Personal Damage: demo 7” (Test Subject Records) From afar, LA’s Personal Damage seemed to make a big splash when they released their demo tape a few months ago. After that small run of cassettes sold out super quickly, these 5 songs of lean and mean hardcore punk have been re-released on a single-sided 7” flexi. Personal Damage appears to be the brainchild of just two people from the LA/Santa Ana area who also play in groups like Hate Preachers and Abuso De Poder. If you’re a fan of early 80s California hardcore, then you’ll feel right at home listening to this flexi. Like their contemporaries White Stains or Chain Whip, Personal Damage takes a few pages out of the book of the distinctly old school, snotty, punky side of LA hardcore. The first Wasted Youth LP or the Circle One Demo are suitable points of comparison. The 50-second opening ripper, “Shit’s Fucked,” is also a dead ringer for The Fix “Vengeance,” but with that unmistakable LA punk guitar rhythmic approach. The vocal performance oozes with charisma and personality, but is also seething with OC-style frustration and dark humor, all presented with a Cadena-esque lackadaisical aloofness. The flexi is also housed in beautiful DIY packaging. The cover art is screen printed in black and silver and contains a 12-page, risograph-printed lyric booklet stapled inside. Much like the cassette, this run of flexis is super limited, so snatch this ripper while you can.
Smirk: EP 12” / cassette (Total Punk Records / Iron Lung Records) With this new EP, Smirk has the unique distinction of having a simultaneous release on Iron Lung Records (cassette) and Total Punk Records (vinyl). That should be a clue for you that this EP is special. As Dominic mentioned in his staff pick a few weeks ago, Smirk’s EP offers seven crackling tracks of punk-infused pop. Not pop-punk, of course, but something far less stylized. While they don’t have the faux-English qualities of bands that emulate their style, Smirk reminds me of Cleaners from Venus, Television Personalities, and the Times, all of whom made homespun pop music informed by punk’s DIY aesthetics and emphasis on energy and drive. While I am, of course, a punk to my bone, it’s the poppiest moments of EP that hit the hardest, like the wistful closing track “Lost Cities” and the bouncy and sunny “So Original,” with its cool Wilko Johnson-esque rockabilly riff. Each track feels like its own little universe though, and the EP’s variety and brevity is an infectious combination.
Prison Affair / Research Reactor Corp: Split 7” (Erste Theke Tonträger) You don’t see split 7”s as much these days; even rarer are splits like this one, which features two well-matched bands, great artwork, and an EP’s worth of non-throwaway material from each band. If you like either Research Reactor Corp or Prison Affair (and if you like one, you almost certainly like the other), you’re going to want this EP. If you haven’t heard them, both bands play that Coneheads-influenced style of egg punk, but they’re far from interchangeable. RRC is more abrasive, with harsher vocals, more manic grooves, and hooks that center on bursts of synth squelch. Prison Affair is more laid-back and melodic, building their songs around intricate, high-speed lead guitar riffing. Both bands offer three tracks, and if you’re a fan of this sound, it’s hard to imagine you won’t walk away satisfied.
Dog Flashback: demo cassette (Foreign Legion Records) Foreign Legion Records brings us the demo tape from this hardcore band from Chicago. According to Bandcamp, this demo came out in December 2019, but I’m glad Foreign Legion has given it a wider release. Longtime followers of Chicago hardcore will clock Ebro’s distinctive vocals right off the bat, and fans of his band Punch in the Face will love Dog Flashback’s pure hardcore sound. That being said, this recording is looser and rougher around the edges than the PITF stuff, but the approach is similarly streamlined. The guitar is a blizzard of power chords (punctuated only a couple of times with unison bends or chaotic bursts of noise), the vocals and bass charge forward without letup, and the drums pound away with power while leaving room for plenty of catchy rolls and fills. It’s very much in the style of SOA, Negative FX, and Negative Approach, but in the hands of these hardcore veterans, the style sounds classic rather than tired. The tape ends with a chaotic run-through of “Arms Race” by B.G.K. No bullshit here, just rippage.
Warcollapse: Bound to Die 7” (Phobia Records) Bound to Die is the latest EP from this long-running Swedish crust institution. While Warcollapse is a name I’ve known for many years (I often think about their memorably titled first album from 1995, Crust as Fuck Existence), I can’t recall hearing them. On one hand, they sound like I would have expected: heavy, Doom-style metallic crust with high production values and an emphasis on heavy low-end frequencies. However, while there’s plenty of fist-in-air, grooved-out banana riff action, there’s a lot going on in these four tracks to keep your ear interested. I love the rhythmic quirks in the chorus to the first track, “Manipulerad,” and the guitar leads are rocked out and drenched in wah-wah. My ear gravitates toward bands with a looser sound, but it’s hard to deny Warcollapse’s power when they lock into a groove, particularly on the memorable mid-paced parts. Maybe this sound would get tiring on a long 12”, but these four tracks are a long way from wearing out their welcome.
Judy & the Jerks: Live in NWI cassette (Earth Girl Tapes) Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Judy & the Jerks are back with this new tape, which captures them live in a basement in Hammond, Indiana. I’ve been a huge fan of Judy & the Jerks since I heard them, and this 10-song live tape is a welcome addition to their discography. The gig itself sounds wild… you can hear the crowd going off during the mosh parts, yelling between tracks, and dragging the band back for an encore at the end of the set. While some live recordings can seem sterile, this one crackles with energy. And the band’s performance is spot-on. I’m amazed that the singer can keep up with those high-speed vocal acrobatics in a live setting, and while I hear a few flubs here and there (it’s a wild basement show after all!), they rip through their complex yet catchy songs with explosive energy. As I’ve said before, Judy & the Jerks always radiates pure fun, and that’s as true of Live in NWI as it is of their studio releases.
Koma: Internment Failure 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus) I’ve been listening to this first LP from the UK’s Koma all week, and I feel like I’m only just finding my way into it. I had been listening to the record on streaming while taking walks in the warm (i.e. not unbearably hot) fall North Carolina weather, and the album’s subtleties have interesting corollaries with change from summer into winter, which seems to happen fast by the standards of geological time, but as a human you need patience to see and appreciate it. Things clicked for Koma when I sat down with the vinyl, as they do with a lot of records. The dense, monochromatic illustration on the cover where there are distinct skeletal shapes, but it’s tough to tell where one element ends and another begins; the dimly lit band photo on the back cover where you can only just discern human shapes in a dark, medieval-looking building; the murky production that refuses to cede attention to any one element, a writhing sonic morass; the fractured lyrics that touch on themes like isolation and the supernatural, but resist efforts to wrench easily summarizable meaning from them… Koma’s sound and visual aesthetic are woven from the same cloth. Their music feels introverted, troubled, even hard to listen to at times, which is a strange emotional register for hardcore to occupy. And Koma is hardcore… loud, fast, and heavy, but with none of the grandstanding or feel-good vibes you get from other points on the genre’s lengthy continuum. It might not be for everyone, but it’s a powerful statement.
The Freakees: Freakee Deakee 7” (House of Timothy) Freakee Deakee is the latest release from this prolific punk/garage band from Los Angeles, and it’s an all-analog production with no computers used at any point in recording or manufacturing the record. I don’t think I’d heard the Freakees before (though Sorry State has their earlier split 7” with Launcher in stock), and I’d describe their sound as restless and raw, but tuneful and memorable. The Freakees remind me of the Reatards in that the songs have a straightforward rock and roll / garage foundation, but they’re performed with a sense of total abandon. Listening to a ripper like “Republicans,” I imagine the singer starting the song with an ill-advised face-first stage dive, then climbing back onstage to perform the rest of the song through a veil of blood. Freakee Deakee drips with this don’t-give-a-fuck energy, at least until the last track, “Freakee Friday,” which careens into a stumbling, post-Funhouse druggy haze. If you like your rock and roll raw, loose, and visceral, this one’s for you.
Bad Anxiety: demo cassette (Earth Girl Tapes) Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Earth Girl Tapes brings us the 4-song demo tape from Bad Anxiety. Bad Anxiety is another one of those projects where one person plays every instrument, and the person in question here is Hampton, who also plays in Judy & the Jerks and a bunch of other Hattiesburg groups. The sound is full-bore hardcore punk with an emphasis on high energy and catchy songwriting. I hear a lot of Circle Jerks in Bad Anxiety’s sound (perhaps because “Police” bears more than a passing resemblance to “Red Tape”), but the vocals are snotty and carry a touch of melody. Maybe it’s because I just spun this record the other day, but the vocals remind me of Lumpy’s in Cal and the Calories, though the music is more akin to Fried E/M’s blistering hardcore. The first three tracks are sub-1 minute sprints, with the EP ending on a (comparatively) mid-paced note with “Big City,” a more rocking track with great, sarcastic lyrics that sounds like something the Controllers or Angry Samoans might have come up with. This would have made for a killer 7”, but this limited-to-100 cassette will have to do.
General Speech #10 zine I often say I’ll read pretty much anything having to do with punk, but a lot of the things I read—zines, books, or stuff on the web—are of poor quality, often with shoddy research, poor copy editing, and ugly and/or non-functional graphic design. General Speech is impeccable in these respects, an underground punk zine crafted with the obvious care and attention to detail that one usually has to shell out a bunch of money to a team of professionals to get. As note-perfect as General Speech might be in these respects, it still strikes me as the purest expression of the concept of the music fanzine that you can find in the punk underground. While most zines adopt, to some extent or another, the tropes of mainstream music publications, the editor Tom’s passion for music seems to be the guiding principle for what lands in General Speech. Tom revels in the details, both the small details of better-known releases and the minutiae of lesser-known punk. For instance, the biggest bands featured in this issue are probably the Damned and Chaos UK, but the articles delve deep into the recesses of those bands’ stories. The article on the Damned is a lengthy feature on Tom’s favorite non-album tracks, while the Chaos UK feature is an interview with the photographer who took the photo on the cover of the band’s Short, Sharp Shock album. Elsewhere in the mag there are features on the obscure Japanese cassette label X.A. Record, the Chilean band Ignorantes, and older groups Fallout, Six Minute War, and Private Jesus Detector. These interviews are rich in detail, Tom’s obsessiveness well matched with the interview subjects’ candor. The cover star and centerpiece of the issue is a long interview with Mune from Paintbox, and while many western publications that attempt to interview Japanese punk bands have trouble penetrating the language and cultural barriers, this interview is gripping for anyone deeply into Japanese hardcore. The writing in General Speech is beyond reproach, but the visuals are just as good, with Tom’s collection of punk ephemera and unimpeachable graphic design skills proving to be an unfuckwithable combo. If you’re anything like me, you’ll pore over every inch of this fanzine and return to it again and again. Totally essential.
Nekropolis Iluzija: S/T cassette (Doomed to Extinction Records) Nekropolis Iluzija self-describes this release as anti-war and anti-military themed. And at first glance, this cassette’s bleak, black and grey cover art along with peace punk symbolism led me to assume that this tape would sound like crust punk. But within 10 seconds of hearing the first song, it was clear that rather than guitar-heavy crust, this tape is a synth-laden electronic project. While this band is based out of San Francisco, none of the lyrics are in English. I believe the band’s name translates to “Necropolis Illusion” from Croatian, which is fitting, because their sound is totally reminiscent of 80s Eastern European coldwave and post-punk. The sparse, cold, but decidedly musical song structures are well crafted, and dense with electronic textures that feel authentically vintage. This tape sounds like a tribute to 80s minimal synth and coldwave that is so well done that it’s almost surgical. The lo-fi, mechanical drum machine is drenched in sweeping, high-pitched synth melodies that sit blaringly loud in the mix. While I don’t understand the words, the vocals are the focal point and have some surprising moments where they shift from restrained invariability to spine-chilling whispers to intense aggression. They sneak in an interesting cover version of a song by Serbian hardcore band Proces, which is a cool little thematic nod to the Yugo area. A must have for those anticipating the stark cold of winter.
DShK: Power for Them, Pennies for You cassette (Bitter Melody Records) Five-song demo from this project based in Asheville, North Carolina. DShK formed during lockdown as a response to the anger and frustration the surrounding events provoked, and the feeling is palpable… there’s an undeniable electricity running through these songs. The Herätys cover is a nice tip of the hat, as DShK has a similar knack for fusing inventive, complex riffing with a sonic template that leaves room for nothing but total assault. Fans of modern mangel, this is right up your alley. I’m unclear whether DShK is a continuing concern or just a onetime thing, but I hope they stick around because this rips.
Rearranged Face: A Rare Caged Fern 12” (House of Timothy) I first saw A Rare Caged Fern circulating on Bandcamp, where the cover art captured my attention. I gave it a listen, liked it, and ordered some copies for the store. Since the vinyl arrived, I like it even more. While Rearranged Face has some of the superficial trappings of egg punk (like jittery rhythms and mutated rock and roll riffing), A Rare Caged Fern is too unique to sum up with a simple genre description. The closest thing I can think of to Rearranged Face in overall vibe is Suburban Lawns; moments also remind me of early B-52’s (without so much camp) or Uranium Club (but less distant and cerebral). Rearranged Face builds songs around catchy, repetitive riffs, but spice things up with weird sci-fi noises, a yelpy vocalist, and jammed-out parts that edge into Can territory. “History of Things to Come” has some of the angular drive of Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction,” while “Chain Brute” breaks up the vibe with a cool disco beat. I’m struggling to get across what Rearranged Face sounds like, and while that can make for a frustrating writing experience, I love that this record’s sound isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever heard before. Fans of the more Rough Trade-informed end of the DIY punk spectrum (think the World or M.A.Z.E.) will love this, but A Rare Caged Fern is unique and charming enough that it will catch ears outside that world, too.
Razorblades & Aspirin #13 zine The latest issue of Razorblades & Aspirin is out! Hopefully most people who are into Sorry State are aware of Razorblades & Aspirin already, but if you aren’t, you need to check it out. You may think to yourself, “why do I need to spend money on a physical zine when I spend half my waking hours scrolling on my phone?,” but this magazine is a showcase for the richness of print. The zine’s focus has always been on beautiful photography reproduced at large scale, high detail, and full color (where appropriate), and if you think the experience of poring over every detail of one of these images is functionally the same as scrolling past something on Instagram, then the two of us have very different ideas of what makes for rich engagement with a piece of art. As with previous issues, the writing in issue #13 is just as interesting as the visuals, including interviews with cover stars Zulu, Jerry A. of Poison Idea, the director Otto Buj (who did the recent Dope, Hookers, and Pavement film about the 80s Detroit hardcore scene), and several others, including several punk-affiliated photographers, who always offer an interesting and under-appreciated perspective on punk. I’m also amazed that a quarterly publication can turn me on to so much great music… I spend every day of my life looking for new music to listen to, yet each issue of Razorblades & Aspirin adds a big stack of artists to my “to check out” pile. I’m not aware of a current punk zine that offers anywhere near this much bang for your buck.
Soul Patrol: Mara 7” (Feel It Records) Feel It Records brings us a reissue of this rare and obscure punk single from the small town of Many, Louisiana in 1979. While a handful of copies of the sleeveless original exist, most everyone will hear Soul Patrol for the first time here, with Feel It adding snazzy new sleeve artwork (courtesy Drew Owen of Sick Thoughts) as well as an insert featuring brief liner notes and a few archival clippings. While, by 1979, the US punk scene was in full swing (or even over in some people’s eyes!), Soul Patrol sounds more like a proto-punk band, their music rooted in the regional garage-punk bands of the Nuggets ilk, but grown more aggressive and confrontational, dropping the beads and flowers in favor of shitty beer and denim. Think of bands like the Dogs (Detroit), Crime, and Destroy All Monsters and you’ll be in the ballpark, but there’s a don’t-give-a-fuck hopelessness here that captures something unique about being a rocker in the deep south. Only two tracks, but they’re both quality KBD bangers.
Prision Postumo: Live in LA cassette (No Solution) The No Solution tape label brings us the latest release from Santa Ana’s Prision Postumo. After carrying their demo 7” and debut LP Amor, Salud, y Dinero, this new tape Live In LA!! provides some insight to Prision Postumo’s energy as a live band. The DIY, black & white presentation has the feel of a home-dubbed live tape that would be passed around among punks in their local scene. No frills—there’s not even a track listing, which forces the listener to immerse themselves in the experience of attending a SoCal punk gig. As we’ve mentioned in our previous descriptions about Prision Postumo, they definitely fall into a more tuneful, melodic category of punk and hardcore. I’ve heard them compared to the Peruvian Rock Subterraneo scene, but when I hear the umpa-umpa drum beats and anthemic, hooky choruses, my mind immediately reminisces about the Oi!-inflected street punk of early 00s Punkcore. The sound of the live recording is raw, but clear enough to decipher what’s going on. It’s apparent that Prision Postumo played super tight at this show. It’s cool to hear moments of chatter in the crowd between songs and also to hear the audience sing “whoa-ohs” along with the band on the slower, sing-along numbers. It’s easy to imagine a group of punks with their arms around each other’s shoulders, drunkenly unified while stomping in a circle pit at this gig. I know I would’ve had my boots strapped on and ready to pogo. Definitely a cool listen.
Set-top Box: Max Headroom 7” (Polaks Recorxds) Set-top Box previously released a compilation of two cassettes on Erste Theke Tonträger; now they’re back with a new, stand-alone 4-track EP on France’s Polaks Records. Max Headroom continues with the style Set-top Box established on their earlier cassettes: a jittery, pop-infused, yet homespun take on what we now call egg punk. I know everyone hates that term, but when something has this trebly lo-fi production, robotic-sounding rhythms, and Chuck Berry riffs twisted into angular shapes, you have to call a spade a spade. While Set-top Box’s sound is consistent with the egg punk world, their songwriting is strong, with the synth-led “Climb the Latter” summoning the pop sheen of Freedom of Choice-era Devo and “DNA” reminding me of Ausmuteants’ nervous synth-punk. A solid grip for those of us who like catchy punk tunes with grit and personality.
Strong Boys: Homo 7” (Static Shock Records) If someone played me Strong Boys for the first time without any prior knowledge of the artwork or the lyrics, I might assume they were a bunch of aggro boneheads playing tough as nails hardcore. With the deep, gruff vocals and the mosh-worthy, yet jangly, Oi!-infused hardcore styling, Strong Boys sounds eerily like 86 Mentality. The band also reminds of me the slightly more regional ilk of laddish bands like The Flex or Violent Reaction. While the tough as nails descriptor rings true musically, Strong Boys is a band that defies expectations. With their quite frankly titled new 7” Homo, Dublin’s Strong Boys are an unabashed gay hardcore band with lyrics confronting the church, ignorance, and homophobia, among other topics. This band combines a powerful variety of seemingly disparate ideas to make one explosive cocktail of a hardcore band. If you were to take an across-the-pond lad sensibility, mix it with the leatherboy presentation of Limp Wrist, add some thoughtful and confrontational lyrics, maybe a Number One for good measure, and then make it sound more like Negative Approach, then you’ve got Strong Boys. An essential slammer for a multitude of reasons.
Amyl & the Sniffers: Comfort to Me 12” (ATO Records) The name Turnstile is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, with half the punk scene apologizing for liking them and the other half offended by their very existence. The controversy reminds me, in some respects, of the debate that surrounded Amyl & the Sniffers a few years ago. I’m not sure to what extent that debate is still happening, though Amyl’s singer and lyricist Amy seems to address it on the track “Don’t Fence Me In” (my favorite line from that song: “Bah! Binaries”). If one still needs to take a position on Amyl & the Sniffers, I am heartily in the “pro” camp. I fucking love this band, and I think I like Comfort to Me even more than their previous records. As much as I love punky hardcore bands (old ones like the Adolescents, later ones like the Carbonas and Career Suicide, and even recent ones like the Imploders, whom I also write about this week), sometimes I want something a little more pop, and Amyl & the Sniffers scratches that itch. That being said, the Sniffers can rip, and you could stack “Choices” up against just about anything from the world of DIY punk and hardcore. But Amyl & the Sniffers’ main thrust reminds me of punky rock and roll bands like the Boys, Slaughter & the Dogs, Generation X, or the Damned. Those bands were as much pop as they were punk, and a song like “Soda Pressing” or “Neat Neat Neat” is no less a reach for a hit than “Security” or (my favorite song on Comfort to Me) “Hertz.” It’s clear Amyl & the Sniffers aren’t trying to sound like those bands; rather, they have a pop group’s ambition to make great songs, but they also want those songs to be loud, fast, and hard. Looking back at what I’ve written so far, it sounds like I’m apologizing for liking Amyl & the Sniffers, but truth be told, I have no shame. I love this record.
Marv: Keyboard Suite I 12” (Enmossed Records) North Carolina synth duo Marv is back with their second vinyl release, and if you loved the spaced-out kosmiche bliss of their first album, you’re bound to love Keyboard Suite I too. As before, Marv’s music has a huge sense of space, with a wide-open mix that makes the lush synth sounds seem like they’re ping-ponging across the limitless vastness of space. While that sound is still the foundation of Marv’s music, there’s more melody on Keyboard Suite I, with pulses of tone sometimes coalescing into gentle melodies. While some passages are new age-y, mostly those melodies remind me of the gentlest, most delicate classical music, like Erik Satie. This is particularly true of “Tokyo TX,” the longest track on the record at eight and a half minutes and my favorite for its particularly melodic bent. Keyboard Suite I comes to us via the Enmossed label, which means it’s housed in beautiful silk-screened packaging with a debossed seed paper insert. It’s as much a joy to look at as it is to listen to.
Imploders: S/T 7” (Neon Taste Records) Debut release from this new Toronto band on the (West Coast) Canadian label Neon Taste. The sound is fast and snotty hardcore punk / punky hardcore with short songs and brisk tempos. I hear a lot of Angry Samoans and Circle Jerks in Imploders’ sound. Like those bands, Imploders sound liked they’re amped up on stimulants, but rather than getting violent, they get wired and antsy. Also, like those bands, there’s a rock and roll / classic punk approach to the guitar riffs, while the rhythm section blazes like a hardcore band. Fans of Career Suicide and the Carbonas will also be primed to love this. Five ripping, catchy tracks and I hear there’s already an LP in the works. Sign me up for that too!
Acid Casualties: Victims of Psychick Warfare cassette (Neon Taste Records) Victims of Psychick Warfare is the first release from this mysterious band from New Jersey, brought to us with the stamp of quality that is the Neon Taste Records logo. Acid Casualties has a raw and gritty sound that reminds me of a band deep in the track listing of The Master Tape Volume 2 or We Got Power: Party or Go Home, but this doesn’t strike me as generic. Acid Casualties’ songs swing and lurch with a variety of subtly different bash-you-over-the-head rhythms, and for every straightforward track like the YDI-ish “Against the Wall,” there’s something quirkier like “Back on the Chain Gang,” which works in a little rock riffing a la Eye for an Eye-era Corrosion of Conformity. 7 rippers, no bullshit.
Psyop: This Is Your Brain on America cassette (Pokeys Records) Psyop is a new band from Iowa City; hardly a hardcore hotbed, but I think they might be related to a band from there who caught my ear a few years ago, Beyond Peace. One reason I’m always excited to hear bands from outside the cultural centers on the coasts is because they often sound refreshingly out of sync with punk’s prevailing trends, and that’s the case with Psyop. The first track, “What’s in My Pants,” starts with a bright, major-key riff that could have started off a gritty underground pop-punk release, but it’s only a few seconds before Psyop reveal themselves as a hardcore band. While This Is Your Brain on America has all the thrashing and blasting you would expect, there’s a 7 Seconds-esque sing-song undercurrent running through everything that I really like. The tape is short and sweet with only four tracks, climaxing with the (primarily) mid-paced closer, “Secretary of Defense,” whose dramatic punches and dissonant riffing make it the highlight.
Celluloid Lunch #6 zine w/ Bubblegum Army flexi While there aren’t as many music zines as there used to be, the ones who have chosen to stick it out in that space really mean it. Case in point, Celluloid Lunch. This thick, square-bound half-size zine has a slightly different focus than Sorry State (they don’t seem too into hardcore, like the more adventurous stuff on labels like Feel It, and have one foot in the outsider / experimental end of the underground rock/garage scene), but the authors have a rigorously thoughtful approach to the music they are passionate about. This issue features bands like Collate, Leopardo, Silicone Prairie, and Crazy Doberman, along with other musings about music and records (including a review section). I was familiar with roughly half of the artists covered, yet I still read this issue cover to cover with rapt attention. Celluloid Lunch gave me new knowledge and insight about existing favorites like Collate that allowed me to revisit them with a new, deeper appreciation, and gave me a frame of reference for checking out a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about at all. What more could you ask of a music zine? Celluloid Lunch is essential reading for the underground rock fanatic.
Church Group: S/T cassette (Helta Skelta Records) Australia’s Helta Skelta Records brings us this cassette from Church Group, a new synth duo from the label’s hometown of Perth. Church Group has a sparse, minimal sound that reminds me of the early Human League records, where primitive sequenced beats provide a backdrop for intertwining synth lines that course through the mix like lonely spacecraft through the vast expanse. While the instrumental tracks are spacious and minimal, the vocals are expressive, even soulful, creating a dynamic contrast. It’s a solid formula for the first two tracks—“Joined” is particularly strong—but on the third song a second vocalist with a different sound enters the fray and ratchets the dynamism up another notch. While the music is unassuming by design, strong songwriting and vocal performances elevate this above the crowd of bedroom synth projects.
Blood Loss: Surviving Life in the Shadow of Death 7" (Convulse Records) Second 7” from this Denver hardcore band, following up the self-titled 7” they released on Convulse Records in 2019. While I hear a hint of youth crew hardcore in the singer’s style and the drummer’s 1-2-1-2 thrash beats, Blood Loss is definitely on the punker end of that style with their blistering tempos, rougher production, and emphasis on fast thrashing rather than breakdowns (though one of the four tracks, “Pawns,” has a breakdown). My favorite moments are when lead guitar overdubs come in; it’s super loud on both of the tracks with leads (which I always love), but it works well on the title track, whose song-closing lead is both creepy and epic, reminding me of Anti-Cimex’s “When the Innocent Die.” I like that Blood Loss doesn’t sound like they’re pandering to any club of internet record clubs, just playing fast, passionate hardcore with grit and guts.
Spitboy: Body of Work 12” (Don Giovanni Records) Don Giovanni Records collects the entire recorded output of 90s punks Spitboy on this great-looking gatefold double album. I missed Spitboy the first time around. I was an early teenager during the years when they were an active band, and with one foot on the Nirvana > Sonic Youth > Fugazi punk path and another on the Green Day > Rancid > NOFX path, I had little frame of reference for the music they were making. Add in the expected immaturity of a teenage boy and the fact that, by the time I heard Spitboy, elements of their sound like the grooving rhythms and dual vocals had been coopted by nu-metal (ironically the bro-iest of subgenres), and I didn’t have a way into their music. However, I know they were an important band to many people, so I was excited to give them another try with this collection. It’s funny, while I hear plenty of the grimy Bay Area hardcore that I expected, the comparison that came to mind most often when I was listening to Body of Work was Jawbreaker. While the vocals are very different, as in Jawbreaker’s music, Spitboy’s songs let the bass form the melodic and rhythmic backbone, with the guitars not so much riffing as providing texture through dense, complex chords. Spitboy’s sound trades Jawbreaker’s pop undercurrent for something more like early Neurosis’s apocalyptic chug, but there’s something similar in the approach. As one would hope, Body of Work’s packaging gives plenty of space to Spitboy’s lyrics, which were a huge part of the band’s appeal. I’d love to say that Spitboy’s lyrics feel ahead of their time, but the world is still a long way from catching up. I’m sure there’s space for this kind of expression in other genres, but I rarely see this style of personal, introspective lyrics in the current hardcore scene, and when you do, it’s typically from cis men. Reading through the lyrics, I’m struck by this sensation of feeling wounded, and the mix of dissonance and aggression in the music compounds that feeling. Spitboy’s lyrics and music are challenging, but the challenge is still worth taking up.
Repeat Offender: Summary Execution 7” (Shitkicker Records) We carry this LA band’s demo-on-vinyl release (on Spain’s excellent Mendeku Diskak label); now it’s time for their proper debut EP. Repeat Offender sticks to a similar style as that demo recording, applying a dollop of oi! groove to their hard-charging traditional US hardcore sound. There’s a lot of influence from your Negative Approaches and your Negative FX’s, but the distorted nightmare vocals give Summary Execution an element of eeriness that helps them stand out from the numerous bands who play in this style. There’s also the top-notch production (heavy but not slick) and killer riffs and songwriting. Check out the way the closing track, “Foul Play,” builds to a pit-clearing stomp, then drops out for a second before the second verse, a perfect setup for the knockout blow. Repeat Offender’s top-notch songwriting and execution make this EP a no-brainer for USHC purists, but there are more than enough new and interesting wrinkles to interest those of us who prefer some variety in our aural bludgeoning.
Totally Different Head #5 zine Latest issue of this music zine out of Portland. Totally Different Head is a pretty straightforward music zine: the author likes music, they write about what they think and feel about some of it and they interview some people who make it. The writing itself is thoughtful and engaging; you can tell Corby thinks and cares deeply about music, and their writing pushes you further into the music you already know and sparks your curiosity if you aren’t familiar. The music covered is on the artier end of Sorry State’s wheelhouse, with ink spilled about Kaleidoscope, Brontez Purnell, Special Interest, and several others. With crisp, uncomplicated, and readable layouts and thoughtful yet compact prose, Totally Different Head feels like an unpretentious music zine, but really what it does is get out of the way so the music can be the star. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly on the same page, so check it out.
SSSSSSS: S/T cassette (self-released) SSSSSSS is a project from Clark Blomquist and Owen Fitzgerald, two longtime participants in North Carolina’s underground music scene. SSSSSSS is fast, noisy, and intense, but the project seems to come at punk and hardcore sideways, taking the paranoid sounds of early industrial music and dragging the BPMs into hardcore range. The drums are electronic, but rather than being sequenced, they’re played live on electronic pads which, along with the punky riffing, makes SSSSSSS sound like a hardcore band that’s been routed through the Matrix. While guitars propelling most songs are pretty straightforward and punk, the vocals are chopped and screwed, bathed in distortion and echo. The electronic drums and distorted vocals recall Big Black in places, but SSSSSSS isn’t coloring inside anyone else’s lines. I like the more straightforward punk songs, but my favorite track is “The Air,” which fuses the mid-tempo hardcore dirge with a sampled vocal track and a synth melody that reminds me of Neu!. If an alien species downloaded a text description of hardcore punk and tried to recreate the music from that, this might be the result.
Lacerate: S/T 12” (Konton Crasher) Konton Crasher brings us the debut record by this hardcore punk band out of Cleveland. Someone in Lacerate must have graduated from the Totalitär school of riff construction, because the catchy and furious riffage on this record is top notch. However, Lacerate differs from lesser Totalitär-inspired bands in their knack for constructing great songs. Like Feel the Darkness-era Poison Idea, these eight tracks aren’t just dishes of riff salad, but well-constructed pieces of music that have a logic to them, building to exciting climaxes and pumping the throttle in ways that make the ripping parts more ripping and the crushing parts more crushing. I also love the vocals, which eschew the normal d-beat growls and screams for a powerful bellow that’s half-shouted, half-sung, weaving another set of compelling melodies through the intricate riffing. This record is all power, all energy, and I keep flipping it again and again because I don’t want it to end. Killer.
Chain Cult: We’re Not Alone 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus) We’re Not Alone is a new two-song single from this punk band from Athens, Greece, composed during the pandemic and reflecting the weirdness of our current times. While the lyrics address isolation, this isn’t anything new for Chain Cult, who actually titled their first EP Isolation. The music is also in the same vein as the band’s previous releases, a style of heavy, dark, and melodic punk that I don’t hear too often these days. Chain Cult reminds me of the melodic bands that Feral Ward Records would put out… bands like Complications, Masshysteri, and Criminal Damage. It sounds like music for old heads who might have a faded Leatherface or Jawbreaker shirt mixed in among their “concert grey” hardcore tees (I am very much part of this club). As with Leatherface, the guitars are heavy yet packed with melancholic melodies, and the songs are grounded in anthemic UK punk and oi!. Putting out a two-song single is a bold move but both tracks are strong, dense with hooks and with a sense of emotional and political gravitas.
Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons: Jazz 4 Johnny 12” (Feel It Records) Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons is a new name from the fertile Cleveland scene that has been giving us delightfully weird and/or raging music for several decades. Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons are on the weirder end of that spectrum, their sound characterized by meandering grooves, lyrics that might be mundane or surreal depending on how you look at them, and guitars and synths that sound usettlingly out of tune. While pop music typically strides in a particular direction, moving toward some sort of musical climax or resolution, Fashion Pimps and the Glamazons’ music wanders the streets aimlessly, perhaps picking up a piece of garbage, examining it for a while, then unceremoniously casting it aside. If you’re into that long tradition of skewed Cleveland bands from the Electric Eels to the Homostupids to Folded Shirt to Perverts Again, you know the vibe. Jazz 4 Johnny is another thread in that tapestry, another glimpse into the fractured reality our minds work so tirelessly to tame.
Direct Threat: S/T cassette (Iron Lung Records) If you’re wondering if the debut cassette from this Denver band sounds like it looks, the answer is yes; it sounds exactly like it looks. This is hardcore for bald guys with boots, taking the oi!-tinged style of Negative Approach and Negative FX and sprinkling it with violence-inducing mid-paced breakdowns from the Cro-Mags school. Direct Threat has three gears: fast and tough, slow and tough, and catchy and tough, and they’re equally powerful playing in each. The recording is nasty, but clear enough that the power comes across. Don’t expect any surprises, but don’t expect to be disappointed either. This one goes.
Cemento: Killing Life cassette (Iron Lung Records) Iron Lung Records brings us the debut tape from this death rock / goth / post-punk band from sunny Los Angeles. Cemento’s sound ranges from brooding death rock that reminds me of their fellow Angelinos Christian Death (particularly on the opening track, “Cash Grab”), to punkier, more melodic post-punk a la the Chameleons. Cemento relies on familiar tropes of this style, including chorus effects on the guitars and double hi-hat patterns on the drums, but there’s solid songwriting at the core and a knack for earworm guitar hooks. And with eight tracks clocking in at 23 minutes, Killing Life feels more like a cassette album than a demo tape or teaser.
Little Angels: demo cassette (Kill Enemy Records) Little Angels is another killer hardcore band from Pittsburgh. I’m not sure what social circle they come from, if they’re part of the Loose Nukes / Rat Nip / White Stains crew of old heads, the younger crowd like Illiterates and Speed Plans, or some other group, but like all the bands mentioned above, they have the snotty, unhinged US hardcore sound down pat. Little Angels reminds me the most of Illiterates’ loose, manic, and catchy take on the style, with a vocal approach that’s bound to put money in the hands of some lozenge company or another. The recording is raw and in the red and the band bashes out 6 songs in as many minutes, leaving me with nothing not to like. Ripping.
Lysol: Soup for My Family 12” (Feel It Records) Olympia, Washington’s long-running Lysol is back with a new album, this time on Feel It Records, which seems like the perfect place for them. The range of labels that have released Lysol’s music—including Deranged, Perennial, Total Punk, Neck Chop—hints that Lysol is one of those bands equipped with a passport to travel between scenes, and one listen to their music will show you why people into hardcore, garage, and (Total) punk all like them. Like older bands such as the Worst or Tales of Terror, Lysol’s music is firmly rooted in the high-intensity rock and roll of Raw Power-era Iggy & the Stooges, but rather than the retro rock and roll schtick that a lot of Stooges-influenced bands glom onto, Lysol’s music adopts the intensity and heaviness of hardcore. Tracks like “C-4” and “Can’t Win” crackle with the riffy energy of Teengenerate, while others like “Blessures Graves” and “Ego Death” lean into hardcore’s kinetic forward lunge. The closing track, “Soup for My Family,” is an epic (by comparison) three and a half minute rave-up that adds a saxophone and betrays that Lysol’s members probably have pretty well-worn copies of Funhouse rubbing up against their copies of Raw Power. If you get the chance to see Lysol in a sweaty basement or club, that’s the ultimate experience, but Soup for My Family can add that same ambiance to any occasion.
Exil: Warning 12” (Armageddon Label) Sweden’s Exil is a new band featuring familiar faces from a bunch of Swedish bands you know if you’re older than 30, like DS-13, Epileptic Terror Attack, the Vicious, and UX Vileheads, a few of whose records Sorry State released way back when. I was a huge fan of those bands when they were around, but Warning doesn’t sound like a throwback to some old glory days… it stands toe to toe with pretty much any current hardcore punk you want to throw at it. While the approach resembles the 80s USHC-influence bands the members have played in before, Exil’s music still sounds fresh, packed full of inventive riffs, memorable lead guitar lines, whiplash arrangements, and anthemic vocals. Exil reminds me of bands like Torso and Warthog because it sounds like they know exactly what they want to achieve as a band and they have the musical chops to execute on that clarity of vision. There isn’t a moment of lag on this LP; even when Exil drops to a less frantic pace, it only means the energy comes out differently, like on the tense “History of Cleanliness” or the driving, Killing Joke-paced “Security.” Whether you’re coming at this as a fan of the members’ previous bands or you’re just looking for some killer contemporary international hardcore, Warning will not disappoint.
Nancy: Goes Country 12” (Neck Chop Records / Erste Theke Tonträger) We’ve been singing Nancy’s praises for years here at Sorry State, and Goes Country changes nothing about my opinion about the band. Which is that they fucking rule! The core of Nancy’s sound is high-energy punk with a glammy, power-pop edge. That glam rock twinge to the guitar-playing and the vocal melodies makes me think of the Boys or Protex, but Nancy’s hyperactive tempos are more akin to the Dickies, and the songwriting is in the same league as all three great bands. If Goes Country just strung together a bunch of punk-pop bangers like “Take a Pikksha” or “It’s Never 2 Late (2 Be You)” it would be killer, but there’s also this whole other level to the Nancy experience. Nancy has an off the wall sense of humor that ranges from the satirical to the silly to the surreal, and even funny songs like the title track warrant repeat listens. There are very few bands out there who can make me smile and get me excited the way Nancy does.
‘O’ Level: The Malcolm EP 7” (Breakout Records) Breakout Records brings us a killer repro of this all-time UKDIY banger from 1978. Do you like idiosyncratic pop songs recorded in cheap studios by young British men in the late 1970s who couldn’t play their instruments very well? If so, you should know ‘O’ Level. If you’ve dipped your toe into the UKDIY scene at all you probably already do, since their credentials are impeccable. The first lineup of ‘O’ Level was the same musicians as the lineup of Television Personalities that recorded that band’s first single, 14th Floor, and ‘O’ Level even gets a name check in the Television Personalities song “Part Time Punks” (though the titular anti-heroes don’t buy the ‘O’ Level single, passing it over in favor of the Lurkers). If you’re a TVPs fan, it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t love ‘O’ Level too, since their approach is essentially the same, writing hooky pop songs that would be saccharine if they didn’t slather them in rawness and grit. There’s also wit and humor. Take, for instance, the title track, which adopts the contrarian stance of celebrating Malcolm McLaren’s contribution to the burgeoning punk scene. All four tracks are essential if you like this style, and The Malcolm EP stands alongside the first several Television Personalities records and the Times’ Red with Purple Flashes as certified UKDIY canon.
The Destructors: Electronic Church EP 7” (Distort Reality Records) Portland’s Distort Reality brings us this EP compiling four tracks the Destructors recorded in 1982. I had one Destructors record in my collection before hearing this, 1983’s Forces of Law EP. I bought that record just because it looked interesting and punk, which it is, but I never looked into the band further. I was surprised to see 31 albums listed on the Destructors’ Discogs page, though most of them are from a post-2007 incarnation of the band that, based on the graphic design and song titles like “Butt Plug, Gag And Tit Clamp,” I probably won’t be checking out soon. The 80s incarnation of the Destructors, however, is well worth my time and yours. Their style is straightforward UK82-style punk, and if you like that sound, they deliver all the driving rhythms and catchy choruses you could hope for. All four tracks that appear here are solid, with “Electronic Church” and “Northern Ripper” shining a little brighter thanks to their sprightlier, GBH-ish tempos. If you’re a Destructors super-fan, the lack of info on the release might frustrate you. It’s unclear if these tracks have come out before, though “Electronic Church” sounds like the same version that appeared on a freebie single inside Trees and Flowers zine, albeit fuller and more powerful (the back cover notes these tracks have been remixed and remastered). However, if you’re like me and you’re coming to Electronic Church without intimate knowledge of the Destructors, you won’t find any reason to quibble with these four tracks of catchy, powerful UK82 punk.
Contempt: S/T 12” (Mendeku Diskak) If you’re a fan of modern oi!, keep an eye on Spain’s Mendeku Diskak label, which has been releasing some great current bands. While some of the label’s bands lean toward hardcore, Contempt’s sound is dark, melodic, and even sophisticated (at least as far as you can call oi! music sophisticated). The songs march forward at a steady, unhurried clip and the vocalist barks out the lyrics in a typically gruff style, but the music is unique, particularly for the style. The chord progressions have an epic quality that reminds me of Iron Maiden or something, but that triumphant feel in the riffing contrasts with guitar leads that are equally melodic, but with a slightly mournful sound. I’m reminded of some Leatherface songs (like “Dead Industrial Atmosphere,” for instance), but the band Contempt really recalls is Battle Ruins. While the vocals are gruff and earthy rather than soaring and melodic, there’s a shared approach to putting together the instrumental parts. Fans of Criminal Damage and Complications will warm right up to Contempt too.
Pinhead Music: The Underground Sights and Sounds of Keyser, WV zine This zine is a portal to another world that I didn’t even know existed. Keyser, West Virginia is a tiny town with a population of less than 6,000. I grew up in a similar-sized town in southeastern Virginia (like Keyser, our main employer was a paper mill… I wonder if the cabbage-like funk of the mill also permeated Keyser?), so when I read the description for this zine I knew I had to learn more. I couldn’t find any traces of a music scene where I grew up in Franklin, Virginia, so I wanted to hear about how this happened… how a small, out of the way place could spawn anything that might be referred to as a “scene.” Fortunately, Pinhead Music satisfied my curiosity and then some. The zine has three main sections: an introductory essay that explains the author’s (Vincent Albarano) background and how he discovered the scene, and two long interviews, one with a filmmaker who made a Super 8 film called Psychedelic Glue Sniffin’ Hillbillies and another with musician / Red Nail Music label owner Bunk Nesbit. I was unfamiliar with the art that came from Keyser—I had never heard of the film or any of the artists or musicians mentioned in the zine, and didn’t even stop to check out any of it online until I finished reading—yet I was rapt with attention the entire time. I put this down to Albarano’s curiosity about the scene and the passion his interview subjects have for their work. There’s so much detail about this little, more or less isolated universe that you almost feel like you’re there, but at the same time it’s presented with an utter lack of pretension, like it’s the most natural thing in the world for all the freaks in a small, isolated community to find one another and make art. After I put down the zine, I checked out a clip of Psychedelic Glue Sniffin’ Hillbillies on YouTube and spent some time listening to music on the Red Nail Music Bandcamp site, half-wondering if this entire zine was an elaborate hoax. But it’s not… it’s a whole world of vital underground music and art, served to you on a platter. You don’t get more niche than this and most people probably have no interest in this zine or in the culture it documents, but for the curious, Pinhead Music is the key to a real treasure trove.
The Daleks: OK 7” (Breakout Records) Italy’s Breakout Records reissues this UK band’s lone, obscure single, originally pressed in 1980. The Daleks remind me of the Newtown Neurotics; like that band, their songs are built around basic pop structures, but played rough around the edges and with lyrics that are earnest in a kind of heartwarming way, particularly on the anthemic b-side track “This Life.” I’m a huge fan of this style when it finds the right balance of pop sensibility and punk grit, and the Daleks nail it, with the tougher, oi!-ish “Rejected” lending a bit of contrast to the more melodic “This Life” and “Man of the World” bringing together elements of both. The tracks are good, but I also love the sleeve. Breakout Records has recreated the record’s original foldout sleeve, which not only includes lyrics and photos of the band but also information on where and how they made it (including the names of the printers and how much they paid for the jackets, center labels, etc.) and (my favorite part) loads of photo booth shots of teenage punks with a diverse range of fashion senses. While I like it when labels like Radio Raheem include a wealth of archival material along with their reissues, in this case the original document is so rich that a near-exact reproduction is precisely what you want.
Record Aficionado Volume 3 book I picked up the first Record Aficionado book several years ago and tried to bring some in for Sorry State, but they weren’t doing wholesale. Thankfully, that has changed, and we got copies of Volume 2 (which focuses on Revelation Records) and this third volume, which covers hardcore punk from the US between 1985 and 1990. The book’s intro states that the goal of the Record Aficionado series is to “contextualize (the records covered) in an artful way,” and that’s precisely what it does. For each of the records the book covers, you get a detailed image of the front cover, some pressing details, and a smattering of scans of other documents, including lyric sheets, promo materials, advertisements, vintage zine reviews, and other ephemera. The zine reviews are my favorite part of the book; zines back in the 80s were so mean! It seems like half of the reviews in the book are negative, which is funny since most of the records in the book are punk canon at this point. There is also a section containing vintage ads for many of the stores and distributors that sold these records back in the day, which is also awesome to see and is an under-documented part of the underground punk network. Interestingly, unlike a lot of recent books that treat punk rock as (high?) art, rather than reproducing everything as closely to the originals as possible, Record Aficionado filters all of this original material through its own aesthetic, including the print job, which is black and white with a single green spot color. I love that Record Aficionado doesn’t try be encyclopedic or comprehensive… it’s just a smattering of cool shit that will lead you down various rabbit holes to other cool shit.
Indre Krig: demo cassette (Roach Leg Records) One of the hottest labels in the land, Roach Leg Records, brings us another ripper, this time from Indre Krig, a project band based in Boston and Copenhagen. The sound is fast, 80s-inspired hardcore punk with catchy, shouted vocals a la Electric Deads and Kalashnikov, and given Indre Krig is partially based in Denmark, I can’t imagine those aren’t direct influences. That being said, Indre Krig sounds a little tougher and less melodic than either of those bands, with an emphasis on speed and power over tunefulness. The production is clear and powerful with the perfect amount of grit, the riffs are catchy and memorable, and the songs are arranged dynamically to hold your attention. If you pick up Indre Krig’s tape because the visual aesthetic reminds you of other releases you’ve liked on Roach Leg or Chaotic Uprising Productions, you’re not gonna be disappointed… this is the sort of precisely executed, powerful-sounding hardcore those labels have cornered the market on.
Devastation: Fucking Bastards cassette (self-released) This is a pro-dubbed reissue of a 1997 cassette by this hardcore band from Connecticut. Members of Devastation went on to a long list of bands later in the 90s and 00s, including Behind Enemy Lines, Caustic Christ, Destroy, Brainoil, Mankind?, Blanks 77, State of Fear, and many, many others. Devastation, however, has remained obscure. These 6 tracks were meant to be Devastation’s half of a split 12” with Distraught on Tribal War Records, but Distraught never recorded for their side, so then it was slated for a split LP with Detestation, who broke up before they recorded, then Devastation themselves broke up and aside from a (presumably) few cassette copies distributed in 1997, this is the first time the world is getting to hear it. And it rips! To me, Fucking Bastards sounds both timeless and very much of its time. You can tell from the band’s logo and the title of the tape that Devastation was working within a tradition of raw, Discharge-inspired hardcore. However, like a lot of bands in the 90s, their riffs and songs relied on more complexity than Discharge’s, betraying the influence of the more precise and musical version of hardcore that took hold in the US. Another band working from this playbook at the same time was Totalitär, and Fucking Bastards reminds me of the records Totalitär was making in the early to mid 90s, particularly in the similarly throat-shredding yet slightly tuneful vocals. If you’re into deep cut 90s US punk or the history of Discharge-inspired hardcore worldwide, you’re gonna like this.
Hwanza: demo 7” (Discos Huayno Amargo) South Korea’s Hwanza released these songs as a demo back in 2019, but Huayno Amargo wisely decided these tracks needed to be on vinyl. While Hwanza is based in Seoul, you’d be forgiven for thinking this band comes from the contemporary Los Angeles hardcore scene populated by bands like Blazing Eye and Hate Preachers. Like those bands, Hwanza has a gritty hardcore sound that has one foot in the big, crowd-pleasing mosh riffs of bands like Gag and S.H.I.T. and another in the world of cult 80s Japanese punk. While the music is energetic and explosive, it has a cultish, artsy sense of cool that I love. The artwork has the same vibe, combining a handmade aesthetic with creepy, damaged imagery. Hwanza may not be as on the nose as their labelmates Pesadilla in emulating old Japanese punk, but by borrowing the high energy level of the best contemporary hardcore punk bands, they arrive at something that’s just as strong, if not stronger.
Pus: S/T 7” (Discos Huayno Amargo) Discos Huayno Amargo brings us the debut record by this new band from Peru. The label’s description calls them “Pandemic inspired Peruvian Black metal Punk hardcore;” if you take out the first three words, they could also apply to Philadelphia’s Zorn, and if you like the Hardcore Zorn EP that we just put out on Sorry State, there’s a good chance you’ll be into Pus as well. Like Zorn, Pus blends hardcore, punk, black metal, and goth into such a fine pulp that you can’t point to any individual part and say “that’s the black metal part” or “that’s the spooky part.” The music is energetic like the best hardcore punk, has the richness of texture and oppressive atmosphere of black metal, and just a hint of the campy spookiness of goth (I don’t think the record’s Sisters of Mercy-esque color scheme is an accident). Our age of information and access to everything can lead to a lot of unoriginal music, but it also leads to bands like Pus who take a bunch of things they think are cool, smash them all together, and end up with a sound that feels fresh, exciting, and contemporary.
Welly Artcore: Directions to the Outskirts of Town book (Earth Island Books) Welly, the longtime publisher of the UK’s Artcore fanzine, has published his first book, which presents fleshed-out diaries of two tours he went on in North America in the 90s: one tour selling t-shirts for Chaos UK in 1994 and another fronting his own band, Four Letter Word, in 1998. The tours were very different, the Chaos UK tour a drunken, drug-fueled circus, while the Four Letter Word tour felt very familiar to me, basically a low-level DIY band attempting to break into the world of punk touring from the very bottom. Since the tours are so different, the two halves of the book are very different, with the Chaos UK tour highlighting the drunken antics while the Four Letter Word tour sheds more light on the interpersonal relations. As with Get in the Van, Directions to the Outskirts of Town is the opposite of a romanticized view of touring. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but Welly’s writing underscores the monotony of touring with little touches like listing the street address of every single venue and recycling the same jokes again and again (like calling American beer “fizzy brown water”). The Four Letter Word diary was so familiar as to make me feel a twinge of PTSD from past tours I’ve been on. I’m a fan of Four Letter Word, but when they go on this tour, they aren’t a big enough band to draw their own crowd and they’re not really able to win over an unsympathetic crowd, so they are at the mercy of the particular circumstances of any gig. They’re not incompetent, so if the promoter does a good job and there’s a good lineup and an enthusiastic audience they can have a great gig, but more often than not the wind blows from the wrong direction—a bad PA, a mismatched bill, a low turnout—and things go poorly. At that point, the people crammed into the van look at the person next to them and think, “maybe YOU are the problem” and things get tense. Which percolates because on US tours all you do is drive and drive and drive some more, and even though it seems like you do nothing but drive, you’re constantly running late and never able to get your bearings. Like a lot of bands, Four Letter Word doesn’t survive the endeavor; that version of the band dissolves after the last US gig. There is no resolution, no happy ending… in fact, no ending at all really… it just goes and goes and then stops, leaving participants and readers wondering what the fuck just happened. That is both the weakness and the strength of the tour diary as a literary genre; it’s a Kafkaesque maze where every step you take leads nowhere. Not that reading the book is pointless. It’s an accurate and honest depiction of touring the US as a small punk band. That’s interesting enough on its own, but the best parts are Four Letter Word’s interactions with their American label BYO Records and bands like Swingin’ Utters, Youth Brigade, and 7 Seconds that they share stages with. The worms-eye view of that world of mid-level commercial punk is unflattering and thankfully it’s a world I don’t come into contact with often. While the punk conversion narrative and Behind the Music-esque musician / band biography feel like rote forms at this point, Directions from the Outskirts of Town sheds light on aspects of the punk scene that will be new to many and all too familiar for some.
Spllit: Spllit Sides 12” (Feel It Records) Feel It Records has been on a hot streak, and this debut vinyl from New Orleans’ Spllit stands out even from that strong pack. Spllit Sides reminds me of one of my favorite records of the past several years, the World’s Reddish 12” EP. Like the World, Spllit shares a lot with the artier end of the Rough Trade Records spectrum: Vivien Goldman, Essential Logic, the Fall. However, Spllit doesn’t sound as retro as a lot of contemporary bands in this style; in fact, it isn’t so much that they sound like the aforementioned artists; rather, that they share an approach to music that’s instrumentally and tonally eclectic (almost, but not quite, to the point of being deliberately weird), emphasizes rhythm and groove, has smart, surreal, and self-aware lyrics, yet isn’t afraid of strong vocal melodies. In contrast to many bands who are into the Fall, for instance, the songs on Spllit Sides are shorter and more ornately arranged, and there are quite a lot of them (16!). This is smart, ambitious, and memorable music, and I’ve been reaching for it constantly, partly just to hear the songs again and partly because I hear new things every time I listen. If you’re a fan of bands like Janitor Scum and the World, this is a must-listen, but this is so killer that I think it’s gonna play well with a lot more than just the egg punks. My only issue is that I can’t decide which track to choose for my Best of 2021 mix.
Straw Man Army: Her Majesty’s Ship OST cassette (Stucco Records) Straw Man Army and Stucco Records surprise dropped this release on us, Beyoncé style, and I had to stop what I was doing and listen immediately. After I hit “play” on the BandCamp site, I read the description and this part stuck out: “Straw Man Army’s ambitious soundtrack, presented here for the first time, captures the freewheeling energy of the film and its attitude of exploration via a wide range of samples, found sounds, and themed arrangements.” Like many people, I’ve dipped my toe into the world of film soundtracks over the past few years, particularly enjoying the soundtracks to 70s art / cult films like La Planète Sauvage, Profondo Rosso, and Belladonna of Sadness. I don’t know if Straw Man Army has been mining these same seams for influences, but the resemblance is uncanny. Her Majesty’s Ship OST features a series of 13 instrumental themes, all of them short and tonally distinct, suggesting a narrative without outlining one. Each track is its own rhythmic and melodic world, and the samples add even more texture and nuance. Not that you have to be into film soundtracks to appreciate what Straw Man Army is doing. Her Majesty’s Ship OST sounds as much like Can as anything, with complex, grooving drum patterns that take the rhythmic intricacies of other D4MT Labs projects even further out there. The sound also isn’t unprecedented for Straw Man Army; the Sun Ra-ish instrumental that started Age of Exile (perhaps my favorite record of 2020) could slide right into this track listing. The packaging is also interesting, housed in a red envelope with a thick booklet that extends the imaginary world of the music in literary form. This is awesome; so awesome that I kind of wish it was an LP rather than a tape, but I’m just happy to have it period. Oh, and just to lay it on even thicker, we only got a few of these and we don’t expect them to last long at all. I suggest you jump on it.
Pesadilla: Imagen 7” flexi (Huayno Amargo) When I picked up this record, the first thing I noticed was its packaging design, a pitch-perfect homage to early 80s Japanese punk. This shit is detail oriented, with elements like the paper stock and center label layout feeling like they were beamed in from another place and time. Those are records that are very close to our hearts at Sorry State. When I stopped by our office / practice space earlier tonight, I heard a band practicing who was drawing from the same well, and several of the people whose staff picks you read in our newsletter spend our time and money chasing down original pressings of this stuff. Pesadilla clearly loves that whole world of 80s Japanese punk just as much as we do. The music lives up to the packaging too, capturing the exciting, underground feel of those records without feeling stiff or labored over. If you have a youtube play history littered with names like L.S.D., Gai, Execute, the Clay, and Mobs, you will love everything about this. Like the Sirkka demo from 2020, this record wears its influences on its sleeve yet still sounds vital and relevant.
Spiritual Mafia: Al Fresco 12” (Ever/Never Records) As I was sitting here, listening to Al Fresco and pondering how I would start writing about it, I found myself lost in thought about whether I should describe them as “menacingly weird” or “weirdly menacing.” That says it all; not only is Al Fresco weird and menacing, but also it gives you time and space to ponder things that seem simple at first glance but, when you think about them a little longer, don’t seem so straightforward. Spiritual Mafia lives in a similar headspace to newer bands like Knowso or the Mind or older groups like Pere Ubu (if the members of Spiritual Mafia aren’t already card-carrying members of the “Australians who love Cleveland” club, they should be). I also hear a lot of the Fall at their most apocalyptic. Like I said, menacingly weird (or weirdly menacing). Spiritual Mafia also resembles a lineage of Australian bands in their stretched-out quality, possessing the same propensity to ride a groove that convinces me Eddy Current Suppression Ring spent plenty of time listening to the first two Stooges albums. And then there are the lyrics, which take mundane yet cryptic phrases and repeat them until they sound like mantras. If I quote them here, they’ll seem sillier than they are, or at least sillier than they seem by the end of each of these long songs. I’m a sucker for this sort of modern art punk, and Spiritual Mafia’s heavy, hypnotic grooves and surreal qualities are bound to win over anyone with similar tastes.
Thought Control: Shock to the System 7” (Not for the Weak Records) I’m not sure if it’s just luck of the draw or a reflection of the world, but it seems like everything I wrote about for this week’s newsletter is kind of abstract and heady. If you’ve sifted through all that looking for some fist-pumping, hard-moshing hardcore punk, then congratulations: you’ve reached the portion that is relevant to your interests. Shock to the System is a vinyl-ification of a previous digital / cassette release from this one-person project from New Jersey (though, like a lot of one-person projects, they’ve evolved into a proper band). If you’ve been following Virginia’s Not for the Weak Records (and you should be!), you’ll be unsurprised to learn that Thought Control’s influences come from the angrier, more straightforward end of 80s USHC. In particular, I hear a lot of early 80s NYHC in the toughness of the riffs, and the vocals remind me of Antidote, sounding unhinged yet catchy and memorable. If you’re looking for something that’s mean as hell to power you thought another day of the endless grind, this fits the bill.
Blu Anxxiety: Play Dead 12” (Toxic State) I’ve been listening to Play Dead, the debut EP from New York’s Blu Anxxiety on Toxic State Records, for a few weeks and I still don’t think I’ve wrapped my head around it. The words “dark freestyle” appear on the cover, which intrigued me right away, and indeed there are elements of rap here as well as various “dark” sounds you might expect if you’ve heard singer Chi Orengo’s other projects like Anasazi and Children with Dog Feet. Insofar as you can describe Blu Anxxiety’s sound in broad strokes, they throw together 80s darkwave and synth-pop with more industrial sounds in the Wax Trax vein (though, like their labelmates L.O.T.I.O.N., they don’t sound as cold or as tinny as a lot of those bands did) with vocals that alternate between a rap-inflected style and a warbly croon that sounds a bit like a cartoon vampire. Which brings me to the subject of camp, which is going to be the make or break factor here for most people. Some people will dismiss this as goofy, and others will love the fact that Chi rhymes “Wrestlemania” with “Transylvania” or has a song about a “Skeleton Farm” (sort of like a goth version of Spinal Tap’s “Sex Farm,” which forces me to recall my favorite Spinal Tap double entendre, “plowin’ up your bean field”). To be sure, Play Dead doesn’t sound like anything else in your record collection, and if that is one of the chief things you look for when seeking out new music, you need to hear this. However, for those of you who aren’t as adventurous, this is going to test your limits in one way or another, so be prepared. Like it or not, though, Play Dead is one of the most distinctive and memorable releases of 2020.
My War #8 zine Some of you might have caught wind of this on Sorry State’s social media, but for the last few issues, we’ve been printing copies of the European hardcore zine My War to make this excellent zine available stateside at a decent price. My War covers a lot of the bands we like at Sorry State (as well as plenty of others we don’t know about), and it is one of the best executed hardcore punk zines around right now. While Sorry State’s version drops the European version’s full color print job in favor of more cost-effective black and white, the layouts are still beautiful, balanced, and legible. The real star of My War, though, is the content. Aside from a short intro piece, the entirety of My War is devoted to interviews. This isn’t some low-effort promotion circle jerk; these are detailed, substantive interviews that ask the subjects to consider—even defend—their work and their ideas. While some of those subjects are evasive (which is often still entertaining), the conversations are particularly great when people engage with those thoughtful questions, like Tadzio from Golpe or Nancy Barile. If you are a punk true believer, if you think the music we write about here is important and interesting, you should read this zine.
Beex: The Early Years 1979-1982 12” (Beach Impediment) While Beach Impediment is better known as a contemporary hardcore label, the label owner Mark is a dedicated historian and archivist of punk rock from his home state of Virginia, and documenting that history has been part of Beach Impediment’s m.o. from the very beginning. (In fact, the label’s first release was a reissue by the 80s Norfolk, Virginia hardcore band Front Line). The latest contribution to that series is this retrospective LP from Beex, an early punk band from Richmond, Virginia. While the recording dates on the two sessions captured here—1979 and 1982—might lead you to expect something different, Beex sounds more proto-punk than punk proper. Like the Dogs from Detroit and Crime from San Fransisco, Beex sounds less like kids who heard the Pistols and started a band, and more like people who took the Stones’ image circa Exile on Main Street to heart. These songs sound like bad drugs and bad attitude, with a similar sort of energetic nihilism to Iggy and the Stooges on Raw Power (just to corroborate, there’s a photo of Beex’s singer hanging out with Iggy on the inside gatefold). Those of you looking for capital P punk won’t find any leather, spikes, or studs, but lovers of bad trip rock and roll in the Detroit tradition will find plenty to love.
The Worst: The Worst of the Worst 12” (Radio Raheem Records) A few months ago I wrote my staff pick about Parts Unknown Records’ CD by the Worst, lamenting that there was no vinyl version, and now this LP is sitting here… it’s like Radio Raheem answered my prayers! The Worst are one of the great underground punk / hardcore bands, and it’s a shame they don’t have a similar level of notice and acclaim to bands like the Adolescents, Circle Jerks, the Germs, and the Zero Boys, all of whom resemble the Worst’s fusion of song-oriented punk with hardcore tempos. While the Worst sounds more like that anthemic west coast hardcore, culturally they were part of the New York punk scene, playing at Max’s Kansas City and hobnobbing with the original New York punk characters. Both their 7” and their 12” EP (both on the notorious New Jersey label Mutha Records, also home of Chronic Sick) are rippers, and they’re combined here with a well recorded live set captured at Max’s Kansas City in 1979. (This version omits the tracks from a later era of the band that appeared on the Parts Unknown CD; those were cool, but I wouldn’t call them essential.) Of course you also get Radio Raheem’s usual drop dead gorgeous packaging. If you love early 80s hardcore punk and you don’t own originals, this is a mandatory purchase in my book.
Porvenir Oscuro: Asquerosa Humanidad 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus) Debut LP from this band that has been kicking around the New York punk scene for several years, releasing a tape and a 7” previously. If you haven’t heard Porvenir Oscuro, their sound is more punk than hardcore to me. Rather than being built around heavy riffs or dramatic changes, Porvenir Oscuro’s songs coalesce around galloping, Exploited-style beats and bubbly, melodic bass with lots of catchy fills. Then out of the left channel (the guitar and bass are panned a la the first Ramones album) comes a screeching, wailing, noise-drenched guitar. You don’t notice how fucked the guitar sound is at first because it’s low in the mix, but despite the way it sits back in the mix and how drenched in distortion it is, the guitars still chime in with some catchy licks on tracks like “Violencia.” Atop all of this, the vocalist delivers rapid-fire invective in the verses that culminate in catchy, chanted choruses. Porvenir Oscuro has the straightforward catchiness of classic, Riot City Records-style punk, but dressed up with the stronger musicianship and dramatic arrangements necessary to stand toe to toe with the great hardcore bands in the world right now. This makes me think of leather, bristles, studs, acne, fists in the air, and tons of punks screaming along.
Spirito di Lupo: 4 Songs cassette (Iron Lung Records) Debut cassette from this Italian band that springs from the same fertile scene as recent bands like Kobra and Horror Vacui. Like Kobra, Spirito di Lupo has an artsy hardcore sound, like they’re angry and sound like shit for complex political and aesthetic reasons rather than just because they’re drink or bored or some similarly shallow reason. The recording is very raw and analog, with sheaths of tape hiss and room noise threatening to muffle the music, yet it’s so passionate and intense that it still cuts through, making it even more meaningful when it does. Much of Spirito di Lupo’s dynamism comes from variations in tempo and the trade-offs between two vocalists, each of whom has a distinct sound, but who come together to make a noise that is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s something coy about this tape, like it’s shy about revealing itself to the listener, but that sense of mystery pulled me in.
Erik Nervous: Bugs! 12” (Violent Pest Records) We’ve been fans of Erik Nervous for a while now, watching his music get better and better with each release. Nowadays he’s pretty much king of the Egg Punks, though I wouldn’t even call Bugs! egg punk anymore… this record doesn’t sound anything like the Coneheads, lacking the lo-fi production values, goofy sense of humor, and sloppy playing style that characterizes most bands playing in that milieu. Instead, Bugs! is a record that sounds much more classic. I’m a sucker for that sound that sits in the fuzzy space where hardcore, classic punk, and garage rock blend together. I loved it when the Dickies did it in the 70s, when the Zero Boys did it in the 80s, when Teengenerate did it in the 90s, when the Carbonas did it in the 00s, and I love what Erik Nervous is doing right now. While I want to put Bugs! in that tradition of high-intensity, riff-oriented punk, it’s also of a piece with recent records by bands like Dark Thoughts and Liquids; I think of these bands as pop-punk for (and likely by) people who also listen to Gauze. That might seem like an off the wall reference for something so catchy and song-oriented, but listen to “Our Hungry Fruit,” the first proper track on Bugs!, and tell me you don’t hear it… that track is a 50-second slice of lightning-fast, acrobatically played hardcore that sounds like something from Selfish Records rather than Lookout!. It’s the only song in that vein, but fuck… what a way to start the record! From there, Erik returns to the nervy, catchy punk that he’s known for, delivering his best batch of songs yet. Erik has released multiple EPs of Devo covers (specializing in fleshed-out versions of early tracks that only exist in raw, homemade recordings), and it’s clear that he’s moved beyond imitating superficial aspects of Devo’s sound—the robotic rhythms and triumphant synth melodies—and has internalized the great songwriting that found its best expression on Freedom of Choice. Like the Psico Galera record I also wrote about this week, this is one of those records I just can’t stop playing… every time I flip past that awesome red, black, and white artwork I have to throw it on, and I never regret the choice.
Toxic Waste: Belfast 12” (Sealed Records) Sealed Records digs up another gem from the 80s anarcho scene’s deep well, this time from Belfast’s Toxic Waste, a band that played politically charged anarcho punk in Northern Ireland during the period of violent unrest known as the Troubles. I wish I had more details about Toxic Waste’s story, but I feel certain the band’s environment fuels some of the potency that is so apparent on this disc. Belfast is actually a reissue of a reissue, since this record’s original 1987 pressing included tracks from earlier releases alongside rerecordings of older tracks (with a couple of folks from D.I.R.T. subbing in) (also worth noting if you’re a fan of D.I.R.T.: Toxic Waste sounds a lot like D.I.R.T.). As for the music, I hear elements of many sounds that were popular at the time, from bruising, Riot City-style punk to the Subhumans’ more adventurous, proggy vibes (I hear this in the fast and noodly bass playing) as well as the more pop-oriented side of anarcho I associate with Zounds and Hagar the Womb. The mix of styles keeps things interesting, portioning out bits that are more raging, more instrospective, or more melodic without spending too much time in any particular groove. Toxic Waste attacks whatever mode they’re playing in with energy and passion. Their playing feels loose and Crass-like, organic and alive, and the recordings are clear and punchy, perfectly underproduced. Fans of vintage anarcho punk can’t go wrong with this record.
Candy Apple: Sweet Dreams of Violence 12” (Convulse Records) I’ve been keeping an eye on Denver’s Convulse Records for a while, but when this LP from Candy Apple showed up, the eye-catching artwork demanded closer inspection. I’m a sucker for graphics that combine high art pretension with punk thuggery (see also: most of Gag’s artwork, but particularly the This Punk Shit Is Cool But I Hope I Am Rob Zombie When I Am 28 12”), and Sweet Dreams of Violence nails that vibe (even moreso on the additional photos on the back cover and insert). As for the music, the first part of the record will sound familiar to anyone who has followed the Denver hardcore scene over the past several years. A lot of recent bands from Denver, Candy Apple included, combine elements of early 80s USHC and late 80s NYHC with a hint of black metal and a production style that resembles blown-out 4-track experimenters like early Royal Trux and the Dead C. It’s a unique and instantly identifiable sound and that’s the vibe for the first few tracks of Sweet Dreams of Violence. But then the record takes a turn. From the third track forward, Candy Apple works in grungy noise rock riffs that remind me of Nirvana’s Bleach and the less melodic parts of Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me. While the hardcore stuff is good, this material is even more exciting, with great riffs that are a perfect match for Candy Apple’s lo-fi, blown-out production. If your tastes span both hardcore and noise rock, I recommend giving Candy Apple a shot.
Zodiak: S/T 7” (Distort Reality Records) After a flexi and a split 7”, Tokyo’s Zodiak gives us their debut stand-alone release on the perfect US label for them, Distort Reality Records. In case you missed those earlier Zodiak releases (which, I believe, were all recorded at the same session as the four tracks that appear here), Zodiak is part of their country’s long tradition of abrasive, exciting hardcore bands. The guitar sound is an ear-piercing squeal that it almost hurts to listen to, like they heard the most abrasive Disorder recordings and thought to themselves, “this is cool, but it could use even more treble.” Rather than manic pogo beats, Zodiak’s rhythms are heavier and groovier; while I’m sure there are Japanese bands I could compare them to (like maybe Kuro?), it really reminds me of North American bands like S.H.I.T. and Blazing Eye, the latter of which also bears some similarity to Zodiak in the vocal department. There are a lot of bands working in this vein but one thing that separates Zodiak from the pack is that it doesn’t feel so on the nose. One thing that initially attracted me to Japanese hardcore is that it didn’t seem like it was made for Western consumption… the lyrics were full of idioms I didn’t understand, and the graphics and design felt like they were referencing conventions I didn’t know about. Zodiak gives me that same feeling with their inscrutable lyrics and their colorful, collage-style artwork. If you’re looking for that sense of wonder rather than just another record that sounds like Discharge or Confuse, this EP is for you.
Mindkiller: S/T 7” (Distort Reality Records) Distort Reality brings us the debut 7” from Mindkiller, a new band featuring people who used to be in Khiis, whom you might remember from their releases on cool labels we like here at Sorry State like Distort Reality, Discos Enfermos, and La Vida Es Un Mus. I don’t know how much of Khiis’s membership carried over to Mindkiller, but the sound is similar and if you like Khiis, this is a no-brainer. The sound is heavy and metallic yet catchy and memorable, sitting somewhere between Death Side’s Wasted Dream and the Cro-Mags Age of Quarrel, though the shouted vocals and penchant for moshable mid-paced parts also reminds me of Torso (a band I also referenced when describing Khiis). Just as Torso takes Totalitär-inspired d-beat and makes it palatable to the straight edge crowd, Mindkiller takes the triumphant gallop of Burning Spirits hardcore and infuses it with the best elements of American hardcore.
Neighborhood Brats: Confines of Life 12” (Dirt Cult) Like the Erik Nervous album I also wrote about this week, Confines of Life is a new record from a band I’ve liked for a long time (this is Neighborhood Brats’ third full-length) that sits in that zone where hardcore, punk, and garage rock overlap. However, Neighborhood Brats have a different recipe. Where Erik Nervous’s music is grounded in the Dickies’ and Devo’s tightly wound rhythms, Neighborhood Brats foregrounds influences from melodic SoCal hardcore (everything from the Adolescents up to Night Birds (and yes I’m aware Night Birds are from New Jersey)) and anthemic ’77 UK punk. It’s the latter element of their sound that shapes my favorite tracks on Confines of Life. Check out “Miss America Pageant,” which starts with a classic-sounding riff that would make Derwood from Generation X proud, or “Transitional Housing,” which borrows the rock-and-roll swagger of my favorite UK Subs tracks and climaxes in a chorus that is straight up transcendent. Moments like this shine even brighter because Confines of Life is such a diverse record, with plenty of ripping hardcore and bouncy, melodic surf alongside the anthemic punk. And then there are the lyrics, which examine contemporary American social issues with the bluntness and clarity you want from punk rock. I know some people don’t have a taste for this kind of melodic hardcore, and that’s fine, but if you like this style, you’re fucking up if you sleep on Confines of Life.
Razorblades & Aspirin #12 zine The latest issue of Razorblades & Aspirin is out, and if you aren’t hip to it yet, wake the fuck up! Razorblades & Aspirin is a zine for people who love punk old and new (there’s a LOT of overlap in coverage with the stuff we carry and write about at Sorry State), and its idiosyncrasies include a full color, full bleed print job that is uncommon in the world of punk zines and a heavy focus on photographers, photography, and the visual culture of punk. I love that Mike at Razorblades & Aspirin remains engaged with current punk (he’s based a few hours away in Richmond, VA and it’s always cool to see his incredible photos of shows I was at), but the pandemic times we’re in demanded a heavier focus on old stuff for this issue (even so, he squeezes in interviews with several current bands and labels and a lengthy feature on how punk record stores are navigating the pandemic). I love the interviews with legendary LA punk photographer Ed Colver and Brian Ray Turcotte of Fucked Up & Photocopied, and there’s the now-familiar R&A mix of reviews, interviews with photographers, and stunning photography. Odds are that if you’re a Sorry State newsletter subscriber, you should be a Razorblades & Aspirin reader too.
Canal Irreal: S/T 12” (Beach Impediment Records) When I first listened to the preview track on Beach Impediment’s Bandcamp site, I knew nothing about Canal Irreal. I don’t think I’d ever heard their name before. Going in with no expectations, I was blown away. I had to stop and be like “what the fuck IS this?” and it seriously bummed me out when I saw it was the only track that was streaming. (It’s now streaming in full and on streaming services too, so you won’t encounter this problem.) When I investigated further, I realized this band rules so much because they’re a group full of ringers. First up, there is guitarist Scott Plant, one of my favorite current musicians in the world. I first fell in love with Scott’s music through his old band, Civic Progress. (If you aren’t familiar, check out their Petrolem Man EP on YouTube. And, word to the wise, I just checked Discogs and Civic Progress’s EPs are officially dollar bin rippers.) Civic Progress played the 80s USHC-influenced style that was popular at the time (2006-7), but set themselves apart with a style that had a whiff of post-punk and Scott’s lyrics, which were already revealing the astute social analysis, elegant wordsmithery, and occasional Doc Dart-esque uncomfortable bluntness that remain hallmarks of his unique voice. (Sorry for all the parentheses. I am having a lot of parenthetical thoughts. I’m just going to go with it. Since we’re in a parenthetical right now anyway, I might as well mention two other lyricists who are stylistically similar to Scott and just as good: Nathan Ward from Knowso, because their new record also arrived this week and won by a hair’s breadth in the competition for my heart that is Sorry State’s Record of the Week, and Rich Ivey from ISS, because he’s fucking family, like H2o and Madball or some shit. But back to Scott Plant…) Civic Progress was based in St. Louis, but in the late 00s Scott moved to Chicago, which is when I got into the Scott Plant business for a brief but exciting moment. Scott’s new bands in Chicago were Manipulation (Sorry State Records numbers 28 and 54, the former of which is still in stock) and Broken Prayer (Sorry State Records numbers 52 and 71, both of which are still in stock and the former of which is housed in a jacket, screen printed by moi, whose quality I no longer stand behind). Having revealed myself as an incompetent at some point in this space of time, Scott soon set sail for greener label pastures. Broken Prayer morphed into Droid’s Blood (whose two vinyl releases are in stock at Sorry State) and even a solo electronic 10” lathe cut under his own name (It was limited as fuck yet as of this writing our inventory says we still have one copy). I’m throwing a lot of names at you here, but I also want to emphasize that through each of those projects, Scott’s music has become more ambitious, more original, and more exciting. Also, like a lot of musical geniuses, Scott has grown interested in synthesizers. Broken Prayer and Droid’s Blood featured synths (my newly Swedish friend Liz Panella played some of them in Broken Prayer, while Scott took over in Droid’s Blood) and also flirted with the harsh yet evocative textures of power electronics, while Scott’s work under his own name is less noisy and more rhythmic. Which brings us roughly to today, wherein I’m telling you that Scott Plant HAS RETURNED TO THE STRINGED INSTRUMENT! (AND IT IS GLORIOUS!) And that’s what the fuck you hear in Canal Irreal. I know nothing about Canal Irreal’s inner workings (I didn’t even know they were a band until a few days ago), but these songs are so strewn with Scott Plant’s musical fingerprints I would be surprised if someone informed me he “just played guitar.” Whatever Scott Plant’s creative role, someone in this band knows how to write a mother fucking punk song, and these energetic and hooky tracks are great ones, with one foot foot in hardcore, one foot in UK post-punk, and a healthy appreciation for classic Chicago punk with huge hooks like Naked Raygun and the Effigies. (Sound familiar? If not, you might want to re-read what I wrote about Civic Progress near the top of this lengthy description. And it’s about to get lengthier, motherfuckers, because SCOTT PLANT IS ONLY ONE FOURTH OF THIS BAND!) As member #2 in this lineup (which I did not plan before I started writing and am here emphasizing is in no particular order) we have MARTIN FUCKING SORRONDEGUY. Yes, Martin from Los Crudos and Limp Wrist, though if you’ve even attempted to read this entire description you are the type of person who almost certainly has a lesser-known Martin project that is even closer to your heart. (I’m going to go with Needles (about whom I’m going to resist the urge to rhapsodize right now), though there are no wrong answers.) I’m going to assume that Scott Plant doesn’t write any of the lyrics in Canal Irreal and say that, if you’re going to bump Scott off lyric writing duty, you better know what the fuck you’re doing, but this is not an issue because Martin is one of the greatest lyricists in the entire history of punk. I can only provide limited insight into this given that my command of Spanish is minimal (though Martin’s writing in English hints at what us poor monolinguals are missing), but suffice to say that, based in no small part on his lyrics, Martin is perhaps the single most important punk of the post-1990 era. (Though Martin is one of those people who seems so good at everything that his photography, work as a punk historian and archivist, graphic design, films, and more things I’m sure I’m forgetting are just as important to mention.) Where were we? Oh yeah, we’re halfway through the list of members. Fortunately for you, I am less familiar with the work of bassist Fernando Anteliz and drummer Lupe Garza, but they prove themselves to be Scott and Martin’s musical peers here, playing no small part in generating that perfect combination of hardcore punk and post-punk that blew me away on my first listen. I don’t have a way to wrap this up, so I’ll say that hopefully you stopped reading by now to devote your attention to listening to this record. If that’s the case, when you buy the vinyl, I hope you buy it from Sorry State. I already got my copy so I am cool with selling the rest of them, but I will experience a twinge of sadness when it is no longer in stock. If you are still reading this and haven’t checked out the record, I imagine you must be in some kind of situation where you can read this, but cannot listen stream the record Perhaps you are in the waiting area at the DMV and you do not have any headphones. Or maybe you’re on a camping trip and, before you got out of cellular range, you saved this piece of writing to some sort of app or service that allows you to access it when you’re offline. If you’re the person on the camping trip, you’re probably great at planning and you already made yourself a note to check out the Canal Irreal album. If you are not the person on the camping trip, this should serve as a reminder that you should make said note and put it somewhere you will see it. If you’re in a pinch you can write it on your hand. And, since no one is reading this anyway, I’ll also apologize to the people I mentioned if any of the information herein is erroneous. I’m just a fan with no fact checking department doing my best.
Antidote: Thou Shalt Not Kill 12” (Radio Raheem Records) I’ve been listening to Antidote’s Thou Shalt Not Kill EP for at least twenty years now, and this reissue has significantly increased my understanding and appreciation of this all-time hardcore classic. If you’ll indulge me in a bit of reminiscing, I’m pretty sure the first time I heard an Antidote song was on Redemption 87’s self-titled album, which came out in 1996 and practically lived on my turntable for my last couple years of high school. That album featured a cover of “Something Must Be Done.” I didn’t know it was a cover at the time; I just knew it was my favorite song on the record. A few years later, once the Internet made researching 80s hardcore much easier, I heard Thou Shalt Not Kill and realized why that song stood out so much from the others on the Redemption 87 album. Eventually I found a bootleg LP that compiled Thou Shalt Not Kill, the Abused’s Loud and Clear EP, the Mob’s first EP Upset the System, and Urban Waste’s self-titled EP. To me, that bootleg LP is the sound of New York Hardcore, or at least my favorite iteration of New York hardcore. While I love all four records deeply, it was a toss-up whether I liked Antidote or the Abused best, and it is wild that Radio Raheem has now given the world definitive reissues of both records. I’ve listened to this EP hundreds of times over the years and still know all the words, but I never learned much more about Antidote. Radio Raheem’s reissue fills a lot of gaps in my knowledge, the most exciting of which is the wealth of material here other than that classic EP, which is also compiled. First up is a batch of 1982 demo tracks that are just killer. They showcase a very different band than Thou Shalt Not Kill. While the lineup is mostly the same and they play several of the same songs, the band’s sound hasn’t come together yet, nor has Louie Rivera’s trademark vocal style (which surely must have influenced Ray Cappo profoundly, among many others). Not having those trademark elements of Thou Shalt Not Kill is a minus, but a big plus is that, with the most distinctive elements of Antidote’s sound absent, it puts more focus on how great these songs are. The 1982 demo tracks sound like classic SoCal hardcore to me: energetic, tuneful, and almost poppy. Some moments bear an uncanny resemblance to the first Bad Religion album. There’s even a big, Naked Raygun-style “whoa” part to “Die At War” that they nixed for the Thou Shalt Not Kill version, and it’s awesome. These 1982 demos are fucking essential in my book, but wait… there’s more! The b-side of the LP is a live CBGB set engineered by Jerry Williams (who also engineered Thou Shalt Not Kill) featuring even more unreleased songs. The live set splits the difference between the more metallic and melodic material, but it’s hardly redundant, especially given the great fidelity. The music on this record is essential for anyone who loves early 80s NYHC, and this reissue also features Radio Raheem’s usual best-in-the-game packaging, including a huge booklet, sticker, and the usual meticulous graphic design and printing. If your collection is anything like mine, you already own multiple versions of Thou Shalt Not Kill, but you don’t want to miss what Radio Raheem’s version brings to the table.
Military Mind: Hardcore 2021 cassette (self-released) Military Mind is the latest hardcore powerhouse to emerge from Canada, this time from the fertile western Canada scene that also includes bands like Bootlicker, Chain Whip, Headcheese, and the Slow Death Records roster. However, if you gave me a blind taste test without telling me anything about Military Mind, I would have assumed they’re the hot new band from Pittsburgh. Their approach is like White Stains and Loose Nukes, rooted in 80s USHC (almost to the point of being an homage), but with a sense of danger, excitement, and immediacy that reassures you punk is happening right now and that it’s not just cosplay. Five tracks, about six minutes, and it’ll leave fuckin’ skid marks on your tape deck. Get it.
Execution: Silently It Grows 7” (Hardcore Victim) Silently It Grows is the fourth release from this hardcore band from Melbourne Australia, following 2018’s Flags of Convenience 7” and a couple of cassette releases. I haven’t heard any of those releases, so I came to Silently It Grows fresh, perhaps expecting something rooted in noise punk given the cover art. That’s an influence, but Silently It Grows is so more than just a solid noise punk record… it’s a fucking beast. Execution reminds me of Public Acid in that they have a sinister, dangerous edge to their music while also being tough and hardcore, but given their obvious grounding in classics like Confuse and Gai (as well as nasty Italian hardcore like Wretched and Negazione), it seems like they’re more willing to lean into the abrasive and chaotic elements of their sound. The hot track for me is “Fatal Shores,” and if you’ve spent as much time as I have jamming Public Acid’s Condemnation EP, I encourage you to give it a listen as it has a similar spirit to that record. Not that “Fatal Shores” is the only great song… the title track is a banger too. I don’t know how hip American punks are to Execution yet, but this record is a fucking scorcher.
Distant Fear: A Reminder of Death 7” (Wrought Material) Black metal does not lend itself to the 7” format, but New Zealand’s Distant Fear makes it work. Much of my favorite black metal feels cinematic in scope, with a wide-screen sensibility that conjures vast, open (snow-covered) landscapes. Distant Fear generates this sensibility not through the hypnotic repetitiveness that some bands use, but through an eclectic yet seamless approach to style. These two songs feature parts that incorporate noise / power electronics, Bathory/Venom style punky savagery, Amebix-y slow boil, triumphant viking metal, and a little of that classic 90s-style Norwegian grandiosity. Even more impressive, it does this in a way that doesn’t appear schizophrenic, but as almost… cosmopolitan? I don’t know, they just fucking make it work. This release features beautiful packaging too, including a screen printed jacket, hand-stamped labels, and an obi strip. Like just about anything from New Zealand, it’s super expensive, but I get an extra bit of excitement when I get a record from that fascinating little corner of the world. Maybe this isn’t Sorry State’s normal thing, but I’ve listened to this a ton and think it rules; maybe you will too.
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