Posts Tagged ‘Punk’

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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The Whiffs -“Now I Know”

Dig Records brings forth another snapped off revver from Kansas City’s power pop pumpers The Whiffs. The new single is forged on the punk / power pop line and echoing the carefree careen and mile wide sneer of Gentleman Jesse, The Barraracudas, and early Bad Sports. There’s no mixed messages or complications here, it’s 100% ripped wide open and ready to blow. The band packs fifteen tons of sweat, howl, and shake into just over two minutes, but even that’s enough to leave the listener crumpled and crying for more. The band’s sophomore LP, Another Whiff, is out December 6th and the band’s headed out with The Get Up Kids starting on Wednesday.

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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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Peter Ivers – Becoming Peter Ivers

There’s every chance that, even if you’re a fan of New Wave and punk, the name Peter Ivers has never crossed your lips. Even if you’re a David Lynch fan, Ivers’ involvement in Eraserhead may have escaped your attention. Ivers was more often known as a proponent of music than a writer of music. He had, in fact, recorded several albums – 1976’s Knight of the Blue Communion, 1974’s Terminal Love and 1976’s eponymous affair. Despite this, he was best known as a TV host, presenting the utterly essential cult classic New Wave Theater until his tragic death in 1983. The first album bears little resemblance to the songs on Becoming Peter Ivers. His first outing was threaded with jazz and blues, building to something more idiosyncratic in the future. Those other two albums were headed toward the New Wave he championed through a valley of singer-songwriterdom that was rumpled in the vein of Moon Martin or Warren Zevon.

Many of the songs here would wind up on those latter two albums, but here they’re stripped of any gloss. Demos seems a crude label, because it gives the impression that they weren’t up to snuff, but if anything the version of the songs on Becoming prove that even in private and without the intention of these versions finding their way to the audience, Ivers was still an undeniable charmer. Given his predilection for more outre visions on his show, its always been a bit at odds that Ivers’ own records were more in a lounge singer vibe, but he gives that genre a proper Lynchian feeling – the singer wrapped in plastic, alone at the piano, while a cadre of regulars ignore the emotional exfoliation going on upon the stage. The moments here feel private, like we’ve wandered into a closed session with Ivers. Its almost conceivable that we’re all intruding, until Ivers whirls around and gives a wink, letting us all in on the voyeurism for hire that he’s peddling.

Ivers was a singular entity, part Lou Reed, part Max Headroom. This era of music has been scoured and repackaged, but somehow there’s still a hole where Ivers once stood. His musical voice is a worthwhile addition to the strange bedfellows made of punk, pop, post-punk and ultimately new wave boiling under Los Angeles’ sanded soul. I’m eternally grateful that RVNG has made this available. Now someone issue New Wave Theater in its entirety for a viewing audience in need of a licorice strip search.



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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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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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Velveteen Rabbit

As the genre has been consumed and reconstituted over the years, it’s hard to find a take on glam-streaked power pop that doesn’t feel a bit worn through, a pale imitation of the original. However, when a band is able to rise through the veil and embody the spirit of swagger in just the right way it becomes a bit transcendental. Velveteen Rabbit are just such a band. Comprised of ex-members of The Jeanies, the band nails the fey n’ fragile, heartbroken yet hipswung vision of pop that Milk n’ Cookies, Hubble Bubble, Brett Smiley, Advertising, The Shivvers, The Records, and The Quick were all able to make into a beloved underground beacon for piners and frustrated teens throughout generations. The thing is, those songs weren’t just about pent up hormones. I mean, they were, but there was so much more seeping into the ether around the genre. If that were the only engine driving the wheels here, they’d have fallen off years ago. There’s a special spark that flickers into motion when the line between pop and punk is perfectly sliced.

Velveteen Rabbit are constantly walking that line like a tightrope and it’s impressive how many perfect nuggets they’ve packed into their debut for HoZac. They hit the ecstatic highs of the aforementioned collector’s bin burners then throw in some early shades of The Time, bringing Dez Dickerson’s “After Hi-School” to mind and infecting their sound with a silver-slung funk at times. But the band knows how to bring it down too, and that gives this record a fuller dimension. “Guitar” strokes at the wounded Chris Bell territory that gave power pop it’s heart, solitary and solemn, but just as aching as any of the rest. Similarly, “Better Than Ever” sidesteps power pop just a bit to sprinkle in some swooning R&B and white boy soul, but it pulls the strings tight between the Minneapolis slink and the Midwest jangle n’ crunch.

There’s always going to be the cloud of derivation hanging over something like this, and yeah it points to a dozen dots on the map and snags those vibes with a gleeful grab, but the way the band hangs it all together makes the their eponymous LP a true gem. For all the references they conjure, they never sound outright like they’re biting a song. They slip into the satin soul of the ’78-’82 sound and make it their own. Overabundance of riches in 2019 makes me worry this one’s gonna slip through the cracks, but I say sleep on this and you’ll be losing out.



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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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