t, and nothing that it has that would be out of place on any other death metal record—there’s something about this record that really appeals to a punk/hardcore sensibility. What is that? I have absolutely no idea, and no one I’ve talked to about it has really been able to articulate it any more precisely. So, this whole long, rambling biographical treatise is basically to say that if you’re into hardcore but you’re metal-curious, check out Left Hand Path. It may just be the record that turns you.

Haldol: The Totalitarianism of Everyday Life 12” (World Gone Mad) Haldol’s previous LP (their second) was one of my absolute favorites of 2015, and it’s one that I still revisit frequently. Everyone at Sorry State loves it, and I’d be willing to wager that it’s one of the all-time most-played pieces of vinyl on the shop’s turntable. So, to say that I was anticipating this new album was something of an understatement. However, as with most great bands, Haldol don’t quite give us exactly what we expect. While the overall sound and vibe haven’t really changed, The Totalitarianism of Everyday Life strikes me as a much more complex and perhaps even difficult record. It’s not so much that it’s off-putting or difficult to listen to, but rather it’s so dense with ideas and so original that you can’t really wrap your head around it quickly. I’ve probably listened to this LP a dozen times already in the 5 days or so since it showed up in the mail, and each listen still provokes the same feelings of discovery and slight disorientation as the first. It reminds me of a Rubik’s cube… when one idea twists into place and starts to make sense, it means that another one that you weren’t paying attention to shifts out from underneath you and when you return to it it’s not quite what you remembered. Sound-wise, this is very much in the “death rock” meets hardcore vein… if you like the sound of bands like Rudimentary Peni, Part 1, or early Christian Death you will like the sound of this record. But for me, it’s not so much about the sound as about the songs themselves, and I feel like these songs would retain their cryptic beauty no matter what kind of window dressing you put on them. It’ll be interesting to see how the scene reacts to this record… I could see its complexity causing it to pass by with little notice, or I could see Haldol becoming a huge punk band off the back of this record. I suppose time will tell, but I can assure you that, like their previous LP, The Totalitarianism of Everyday Life is a record that I will remain captivated by and continue to treasure for a long time.

All New Arrivals
Echo & the Bunnymen: It's All Live Now 12' (Run Out Groove)
Saccharine Trust: The Great One Is Dead 12" (Recess)
Fifteen: Extra Medium Kickball Star 12" (Dead Broke)
The Cure: Greatest Hits 12" (Elektra)
The Cure: Greatest Hits Acoustic 12" (Elektra)
Carcass: Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious 12" (Earache)
Celtic Frost: Vanity / Nemesis 12" (Noise)
Celtic Frost: To Mega Therion 12" (Noise)
Celtic Frost: Morbid Tales 12" (Noise)
Celtic Frost: Into the Pandemonium 12" (Noise)
Entombed: Left Hand Path 12" (Earache)
Beach House: B-sides and Rarities 12" (Sub Pop)
of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? 12" (Polyvinyl)
John Holt: 1000 Volts of Holt 12" (Trojan)
The Coathangers: Parasite 12" (Suicide Squeeze)
FREE: Ex Tenebris 7" (Triple B)
Swans: The Great Annihilator 12" (Young God)
Judy & the Jerks: 3 Songs from Us to You cassette (self-released)
The Snails: Demos 7" (Neck Chop)
Process of Elimination: S/T 7" (Neck Chop)
Sick Thoughts: Songs About People You Hate 12" (Neck Chop)
Mark Cone: Now Showing 12" (Neck Chop)
Various: Horrendous New Wave 12" (Lumpy)
Various: My Meat's Your Poison 12" (Euro Import)
The Teenage Graves: S/T 12" (Ken Rock)
The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead 7" (picture disc; Rhino)
The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead 12" (Rhino)
The Idylls: Why / White Lies 7" (Richmond; dead stock)
Gloria Balsam: Fluffy 7" (Richmond; dead stock)
Video Rouge: Little Red Book / Total Destruction 7" (Richmond; dead stock)
Earth Quake: Mr. Security / Madness 7" (Berserkeley; dead stock)
Paranoid: Live At HAGL Fest 7" flexi (At War with False Noise)
Rash: Midnight Crooner 7" (IFB)
Landbridge: Autarch: Split 12" (IFB)
Various: Eight Feet Under Vol 1 12" (IFB)
The Bug: Humbug; or, So Many Awful Things 7" (IFB)
Lion's Share: Demo II cassette (self-released)
Jietai: Demo 1979-1980 12" (pre-the Stalin; Euro Import)
Selkäsauna: Pyromaani 12" (Punk Off)
Blank Spell: Miasma 12" (WGM)
Haldol: The Totalitarianism of Everyday Life 12" (WGM)
Iron Bars: demo cassette (self-released)
Rotting Christ: Non Serviam 12" (Peaceville)
Goatwhore: Vengeful Ascension 12" (Metal Blade)
Tracy Bryant: Parachute 7" (Volar)
Chain & the Gang: Best of Crime Rock 12" (In the Red)
Modern Art: Oriental Towers 12" (Color Tapes)
Fred Schneider & the Superions: The Vertical Mind 12" (HHBTM)
Bad Posture: C/S 12" (Mono)
Male Gaze: Miss Taken 12" (Castleface)
Nots: Cruel Friend 7" (Goner)
Wiccans: Sailing a Crazy Ship 12" (Dull Tools)
Mikey Young: Your Move Vol 1 12" (Moniker)

Nosferatu: S/T 7" (Lumpy)
Q: S/T 7" (Lumpy)
CCTV: S/T 7" (Lumpy)
Lumpy & the Dumpers: Huff My Sack 12" (Lumpy)
Perverts Again: Our Big Party 12" (Non Commercial)
Swans: The Great Annihilator 12" (Young God)
Niku-dan: Discography 12" (Euro Import)
Ghost Bath: Moonlover 12" (Season of Mist)
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls 12" (ATO)
Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color 12" (ATO)
Country Teasers: Secret Weapon Revealed 12" (In the Red)
Crass: Feeding of the 5,000 12" (Southern)
Feederz: Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss 12" (Broken)
Alain Goraguer: La Planete Sauvage 12" (Superior Viaduct)
Hot Snakes: Audit in Progress 12" (Swami)
Hot Snakes: Automatic Midnight 12" (Swami)
Jawbreaker: 24 Hour Revenge Therapy 12" (Blackball)
Jawbreaker: Unfun 12" (Blackball)
Jawbreaker: Bivouac 12" (Blackball)
Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady 12" (Superior Viaduct)
Thee Oh Sees: Mutilator Defeated at Last 12" (Castleface)
Sleep: Volume One 12" (Tupelo)
The Sound: From the Lion's Mouth 12" (1972)
The Sound: Jeopardy 12" (1972)
Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation 12" (Goofin')
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard: Murder of the Universe 12" (Castleface)

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