Phantom Handshakes are the New York-based duo of Federica Tassano (also of the band Sooner) and Matt Sklar. Their debut full-length, No More Summer Songs, was recently sent forth into the world, and it’s an exquisitely delivered set of jangled shoegaze and dream pop.
In what’s become, I imagine, a depressingly typical scenario in “these COVID times” [Bad Brains ensemble voice], the entire album – as was the case with last spring’s No Better Plan EP – was recorded by Tassano and Sklar separately, but it’s difficult to tell with the depth of musical understanding throughout. It’s a lovely album that – in the way of many of the best albums of the genres from which it is sourced – can burnish, elevate and/or validate a mood.
From the trepidatious opening chimes of ‘I Worried’, No More Summer Songs sets a melodic course through bands like The Sundays, Sarah Records artists like The Field Mice, The Radio Dept. and newer fellow travelers like Jeanines. Guitars jangle, basslines reverberate, while Tassano’s vocals convey a cathartic melancholy á la Harriet Wheeler with a hint of the scrape of Karin Dreijer. Lyrically, the album feels confessional – accepting and letting go of unhealthy thoughts/people – while also touching on societal angst and the feel of the world falling into the proverbial handbasket bound for something other than glory. It’s a forehead pressed to a rain-streaked window, silently contemplating and questioning.
While the album title could be a bit of cheek – given the chosen oeuvre’s predilection for slickers over sundresses – I can’t help but feel that it fits just as well for those desirous of bright sun, white sands and bejeweled waves as for those who enjoy (prefer?) a foggy embrace, sea spray kisses and a bit of a rocky vista.
No More Summer Songs is out now, courtesy of Z Tapes, with a portion of online proceeds donated by Phantom Handshakes to The Trevor Project.
Less of Everything is the debut full-length from Es, a London, UK-based four piece comprising vocals, bass, synth and drums. It’s a sharp, gripping collection of goth-infused punk that deserves a wide audience.
Tauter in feel and execution than Object Relations, the band’s great 2016 EP, Es come flying out of the gates with opener, ‘Chemicals’. A roiling, Banshee sounding rhythm and chunky bassline underpin vocalist Maria Cecilia Tedemalm’s lyrical quandary – “what have I acquired/to be getting/so tired” – a musing equally apt in these pandemic times as it is a statement of more general frustration and feeling of uncertainty. Tedemalm sings of an existence where a necessary tough skin becomes “too thick” (‘Foundation’), a sense of “hanging by a thread/uncertainty/lies ahead” (‘Severed’), grasping at straws “with my mind” (‘Hidden Track’), but also a fightback, rising “fully formed” (‘Sesame’) – lines delivered with equal parts withering dismissiveness and rising indignation.
While the band’s various parts and shapes sync to great affect throughout, a particular mention is needed for the amazing bass playing of Katy Cotterell and drumming of Tamsin M. Leach. Being guitarless, Cotterell’s bass plays a dual role of holding down the fort and leading the melodic charge, while the heft and sway of Leach’s drum hones the album’s overall percussively trippy feel. Musical signposts can be heard in the aforementioned Banshees, 17 Seconds-era The Cure, X-Mal Deutschland, Savages – the tension and drama across the nine tracks is palpable. One personal favorite (if I have to pick), ‘Severed’, almost veers into pop territory before the synth turns ominous and pushes the track over the edge and down the rabbit hole. A fantastic debut.
Less of Everything is out now, courtesy of Upset the Rhythm.
Gaffer are a new band out of Perth, Australia, featuring members of powerhouses like Cold Meat and Helta Skelta (the band). Having just formed last year (I think), the band recently released its self-titled demo via Helta Skelta (the label), and it’s a riveting debut.
Each of the tape’s seven tracks sound as if it was recorded live, such is the intensity. The set features raw, determined punk and post-punk sounds whose origins may sound from the mists of time but the tone of which remain sharply relevant. Frustration, isolation, the feel of being under the yoke – an anxiety made palpable by the arrangements and playing, with song titles like ‘Animal’, ‘Skin of Your Teeth’, and ‘Stuck’ serving as signposts. The demo has the diaristic feel of albums from early Black Flag (particularly, Damaged), The Mob, Flux of Pink Indians, or early Killing Joke. The vocalist inhabits a kind of younger Willy Loman character, one being told he’s “got everything to live for” while simultaneously feeling like he’s moving through life “with a noose on”. On ‘Skin of Your Teeth’ – one of many highlights – the not so quiet desperation finds form in lyrics like “can’t do this anymore/getting through by the skin of your teeth…/no real purpose/no real energy/no end product”.
Gaffer’s demo is available now, on cassette, from Helta Skelta. Looking forward to hearing what the band does next. In the meantime, you can check out the video of their first live gig here.
Pop Crimes is a Paris-based quartet who share a name with the title of an album from Rowland S. Howard (RIP), and include members of (amongst others) En Attendant Ana. Debuts, the band’s appropriately titled first release, is a brilliant four song introduction to a very anglophilic sounding group of francophones.
On Debuts, Pop Crimes demonstrate a wicked proficiency in fusing the blissful and the barbed – c86-style jangle and slacker indie, weighted with the crunch of garage and shoegaze and a soupçon of Libertines-like louche swagger. Perfect example: the hazy, scuffed pop of ‘Goes’, with antipodean shades of groups like The Church and the swing and swagger of early Ride or The House of Love. Like the best of bands who wear their collective influences on their sleeves, the set brings fond memories without sounding like mere rehash. Very much looking forward to hearing what comes next.
Debuts was released in January, courtesy of Howlin’ Banana – allez, go pick it up!
A new band of old hands, Minneapolis (Janet voice)-based Green/Blue present a jagged kind of garage-pop on their self-titled debut. Initially a recording project featuring the guitar/vocal stylings of Jim Blaha (of The Blind Shake) – whose solo basement musings formed the bases for the album’s eleven tracks – and Annie Sparrows (of The Soviettes), the group is now a quartet, having added Danny Henry (drums, also of The Soviettes) and Hideo Takahashi (bass, of The Birthday Suits).
The album is a hodgepodge of familiar sounding styles, blended into something very immediate. According to a press release, the tracks on Green/Blue were born partially from Blaha’s “newfound love of lo-fi pop jangle” (namechecking The Chills), but Green/Blue’s handling of the sound feels similar to the way The Misfits approached late-night 50’s croon or The Jesus and Mary Chain worked with girl-group, surf and other 60’s pop. There’s certainly sugary tones to be found here, the band exhibiting a deft touch for catchy melodies – but the ear candy is often chased with cough syrup, Blaha’s whispery vocals and he and Sparrows’ dual scuzzed up axe attack providing more than a hint of menace to the romance alluded to in many of the lyrics. Highlights ‘Proto Caves’ and ‘Way Down’ throw off a kind of haunted nostalgia, the former sounding like a roughneck Everly Brothers demo in spots – a leather-clad sock hop leading to a fogged up rear window. It’s great how the band are able to infuse so much energy into the boogie chug of ‘That Face’, while the JAMC pyres blaze bright on the brilliant ‘Find a New World’. Qué bella.
Green/Blue is out now, courtesy of Slovenly Recordings. The band also have really rad shirt designs (see here), so hopefully if we’re ever allowed out of our houses again and Green/Blue tour, I’ll snatch one up.
The self-titled debut 7” from Glaswegian quartet, Goldie Dawn, is a loud, snotty piece of very diy rock. Oozing boogie woogie choogle, it’s four, riff-heavy tracks bathe in the showers following Johnny’s thunders, with a heady dose of Bolan pomp and Sex Pistols grease thrown in for good measure.
Goldie Dawn’s musical stomp finds the band standing firmly on the necks of the ℅ ’77 punk giants and their influencers. ‘Crime’ rolls in on a Stooges worthy guitar muddle and proceeds to doff its cap to first album The Damned with a “smash it up/break it up” chant (the band even sells totes with M. Vanian’s mug). Personal fave, ‘What’s Inside (Never Dies)’, uses monster Chuck Berry riffage to soundtrack the lyrical kiss-off to a turncoat friend. It’s thrillingly raw stuff – the band members sound like they’re bouncing into and off one another during the recording. Kate Rambo’s sneering vocals are perfect, her almost breathless delivery makes it sound like she’s singing from the middle of the pit. Lines such as “be the beast/be the burden/be the idol that they all must worship” (‘Crime’) serve as a manifesto. After the melee of the first three tracks, the stumbling country of closer, ‘It’s Nothing to Me’, feels a fitting soundtrack to getting the bum’s rush. Polished? nope. Ass-shaking? yep. Guaranteed to make your hands raw from keeping time with the claps.
The single arrives May 29, courtesy of the lovely folks at Drunken Sailor. It’s up on bandcamp now to stream and pre-order the vinyl. Do it.
Melbourne, AUS-based Mystery Guest recently put out one of our favorites of the year, so far, with their debut full-length. Starting with the current sitch-appropriate line “are you feeling stressed?”, the title track opener serves as a kind of starchild meets ‘1984’ informercial. For those pining for “the roundness of a circle, and the structure of a square – at the same time” here for your pleasure, ladies and gents, is Octagon City.
Comprised of Patrick Telfer and Caitlyn Lesiuk, Mystery Guest make trippy, louche dance music with a decidedly downtown feel. Part of a continuum stretching back to the art damaged Lower East Side of the 70s, the jubilant DIY disco of a leftfield Factory Records signing, through bohemian dance like Deee-Lite and Luscious Jackson, and on to current arch-stylists like International Teachers of Pop, the album’s nine tracks groove, tease, and slap – all the while taking pleasure, from a distance, at the goofy grin forming on your face.
Highlights are many. ‘Redeem’ has a sultry grooviness that calls to mind 80s r&b and The Style Council-esque mod pop. The back-to-back one-two of ‘Get Up’ and ‘Red Dance’ are slow motion bangers; the former adding hints of afropop to the arrangement, the latter riding a seriously elastic bassline. ‘Mystery Party’ comes off as a sensual re-drawing of ‘Vogue’ – “lift your skirts/hertz by hertz” is one of the best dance floor commands of this or any year, and the track is currently tied with Too Free’s ‘Gold’ in our 2020 “best use of 808 cowbell” awards. ‘Moon, Moon’ feels positively Roxy in its decayed romance – “our celestial bodies/making the waves/singing to drown/the church upon the knaves” (is that a hint of ‘Always, Forever’ at the one minute mark?). All this groove is beautifully anchored by Lesiuk’s unflustered vocals. Oozing charisma, I love the way she reshapes and stretches certain syllables, adding to the grandeur.
Beguiling and a bit cheeky, Octagon City is very highly recommended. The shape of their love is an octagon – step on in.
Quarantine. The days of wine and more wine – oh, and bleach. Looking back through these past bleary weeks, we’ve mostly been putting out playlists. While fun, this seems to have detracted from actually putting some words out around the music we’ve been enjoying lately. While we love them all, we wanted to focus on just a few of the tracks from those lists here – be sure to take a listen to all the great artists and visit our Spotify page.
Special Interest, ‘Don’t Kiss Me in Public’ (Night School; Thrilling Living)
One of the most exciting bands to emerge in the last few years, New Orleans’ Special Interest released their latest single, ‘Don’t Kiss Me in Public’, on Valentine’s Day. Their 2018 debut, Spiraling, ground together elements of punk, new wave and no wave into a thrilling mash. ‘Don’t’ doesn’t waste time picking up where Spiraling left off, riding a rugged, industrial dance beat and messy stabs of guitar. What’s more noticeable to me on this track is funk. There have been many bands down the years mining inspiration from both punk and funk, but Special Interest set themselves apart by more deeply engaging with the ‘funk’ portion of that formula. Funk’s gritty, greasy qualities – the ‘staink’ (if anyone still says that) – is a remarkably powerful unifier with punk’s at times desperate intensity. Both are fully throttled on this track, with Alli Logout’s vocal pleas crescendoing like some kind of studded leather-clad Teddy Pendergrass. It’s sweaty, cathartic, and amazing – and it’s out now, courtesy of the remarkable labels Night School and Thrilling Living.
While you’re at it, do yourself the immense favor of checking out Spiraling, which was re-released last year on Anxious Music and remains on regular rotation here at tgh hq. Hoping for more from them soon.
Leeds-based quintet bdrmm has been releasing music for a couple of years now, but we’ve only just caught up with them now, through ‘Happy’. Serving as a taster for the band’s debut full-length, Bedroom, the track is a shiny blast of dreamy post-punk along the lines of DIIV. The track’s hushed opening bars, all lithe bassline, whiplash drums and flanged guitars, call to mind classics like ‘A Forest’. This greyscale beginning, however, soon morfs into a kaleidoscopic arrangement – lyrics painting a picture of separation, realizing you might have done more but now just want the ‘other’ to be happy – before dissolving into a soaring instrumental outro and extended solo. It’s a great track which bodes well for Bedroom, due July 3 on Sonic Cathedral.
Check bdrmm’s bandcamp page for more tracks, and be sure to stick around long enough to hear a phenomenal remix of ‘Happy’ by one our favorites, the mighty International Teachers of Pop.
New music from Melbourne, AUS-based Dianas. The band’s first since 2017’s Leave Love, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is life-affirming jangle. From the first hard-strummed chords, the track recalls dreamy 60s ‘girl group’ pop up through bands like Vivian Girls and Terry. Lush, intertwined vocal lines stay tethered in the measures before the string is released into a heady chorus, a psych edge keeping things beautifully off-kilter. Lyrically, Dianas focus attention towards making someone see their own self-worth (“you’re only failing/in your own head”) – something we could all use more of.
‘Million Dollar Baby’ is taken from Dianas’ forthcoming long-player, Baby Baby, due May 4 courtesy of Blossom Rot, a new label run by Nathalie from Dianas and Sophie from Body Type. Pre-order yours here.
The track serves as the opener to the great Stay Inside – Songs from the Great Indoors compilation, a coordinated effort of Blossom Rot and several other Aussie labels – including Dinosaur City, Osborne Again, Spunk, Hotel Motel and Inertia Music. All proceeds go directly to the artists.
In support of his forthcoming full-length, A Tear in the Fabric (his first in six years), Devon Williams has graced our ears with ‘In Babylon’. A masterclass in charming, dreamy indie pop, the track is all elevataed emotion. Guitars chime and jangle, the bass veritiably glows, drums swish, all pushed skyward by a gossamer thin synth line. Dead center in the mix is Williams, sounding like a lost Finn brother, his vocal melody tripping lightly amidst the song’s delicate intricacy. There’s more than a bit of the more glossy end of the ‘college radio’ genre in feel and tone – think The Church, Prefab Sprout – together with more newer emotive pop like Cherry Ghost.
It’s our favorite of the taster tracks for the new album, so far – though they’re all very good. Roll on May 1, when A Tear in the Fabric is released by the fine folks at Slumberland. In the meantime, why not pre-order your copy.
A new group from Hebden Bridge, UK, The Lounge Society recently unleashed a track full of gritty, totemic post-punk in the form of ‘Generation Game’. Lyrically, themes are heavy: a generation under siege and ignored (the band’s members are all students, between the ages of 16 and 17); a general lack of empathy amongst the ‘humans’; a retreat and reliance upon false comforts (poisonous beliefs) and falser idols (looking towards the U.S. to “save our soul”). Musically, the track builds from a gentle strum to a boisterous roil as frustrations are catalogued, takes to the skies for a spacey (but, far from light) bridge, before landing a four to the floor ending. The track bears audible similarities to contemporaries like The Murder Capital, but I also heard a bit of older heads like The Stranglers or The Godfathers. It’s an eye-opener of a debut, and one that has us looking forward to more.
‘Generation Game’ is out now, courtesy of Speedy Wunderground.
P.E. is a new quintet comprised of former members of Pill and current members of Eaters. Two teasers from their forthcoming debut long-player, Person – namely, ‘Soft Dance’ and ‘Hot Ticket’ – have stoked much anticipation for the record here at tgh hq.
‘Soft Dance’ is a taut, deconstructed body mover. The bassline and sparse rhythm will have you grooving, but it feels almost detached from the rest of the arrangement – the lyric “the roots make shapes/interwoven – interwoven” sums it all up rather nicely. Veronica Torres’ vocals are reminiscent of Bjork in ‘oh so quiet’ before the storm’ mode, but here the storm doesn’t quite make it, just a plea to not “forget to have a good time”. ‘Hot Ticket’ rides in on a melody that begins like an interpolation ‘Born to Be Wild’ before heading off the highway to a basement club over a stuttering Kid A rhythm. Here, again, Torres’ slinky, commanding performance steals the show – her message requiring “strict compliance” to follow the groove exhilarating. Head over to the P.E. bandcamp page (link below) to also check a remix of ‘Hot Ticket’ from fellow travelers, Liars.
‘Anticlimax’ is lead track of the latest double a-side single from New York’s Vanity, an outfit which has previously layered elements of punk, glam and straight up rock across their releases like so many ‘suicide’ Slurpees. The new track sees the band flexing its muscles over a glorious slice of riffing power-pop.
The arpeggiated intro is a glorious rush sure to melt even the most frozen of hearts, but there’s more than enough salt to balance the sweetness. Rushing by in a tic under four minutes, ‘Anticlimax’ feels like a lost b-side from first album Cheap Trick, and finds Vanity (who now include former VEXX-er, Mike Liebman, on guitar) at the peak of their powers. Highly recommended. Released, together with ‘A Seat at the Table’ February 28, courtesy of Feel It.
Back in 2017, White Flowers (née, Britain) seemed to blip, fully-formed, across our radar with the tracks ‘Day by Day’ and ‘Tried to Call’. We loved those tracks’ heady mixture of ethereal, Cocteau Twins’ style dream pop and rafters-raising psych reminiscent of early Doves. Fast forward, then to last month, which saw the release of ‘Night Drive’, the Preston, UK duo’s latest – produced by none other than Doves’ guitarist Jez Williams.
Part of a 12″ double-a side (with ‘Portra’) that was released on Valentine’s Day (hooray for the new music, since it appears their older material has been taken down) ‘Night Drive’ feels a step forward. Built on a similar musical foundation, the track’s multiple layers reveal themselves at a considered pace. There’s a directness in the composition that does nothing to blunt the pleasant buzz created by the combination of Katie Drew’s swooning vocals and a kaleidoscopic melody crafted by her and Joey Cobb. Great stuff – the double a-side is out now, courtesy of Tough Love.
Activity, ‘Calls Your Name’; ‘Earth Angel’ (Western Vinyl)
Activity are a new quartet featuring members of Russian Baths, Grooms, and Field Mouse. The band’s debut long-player, Unmask Whoever, is due soon and, based upon the evidence of teaser tracks, ‘Calls Your Name’ and ‘Earth Angel’, it’s going to be very good, indeed.
“Calls Your Name” (check the video, above) carries a hypnotic feel, woozy boy/girl vocals bringing to mind Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird’s work on Maxinquaye, et al. Vocalist Travis Johnson’s repeated invocation of a “lit’ral hell” where “houses spread and swell” is mirrored by the circular feel of the arrangement, underpinned by a sinuously insidious rhythm. “Earth Angel” (inspired by Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk, less so The Penguins’ doo-wop hit) has a bit more sprawl, but with a surface-level tension that adds menace to Johnson’s stated desire to “wanna fuck around” over a roiling, 90s industrial boil and even a bit of Hurting-era Tears for Fears. Both tracks manage to feel both insular and heady, and unsettlingly lovely.
I recently had the opportunity to re-watch Donnie Darko with my oldest (who – proud dad moment – loved it) and, if they ever decided to do a re-make, Activity should contribute to the soundtrack. Unmask Whoever is due March 27, courtesy of Western Vinyl – pre-order a copy here.
EXEK, Some Beautiful Species Left (SDZ; Anti-Fade; Digital Regress)
Melbourne, AUS five-piece EXEK released their latest long-player, Some Beautiful Species Left, last month. A follow up to last year’s double, A Casual Assembly and Ahead of Two Thoughts, the album finds the band further fine-tuning their kitchen sink production approach (the promo for the album mentions use of kitchen appliances in the recording, so I couldn’t resist) – and the results are phenomenal.
“Hobbyist” opens the proceedings along a discordant whine that sounds produced by something hand-cranked, unfurling into a full-on motorik headbuzz. Amidst the din, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Albert Wolski teasingly invites the listener to ‘go on/have a second guess’, like a spaced out Mark E. Smith fronting Clinic. It’s a fittingly bewildering start to a record that’s equal turns arresting, unsettling, chaotic, caustically hilarious and inspiring. Strings, horns, guitars, bass, drums, and persistent echo chambah effects swirl into a musical trail mix including dub, abrasive post-punk (pre-Brix The Fall, Wire, Metal Box-era PiL), jazz, and Syd-led Floyd experimentalism.
Highlights are many: the jittery dub of “Lobbyist”; the intriguing guitar/vibraphone (I think?) interplay on “Plastic Sword Retractable”; “Iron Efficiency”’s rugged narco-psych; the lightheaded, infectious melody of “Unetiquetted”. Instruments traditional and non- at times sound as if they’re being played forwards and backward simultaneously, Wolski’s gnomic sing-chant recalling bits of the aforementioned Barrett and Smith, Robyn Hitchcock and Jah Wobble in tone.
The magic of Some Beautiful Species Left lies in how it all hangs together – even for a listener who maybe has a more punk-inclined/birdlike musical attention span (cough). Veering from sprawling to terse, short blasts, the album’s eight tracks go in many directions. But for all the experimentalism on display, EXEK’s jammier tendencies enthrall rather than disappear too far into the navel. Perhaps a cheeky reference can be found in closer, “How the Curve Helps” (at 8:11, the longest track on the album), Wolski intoning ‘about an hour ago/I should have left’. We’re good to hang out longer.
Some Beautiful Species Left is out now, courtesy of the good folks at SDZ (Europe/Africa), Anti-Fade (AUS/Asia) and Digital Regress (North America).