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Death By Unga Bunga

DBUB have been cracking at the skull of the European garage scene since 2010, but its just now that they’re crawling into the US consciousness and its damn good timing, because Pineapple Pizza is their crispest set yet. The EU never went in for that whole lo-fi buzz bin. They’ve kept garage above board and crystal clear for years and this album reminds me in the best ways of the pure fun of the 2002 garage revival that put everyone back into the pit as a herald of rock’s return. The record has a pop heart that beats loud and clear, with hooks the size of Subarus locking down its nucleus and a relentless bounce of cheerfulness that makes this album border on pop punk in the fun department. Its at least a close cousin of the genre at heart, even if the band sees themselves as more of a garage band.

Don’t know who’s choosing the singles on this one, but despite the initial punch of “Tell Me Why” the best bits here are being overlooked. “Best Friends” casts its hooks in early on and “Make Up Your Mind” is a nodder as well and “Strangers From the Sky” is as big as they come. Catchy though it is, “Young Girls,” which did make the singles cut, makes me cringe in that way that Bad Sports’ “Teenage Girls” did a few years back. Its hard to sing along to a song that’s predatory at heart. No matter how “celebratory” you think your anthem of youth is, its creeping us all out. But that trip aside, this one’s a keeper and one of the most fun records to come onto the speakers in a long long time.

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Expo 70

Justin Wright’s Expo 70 never disappoints around here, and his latest slab of sonic dread is no different. Laced with drones, heavy and leaden as cinder block bunkers, and shot through with a cosmic strain of psychedelia that unwinds as much as unravels the soul; Kinetic Tones is another massive album for the band. Forty minutes, four tracks and all dense sonic tumbles through the Kosmiche eye. The album creeps in slow and steady, with a desolate dronescape that dredges up all those Earth comparisons, then things expand into heady territory, shifting to sweeping alien psych that feels as removed from the concept of pop music as possible. There’s always a sense of foreboding present on Expo 70’s releases and it rears its head here as well. For its reliance on limited melodic motion, drone knows how to play the long game, and here the tonal shifts slowly grip the listener like low level panic until it feels like it might overwhelm.

The record is dedicated to an endangered species of Indonesian bird of prey, the Flores Hawk-eagle, and its almost easy to see how the life of such an animal might influence the pieces here. The feelings embedded in Wright’s drones are atmospheric, towering above us in a detached freedom, but the sense of loss, loneliness and uncertainty of survival run deep. The closer “Ascension From Dusk” has the kind of masterful mix of sour stomach dread and reluctant acceptance that made the best John Carpenter soundtracks stick long after the credits rolled. This one’s another keeper in Expo 70’s long (40+) discography.

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Pere Ubu – Elitism For the People

Who would’ve thought one of New Wave’s flashpoints lie in Cleveland, that the heartland held the spark that fanned a blaze? Pere Ubu rose out of the crumbling hull of Rocket From The Tombs, creating over the course of ’75-76 a couple of singles that would catch the ears of Mercury Records, who in turn created the Blank imprint just to get Ubu out to the world. Seems like a dream now, a major label fighting to get fractured art-punk to the masses despite knowing that little commercial success might come of it. The band existed in the same glowing headspace that allowed Devo, Ultravox and Public Image Ltd into the homes of impressionable youths with a glinting, metallic taste of commercialism gnawing at their tongues and the unrelenting itch to buck rock’s bloat nagging like a shirt tag. The band’s debut, included here, was, probably much to Mercury’s dismay, not a pounding commercial success and its probably apparent from the very first piercing tones why. Though it stands as a monument to punk’s lasting impact and acerbic stance to this day.

Mercury did not see it that way and the band were dropped following the record, leading them to Chrysalis, a home of much of the prog rock excess that it would seem they were in direct reaction to, though they’d swing to a much more welcoming roster in the years to come (Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Stiff Little Fingers). There the band took no notice to Mercury’s obvious reaction to their difficult debut and created a record even more unwelcoming in its wake. Dub Housing is often touted as the band’s high water mark and Tom Herman heralds a new generation of bands folding noise into their guitar work here. In turn, David Thomas continues his mission to push the limits of how a frontman can be perceived, peppering the album with his chaotic yelp and driving it towards the edge of its own cliff. The record, again, was not a household staple. As with Mercury, Chrysalis dropped them after just one record.

Fire’s first box of Pere Ubu’s journey contains these two pieces of the puzzle along with The Hearpen singles, those early bits of kindling that brought the fire to life, and a set recorded at Pere Ubu’s peak in 1977 at Max’s Kansas City. The band lives on after this, but not in as deranged circumstances. Though its been said that “there are no inessential Pere Ubu releases” and even the latter catalog has a twisted fire that the label has now documented in a second set. If ever there was a “show your work” example of why Pere Ubu need to be in your life and probably were in the lives of someone you’re listening to, Elitism For The People is the set to put the theory to the test.

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Feels

Feels hits all the right notes to rope in the cult of 90’s slacker cool, dredging up some Breeders pangs, mixed with a kneel at the altar of early Nirvana sweet n’ scuzzy songwriting for good measure. The L.A. foursome have more than their fair share of barbed hooks hidden in this nest of fuzz pop tangles, but the kicker is production courtesy of who else but Ty Segall, never resting as usual, and pushing their poison soda punch to the max. Laena Geronimo’s sweet and sour coo draws the listener in and then draws blood, soaring just above the tumult below with confidence that’s palpable. Each time I return to this album it makes me pissed that they’re pulling off the formula so well. Its a record that knows it wants to walk in another era’s Doc Martin treads but doesn’t give a shit if you notice. I say that if you make a record that seems like the past was worse off without it, rather than just a scrawled notebook love letter then you’re doing something right. There’s definitely a piece of me that feels like I might have been better off hard charging this out of some bedroom speakers in ’94, but who’s to say now. I’m certainly better off with it on the speakers in 2016.

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Smiles – EP

San Francisco’s Melters label has an impeccable ear for pop with all the gooey charm, power chord explosions and healthy-sized crushes on our favorite childhood bands. Turning out records from Tony Molina, Ovens, and Swiftumz, they now present the debut 7″ from Smiles; a band that snuggles up equally to Teenage Fanclub and early Primal Scream (before they got better pills). Like labelmate Molina, they’ve got a knack for brevity, though they don’t leave you hanging on wanting just one more verse of pop crushed perfection as he would. But they do smear the speakers with moody maneuvers and chunky riffs and then bring things down in perfect precision with a strummer that chokes up the dreamers on its way out the door. Its a pretty good showing for a first release and one that does what a good first EP should, leaves me wanting way more from this band.




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Slick!

The force of glam runs strong through Slick! and that’s probably because Nick Slick has spent his tenure in quite a few acolytes of the glittered stomp, trading time in Glitz, Apache and backing The Runaways’ Cherrie Currie for a time. In the wake of Glitz’ demise he’s back with a new outlet for 70’s riffs taller than a triple stack and pulling a spot on sweat tribute to his forebears. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, what the world needs is another glam punk band like it needs another pothole, but I say, hell if you can bleed leather and rock the alter of Alice Cooper and The Sweet with equal aplomb then more power to you. The album’s a full tilt, dance inducing slice of sex obsessed rock ‘ roll and its easy to see how this is a close sibling of Glitz’ Its Glitz. Though in a way it also reminds me of Cozy’s Button by Button an album that knew that bubblegum lies at the heart of glam. The frothy organ lines that thread their way through a few tracks find the band tripping on that excellent tipping point when rock took itself less seriously again and glam found its childish heart and sense of swagger. For an album only available as 500 run cassette, this has a huge sound and its the kind of album that luck should stick permanently in the deck of your ’87 Escort. Blowin’ lights with Slick! on the speakers seems a natural fit.





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Ty Segall

So Segall ropes in a huge crew of ringers on his latest collection, Kyle Thomas (King Tuff), Mikal Cronin, Emmett Kelley (The Cairo Gang), Charles Moothart (Meatbodies), Cory Hanson & Evan Burrows of Wand and Melvins Drummer Dale Crover, each one a holding a record nerd’s pedigree in their own right; and together they make exactly the kind of case study in explosive, yet powerful rock that you might think that they’d unearth. What’s maybe missing, is perhaps any of that polish that found its way to the forefront of Ty’s last record. Here he’s going for a barbed wire aura that puts listeners on their haunches from the get go, grinding through the dirt rather than working to nod heads and let the teens bop. The cast of characters on display are torn from some similar territory from past releases, all matter of loners and speckled creepers, but now it seems that the disconnection they inspire is intentional and perhaps crucial, as the core of his “emotional mugging” stems from the electronic barriers of social feeds and the constant filter of glowing screens.

The first half of the record cuts the flesh and licks a few wounds, barreling through Television, Beefheart and Voidoids machinations if they were blown through the filter of Chrome and throttled a few turns in the vice of MX-80. The second half opens up its scope, though its still got an evil hangover of guitar gnash that keeps it at arm’s length from the glittered pop of Manipulator. This is one for the true grit, those who’ve come as much for the hooks as for the blown cone ethos. In a way, this whole album reminds me of one of Segall’s greatest tracks, “My Sunshine,” a shot over two minutes of melted wire fury with a caramel center of melody that makes it uncomfortable in its own skin while still making you smile every time. Who knows if this mask will stay on long, but for now this is an enjoyable bit of squirm from one of the modern masters of string wrangled fury.

Listen:
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Night Beats

Night Beats are back, steadily threading the needle of psych and garage with a strand of soul that’s just fine enough to get lost in the clamor while still tying things up nicely. The band’s climbed up to a larger label and a bigger sound, though still genuinely on the same general path they’ve been weaving along all these many years. The record opens on a cryptic note before exploding into the ravaged psych of “Power Child,” one of the standouts of the set. As is typical of Night Beats, while there’s a certain amount of sweat (see “No Cops”), there’s plenty more instances where the band lays back into groove, letting a dark, smokey veneer overlay the record like a pervading ethos. The band knows how to keep their garage dipped and dripped in the low hang of stage fog, swaddled in sunglasses and baking in leathers in the 90 degree heat without so much as a break in stride to acknowledge there might be any cause for discomfort. They’re longstanding dues payers to the cult of composed cool and for the most part they know how to wield that cool like a weapon throughout Who Sold My Generation. Most garage long players are best when taken to task on the hi-fi speakers but the grotto nuance here actually finds this album best set on headphones or confined to the car; its a loner’s record and it’s best to keep it contained. Let the outside world wonder what’s moving your head.

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Honey Radar

So this one is one of those reviews that feels like an exercise in frustration. First, the music on Instant Replay in an excellent shadowbox of 60’s psych and tissue screened jangle that feels like its got lots of room to grow wings. Sadly and secondly, its also exceedingly scarce, which I suppose makes it a bit more desirable in its own right. Jason Henn’s own Third Uncle, along with BK mischief makers What’s Your Rupture? have released this in a scant run of 50 lathe cut copies and the digital seems to be looking hard to come by to boot. Good news seems to be that there’s talk of an album that should make fans of White Fence and Jacco Gardner happy campers in the long run, but for now these streamers will have to hold ya over. The tracks flicker pop-sike through a 16mm lens coated in sepia oils and gently burning away at the edges. There’s a homespun charm that drives the three tracks along and a warmth that feels so real you could heat you hands on it. I’ll definitely be interested to see where Henn takes Honey Radar next (aside from that Chunklet single, which is almost, but not quite as captivating as this.) Keep this one primed and on radar.

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Laddio Bolocko – Live and Unreleased 1997 – 2000

No Quarter have painstakingly sought to elevate Laddio Bolocko’s legacy with this collection of live recordings, augmented with a companion DVD, for those (like myself) who missed out on LB’s heydey in the Brooklyn underground before being anywhere near the Brooklyn underground made you noteworthy. The set captures the band’s ability to carve catharsis out of chaos and shape noise into a gleaming force for physical change. The band dives off the cliff of pop sensibilities, there’s no regard among the players for how much carefree fun you’re having but instead the pieces chip away at the listener until they force physical, emotional and mental release. Drummer Blake Fleming, later of The Mars Volta, hammers rhythm against a wall of sax and clatter of noise, kicking his way into your head in a stutter-stop chug that’s lets the sweat through the speakers. The rest of the band aren’t playing peek-a-boo either, they strangle sound until it screams and relents and hell that’s just the first set.

The second set finds the band moving away from a bit of the clatter and more towards a realm that finds the link between Laddio’s past and a few players involvement with No Quarter alums Psychic Paramount. Math riddled free jazz fights for breath with with pummeling noise rock and the band seems to truly find their place near the sun. Its easy to see how the legend was built on performances like How About This For My Hair and As If By Remote. For the uninitiated (which I’d imagine numbers high) this is going to be both a dense entry and a welcome shake awake. Its exhausting but rewarding in the way that distance runners seem to cling to; a high that somehow pushes you through the collapse.

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