Problem Child [LP; Mind Rider]
The recitation of “Danny Boy” with a punkish sneer is often the grounds for divorce; ask how the Sex Pistols’ extolling of “My Way” ruined a generation on punk. Yet Sophie Weil mutates the force of nostalgia differently. The title track of Problem Child is a perverted attempt to reclaim some of that old smirking punk humor without disavowing the warm intent of the drunk lament. It’s the heart of the whole album, Weil viewing many musical cycles through a warped snow globe. Some work very well (the Mazzy Star psych isolation of “No Man Goes”) while others seem to do little to propagate the best of Weil’s ideas (the awkward electronic moans of “Sailor Song Pt. 1”). Yet the thick coat of snow laid onto the best of genres is a cold thicket worth enduring, digging out, and diving into. Problem Child is not a definitive statement of intent, but rather a clumsy pound at the door on a cold evening, asking for a quick shot of brandy and a playful noogie before sauntering back out into the howling winds and blizzard conditions. It’s not so much a problem child as a wiseass. Right now, the post-teen is in the phase of ignoring its inherent talent for the fun of vice. But soon Weil is going to wake up, realize her full potential and the world will take notice as it pleases. So we’ll hold onto Problem Child as ransom; to keep her cool just before celebrity rips her away from the youthful machinations that make this album fun and endearing.Links: Syko Friend - Mind Rider
Sometimes I’m Cruel, Sometimes I’m Mean [7-inch; Sweaters and Pearls]
A buddy and I, back when I was in sixth grade and he in fifth, recorded an album or two using my drum set (yep, I had one, and was privileged in that way I suppose) and a semi-expensive keyboard my dad had purchased during a strange era wherein he suddenly wanted to learn how to play and sing REO Speedwagon songs. If someone had dropped in during our sessions and yelled, “Guys, you sound too much like Def Lepp/Motley/etc.!” it probably would have ruined our fun, or at least have caused us to unnaturally alter the way we wrote songs (which, I learned later in one case, was to copy them word-for-word from Bon Jovi lyrics). And I don’t want to be that guy, bursting in like the Kool-Aid man and screaming, “Dude, someone loves Ariel Pink a little too MUUUUUCH!!!” and deflating everyone’s hot-air balloon-sized excitement over Part Time. But Jesus how could I not mention it when this 7-inch is spinning? His voice is a carbon copy of AP’s, and the music doesn’t stray far away enough from Pink to render me comfortable glossing over the connection altogether (I tend to give benefit of the doubt when possible). Regardless, I’ll be damned if David Loca isn’t one of the more clever songwriters out there, able to stir summer synth magic into a peppy brew that glides like rollerskates over hot, steaming pavement. The title track is ABBA chewing/stretching on a bunch of Abba Zabas at the 80s rink, Dave Chappelle-style, charming and bleached bright blonde. “Pictures on My Walls” is a perfect song, replete with perfect synths, perfect vox, a perfect vibe, and perfect drum robots tapping away a perfectly simple beat. Enjoying this smear of sugar is akin to lapping up ice cream; don’t question why it’s good (as I just did for way too long in the intro), just get your fill and enjoy it before it melts into your shirt. Apparently the 7-Inches blog is no more (RIP) but that guy is still putting out records under the Sweaters/Pearls flag and this is a quality item; keep the format alive and buy this little orange-wax Jolly Rancher, willya?Links: Sweaters and Pearls
Pop Life/Of [2xLP; Drawing Room]
One of the base joys of music is finding that local or regional band that scratches an itch you never knew you had. Sometimes you find it outside of your boundaries by happenstance, stumbling onto an artist working in a medium you admire but their own hometown crowds could be happy to ignore. It’s the excitement in which Chinese Girls find their albums Pop Life and Of re-released more than a decade after their Little Rock debut. But when you hear the product of both albums, it’s hard not to feel the excitement of Drawing Room’s honchos infecting the music of Chinese Girls. When you place it in the early aughts and recall what was popular both in the mainstream and underground, it’s no surprise the odd rock pop cannonball of Pop Life failed to make a dent in our conservative culture. It’s buried in neo-psychedelia and globetrotting noise. It’s raucous and rowdy at a time in our history where we fell into the fog of somber seriousness. Of follows the trajectory of pop music’s back-to-the-futurism as it occurred in 2003, but rather than climb the flagpoll of 70’s electro-disco and 80’s soul-pop, it delves into those juicy nuggets of abandoned college rock for the Gen X crowd. Borrowing from New Order, Galaxie 500, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Of is gritty and hungry. It speaks to the precedent of the Smell sound that birthed a teeny movement all its own just a few years later. Of represents a band that truly found solace in the past without living in it. All of this happening from the will of two men living in Arkansas. There’s no question had Chinese Girls held out for a few more years, they’d have been the toast of the blogosphere. But that came with its own set of issues and I’d hate to find an inventive and self-contained band swallowed by uncouth critical acclaim or their big-small city environs.Links: Drawing Room
Red Boiling Springs
Environments [CS; Nailbat]
How do you picture your childhood home? I have every square inch of mine mapped out in my head, from what the ceiling looks like viewed from the crack between the headboard of my bed and the wall, to how the light formed wavy rectangles between the coats in the closet. None of it is accurate though; everything is overlapped, views from different angles and heights, objects simultaneously elongated and shortened as successive memories of them are stored and corrupted. An infinite-exposure of snapshots in time.
These are the environments contained on this cassette; not places you can go, but places you have been–still dream of being–places that never existed but you have memory of. Voices flit in and out, the sounds of life through a lattice of images amalgamated from locations real and imagined. The sounds here are noisy, scratched, distorted, burnt, crushed, blasted, and damaged. It’s the thick residue of the subconscious; all the sounds, feelings and images your brain filters out from your immediate attention but files away to carve the crevices at the edge of dreams. Memory unfurling in a vain attempt to fill an endless black.
Minor Trials [CS; Life Like]
I’m trying (hard) to resist the urge to make every tape I review representative of some bigger thing I have to say about physical media in post-internet society. That said, Minor Trials, the new tape by Ann Arbor, MI performance artist Emily Roll AKA Haunted, is a sterling example of where putting out a tape is not stupid and wasteful (whereas 97% of current tapes, in my eyes, are the opposite). The whole thing is available online, but it just doesn’t seem right to listen to it there… it’s too personal, too secret. It sounds like it belongs on tape.
Minor Trials largely sticks to a format of bare-bones, funny spoken word in the venerable tradition of Suckdog, Algebra Suicide, or those Kill Rock Stars “Wordcore” records, with Roll accompanying herself with dreamy saxophone lines that recall a post-punk version of early John Klemmer or Roland P. Young. She is occasionally joined on drums/percussion by Life Like prime mover Fred Thomas (he of many bands, currently “Fred Thomas”). Some of these pieces would probably resonate most among friends in local basements, which is totally all well and good, but my personal favorite sections find Roll gazing well past her navel and out into this incredibly weird world. I’m not sure how one does that with all the guts in the way between those two things, but there it is.Links: Haunted - Life Like
ABABABABABABAS (Blue Lion Child) [LP; Further]
Hans Dens, nee Innercity, takes to exp-drone with a dark-ambient drill, hollowing out the dullness and injecting it with wriggling new life that will earworm its way into your brain. The impossibly titled ABABABABABABAS (Blue Lion Child) is chopped into disparate song titles but never deviates from the mission at hand; it’s a singular movement, directed to the tunnels of the electronic underground. Dens is a restless soul, not at all content to leave much to chance, his angry drifts reminiscent of some of those great LPs on the now-defunct/much-missed Fedora Corpse label. There’s a drama inherent as well, a nagging feeling of tension that can’t be taught and damn well can’t be discerned by this reviewer. It’s as if a figure is waiting behind the curtains of noise, ready to make good on all those bad trips you had back in high school. A hard bump or two of bass intrude on Side B, hinting at more to come, but no, instead a choppy guitar feature (or maybe, not?) overtakes the still-churning ambient static. This is all well and good; I’m drawn, however, to the tidal waves of soot blackening the edges of tracks like “Raragrams” the most; that and the overall grandeur of “Masks and Mold Matter,” a fascinatingly warble-y sound experiment I’d like to view under a slide, redolent of Mudboy’s collaborative LP on Hundebiss. If the Further chatter has escaped you ABABABABABABAS (Blue Lion Child) is an apt spot to drop yr anchor, and let me tell you, there isn’t much time left to visit the Innercity (32 copies of the limited-edition version of this LP last I checked). See that you do.Links: Further
Single Lash [CS; Mirror Universe]
In some alternate dimension this is worship music. There is a reverence, closing in on idolatry, for the mythologized past of Post-punk and Goth running through the twelve songs on this cassette. That’s not negative: heroes and legends are necessary to measure ourselves by, to be the beacon we are rowing vaguely toward across a infinite plain of water. And while this cassette is proudly displaying its exposed roots, this is not that most sincere form of flattery. Think of it more like a nugget dug from a long thought mined-out vein of gold. Put it on at a party of Cure and Joy Division aficionados and not only will they be asking who it is while trying to purloin your copy but they will be shocked it was released in 2015. Single Lash have nailed the tone of the guitars, the distance and hollowness of the kick drum, the wash of distortion over the chorus; welcome back to the 80s we missed you. This is not, however, mimicry or some kind of misguided cover-band‘s side-project. Single Lash is not trying to join the pantheon, but they have bottled the echoes of their forerunners and distilled something satiating.Links: Mirror Universe
Andrew Weathers Ensemble
Fuck Everybody, You Can Do Anything [LP; Full Spectrum]
I imagine the positive curses that light the latest from Andrew Weathers as the battlecry of Super Dave Osborne before he infamously took numerous nasty spills. Those falls from (lack of) grace that we all endure. Yet Super Dave – as fictional as he may have been – spoke to the resilience of its character actor, Bob Einstein. It also speaks to each of us, continuously told by family, friends and faculty that failure is what should be expected. As it should be. But from failure comes success (the part many naysayers leave out). I hope that’s why Weathers chose Fuck Everybody, You Can Do Anything as the title for his most triumphant work to date. Featuring a wealth of hard road travelers (including a personal fav, CJ Boyd) weary from years of being told to fuck off in various ways (as if to belittle the hard work and beautiful music they’ve made outside of whatever passes as normal), Fuck Everybody is uplifting and…yeah, I’m going here…spiritual. Don’t run away from that. It’s not about god or religion but about what is in oneself that keeps the world spinning. What motivates us to keep trying when we’ve ran face first into another obstacle. It’s a much more obtuse idea rather than the stated purpose of the album. However, we all need that slice of positivity to face down our own doubt. I imagine Bob Einstein, or even Albert, would embrace Fuck Everybody. After all, we are all in this together. Unified field theories, atomic yo-yos and all.Links: Full Spectrum
Troubled Heart [CS; Self Released]
As any American youth above a certain age, I fondly remember the electronic themes of Saturday Morning cartoons and PBS kids’ entertainment. They still resonant, still echo in the chest cavity where my heart once stood. But this absence is being re-filled by Saif Mode. Reassuringly, musician Ben Hunter has even christened his latest offering Troubled Heart as if understanding the sort of heartless existence I’ve endured since the death of my childhood. His tape even goes so far as to capture the pre-techno goodness of those electric light orchestrations before “Picture Pages” was forever ruined. Troubled Heart swirls in a sea of magical synthesizers, often eschewing 80’s music tropes in favor of more robust and childlike explorations of inorganic music as life essence. A warming, energetic pulse keeps the tape moving. It brings back the pinkish hue of the skin, and eventually rediscovers the beating organ deep in my chest. Always there, but often hiding to shield itself from the rigors of adulthood. No more, says Hunter…no more. We’ve rebooted in Saif Mode.
Links: Self Released
Dodging The Column [CS; Mirror Universe]
Everyone can use an injection of youthful exuberance every now and then. We spend so many of our days worried about “adult” things, things largely artificial that we have been socialized to worry about. But when we are young we have the strange luxury of worrying primarily about other people and our relationships to them.
Which is definitely what this particular cassette is concerned about: the prolific use of the word “you” in the lyrics proves that if nothing else. It has the feeling of going back over an argument in your head, what you did say, what you wish you said, what you would say different in retrospect. It’s an endless parade of other theoretical arguments and how you would win them; things we do for our egos when we are young and it matters to us. That feeling is gilded by fuzzy, warm and muscular guitars, drums and vocals. This music sounds positively joyous, which creates a pleasurable tension between what could otherwise have been forlorn lyrics and music that feels like rays of summer sun. It’s a tension and energy that “adult” life has little way of creating, and it’s nice to have 31 minutes worth of magnetic tape provide it.