Absolutely crucial reissue of Belgium’s aptly-named Blast by Montreal label Death Vault. This little-known mofo originally came out in 1973 in an edition of somewhere between 300-500 copies. Knowledge of the time frame doesn’t make these two raging hellfire songs any less “sick,” but it certainly challenges your notion of “fast” and “punk” and, well, Belgians in general. “Damned Flame” barrels forth at a frantic pace, anticipating Motorhead, d-beat and speed metal. The only thing I can think that it sounds like is actually Gunslingers, a latter-day aggro-psych band from France. “Hope” is a smidge more straightforward hesher thrash, breaking for a couple piercing solos and still featuring that maniacal drum bash. I suppose a parallel could be drawn with the long-haired punks of Soggy, and of course there’s Raw Power. Oh wait, snap, Raw Power was recorded “in London's CBS Studios from September 10-October 6, 1972.” This Blast single was recorded “in Brussels on the 29th of August 1972.” Blast for the win by two weeks!
CCTV 4-Trak 7”
Every punk geek with an internet connect was tripping over themselves to get ahold of this speedy new wave corker straight outta NWI (NorthWest Indiana - acronym ed.). Helmed by Coneheads honcho Mark W, CCTV tap into that wonderful vein of weird but accessible wavo punk like BOB and Suburban Lawns. “Paranoia” is the hit -- a blitzkrieg of oscillating bass guitar and desensitized, almost unnerving femme vox. There’s some stabbing synth lines and monotone background vocals and it ends at the perfect time, careful not to overstay its welcome. As for the other cuts, “Quiet” sounds like a homage to the aforementioned Suburban Lawns, while “Anxiety” is a long-lost early college radio hit that got more than one Revenge Of The Nerds party jumping. “Mind Control” shows singer Jenn’s range as she channels that bored new wave vixen steez that always gets me.
[Lumpy Rex; http://spottedrace.bigcartel.com/]
CRAZY SPIRIT 7”
Been a minute since a Crazy Spirit release, and it’d been a minute since I’d seen ‘em play as well. Saw ‘em recently and they opened with a cover of Butthole Surfers’ “Human Cannonball,” so that might give you a good idea of where their heads are at these days. As usual with Toxic State, the packaging here is stellar; I’ve probably said this before, but the TS aesthetic is sorta like Gravity Recs gone d-beat. Not on purpose of course, but to an old fart like me, the hand-folded/screened pocket sleeves/jackets and inserts remind me a lot of that stuff, but without all the touchy-feely crap. For instance, the illustrated lyric sheet is borderline beautiful and doubles as a poster (for your dorm room or squat). Also, there’s a strip at the top of the foldover flap that peels off to reveal a sticky streak that you can seal the sleeve with. I’m not the biggest packaging nerd in the world, but that is fucking cool. As to the music (oh yeah!), Crazy Spirit slithers through half a dozen grimecore trax and if you dug ‘em before, you ain’t gonna complain.
[Toxic State; http://katorgaworks.bigcartel.com/category/toxic-state]
THE EX & FENDIKA 7”
The Ex are basically The Rolling Stones of punk…..that is if the Stones never had a dip in quality, despite the line-ups changes and years on the road. I first saw The Ex play nearly 20 years ago. I have now seen them a dozen times. I’ve seen them blow Fugazi, Sonic Youth and Shellac off the stage. They should be headlining arenas the world over. They are headlining arenas across this earth for those with hearts and brains and a need for cleansing noise. Over the last few months, I had the incredible good fortune of seeing The Ex four separate times at four separate venues. Needless to say, they are as vital as ever, honing their unique push-pull attack until it is as fine as a grain of sand. I am awe of this band, yet they are some of the friendliest, most approachable and genuine music folks you could ever hope to meet. The joy they discover within their own music is palpable. They are masters of their trade, yet they manage to surprise the audience and themselves seemingly nightly. If you’ve ever had an inkling about The Ex, do not hesitate next time they are in your vicinity. Toddlers to grandmas, punks to squares -- Everyone loves The Ex. I’ve seen it. It’s the truth. The Ex started releasing 7”s again a few years back and here is the most recent, a collaboration with Ethiopian group Fendika. The Ex have toured Ethiopia twice and have made many friends there. “Lale Guma” is a cover of a song by Ayelew Mesfin and The Fetan Band. (as ever, The Ex are mindful of having their creativity be transparent aka always pay attention to their liners, you’ll learn a few things) The band was playing this song on the shows I caught, and while it features “a traditional war cry,” it is an uplifting and supremely danceable number. “Addis Hum” also featured in their sets, and it is “based on a traditional Ethiopian Gurage song.” If this is Ethiopia’s version of garage music (wahwah), then we need a sub-Saharan Nuggets post-haste. The Ex turn “Addis Hum” into a prime mover as drummer Katrin and the ladies from Fendika voice their frustrations; the band retains their inherent heaviness while making the skittering rhythms the focal point. Simply the best.
EXHAUSTION Phased Out 12”
“Phased Out” is all guitar n’ drum sturm und drang that trails off into vapour, while “Colleague” catches a ride on said trail and takes off on a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Not much is “happening” here, but it’s got a visceral pull, a vortex-ical grinding. A downed power line in a hurricane, your car perched precariously above, rubber tires saving from electrocution. Exhaustion don’t “sound like” anything particular, which is worth its weight in [presumed valuable material] these days. Flip this 12” over for a retrograde trip back to the late 1990s, when every single had 5 remixes and thus became EPs of dubious value. Prime Minister of Australia Mikey Young’s “Phased” remix dulls the guitar roar and foregrounds the mantra vocals along with a disco-fried take on the beat aspects. It’s not bad, just too long and ultimately pointless. Rites Wild head for the shadows with their darker treatment of “Colleague,” but it still feels a bit beside the point (probably land OK after Clan of Xymox on goth night). But, much like Lindsay Lohan’s lying PR mouthpiece, I could use some more Exhaustion.
MR. CLIT & THE PINK CIGARETTES 10”
This 10-song 45 rpm 10” has just about everything working against it: bad-pun band name; cover art that looks like it would not even clear the low aesthetic bar of say, Dead Beat Records; pink vinyl (appropriate, yes - ugly, yes); and yeah a ten-inch? I don’t hate 10”s with the fury most collectors do, but still, I ain’t giving the toast at its fuckin’ wedding, if ya know what I mean. So, what’s the real surprise here? That’s this record doesn’t suck! Three ladies and a dude cram some pretty hot-shit garage punk onto this pink atrocity. Nothing really stands out, but I like the lady-led songs best. “Life’s A Drag Queen” kinda sounds like East Bay pop-punk after being dragged through the gutter and slathered with…..xylophone? I think they’re from Indiana, so if you see this at the store, maybe consider picking it up, they probably need all the positive reinforcement they can get.
[Heel Turn; heelturnrecords.com]
MOPE CITY 7”
Three songer from sad Aussies, guessing Brisbane cuz of the Tenth Court stamp. Pretty “bog”-standard indie strum-and-drag. If there was a little more ooomph behind these songs, particularly the A-side “Small Eye,” they’d veer into Versus territory, which ain’t a bad place to find yourself, even midway thru the second decade of the twenty-first century. The third song attempts to add a little drama to the proceedings, but its title cuts to the chase and lets you know what you’re in for; “Blunt Razor.” Yeah, that’s no use to anybody.
[Tenth Court; http://tenthcourt.com/]
POP. 1280 7”
Pop. 1280 keeps plugging away and we ain’t mad at ‘em. “Penetrate” makes a decent case for Marilyn Manson to produce their next album. Hey, why not? Welcome to the dope show, fucko. “Krankenschwester” translates as “nurse” and is more reminiscent of past bruisings. The song features the line “Take the Greyhound to the graveyard” and somehow sells it via back alley cyberpunking. All aboard.
(Sacred Bones; http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/]
PSYKIK VOLTS “Totally Useless”/”Horror Stories #5” 7”
I saw virtually no mention of this well-done reissue this past year, which is a shame cuz it is a fine single of slightly weird, but fully rockin’ UK punk. Housed in a sturdy cardboard jacket and sounding crisp and loud off the player, Psykik Volts deliver a two-song killer. On “Totally Useless,” PV cops the main theme from composer Edvard Greig’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” (Hawkwind was evidently a fan too) and couples it with snide vocals to communicate just what fuck-ups they are. But we know the truth, as this song is too well-played and constructed for us to completely believe them. At the least, you’ll never hear the Inspector Gadget theme song the same way again. “Horror Stories no. 5” steals more horror movie guitar riffs (imagine a post-’77 Bernard Herrmann) and proceeds to rock it out every which way but loose. The short-lived Psykik Volts were heavier than the average UK punk combo at the time (1979-greatest musical year on record) and it sets them apart. Great single.
RAW PONY 7”
Ain’t no D in this band, so these ladies cut loose with the fury of four Lorena Bobbitts after a night of hard drinking. I heard they recently closed Bernie’s, the High Street watering hole/basement venue that hosted a few decades worth of Columbus, Ohio’s drunkest and loudest. Raw Pony exemplify that whiskey-soaked personal turbulence (aka trouble) in their churning gut-punched songs. “Shattered” throws in a harmony just to remind you that these bad bitches don’t totally hate you.
[Heel Turn; heelturnrecords.com]
SEX TIDE Vernacular Splatter 12”
Columbus, Ohio’s Sex Tide are back with another 12” long poke in the eye. They switched out a guitarist (Elijah from Bloody Show/Obnox etc is now in), but kept their dual six-string & standing/singing drummer method of attack intact. The majority of these swingin’ heartache blues rants remind me of Flat Duo Jets, from the other side of the gender gap. “Why Don’t You Want Me?” slows things down sticky like Link Wray cough syrup. I can safely say that men and women deal with pain in ways that aren’t as dissimilar as they’d have you believe.
SLUM OF LEGS 7”
Fantastic sophomore single by this UK six piece. With that amount of people crowding the sonic spectrum you’d be forgiven for thinking Slum Of Legs to be maximalists trying to cram as much sound as possible into the grooves. But they retain their inherent balance by carefully positioning each layer just so. “Doll Like” makes me think “What if Electrelane was happy?” The answer may surprise delight you. “Half Day Closing” is a lovely ache of a song, similar to the old world mod of Marine Girls or the more recent Long Blondes. But unlike those bands, Slum Of Legs have a certain restrained rage bubbling under these excellent and compelling songs. When’s the album?
[Tuff Enuff; https://riotsnotdiets.bandcamp.com/]
SLEAFORD MODS “A Little Ditty”/’I’m Shit At It” 7”
I am an unabashed Sleaford Mods fan(boy?). Over the last few years, I’ve listened to their singles collection Chubbed Up as much as anything else in my collection. Sleaford Mods make incisive music; hilarious, and positively withering in its hilarity. I might not live in the UK, but Jason Williamson’s gut-busting and genuinely poetic screeds hit home for me 100 fuckin percent. Write all the think-pieces you want, people, the Mods are still gonna cut you up. “A Little Ditty” appeared on last year’s Divide & Exit and it’s an excellent example of Williamson’s scato-/socio-logical spew paired with Andrew Fearn’s deceptively brilliant music. Fearn has a knack for crafting irresistible grooves out of nagging bass lines and simple, head-down beat runs. Every time I DJ this sucker, people start moving and head-nodding and catching bits of lyrics and laughing. On the flip, they give the mic to their mate John Paul for a minute and his pure vitriol almost outdoes Williamson. In the background, Jason makes farting noises and engages in some call-and-response. Then the song proper begins and Fearn’s bass line is a big, fat paranoid line of K begging to crawl up your right nostril. Then John Paul comes back for a fuck-off send off. Hope you are able to deal with the word “cunt,” or are you shit at it?
[Emotional Response; http://jenandstew.com/category/Emotional-Response-Records/c11]
SPRAY PAINT/EXEK split 7”
Released in conjunction w/ Spray Paint’s 2015 Oz tour, the A-side delivers two more jittery winners from the trio with “Yr Shedding” being especially paranoid. EXEK do a noisy, winding, dubby post-punker called “Theme From Judge Judy” (what a repugnant woman eh?). It’s almost like Mud Hutters or Glaxo Babies, reveling in its everydayness while also trying to transcend it via extrasensory out-of-body sonics. More, please.
Promising 4-song debut by this newer Aussie group made up of members of bands like Gentlemen, UV Race, EXEK and others. The mode is post-punk and the music is forceful and tense (well lookie here, there’s a minute-long rant called “Tension” on the flip). Stations share the sensibilities of fellow countryfolk like TAX and Nun. “Hunting” goes for the throat with big beat verses and singer Joanna Nilson’s mocking voice on the chorus. Need more info? According to Nilson: “We like sticky yellow biker speed, Aperol spritzers, blow up pools, black mesh, Scott Walker, Bikini Kill, ASOS, obscure Italian disco and each other.”
[Cold Front; https://stationsofthecross.bandcamp.com/album/stations]
VEXX Give And Take 7” EP
Despite the numerous pops on my pressing, Vexx’s second proper release is probably my favorite punk record of 2015. Most bands would kill to write a song as good as each one of these four distinct cuts. “Black/White” is as earnest as it gets, but it’s welded to a solid mid-tempo punk frame that takes time out for a couple tasty r n’ r licks. The Tyrades-like attack of “Sleeping In The Attic” gets my blood pumping hard, singer Mary Jane Dunphy’s voice hitting that perfect pitch, conveying anger and desperation in equal measure. The way she belts out “...and I gotta find a new place to live!” near the end sends chills up my spine. Oh yeah, this is why I listen to punk rock. I spent a few freezing months in the late ‘90s sleeping in an attic in Akron, Ohio. This is my retroactive theme song. The B-side repeats the formula -- “Walking In The Rain” is a tough blues, recalling Legal Weapon’s hard-won wisdom. If you don’t find yourself jumping around your bedroom to “Flattened Scenes,” well, shit, don’t you like to dance? Don’t worry, nobody’s watching, and Vexx are on the stereo; this is the appropriate response. Really nice packaging on this baby, but I hope your pressing doesn’t click like mine! Take a chance regardless -- Vexx is a rare, beautiful bird this late in the game.
[Katorga Works; https://katorgaworks.bandcamp.com/]