Posts Tagged ‘Post-Punk’

Zann – Strange Ways / Inside Jungle

I may have mentioned its been a pretty great year for reissues. Not only have some essentials found their way back to fold, but some of the off-grid oddities have gotten a second life via diggers with far better noses than I. Case in point, Isle of Jura, an Adelaide Australia label has been digging into the experimental, disco, dub, and electronic bins for releases I didn’t even know I needed. They’ve brought new life to a private press odditiy from German band Zann. The band grew out of live experiments as a 7-piece, under the direction of ex-Konec member Udo Winkler. Winkler was looking to push further from the boundaries of post-punk and with Zann he’d done just that. The record embraces many of the same ideals as post-punk proper – a highly attuned sense of rhythm, dub textures, and instrumentation that might not fit within the rock ideals. It ditches for the most part, however, traditional song structure and floats into bouts of airy woodwinds and the LED blink of synth lights on many tracks. Zann in many ways bridges the divide between the worlds of Krautrok, Prog, and post-punk, finding itself at home in none of them, but tangential to all.

The record was laid down in a home studio with Winkler’s pal Hjalmer Karthaus and due to having not legitimate commercial concerns with the album, the pair saw no reason to pen themselves in stylistically. Though the initial live experiments that would touch off Zann began as far back as 1982, recording didn’t progress until 1988 and completion would find the band far out of fashion with the sounds of 1990 when it was finally finished. They’d pressed it themselves and sold it direct to fans interested in oddities at record fairs, but now thanks to Isle of Jura this record is back in the arms of a wider audience again. The record meanders, as might befit the kind of sessions that don’t seek approval or editing, but when the pair hit on Kosmiche Nirvana, it’s a beautiful thing.



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Woolen Men

Feels like I’m constantly making the point that Portland’s Woolen Men are viciously underrated, or maybe they’re constantly making that point for me. Either way, the band has been consistently kicking out taut n’ toned indie that plucks from the punk and post-punk piles with equal fervor. Their last album amped up the Feelies and Go-Betweens riffage while finding a new muse in rhythm, but this time around they’re toughening up the tincture and heading back to their high-school hangs with rough-nubbed workouts that gnaw at R.E.M., mid-period SST, late-period Dischord, The Fall, and as always, the Dü. The band’s prowess has always been the ability to throw these bits in the blender and not let one of them rise to the surface too heavily, letting the scent of past scenes float on the air while their frothy jams hold down substance of their own accord.

There’s not too many that do this with quite the same skill, but the addition of Possible Humans to the fold this year makes me wish for a double bill by the two bands as soon as possible. Like the Aussie upstarts, Portland’s finest seem to shift gears without any crunch on the clutch. The airy coolness of “Crash,” while worlds away, feels a kinship with the muscular pound of opener “Mexico City Blues” or the reckless rail of “Space Invader.” I’ve made the point in the past that its not style that defines Woolen Men, but an operating level that’s just a touch above the rest. While it would be hard to beat out the latter-day gem that is Post the band does a good job of giving it a companion in their current catalog and I’d highly recommend getting acquainted.



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Omni

As so often happens, the cultivation of culture at smaller labels befits the bigger kids on the playground too. When time knocks a band up the rungs and into the arms of broader reach, there’s always worry that expectations will change their sound. Omni may have shifted the logo on their jackets from Trouble in Mind to Sub Pop, but that relationship status change hasn’t affected their output too much. Sure there’s a bit more flash on their third album but its still rooted in the search for the perfect amalgam of the bookend of punk. The band has quiet often been heard chasing the dragon of ’77, rather than ‘81 — not post-punk as most always hang on them— but rather somewhere in that sliver of time when Television and Richard Hell were figuring out how to slice the stigma of soul away from rock n’ roll and let the blood drip into their strings. Those prickly heat guitar lines remain and give the feeling that Omni’s still onto something, but they’ve never been as caustic as Verlaine or Hell at their core. So while they might fashion themselves as Little Johnny Jewels in the rough, there’s a good deal of Wire’s humanism that sneaks in as well and that influence begins to creep ever forward on Networker — pop edges peek, experiments in sound seep, and the album is littered with jazz scraps and dub tags without homes.

There are synth strains that filter through the vents on “Skeleton Key” and “Present Tense,” and dare I say strums under those sunburned strings on “Genuine Person.” On “Moat” they sound less like their favored punk encampments and more like the ‘90s thrashers that found those ’77 tapes through friends and zines, giving their Sonic Youth nods where appropriate. Hell, on the album’s title track they’re downright smooth, a cool slap of water on the flash fry irritant that creeps under the skin of their sound. It works though, most notably because they’re following that rabbit hole of mid-period Wire and their willingness to adapt, experiment, and absorb new sounds while making them their own. Omni feel like they’re following similar threads, making this journey their own even if they have a guiding light to show them where the paths lead. The band’s sound still feels immediate, urgent in a way that won’t let the listener shove it to the background. Three albums on and the Atlanta trio are still worth the price of admission, elevated, but untarnished by a newfound fame.




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Program

These days the most potent indie emanating from Australia is coming from the ranks of Anti-Fade, no question about it. The label continues their winning streak in 2019 with the debut from Melbourne four-piece Program. The band’s sound is rooted in the tangled punk ends of Pavement, the twang-tipped offerings of Toy Love and even a touch of Go-Betweens’ pop romanticism, but the band stews it all together without letting one flavor favor the top end. There’s even a beefed up whiff of what The Verlaines were aching about, though to be fair Program pair their strums and lyrical pining with a more gnarled and snarled sensibility that gives these songs a rib-sticking quality. They seem so versed in the cross-hairs of Aussie / Kiwi lore that the result is an instantly classic album that feels like its been kicking around the racks for years, just waiting to be plucked from cracked-case obscurity in dollar bin hell and put into regular rotation on the speakers.

The album’s got a breezy effortlessness that doesn’t come off cocky, just surefooted. The players have been knocking around a few other hook-knackered bands in their tenure (mems belong to The Stroppies, The Blinds, Meter Men, DARTS, The Faculty) and their collective consciousness channels the best qualities of their tangential projects into a potent sonic slap. They shuttle between wounded janglers and cock-eyed Aussie self-deprecation with ease and slip on into something harder, licking at the boots of power-pop without ever quite completing the jump. There’s a ‘90s nuance to what they’re doing, but it doesn’t come off as overtly backward tumbling or nostalgic, just reverent about sorting through their influences and making ‘em stick. There aren’t too many stateside that are finding this same uncanny valley and making it their own, though Omni, Uranium Club, and The Hecks come to mind, and Program can hang right next to any one of those bands. I’ve said it before, can’t lose with an Anti-Fade record, so don’t fight it. Get it on the table as soon as you can.



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Uranium Club – “Two Things At Once”

A new entry from the Sup Pop singles club sees RSTB faves Uranium Club getting a shout with a new double shot of gnarled punk madness. The single gives birth to “Two Things at Once (pts 1&2)” and the songs display UC’s knack for tightly wound guitars, narrative insanity, and post-punk the way it was meant to be – experimental as hell, rhythmic and ripped. The first part takes more than a few time shifts before settling into a hypnotic slide-out with their spoken-word cadence dripping off the guitars. The b-side is an instrumental wander through the most serene waters I’ve heard from Uranium Club yet. The song acts as a bit of a coda to the half that precedes it, threading in a bit of the same theme, and easing down into the horizon. I’ve always loved the Sub Pop singles for their willingness to take chances on bands that might not be a hit with their huge audience, though here’s hoping that like Omni, this is one band that might stick around. Then again, both Blues Control and Tyvek are in the ranks of Singles alums, so I won’t hold my breath.




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Bill Direen – A Memory of Others

In the lore of New Zealand rock, Bill Direen is a mythical figure. More than just a songwriter (though he’s a hell of one to be sure) Direen also served as a literary guide at the head of Percutio Magazine and he’s written as extensively on the page as he has in his songs. This new volume from Sophomore Lounge acts as a bit of a musical accompaniment to his life and works. Simon Ogston has directed a documentary about Direen — Bill Direen: A Memory of Others — and this serves as a companion piece to the film. It’s not a soundtrack, since the film itself doesn’t pull strictly from the recorded versions of Bill’s work, but the songs themselves are as integral to getting to know Direen as the film itself.

Direen kicked through several early bands in his youth – forming (the) Vacuum in 1980 along with soon to be members of The Pop Group. His band The Urbs laid the groundwork for The Builders (or Bilders depending what year it is.) The group’s debut Beatin’ Hearts still stands as an essential of pre-Flying Nun primal New Zealand rock and has cemented Direen in the roots of a sound that would continue to expand and explode in and around Christchurch in the years to come. The album, covers his time in The Builders and beyond, but this is no chronological arc. The record skips scattershot between periods and players, giving a three-dimensional picture of Direen’s work.

The songs move from early, fuzz-caked but brilliant pop nuggets to arid and affecting poetry backed by more organic and quieter players. Direen traversed post-punk to folk while making it all seem like one long spectrum. Like the film that portrays him, the album is euphoric and melancholic, hallucinatory and revelatory. Direen’s name should always be among those being discussed in the formation of the Kiwi sound, but more than that, he should be among the best of those seeking to shove pop from its ivory pedestal – a punk in the truest sense of the term. He’s a peddler of pain and a seeker of light. His music and art deserve to be brought to the surface worldwide. I highly recommend checking out Ogston’s film to get some insight into Direen’s arc with some great commentary from a litany of fellow NZ players, and picking up this anthology of South Hemi bedrock.






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Robert Sotelo

Robert Sotelo’s third LP, and his first for skewed pop stable Upset The Rhythm, is both sublimely serene and incessantly itchy. His pop comes on like the warm confines of a sweater that reveals itself to irritate the skin. There’s a squirm to songs like “Mister,” or the title track “Infinite Sprawling” but it doesn’t seem to bother Sotelo. He’s lost in the confines of his mind, locked away from the tether of earthly irritation. The pontifications of Sotelo’s pop are, in fact, comforting. He’s lost like you are. He’s nagged and dogged by the same singularities that give you pause, but he’s confident in his croon and it makes it seem right. But what’s that clanking? It’s off behind the buttery guitars and jangled hooks and it seems to be getting closer. More often than not there’s a buzz, the odd xylophone rhythm, the croak of frogs that sets a track off the path and dipping into the bog on that’s built up around the preserve.

He can cloak a track in amber country hues (“Run”) but it’s still tripping over its own feet and it feels good to know that we’re not alone in our own self-conscious tumble through the cosmos. Rob’s pop falls under the same full-moon sway that past primers like Moon Martin were bound embrace. He’s the outsider, but truthfully, he is all of us. He is dipped in pop, but he’s not comfortable with how deep he’s swum in its waters. His head is spinning with doubt, protracted and distracted. Inside his songs we’re narcotized and enjoying the party, but internally we can’t figure out why that stomach pain is so present, where it came from and what it means. Sotelo’s a master of moods and on Infinite Sprawling he’s captured a corner of the lounge that doesn’t get swept that often. Its’s nice picking through the detritus with him for a while.



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Cat Scan – “Lysol”

Nice little tweaker from L.A. band Cat Scan who have an LP out now on Volar. The band swings wild through the punk and post-punk markers along the tail end of the ‘70s and on into the ‘80s but on “Lysol” they’re stretching the silly putty sound transfer from The B-52’s through to the squeak-pop of We Have a Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It. The track shreds the senses — built on a rubbery bass that seems like it might spill the bounds of its record grove and infect a few other tracks. The hand-off between the male-female vocals gives the track a spark, but like the ‘52s before them, what makes it tick is that they know when to let goofiness grind into catharsis in just the right way. The whole album’s got the spirit of the best ripped-shirt art-party rumblers and its a damn delight. Gonna want to get this one nudged on the volume and tapping at the window panes.



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The Taxidermists

The sophomore LP from Massachusetts duo The Taxidermists takes a different tack than I’d expect from Feeding Tube, but then again, the label is built on not fostering expectations. The Taxidermists trade in a noisy nook of indie that’s got a shelf full of Sonic Youth, Pavement, No Age, and Eric’s Trip – though from a contemporary standpoint they’re landing right in the kinked-tin travels of someone like Omni. The aural twists come quick and, while not frantic, they are certainly anxious. On the contrast the lyrics seem almost nonchalant. They remain unfussed by the din that grows behind them. The band threads noise through their sound, but they’re in search of as many hooks as the next pair. The dynamic gives the record a nature of being at odds with itself. The vocals give way to a need to be liked, while the guitars yell “fuck you for thinking this will be that easy.”

Thorniness aside, the record wraps itself in a sort of classic New England clatter – the kind that would have once been traced back to fountains of shaggy shake a la Fort Apache, where the curdle in their licks would be well appreciated. It’s a pop record for folks who don’t like pop records. They are punks with a heart that heeds noise, noise nerds with a secret diary full of indie pop lyrics. If anything, the true criticism of the record is that it winds up a bit short. They burn bright and tangle hard, but then the record just hits a wall and they skitter off leaving the listener wanting more. Suppose that’s a good thing, but the hurt is real all the same.






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Vision 3D

New ripper out of the great French enclave Six Tonnes de Chair this week. Franco-Belgian band Vision 3D pound through the heart of the punk meets post-punk axis, at times sounding like a French version of the sorely underrated XYX and picking up pieces of X-Ray Spex, and The Adverts along the way. The band careens towards the brutal end of the spectrum, starting off with the sole-English language pleaser “Party” before shaving off the perfunctory pop impulses for the rest of the album. They bang their chords into the concrete looking for maximum crumble on the cranium as they crush joyous punk strums into balls of brittle tin. The effect works best when the two impulses are in direct odds with one another, like the infectious strains of “Fan.” The track finds the band harmonizing in post-Ye-Ye pogo but the guitars saw the strums into shards, sending debris all around the romper room dance party set-up.

The band contains members of short-lived, but fondly remembered garage grippers Thee Marvin Gayes and there’s a similar sense of urgency shared with their predecessors. The record embodies some of the best impulses of punk – namely energy over polish. Far from the cushy rubber snap of punk’s marquee set, the band fuses the caffeinated crash of early Wire with the gutter-gyrations of Delta 5, gleefully smashing through the fixtures in any house show hookup. Lotta charms here if you’re into the kind of albums that feel like they might just be a pale specter of the live show, trying to mop up the sweat and sickness of the body heat explosion that they set off from the stage. While it definitely feels like Visions 3D are meant to be experienced amid the chaos of the crowd, their eponymous LP, given enough volume is a window rattler to be reckoned with. Wrapped up in some choice art by NY maze-master Sean C. Jackson, this one’s worth the import ticket.



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