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Featured Releases: May 13 2021

Spike in Vain: Death Drives a Cadillac 12” (Scat Records) Death Drives a Cadillac is the second Spike in Vain album that I never knew existed until I heard about this release on Scat Records. I guess I can forgive myself, because I can’t find any evidence that the recording had been released in any capacity until now. This description is going to assume that you’re already familiar with Spike in Vain’s one proper album, Disease Is Relative, so if you don’t know about that already, read about that album first. Or better yet, just buy it because it is one of the great unheralded punk LPs of the 80s. As someone who has long treasured my copy of Disease Is Relative, I didn’t know what to expect from Death Drives a Cadillac, but I dove in head-first and was rewarded with a great follow-up. Most of the things I love about Spike in Vain are present on Death Drives a Cadillac: the surreal lyrics, knotty rhythms, inventive guitar playing, sinister vibe, great artwork, and—most importantly—the band’s talent for bringing punk energy to a sound that is more or less art rock. I know nothing about the people who comprised Spike in Vain or what they were listening to but my impression is that—like Saccharine Trust, the Meat Puppets, or United Mutation—Spike in Vain was a bunch of arty weirdos who were drawn to hardcore because it was a freak scene. However, by 1984 and 1985, when Spike in Vain recorded Death Drives a Cadillac, the artier end of hardcore had splintered off, the meathead element pushing them toward genres like post-punk and roots music that offered more room for innovation and experimentation. Thus, Death Drives a Cadillac reminds me less of hardcore records and more of bands like the Gun Club, (2nd album and beyond) Meat Puppets, and the Birthday Party, all of whom seemed to value hardcore’s intensity but despised its strict norms. While some of that “post-hardcore” music could sound wimpy or commercial, this is not the case with Death Drives a Cadillac. This is still underground weirdo music, but it’s underground weirdo music with a wider palette and a sense of curiosity about what other emotions and ideas are out there. There isn’t a dud on Death Drives a Cadillac, which is surprising given that it’s a relatively lengthy LP (13 tracks!) and hadn’t been circulated until now. The sound is also great. Scat’s description mentions that these recordings had a bigger budget than Disease Is Relative, but I don’t hear any dodgy 80s production choices. If you already have and love Disease Is Relative, I’m can confirm that Death Drives a Cadillac is well worth your time and attention.

Disattack: A Bomb Drops 12” (Demo Tapes) Disattack was a short-lived band from Merseyside, England, and their claims to fame are that they featured a 15-year-old Bill Steer before he was in Napalm Death or Carcass and that they ripped off Discharge earlier than most people thought of doing it. That’s the short version, but as this package from Demo Tapes Records proves, there’s so much more to the story. If you’re concerned about the music, it’s cool, but it’s not the total Discharge worship you might expect. While you can hear hints of the Scandinavian style that had emerged by the time they recorded this tape (which they were aware of… one of Disattack’s members ran the label that released Anti-Cimex’s Criminal Trap 12”), most of the songs here do a lot more than just rearrange Discharge parts into new patterns. If you’re into obscure British and European crust from the early to mid-80s, though, you’ll get plenty of spins out of this 1-sided 12”. However, what I enjoyed most about A Bomb Drops was the thick booklet, which told the band’s story through a mix of archival documents and interviews with Negative Insight fanzine from 2015. Disattack started as a joke in a fanzine—the 80s punk equivalent of a meme—then morphed into a functioning band and fell apart after a few months. However, it’s the details—including encounters with future metal superstars and international d-beat legends—that make the story interesting. I can think of very few packages that tell a band’s story more eloquently than this one. This is only for the real punk nerds, but if you’re one of those people, you’re gonna love it.

Execütors: The New Decline 7” (Mister Face Records) New Jersey oi! band the Execütors has been around for several years now, putting out releases on a variety of labels (in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen their All Against All LP in the bins at Sorry State), but this is the first time I’ve given them a close listen. I threw in copies of The New Decline when I was ordering copies of the Violent Way 7” from Mister Face Records. I think it might have been out for a minute, but it’s new to me and it fucking rips! Neo-oi! and UK82 punk have been a big thing in Sorry State’s distro for the past several years with bands like Rixe and Condor getting a lot of attention, but Execütors’ sound is less retro than most of the bands we’ve heaped praise on over the past few years. The cleaner, fuller sound works for them, though, because they are more complex and dynamic than most music I hear in this vein. Execütors remind me a lot of the two singles by the great UK82 / oi! band the Blood. As with the Blood’s tracks like “Stark Raving Normal” and “Megalomania,” Execütors bring an energy level, complexity, and dynamism to their music that reminds me of the Damned circa Machine Gun Etiquette. In other words, rather than recreating the surface trappings of a style, they put their energy toward writing great pop songs and delivering them with maximum speed and intensity. If you’re looking for an under the radar ripper, check this one out.

Artistic Decline: 4 Song 7” 7” (Meat House) Meat House has been killing it with the SoCal punk reissues. Rather than the lavish retrospective packaging of labels like Radio Raheem, Meat House does straight reissues that have great sound and packaging that is very true to the original release, and that pattern holds for this reissue from Artistic Decline. Artistic Decline is one of those bands I was vaguely familiar with; I’ve seen their Random Violence 12” a few time and they have a track on the 1983 compilation Life Is Boring So Why Not Steal This Record, but I don’t recall listening to them much, if at all. I’m glad to hear them now, though, because this 4 song EP is killer. While the original date on the EP is 1983, this sounds more like something that would have come from the Masque era of LA punk. The guitar sound is a little thinner and the music seems oblivious to hardcore’s then-calcifying genre conventions. They remind me of the bands on Keats Rides a Harley or Cracks in the Sidewalk, and like this week’s Record of the Week by Cleveland’s Spike in Vain, it seems to capture a time when hardcore had an artier, more expressive side. “Andy Warhol” is the hit here with its chanting, Rhino 39-esque chorus, but you won’t be skipping any of the four tracks. If you’re a fan of late 70s / early 80s SoCal punk and you’re not in the market for a $100 original, this is a great pickup.

Blood Ties: S/T 7” (Slow Death Records) We carried a demo tape from Canada’s Blood Ties a while back, and now they’re back with their debut 10-song EP. If I had to sum up Blood Ties’ sound, I’d say they sound like music made by and for people who consider the Negative Approach EP the purest and greatest expression of hardcore. It’s not that Blood Ties is imitating Negative Approach (in fact, I occasionally get a whiff of something that reminds me more of United Blood or Siege), but rather they are summoning the same muse. It’s hardcore stripped down to its bare essentials, that takes loud, fast, and pissed to its undiluted Platonic ideal, with only the bare skeleton of English oi! to give it the faint outline of musical shape. If you share this philosophy on hardcore—I do, even if there’s plenty of room in my listening diet for other things—I can’t imagine you wouldn’t think this rips… it’s raw, pissed, fast, and perfectly executed in every way. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but sometimes what you need is good old fashioned meat and potatoes.

Go Lamborghini Go: Low 12” (Mangel Records) I’m not sure how many people have caught onto them in the US, but for my money, Germany’s Mangel Records is poised to become the hot new label. Their latest release is this debut 12” from Germany’s Go Lamborghini Go, and like the Ostseetraum 12” Mangel Put out a couple of months ago (which I’m still listening to regularly), I can’t get enough of Go Lamborghini Go. Part of this record’s charm is that I can’t figure it out. The label’s description notes that Go Lamborghini Go formed as a last-minute substitute for another band and that all of their music is improvised (except the vocals, which are overdubbed later). These circumstances and choices seem to color the music on Low. First, it’s difficult to pin down stylistically. While there is a Gang of Four-ish quality to the songs that have a bass groove at the center, “Truce” sounds like shoegaze to me, and the a-side closer “Cheap” is a short skronk-fest that reminds me of Can’s least accessible moments. Not only is listening to this record exciting because you never know what’s going to happen next, it also makes me realize how controlled and mannered a lot of the music I listen to is. And of course, beyond just being eclectic, the music here is full of powerful moments. Like the Ostseetraum record I mentioned above, I find myself playing this record over and over. It’s like a puzzle I can’t figure out but keep chipping away at.

Featured Releases: May 6 2021

Alien Nosejob:  HC45-2 7” (Iron Lung Records) In an update full of ripping hardcore, Alien Nosejob’s new EP stands out as perhaps the most ripping of them all. To bring you up to speed, Alien Nosejob is a solo project by Jake Robertson of Ausmuteants, Leather Towel, Hierophants, and many others. If you’ve checked out Leather Towel’s killer album IV or the first of Alien Nosejob’s HC45 series, you know Robertson is no stranger to straightforward, ripping hardcore. However,  HC45-2 is something else, even from the first record in the series. This record is just raging, full-on, pedal to the metal intensity. Robertson doesn’t have a clear precedent in the tradition of hardcore vocalists, and that means that even when his bands are playing at blazing tempos, they sound more like the Dickies than, say, the Neos. But on HC45-2 the vocals are lower in the mix and obliterated by chaotic guitar feedback, and Robertson takes a rougher and less nasal vocal approach. It still sounds like him, but it sounds like him after a couple of years getting bounced around juvenile detention centers. And the songs themselves are masterpieces of compositionally compressed, ultra-dynamic hardcore. This record leaps and lunges and plunges and explodes in all the right ways, an 8 minute thrill ride that holds nothing back.

Evil I: Official Bootleg 12” (Alonas Dream) Alonas Dream Records delivers another outta the ballpark hardcore punk reissue, this time an unheard 1983 ripper from suburban Chicago band Evil I. As far as I know, Evil I has never been reissued in any capacity, and if you knew Evil I before this reissue and you weren’t going to shows in Chicago in the 80s, I am seriously impressed at the depth of your knowledge. For me, they’re a totally new band, and I can’t believe something this killer has flown under the radar for so long. When I first listened to this record, I was blown away. While the recording is very raw, the band just fucking blazes. It’s not that they’re super tight—in fact, they’re pretty loosey goosey—but they are super fast and their songs are full of these changes that are quirky, tricky to execute, and extremely potent. The other standout aspect of Evil I is their vocalist, who sounds so fucking pissed. The singer reminds me of Julie Lanfeld from Sin 34, but with a maniacal, John Brannon-like level of anger. There isn’t much material here, which means I’m going to flipping this record a lot. Maybe I should buy two.

Silent Era: Rotate the Mirror 12” (Nervous Intent) California’s Silent Era has been around and releasing records for a while now—we’ve even carried most of them at Sorry State—but I feel like I’ve slept on them. I FUCKED UP! I cannot stop listening to Rotate the Mirror. I can see why Silent Era isn’t a hyped band, because their style of melodic hardcore is one that never caught on the US. They seem more in tune with a tradition of European bands who were rooted in the early 80s hardcore scene but, as that decade wore on, added more melody and complexity to their songwriting. I’m thinking of bands like Funeral Oration, HDQ, and particularly Norwegian bands like Kafka Prosess and So Much Hate (though Silent Era’s vocals are much more melodic than those bands). Not only did a scene for this style of music never catch on in the US, but also it lacks some immediacy because there’s so much going on. The riffs are dense and complex on their own and when you add equally complex vocal melodies and restless hardcore drumming (Silent Era’s drummer was the original drummer for fucking Vaaska!), it takes some time for your ear to make sense of everything Silent Era throws at you. Once you hear it, though, it makes other melodic punk bands sound flat and sterile by comparison. And for extra cool points, they end this blistering 20-minute record with an Upright Citizens cover, though not a fast one like “Swastika Rats…” instead they cover “Future Dreams,” one of Upright Citizens’ most melodic songs, and they nail it, possibly even improving on the original. I acknowledge this won’t be for everyone, but if it sounds like it might be for you, be sure to check out Rotate the Mirror.

The Serfs: S/T 7” (Market Square Records) You may remember a previous release, Sounds of Serfdom, by Ohio’s the Serfs; we carried a vinyl version on Germany’s Detriti Records and a cassette version on the domestic Wasted Tapes label. This time around they’re back with a three-song single on Market Square Records, who has brought us great releases from the Cool Greenhouse, Collate, and Suburban Homes. If you liked Sounds of Serfdom, you’ll want to check out this new single, but if you haven’t heard the band, they’re a little difficult to describe. While their songs revolve around a steady, metronomic pulse, some tracks (like the two songs on the a-side) have an organic, garage-y feel that sounds a little like the Oh Sees’ most Can-inspired moments, while others have an electronic groove that’s more in line with the bands on Detriti (including that label’s most famous band, Molchat Doma). That contrast worked well on Sounds of Serfdom, but the two sides of this single almost sound like different bands. The issue isn’t that one is better than the other, but that I want to hear more of both sounds and this single is frustratingly short. If you’re into punk singles, you’re probably OK with the tease, but hopefully this is just a snack to hold us over until the next Serfs release.

X-Intruder: Punished For The Crime Of Lacking In Judgement 12” Debut release from this UK solo project. If I’m reading the description correctly, the person who is X-Intruder is also the owner of the long-running UK punk label No Front Teeth. While No Front Teeth has released a few bands I know and like (like Sick Bags), I don’t know much about the label, so I’m coming in without too many preconceptions. The description mentions Lost Sounds and I can hear that in the snotty, heavily accented vocals and the catchiness of the songs, but X-Intruder is much more hardcore. It sounds like there’s a lot of Plastic Surgery Disasters-era Dead Kennedys in X-Intruder’s DNA, particularly the overall dramatic flair and the East Bay Ray-like ability to craft memorable guitar hooks. My only complaint—though many people would see this as a plus—is that Punished For The Crime Of Lacking In Judgement is a bit long. While 26 minutes is a short full-length by any normal person’s standards, my frame of reference has been ruined by far too many 7”s and short-ass 12” 45s. If you’re a glutton for fast and catchy hardcore punk, though, this is what you want.

Prison Affair: 2 7” (Erste Theke Tonträger) I don’t know much about Prison Affair except that they (if indeed it’s more than one person) are from Barcelona and this EP, 2, is their first vinyl release. It comes to us via Germany’s Erste Theke Tonträger and fits right in on the label that brought the Coneheads album to the masses. (Aside: it frustrates me that the style of punk Coneheads pioneered still doesn’t have a coherent, generally accepted name. I can’t fuck with “Devo-core.”) Prison Affair has the mutant Chuck Berry licks, direct-to-board guitar sound, fast closed hi-hat drumming, and over the top tape warble you want from this style, and if you buy genre records in this genre, I can’t see any reason you wouldn’t love it. I do, however, think Prison Affair brings something new to the style. I hear this most clearly on my favorite track, “Entre Barrotes,” which has a melancholy-sounding chord progression that reminds me of the Buzzcocks’ “Harmony in My Head.” The tension between that gloomy chord structure and the relentless cheer of the riffing style results in a spectacular track. While that song is the highlight, there are elements of that originality all over 2. If you like this style, this is a no brainer; and even if you don’t, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on here if you’re willing to hear beyond the surface level.

Featured Releases: April 22 2021

Codigo Neurotico: S/T 7” (Discos Enfermos) First ever vinyl reissue for this killer Spanish punk record from 1983. I put this EP on my want list years ago but haven’t found a copy, so it was a treat to get this reissue and spend some time with it. Codigo Neurotico started in Barcelona in 1982, released this EP in 1983, and (according to some quick research) put the band on pause so the members could complete their compulsory military service then restarted the group and released a string of albums beginning with 1987’s  La Maqueta Roja. Many 80s Spanish punk bands had more UK ’77 in their sound than the worldwide scenes that more fully embraced hardcore, and Codigo Neurotico fit that mold. Tracks like “Totus Tous” and “Las Malvinas” sound a bit like 70s European punk bands Ivy Green, the Kids, or Lost Kids, while tracks like “Pega a Tu Mama” pick up the tempo to hardcore speeds without losing the catchiness. The production is great, the energy level is high, the songs are awesome… this is just an all-around great punk EP and I’m very stoked it’s available again. Even better, Discos Enfermos did a bang-up job with the reissue, featuring great sound and a great looking reproduction of the original sleeve.

Woodstock ’99: S/T 7” (self-released) Here’s the story on Woodstock ’99 as I understand it. The Richmond, Virginia band Cement Shoes underwent a lineup change before their Australian tour in the Fall of 2019; this is the lineup that recorded (in my opinion) their best record, A Love Story of Drugs & Rock & Roll & Drugs, which came out on Drunken Sailor Records in 2020. After the tour the band dissolved and 3 of the 4 members started the incredibly named project Woodstock ’99, with all three members planning to uproot and relocate to Cleveland. Cleveland always seemed like Cement Shoes’ spiritual homeland, anyway. Though the band was based in Richmond, Cement Shoes took a lot of inspiration from the irreverent, nihilistic punk that was and is a hallmark of the rust belt. I think the lockdown hit the week they were moving, but they went anyway, recording a demo and tracks for this EP with Richmond’s Bob Quirk (who has done great stuff like the most recent Destruct and Enforced LPs, among many others) before they left town. A year later we have this criminally limited (100 copies!) EP. It fucking smokes, too! While Cement Shoes’ irreverence is still very much there, aside from some over the top rhythmic stops and starts, Woodstock ’99 keeps the music straightforwardly hardcore, letting their love of Poison Idea (all eras) show through. This is hardcore that’s heavy, groovy, powerful, and well constructed, and it’s nice to hear a band that has some personality and takes risks rather than sticking closely to some unwritten punk/hardcore playbook. Great EP. Get one if you can lay your hands on a copy.

Artcore #40 zine w/ N.O.T.A.: Moscow 7” (Artcore) This came out a few months ago, but y’all snapped up our copies in just a couple of days and I wasn’t able to write about it. Fortunately Artcore made some more copies, because this package is well worth your time. First up, you get the latest issue of the long-running UK zine Artcore. Welly notes in his intro that it’s the 35th anniversary of Artcore, which is incredible. If you’ve seen Artcore before, this issue sticks to their standard format, which focuses on very detailed band interviews (Strike Anywhere, the Chisel, Septic Death, Jawbreaker, and more) with another healthy chunk devoted to the Vaultage section, which features historical / archaeological pieces like this issue’s lengthy article on 80s Swedish hardcore. A few review round things out. The last few issues of Artcore have come with a bonus 7” EP, and this time it’s a reissue of Oklahoma hardcore band N.O.T.A.’s 1984 7” Moscow. For me, Moscow is a top-shelf 80s USHC banger. It’s loud and fast all the way through, and each of its four tracks has something unique to offer, whether it’s the anthemic “Take Away Your Rights” or the title track’s second wave UK punk groove, which sounds like something Toxic Reasons might have done in their early days. The reissue says it’s remixed and remastered, but I A/B’d it with my original pressing and it doesn’t sound too different, which is a good thing because the original is already a great record. The EP’s jacket is expanded to a booklet that reproduces the original artwork, but adds a heap of photos, flyers, and a detailed band history. A top-notch music zine and a classic record? What’s not to love?

Farmaco: Descolonizar 7” (Discos Enfermos) Last year we carried a flexi reissue of the demo tape by this band from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now they’re back with their proper vinyl debut on the Spanish label Discos Enfermos. When I first listened to Descolonizar I thought to myself, “wow, this sounds a lot like early 80s Japanese punk,” and then I open up the record and the singer is wearing a Typhus shirt in the insert photo… so high five to me for recognizing that, I guess. It’s appropriate that Farmaco’s debut arrives the same week as a Zouo reissue, because Farmaco cops a lot of moves from Zouo’s The Final Agony EP, including the unique rhythms (kinda Motorhead-y, not really fast, but not slow either), raw production, metallic guitar leads, and sinister, death rock-ish overtones. It’s easy for something like his to sound like a pastiche, but Farmaco fucking nails it… the raw, analog production is perfect, and like the cult Japanese punk records they (presumably) take inspiration from, Descolonizar drips with vibe. Highly recommended.

Ojo Por Ojo: Paroxismo 7” flexi (Exabrupto Records) Mexico City’s Ojo Por Ojo follows up their 2018 debut LP on La Vida Es Un Mus with this two-track flexi. When I first heard about this release, the thing that caught my eye was that Ojo Por Ojo recorded these tracks with Steve Albini. Yeah, the guy who recorded fucking In Utero! It’s not unheard of for Albini to record DIY punk bands (I remember he did a Vitamin X record a few years ago), but it seems like an unexpected choice for Ojo Por Ojo. While their first LP wasn’t particularly raw in terms of fidelity, it was extremely raw in other senses. Like singer / guitarist Yecatl Peña’s previous band, Inservibles, a sense of desperation pervades Ojo Por Ojo’s music. It’s like the hardcore equivalent of a Goya painting: stark, gritty, and deeply emotional, with Peña’s tortured scream evoking similar feelings as Goya’s famous painting of Saturn devouring his son. The worry would be that a famous producer would somehow smooth out these rough edges, but Albini turns out to be a perfect choice because he doesn’t smooth out rough edges… he sharpens them. Rather than Goya’s blurred, painterly canvases, here Ojo Por Ojo renders the nightmare with the clinical clarity of a high-resolution digital photograph. I wish it were more than two songs, but on the other hand, something this intense might be best in small doses.

Lumpen: Desesperación 7” (Discos Enfermos) Desesperación is the debut EP from this Barcelona band featuring members who grew up in Colombia. The things you hear right away when you drop the needle on Desesperación are energy and power… it’s one of those records that pops out of your speakers, that make it difficult to sit still. It has a great sound (particularly the drums), and the band plays powerfully and authoritatively, the bouncy energy reminding me of Blazing Eye their associates. When you listen, though, you hear there’s a lot going on with Lumpen. The label’s description notes the band doesn’t want to recreate a particular style, and bits of Desesperación remind me of a lot of different things… the bouncy pogo parts remind me of Chaos UK, the often dissonant, chorus-tinged guitars are like Vittna’s, the noisiness makes me think of Geld, and the vocals are their own thing… forceful, but anthemic and snotty. Desesperación is a unique, powerful EP with great sound and beautiful packaging, and it’s a highlight amongst the strong batch of new Discos Enfermos releases.

Kagami: demo cassette (Society Bleeds Records) I’m fond of Japanese punk bands that draw inspiration from classic US hardcore. Milk took the US by storm last year, but back in 2007 Sorry State released a cool EP of early Dischord-influenced hardcore from Sapporo’s Bored to Death, and before that was Total Fury, whose 13 Songs LP might be the single best piece of “Dischord worship” ever recorded. If you’re a fan of the aforementioned (or other Dischord-inspired bands like Amde Petersen’s Arme), check out this demo from Tokyo’s Kagami. The style is dead on… fast, simple rhythms, guitars that spit out furious riffs with minimal distortion, and a singer from the “all I wanted was a Pepsi” School of Punk Rock Vocal Arts. I’ve loved music like this since I was a teenager, and I’ll probably be listening to it in a nursing home one day. Hardcore rules, OK?

Zouo: Agony憎悪Remains 12” (Relapse Records) Both Rich and Usman are writing about Zouo for their staff picks this week and I encourage you to read both, but I thought I’d also chime in with my take in case anyone misses the staff picks. Zouo was a seminal 80s Japanese hardcore band, often mentioned in the same breath as G.I.S.M. because of their raw, gritty sound and catchy, metallic guitar leads. Zouo’s 1984 7” EP The Final Agony is one of the most collectible records in the history of Japanese punk. If you like old Japanese punk, it’s a record you should be familiar with and have in your collection in some form (warning: you’d be lucky to pay less than $500 for an original pressing). The A-side of Agony憎悪Remains is a discography of Zouo’s studio recordings, including the aforementioned The Final Agony EP and Zouo’s contributions to the Hardcore Unlawful Assembly compilation LP (which is important because the track “Frustration” only appears there and is one Zouo’s best songs). The b-side contains a mix of live recordings from three different shows, focusing on songs that didn’t appear on the official studio recordings, and the digital version offers several additional tracks from each of the three gigs. I love Zouo, I bought a copy of this record for myself, and I am stoked there is a licensed domestic US release of this music. However, I have a lot of nit-picking to do. First, there is virtually no information on this release. Yeah, there are some (blurry) pictures of Japanese punks with cool haircuts, but it doesn’t say anywhere on the packaging where these tracks come from. The origins are pretty obvious for The Final Agony and Hardcore Unlawful Assembly tracks, but what about the live tracks? Is the 1984 set that appears here different than the one Crust War released in 2011 as the A Roar Agitating Violent Age album? I don’t think so, but I’m not positive. There’s also no info about Zouo or the scene from which they came, nor are there reproductions of Zouo’s (fucking awesome) original artwork. The layout is also covered in this fake Photoshop distressed texture, making it look like Integrity’s recent albums. None of these things are crimes against humanity or anything and they’re not even deal-breakers (like I said, I still bought a copy), but I think these choices obscure some of Zouo’s mystique, which is such a big part of their appeal. So, in summary, get this, but know there are levels beyond this that are even cooler.

Featured Release Roundup: April 15 2021

M.A.Z.E.: II 12” (Lumpy Records) Lumpy Records released a 12” from Japanese punk band M.A.Z.E. back in 2019, and II is their new album, also on Lumpy Records. M.A.Z.E. fits right in with the Lumpy Records crew. M.A.Z.E. doesn’t have Lumpy’s penchant for very low fidelity, but they share the label’s appreciation for Devo-inspired quirkiness and an assertively creative approach to punk rock. On II, M.A.Z.E. reminds me of Warm Bodies, and while they’re not as fast and their guitarist isn’t as virtuosic as underground axe god Ian Teeple, the knotty rhythms and out of the box vocal approach are similar. M.A.Z.E. never settles into a groove on II; like the Fall or Can, each song has its own unique pulse, and the players build out from that central rhythmic structure, not so much jamming as playing a cool part and then changing to a different, also cool part. Weird Punk, Egg Punk, Devo-Core… however you want to describe it, if you’re into labels like Lumpy and Erste Theke Tonträger, M.A.Z.E. should be on your radar.

The Mind: Open Up the Window and Leave Your Body 12” (Lumpy Records) We last heard from the Mind in 2019 when Drunken Sailor released their first album, Edge of the Planet. The Mind is a cryptic bunch (zinester Brandon Gaffney’s description for Lumpy tells you essentially nothing about it), but reaching back into my files, I find the Mind is a cross-country project featuring members of Homostupids, Dry Rot, Pleasure Leftists, Cosmic Sand Dollars, and more. In case those names mean nothing to you, let me sum it up for you in meme speak: it weird. There’s something Residents-y about the Mind’s presentation, how they insist on misdirecting you and not revealing too much about what is behind the music. While this might frustrate a newsletter writer just trying to whip up a fresh variation of “if you like X, you might like Y,” it forces you to take the music on its own terms, and the Mind has a lot of terms. Lots of the lyrics are about space and technology (“The Pod,” “Magna Carta of Space,” “Voices of a Distant Star”), the vocals are charismatic and melodic (their singer reminds me of Elise from Brain F≠), and the music is all over the place, sometimes post-punk-y, sometimes more electronic, sometimes new age-y, and often quite melodic and catchy. The aggressive eclecticism keeps me from getting on firm footing as a listener. That might turn off someone less adventurous, but I recommend putting this on, turning off the lights, and letting it take you where it’s going to go.

Mentor: Chapter Black 7” (Smoking Room Records) Chapter Black is the debut 7” from this hardcore band out of the Bay Area, California. Like the Texas bands I’m also writing about in this update, Mentor is an 80s-style hardcore band that plays blistering fast, has precise and catchy riffing, and a raw recording style, but the overall presentation is a little different. Instead of sounding like a blown out analog recording, Mentor’s sound is bathed in distortion and reverb effects (particularly on the vocals), which (to me, at least), gives them a vibe that resembles the 80s-leaning bands on Youth Attack like Repos, Suburbanite, and Cadaver Dog. That being said, Mentor is more straight up 80s USHC than those bands, and scratches that itch very well.

Soldier’s Disease: No Flags Fly Here cassette (B.L.A.P. Tapes) Texas has been sprouting Koro-influenced hardcore bands at a pace that’s making me consider picking up and moving there, and the latest name on the roster is Austin’s Soldier’s Disease. Like Nosferatu and Violent Christians, Soldier’s Disease borrows Koro’s quick changes, epic drum fills, and manic, compressed rhythms, but perhaps even more than those bands, Soldier’s Disease’s songwriting still has a punk (maybe even pop?) core. While a lot of ultra-fast music can stray into grind or other derivatives of metal, Soldier’s Disease sounds like they’re playing great punk songs at insanely fast tempos, which is pretty much exactly what I want from music. Another thing that sets them apart is that something about the bass sound reminds me of early 80s Japanese hardcore. I’m not sure if it’s just the way it’s recorded (lots of low end and very little attack) or the way it’s played (which incorporates some of the bounciness I associate with 80s Japanese punk bass) or some combination of both. Regardless, Soldier’s Disease reminds me of both classic 80s USHC and obscure 80s Japanese punk, two styles that are pillars of my listening diet, and they do both proud.

Perro de Prenda: Vol. 1 cassette (B.L.A.P. Tapes) Perro de Prenda is another killer hardcore band from Texas. Their tape is out on the B.L.A.P. label (presumably named after a Koro song and affiliated with other Texas hardcore bands in this vein) and they share a lot of characteristics with the other bands you might know from this scene, including the very raw, noisy, and analog recording style. While Perro de Prenda is as intense as those other bands, their style is a little different. Mostly that comes down to the drumming, which never breaks into a full-on fast punk beat, but holds down a lot of tom-heavy, anarcho-influenced rhythms. That gives Perro de Prenda some of the brooding menace of early Amebix, though the riffing is in a fast hardcore style so I don’t think anyone would say they sound like Amebix at all. On Vol. 1 you get four tracks of this anarcho-influenced hardcore and a fifth track that sounds like it uses some backwards tape effects. Ending on that artier note makes this feel even more like a killer old anarcho demo. Great stuff, and I see there’s a Vol. 2 up on bandcamp, so let’s hope we see a tape version of that soon.

The Spits: VI 12” (Thriftstore Records) VI is the new album from the legendary and long-running punk band the Spits. Despite its title, I’m not sure whether it’s actually their sixth album… I’d say it’s more like their seventh or eighth, but regardless, they have quite a few full-length albums under their belt. When I first listened to VI, I thought about how the Spits are now in the territory of bands like the Ramones, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden. All these bands have large catalogs that more or less stick to the same style, and while a lot of listeners feel like they only need the classic albums, a dedicated contingent of fans ride hard for the entire catalog. It’s easy to dismiss these long-lived bands as successful branding exercises, or (a little more generously) to say that they found a “formula” and stuck with it. I don’t think that’s the case with any of these bands, including the Spits. I don’t want to name names, but there are plenty of bands that stick to the same style for a long time, and plenty of those bands suck and never get much better than that, no matter how long they continue plying their trade. But for a band like the Spits, it seems more like they’ve found a comfortable pair of jeans they want to wear for the rest of their lives. The jeans look good on them, can be mixed and matched with different clothing items and work in a variety of different contexts. And just as a person is not their jeans, the Spits’ are not just their sound. Inside the Spits’ fast drums, distorted guitars, and catchy keyboard lines is some fucking great songwriting. This hit me on my third or fourth listen to VI, when the track “Kop Kar” came on. This song is fucking great! I can’t imagine anyone but the Spits doing it, and it can stand toe to toe with the classics from across their catalog, whether you’re talking about “Rip Up the Streets” or “Let Us Play Your Party.” And it’s not the only good song on the album, either. They’re all good, some of them are great, and none of them suck even a little. By using the same logo on all of their albums and not giving most of them titles, the Spits invite you to dismiss any particular record as “just another Spits album.” They’re playing you. This isn’t just another Spits album, it’s another fucking great Spits album.

Featured Release Roundup: April 8 2021

Spread Joy: S/T 12” (Feel It) Sam from Feel It Records sent me a digital version of this debut from Chicago’s Spread Joy a few months ago, knowing I would like it. He was right. I usually don’t really get into a record until I can get the physical version on my turntable, but I liked this record so much and it was so suited to the emerging spring weather here in North Carolina that I had to put it on my headphones whenever I went for a walk. Spread Joy’s sound is often angular, bass-driven punk that exists halfway between the Suburban Lawns’s art-punk and the pop-oriented, more English take on that sound that reminds me of anything from Delta 5 to Shopping. Certain songs lean in one of those directions or the other, and the band excels at weaving back and forth between nervier and groovier rhythms. And there’s plenty of pop in the mix to keep you singing along. At only fourteen minutes long it hardly overstays its welcome and is just on the edge of feeling like an EP rather than an album (sort of like Saccharine Trust’s Paganicons). Fans of the aforementioned sounds or similar bands like Collate and Neutrals, don’t miss this one.

CDG: Unconditional 7” (Domestic Departure) If you just hit “add to cart” on the Spread Joy record, you might as well add this one too, because it appeals to a lot of the same sensibilities. The Venn diagram of people who would like both bands is in Mastercard logo territory, if not more… if I were more business-minded I would offer a bundle price for grabbing them both. If you can opine on the relative merits of Slates versus Hex Enduction Hour (I definitely can), CDG makes music for you. Not that CDG sounds exactly like the Fall (but sometimes they sound a lot like the Fall). For one, CDG often uses funky grooves (like the Zamrock-ish “Degraded Dialect”), something the Fall didn’t tend to do, but that was a big part of that UK DIY / post-punk / messthetic (although CDG resides in Portland, this is very Anglophonic). If you have any fucking clue about what I’m going on about right now, you need this. It’s exactly how on the nose you want it to be, right down to the distinctive sleeve design and the sneaky pop hit that closes the record. I also love that, while a lot of bands of this ilk release singles, this is modeled on longer 7” EPs like the Television Personalities’ Where’s Bill Grundy Now or the O-Level record, and like those EPs, this feels weightier and wider in scope than a two-songer.

Rata Negra: Una Vida Vulgar 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus) As La Vida Es Un Mus’s description states,Una Vida Vulgar is the third and best album by this band from Madrid, Spain. I’ve listened to all of Rata Negra’s records as they’ve come out, and while I loved the first two albums, Una Vida Vulgar feels like a significant leap forward for them. I’m not gonna lie, this record is pretty slick. Listen to the first two tracks and see if they’ve lost you. The layered, vocal-oriented production and pop songwriting wouldn’t be out of place on a Warped Tour compilation, and the second (and poppiest) track, “El Escarmiento,” reminds me of Jimmy Eat World circa Clarity (probably a deep reference, but I’m very old). The thing is, though, Rata Negra is fucking great at this shit… their singer is incredible, the songs are great, and the sunny vibes keep me coming back to the record. If you’re on board with those two tracks, when Rata Negra returns to their more familiar shouty, nervy punk sound on the third track, “Desconfía De Ese Chico,” the band’s existing fans will feel like they just got a warm hug. Una Vida Vulgar is that rare feat: an example of a band growing and evolving without abandoning what they were great at. And even without that context, it’s a great summertime, windows-down record.

Haldol: Negation 12” (Play Alone Records) Negation is the fourth 12” from this band that started in Nashville, Tennessee, but has spent most of their time in Philadelphia. I’ve listened to all of Haldol’s 12”s, and I’ve liked them all. Their self-titled 12” from 2015 is a phenomenal record, and predated the current death rock revival by several years (there’s currently a death rock revival, right?). While I was lukewarm on their previous record, The Totalitarianism of Everyday Life, Negation recaptures the fire of that self-titled record by pushing past its sound rather than returning to it. While Negation still has death rock-isms like chorus on the guitar and tom-heavy drumming, the guitars are janglier, the singing more expressive, and the songwriting more pop. Once again, Haldol is ahead of the trend; while everyone else is going Christian Death, they’ve gone full 4AD, sounding more like something you’d see on 120 Minutes in the late 80s than a band on a flyer for a Madame Wong’s gig. That seems to imply a softening of Haldol’s sound, but that’s not the case at all… they play with the revved-up energy of bands like the Cult and the Jesus and Mary Chain… it’s pop music as much as it is art project, and listening to it provides all the immediate pleasure that pop music is meant to.

Headcheese: S/T 12” (Neon Taste) Like the Spread Joy record, I’ve been rocking the digital version of Headcheese’s debut 12” while I anticipated the vinyl dropping. This record premiered online back in February, and I kept that tab open for weeks, playing the record over and over. Admittedly, this is right in my wheelhouse. Headcheese sounds like Career Suicide and Long Knife had a baby. They have CS’s knack for writing short, catchy songs that fall in that perfect Jerry’s Kids / FU’s space of punky hardcore. However, Headcheese shares Long Knife’s heaviness, Jerry A-ish vocals, and fondness for the grooves you hear on War All the Time and Feel the Darkness. Another way of coming at this is that Headcheese takes the brevity and speed of Pick Your King, but combines it with the song-oriented approach of PI’s later records. And they are fucking good at it. Fans of the White Stains and Fried E/M records should watch out for this too. The dapper color-matching on the jacket and vinyl is icing on the cake.

Lethal: demo cassette (Survival Unit Records) I was listening to this demo from New York’s Lethal and I thought to myself, “are there any GBH records on the cover of Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes?” It turns out there aren’t (as far as I can tell), but the thought is à propos of this band’s sound. Like PI and GBH, Lethal plays hardcore that’s fast, loud, and firmly in the pocket. You know who is on the cover of Record Collectors? Motorhead and Battalion of Saints, and Lethal has a lot of those bands in their sound too. As with all of those bands, great riffs are the building blocks of great songs that build to big, anthemic choruses, and the whole thing is put together with a sense of dangerous, nihilistic energy. Great production too, with a beefy sound that accentuates rather than diminishes Lethal’s grittiness.

Featured Release Roundup: April 1 2021

Child’s Pose: Eyes to the Right 7” (Thrilling Living Records) Third release from this London band featuring members of Woolf, Nekra, Sauna Youth, Snob, Sarcasm, and many, many others I’m sure, released on the Thrilling Living label, which has brought a lot of great music across the pond over the last few years. Child’s Pose reminds me of singles from the first few years of Rough Trade Records and like-minded bands like Alternative TV, not because they recreate the surface trappings of that era, but because they seem to come from a similar place in the world. Groups like ATV, the Raincoats, and Young Marble Giants were a little ramshackle, but what they may have lacked in technical precision, they more than made up for with an exciting sense of discovery that pervaded their music. It’s exciting for me as a listener, making it feel like the creators are inventing the song as they’re performing it. Of course they aren’t—at least not in the way of jazz improvisation—but it feels like it. These bands—Child’s Pose included—might even sound naïve if they weren’t so smart, even intellectual. Another way Child’s Pose resembles those earlier bands is that there’s a strong sense of songcraft in their music, which offers no shortage of earworm melodies. If you enjoy the older stuff I mentioned or contemporary bands like Woolf, Frau, or Scrap Brain, you shouldn’t miss Eyes to the Right.

Perspex: S/T 7” (No Patience) Debut release (I think?) from this hardcore band out of Sydney, Australia. The label’s description mentions a couple of X-Claim! Records bands, but Perspex is pretty far from retro 80s hardcore. The main two deviations from that playbook are the distorted and reverbed vocals and the electronic noise / power electronics elements that overlay the hardcore foundation. One band who shares those characteristics is Bad Breeding, and Perspex remind me of them, though whereas there’s a UK anarcho band at the center of Bad Breeding’s sound, there’s an 80s Boston hardcore band somewhere in Perspex’s noisy din. Note this is an limited pressing and an Australian import, hence the steep price, but the collector scene on stuff like this means you shouldn’t dilly dally if you want a copy. The physical version of this looks stunning, so you probably do want a copy.

Hakuchi: The Best Works: 1991-1994 12” (Black Water) Discography LP from this 90s Japanese hardcore band. This LP is a wild ride because there’s so much different stuff on it. Often for discography releases, the track listing will be in chronological (or reverse chronological) order and/or will also proceed in order of fidelity (usually from best to worst). Hakuchi’s collection LP, though, jumps around a lot, an issue amplified by Hakuchi’s stylistic restlessness. At various points they remind me of Burning Spirits-style hardcore, straight up Cimex/Shitlickers style bashing, and UK metallic crust (anything from Axegrinder to Amebix), and there are also moments (as with a lot of 90s Japanese hardcore bands) that are quite “rock.” If you’re just looking for one of those things, a lot of this might miss for you, but if you just enjoy Hakuchi’s crazy ride, there are a lot of great moments on this LP, and no moments I’d call skippers. If you have a taste for deep cut 90s Japanese hardcore, you’re gonna love it.

My War #7 zine Latest issue of this hardcore zine out of Belgium. We’ve carried previous issues of My War but they’ve been quite expensive thanks to the exchange rate, shipping, and the zine’s full color print job. This time around we printed copies here in the US, photocopied in black and white so they’re way cheaper. As before, My War focuses almost entirely on band interviews. However, these aren’t the poor quality interviews you see in a lot of punk zines. It’s clear Kristof puts a lot of work into his interviews. He understands the bands and their music and goes much deeper than you see in a typical interview. While some people may not like the format—I believe Kristof conducts the interviews asynchronously via email—these interviews allow for deeper and more thorough responses to the thoughtful questions. The highlight for me is the interview with Sorry State’s own Mutant Strain, but Kristof also talks to Oily Boys, Tom Moran (Heavy Discipline, White Stains, Loose Nukes, No Time, Blood Pressure, etc.), Plague 13, Crimes of The Crown, Mentira, and Cage Kicker. Obviously we believe in what Kristof is doing since we helped print and distribute copies in the US, and I think if you like the Sorry State newsletter and website you will enjoy My War.

Pilgrim Screw: S/T cassette (Impotent Fetus) Rich already wrote about Pilgrim Screw in his first SSR Pick a couple of weeks ago, so this is just to notify you we now have the tape in stock and that you should go to Rich for the in-depth analysis. If you’re too lazy to click a link, I’ll note that Impotent Fetus is an imprint of Olympia’s Stucco Label. While Stucco specializes in hardcore, Impotent Fetus seems to release the more left of center stuff. Pilgrim Screw sounds to me like they’re working in the tradition of bands like Throbbing Gristle, Butthole Surfers (this tape has strong Locust Abortion Technician vibes), and the Boredoms circa Soul Discharge, with a dash of The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks-era Flux of Pink Indians. It’s weird, jarring, cut-up-sounding, obtuse, annoying, and a lot of other things. It is, however, never boring.

Spirit of Revolt: demo cassette (self-released) Spirit of Revolt is a project based in Colorado but with strong North Carolina ties. One member is Montgomery Morris, who was a fixture in the NC music scene for years before he moved out west. Spirit of Revolt is a leftist oi! band. We’ve encountered a few of those over the past few years, including Hard Left and Death Ridge Boys. I don’t know how I feel about the whole thing… I like oi! music and I sympathize with these politics, but it’s a bit like starting a Christian black metal band or something… the concept can get in the way of appreciating the actual tunes. While Spirit of Revolt is on the same page as the aforementioned groups conceptually and politically, their sound is different. If you’re familiar with Montgomery’s NC bands—particularly Flesh Wounds—you’ll hear his fingerprints all over this, though I don’t know what he plays in the band since he’s capable with at least a few different instruments, the credits on the j card are pseudonymous, and the band has no internet presence that I can find. Those hard-and-fast, clean-sounding guitars though… Flesh Wounds fans will be all over it. The songs run the gamut of oi! sub-styles (ranging from tougher sounding to more melodic), but I think Spirit of Revolt is at their best in the latter mode, particularly on “Seize the Means” and “161,” which remind me of faster 4 Skins songs like “Evil.” Fortunately there’s plenty of musical meat underneath the layer of ironic juxtaposition.

Featured Release Roundup: March 25 2021

Sarcasm: Creeping Life 12” (Static Shock Records) London’s Sarcasm follow up their debut 7” from four years ago, Malarial Bog, with this 6-track EP. Sarcasm is arty as fuck, drawing on the tradition of bands like Wire, Magazine, and Gang of Four who saw punk rock through the prism of intellectual and art culture. I hate when music comes off as pretentious, but Sarcasm just sound like what they are: smart people who like smart punk rock. The lyrics wouldn’t be out of place in a graduate-level poetry workshop. There’s a consistent, well-developed voice and themes that carry across several songs (as well as the album’s artwork), most obviously imagery related to wetlands, particularly peat bogs. Why bogs? I don’t know… I don’t think it’s as simple as a metaphor or an allegory, more an enigmatic symbol. As for the music, it’s minimal, restrained, and as subtly evocative as the words, not unlike the best music from the bands I mentioned above. I could see someone who just wants to rock hating this, but I can hang with Sarcasm’s vibe.

In Battle: Live MMXIX cassette (self-released) Richmond’s In Battle has been gigging around Virginia for several years without recording anything in the studio. I guess that, since the pandemic wasn’t making that situation any easier, they put out this live soundboard recording. I’m glad they did, because this thing smokes. In Battle features a couple of folks from Destruct, Firing Squad, and the vocalist for Sorry State’s own Blackball, but playing a style akin to UK metallic crust bands like Sacrilege and Axegrinder. The riffs are killer—In Battle has a particular way with metallic, mid-paced stuff—and the long, very musical guitar leads have a strong Chelsea vibe. Every once in a while the vocals drop by to deliver some extra brutality. Don’t let the “live” aspect scare you either… the recording is thick and powerful and the band’s performance is great. Hopefully one day In Battle makes a studio recording that renders this obsolete, but in the meantime this tape hardly feels like a compromise.

Infandus: Lithium-6 cassette (self-released) I remember when I got Pollen’s Fear of Another War 7” in 2017 it didn’t list the speed on the center label and I couldn’t figure out which speed was the correct one. At 45rpm it was ripping, locked-in d-beat, but at 33rpm it was the most crushing old school death metal I’d heard in years. It turns out 45rpm was the correct speed for Pollen, but I mention this story because Infandus is basically what the Pollen 7” sounded like at 33rpm. The crustiness isn’t surprising given this old school death metal band from New York features two members from After, who put out one of the most ferocious d-beat records of 2020. The crustiness comes through most on tracks like “Ribbons of Skin” and “Echoes in the Fog,” while the others sound like an outstanding underground death metal demo from 1984. I like everything about this.

Defanged: Positivity Corner cassette (Rat Disco) 5-track cassette from this hardcore band out of Dallas, Texas. Defanged’s style is raw, fast, and offers a heaping helping of snot, particularly in the vocals. They remind me of Sorry State’s own Gimmick, though snotty and fast 80s bands like Sick Pleasure, early Government Issue, and Anti serve as solid reference points as well. The sound is raw, blown-out, and kind of thin, like the 4-track hardcore released on labels like Lumpy Records, though clearer than some stuff their fellow Texan rippers Nosferatu have put into the world. If you like your hardcore raw, passionate, and youthful, this is one to check out.

Grimly Forming: S/T 7” (Kiss Kiss Records) Debut 7” from this hardcore punk band out of Los Angeles. If Grimly Forming isn’t friends with the East 7th Punks crew in LA, then someone should make a formal introduction, because they are on some similar shit. If you like Blazing Eye, Cruelty Bomb, and Hate Preachers, this is something you will want to hear. Like those bands, you get throat-shredding vocals, wide-open oompah beats, and mid-paced punk riffs that are gratuitously catchy. It’s music designed to whip people into a frenzy, and it’s hard not to picture half-full cans of beer flying when I listen to Grimly Forming. The production is strong but not polished, and these 6 tracks rip from start to finish.

The Partisans: Anarchy In Alkatraz / No Future Demos 1980 - 1982 12” (Sealed Records) Punk reissue label Sealed Records’ latest release is this compilation of demo material from No Future Records legends the Partisans. I am a huge fan of the Partisans (my band Scarecrow even covers “Police Story”) and I’m coming at this release from that perspective. Everyone should have the two singles and LP the Partisans released on No Future Records, and I like the LP and single that followed as well. However, this LP offers a deeper dive. The big treasure here is a 1980 recording session—to my knowledge, never released in any format—that captures an early version of the band knocking out a set featuring mostly covers of punk bands like the UK Subs, the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, and Stiff Little Fingers (who also started out as a punk cover band) plus two original compositions. I imagine there are some of you who won’t have any interest in hearing the Partisans cover a bunch of classic punk bands, but I think this session is killer. The recording quality is exceptional (gritty yet clear and powerful) and the session reveals the Partisans’ power as players. While I wouldn’t say they bring anything new to the songs, they sound fiery and passionate, and it’s clear that cutting their teeth on these covers helped them build the skills necessary to deliver their original material with conviction. You get to hear that on the b-side of this LP, which compiles two studio sessions that have appeared on previous Partisans CD reissues. The first 6-song session was so good that No Future Records released two tracks from it as the Partisans’ first single, while the second session finds them running through earlier versions of the 3 tracks from their second single. The music is great, and Sealed Records knows how to put together a compelling package with top-notch sound, a well-designed sleeve, and a thick booklet featuring a treasure trove of ephemera: photos, fanzine interviews, ads and flyers, and a new interview with the band about the tracks on this release. If you’re a fan of the Partisans (who isn’t?), this is a no-brainer.

Broken Vessels: Do You See My Smile? 7” flexi (Kiss Kiss Records) Do You See My Smile? is a 3-track flexi from this Los Angeles group featuring members of Rolex and Grimly Forming. Like those bands, Broken Vessels’ foundation is in 80s hardcore, but their vibe is different. While Rolex is all about irreverence and Grimly Forming trades in menace, Broken Vessels reminds me of 80s midwest hardcore bands who played fast but still had some pop / 77 punk melody and song structure. Everything Falls Apart-era Husker Du is a solid reference point. Like Husker Du (at least on that record), the tempos are fast, the playing is passionate yet precise, and the guitars steal the show with a sound that’s dense, moody, and melodic. The label’s description also mentions Paganicons-era Saccharine Trust, and I can hear that too, particularly on the title track. Those of you weaned on the intense but ambitious early SST catalog have a new band to check out!

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.

Featured Release Roundup: March 11 2021

GG King: Remain Intact 12” (Total Punk) Remain Intact is the 3rd full-length from this Atlanta band. Here’s the quick rundown on GG King: while he’s played in projects going back to the 90s, I came to know Atlanta’s Greg King as the singer for Carbonas, for my money one of the best punk bands ever to come out of the American south. In Carbonas, Greg honed his pop chops to a razor sharp edge (though not without punk intensity… I remember when Carbonas’ second LP came out everyone was talking about how much it sounded like Zero Boys), but when Carbonas dissolved in the late 00s and Greg started GG King, the sound was a little different. (Well, at least after the first few GG King singles, which someone once told me were largely songs written for Carbonas). One big change was a prominent black metal influence, which is not something one thinks of as a natural fit with the upbeat, song-oriented punk that also informed GG King’s sound. Even beyond that jarring stylistic juxtaposition, GG King felt looser and artier, wide-open to lots of different styles, and every few years they would weave a bunch of these threads into an eclectic tapestry of an album. Which brings us to Remain Intact, which strikes me as GG King’s masterpiece. I love—LOVE!—GG King’s first two albums and the singles, but Remain Intact one-ups them. The melodic songs like “Remain Intact” and “Melt on You” are among the band’s best songs, while the other songs—everything from the 00s-era-Fall-ish “Dekalb County Endless” to the brooding “Cul de Sac” to whatever the fuck “Golden Horde Rising” is (Norwegian black metal meets early Magazine?)—make the album feel epic in scope and are often great art-punk songs in their own right. It’s rare that a current band releases something that feels as ambitious and as important as albums like Wire’s Chairs Missing or Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand, but that’s the vibe I get from Remain Intact.

Liiek: S/T 7” (Mangel Records) 3-song EP from this German band, following an LP from last year on Adagio380 Records (as of this writing we still have that in stock as well). I hear a few different things going on in Liiek’s sound. The songs coalesce around the bass lines, which have a driving yet funk-and-dub-informed quality that reminds me of bands like Pylon and Delta 5. However, these grooving bass lines contrast with angular guitar lines and shouted, staccato vocals, both of which remind me of early Devo. Then on the third song the whole formula gets flipped with a surf-y lead guitar taking the spotlight while the bass and drums march forward with a motorik pulse. While I hear echoes of older music, it still feels like a contemporary and fresh record. Fans of the above groups should check this out.

Stinkhole: Mold Encrusted Egg 7” (Mangel Records) This is the debut vinyl from this “Mold Encrusted Egg punk” band out of Berlin, Germany. I first heard of Stinkhole on the Life During Wartime radio show on KBOO in Portland. It was one of those moments when I hear something I didn’t know about and wait for the back announcement so I can investigate further. I noted Stinkhole’s name and looked them up, which led me to Germany’s Mangel Records, and now we’re stocking most of that label’s releases. What a story! Thanks Matt C! Back to Stinkhole, though. It’s unclear to me what constitutes “egg punk” as a musical genre, but whatever category you throw Lumpy & the Dumpers into, Stinkhole belongs there too. Not that they sound exactly like Lumpy;  “Steppin’ On Out” and “Slippin’ On Slug Slime” adopt a Flipper / Butthole Surfers-style loosey goosey groove, the title track sounds like sped-up early Devo, and other songs sound like pretty straight hardcore to me, but all those elements are filtered through Lumpy’s gross-out sensibility, mostly in the way the vocalist wretches and heaves. The artwork even looks of a piece with the Lumpy releases. This style of punk lives and dies by its freakiness level, and this one is way up there, especially for something still based in hardcore. A bona fide weirdo ripper.

Accidente: Caníbal 12” (self-released) Madrid, Spain’s Accidente has been around for a decade now, and Caníbal is their fourth album. It’s been four years since their previous record, Pulso, and it has more heart and fire than one might expect from a veteran band’s fourth album. Accidente seems like one of those bands that falls in between scenes. They’re poppy but not syrupy, they’re fast, but they’re not a hardcore band, and their songs are too complex and original to pigeonhole. Accidente is from the same city as Rata Negra, and while the two bands sound similar (particularly the vocals), Accidente’s slicker production and faster tempos remind me of some of my favorite 90s melodic punk. In particular, on tracks like “Desmesura” that combine fast tempos with mournful vocal melodies, Accidente reminds me of UK melodic punk bands like Leatherface, Snuff, and Guns N Wankers. Like those bands, Accidente packs their songs with criss-crossing vocal and guitar melodies delivered with punk intensity. 

XO’s: Pronounced Hugs and Kisses cassette (Ketchup & Mustard Industries) I’m selective about the pop-informed punk rock that I listen to. Maybe I’m a snob, but so much melodic punk I hear seems to lack substance and originality, borrowing moves from music I love without capturing the same magic. One current musician I back, though, is Joe Sussman. Joe first came onto my radar through his band Nancy, a two-piece featuring him and Nat Brower, another musician I keep a close eye on (his project Brower is not to be missed). Nancy’s With Child and A Nice Package LPs both came out in 2016 and we listened to them all the time in the shop… Jeff even liked them, and he’s even more selective about poppy punk than I am. I then followed Joe to his other projects like Dangus Tarkus and Muff Divers; Nancy also remains a going concern, having just released a new album on Neck Chop and Erste Theke Tonträger. XO’s is a new Chicago-based project featuring Joe, who also released it on his Ketchup & Mustard Industries label, along with Mat from Liquids and Alex from Bleeding Gums. While I’ve devoted several sentences to fanboy-ing out on Joe, of the related bands, XO’s sounds the most like Liquids, whom I also like, though I’ve had trouble keeping up with all of their releases. I also hear the Dickies and the Spits in XO’s music, two bands who know their way around a great punk song. If you like any of these bands, XO’s will be a slam dunk for you. Every song rules. And I’m reluctant to put too much emphasis on cover songs, but their cover of “Two of Hearts” is awesome.

Peacemaker: See You Dead cassette (Unlawful Assembly) A two-song, three minute cassette is a tough sell, but if you’re a fan of oi!-tinged hardcore, Peacemaker is going to be difficult to resist. While Peacemaker is based in Milwaukee, these songs remind me of the toughest and fastest moments in the No Future Records catalog. Think Blitz’s “Never Surrender,” the Partisans’ “Police Story,” the Crux / Crash split, or bands like 86 Mentality or Violent Reaction that followed in that tradition. I don’t want to make my description longer than the cassette itself, so I’ll just say that if you’re a fan of that style, this is what you want.

Slogan Boy: demo cassette (Unlawful Assembly) Unlawful Assembly brings us 5 songs by Milwaukee hardcore band Slogan Boy, who take their name from a song by 80s Milwaukee hardcore band Clitboys. As you might expect from a band who names themselves after a song by an obscure local hardcore band, Slogan Boy has a straight up 80s US hardcore sound with raw, vintage-sounding production. While the Clitboys were a little goofy, Slogan Boy sounds more desperate, reminding me more of early 80s New York hardcore like Antidote, Urban Waste, and the Abused. While those are fashionable bands to reference, few contemporary recordings resemble how raw, bleak, and primitive those records sound… this one gets pretty darn close.

Featured Release Roundup: March 4 2021

Deranged: Place of Torment 12” (Supreme Echo Records) Place of Torment is a vinyl reissue of this Canadian band’s 1989 demo, their second and final tape (Deranged had no vinyl releases). This is a total ripper… blistering, technical thrash metal with darker, mid-paced death metal passages and a snarling vocalist who sounds a little like Blaine from the Accüsed. I’m not sure how the original demo sounded, but Kurt Ballou remixed this version and it sounds great, reminding me of lower-budget productions from labels like Noise and New Renaissance and not “beefed up” or made to sound like anything other than what it is. There are only four songs, but they are dense and complex, with slight prog elements a la Metallica or Megadeth, and to me that’s the perfect amount of music for something like this, where a longer LP might feel same-y by the end. As usual with Supreme Echo, the packaging also includes a lot of contextual info and ephemera, further deepening the pleasure of exploring this band’s world.

Ego: Ego-ism cassette (self-released) The physical version of Ego-ism is billed as a demo on this Berlin band’s Bandcamp page, but with ten very lengthy tracks, Ego-ism is longer and more ambitious than most current punk and hardcore bands’ full-lengths. The sound is gruff and heavy (particularly the vocals, which are growling and intense), but the music is adventurous, working in elements of shoegaze and darkwave around the edges. Take the track “Decadent,” which borrows moves from Bauhaus and Skeletal Family, but then Ego snaps right back into d-beat with “Ljudi.” Despite the eclecticism, it doesn’t sound like the Fucked Up’s grandiosity, but more like a hardcore band who isn’t so uptight about maintaining a certain aesthetic.

Status Set: Music for Cowards cassette (self-released) Status Set is a solo project from Ian Rose, who used to play in a bunch of North Carolina bands like Last Year’s Men and Natural Causes (whose second LP Sorry State released in 2017). With nine fleshed-out tracks, I’d call Music for Cowards Status Set’s debut album rather than just a demo tape. If you liked Natural Causes, there’s a good chance you’re going to like Status Set too, since Ian wrote around half of the songs in NC and writes all the songs for Status Set (the other half of Natural Causes’ songwriting team, Ben Carr, now helms the great band Personality Cult). While Ian's songs for Natural Causes felt darker and incorporated the repetition and dark melodies of post-punk and electronic music, Status Set feels like pop music, albeit dense, clever, and ambitious pop music. The album closer, “Snakeskin Bag,” is a microcosm of the album since it starts with a brooding, cold wave synth sound but, after two minutes of building tension, climaxes in a sweeping, melodic chorus with layers of vocal harmonies… it’s sort of like the transition from early Depeche Mode to Yaz or early Human League to Dare, but over two-and-a-half minutes. This is probably just a case of mining the same influences, but I also hear a lot of the later Whatever Brains stuff in Status Set. Like the later Brains, Status Set sounds like someone into electronic and noise music developing their pop chops. A killer release, and essential if the names above mean anything to you.

Neos: Fight with Donald 7” (Supreme Echo) If you don’t know the Neos, here’s the quick version: they were from Victoria, British Columbia and they released two 7”s in the 80s: End All Discrimination and  Hassibah Gets The Martian Brain Squeeze. They are both brilliant, singular records. One of the Neos’ claims to fame is that they were one of the fastest bands of the time, up there with bands like Siege and Deep Wound, and similarly influential on later genres like grindcore and power violence. This isn’t grind or power violence, though, just really, really fast hardcore. The tempos might be historically important, but when you listen to the Neos, you realize they’re not just a historical footnote… they’re one of the best bands hardcore has ever produced. The records that stick with me are ones that capture something unique, and the Neos’ precocious teenager vibe combined with the music’s blistering speed—which evokes a hyperactive child’s tantrum—was the kind of genius that it would be silly and fruitless to imitate. Anyway, Fight with Donald came out in 1995 and compiles rehearsal and live recordings. Neos’ two early 80s 7”s are not lacking in rawness, so I could see feeling like you don’t need this record, but I enjoy it every time I throw it on. And for those of you who only need the EPs, note this serves as a teaser for an official Neos discography LP coming later this year. Even if you think you don’t need Fight with Donald, you definitely need that.

Tizzi: Demo cassette (Bunker Punks Discs & Tapes) Not that the Sorry State’s newsletter is Consumer Reports or anything, but note that I have a deep conflict of interest with this release since the band and the people who put it out are very much part of the Sorry State family. Tizzi emerged in Raleigh a while back and became a hot local band, standing out against the more brutal and technical punk bands in Raleigh with a sound that was more straightforward and punk. I always hear Vice Squad mentioned when people describe Tizzi (and, not unrelatedly, 1/2 of Tizzy was in a Vice Squad cover band a few years ago). I hear that comparison, but something about it also reminds me of early Screeching Weasel, particularly their first two albums when they hadn’t yet coagulated into a pop-punk band. Elizabeth from No Love is the singer (another conflict of interest: I played guitar in No Love), and she’s just as strong here as she is in No Love, with a sarcasm-drenched sound that walks the line between melodic and biting, and as always great lyrics (“All Day I Work for Little Money”). Of course I’m going to tell you to get this… so get it!

Instinct?: Pray for Death cassette (Bunker Punks Discs & Tapes) Usman and Jeff who work at Sorry State put this out on their Bunker Punks label, and like the Tizzi demo they just released, this one gets the enthusiastic Sorry State stamp of approval. Usman gave the lowdown on this one in his staff pick a few weeks ago and the label’s description is way more on the money than I would ever be, but in case you don’t click through to those documents, this tape is exactly the ripping d-beat hardcore you thought it was when you saw the cover. From one angle it sounds like what I’d call metallic crust, but those parts share space with more brutal, Disclose-influenced bashing. Not a skipper.

Education: Parenting Style 7” (Symphony of Destruction Records) Parenting Style is the new 4-song EP from this Italian post-punk band who had a previous LP on Symphony of Destruction a few years back. I haven’t heard that one, but Parenting Style is cool. Education sounds to me like they’re influenced by dark but still kind of “rock” bands like Bauhaus, early Christian Death, and Killing Joke. However, rather than doing a straight homage, Education approaches this sound like a hardcore band, with high intensity and an aggressive playing style, particularly in the drums. Education reminds me of Diät, but they’re not that far away from something like Ex-Cult either, even though the presentation is very different (which seems like a suitable spot to note that the artwork is super cool). Fans of Raleigh’s sadly departed Crete should also check this out. This band should tour here so all my friends can break out their goth gear.

Featured Release Roundup: February 25 2021

Prision Postumo: Amor, Salud, y Dinero 12” (self-released) We carried a demo 7” from LA’s Prision Postumo a while back, but Amor, Salud, y Dinero is their first proper release. While Prision Postumo is a punk band—and a raw and scrappy one at that—this record defies a lot of the hardcore / DIY scene’s conventional logic. Prision Postumo is melodic, their singer doesn’t shout, scream, or growl, and the record is quite long (the 30-minute run time feels epic when 45 RPM 12”s have become the norm). The thing is, though, these choices sound refreshing. It’s great to hear a band that has the energy level of a hardcore band, but doesn’t sound so grim and desperate. While my Spanish isn’t good enough to know much about what Prision Postumo is singing about, there’s a sense of joy in their music that reminds me of the Dickies or the Adicts, two bands cited as influences in the label’s description. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Amor, Salud, y Dinero also reminds me of Rancid’s Let’s Go, which was similarly jam-packed with anthems and had every reason to feel monotonous but didn’t. I don’t think my description here articulates what’s special about this record, but I think it is special, and from the chatter I’ve seen online, I’m not the only one.

Mister: Espejismo 7” (Not Normal) Not Normal brings us the debut 7” from this band out of Milwaukee. To me, it sounds like Mister splits the difference between a rougher, 80s US hardcore style and the more jittery and catchier Midwest / egg punk sound. They're super fast and their vocalist is gruff, but the bass is bubbly and melodic and the drummer lays down grooves that make you want to jump up and down and get weird rather than killing your friends in the pit. In those ways, Mister reminds me of perhaps my favorite Not Normal release—the 7” from Menthol—and if you’re familiar with that underrated ripper, you know that’s a very, very good thing.

Tums: Old Perverts and Horse Fuckers cassette (Not Normal) Old Perverts and Horse Fuckers is the latest cassette from this Chicago band with two previous tape releases on Not Normal. Tums covers “TAQN” by LA’s the Eyes (very well, by the way!), and while the fast punk of the Eyes and the Dils figures in Tums’ stew of influences, they also indulge in punk’s wackier side. This comes out most on the opening and closing tracks, “Dumb Grandma” and “Griselda,” and while those songs sound like a bunch of in-jokes and silliness, they’re fun, like in-jokes I want to be in on. If you’re just looking to rip, though, Old Perverts and Horse Fuckers has plenty of that up its sleeve. If you’re into Judy & the Jerks’ lighthearted take on hardcore, this is a cool pickup.

Headsplitters: End Uniform Terror 7” (Desolate Records) Latest 7” from this New York hardcore punk band who released an LP on Desolate in 2019. While the aesthetic is very different, every time I listen to Headsplitters I can’t help but think about how much they sound like Direct Control. They’re even a three-piece! The singer sounds like Brandon, the riffing has a similar hint of thrash while leaning on Poison Idea chord progressions, and Jeff even says the drummer plays like Mike from Direct Control. I doubt any of this is intentional on Headsplitters’ part, but it’s kind of uncanny, and it’s also a huge compliment as Direct Control is very near to my heart. Putting that aside, End Uniform Terror is another ripper from Headsplitters. This is pure hardcore punk that avoids the cliches of subgenres like d-beat or USHC in favor of something that’s fresh-sounding and timeless. While the title is an out-and-out ripper, they pack the record with moments that reach for something more, like the brilliant, Toxic Reasons-esque guitar lead in “Distant Light.” I get the feeling this band flies under many people’s radars, but they’re a real gem.

Galore: S/T 12” (Rocks in Your Head Records) Debut vinyl from this pop band out of the Bay Area. I think it’s a pretty low-profile, small pressing release, and I hadn’t heard about it, so I’m grateful to one of our awesome customers for hipping me to Galore. Galore reminds me of bands like the Dolly Mixture and Young Marble Giants… like those groups, they play pop music that comes off as introverted and played with a gentle touch. While a faster song like “Cucaracha” revs up a little, most of the songs on this record sound pensive and tentative, like Galore is working through their feelings or even just what means to be a band as they go, and letting us in on that process feels intimate and special. Fans of the poppier, gentler end of the post-punk spectrum should give this a listen.

Cexcrime: Rip It If It’s Specific cassette (Deluxe Bias Country Club) We just got in a batch of tapes from the Deluxe Bias Country Club label, and while they’re all worthwhile, for my money this one from Cexcrime is the pick of the litter. Like most of the releases on this label, you get basement 4-track level fidelity and ripping fast tempos, but where Cexcrime separates from the pack is in the vocal department. The sound is like Big Zit or Lumpy & the Dumpers, a sort of constipated squawk, but oozing with personality. The riffs are simple but catchy and very punk, and the five tracks blaze by in about five minutes, climaxing with the “Institutionalized”-style rant in “My Way.” Excellent stuff.

Featured Release Roundup: February 18 2021

The Smog: Set in Stone / Lost My Mind 7” (Going Underground Records) This is the third single from this Japanese punk band, though it’s the first one I’ve heard. Those of you who have followed Sorry State for a while may be familiar with the two albums we put out by LA’s Rough Kids or the album we released from Japan’s Louder, and if you liked any of those, Smog has a very similar sound. To me, these bands are some of the truest heirs of 70s punk like the Buzzcocks, Generation X, and the early material by the Jam, marrying classic pop songwriting with a big guitar sound and energetic delivery. While it’s not too far away from bands like the Marked Men and Radioactivity, it doesn’t sound like “garage” to me, and it certainly doesn’t sound like pop-punk… it’s just classic, timeless, tuneful punk that seems impossible for a modern band to get right until a band like the Smog nails it. Both tracks are strong, but for my money the b-side, “Lost in My Mind,” is the stronger of the two, with its varied dynamics and bursts of melodic, Bruce Foxton-esque bass playing. I’m hoping we hear more from the Smog, particularly if, as with this record, it’s available at a great price from a US label.

Covid SS: demo cassette (Planeta Destrozado) Debut release from “a quarantine band formed between Mexico, Chile and Argentina.” I’m not sure if they wrote and played these songs remotely, but it sounds very natural and organic to me, like a band playing in a room together. The style is cool. The drums play a mid-paced d-beat, but the riffs remind me as much of punkier UK82 bands like the Exploited and the Insane as they do of Discharge. But then most of the songs have these trebly, melodic lead guitar parts a la Kill by Remote Control-era Toxic Reasons, and the vocals have a catchy but aggressive style that reminds me of Criaturas. Oh, and the sound is super raw, which adds a little salt to counteract the sweetness of some of those guitar riffs. At the end of the day, Covid SS’s demo sounds like punk, like it could be off the P.E.A.C.E. comp or some killer international tape comp.

Beton Combo: Perfektion ist Sache der Götter 12” (Static Age Musik) Reissue of the 1981 album by this German punk band. I wasn’t familiar with Beton Combo before this reissue, but the label’s description posits this as a key release in the history of German punk. It’s worthy of being revered, as this is a diverse, powerful LP with strong production and a passionate performance. The UK punk influence is palpable here, not only with some Pistols-ish moments, but (particularly on the a-side) some oi!-ish parts that sound like Beton Combo might have been listening to Sham 69 and Cockney Rejects. Interestingly, the a-side is mostly faster / punker sounding songs, while the b-side skews toward moodier, atmospheric songs informed by the post-punk scene. Beton Combo formed in 1978 and didn’t release this, their first record, until 1981, so perhaps this LP includes tracks that were conceived and developed over a longer period. That could be a reason this LP feels more fleshed-out and diverse than a lot of punk records, but thankfully Beton Combo had lost none of their punk energy by the time they recorded. Besides the great sound on this reissue, Static Age Musik’s version adds a thick booklet full of vintage photos and flyers and lyrics for all the songs. An excellent record that anyone with a taste for early international punk will love.

Nosferatu: Live at This Is Austin cassette (No Solution) Just what it says on the tin, this is a live recording of Nosferatu destroying at This Is Austin fest. I love Nosferatu—how could I not love a band that takes so much influence from Koro?—but they have little regard for fidelity even on their proper studio releases. This recording is “deep CD bonus tracks” or “questionable Soulseek download” quality, but even through the murk you can tell that Nosferatu is destroying this room. This is a niche item, but I know plenty of you out there are proud members of Nosferatu’s niche.

The Mall: Zone 12” (Fixed Grin) Vinyl reissue of the 2020 cassette by this project out of St. Louis featuring (or, rather, consisting of) Mark Plant from Broken Prayer. (Vinyl Conflict referred to the Mall as “someone from Sorry State’s bargain bin playing beep boop music,” a barb you shall pay for, Egger!) I wanted to get copies of the cassette when it came out, but I never made it happen, so this vinyl version is the first time Sorry State is carrying Zone. Worry not, though, because this is the far superior version. In case you didn’t catch Zone on YouTube (or Soulseek, who is thanked in the insert), the Mall is a hardware synth project in the vein of Molchat Doma or Special Interest’s more electronic material… and if you haven’t heard those bands (where have you been?), imagine the mechanical rhythms of dance music paired with melodic synth lines and dressed up with the noisier, grittier textures of DIY. Zone isn’t pop music—the vocals are too harsh and buried in the mix—but it’s not exactly noise or dance music either… it’s in the spot on the Venn diagram where those things overlap. Like the aforementioned bands, this only takes a listen or two to get its hooks in you. I’m very glad Fixed Grin preserved this on vinyl. And while the packaging looks from the outside like a budget job with a stickered DJ sleeve, when you dig in you’ll find a purple insert that matches the band’s color scheme and a thick, beautifully designed lyric booklet / zine full of awesome cut-and-paste artwork.

The Mall: Every Particle 7” (Fixed Grin) The new label Fixed Grin Records released two records by the Mall simultaneously: a 12” vinyl reissue of their Zone cassette from last year and this, a new 2-song single. As much as I like Zone, Every Particle is even stronger. The production is clearer and more powerful, with the kick and snare sounds in particular fuller and heavier, the prominent and persistent boom bap pushing Every Particle more toward dance music. While that motorik drive gets you out of your seat, multiple synth lines criss-cross the mix with earworm melodies. I should also note that Mark Plant—the person behind the Mall—was in Sorry State’s own Broken Prayer, and while he played guitar in that band, the Mall sounds like a logical progression. If Broken Prayer was bringing influences from noise and minimal synth to hardcore punk, the Mall is a hybrid of noise and minimal synth with vestigial traces of hardcore, particularly in the shouted vocals, which are bathed in distortion and reverb. If you’ve enjoyed Molchat Doma’s ramshackle DIY approach to New Order or Special Interest’s punkified take on noise and dance music, Every Particle will be right up your alley.

The Nerves: Hanging on the Telephone 7” (Splattered!) Splattered! reissued this classic four-song EP from the Nerves last fall, but they sold out so quickly I wasn’t able to write about it. Now that we have a healthy restock, I thought I’d direct your attention to this classic. Most people will know the title track from Blondie’s version, which is the first track on their classic album Parallel Lines. Way fewer people know the song is originally by the Nerves, who released this lone EP back in 1976 (though interest in the band has resulted in many archival releases in subsequent years). The Nerves were ground zero for the late 70s power-pop sound that sometimes overlapped with the punk movement, and even though this record came out in 1976, it sounds like a lot of the skinny tie new wave that took the radio by storm around 1979. Take the beat sound of the early Beatles, give it a Byrds-inspired jangle, and exchange the saccharine lyrical subjects and bright major key progressions for something a little more “adult” and sophisticated. While the Cars and the Knack represent the more commercial end of where that sound went, records by the Db’s, Chris Stamey, and their disciples (like the Replacements and early R.E.M.) were truer to the Nerves’ template. Even if you could take or leave all of those bands, though, this 4-song EP is raw, energetic, and singular enough that it should be in your collection, particularly if your tastes encompasses pop-oriented punk bands like Generation X, Blondie, and 999.