Posts Tagged ‘Art-Punk’

Paint Thinner

Invariably when Detroit is thrown down as a geographical pinpoint, thoughts turn to soul, funk, proto-punk, and to the Aughts’ onslaught of garage. More recently, though, with an abundant availability of warehouse space and relatively lower living costs, noise and art-punk have hunkered down in the Motor City as well. Not such a stretch, considering the same has been true of anchor points just south in Columbus and Cleveland, and as a native of Michigan, I can’t think of any better forms to express the pent-up frustrations of six months of frigid climes pinned to the creeping permanence of strip mall sprawl. Its in this climate that Paint Thinner make their move. While the band isdefinitely not garage, they aren’t exactly punks by design either.

The group (which pulls members from Human Eye, Terrible Twos and Frustrations) hovers in the crevices between noise and punk, soaking in the acerbic juices that once fostered Wire’s transition away from streamlined punk strategies and towards something more sinister. There’s a lot of tension at play in the band’s songs – builds that don’t necessarily resolve, a chewing of strings, a twist of discordance that gives the album an overcast pallor. Like Sonic Youth, Royal Trux, and Television before them, though, the band tends to find their best moments in emerging from noise just slightly to play with catchier forms, before lurching back into the churn.

The bulk of The Sea of Pulp, however, raises its head above the noise barrier only to establish forms and then it tugs between the dirge draggin’ modes of the ‘90s and the more introverted dropouts of Slint and their ilk looking to find bliss between the pedals. There are some genuine moments that raise this up, but also a few that lose steam in the pot. In the end the album runs on the unexpected ninety-degree twist, as perhaps most articulated by their admitted influence in Syd Barrett. While Barrett might have been truly lost in his own musical non-sequiturs, Paint Thinner seem to always be eyeing the crowd with raised brows. This makes that unexpected twist, rather expected by the end of the record. Lots to love here, but perhaps it feels like we’ve been down these roads before.



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Dumb

Vancouver’s Dumb pull out their deep stack of ‘70s art-punk LPs and mash the best bits together for an album that’s brief but barbed. They plow through the heartpound pop of Wire and the wrinkled hooks of Magazine. They chew the same glass that feeds The Fall, Pere Ubu and early Alternative TV. As many are likely quick to point out, for a band called Dumb, they’re hardly lobbing lager-soaked odes draped in pop punk here. While its hardly easy listening, its plenty catchy and like fellow 2018 angular aficionados Lithics and School Damage the band knows just which pieces of the past still draw blood in the present. They capture the spirit of ’79 ably, though they often aim to emulate more often than elevate. There are moments when they do push the needled forward, smashing an ‘80s Midwest brashness into the vocals of “Party Whip” and giving pause when the sound of chimes ripples through the racket or giving the art crowd some sunshine shake with handclaps on “Ripesnakes.”

On Seeing Green they fuel the need to contort the soul, to break it, bend it, and smash it down on the crooked angles of their guitar lines. There’s unrest inherent in their lyrics, but also the kind of wry smile that would have made their influences proud. It’s a solid record, well versed and subtly catchy. The band trade less in earworms and more in a kind of can’t get that sound taste out of your mouth type of addictiveness. They’re young, and this is all the more impressive for their age and general tenure as a band. They’re aided in their vision by the lacerating production from Jordan Koop, which gives the LP an immediacy that paces their frantic stop-start whiplash. There’s a feeling as the album runs its course that this might only be the beginning, a wild knife slice that’ll settle into some methodical strikes as time wears on for the band. Whether or not they springboard off of the sound they’ve curated on Seeing Green, they’ve left a decent mark with this one.



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Rays

It’s good to see some RSTB worlds colliding on the debut record from Oakland’s Rays. The band, which cribs members from local acts like Violent Change and Life Stinks, brings together the nervy, popped-vein Maplethorp dregs of ’70s art pop with the shaggy drive of the current crop of incestuous Aussie and New Zealand punks. Drawing on the twitching, uncomfortable vein of punk that spawned bands like Electric Eels, Television and The Fall the band instead imagines those souls coming together on a Brisbane budget, recorded with friends who’ve all found solace in their outsider status and lack of steady employment. It’s relentless in it’s pursuit of the ramshackle charms that drove Flying Nun back catalog and made heroes out of Dunedin’s scrappiest janglers.

That’s not to say that the band comes off as overly derivative. Rays just seem to know the sound they want and they’re taking it with measured strokes. They’re also making it seem effortless in the process. They’ve enlisted a double shot behind the boards, with Kelley Stoltz recording and Mikey Young spit shining it to a scotch taped gloss. Like fellow Trouble In Mind labelmates Omni, they’ve found a way to Polaroid the past with a touch of tape hiss, a bit of bookish devotion to their forebears and some good ol’ frenetic fretwork. The album rides the line between din and divine well, couching bouncy hooks inside gnarled amp fury and crushing paranoid pulses into oddly aloof classics. Something tells me this is going to be the kind of album that’s not loved enough in it’s time but regarded well with 20/20 hindsight.




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Uranium Club – “All Of Them Naturals”

Minneapolis’ Uranium Club knocked out a few tapes and singles that have flung them onto plenty of radars both in the US and the UK. They round up a couple of new tracks plus two from last year’s “Who Made The Man” single and “The Beat Sessions” tape for a new 12″ on Static Shock that’s full of the twisted wit (see the smirking ‘intro’) along with the crushed aluminum sound that’s found a festering home in the Midwest for years. They have the immediacy, aloof charms and highbrow/lowbrow double-slap that fueled Devo, MX-80, Pere Ubu or Dow Jones & The Industrials, and they’re pinning it to a festering and incredibly fun brand of jittery punk. Yeah its hits right in the critical sweet spot, ticking a lot of trigger boxes on the record nerd spectrum, but the band’s got a half ton of chops and makes highbrow punk feel just as much fun as bashing it out from the pelvis rather than the horn rim core of anxiety’s grip.

As mentioned several of the tracks here come from earlier releases, though the whole thing fits together seamlessly into a bent and savaged bit of art-punk that’s only real downside is that its too short. But brevity does seem to fit Uranium Club’s brand of mangled earworms, making this one of the most solid 12″s I’ve heard in quite a while. Here’s hoping there’s plenty more in the well, but since Uranium Club keep their movements close to the chest, we’ll just have to wait and see what develops.


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Omni

Atlanta band Omni keep their love of the Verlaine/Quine guitar axis close to their heart and that heart even closer to their sleeve. The band is flipping through wiry, vein pulsed post-punk like they were brought up on little else in their formative years. All the songs on their debut, Deluxe are bent and battered into metal shapes, though its their vocals that betray their new wave nods under the veneer of true grit punk spirit. Frankie Broyles’ delivery has a bit of dreamy-eyed wistfulness that gives the album a less rough sheen and an aproachability. They also walk it further away from the source material near and dear to their heart, feeling less like trying on your punk Halloween costume and more like a fitting digestion of the intervening years of post-punk and new wave hangover.

The aesthetic choice to rough up the edges on this one seems a bit misplaced. I know that it was recorded in a practice space, and for that its actually pretty crisp, but there’s an underlying crackle and crunch that feels out of place for the sound that they’re going for. For all its DIY aspirations, this specific pocket of the punk canon never felt an affinity for low fidelity. If its a matter of budget, then so be it, but since they are nailing this kind of homage rather bitingly, its feels deserving of a clear bullhorn. There are plenty that are trying to take the run at post-punk authenticity and plenty more that will pick up the itch, but this is a pretty prime example of how to do it right.




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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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