The self-titled LP from Japan's Louder would be a lot better if it could decide what it wanted to be. Half the cuts are big sugar-metal jams, like album opener "Idiot Mind." Hearing them, one can only assume that the band's name is both homage to and one-upmanship on the early '80s Japanese band Loudness. Those kinds of songs are catchy, they're fast, they're fun -- and, ultimately, transient. Louder's standard rock 'n' roll is good, but it's not particularly noteworthy enough to stand above any of the other bands which have come before them. Stacked up against Guitar Wolf, Electric Eel Shock, or even Gito Gito Hustler, they just can't compete. However, when you listen to something like "Prank" or "Dog Off," with strange, skronky guitar lines and snottier vocal delivery, Louder becomes way more interesting, and something worth checking out. For the most part, you get one or the other: either standard pop-metal or weirdness. The pop-metal overrides the strange by a 3:1 ratio, but for one, brief, shining moment in the middle of the LP, Louder manages to combine angular guitar weirdness and pop to create "Secret Fiction," which is the highlight of this collection of songs. From its build in the middle that leads to the slashing riffs which acommpany the gang vocals ... it's fucking great. As to what it is that leads to these songs being either or, for the most part: given that this is a power trio, with guitar, bass, and drums, I think that given the limitations, there's not a lot of room to do both at the same time. If they added a second guitarist, I feel like Louder could not only beef up their sound, but more fully explore every aspect of what they do without having to choose between them. That said: I enjoyed it. The packaging is stellar, as per usual from Sorry State. The reverse printing on the jacket, along with the printed inner sleeve, make this a seriously cool-looking release. The versions are hand-numbered, with 500 copies on black, and 100 on clear vinyl. It's available now from the Sorry State store.
Sorry State Records recently launched their first single series, dedicated to releasing bands from North Carolina, and the first two installments are now out. The singles come in identical sleeves, and the design asthetic is clean, with a color scheme that calls back to the North Carolina flag, without directly referencing it. With hand-stamped center labels on the vinyl, the packaging combines thoughtful with the slight sloppiness of DIY, making for a cool look. But looks aren't everything. What of the music? Davidians' release is thrashy, but not in the metal sense -- it's more like the "throw yourself around the room, twitching arhythmically." The beat and melodies on the b-side, "Gimme All Yo' Dope," are off-kilter and disjointed, but infectious. It's a song constructed to throw the listener off-balance, especially as it slowly builds to a passionate middle, which then slows, only to abruptly blast through its final seconds. The a-side, "Night Terrors," is a blast of energy, start to finish, filled with the same shrieking energy to be found on the flip, but it's bit more sonically straight-ahead. While good, it's "Gimme All Yo' Dope" that's the solid jam. No Love's "Dogs//Wolves" does that thing where it starts out with a lo-fi, distorted guitar all alone before just exploding into rock 'n' roll. If there's not a term for it, there should be. Dead smack in the middle, there's a simple three-note bridge that takes the tone down for just a second, before blowing everything up with more short, punchy riffs that leave you breathless and curious as to why the song's suddenly over. The only answer is to put the needle back to start, and go at it again. "Bad Things" has the vocals buried way down in the mix, so it's not quite as much fun. The energy's there, but straining to hear what's being sung makes it hard to enjoy cut, especially the crazy build during the last half. You want to be able to shout along, but straining to hear the words just takes away from the whole experience. Still -- good, just not as great as it could be. Both singles are limited to 250 copies each, and come with download codes. They're available now from the Sorry State store. You can get No Love's single by clicking here and Davidians' single by clicking here.
Looking at the cover, I was thinking, "What the fuck? Did Sorry State put out a thrash record?" Just taking a glance at the jacket for Ruleta Rusa's No Aqui Es, and you're thinking Grim Reaper or some other mid-'80s stalwarts. However, the instant the needle drops on this LP, and it's a different matter. This is rock 'n' roll -- punk 'n' roll, if you want to be specific. It's like Motorhead at first, but moves smoothly into '80s hardcore by the end of the first side. To clarify, in terms of hardcore, it's got that East Coast flair, where everything was a little more standard rock 'n' roll, whereas West Coast hardcore always seemed a little warmer -- it's a totally random decision I made on my own, to which I attribute the weather differences. Seriously, though: the title track comes right after a song that full-on rocks the Bad Brains' "I Against I" guitar tone ("Gritos Para Desahogar"), and the way it uses surf guitar is a major tonal shift from the rest of the record. The recording's a little muddy, though. For as rocking as Ruleta Rusa is, everything's all at kind of the same level, with the vocals slightly boosted above everything else. Plus, as much as this wants to be a guitar record -- and it is -- you want those babies to be fucking cranked. If ever there were a punk record you could full-on air guitar to, No Aqui Es should be it. When we get bad-ass guitars rocking the album-closing "Curriqui de Barrio," they should be goddamn wailing, and we get squealing at best. It's frustrating, because I want to like this album way more than I do, thanks to the muffled levels on every single track. I even gave it another chance, assuming my speakers weren't cranked loud enough, and then a third run-through on headphones, but everything still ended up sounding like it was playing through a pillow.
If you can handle the mid-level production, Ruleta Rusa's No Aqui Es is a fun bit of throwback hardcore punk 'n' roll, but if you're looking for some guitar-shredding tunes, you'll end up wanting more. It's available from the Sorry State store on red, limited to 163 copies with obi strip, as well as on cassettel.
Listening to Joint D≠'s latest, Satan Is Real Again, Again, or: Feeling Good About Feeling Good About Bad Thoughts, is not something I recommend while jacked up on half a pot of strong coffee. The album's so tightly wound, you'll find yourself grinding your teeth and tensing up in your chair, wondering when it's going to relent. Here's the secret: it doesn't. From start to finish, through all nine songs, Joint D≠ moves with coiled rhythms, shredding your nerves while they're attacking their guitars. It's almost as if the band has decided that the intensity from their first album, Strike Gently, needed to be cranked up and spewed forth in greater quantities. Of course, the downside to this is that if you didn't care for their debut, you'll really hate this one, but the upside is that Satan Is Real Again takes all of the characteristics of Strike Genetly and focuses them to create a distillation of that vision. In other words, if you liked that record, you'll fucking love this one. It can be had on LP from the Sorry State store, who have exclusive version, limited to 165 copies on clear smoke-colored vinyl (with some red streaks), featuring an obi strip screened on transparent vellum. It's also on black.
Is is possible for something to be both frantic and chugging? Something about the Love Triangle's music makes me think of a biker movie -- everything synced to the sound of wheels on blacktop. Clever Clever, out now on Sorry State is like that sound, only jacked to the gills on mini thins and truck stop coffee. Which isn't to say that this is surf rock or country trucker music -- no, no. The Love Triangle fall somewhere in the meeting ground of early British punk like the Damned, Buzzcocks, and the Adverts and any act to have splintered off from the Marked Men (Mind Spiders, Potential Johns, et al). The Love Triangle knows how to balance everything, though, which is why I compare it to those biker movie soundtracks -- despite operating in the upper registers a la the Adverts and so on, the bass rumbles like a hot rod engine. The intro to "I'm Still Waiting For A Buzz" fairly vibrated the office down here. Discovering that this is also ex-Shitty Limits brings a lot of things into focus. I knew those vocals were familiar for a reason. Still, this is the melodic take on that early punk sound, rather than everything being snotty anarchy. "Touching God" manages to almost be sweet, even though I'm pretty sure it's about being fucked up. Great artwork on the jacket, too -- I love the whole paisley design and the cut-and--paste aesthetic. The vinyl's super-solid, as well. Heavy-duty black that brings a real dynamic range to what what could've been a mess of bass and high-end, but everything's well-balanced. You can get the Love Triangle's Clever Clever from the Sorry State store and find more information about the band at the Love Triangle's website.
The #1s -- in addition to being one of the hardest bands to find in our modern-day #hashtag culture -- have been making quite a name for themselves in the pop underground as of late. They've put out two singles in rapid succession, and finally have a proper United States release with their "Sharon Shouldn't" single on Sorry State and Alien Snatch. The title track is a masterful piece of power-pop, with a really crisp sound to it. If the sleeve didn't tip you off to their early-'80s sonic aesthetic, the opening seconds of the track will immediately clue you in. There's no fuzz on this cut -- everything is super-clean and high end, rocking out with just a little of that vocal effect that sounds like you're singing into a very quiet bullhorn. Lots of dropped-out bits -- dropping out all the instruments to let the vocals take hold; letting the drums and bass do a little chooglin', then slicing some razor-sharp guitar riffs through them -- make for some great dynamic moments. The b-sides, "Boy" and "Girl" are mirror images of one another, as well as of the a-side itself. "Boy" is a shambolic, sloppy mess of a song that has some charms, sadly obscured by the piss-take nature of the recording. Its opposite, "Girl," is far calmer, evoking memories of every single '60s slow-dance ode every recorded. They're both pretty garage-y -- lots of echo and reverb, a total 180 from the crisp, clean production of "Sharon."
It's available now from the Sorry State store on both black and red vinyl, although the red's limited to 92 copies and mailorder only -- so fucking hurry, already.
The third self-titled LP from Raleigh, North Carolina's Whatever Brains is less manic than their last, also for the Sorry State label. It's droning as fuck. I don't mean that in a negative or positive way -- it's simply that each and every track on this particular release has an underlying vibe than hums along monotonically. That's not to say that it's a monotonous record. I don't think Whatever Brains could be monotonous if they tried. Take, for example, the closer to side A, "Horse Complex 2," which is a Boards of Canada song gone awry. It mixes their cinematic drone with the electronic blips of a science fiction theme song -- it reminded me of nothing so much as the opening credits to Forbidden Planet while on a fistful of pills. Then, on side B, you have "Summer Home." It's a drunken, wobblingly off-kilter number. The synthetic horns blurt along under angular guitar riffs, circling down a drain. The whole thing just goes ever-deeper into an abyss as the song goes along. It never really kicks into gear the way I hoped it would. I kept hoping Whatever Brains would really pull something upbeat and crazy to mix things up, but I suppose that would really ruin the aesthetic they have going here. The closest you ever really get is the throbbing bassline that rocks "Bellied Up," following in from the martialistic drumbeat of "Summer Home." Snag it on black vinyl from the Sorry State store. The way that cover combines with the inner sleeve makes for a visual experience that's just as unsettling and weird as the listen.
The Sickoids have been name-dropped to me as a band to check out repeatedly over the last few months, so it was pretty great to have their latest EP, No Home, show up in the mail last week. The 12" is a split release between Grave Mistake and Sorry State, and it's loaded with visual imagery that clues you into what's ahead before you even have a chance to drop the needle. The cover of No Home is a photo of a 1965 tornado survivor sitting on the steps of what used to be his home. The back cover is an image of the skull of Phineas Gage -- a railroad worker, who in 1848 had a tamping iron driven through his cheek, exiting through the top of his skull, yet survived. These are not going to be songs of hope. These will be songs of survival. They're certainly not a band afraid of intensity nor unflinching lyrics. "Death," with its unflinching honesty regarding funerals -- "The funeral was beautiful/ The turnout was incredible/ And everyone's forgiven when you're dead" -- is but a sampling of the bleak worldview through which the bands filters its sound.
In terms of sonics, the old-school fuzzed-out guitar tone is what I love most about this record. It makes the whole thing sounds like a super hardcore Fear album, especially when you factor in Rob Fitzpatrick's shouted vocals. There's a little surf workout at the end of "Empty Death" that makes the Sickoids more than just a punk band, as well.
It's an intense trip through No Home. It moves quickly, and each song flows into the next without respite. Your only chance for reprieve is flipping the record. Yet, you'll find yourself doing it more and more quickly the more often you listen to it.
The clear vinyl with silk-screened obi strip is sold out, but black vinyl is available like crazy from the Grave Mistake webstore.
Big props to whomever came up with the idea for the side b center labels, too. This has rapidly become my favorite record in terms of a comprehensive design aesthetic.
In the span of two weeks, I received these slabs o' wax with amazingly surprising levels of loving detail. The effort which has gone into the creation of these collections of music is absolutely phenomenal. Hand-screening jackets, stamping labels, numbering ... it's all a serious labor of love resulting in something that really defines what we like about vinyl. Honestly, these are the purest, most tangible bit of music one can put their hands on in a digtal age such as ours. Live music may be more immediate, but it's ephemeral. Once a show's over, it's done. No matter of documentation -- be it visual, auditory, or otherwise -- will recapture the pure raw experience of a live performance. However, the ability to put your hands on something that was made by someone else's hands is the most revelatory aspect of vinyl. It's why I buy these pieces of plastic, throw them on the turntable, and evangelize to you people. Pretty fucking great, really. No Tomorrow's "Nuclear Exposure" 7-inch on Sorry State is a modern take on hardcore. It seems that bands are either playing classic, throwback hardcore, or melding styles. Wilmington, North Carolina's No Tomorrow works pretty standard tough-guy hardcore in terms of instrumentation, but tosses in some classic metal fretwork to keep things interesting. Vocally, it's more crust than anything. It never gets fast enough anywhere to be categorized as grind, but the guttural intonations certainly edge that way. "Burning Inside" is the track I want to hear live. It's short enough to keep things interesting, and it leaves you wanting more. I can hear that intro and outro played up to double the length of the song, and just imagining the pit freakouts it would bring gives me goosebumps. Limited to 300 hand-numbered copies on black vinyl, with hand-screened covers from the Sorry State store.
My favorite releases on Sorry State are rapidly becoming the ones that step outside their traditional hardcore boundaries. Brain F≠, Smart Cops, Whatever Brains, and now Hygiene -- all bands that are definitively "punk," but bring something extra to the genre rather than a straight three-chord attack. Hygiene's self-titled 7-inch features two songs, both self-titled. One's a ponderous bit of a slog called "Hygiene." The band's Canadian, but this song is ever-so-British. The production's left the song with rough edges, but "Hygiene" still manages to be completely free of distortion, fuzz, or echo. It's fresh, not sloppy. Think the Modern Lovers' calculated messiness. "Hygéne," the b-side is more jagged, more intense. It gives no cathartic release, and Hygiene cyclicly work through its two and a half minutes. It builds constantly, throughout the entire song, and then simply fades out at the end. No end at all -- the song could theoretically go for hours on end, like Flipper's "Sex Bomb." Both sides of the single seem like one-take recordings. Not piss takes, or throw-aways -- just that the band's played these songs enough times to walk into the studio, rock it live, pack up, and leave -- done. Press it and get it out there, that sort of thing. Vinyl's limited to 500 copies, and is available from the Sorry State store.