Posts Tagged ‘Grunge’

Hypnolovewheel – “Parallel Universe”

Growing up through the ‘90s it seemed that those of us in more remote areas had to scrap a bit harder to find music outside of limited shelf space in the few stores that existed in the area and the FM dial. I’m still coming upon pockets of bands that seem like they should have had prominence that were just completely lost on the wider net of listeners. Long Island band Hypnolovewheel definitely falls in this category. The band suffers from the ‘90s phenomenon of “horrible cover art overshadows the music inside.”. There was plenty of this trend at the time, but maybe see their collection of covers for yourself. It’s too bad, though, because the band embraced a wide swath of sounds prevalent at the time and made them all work.

From their alt-jangled beginnings on Turn! Turn! Burn! that recall The Embarrassment, to the smudged shoegaze blare of Angel Food and their final stop at power pop swagger on Altered States, the band had an enviable aural trajectory but never seemed to grip too long. Even with a bit of push through ‘90s Marvel (Hypnolovewheel would feature in at least one Spiderman comic at the time) and with opening slots for plenty of large-scale NY headliners, they seemed pretty contained to the East Coast. There wasn’t a huge push behind them. Their first two albums appeared on Fabian Aural Products and they moved to Alias for the rest of their output, but would dissolve after Altered States in ’93. The band’s Dave Ramirez would play with King Missle for a bit while they were still active and following their demise he’d work with James McNew in Dump.

Aptly this collection from Cara Records really ties together their catalog, with selections across their spectrum of sound plus some exclusive demo cuts that haven’t appeared elsewhere. Its a good primer and tends to wrap up some of the band’s most interesting singles and cuts, but their whole catalog is worth perusing at length as they do have plenty of deep cuts that don’t appear here. This is a nice spotlight on a band that seemed to get lost in the cracks like so many swallowed by the ‘90s.



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Weak Signal

I’ve been enjoying the arc traced by Weak Signal over the last couple of years, scraping out of the skeletal bones of their 2018 debut through a very solid split with Endless Boogie earlier in the year. Keeping us all on our toes, they lobbed a surprise album out last Friday and it thickens up the gravy they’ve been stewing over the past couple of years. Bianca amplifies the guitar growl that’s been festering beneath the floorboards of their sound but doesn’t discard the sinewy, sly bass work that’s marked their work as well. What they’ve mastered on their second album is a sense of heaviness with an appreciation for pop. There’s a wasteland scuzz that buzzes behind Weak Signal, sickened and malcontent, but the band doesn’t growl on top of the turbulence. They preen and linger, they find the quiet cool and bring it bubbling to the surface before skimming off a few indelible pop hooks.

While still sounding like a band that’s completely contemporary, Weak Signal funnel a certain brand of familiarity into their work. Bianca sounds like it could have existed in the verdant valley between SST and Touch and Go as ’89 wafted into ’90, or at least like it’s found solace in those catalogs during its conception. The album chews on the gristle of post-punk and post-hardcore, but it’s beyond them both, merely using the genres as fuel for a more noxious and yet intoxicating mix that gets into the blood with ill intentions. As with their past records, Weak Signal seem to only exist at night. The pre-dawn hours fuel their impulses. Streaks of sunlight could only dim the glow of their tube-lit saturnine souls. As the dawn decorates the horizon, Bianca dissipates into the ether with a static crackle of feedback and a reverberating hum. The band’s been aching for a breakout and with Bianca that moment seems like it may finally be here.



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Possible Humans

When the first crack listen off the debut LP from Aussies Possible Humans came rolling into the inbox it was marked by strums that brought to mind old guard South Hemi hitters like The Clean and The Go-Betweens – usual fare for the new crop of Aussie indies popping up all over the coasts. The band even contains a member of recent RSTB faves The Stroppies – and so it seemed all teed and set up for expectations of more of the same – but, this ain’t that record. Not by a long shot. While Possible Humans start their motor in jangle’s wide embrace, they don’t linger in its lot too long. They take a tub of roofing tar to The Clean’s fizz n’ strum dynamics and stick it onto a harder, knottier, more knuckled vision of indie that was spreading across the US. Shades of Dinosaur, before legalities gave them a youthful suffix, are at work here as well as patches that pull from Dino’s fellow Fort Apache alums Volcano Suns.

The band has a real reach, giving the record the kind of dynamic progression that often gets lost in bands who nail their niche with a great tune only to rinse and repeat over the rest of the record. There’s hardly a repeat feeling in the bunch save for a hangover of frustration, but it sticks together like a dingey bouquet picked out the puddle and pasted back together. The toughened skin of “Absent Swimmer” recalls R.E.M. at a time when you weren’t likely spot the whites of Stipe’s eyes on stage. Other places they’re muddying up Feelies riffs or flirting with the noisier nubs of the alternative nation, bending guitar growl through manic swings like a band who watched The Mats once and tried to memorize the stage moves.

The absolute highlight, though, is the lengthy second side workout “Born Stoned” which finds them at their gnarled best, threading repeated riffs through the woodshed and stuffing flannel in all the exits to hotbox their best grim grooves. It’s a hell of a debut, and like their fellow countrymen Mope City (who tackle Galaxie 500 glimmer) they’re branching out from the expectations built up among an underground that’s constantly intriguing, but has also cannibalized its influences a few times over. Though the LP was scant, this one’s worth it in any format. Recommended you get on that.



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Superette – Tiger

In the wake of Flying Nun second-gen powerhouse Jean-Paul Sartre Experience’s dissolution around ‘93/’94 the band’s Dave Mulcahy and Greta Anderson picked up hometown pal Ben Howe to round out their new trio, Superette. The album, long overlooked stateside, is powered by moody hooks and a thick layer of grunge fuzz. Produced by Nick Roughan, who also worked on JPSE’s The Size of Food, the record finds itself locked into the sparser end of the ‘90s spectrum, shooting for Albini and Kramer vibes, though skewing a tad more traditional than either producer kicked out at the crack of the grunge era. Like the last wave of JPSE’s output the record embraces less of the idiosyncratic Kiwi-rock and more of their American and UK counterparts, but they hold out some bright spots that keep them from falling into obscurity.

Mulcahy and Anderson were in hunkered down in New York at the time their previous outfit called it quits and they no doubt absorbed all that NY’93 had to offer. There are shades of Sonic Youth and Pixies weaving through Tiger, and while they don’t necessarily make as big a footprint as either of those, naturally, they smash through with “Touch Me” and the clanging “I Got It Clean.” Flying Nun has gone the full measure on this one as well, including the band’s debut EP Rosepig alongside recordings from a planned and scrapped second album. I’d wager than most ‘90s nostalgists on this side of the world are unfamiliar with the trio’s melodic crunch, but with this definitive edition, its worth getting acquainted.



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Doe

With their heels dug into the slightly grimy ‘90s, London trio Doe barrel into their sophomore album with nods to the hooky growl of The Amps, The Muffs, That Dog, and Imperial Teen. While less likely as a touchstone, they’re also dredging up flashes of underground Aussie grungers Fur as they met out their spring-loaded songs about growing older without the burden of ennui. With Hookworms’ MJ at the boards, the album can’t help but ping-pong between the furnace of fuzz and Windexed hooks as his undertakings often do, but the band makes good use of his stucco spit polish. Grow Into It sounds big, but also like it might feel better bursting out of it topcoat at any moment.

The band is remarkably confident on the record, leaning into hooks with a wink and a sneer, but even when they’re flipping the switch to engage, there’s a slight sense that they’re still holding back. They butt up to the cliff but don’t dangle nearly far enough. Songs like “Heated” and “Motivates Me” provide the best example of their unbuttoned abandon, but even here there’s a feeling that vocalist Nicola Leel could let loose with a vocal chord shredding yell to loosen things up to a frantic blast a la Louise Post or Kim Shattuck. The guitars could squelch just a touch hotter, letting the album boil over rather than conserving gas.

That said, at its core, the record is hopscotching through all the right ‘90s dress-up bins, and reaching further back to the Ric Ocasec and Bill Nelson excesses that helped usher in the right amount of sparkle vs. crunch. Doe are on the right track here and moving forward in nice strides from their more muted first album. There’s a sense that the stage might bring these songs out of their shell and the band would do well to keep pushing towards the powder keg moments they bring out under the lights.



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Our Girl

In addition to my usual music scraping through the Aussie underground, I’ve found the UK indies have been doing their fair share to offer up some quality releases this year. High on that list is the debut LP from Our Girl. The Brighton trio has a mastery over calm menace and a knack for noisy hooks. They’re straddling a tenuous line between the shrouded shine of shoegaze and the boiled bones of grunge. From the latter they don’t cherry pick the usual touchstones – the gutterfuzz rumble, the scorched howl of angst – instead they pipe in the parched and prickly deliveries of PJ Harvey, The Breeders and by natural extension The Amps. Where those artists found a way to bite for blood with catchy results, Our Girl follows suit, but they wrap their songs in the mists of Chapterhouse, Slowdive and The Lilys.

The band succeeds in divining the crumbling beauty that shoegaze was striving for by tipping the ship out of the muck just enough to catch the moonlight. The band doesn’t dwell too long on slapping the listener with hooks. They float them to the surface and then let them ripple in the haze that they’ve created before embracing the steamroller guitar workouts that made the genre a household name. Singer Soph Nathan (also of Big Moon) has a love for alienation tinged with hope and her trepidation melts into the wells of noise with an introverted glee – feeling free to revel in the comfort corners of haze and heat and light. Its a stunner of a debut that’s outpacing plenty of others chasing either side of the genre coin they flip. Feels like this might just be the beginning as well, that looking back Stranger Today might just wind up the match that lights the wildfire they set in motion.




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Moody Beaches – “Modes”

Moody Beaches debut, Weird Friends is a terse, nailbitten romp through ’90s stomp that’s built on muscular riffs and urgent vocals. The band knocks through a hit list of influences that scoop up Breeders (round about the Pod days), Green River and L7 vibes. The wax finally hit the shelves last week and in turn they release a third track off of the album paired with an occult-themed video that bottles up menace in the track. Definitely recommended if you’re knocking through essential Aussie releases this year.



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Little Ugly Girls – “Jimmeh”

Chapter Music are doing the world a service and giving long simmering band Little Ugly Girls their due. The Tasmanian punks were a fan favorite and tore up the ‘90s around their homeland, but never issued a record until now. Given the quality of the material here, that seems almost criminal in retrospect. Along with the electric frontwoman Linda Johnston, the band included Mindy Mapp, from RSTB faves Fur (also desperately undersung, especially outside of the South Hemi). Fans of L7 take notice, you were definitely missing out without the strained stomp of the LUGs in your life. In advanve of the the album’s release this Friday take a first listen to “Jimmeh” – a heavily fuzzed assault, buttoned and bound to break by the time it gets to the final collapse. Johnston’s laryngitis growl gives the track urgency but the band holds their own in her wake with a simmering pot of noise that can barely keep from blowing its lid. For a band that shared stages with Bikini Kill, Fugazi and the White Stripes, it seems long past time that the world gets a proper intro to these vital cuts.

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Moody Beaches – “Weird Friends”

Following up their inclusion in the excellent Poison City / Our Golden Friend split singles series, Moody Beaches stretch out into two sides with their new single “Weird Friends”. While the flip snags “Guns,” from their debut split, the a-side sees them take a tough rumble through muscular punk, pinned to a menacing bass line but softening the corners with their swooning harmonies. Like labelmates Mod Con they aren’t glossing up their hooks, but rather burrowing deep into the grind of menace, snapping off tension like The Breeders, Green River or L7 before them.

Its the b-side that still steals the show here, though – built on rusted springs and smashing its hooks into the walls with gleeful abandon and gnashed teeth. That first taste is still the most addictive but it pairs well with the slower burn of “Weird Friends.” Its a tease of single – a two shot from a band that feels like its more suited to the long play slow burn than the flash paper dazzle of the short format. Hopefully they’ll build off of these two and dig their heels in for an album that seethes with a full measure of rat trap tension and explosive catharsis.



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Bend Sinister – Tape 2

One of the great, ink-black holes of interest in the pervasive Seattle music culture is A-Frames. The dirge-worthy noise punks were a black hole of chaos, tearing up S-S records and Dragnet before even they got themselves a Sub Pop deal and subsequently either delighted or deflated listeners looking for a certain Northwest sound. Long before there was The Intelligence and slightly before there was the idea of an A-Frames proper, there was Bend Sinister – the incubator of sorts for what would grow into a sprawling, narcotic entity. The band was built around Erin Sullivan, Min Yee and Josh Turgeon but later added in Steve Kaplan, who in turn left to make way for Lars Finberg. Lars, Erin and Min would go on to form A-Frames but it was in Bend Sinister that their love of noise punk produced some of the heaviest din associated with the region.

Named after a Fall song and professing love for The Electric Eels, Scratch Acid, Feedtime and Country Teasers, there’s no doubt that the band was about to gouge a few holes in the linoleum when they let loose. Homeless culls up a good chunk of the band’s ‘90s recordings on Tape 2, and it’s a must for fans of the A-Frames trajectory, but more than just a curio for Northwest collectors. Despite the relatively low-profile release status of a lot of the material here, it hammers pretty hard, not going for pristine power like some of their contemporaries but exchanging scrubbed audio for pure power in the end equation. Having missed out on Bend Sinister in its day, but loving everything that came as a result, this is a great primer and a peek at the seeds of what was to come.



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