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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 No 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.

Featured Release Roundup: February 11 2021

No Negative: The Darkening Hour 12” (self-released) No Negative’s previous LP, The Last Offices, was Sorry State’s Record of the Week back in May 2019, and this EP delivers more of the unclassifiable music that knocked me out then. No Negative is a tough band to describe because they don’t stick to a particular style or mood, so I’ll just go track by track. “Perverbial Grade” takes a two-note figure whose sunny-yet-warped vibe reminds me of Whatever Brains and splatters it with two loose and expressionistic lead guitars engaged in a death battle for your full attention… take the intensity and density of noise rock, but remove the downer vibes. “Upside Down World” sounds like it could have come out of just about any era of the Fall (and, consequently, reminds me of some modern Fall-influenced bands like Parquet Courts), but the wild guitars keep the track sounding like no one but No Negative. “Raw Deal” is a space-y instrumental that sounds like primitively recorded Ash Ra Tempel (no drums), while the last track, “Mon Obsession Personelle ft. Bernardino Femminielli,” is a kinda-sorta cover of “Louie Louie” with dramatic spoken word vocals in French. It’s a wild ride, but I’m glued to my seat every second. This will be a thrill for anyone who likes their guitar music to go way out.

Plastics: Plastic World 7” (Crew Cuts) Plastic World premiered online about a year ago, but when I hit up Brighton, England’s Plastics to get copies of the cassette for Sorry State, they let me know a 7” pressing was in the works. One global pandemic later, and here we are. It’s unsurprising that someone wanted to put Plastic World on wax because this is a standout piece of modern fast hardcore. While steeped in the 80s international classics, Plastics’ chorus-drenched guitar sound and willingness to dive head-first into catchy breakdowns makes me think of bands like Torso, C.H.E.W., and Vittna. Like those bands, Plastics’ songs are dense and well-crafted riff bonanzas that keep the energy level in the red. If you’re into any of the bands I mentioned above, this is not one to skip.

Death Ridge Boys: Boots on the Streets cassette (self-released) Boots on the Streets is a teaser cassette from this leftist oi! band out of Portland, featuring four new songs (presumably from that LP) and three exclusive cover songs. Anyone acquainted with oi! music knows it exists along a spectrum from very rough and primitive to polished and melodic. Death Ridge Boys lean in the latter direction, building their songs around the big choruses that make bands like Cock Sparrer and Criminal Damage punk classics. They keep the production rough, but the songwriting is so pop-oriented and the playing so tight that it can only sound so nasty. A track like “Hearts on Fire” is so poppy that it reminds me of Rancid, and while I think that’s cool, some people might need a little more grit. The four new songs are excellent, but I was excited to hear what Death Ridge Boys did with these cover songs. “We’re Not In It To Lose” by the Big Boys was already an anthem, so it fits into Death Ridge Boys’ catchy oi! aesthetic, and makes me hear something in the song that I didn’t get from the Big Boys’ original. It didn’t take much to pull the oi! influences out of “We’re Gonna Fight” by 7 Seconds, and Death Ridge Boys do a great job there too, but the real surprise is their cover of Wire’s “Mannequin.” Pink Flag is my favorite LP ever, and I gotta say they did a good job on this ambitious cover, even nailing the high notes in the backing vocals. Anthemic punk can be cheesy in the wrong hands, but that they chose and then nailed this cover confirms Death Ridge Boys’ appreciation for subtlety and style. Plus, not only is the music killer, with an 18-minute running time, Boots on the Street offers more bang for your buck than your typical promo / teaser release.

Collate: Medicine b/w Genesis Fatigue 7” (Domestic Departure) The last two records by Portland’s Collate got nods as Record of the Week at Sorry Sate, and this latest two-song single is just as powerful. Collate planned to record a new LP in March 2020, but like so many bands, COVID-19 threw a wrench in the gears. Since they had already recorded these two songs, Domestic Departure released them as a two-song single, and I’m glad they did. These tracks are KILLER. Stylistically, they’re in the same vein as previous releases from Collate. If you haven’t heard those, Collate seem to take a lot of inspiration from the early Rough Trade Records / UK post-punk sound—particularly bass-forward bands like Delta 5, Essential Logic, the Slits, and Gang of Four—but they playing is more aggressive and the production nastier and noisier, more like the DIY hardcore that we focus on at Sorry State rather than the more polished presentation of Lithics or Shopping. These two tracks only add up to about four minutes of music, but no one would call a second of this record filler. I hope that planned LP happens, because this single just blazes.

New Vogue: S/T (self-released) I flipped over New Vogue’s previous cassette when it came out back in 2018, and this follow-up reminds me why I love this band so much. New Vogue reminds me of bands like GG King, ISS, Predator, and Blood Visions-era Jay Reatard, all of whom bring to noisy punk a talent for writing dark pop songs. This self-titled tape (like their previous one), is just hit after hit. Take a track like “Safe on the Autobahn,” which starts with a brooding bass line and robotic-sounding verses, leads into a pre-chorus section that builds the tension and introduces a little melody, then—BAM!—explodes into an anthemic chorus. I can’t help but yell along, “I feel safe on the autobahn / I feel safe!” As I do this, my mind wanders to seeing Jay Reatard several times throughout 2007 and 2008 and doing the same thing along with “My Shadow” and “Nightmares.” And as I let the track play through, I’m reminded “Safe on the Autobahn” also has whole different middle eight and outro sections that are just as good as the other parts… and tracks like “Birdman” and “Reptile” are just as great. I can’t get over how awesome this tape is. Get this now, but someone needs to step up and give the world some New Vogue vinyl.

Silicone Prairie: My Life on the Silicone Prairie 12” (Feel It) I can paraphrase some key facts about Silicone Prairie, but I am under no illusion that I can describe what’s going on with this album… it’s so dense and so original that you have to experience it, and it’ll take far more listens than I’ve been able to give it to exhaust everything it offers. Returning to the aforementioned facts, Silicone Prairie is a project helmed by Ian Teeple, whom you may know from Warm Bodies (one of my favorite bands of the past decade) and Natural Man and the Flamin’ Hot Band. Ian always struck me as one of those musical genius types, and Silicone Prairie (even more so than the already ambitious Natural Man stuff) sounds like he’s cutting loose and letting that talent run wild. The 4-track production and jittery rhythms might tie this to post-Coneheads punk, but My Life on the Silicone Prairie has a wideness of scope and a sense of musical ambition that most bands who fit in that category lack. The pop grandiosity, genre agnosticism, and off-the-cuff presentation make me think of the golden era of Guided by Voices (Propeller, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes), particularly when the 60s psych influences come to the fore, but that’s more a common approach than a sonic resemblance. It’s rare to hear a record as ambitious Alien Lanes, Meat Puppets II, or Double Nickels on the Dime, much less one that retains punk’s immediacy, energy level, and lack of pretension. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in experiencing, I suggest you carve out some time to give My Life on the Silicone Prairie an attentive listen. I’m sure you’ll come back for more.

Freak Genes: Power Station 12” (Feel It) Power Station is the fourth album from this duo, following previous releases on Alien Snatch and Drunken Sailor. Feel It Records is a fitting US home for Freak Genes, as they specialize in music that’s interesting, immediate, and difficult to classify, and that’s a perfect description for Power Station. While Freak Genes isn’t afraid to drop a melodic guitar lead every once in a while, they’re primarily a synth group, albeit one that doesn’t fit into a single sub-genre. A track like “Followed It Down” is dance-y, while “Something Else” has a herky-jerky, Devo-ish robotic rhythm, and “Ford Fairlane” is more pop… and that’s just the first three tracks! Throughout Power Station, Freak Genes walks fine lines between complex and immediate, rhythmic and melodic, art and pop. The only comparison that makes sense to me is New Order; while they don’t have Freak Genes’ occasional silly / surreal bent (this is, after all, still the band who wore duck masks on the cover of their second album), New Order is the only group I can think of who threads the above needles similarly to Freak Genes. There’s also something about Power Station that reminds me of Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions; like that record, Power Station makes great songwriting feel not like an end in itself, but a as a tool to use in service of creating a rich and immersive world.

Featured Release Roundup: February 4 2021

Ritual Warfare: Repulsive Addiction 7” (Sewercide Records) Sewercide continues their hot streak with this three-song EP from Halifax’s Ritual Warfare. While I think of Sewercide as a hardcore label, Ritual Warfare is full-on metal, though it’s the kind of metal that appeals to punks. I’d wager that members of Ritual Warfare have well-worn copies of Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales in their own collections, as their riffing style and rhythms owe more than a little to that classic record. It’s hardly a throwback though; Ritual Warfare drops into full on raw blasting parts occasionally (most effectively on the 58-second ripper “Blood Fucker”), and these parts up the intensity level even more. The recording quality, artwork, and everything about this release are spot-on, so check this out if you’re into that raw mid-80s sound that lives on the bubble between thrash and death metal.

Razor: Armed and Dangerous 12” (Relapse) Relapse Records reissues the debut 1984 album from this Guelph, Ontario metal band. Razor stuck around into the well into the 90s and were a staple of the late 80s and 90s thrash and speed metal scenes, releasing records like Violent Restitution, a favorite of Jeff here at Sorry State. However, Armed and Dangerous captures the band at an earlier stage when they had more of the original New Wave of British Heavy Metal in their sound. Like great independently released NOWBHM records from bands like Blitzkrieg and Raven, Razor combined high energy rock and roll songwriting with virtuosic playing and a raw, high-energy presentation. The grainy recording quality of Armed and Dangerous also sounds like many of those NOWBHM classics… the sound is gritty and grainy, like they recorded it cheaply on used tape, but the tightness and explosive energy come through. This reissue adds a heap of earlier demo versions to the original track listing, and these are even nastier and more blown out. I think I prefer the original album versions, but I’m still glad Relapse gave us a little more bang for our buck.

Lamps: People with Faces 12” (In the Red) People with Faces is the latest album from this long-running LA punk band. I’ve seen Lamps’ records in the bins for years, but I’m not sure I’d checked them out. However, I heard several people I trust mention People with Faces was one of their favorite punk records of 2020, so I listened. Given that Lamps has long been associated with In the Red Records I expected something more like traditional garage-punk, but People with Faces is edgy, arty, and avoids the kind of rock and roll cliches that leave me cold. Lamps bop along at motorik-type tempos, which keeps the energy level high as your ear gets treated to a buffet of tones, including lots of distorted bass and synth squeals. The whole album is strong, but it feels back-loaded because there are two awesome cover songs toward the end of the record: “I Owe It to the Girls” by Teddy & the Frat Girls and “I Need a Freak” by Sexual Harassment. The way Lamps’ style meshes with those other compositions is just magical. Killer record.

Preening: Dragged Through the Garden 12” (Ever/Never) Latest record from this now-veteran Oakland trio whose records I’ve been enjoying for several years now. When I wrote about their previous record, the Greasetrap Frisbee EP, I said they were “bursting with ideas, like they’re trying to cram an entire album’s worth of music into every single song.” Things are a little different on Dragged Through the Garden, which feels more austere and minimal. I don’t think this is a reference that has ever occurred to me before when I listened to Preening, but these tracks remind me of the early Minutemen material, albeit with D Boon’s scratchy guitar replaced with an expressive saxophone. The vocals sound a lot like D Boon, delivering these semi-cryptic pronouncements. There are a lot of Minutemen-style grooves in the music, too. Preening centers most of these songs around a single musical motif the band explores for as long as it feels interesting… sometimes that’s not very long, sometimes it’s a little longer. The pattern holds until the last track, “Extortion (Version),” a dub track that’s as evil a take on that sound as you’re likely to find. I like this whole record, but that ending is particularly strong. Lovers of avant-garde / progressive / art punk, get this… it might be the best Preening record yet.

Herejia: Insurrección 12” (Esos Malditos Punks) I’m not knowledgeable about the history of Mexican punk, but that’s a gap in my knowledge of punk history I’m interested in filling. I was lucky enough to happen upon an original copy of Massacre 68’s  ¡No Estamos Conformes! LP years ago, and I knew about Atoxxxico from the 2017 reissue of their 1990 album, but my knowledge doesn’t go much deeper than that. Fortunately, the latest two reissues on the Esos Malditos Punks label are taking me to class. Insurrección was the second full-length from Herejia, who formed in 1986 in Ciudad Neza, just outside Mexico City. While the 1990 release date might give pause to 80s purists, Herejia sounds like pure 80s hardcore punk to me. The drums pound out straightforward 1-2-1-2 beats and the vocals swing back and forth between oi!-ish chants and a raspier, Discharge-influenced bark. The only exceptions are the more melodic tracks that open each side of the record. I’m not sure what the deal is with these since they’re so different than the band’s punk material, but if nothing else they provide a little contrast. Esos Malditos Punks did a great job with this reissue too, with great sound, a nice printing job, and a reproduction of the full-size zine that accompanied the original pressing. The zine is probably a lot more interesting if you’re a Spanish speaker, but even if you’re not, it’s packed with awesome art. If you’re also curious about the history of Mexican punk, this is a great place to start or continue your journey.

Sedicion: Verdaderas Historias De Horror 12” (Esos Malditos Punks) This is a reissue of the third record by this Mexican punk band, originally released in 1991. Like the Herejia LP that also just got reissued, Sedicion’s sound is eclectic, but the core is a tough, punked-up take on the early LA death rock sound. Imagine if T.S.O.L. circa Dance with Me or Christian Death circa Only Theatre of Pain were also really into the singles coming out on Riot City Records. Some songs also remind me of Eskorbuto’s Clash-isms, though I wonder if that would have been a direct influence… I’d be curious to know how much Spanish punk made it to Mexico in the 80s. A lot of the Mexican punk I’ve heard is loose and primitive, but Sedicion is a powerful band, both on the songs that lean toward death rock and post-punk and the straightforward rippers. I like the recording too, which reminds me of what was coming out of Mystic Studios in the 80s. This reissue adds a gatefold sleeve with liner notes (in Spanish) and juggles the track listing around, with 7 of the original LP’s eight tracks on side A, the climactic closing track “Escucha” opening side B, and five bonus tracks. While it’s a shame to interrupt the original LP’s flow, the bonus tracks are killer. The recording is a little stronger than the LP tracks, and the songs are just ripping. “Entre Ideas” sounds like a long-lost track by Killing Joke or Dezerter at their best… punk intensity with post-punk complexity. I can’t figure out where these tracks appeared originally, as the only place I can find them together is Bambam Records’ 2015 CD reissue. Regardless, this is a keeper, particularly when you add in the awesome artwork.

The Ex: Disturbing Domestic Peace 12” + 7” / History Is What’s Happening 12” (Superior Viaduct) Superior Viaduct—just about the classiest reissue label you can find—just reissued the first two full-length albums by Dutch anarcho punks the Ex. I’d never listened to the Ex closely before, but I’ve always seen them described as the “Dutch Crass.” I think that has as much to do with the band’s radical politics as their music, but they’re in the same sonic ballpark. While the Ex emerged more or less contemporaneously to Crass, their sound anticipates many of the Crass-affiliated bands like Zounds and Subhumans. Disturbing the Domestic Peace has a minimal anarcho sound, but my favorite moments are when a primitive synth appears, like the killer opening track “The Sky Is Blue Again.” History Is What’s Happening is a little more developed, with a Gang of Four-ish quality to the bass playing, which is where most of the action is happening. The Ex is a universe unto themselves and these two albums are just one corner of that, but if you’re interested, these reissues (which include great sound, beautiful reproduction of the artwork, bonus posters, and thick booklets) are the way to go.

Featured Release Round Up: January 28 2021

Mirror: 2nd 7” (Esos Malditos Punks) Mirror asked me to write their new record’s description, and I stand by what I said… this is another killer record from Mirror. Here’s the description: Four years after their debut, here’s the second 7” from this Texan band featuring members of punk royalty like Criaturas, Kurraka, Impalers, Vaaska, Institute, Wiccans, and many others. While no one would mistake Mirror for anything but a hardcore band, they’re a hardcore band that pays close attention to texture and atmosphere. The label that released their first EP called them “space punk” and I wrote about the “woozy, hallucinogenic” guitars on that record. However, this time around the swirling feedback gets dialed back in favor of a more streamlined attack akin to the minimalistic creepiness that emanated from 80s Japan, with tracks like “Control Group” and “Hall of Cryptids” borrowing the wrecking ball swing of Fuckedheads-era Gauze. After four fist-pumpers, the EP reaches a climax with the closing track “Cadaver Dogs,” which dials back the tempo a hair and sounds like a house show where someone’s spiked the beer with LSD. Recommended if you like your hardcore raging, slightly left of center, and oozing with personality.

Hellish Inferno: demo cassette (self-released) Demo cassette from this new d-beat band from Oakland, California. Note that the version we have right now is the original self-released version limited to 50 copies; Manic Noise Records will repress this tape soon, and hopefully we can get copies of that as these will be sold out not long after you read this. When I first listened to Hellish Inferno, the first thing that jumped out was the raw recording. It’s noisy and blown out in an “80s rehearsal tape” kind of way, but when I listened to it more, I realized the relentless doot-dat-doot-doot-dat you need to hear for this stuff to hit is right where it needs to be. The guitars, bass, and echo-drenched vocals are nasty as hell, though. Musically, Hellish Inferno reminds me of Tortür in that it’s super fast and packed with two-chord Discharge riffs, but the raw recording gives it a different vibe, more of a straight up Cimex / Shitlickers kind of thing. This one is a certified ripper.

Midnite Snaxxx: Contact Contamination 7” (Slovenly) I’ve been singing Midnite Snaxxx’s praises for years now, and that train will not stop rolling with “Contact Contamination.” Midnite Snaxxx has proven themselves to be great at 90s-style garage rock, power-pop, and (especially on their last album) spiky post-punk, and these two tracks contain traces of all of those. The vocals here are more shout-y and percussive than the Snaxxx’s poppier tracks, but what they lean on here is the interplay between the band’s two guitarists. There are few things in this world I love more than dueling lead guitars, and moments like the break in “Contact Contamination” and the outro for “Fight Back” are perfect examples of how transcendent that sound can be. Two killer tracks and a beautiful layout from Sarah Sequoia… this is essential in my book.

The C-Section: self-titled cassette (Human Headstone) The packaging doesn’t give away much, but the C-Section is on the Human Headstone label, so I assume they’re from somewhere near Philadelphia and they may even feature Human Headstone’s Matthew Adis, whom you might remember from Salvation or Latishia’s Skull Drawing. Both of those bands had an arty edge, but the C-Section is unhinged, a freaks-on-speed barrage a la the Meat Puppets’ In a Car. The second track, “Bloodied Head,” sounds like Rudimentary Peni learning to play like Koro… it fucking rules. But then the mid-tempo track (“Rigor Mortis Ring Finger?”) channels the catchy nihilism you hear on Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP. Sick artwork too, a hallmark of Adis’s output. The only complaint I can lodge is that this is so good, maybe it should have been a 7”.

Videodrome: 2020 cassette (Convulse Records) 2020 is the second cassette from this Denver band, arriving a mere four years after their first. I guess it’s just that quality takes time, because this rules. At its core, this is the noisy and nihilistic hardcore that has been a hallmark of Denver’s scene for a while now. However, there are harsh noise / power electronics-style parts as well. What’s even cooler is that these parts don’t feel like tacked-on intros and outros… they stand on equal footing with the guitar/bass/drums stuff. It’s clear Videodrome aspired to something beyond your garden variety hardcore, and they deliver. Between Videodrome, Kombat, and the C-Section, this is a great week for creepy and noisy hardcore with awesome graphic design.

Vicious Blade: EP cassette (self-released) First release from this Pittsburgh band that lives in the grey area where metal and hardcore meet. The opening track, “Banshee’s Blade,” is straight up crossover thrash with blistering riffs and a breakdown that could have come from a Nuclear Assault record, but “Claustrophobia” has a Motorhead-inspired rumble that sounds more like Midnight’s blackened punk. The playing is super tight, and the recording is clear, powerful, and professional without sounding slick or sterile. Vicious Blade sounds like a bunch of punks who are really good at their instruments laying into some classic thrash metal. Maybe this would alienate a purist of either genre, but I love peanut butter with my chocolate.

Kombat: In Death We Are All the Same 7” (Hysteria) This 7” actually came out back in 2017. Kombat played a show at the Bunker here in Raleigh after its release and blew me away. I picked up the 7” that night and I loved it, but I don’t think Sorry State ever carried it. However, some copies popped up, and I jumped on the opportunity to stock this record, even if it’s three years late. In Death We Are All the Same still sounds great. The rhythms are ultra-fast, jagged, and Koro-inspired (much like their drummer’s subsequent band, Hologram), but they drench the guitars in chorus and go off on long melodic tangents that remind me of Devil Master. It’s not metal at all, though, just ambitiously melodic. But it’s also ambitiously fast and ambitiously nasty. The recording is great, clear but raw and very live-sounding. I think the band broke up after this record came out, but that does nothing to diminish this record’s impact.

Reality Complex: demo cassette (Convulse Records) Denver’s hardcore scene produces killer cassettes at a rate disproportionate to the city’s population. The latest is from Reality Complex, a one-person project fitting right into that city’s scene jam-packed with noisy, pissed-off-sounding hardcore bands. The X is in a bolder font than the rest of the band name on the cover, and I wonder if Reality Complex is a straight edge project because some of the riffs and the vocal style remind me of Youth of Today, but the presentation is grittier and meaner… there’s not much posi here. The songs are short and to the point (occasionally reaching Siege-like velocity) and the recording is perfectly blown out. If that description intrigues you, I can’t imagine you’ll walk away from this tape disappointed.

Featured Release Round Up: January 21st 2021

Paranoias: Napalm Springs 7” (Helta Skelta Records) Debut 7” from this killer Australian band. Like several of the bands in the Helta Skelta Records circle, Paranoias has a fast and catchy sound that sits in the middle of the Venn diagram where 70s punk, 80s hardcore, and 90s garage-punk meet. The production is raw and biting, which dirties up a batch of 5 songs that, in different hands, could sound almost bubblegummy. Fortunately, Paranoias bury that catchiness in heaps of distortion, bringing to mind the Angry Samoans, Career Suicide’s catchiest moments, or a surf-inflected version of the Registrators or Teengenerate. In other words, it’s super fast, but you can tap your toe and sing along. I’ve played this about a dozen times already and I still want more.

Courtroom Sketches: demo cassette (Voice from Inside) Demo cassette from this 2-person quarantine recording project featuring Tomek of Koszmar and Mike from Extended Hell. While those bands are more in the d-beat realm, Courtroom Sketches has a pure USHC sound with barreling rhythms, classic-sounding shouted vocals, and the occasional Pig Champion-esque lead guitar part for an extra bit of oomph. Interestingly, the vocals are higher in the mix than a lot of records I hear these days, and that, along with the clear enunciation, makes this great for yelling along if you’re able to keep up with Mike’s lightning-fast delivery. 6 songs including a cover of “Police Brutality” by Urban Waste that fits in perfectly with the blistering originals.

Cage Kicker: Parasitic Future cassette (self-released) 2nd cassette EP from this hardcore band out of Berlin. Y’all gobbled up all our copies of the first tape before we had time to write about it, so we’ve got a bigger stack this time. Which is a good thing, because Parasitic Future is even better! Cage Kicker has a rough USHC sound with burly (but not slick) production, snarling vocals, and complex riffs that are dense, but with a strong sense of catchiness. I’m all for a dumb riff and a caveman rhythm, but Cage Kicker’s songs feel well-written—even elegantly constructed—without sounding sterile or overworked. Parasitic Future is an explosive release all around, and I can picture people going off to this the same way they did the last time I saw Warthog live. I miss gigs, but tapes this ripping are a good consolation prize.

Prospexx: S/T 12” (Symphony of Destruction) Debut 12” from this two-person darkwave project from Singapore. When I was first checking out this record, I was bopping along, thinking to myself, “this is some pretty good darkwave.” It’s a lot like Riki, taking the songwriting approach of 80s synth-pop (particularly the emphasis on vocal melody) and giving the dance beats an added sense of heft and toughness. Then the next track started, and I was like “hey, I know this song,” and realized it was a cover of “Secret Police” by the Danish band No Hope for the Kids, done in Prospexx’s darkwave / synth-pop style. I must have played “Secret Police” hundreds of times when the single came out in 2003… it’s one of the best songs of the 00s, even if the lyrics are a little goofy. I hate to make too much of a cover song, but Prospexx got me with that one, and it shows not only their great taste but also their hardcore punk bona fides. The other three tracks are great too, and I’m sure I’d be raving about them even without the cover song. If you’ve been listening to groups like Riki and Fatamorgana, Prospexx hits those same buttons.

Red Red Krovvy: Managing 12” (Helta Skelta Records) Managing is the second full-length from this Australian band that has been kicking around for well over a decade now. They’ve obviously honed their craft because Managing is a striking record. One thing that interests me about Red Red Krovvy’s sound on this record is that, while they play in this Eddy Current Suppression Ring kind of way where the sound seems wide-open and full of space, when you listen to the actual riffs and songwriting, you realize Red Red Krovvy is basically a hardcore band. It’s easy to imagine any of these songs with double-time drums and double-tracked, distorted guitars. They’d be just as good, but I’m loving the unique vibe they capture on Managing. If you’re looking for a place to start, “Despise the Rich” is a track where everything seems to come together. It starts with a huge riff I could picture Warthog using to clear a dance floor, then the chorus hits and the lyric, “this is why I despise the rich!” gets belted out with all the venom you want from punk. And if that wasn’t enough, a saxophone slides into the mix with a dissonant harmony that gives the song a sense of contrast that I can only describe by making a chef’s kiss gesture. Another favorite is “I Just Got a Dog,” a faster track with lyrics like “he shits in my room” and the brilliantly dumb chorus, “he goes woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof.” Highly recommended for fans of Cold Meat, Sniffany & the Nits, and CB Radio Gorgeous, but I think fans of fast and irreverent punk of all eras would love this. Brilliant record.

Vaxine: S/T 7” (self-released) Debut vinyl from this New York City punk band featuring a couple of transplants who played in the great Portland band PMS84 along with some New York natives with similarly impressive resumes. Vaxine meets in the middle between PMS84’s street punk / UK82 sound and the more hardcore-sounding stuff out of New York (like, for instance, guitarist Mike’s other band Extended Hell). The songs are almost all super fast (only slowing things down a hair for the anthemic “In Decline”), but with a UK82-informed sense of catchiness, particularly in the vocals and occasionally melodic bass playing. It’s clear Vaxine isn’t trying to do anything but deliver a batch of killer punk songs, but they do so with a sense of creativity and style that belies the fact they’ve been around the block a time or two. Take, for instance, their creative use of delay on the vocals, which gives the track “Leeches” one of the most memorable choruses I’ve heard in a while. An all-around killer EP.

Featured Release Roundup: January 7, 2021

Shrinkwrap Killers: Feral Rats Have Become Our Only Pets 12” (Iron Lung) Iron Lung released a limited 7” by this one-person synth-punk project a while back, now we get the full album. In case you didn’t hear the single, Shrinkwrap Killers has a catchy and aggressive synth-punk sound lying somewhere between the Spits (particularly on tracks with programmed Ramones drumbeats) and Lost Sounds (the not-so-Ramones-y ones). It’s a nice mix, since if all the songs sounded like the former it might lean too far toward Lillingtons-esque pop-punk, while if skewed toward the latter sound it would be too arty and impenetrable. While some lyrics are a little goofy, I like how the melodic lines in the vocals are longer and more complex, which reminds me of the Buzzcocks’ more sophisticated take on melodic punk. Sorry for all the band comparisons, but if you like any of the aforementioned groups, this is well worth checking out.

Mentira: Nada Es Sagrado 12” (Iron Lung) Kansas City’s Mentira released a 7” on Thrilling Living a few years back, and now they’re back with a full-length on the mighty Iron Lung Records. The label’s description references Una Bestia Incontrolable, and I think that’s a pretty spot-on comparison given how Mentira swings back and forth between moments that are straightforwardly raging and artier and more progressive. The opening title track is a good example of their straightforward raging mode (and it rips!), but my favorite moments are when Mentira cuts loose. See “Desmotivación,” which combines a Lebenden Toten-style pogo beat with a catchier riff that wouldn’t be out of place for the Zero Boys or Career Suicide. “Viejo Mensaje” is another highlight with its unhinged guitar leads during the verses and bad-trip psychedelic breakdown. This is what you want from a release on Iron Lung; Mentira is informed by hardcore punk’s long history, but committed to moving that history forward and doing something new. And, most importantly, it rips.

The Celetoids: Optic Nerve cassette (Doom Town Records) Latest 4-song cassette EP from this Croatian band, following up their Pupal Stage 12” from 2017. If Celetoids was from the United States, they would be huge. Their sound is fresh to me, taking the pop sensibilities of the Marked Men / Dirtnap Records world, making it a little rawer, and adding a dash of techno-dystopianism. Your Spits and Jay Reatard fans will find a lot to like here, but there’s something about the grittiness of the production and delivery that reminds me of the first Dark Thoughts album and how they presented more melodic, song-oriented punk in a way that felt palatable to the hardcore underground. Highly recommended if you like a raw, catchy punk tune.

The LAST Featured Release Roundup of 2020: December 31st, 2020

Hated: Innocent People 7" (Meat House Productions) First ever reissue for this obscure early 80s punk band from Huntington Beach, California. It's amazing there's never even been a compilation of this band's three singles, of which Innocent People is the first, having come out in 1981. The sound is of the Beach Punk ilk you know from records like Posh Boy's Beach BLVD compilation. You can expect lots of fast ride cymbal action, surf guitar licks, and disaffected-sounding yet melodic vocals. It's a similar sound to bands like the Chiefs, the Simpletones, and Agent Orange, and it's the sound the Adolescents honed to razor sharpness on their debut LP that same year. Yeah, the Hated were no Adolescents, but if you have a taste for 80s California punk, I can't imagine thinking they're an also-ran. Here's hoping Meat House continues their campaign and reissues the other Hated singles.

Funeral: Waiting for the Bomb Blast 7" (Meat House Productions) The second in a pair of crazy rare early California punk singles that Meat House Productions has dug up for us. If the Hated sound like you could slot them onto the Beach Blvd compilation, Funeral could do the same for the American Youth Report comp. Like the bands on that record, Funeral come from the harder, faster end of the early 80s California punk spectrum. I can't imagine they weren't huge fans of the Germs, as they share that band's intensity and rock swagger. However, while these songs are ripping fast, they have a pop undercurrent that reminds me of contemporaries like the Adolescents, Modern Warfare, and MIA. All three songs are cool, but the a-side, "Waiting for the Bomb Blast," is the all-time scorcher, moving from a killer intro that reminds me of Rik L Rik into a catchy punk jam that would have done TSOL proud.

Parnepar:  Dobar Dan, Izvolite cassette (Doom Town Records) Second cassette from this band out of Zagreb, Croatia. While the label's description references a lot of cool-sounding 80s Yugoslavian punk, unfortunately I don't know most of those bands so I'll have to come at this from my limited frame of reference. Parnepar sounds like music of the post-punk era, but the more arty and austere end of it. On the songs that are minimal and led by the bass (with the guitar only providing sparse rhythmic accents), they remind me of This Heat or Wire's artiest moments. When the guitar kicks in, Panepar's sound moves more toward the rhythmically quirky punk of the early Minutemen. I wouldn't come to  Dobar Dan, Izvolite looking for pop hits, but as someone who loves that quirky, arty end of the post-punk spectrum, I like this a lot.

The Cowboys: Lovers in Marble cassette (Feel It) Brand new 5-song cassette from Indiana's prolific Cowboys. I've enjoyed being on the journey with the Cowboys, watching them grow, evolve, and take chances with each new release. Lovers in Marble continues that trend with results at least as good as any other Cowboys release. At this point I'm not sure I'd call the Cowboys a punk band; they're just an underground rock band. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks of Guided by Voices when I listen to Lovers in Marble. Like GBV, the Cowboys are songsmiths at heart, anglophilic (with a particular fondness for British psychedelic pop), and they have a complicated relationship with fidelity. There are moments of pure pop bliss on Lovers in Marble that remind me of the Zombies or even My Bloody Valentine, and there are moments that don't work as well. (I was listening to this in my office and when the off-key, Kermit like vocals came in at the end of "The Bell Rings Less," I heard Dominic shout "they lost me here" from the other room.) I'm partial to bands that throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks, and I'd place the Cowboys in that category along with the Kinks and GBV. I'm sure, by this point, the Cowboys have lost a lot of punks and people with limited bandwidth for new music, but I am still very much on board.

C-Krit: S/T cassette (Stucco Label) Olympia's Stucco Label, who helped introduce the world to Electric Chair and Suck Lords, bring us more of their trademark lo-fi antagonistic punk. C-Krit dabbles in the ultra-fast tempos of the aforementioned bands (see "Am What I Am" and "The Kids Will Have Their Say Pt. II"), but they cover a lot of stylistic ground on this tape. Two of the songs remind me of Flipper and No Trend's loose and nihilistic punk, but then the closing "My Eyes Melt" is a dub-influenced minimal synth track. You'd think it would sound like a jumble, but the DIY basement production helps it hang together. I would love to see what C-Krit would do with twelve inches of vinyl.

Fugitive Bubble: self-titled cassette (Stucco Label) Another ripper from the almighty Stucco Label, and another one that's dissimilar from the ultra-fast hardcore style I know the label for. Fugitive Bubble plays catchy, song oriented punk that teeters on the edge of hardcore. "Checks & Balance" is fast and catchy a la Rhino 39 or the Middle Class, while "Contemporary Restoration" has an anthemic vocal melody that reminds me of the Avengers. The recording sounds raw and live and the band sounds tight but nowhere near slick. It's fast, it's catchy, and it's punk as hell. Recommended if you're a fan of CB Radio Gorgeous or CCTV.

Featured Release Roundup: December 24, 2020

Apsurd: Derealizacija/Svemu Će Doći Kraj 12” (Doom Town Records) Derealizacija/Svemu Će Doći Kraj collects two recordings from Belgrade’s Apsurd: one from 2017 that previously came out on cassette and a new recording. If you’re familiar with 80s Yugoslavian punk—in particular Tožibabe—Absurd should get you excited. The band records on an old 4 track and the sound and production are of a piece with the great Yugoslavian punk from the 80s, while the band’s style takes influences from those bands as well, particularly how Tožibabe combined fast hardcore punk with death rock and anarcho punk. Absurd isn’t just for scholars of some long-ago punk scene, though; they sound fresh and vital despite their clear nods to punk history. Another good reference point is the Soga tape that Iron Lung released on 12” in 2019. Like that release, Derealizacija/Svemu Će Doći Kraj is raw but infectious, capturing the energy and spirit of 80s punk without sounding like a copy or a rehash. I predict this is one of those records I’ll blowing people’s minds with in 5 or 10 years… I can picture myself saying, “oh you don’t know the Apsurd 12”?” and watching some young punk’s jaw hit the floor as they hear their new favorite band.

Various: Seaside Sickness 7” (Sewercide Records) I love regional punk compilations. It was one of my major life ambitions to release one, and I struck that off the bucket list in 2019, when Sorry State released the American Idylls compilation. Seaside Sickness is in that same mold, documenting the current hardcore punk scene from Canada’s remote eastern coast. Misanthropic Minds, Antibodies, Fragment, Dark Dial, Warsh, B.P.S., and Booji Boys each get one track, and I don’t think there’s a weak one in the bunch. In fact, as much as I love the Misanthropic Minds EP that just came out, their contribution to this comp (the title track, actually) is probably their best song… an out-of-control rage fest. Booji Boys, one of the most unique bands in current punk, also contribute a particularly wild and hot track. I know these compilations mean a lot when they serve as a kind of yearbook for the people involved in the scene they represent, but Seaside Sickness is a killer punk record that serves more than just a historical or anthropological purpose. If you love regional punk compilations as much as I do, I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s as well executed as they get.

Star Party: Demo 2020 cassette (Feel It) Star Party is a new group from Washington State featuring members of Gen Pop and Vexx, two bands I really like. I didn’t know that when I first checked out Star Party, and now that I know about the personnel involved, it makes sense why this would be so good. This 4-song tape contains two originals and covers of Cher and the Shop Assistants, the latter of which is a pretty bang-on comparison for Star Party’s sound. If you don’t know Shop Assistants (you should fix that!), imagine the noisy pop of the Jesus and Mary Chain with some Ramones-inspired punk energy. The songs are straightforward and vocal-oriented, but they’re kinda fast and bathed in sheets of fuzz. Honestly, I’m surprised they didn’t make this a 7”, because it’s way better and more fully realized than your typical demo tape. I’ve already played this a lot, and I see that trend continuing.

Razorblades & Aspirin #11 zine Latest issue of this beautiful full-color zine. In case you haven’t checked out Razorblades & Aspirin, it started out as a photo zine and gradually came to include more written content. While there is still a heavy emphasis on photography (and all the photos in the zine are beautifully reproduced), it now includes your typical music zine mix of interviews and reviews, though there’s a lot of attention given to projects that aren’t bands. At this point, Razorblades & Aspirin is pretty much the paper of record for the scene that Sorry State focuses on. In particular, I admire Mike’s focus on the culture around punk music. I think sometimes my focus is too narrowly on records, so I can tell you that Muro rips, but Razorblades & Aspirin is where you’ll learn about Casa Rat Trap, the 40-person artist and cultural collective of which Muro is a part. Essential and inspiring reading.

Undergang:  Aldrig I Livet 12” (Me Saco Un Ojo Records) Fifth album from this Danish death metal band. We don’t typically talk about death metal bands’ fifth albums in the Sorry State newsletter, but I heard some good buzz about Undergang and I checked this record out and dug it. In case you are unaware, the metal scene is experiencing a revival of what the kids are calling OSDM, or Old School Death Metal. When people my age think of death metal, we think of Florida bands like Death and Morbid Angel, or maybe bands like Entombed or Carcass who did similar things in different parts of the world. While I’m sure these modern OSDM bands are familiar with those records, this wave of bands (in whom I’d also include Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold) seems like they take more influence from those bands’ demo eras, or from deeper cut groups like Master and Possessed, or maybe even raw Brazilian death metal. While it still has all the more mainstream death metal bands’ technical proficiency and heaviness, there’s a deliberate sense of ugliness and rawness that reminds me of the hardcore punk we love at Sorry State. If you’re looking to dip your toe in this new OSDM sound,  Aldrig I Livet is a great entry point.

Featured Release Roundup: December 17 2020

Nekra: Royal Disruptor 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) Royal Disruptor is the debut vinyl from London’s Nekra, following a demo that made the rounds a couple of years ago. I love how the artwork on this one does a perfect job of getting across what the music is all about here… mean, minimalist hardcore punk without a lot of bells and whistles and no attempt to curry the favor of any subgenre / record collector clique. The riffs are straightforward but effective, with some songs leaning toward a tougher sound and others drifting toward punky catchiness, but the commanding vocals keep it sounding of a piece. If you like hardcore that makes image and aesthetic take a back seat to the pure expression of anger, this one’s for you.

Daydream: Mystic Operative 12” (Dirt Cult Records) Portland’s Daydream had an earlier 12” on France’s Symphony of Destruction Records, and they’ve moved to domestic Dirt Cult Records for this follow-up. If you’re into dense, angular, and inventive post-hardcore, this record is a stunner. The drummer and guitarist of Daydream are impressive, weaving dense lines around one another in a way that sounds chaotic but artful. Some riffing reminds me of Drive Like Jehu in how it sounds quirky and a little technical yet very catchy. The drummer only plays a straightforward rock / punk beat maybe 20% of the time, the other 80% devoted to more complex patterns that remind me of Bad Breeding’s fusion of noise rock and anarcho punk. While the drums and guitars are engaged in this lengthy game of bob and weave, the bass and vocals push the songs forward and maintain the hardcore punk intensity. The gritty recording and killer artwork push it even further over the top. Excellent record.

Junta: Død Tid cassette (Adult Crash Records) This band from Copenhagen, Denmark has released a series of tapes over the last several years (no less than ten according to their bandcamp!), and Død Tid is the latest. I’m not sure if Junta features any ex members of bands we Americans might know about, but they have the K-Town punk sound I associate with Kick N Punch and Hjernespind Records down pat. A track like “Timeglassets Tyranni” leans toward later Poison Idea or Toxic Reasons with its fist-pumping pace and catchy vocal line, while others like “O Fim Do Mundo” have a straightforward USHC style. Like those Danish classics I mentioned above, there’s a strong sense of melody whatever the approach, yet the gritty recording and looser, organic playing mean it never sounds too slick or polished. It’s punk, and like punk it rules.

Illegal 80:  Den Endeløse Ende cassette (Adult Crash) Adult Crash reissues the 1983 demo tape from this obscure Danish hardcore punk band. I looked around for info about Illegal 80, but the only thing I could find was that (if my interpretation of Google translate is correct) they were from the same city as Electric Deads and released this cassette in 1983. If you love obscure old hardcore from this era, this will be a treat for you. Most of Illegal 80’s music reminds me of early Finnish hardcore like Appendix or Kaaos or super fast UK82 punk like Ultra Violent. Like all of those bands, they play super fast with simple but catchy riffs and snarling vocals that, despite their nastiness, still carry a hint of melody. This tape is 30 minutes long, and while most of it falls into that ripping hardcore mold, many tracks have intros and outros that bring in elements of other styles like anarcho punk and mid-paced, Pistols-esque punk. Presumably Adult Crash’s reissue replicates the original artwork (though if it’s an original design it’s “period appropriate”), and it looks and sounds great. Illegal 80 is the deepest of deep cuts, but if you’re into this era of snarling Scandinavian hardcore, you’ll love it.

Featured Release Roundup December 10th 2020

Moment of Fear: Covid Sessions 2020 7” (Beach Impediment) Moment of Fear is a new project from Tony Bartek (Religious War, the Corpse, Rotten Cadaver) and their debut release, Covid Sessions 2020, is on Beach Impediment so you know it’s good. When I dropped the needle on “Asphyxiation,” the first thing that struck me was that Bartek’s vocal style reminded me of Out Cold, which is high praise from me. Like Out Cold, the music is gruff and aggressive, but with a heavy, oi!-ish groove a la Negative Approach, and a sense of catchiness that’s just enough to make the songs interesting and memorable without sounding cheesy. While the entire EP is in that vein, each song opens up to a wider sphere of influences, culminating in the metallic, nearly 5-minute “Target for Killing.” That song’s fist-pumping riff reminds me of Kill by Remote Control-era Toxic Reasons, but the double bass drumming, catchy guitar hooks, and mean sensibility mean tug the track in a bunch of different directions at the same time. As with most everything on Beach Impediment, this is my kind of hardcore: angry, smart, inventive, and ambitious.

Nutrition: No EP 7” (Neon Taste) This band from British Columbia had a demo in 2018, and No is their vinyl debut. I remember reading that Nutrition featured members of Bootlicker, though I’m unable to find that information now, so it could be wrong. While Nutrition still plays hardcore, the style is very different from Bootlicker. Jeff told me he liked this record and used the word “sassy” to describe it, which hits the nail on the head. The riffs are straightforward, but with a butt-shaking swing to them, and the vocals are snotty but still deep and gruff. Those elements, along with the catchy, note-y guitar parts, remind me of the Shitty Limits (one of my favorites!), while tracks like “Sore Thumb” and “City Wide” sound like Hank Wood & the Hammerheads, particularly when the singer adopts that distinctive Hank Wood cadence. Like both the Shitty Limits and the Hammerheads, Nutrition plays punk that’s stripped down and aggressive enough for the hardcore folks while bringing in enough ’77-style punk catchiness to make the songs stand out. Recommended if you like that vein of punky hardcore / hardcore-y punk.

Various: Killed by Meth #5 12” (It’s Trash Records) For the past several years, It’s Trash Records has been pumping out these Killed by Meth compilation LPs full of tracks by current garage-punk bands from the North American rust belt, a largely economically depressed area around the Great Lakes that takes in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and extends north into Ontario, Canada. While the bands that appear on the Killed by Meth compilations overlap with what I think of as the Total Punk world, the vibe that emerges is different than Total Punk’s sunnier, Floridian take on the style. Maybe this is me projecting, but it feels like bands on these comps are grittier, more stripped down, and more in touch with the gray skies and crumbling post-industrial landscapes of their part of the world. I’ve listened to every volume of Killed by Meth, and this 5th entry might be my favorite. While the earlier volumes felt more eclectic, Volume 5 feels more uniform and more of the tracks rely on pop-style songwriting (though there are exceptions, like Archaeas’s sax-laced Flipper-style dirge). Standouts include tracks by Erik Nervous (who never disappoints), Silicon Heartbeat’s Lost Sounds-esque synth-punk, Doppler Radar and the Local News’s New Bomb Turks-esque riffy garage-punk, Mononegatives’ jittery, drum machine-fueled egg punk, and the Stools’ primitive proto-hardcore. If you’re into a broad range of garage-punk styles, this, like all the other volumes of Killed by Meth, will introduce you to a few new favorites and serves as a fine listen on its own.

Lazy: Rock n’ Roller b/w Am I Dreaming 7” (Reminder Records) Reminder Records digs up another long-lost power-pop gem, this time from Washington, DC’s Lazy. Stylistically, Lazy sits in the space where punk, glam, and hard rock form a brackish water… this is the space where I would put anything from the UK punk band the Boys to the Heartbreakers to early Motley Crue. It’s a style that I love when it’s done well, and these two tracks from Lazy are good enough that one might call them lost classics. If you like your rock and roll riffy, fast, sleazy, and with a big ‘ol spoonful of pop sugar, this is a strong addition to your fire box of anthemic hit singles.

The Daze: I Wanna Be a Star b/w At the Seaside 7” (Reminder Records) If you love power-pop from the late 70s and early 80s, check out every release on Reminder Records. They only have a handful so far, but they have brought nothing but straight fire, digging up the best in obscure music from that golden era. Their sweet spot is bands who recorded (usually at cheap studios) during the punk era and absorbed some of punk’s brashness and its faster tempos, but whose songwriting reaches back to earlier eras of pop, glam rock, psych-pop, and bubblegum. Birmingham’s the Daze are a perfect example. They recorded this single on a 4-track in 1979, and its loud guitars and sprightly tempos sound very much of the era. However, the songwriting is poppier and more ambitious, reminding me of 60s and early 70s groups who fall into the above categories. They sound to me like the early Television Personalities and early Cock Sparrer had an unlikely but beautiful baby, inheriting the former’s psychedelic qualities, the latter’s hooky, Slade-inspired glam influences, and impressive pop songwriting chops from both sides. In a ProTools studio it might be too much, but with a gritty 4 track recording, it’s all I want to hear. Both sides are bangers, too. Get this!

Chronophage: The Pig Kiss’d 12” (Cleta-Patra Records) The Pig Kiss’d is the second LP from Austin, Texas’s Chronophage, who have been developing a buzz in the punk underground over the past few years. I liked everything I’ve heard from them, but this week The Pig Kiss’d really hit me. The first few times I played it, I had it on in the background while I was working and it wasn’t doing much for me, but once I gave it an attentive listen it clicked and I think I’ve played it 6 or 7 times in the past 24 hours. The sound on The Pig Kiss’d is a logical progression from their earlier material. Stylistically this is still rough, ramshackle, and arty pop music, but across each release (particularly since they’ve made the jump to vinyl), Chronophage has grown more refined and more eclectic. As before, I’m reminded of touchstones like the Swell Maps and the Fall, but what separates Chronophage from other bands in this vein is that they sound so American. If you look at a band like the Shifters or even early Pavement, there’s an undercurrent of anglophilia, but Chronophage sound like they’ve listened to a lot of Neil Young, Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters, and 70s album-oriented rock. Those influences (if they are influences) get chopped and screwed and come out weird, but it feels to me like they’re there, and they bump up against the artier approach I mentioned in interesting ways. The songs are cool, the production and arrangements are beautiful, and the overall approach is unique, so if this style of arty underground pop interests you, Chronophage should be on your radar.

Lockheed / Affect: Split 7” (Blown Out Media) Classic-sounding 6-song split 7” from these two raw punk bands. Lockheed is from California, we’ve raved about them before, and these three tracks don’t disappoint at all. Their sound is in that fast and brutal mode with complex riffing, and will slide comfortably into your collection if you’re into bands like Scarecrow and Public Acid. The guitar sound is blown out in a Disclose kind of way and the vocals snarl in a Poffen-influenced style. As for Sweden’s Affect, they have a looser, rawer sound in the early Disclose mold with vocals modeled on Kawakami’s. In contrast to Lockheed’s rhythmically denser style, Affect deals in cascading sheets of noise. I’m feeling the Lockheed side more at the moment, but this is a quality pickup for any raw punker.