Thursday, February 28, 2013

Necklacing – I

May 31, 2012 • self-released

Necklacing is a hardcore band from Massachusetts, their debut EP is up on Bandcamp, and that's all I know about them. They akin-your-face powerviolence with a huge, thick sound that's some of the best I've heard lately.

I is a totally unrelenting release, one that squeezes everything it can out of its seven-minute runtime, packing five brutal tracks in less than three minutes and finishing off with the droney, doomy "_" and the sludgy "Moira". It feels like it's over just as soon as it starts, and I always am tempted to just play it again and again when it's done.

EPs like this are tough to review because they're so short that they don't leave much to talk about aside from a quick description—but basically, if you're into modern hardcore, especially the heavier side, this is a no-brainer (especially because it's free).


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Locust – Molecular Genetics from the Gold Standard Labs

July 24, 2012 • Anti-

I have only a passing familiarity with The Locust, having heard merely Plague Soundscapes and their split with Arab on Radar, and they are still one of the most bizarre bands I've heard when it comes to heavy music (Melt-Banana comes close, I suppose). Gold Standard Laboratories, their old label, has released a bunch of old material culled from various splits and early material. Despite my usual aversion to this sort of raw, early "-core" music (mostly produced by crappy bands who can't sign on to anything more impressive than underground splits), this is a great collection.

For anyone who's heard the later albums, The Locust's older material isn't too much different—still the same old grindcore-meets-noise rock-meets-a total disregard for conventional songwriting and any sort of sympathy for their listeners. The music is as dissonant, spazzed-out, and unapproachable as ever, as each and every song provides an impenetrable wall of bizarreness. Noisecore blastbeats give way to jazz- and punk-influenced grooves and jump back just as quickly, as time signatures, tempos, and riff structures bounce all over the place. The assault never seems to let up for more than a few seconds total, and even though just a few songs break the one-minute mark, the lengthy tracklist makes for a real workout.

As a compilation of old and rare tracks, the long length and exhaustive effort it takes to hear this album is understandable—of course, these tracks probably weren't originally intended to be listened to in this way. Even so, the material here is surprisingly good (compared to old/rare material from similar bands) and definitely deserved this re-release. I daresay I probably enjoy this more than Plague Soundscapes as well, somehow; perhaps for the extra variety and unstoppable brutality.

Definitely a good place to start for anyone who's never heard of the band and a good place to continue for anyone who heard their newer albums but not the early stuff. Not for the faint of heart, but if you can take it, it's very much worth it.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Sun God – Sun God

August 1, 2010 • Big Purple Records

Sun God is a band that I saw play with This Moment in Black History several years ago. They were selling this tape, essentially a discography of everything they'd put out on various singles and splits. It was quite limited so I doubt it's even available anymore, but it was a good place to get a quick feel for the band.

Their style is pretty simple, a sort of garage rock revival reminiscent of early Dinosaur Jr. with a punkier, more anthemic twist. It's catchy stuff, with a lot of great melodies and riffs, though their approach is a little formulaic. It's still music that is relatively fun to listen to, however.

I'm still a bit unsure on my verdict of Sun God as a band, as they're probably a better live act—or at least more well-suited for splits and singles as their songs are pretty samey (even after listening to this a dozen times).

This tape is definitely a niche release, and their Bandcamp page is probably better suited to determining if they're up your alley, and of course probably the best way to experience them in the first place is to just see a show (if they're still around; to be honest I haven't bothered to see if they've done anything since 2010). But at least it was interesting for me to go back to.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Paraf – Zastave

1984 • Helidon

Here's a weird one for today, and an old one: a post-punk band from Croatia in the late '70s and early- to mid-'80s. I'm not sure why I even have this album, as this band is awfully obscure, but I figured it'd be an interesting one to look at today.

I've heard few albums whose sound immediately evokes the '80s underground quite like Zastave does—dry, lo-fi production, lots of delay, chorus on the bass, and so on. Though it makes the album feel incredibly dated, it's an interesting aesthetic—one that I've gotten familiar with from diving into old tape releases from this period, and I really like that aspect of it, especially the neat samples used throughout the album.

The style of the music itself isn't the most unique, but it has plenty of interesting elements: jangly guitars, gothic-style vocals, almost motorik drum beats, and some weird Doors-like organs and keyboards to round things out. It gives the album a sort of ritualistic / tribal sound at times, which is pretty cool, though it can get a bit corny at times (like "Oj ponose moj", which isn't a bad song, but that chanting would attract odd looks from bystanders).

I dislike how the songs have a tendency to get a bit repetitive, although on the other hand I guess that fits with what all the other post-punk bands around this time were doing; and for a poppier, song-oriented band like this I shouldn't be too surprised. It still can get kind of catchy sometimes and have the occasional good hook ("Kad se oglasi"), so it's not a huge problem.

Zastave is definitely a neat slice of punk history, though it's probably not something I'm going to find myself going back to a whole lot as the album has worn itself out for me after just a couple listens (and I don't think it was really my style in the first place). Worth looking into for anyone into this part of post-punk, though.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mystery cassette

On my last haul post, I mentioned a mystery cassette tape with no decent indication of what the hell it is. I scanned all the inserts and finally got around to getting them online. If anyone has any idea what release this is, PLEASE let me know!

Front cover: "AP"

Inside cover: "Xenophobe" / "01"

Front of insert

Back of insert (cropped): "Adeste Fideles"

Numbered slip: "55/88"

Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, Busdriver

February 19, 2013 • A&R Music Bar, Columbus, Ohio

Yeah, yeah, concerts two days in a row. Not something I'm going to get into a habit of anytime soon, but this was easily an exception. It wasn't quite as good as Monday's show, and it wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped in general, but it was still a pretty good time.


I barely know anything about Busdriver, aside from that he's a very eclectic artist in the hip hop world, and that definitely proved true here. I was pretty impressed by his set: just two tiny samplers provided a large array of both minimalistic and very noisy beats. And he's quite the talented vocalist; his rasta-style singing was decent and he spits like no other—if I thought Aesop Rock was a fast rapper, Busdriver is some other league. The forty-five minute set got a bit taxing, and maybe even a bit repetitive, but it was by no means a bad show.
6Most Exquisite Haircuts Award

Aesop Rock / Rob Sonic

I didn't expect them to go on at the same time, but it made things move a bit faster so that was nice. I was unaware that they have a group now (with the DJ who backed them up, Big Wiz), so the setlist was a pretty even mix of Aesop Rock's material, Rob Sonic's, and the group's (Hail Mary Mallon). Unfortunately this meant that I didn't even recognize half of the songs they did, which kind of undercut my enjoyment of the set a bit. Still, it was great to hear Aesop do some of the better Skelethon tracks and a few older ones as well, including some of my favorites like "None Shall Pass", "No Regrets", and "Pigs". The sound itself was horrible, though—you would be lucky to hear the beats aside from the super-heavy basswork, aside from DJ Big Wiz's (admittedly good) solo set. It made it hard to tell what they were even playing most of the time. Overall, though, the show was decent; not one of my favorites but it was still pretty fun.
7Best Use of Entertaining Backdrops Award

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why?, Astronautalis, Dream Tiger

February 18, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

My first trip to Ace of Cups, courtesy of Why?, who slowly became one of my favorite bands a few years ago with Alopecia. Despite a few logistical hitches ("doors at 7" became "doors at 7:45", with the show itself at 8:45) it turned out to be one of the best shows I've ever been to.

Dream Tiger

I'd never heard of Dream Tiger before, despite the fact that she has apparently been a member of Why? for some time. It was surprisingly good stuff, not the sort of music I'd seek out, but I liked her quite a bit. Gloomy electronic beats and melancholic singing, a sort of slowed-down, ethereal, drugged-out Björk. The variety of sounds and instruments sampled was pretty neat as well.
6Most Seemingly Surprised at Her Success Award


Another act new to me. Basically a stripped-down and more rock version of Why?, with heavy indie-rock beats (with live drums and guitar, which was neat) and a half-singing-half-rapping approach. It wasn't totally my kind of music, but I have to give the guy props for giving one of the most enthusiastic performances I've ever seen. After Dream Tiger put everyone to sleep (not in a bad way), I was surprised how easily he woke everyone back up, considering that a lot of us didn't know who he was, probably in no small part due to his admittedly funny audience-participation freestyle.
7Most Entertaining Stories About Insane Clown Posse Award


This show exceeded all my expectations, somehow. Firstly, I was impressed that everything was played with live instruments (I should've known better, but still), and the scope of them—two good-sized drumkits, a full-time xylophonist, and a part-time glockenspielist. They played a good mix of stuff, mostly newer material (of course) but a large handful of old tracks, two from Elephant Eyelash and fully half of Alopecia, which were some of the highlights for me (especially "These Few Presidents"). I guess it was partly so good because the crowd was as into those songs as I was and the atmosphere was really great. (I even tolerated the bit of singing along that happened.) So yeah—I guess it's partly that seeing one of your favorite groups makes for a good show, but they wouldn't have disappointed even the mildest fans.
10Largest Number of Fans Who Feel They Have the Need to Make Out Right in Front of Me Award

Monday, February 18, 2013

Eric Fourman – Cloudy

October 8, 2011 • self-released

More goodness from Eric Fourman today; I seem to never get tired of his brand of complex, layered ambient drone, so it's a good thing that he seems to never get tired of making it. Cloudy is one of his more interesting and diverse albums I've heard yet, and just as good as the rest.

I say "diverse" as this album is probably his most abrasive work (that I've heard), especially on the opener "rDNA", which has a much more intense sound than his typical output due to a substantial amount of low, gravelly noise. It's almost hostile, but there are still slight glimmers of the ambient to come hidden in the cracks. A very neat piece, and unexpected.

From there on, the album switches back to Fourman's standard soothing, ethereal sound, though there's still a hint of distortion undercutting most of the droning. It gives the music a bit more of an edge, which I quite like—not that his other stuff ever gets too corny for me, but here it's a nice change.

"1/2cc" stands out as one of my favorites on the album and deserves a special mention. It's a very simple track—droning synthesized strings, layers upon layers of them, slowly ascending and descending the minor scale. Perhaps it's that minor tonality, or maybe the slight dissonance, I'm not sure, but something about this track makes it just absolutely beautiful. By far one of Fourman's best pieces.

It's a rare drone album that feels glacial without dragging along too slowly; a lofty goal, and one that's attained here. As expected, Cloudy is absolutely worth getting a hold of, even if only for that brilliant closing track.


Friday, February 15, 2013

This Moment in Black History – Higher ≥ Deffer

December 29, 2012 • Smog Veil Records / Snax Records & Tapes

It probably isn't quite right for me to do a review of This Moment in Black History at all, a band I've been following for years primarily because the vocalist is my cousin—but also because I legitimately enjoy their stuff and I'm always happy to hear of a new record by them coming out. Not a whole lot has changed for the band, stylistically speaking, over the years and Higher ≥ Deffer is more or less exactly what I expected from them, though it doesn't quite stand up to their earlier stuff.

This Moment in Black History still is, at its hear, a lo-fi-indie-garage punk band, yet this album in particular has some tendencies toward more straightforward fuzzed-out rock (e.g. "Teabagging (A Loser)") and some melodic vocals provided by the other members of the band. (I'm still not sure whether I think that fits well or not.) Of course, there are still plenty of their traditional catchy punk tunes like "PHD's Not DT's" or "Traumatic Baths", and the silly synths are still plentiful.

Though the album is absolutely fine, I'm a bit disappointed that there isn't a whole lot of the spastic, frenetic, mathy punk style that made It Takes a Nation and Public Square so interesting and fun. This one is a bit slower, a bit less abrasive and in-your-face. Higher ≥ Deffer lacks a bit of the wow-factor that It Takes a Nation had back when I first heard it—but that's probably personal/circumstantial more than anything; it's "just another This Moment in Black History album" rather than something new to me.

Anyway, Higher ≥ Deffer is a good album and would probably serve as a good introduction to the band, but diehard fans be wary. I hope they don't stay soft for long.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vit – -

August 18, 2010 • Music Ruins Lives

I don't remember how I came across Ohio band Vit, but I've had this album kicking around in my library without rating it for two years, so it's time it got its due. And it's now understandable how this happened: there is a weird class of albums that aren't quite good and aren't quite bad and I can never really get my head around them enough to analyze them; - is definitely one of those albums.

Vit plays a pretty diverse sort of black metal, taking influences from both the first and second waves, injecting it with plenty of doomy and folky tendencies as well, with some cool extras like the banjo in "Ascension Ritual" and the folky interludes such as that in "Perennial Collapse". But Vit never really feels like they know what kind of music they want to play, making - feel a bit disjointed—there is a definite shift each track between different styles of metal (specifically, the odd-numbered tracks are black metal and the even-numbered ones are doom, aside from the last one—it's pretty weird).

The songwriting is definitely the key weakness on this album; the band has good ideas but doesn't seem to know how to put them together in a way that makes a whole lot of sense, leaving the listener lost more often than should happen. The aesthetic and performance is there, and that's all fine, but the music can still be a bit tough to listen to. The songs don't have much in the way of compositional dynamics (no buildups/climaxes), which is normally not a problem but I feel like this album seems a bit bland without them.

It's not a bad debut, and I really want to like Vit, but they have a ways to go from here. I haven't heard their more recent EP, so all of this might be completely pointless, but as it stands this album is worth a listen—just one without raised expectations.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Drose – A Voice

June 4, 2012 • self-released

I'm not sure how I found this band, but they immediately caught my eye due to the fact that both of their EPs were recorded at a place I used to work (and it's a research lab, not a recording studio). Even though I've never felt too in-touch with the Columbus music scene, bands like Drose do feel comfortable to me—even though A Voice should be considered anything but.

As best as I can put it, Drose plays a very intense, visceral sort of sludgy noise rock; though calling it "noise rock" is not anywhere near a satisfactory description of their sound. It's incredibly gritty and doomy, with a highly rhythmic nature evoking mechanical imagery. The two middle rock tracks are bookended by a drone piece and a Khanate-esque doom improvisation—spooky stuff, and very effective. The sung vocals seem a bit out-of-place at first, especially since the guitar is definitely non-melodic, but seem to add to the discomfort the EP is meant to invoke.

Anyway, this is definitely a niche record, but it has this weird appeal to it that I really got into. Worth a listen just for the uniqueness, if nothing else.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vargr – Aldebaran

August 2, 2009 • 205 Recordings

I haven't been listening to noise much in ages. I was really into it a few years ago, but somewhere around 2010 my interest started to drop and I just haven't bothered with it. (It's likely I overlistened and got tired of it.) Consequently I have a bunch of old noise album that have been sitting around in my library, unrated, for years; Vargr's are some of the oldest and it's finally time I gave Aldebaran its due.

And it's surprisingly a lot better than I remember it being. It's substantially harsh stuff, but doesn't fail to be pretty interesting as well. "Aufbruch nach Aldebaran" opens the album with some nasty wall noise, but there's lots of variation in the timbre and presentation of that noise that makes up for the lack of dynamics. Vargr relies a lot on high-pitched squealing sounds to cut through the thick static, but fortunately the squeals aren't unpleasant.

The length of the tracks (nearly twenty minutes for two of them) used to be a showstopper for me, especially since the amount of variety in those long tracks isn't huge at first listen; however, Aldebaran is one of those albums that manages to justify such monolithic times. It's easy to get wrapped up in the all-encompassing clamor and just kind of zone out; this also makes picking out all the little interesting things going on much easier. There are depths to these tracks that take a bit of digging to find, but they're there.

The shorter track "First Transmission from A" is kind of the opposite—less subtle, more deliberately thrashing your ears with oscillators and grinding distortion. It may be a bit too long for how intense it is, but not to a fault. The closing track is entirely the opposite: a blissful droning piece, quite simple and beautiful.

I'm not sure if Aldebaran really is that good, or if it's just hitting a noise-loving part of my brain that hasn't been satisfied in a while; either way, I'm glad I decided to revisit this album. Definitely a good listen for anyone who likes it harsh.

Brace yourself for the tinnitus, though.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Fear of God – Pneumatic Slaughter

1992 • Atrocious Records

I'm not terribly knowledgeable when it comes to really early grind and the general punk scene of the late '80s, but supposedly Fear of God is a good place to start. They're one of the pioneers of this sort of raw, uncontrollable punk, with songs that are more like noise experiments without a lot of structure and are hard to get a grip on. The old-school vibe of the late '80s / early '90s and bands like Agathocles is presented well here, complete with senseless disregard for audio quality (although this is a posthumous live recording, so it's a bit more understandable) and a very visceral approach. It's nearly impossible to make out the low grinding of the guitars over the overwhelming feedback and muddy vocals, but the band plays with such a ferocity that it hardly matters that you can't tell what's going on.

It's an aesthetic that I've never been particularly fond of, preferring the more modern and clean sound over this, but Pneumatic Slaughter and music like it has a definite appeal to it, albeit to a relatively small fanbase. And when it comes to this sort of stuff, Fear of God is definitely near the top of the list.


Friday, February 8, 2013

VCMG – Ssss

March 12, 2012 • Mute Records

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to hear two Depeche Mode veterans making a techno record—it seems a bit out of their way, though I can understand their motives for doing so (sometimes it's fun to make an album in a new style just to see what happens). While their effort is admirable and the music really isn't bad, it's a hard album to like and I have plenty of mixed feelings about it.

Perhaps as to be expected from two musicians who helped pioneer electronic dance music in the 1980s, Ssss sounds somewhat like a throwback to the early, dirty, dredgy early days of techno, with standard four-on-the-floor beats punctuated by plenty of wobbly, swooping, glitchy electronics. The approach is relatively simplistic—and whether that's a good thing or not rests entirely on the listener, and for me it has its pros and cons. This sort of sparse production makes every bass hit, every twinging synth melody, every little glitch and pad a little bit more important and stand out (though perhaps with the side effect of the not-so-good bits standing out as well). Everything has room to breathe, as well; in fact, a lot of the album sounds like its cover: writhing bends of sound and groove with a bit of whitespace to let everything move around a bit. It's very accessible and clean-sounding.

At the same time, though, I can't help but feel a bit worn out and maybe a bit jaded from listening to Ssss. Without the conventional song structures the producers are used to in Depeche Mode and Erasure, this album's tracks seem to stagnate, repeating the same motifs over and over. There's some general variety to had on the album as a whole, but each track is either far too long or never take the opportunity to explore their own sound (good exceptions, though, include "Windup Robot" and "Single Blip"'s excellent evolution). And it doesn't offer a lot in the way of pushing the boundaries of techno, either; granted, I'm nothing of an expert in the genre, but I've heard a few early compilations of the original Detroit scene (the excellent Tresor comps, to be precise), and the only difference between those and this is more reverb. (Okay, okay, maybe that's a little unfair.)

And after all, just about anyone listening to Ssss is in it for the connections to Depeche Mode and probably don't have a lot of techno experience. That's fine; they're going to get their moneys' worth out of this. But for someone who already knows the ins and outs of the genre, there's not a lot of reason to touch this. However, it does have its moments, and for those who are interested it's not a bad listen by any means.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Consume – Consume

March 2007 • Insane Society Records

I don't know a single thing about this band, Consume; I simply found this compilation on YouTube the other day and decided to give them a shot. It's decent d-beat stuff, though nothing terribly unique. I've been listening to a lot of this sort of punk lately, though, the old-school crusty sound of bands like Discharge and Amebix and all them. With its catchy, simplistic guitar lines and drumming, there's hardly anything about Consume's music to dislike. It's tough to pick out highlights since all the songs are pretty similar, but there are plenty of moments that make me want to air-drum along.

Therein lies the problem, perhaps—long punk compilations like this have never sat well with me. I love punk EPs for their brevity, their ability to deliver quick bursts of anger, and in short order. With eighteen tracks and a forty-plus minute runtime, this compilation feels like too much. I guess that's kind of the point, probably; this is probably their entire discography to date and if you want to listen to the band you get a lot to choose from. And that's not a bad thing. They may not the best band but this release is enjoyable for what it's worth.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Technical Itch – The Machine Mind EP

January 28, 2013 • Tech Itch Recordings

I've only previously heard a few releases by Technical Itch and don't know much about the producer, although I did know he is very prolific and it wasn't too surprising that a new EP by him would crop up as one of the first releases of 2013 I'd hear. I'm nothing of an expert on this sort of music, but it's been a while since I heard some darkstep since I discovered it about a year ago. It seems not much has changed.

As far as darkstep goes, The Machine Mind EP seems typical: hard-hitting and quite fast drum 'n' bass percussion, and plenty of creepy stuff going on in the background (voice samples, violin synths, ambient rumblings, and the like). Nothing particularly new, but it's not bad, either. The tracks have a tendency to drag on, though, all of them being between six and eight minutes long. Occasionally they'll shift things up a bit to justify the runtime, but not often. "No Longer Human" definitely does, though, with its vocals and a slightly dancier and more diverse sound, making the track pretty refreshing—probably the best song on the EP.

Overall, I like it, but again it's standard Technical Itch; fans won't be disappointed, of course, but if you're holding out for something really new and interesting I'd wait a bit longer.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Leaves – Serpent

January 11, 2013 • self-released

When it comes to basement bands made by a couple of brothers making experimental music and having a bit too much fun doing it, it's easy to be skeptical—I've released a couple crappy albums myself that way. But I have to say that Leaves was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Sure, it sounds amateur and maybe a bit silly, but dig a little and it turns out to be actually a pretty interesting album.

Leaves' sound is off somewhere in the vague vicinity of black and death metal, with some industrial and grindcore thrown in for good measure. It's hard to pinpoint because the music is pretty unusual stuff, compositionally; there's some tremolo picking, some chugging, some doomy stuff, it's all over. It's pretty good, though, albeit a bit hard to get into the first listen or two. The use of distorted bass guitar is the best part, as the dubbed lines have a great harmonic grind sound to them that usually doesn't get too messy and unpleasant like a lot of lo-fi grind can. The vocals are interesting in that they are more of a punk style than a metal one—they're mostly comprehensible due to their shouted rather than screamed nature. They fit well, though they can be a bit tough to hear and aren't terribly consistent.

I would love this a lot more, though, if it weren't for the percussion. It can be really tough to create a good drum sound if you don't have an actual drummer (and I know better than anyone), but the way that sampling was used to create the drums here doesn't do it for me at all. The most prominent sound, an obnoxious click track of some sort, sticks out of the mix and almost drowns everyone else out. The rest of the drums are muffled in the background, making it sometimes difficult to get into the songs' rhythms. I can see this sort of sampled approach working out, but not with this particular choice of sounds.

Anyway I don't want to stay negative, because Serpent shows a lot of promise. Some polish, some tweaks to the production (a little reverb to add some fullness wouldn't hurt), some new drums, and I'd be thrilled. Meanwhile, this is a great debut, for what it's worth.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Rotten Sound – Species at War

January 18, 2013 • Season of Mist

It's surely no surprise that I love Rotten Sound, them embodying just about everything I enjoy about modern grindcore, but after giving their recent EP Species at War a hard listen I remembered why their last album Cursed didn't stick with me: I think they've been losing their touch.

While I've found Rotten Sound to always have a great aesthetic, recently they've spent some time cleaning up the production and those buzzsaw guitars are sadly a bit duller than usual. It sounds a bit more mechanical than before, with fast but very precise riffing and blasts. Intense, and groovy sometimes, but that human element isn't quite all there. Songwriting-wise, the band has become a bit predictable over time; while they were innovative and fresh ten years ago, they haven't changed much—they haven't gotten worse, either, but there isn't a whole lot on Species at War that will stand out.

It's not a bad release, but it's definitely one that doesn't really need to exist. Rotten Sound needs to step up their game if they want to compete with the more interesting, more personal, more exciting bands out there.


Apologies for the recent lack of posting consistency; there are various reasons it happened that I won't go into. However I have gotten back into the swing of things and have the rest of the month's reviews already scheduled out, so it shouldn't happen again (for a long while, at least).