ISS is the North Cacalack-based duo of Rich Ivey and Eddie Schneider. Vets of local punk bands like Whatever Brains and Brain F# (a/k/a ‘Brain Flannel’), as ISS they make ‘punk’ (in the ‘outsider’ sense as much as, if not more so, rote musical form) that is among the more interesting out there.
The band’s forthcoming long-player, Alles 3rd Gut (reference to third release and all’s good? I only took German in high school) features the streamable preview track, “Elevator Shaft”. It sounds like a brilliant, lost 80s cut, built around a conversation between Ivey – laying prone at the bottom of the titular shaft – and guest vocalist, Miss Lady (sounding a bit like Victoria Jackson). Questions abound: how did he fall (doesn’t remember)?; any damage done (lots of blood, gnarly looking ankles)?; will she lend a hand (maybe…or maybe she’ll push him back in)? A risible take on poppy, guy-girl indie, “Elevator Shaft” seems like what Jane Wiedlin might have done if she’d collaborated with Whammy-era B-52s, instead of Sparks. Righteous.
Alles 3rd Gut will be released on Sorry State Records.
Assuming the internet isn’t lying to me (again, bastard), the words “virvon, varvon” form part of a ‘spell’ cast by young Finnish children dressed as witches during Easter, by which they offer decorated willow twigs in exchange for candy or other rewards. Fascinating, no? More pertinent to this review, Virvon Varvon are a five-piece wrecking crew of a band based – I think – in London (reading between the lines of a fine feature over at 50thirdand3rd.com). They’re debut EP, Mind Cancer, was released last month, and it’s been on repeat here at tgh hq ever since.
Mind Cancer is chock full o’ turgid, roiling tracks best described by the umbrella term ‘rock and roll’. Like fellow travelers including NYC’s Vanity, Olympia’s VEXX (rip) and Perth’s Zerodent, Virvon Varvon decant a heady mix of punk (the hardcore, ℅ ’77, proto- and post- varietals), NWOBHM, guitar-oriented new wave (see, the chiming guitars in ‘Listen’), and 70s ‘hard rock’. At various points, I heard bits of Dead Boys, B52s, Black Flag, Judas Priest, Love Battery, and the Damned. While there’s plenty of roughness on display, some absolute melodic gems can be uncovered by sifting through the production’s layers of dust – but the real revelation here are the vocals of Hanne Highway, who has a knack for a tuneful roar.
Highlight, “Radical”’s opening riff sounds like a revved up “Livin’ After Midnight”, guy/girl vocals rapidly going off in different directions – like trying to listen to two people simultaneously describe how that fist fight last night really started. Another personal fave, “What Did You Say?”, marries a Damned-worthy drum crunch underneath a B52s-y guitar melody, all crescendoing to an absolute rager of a chorus. There’s even a rousing shout-along about allergies. The whole thing is damn good and, flying by in a little under 20 minutes, doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Go get it.
Mind Cancer is available now, courtesy of the good people over at Girlsville. Haven’t seen anything yet about a tour, but would be great to hear these tunes live.
Fatamorgana is a Barcelona-based project featuring Patrycja Proniewska and Louis Harding, whose previous endeavors ranged from the sandblasted hardcore of bands like Good Throb and the gothic, post-punk textures of outfits like Belgrado. Following on last year’s excellent, self-released demo, debut long-player Terra Alta finds the duo striking a midpoint between the sparse, new wave mood pieces of bands like Visage, Yaz(oo), or early Human League (think Travelogue, or Dare tracks like ‘Sound of the Crowd’ – not ‘Human’) and the later, lushness of later 80s bands like Propaganda or Book of Love.
A fata morgana is a type of complex mirage, its layers of distorted images at times resulting in certain shapes on the horizon appearing to float (and named, apparently, for Morgan le Fay). This seems a fitting name for the band, as the surface-level simplicity of these 11 tracks often beguile and distract from the complexities beneath. Nowhere is this clearer than on album highlight, ‘10 Minutos de la Tierra’, whose leveled beat and floating vocals must surely make Vince Clarke wish he’d written it 35-odd years ago. Elsewhere, ‘Universo’ shifts an elongated, processed vocal left and right for so long it becomes disorienting. Closer ‘El Desvanecer del Futuro’ is a strobe-lit dance floor epic built upon the sturdiest of synthesized bass and rhythm that gradually fades off over the horizon.
The lyrics are mostly in spanish, and mine is not good; however, a quick review of the titles suggests a lyrical focus on the magical/mystical places and times (Atlantis, labyrinths, the dawn, the universe/deep space) that fit well with the album’s feel. Terra Alta is out now, courtesy of the always fab La Vida Es Un Mus discos.
Highlights include: “10 Minutos de la Tierra”; “La Atlántida”; “El Desvanecer del Futuro”.
Sydney, Australia’s Low Life last week released Downer Edn (pronounced like “edition”), their first set of new material since 2014’s Dogging. Having expanded to a quintet with the addition of Dizzy Daldal and Yuta Matsumura to the ranks the result, as you might expect, is a fuller-sounding record that retains all of the roughness that made Dogging such a thrill.
Opener “The Pitts” starts us along, wrapped in a gothic fog, music and vocals heavily cloaked in grit, before galloping off into a four squared mosh pit groove. Highlights are many, the group’s knack for a burying moments of melodic bliss amongst the gloom in tracks like ‘Lust Forevermore’, which feel like a rope thrown over the bow. The album’s mixing of death rock, psych, Magazine-style post-punk and flanged new wave is a heady concoction that’s as much fun to drink deep as it is to parse through. Personal fave, ‘Rave Slave’, sounds a bit like A Bell is a Cup or Ideal Copy Wire pushed into the red of the more dramatic Killing Joke on Brighter Than a Thousand Suns.
As with Dogging, these tracks can barely suppress a sneer at the general state of, well, most things – a kind of equal opportunity disregard that tends to underpin most worthwhile critical pieces, musical or otherwise. Mitch Tolman’s vocals generally idle in a fixed simmer, as though he can’t be arsed to indulge the anger underneath and, when so moved, can only summon a withering “fuck it” (‘Glamour’). According to the notes accompanying the record, it was heavily influenced by their hometown, and I think many can relate to a heavy ambivalence towards the place they grew up (either from inside or from a distance) – particularly one as iconic as Sydney. The changes (the good, bad, and eye-roll worthy) that take place over time can inspire both pride and dismissal in equal measures. Downer Edn feels as much an embrace – without sparing the rod – as a mirrored shield held up against the cities ills.
Downer Edn is out now, courtesy of Cool Death (AUS), Goner (US), and Alter (EU/UK).
The past several weeks have seen the release of many great new tracks, from artists both known and loved, and new. Here are a few to get started on, with more to follow.
Mr. Twin Sister, “Jaipur” (Self-Released)
Up first, New York’s Mr. Twin Sister, who return with, “Jaipur”, their first new music since 2016 and our favorite – if we must choose – of three (!) new tracks to emerge over this past summer (“Power of Two” and “Echo Arms” the others). “Jaipur” is a beguiling reentry, retaining the suave r&b/‘baby-making music’ sound of 2014’s self-titled effort, all swelling strings and lush vocals – but the storm here feels anything but quiet. All that smooth is jarred by a sped up Bollywood tempo and horn blasts, reflecting a more jittery, self-conscious take on love – anxiously looking for it, while simultaneously fearing that, once found, you’ll just fuck it up and run away, disappointing both the other and yourself.
It’s unclear whether any of these new tracks will be included as part of a forthcoming long-player, but take your chance to hear them live on the band’s upcoming tour, beginning October 18 in Allston, MA.
Rat Columns, “Sometimes We’re Friends” (Slumberland)
Another welcome return, this one courtesy of Rat Columns, the recording project revolving around David West, who we’ve previously gushed over thanks to their sublime 2017 album, Candle Power.
“Sometimes We’re Friends” is released as part of a year-long tribute in honor of Slumberland Records’ 30th anniversary. Riding in on a lovely jangle, the track captures the same effortless charm as found on the album, with the kind of road-weary romanticism of bands like The Go-Betweens, Prefab Sprout and the Blue Nile married to an early Cure style guitar chug, uncoiling into an extended and repeated chorus. It’s fantastic, and hopefully means there’s a new full-length coming soon.
Papercuts, “Laughing Man” (Slumberland)
San Francisco’s Jason Quever returns with Papercuts, bringing the kind of vertiginous psych/dream pop that made us believers on 2009’s You Can Have What You Want. “Laughing Man” was the first of the new tracks we heard (followed closely by “Sing to Me Candy”), and it grabbed us immediately with it’s “Be My Baby”ish beat and woozy harmonies. Sweetly melancholy vocals describing someone “staring into space”, gripped by a memory they “can’t face”, before requesting we be upstanding not for the mayor of simpleton, but the laughing man.
The track will appear on Papercuts’ forthcoming new album, Parallel Universe Blues, due October 19 on Slumberland.
Molly Nilsson, “Slice of Lemon” (Dark Skies Association; Night School)
Another returning fave – this time, Molly Nilsson shares “Slice of Lemon” from her forthcoming full-length, 2020 (that’s the lyric video, above). It’s another world-beating slice (sorry) of new wave-flecked sophistipop. Riding a woozy synth and laconic beat, Nilsson’s lyrical focus feels placed on the beginning and end of a relationship, viewed through the eyes and ice of the narrator and the other – there’s a pang of wistfulness, but without regret. The track feels simultaneously new and like the song that could have soundtracked an alternate version of the denouement to “Sixteen Candles”, in which Sam eats the birthday cake alone, bummed it didn’t work out with Jake, but ultimately ok with it.
2020 is released November 2 on the ever-amazing Night School Records and Nilsson’s own Dark Skies Association imprint. Follow along on fbook, where you can find Nilsson’s upcoming tour dates in the EU and North America.
Lithics, “Photograph, You of” (Thrilling Living)
Back in May, Portland, OR’s Lithics put out one of our favorite records of the year in the form of Excuse Generator. Last month, the band released a one-off single on the Oakland-based Thrilling Living label, and it’s every bit as vitally abrasive. The a-side is a fantastic continuation of Excuse Generator’s tetchy and tuneful post-punk, sneeringly cool vocals playing off the rambling rhythm and jagged one-two guitar lines. B-side, “Lost Signal” brings a kind of Devo meets Television vibe sure to invoke full body shakealongs on the dance floor. One of the best band’s going right now, no doubt.
Spike Vincent – pictured above with a glorious coiffure exuding an Italia ’90 Rudi Voller or Hard Target-era Van Damme vibe – hails from Hurlstone Park, Sydney, Australia. After releasing a couple of 7” singles on local label Dinosaur City Records, Vincent recently exhaled a self-titled EP chock full of shimmering, emotive indie guitar pop.
Where previous singles were self-produced, the EP sees Vincent backed by a full band as part of a live, in studio recording. The intimate, unpolished “live to tape” process serves as the perfect setting for the bruised romance of the EP’s six tracks. Highlights abound: “Lie in the Dust” swoops and darts – but never quite alights – like a long-lost The Church single (Vincent’s tone, particularly in the lower register, calls to mind that band’s Steve Kilbey); “Get Over It” is a luxurious internal monologue debating the merits of a relationship’s ‘next step’; closer, “I Like You” a somewhat tortured love note with a sing-along chorus and lines like “if I like you/will my soul turn into gravel/…will my life start to unravel”.
Vincent’s self-titled EP is available now, via Dinosaur City and Burger Records in the US. You can grab a copy on his bandcamp while having your data pilfered on fbook (too soon?) and instagram.
The venerable Kill Rock Stars label recently announced the addition to its roster of PDX-based quartet, Lithics. The band’s forthcoming new album bears the mental-image inducing title of Mating Surfaces, and they’ve shared lead track, “Excuse Generator” (listen below).
The track is a delicious soft-serve swirl of punkier, art-pop new wave and post-punk, seamlessly blending the insouciance of the former with the jittery agitation of the latter. Kicking off along a “Teenage Lobotomy” intro, vocalist Aubrey Hornor recalls Patty Donahue if she fronted Bush Tetras or a more restive XTC. This push-pull of the melodious and the discordant makes for an intriguing whole, placing them amongst the best of the current crop of bands that includes Omni and Shopping.
Mating Surfaces is due May 25 from KRS, pre-orders up here – get psyched for release day. Lithics are also going on a US tour starting later this month, supporting aforementioned tgh faves Shopping on the west coast, followed by a swing through the midwest and east coast supporting Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. You can also follow the band on instagram.
Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Rot (What’s Your Rupture?; R.I.P. Society; Agitated Records)
Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys are a four-piece hailing from Sydney, featuring members of bands including Royal Headache and Red Red Krovvy. Following on 2013’s great debut, Ready for Boredom, the group released Rot this past November, and it’s amazing.
Rot finds the band barreling through an 11-song, 30 minutes and change set of fuzzed-out power pop that recalls folks like Wreckless Eric or a punkier Replacements. The combination of the raw, strained emotion in singer Joe Sukit’s voice over the grin-inducing melodies crafted by guitarist Ben Warnock is a potent one, and the band pulls off wry piss takes like “Expanding Horizons” and “Company”, and wistful reflections like opener “Away” and album highlight, “Device”, with equal aplomb. As closer, “Turn of the Page” ascends to an extended call and response between saxophone and a crunchingly beautiful solo worthy of ‘Starry Eyes’, the album leaves you with a hopeful sense that, despite leaving some scars, its titular degeneration is clearing.
Rot is available now, courtesy of a trio of labels: What’s Your Rupture? (US/Canada), R.I.P. Society (Australia, New Zealand) and Agitated (UK/EU) – pick your fave currency and buy a copy. The group also have a few tour dates coming up down under (sorry) – you can find them on the band’s fbook page.
Site fave Preoccupations recently announced that their new full-length – cleverly titled New Material – will release March 23, courtesy of Jagjaguwar and Flemish Eye (in Canada). To tide us over until then, the band have also shared the Nathan David Smith-produced video (below) for new track, “Espionage”, which incorporates the album’s artwork, by Calgary-based designer Marc Rimmer.
The track itself feels typically unsettled, structurally calling to this mind a kind of industrial-edged Heaven 17. The lyrics feel desolate (singer Matt Flegel has described the album as an “ode to depression and self-sabotage”), with a defiant call and response between lead and backing vocals rising to a persistent call for “change”. Whether this defiance brings catharsis or is a mere kick out against the pricks is open for debate.
You can pre-order New Materialnow, and make sure to catch Preoccupations on one of their forthcoming tour dates.
Rat Columns is the project of NYC-by way of Western Australia’s David West, whose previous work with bands such as Total Control, Rank/Xerox and Lace Curtain, as well as his solo material (most recently, last year’s great Peace or Love), explored different musical territory, from noirish post-punk, new wave imbued rhythmic explorations and dazed and confused psych.
Candle Power, his latest release with Rat Columns, finds West stitching together these various elements into a seamless and truly wondrous indie pop gem. “Blinded by the Shadow” expands on the Hot Chip (and their 80s antecedents) stomp of Lace Curtain, burnished with the addition of backing vocals from bassist Amber Gempton (featured throughout) and the inspired use of violin to add texture. “Northern Soul” weds the jittery, gothic post-punk of West’s work with Total Control and Rank/Xerox (I also kept hearing Lords of the New Church) with hazy psych. The album is shot through with moments of sublime, pop bliss. Opening one-two, “Someone Else’s Dream” and “She Loves the Rain”, jangled perfection in the spirit of classic Flying Nun on through to The Byrds. Closer, “Dream Tonight” a dancefloor ready mashup of New Order and Prefab Sprout (“Time’s No Vessel” also reminds of a less blissed-out Sprout with a shot of Orange Juice).
A dreamy, sepia-tinted melancholy hangs over the album, showcasing West’s ability to coalesce wide-eyed melodies with urbane, sometimes caustic lyrical takes on love and relationships, which are at variously “like driving a motorbike straight into a wall” (“Is This Really What You’re Like?”), an ephemeral, ‘did that really happen?’ experience (“Someone Else’s Dream”), and portentous “dark cloud that rains down from above” (“Time’s No Vessel”). It’s brilliant.