Review — Dalot

August 23, 2016




There was always crossover between post-rock and IDM’s own early heydays of the late 90s and early aughts. The linear song structures, built from loops of slowly-evolving, accessible-but-subtle melodies. The result was, at it’s best catchy but emotional, with repetition that’s directional and not an easy, self-indulgent crutch. All are hallmarks of both sub-genres, at least when done well.  As Dalot, Greek sound artist Maria Papadomanolaki has merged some of the best of each throughout Mutogibito.

After much more experimental, soundscape-centered previous records, Papadomanolaki wrote this as a gift for her unborn daughter. And indeed, it has a very sweet feel to it. “Tear” is an obvious highlight–recalling Dntel at its best–syrupy and inviting, but never becoming twee or patronizing. “Lift” sounds like a MONO song, but replacing the wall of guitars with a similarly-dense wall of piano and synth loops. It’s built from mostly cold and simple individual sounds, but combined into an enveloping blanket of sounds. It’s a recipe perfected by Boards Of Canada, though Dalot’s take on it is more than interesting enough to stand on its own.

Dalot_promoReleased back in Spring, this has been following me around ever since. It didn’t leap out at me the first time I put it on. Even my favorite records from this world rarely did. But as is sometimes the case, it shined a bit brighter every time it passed by. Soon after, it eclipsed whatever my ‘mellow’ playlist of the moment may entail. The thing Mutogibito does is very specific, and it does it remarkably well.

“Tear” from: Mutogibito // n5MD Records


Review — Yeesh

August 22, 2016



Confirmation Bias

Chicago post-punk has never been known for its soft touch, even if relative newcomers Yeesh threaten one throughout their second LP. Often walking the line between jagged and melodic, brute force riffs and jazz-inclined noodling. In the process, they flail around very little, landing on genuinely catchy moments without repetition or sing-songy vocals. As a reliable sucker for well-done Shellac rehashing, there’s also plenty of that, which I appreciate. But their touch is much lighter rhythmically and snark-wise, rooted almost as deeply in The Minutemen as anything Albini-based.

The feel of Confirmation Bias may be traceable to a decade or two back, but the range and specific tactics are more current. “Limbo District” and “World Building” share the catchy lilt of early Les Savy Fav or the under-appreciated Plastic Constellations. Meanwhile, forceful standouts “Speechless” and “Frontline” come off meatier, with noodling/riff faceoffs through, closer to early 31knots or an up-tempo take on Unwound.

All the while, everything they do is playful and frustrated in equal measure; a fundamental tension which is engaging upon first listen, but rewarding on the 10th. After years as a part-time project, Yeesh have released two solid LPs in just over a year. Last year’s No Problem is sturdy and intriguing, giving them something to build on before finding something truly noteworthy here.

“Frontline” from: Confirmation Bias // Tiny Engines



All Seven Inches – August

August 18, 2016


Embarking on a new two-song single, Restorations have (by 2016 standards at least), struck out on their own. After two well-received LPs on SideOneDummy, this apparently marks the beginning of their label-less future. A Bandcamp-only single was recorded earlier this summer. Eliminating the usual publicity and manufacturing quagmire minimizes the lag between recording and release, which is a bonus. A savvy band with some momentum can eliminate many other stressors, big and small, of filling a record label roster spot. Restorations seem intent on doing just that, and the early results are promising.

Restorations are still working within the broad confines of their ruthlessly nostalgic and grandiose take on the FEST-Anthem®. Notably lacking the repetitive, easy hooks which narrow the lifespan of most contemporaries; See/Sea finds them at their most expansive. Two songs, each over five minutes pull at the outer edges song structure-wise without feeling like a studio jam session. If anything, more hands-off and less huge/booming production gives both songs more space and momentum.

from: See/Sea Digital EP, Self-Released

Scandanavian doom metal is about as exotic in 2016 as Thai food; still plenty flavorful when done right, despite being available everywhere. Gothenburg’s Monolord don’t reinvent the wheel on two new songs, but do turn some of modern doom’s glaring weaknesses into strengths. The vocals are clear, consistent (live and on record) and add a lot without being ever-present. And, as a power trio, they have a surprising clarity which makes the songs much more effective. The tone and execution of the each riff they throw on the pile are detailed and clear, but not sanitized or dulled down. The end result are two songs that breathe new life into a worn out mold, by sticking to basics. Everyone is trying for a bigger wall of muddy-sounding amps or vocals so heavy they’re accidental parody. Monolord ignore all of that, adding punch and energy, landing on the post-Sabbath template’s best-case-scenario.

BadSports_promoThese seven songs are Bad Sports’ first output in a few years; conceived as three separate 7”s, before being combined into one 12” EP. All three members have been busy with other projects, between Radioactivity, Video and OBN III’s. All three mind different veins of the less filtered corners of melodic rock and roll. Meanwhile, this side project is about as dark as true power-pop can get without morphing into something else entirely. Anchored by repetition and simple mid-tempo rhythms, the songs contort into something dark and catchy in equal measure. “Done To Death” sounds like Ted Leo raised on street punk, which seems confusing but makes perfect sense once you hear it. Meanwhile, outlier “Pacify My Love” sounds like a slowed-down take on middle-era Ramones (and is so sturdy and unassuming, it’s one of the best moments here).

from: Living With Secrets 12″ EP, Dirtnap Records



Every year, the music industry looks more like a complex nostalgic souvenir racket. Pressing plant turnaround times and festival lineups sag under the weight of the bands you loved most (back whenever it was you last paid attention). For me, one of those eras is the early aughts, during a heyday of Northeast post-hardcore; partially staked around the Level Plane Records roster. If you absolutely must defend ‘American Screamo’ in any capacity, this is one of the best places to start. For me, digging through Archivist’s Bandcamp page is like visiting an dear friend from a time I remember fondly.

The Archivist label is the brainchild of Robotic Empire, who have been quietly and consistently excellent for decades. The Archivist is a digital-only clearinghouse, mostly for out of print gems from 10-15 years ago. They’ve also begun issuing and reissuing bands from like-minded bands before and since. Of the hours of music posted so far, these are a few of the brightest gems:


City of Caterpillar

When City Of Caterpillar’s debut LP first arrived in 2002, I remember hearing of it simply as a Pg.99 side project. That description was apt, but woefully complete given the benefit of hindsight. Well more than a decade on, it still stands on it’s own, so much so that it’s the only of these records to be recently reissued

All seven songs are exhilarating and messy, a swashbuckling mix of grimy punk and earnest emo. It’s all right in line with peak Planes Mistaken For Stars (who toured with them around this same time). “A Heart Filled Reaction to Dissatisfaction” is probably the best single-song summation of what was best about City Of Caterpillar, though “Fucking Hero” is a close second.

(from: City Of Caterpillar, Level Plane Records 2002)



Transistor Transistor

“Teratogen” is actually the final song on Transistor Transistor’s final LP. A few years on from their urgent and outstanding Erase All Name and Likeness this was more refined. Released as most of the bands’ touring days mostly passed, it never fully got its’ due at the time. Even on their way out, these guys were well ahead of their time. Produced by Kurt Ballou, it set a template for recent bands like Touché Amore or Xerxes with brute force intensity and spontaneous, swaying melody in remarkably even proportions.

(from Ruined Lives, Level-Plane Records, 2008)


Love Lost But Not Forgotten

You may have to take my word for this, but “a progressive hardcore band with two singers” in 2000 didn’t inspire the immediately dread it would today. After a self-titled debut, these St. Louis flamethrowers returned with an even more schizophrenic follow-up. Their particular stop/start mix of full-on blast beats and oblong Botch-inspired riffs was well ahead of it’s time. I actually missed out on LLBNF until a couple years after their reign. In an odd coincidence, I ended up sharing Kinko’s evening shifts in Boulder, CO with one of the singers. We shared stories of playing many of the same venues, with many of the same bands a couple years earlier. Nice dude. Even nicer that I didn’t have to feign interest in his old band, as I have with every other coworker since. Hell, it even holds up a decade after all that.

(from: Upon the Right, I Saw a New Misery, Happy Couples Never Last, 2002)


Forstella Ford

By the time 2001 rolled around, Milwaukee’s Forstella Ford were already three LPs deep and it showed. Mixing Northeast hardcore and Midwestern angular post-punk, Quietus found them at their expansive, ambitious best. Successful combinations of heavy and melodic are rare in any era. Forstella Ford pulled it off in a novel, complex way for three outstanding records, peaking here.

(from: Quietus, Level Plane Records 2001)



Riddle Of Steel

Also from St. Louis, Riddle of Steel were a few years after LLBNF. Their music was much less frantic, but just as urgent. Python is their debut, mixing Dischord earnestness with angular Midwestern grit; not far off from contemporaries like Shiner or Bluetip. Two thirds of this lineup is still very much in the game; frontman Andrew Elstner is now in Torche, and drummer Dave Turcrantz has spent most of his time since this anchoring Russian Circles.

(from: Python, Ascetic Records, 2003)


Welcome the Plague Year

Like City of Caterpillar, WtPY arrived as a “previous members of…” project. Their pedigree included two of my genre-wide favorites: Neil Perry and Joshua Fit For Battle. Similar to their previous projects, these songs find a post-screamo holy grail of restrained complexity and hardcore intensity. “Graveyard Planet” is one of the heaviest songs you’ll find which is roughly 0% metal. Which, for whatever reason, seemed like exactly the point.

(from: Welcome the Plague Year, Electric Human Project, 2004)




Grief is a newer release for Archivist, but a reissue originally recorded in 1992. Recently repressed by Fuck Yoga Records (hailing from Macedonia of all places), Grief is practically prehistoric by modern heavy music standards. But their primitive, snarling version of post-Sabbath doom seems practically prescient these days. Dismal is exactly the sort of relevant music history best served by the ubiquity of Bandcamp and other digital curating, which The Archivist hopefully continues uncovering.

(from: Dismal, Fuck Yoga Records 2015)



NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories

with Jeff Alulis

It’s hard to imagine seeking out, let alone completing a remarkably long book about NOFX. But here we are. My feelings toward their music mostly begin and end between White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean and Punk in Drublic (which I think is fairly common). I do remember being into Heavy Petting Zoo, which apparently puts me in the minority, as it was widely panned at the time. (I just checked with Spotify; it doesn’t hold up at all. What can I say? I was right in their target demographic the summer of ‘96). Fortunately, little of the ink here is spilled analyzing NOFX’s music. And, even if I had hung on every note–or even been aware of–their last six or eight records, they aren’t exactly a band begging for the coffee table book treatment.

Instead, Hepatitis Bathtub is structured as more than 100 chapters, each it’s own short story, titled for the band member supplying it. With the help of writer Jeff Alulis, it’s surprisingly cohesive, weaving together bits and pieces in mostly-chronological order. It opens with one of the more complete, and interesting origin stories this side of The Descendents. It’s serendipitous, sloppy and universal; setting the stage for the next 25 years and 300 or so pages.

The overarching theme is general mayhem, beginning with the LA punk rock scene of the mid-80s, all the way up to (almost) present day. Even by punk rock standards, NOFX have always had a contempt for musicianship, or even general competence for their first decade. The few times I saw them play, it was somewhere between sloppy and just sort of embarrassing (and not really in the funny way Blink-182 aped from them). As time went on, the crowds grew and the intoxicants changed, but the wild inconsistency became somewhere between a gimmick and their charm.

It turns out, the substances helping cloud their live shows also fueled much of NOFX’s off-stage history. While I wagged my tail a fair share in my teens and 20s, heavy partying was never a big draw to punk before, let alone now. But the sheer volume and intensity of it here–with detailed recounting through sometimes funny/sometimes tragic stories–becomes the crux of the book. There’s a fair amount of regret-in-hindsight (from everyone but Fat Mike; whose partying years started later and seemingly have yet to crest), without killing the entertainment value. Much of the time, the book feels like a cautionary tale that’s light on the caution.

The previously anonymous (at least to me) drummer, Smelly carries the bulk of the heavy insight and offers the most to the book. His years-long battle with heroin addiction is the most consistent, nuanced, and ultimately rewarding story here. You can feel the regret for the loved ones hurt and years wasted, even in the retelling of early party stories. In a bit of irony, it was Fat Mike who gave him the ultimatum, which ultimately led him to Smelly’s successful stint in rehab. But even at his most insightful, it’s still NOFX through and through: 
“The first year or so out of rehab I got in a lot of fights. To say I was on edge would be a vast understatement. I was experiencing every emotion, all at once, all the time, and it was, for the first time, completely undiluted. I was learning how to be human, and being human fucking sucks.”

It’s a reversal of the usual order of things for NOFX, as Eric Melvin and Smelly contribute the more interesting sections throughout. Further, Fat Mike is the straight man; as close to a voice of reason as you’re going to find here for the first half of the book. The second half covers his own later-in-life discovery of chemical excess, and kinky sex. Both of which are sort of dull and gross in equal measure, at least as presented here. Especially in terms of his more recent partying, he takes a sad alcoholic uncle tact, including gems like: “There have been other nights when I’ve gone too far, and there have been other interventions. But hey: I’m no quitter.”

Despite my distaste for Fat Mike’s contributions in the later chapters, they do help pull the book toward a conclusion. The explanations of inter-band dynamics are rarely petty or boring. The friction around Smelly’s staunch post-recovery sobriety, and the inevitable issues it causes are stark. Also, Fat Mike’s wise insistence on avoiding major labels in the Green Day/Rancid heyday seems downright brilliant in hindsight (and probably seemed petulant-at-best while it was happening). In the final chapters, the grown-up mayhem of their more recent international travel, much of which ended up on Backstage Passport, you creally feel the grateful, insightful side of all four members.

Inevitably, spending hours reading NOFX stories did lead me to revisit their back catalog. It turns out the early records are still raw-in-the-wrong-way, while most of their more recent stuff is forced and dull (if occasionally ruthlessly catchy). At least the two most agreed-upon records still hold up, though Hepatitis Bathtub may hopefully become their most enduring contribution to punk rock, and rightfully so.

Available from: // Da Capo Press