Featured Record Reviews from Issue #88

Oct 12, 2015

DOWNTOWN BOYS: Full Communism: LP
When’s the last time you’ve listened to a punk band—ska doesn’t count—with dueling saxophones? Can’t recall? Well, these Rhode Islanders are here to fill the gaping hole you didn’t even know you had. They rage with the ferocity of Generacion Suicida and Libyans, but the saxophones create an uplifting, totally danceable noise-scape for vocalist Victoria Ruiz’s no-holds-barred lyrics. Ruiz sings in both English and Spanish and tackles topics like privileged males at punk shows who ruin the pit (“Touch my hip? / I’ll cut your cock off / Fuck you tall boys”) and the empowerment of women of color (“We are brown! / We are smart!”). All at once, Downtown Boys sound like punk’s past by being youthful, aggressive, and minimal, but are simultaneously forward-thinking, conceptualizing a future where punks live the things they say and strive for the inclusiveness of all people: “I can’t hear maybes / Necessity / Not one step back / On the wave of history.” Full Communism represents a huge step forward. The message etched in the vinyl can’t be denied and needs to be heard. –Sean Arenas (Don Giovanni, dongiovannirecords.com)

This is Appalachian Terror Unit’s second full-length record, though they’ve released a fair amount of 7”s including a split with Oi Polloi, long time players in the political punk game. If I was in high school, or just getting into punk at any age, this record is a great snapshot of the world we’re living in. “Casualties of a Rape Culture” hits on some real heavy subjects that are so fucking important to be talking about. For most of the song the vocals are spoken, covering terrible things that are said to women. The track reminds me of War On Women’s “YouTube Comments,” with lyrics like, “You were drinking so what did you expect? Maybe not to be treated like a fucking object.” The next track is “Officer Down,” which doesn’t actually advocate killing cops, just the healthy distrust of the men and women in uniform. A few weeks ago I was walking to work when three cop cars rolled up on me because I matched the description of a prowler in the neighborhood. They found out I carried a box knife and held my arms behind my back for several minutes before telling me what was going on. An SUV pulled up, confirmed I was not the prowler in question, and I was free to go. This track became an instant catharsis for my own personal experience. The cover art of the record is a gorgeous scene of a punk utopia with bonfires, dogs, books, music, and loving punk parents, right next to a bone yard littered with crosses, TVs, skyscrapers, and cash. On side B there is one track that is the entire length of side A’s six tracks. It’s the titular track that describes every shitty thing in the capitalist society that we live in, as well as the place we should strive to achieve. –Kayla Greet (Profane Existence, profaneexistance.com / Ruin Nation, ruination.org / Skuld Releases, skuldreleases.de)

BETTY MACHETE & THE ANGRY COUGARS: “Guts” b/w “Destroy You”: 7”
“I love you inside, I love you inside-out!” Betty Machete sings on “I Love Your Guts.” She is fucking angry. She’s got the perfect death rattle voice for these grimy, mean-spirited tunes. There are no frills on this record. No wanky guitar solos or self-important instrumental flourishes. This is no-nonsense, negative, knuckle-cracking punk rock’n’roll, and I’m way into it. –MP Johnson (Dull-Fi)

BIG CRUX: We Got a Jam: CS
True story: I got into the Big Boys when I saw Félix Reyes of Los Angeles hardcore revivalists Lifes Halt wearing the “skate-anarchy” T-shirt. I needed to hear the band with the awesome shirt design and although I certainly wasn’t expecting the funk or the horn section, the fast skate punk songs reeled me in and eventually their entire catalog enamored me. After Lifes Halt broke up, I didn’t see much of Félix at shows anymore and it wasn’t until a few years later that I found out through a mutual acquaintance that he’d moved to Seattle. Even more years went by before Iron Lung records CEO Jensen Ward revealed to the world that he’d spotted Félix and he had some songs he’d been working on with a ragtag group of musicians in grunge city. The project was labeled “futuro,” Spanish for future, and now known as Big Crux. We Got a Jam compiles the band’s earliest material from their debut 7”, single-sided 12”EP, split 7” and a few compilation tracks. The Big Boys are certainly a jumping off point but you’ll want to dig a little deeper into the seven layer dip that is their sound. Yup, that’s some Plugz and Minutemen you’re tasting. Once you’re done savoring this appetizer you’re definitely ready for the Latin American flavors infused into the main course (or debut full length, if you will) that is their opus, the Ponchito LP. And yet, Big Crux we hardly knew ye: the band has recently called it quits. Some of us at Razorcake are fucking bummed. It’s like the time our favorite local lunch time Chinese food restaurant closed. It didn’t mean much to more than a handful of us. There was nothing we could do except lament and remember the deliciously good moments. B

CANADIAN RIFLE: “Sexually Fucked” b/w “You Are My Junk”: 7”
A two-track single might not seem like value for money to the cost-conscious punter but these new songs by Canadian Rifle are the musical equivalent of a pair of gold ingots. The lead song features a gruff male vocal nicely offset by a female voice exhibiting a lighter quality. The flipside surges into life, dropping a huge double verse/chorus ahead of the song’s halfway point then just hammers away instrumentally for the remaining one minute and forty seconds. This record will only ever increase in value—making it more predictable than any precious metal—so just buy it. –Rich Cocksedge (Dirt Cult, dirtcultrecords@gmail, dirtcultrecords.com)

CONFLICT: The Final Conflict: LP
A Czech pressing of this venerable band’s 1988 album, originally on Mortarhate. Funny thing about dismissing a band out of hand and revisiting ‘em three decades later is that sometimes they turn out to be more interesting than you originally gave ‘em credit for being. Like many of their peace punk brethren, I pretty much wrote Conflict off as just another bombastic bunch of twaddlers pushing an agenda long discarded by the hippies via loud British thrashing. It wasn’t that I disagreed with what they were on about, but they just felt so finger-pointy in their execution that being the smug brat I was, I pointed back with a different finger extended. There’s much of what initially turned me off in evidence here, and their singular wham-bang style remains in much the same mode as I remember it being on their first album. Somewhere in the middle they start stretching out a bit, first by tossing in some Crass influence here and there, then some new wavy dance, then they’re off on a rasta bender, and then their indulging their inner disco bunny. Nice bits, those, which indicate there was/is much more going on here, which likely explains their enduring popularity. Between this and a more recent release I reviewed a decade or so ago, I gotta hang my head a bit and admit that maybe, just maybe, they ain’t as bad as I once painted ‘em. –Jimmy Alvarado (PHR, phr.cz)

DOS HERMANOS, LOS: Bourbon, Blood and Seafood: LP
To start, this is the best cover art I have seen in a while. I can’t stop staring at it. Imagine a scene from the French Revolution with the ominous guillotine taking center stage. Only in this scene, everyone has lost their head. Literally. The mob of peasants, the nobility, the general, the general’s horse; there are heads, eyes open and in a panic, flying everywhere. Even the dove, a universal symbol of peace, flies over the guillotine sans skull and face. Now imagine a rowdy, reverby, hellish sort of ‘60s-style garage band from Bordeaux, France coming out of the speakers as you stare at this beautiful nightmare of a scene. Great tunes. Great album. Great job. –John Mule (Howlin’ Banana, howlinbananarecords.com)

EMPTYPALACE: The Serpent Between the Stars: CS
Styx was bad enough the first time around. –Michael T. Fournier (Snappy Little Numbers)

FALL: Sub Lingual Tablet: CD
The Fall is less a band than an experience. A taste to be acquired, loved, and coveted. How do you rate a band led by one Mark E Smith, fifty ex-members, and thirty previous studio albums? On their thirty-first, there has been criticism that Smith has become complacent with his longest-running line up of eight years. Was the Fall’s last outing rougher and more acerbic? Sure. Is the new album just as difficult and hypnotizing? Yes. This new LP channels moments of krautrock mixed with African rhythms and sharp post-punk. The Fall is timeless. This could be its tenth or twenty-seventh album. You cannot judge a new Fall album by what has come before. It’s another part of the machine; always the same and yet different. The late, great John Peel once said, “If anyone tells me they know which are the five best Fall albums, I’ll tell them they have missed the point. You need to own them all.” That’s how I feel about the Fall. This is just another testament to the genius Mark E Smith. –Tim Brooks (Cherry Red, cherryred.co.uk)

Is it okay to review friends’ bands even if you were a die-hard fan of the band long before you became friends? I hope so. Putting it plainly, Hex Dispensers are not just one of my favorite bands of the last five or ten years, they are one of my favorite bands of all time. Everything about their music works for me. It’s been a long time since their last LP Winchester Mystery House came out and III is well worth the wait. Part of the record takes songs that came out on various (out of print) 7”s in the last few years, and re-records them with the new lineup of the band (long-time bassist Rebecca moving to second guitar and Drew Schmitz stepping in on bass along with, as always, Alex Cuervo on guitar and vocals and Alyse on drums). It took me a few listens to get used to the new versions of some of the songs such as “Parallel” and “Agatha’s Antlers” because I listen to the original single versions so often but then the album as a whole clicked in my mind and it became a slice of perfection. Brand new songs such as “Trapped in the Amber” and “I Hope the Sun Explodes Today” are ridiculously good. I guess it’s obvious how much of a super fan I am. Unapologetically, I will add. Just know this: Hex Dispensers are essential listening. I don’t care who the band is, I will only say that if I believe it one hundred percent. Go get this record yesterday! –Ty Stranglehold (Alien Snatch)

MEGAGIANT: Today (And Every Day): CD
This is my least favorite kind of review to write. A band sends in their CD, which I’m sure cost a few hundred dollars to make, and even with every correct choice in terms of aesthetic and sound, the actual content is just not up to quality. Musically, this CD reminds me a lot of Hüsker Dü. It has a great vibe and energy, but the songwriting is rather unremarkable. I really want this band to be good and I think that after another record or two they might get there, but it’s too early in their career. I am genuinely interested to see how they grow. Grade: C+. –Bryan Static (Minor Bird, no address listed)

This has to be one of the most anticipated records of the year (for me anyway). Radioactivity’s self-titled debut left little doubt in the mad genius of Jeff Burke, and almost from the moment I heard that record, I was clamoring for more. Silent Kill delivers the goods and then some. The songwriting is on some kind of magical level that few can hope to attain. I have often (usually drunkenly) purported that Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan are America’s Lennon and McCartney and I will (mostly soberly) maintain that in writing right now. There is just something there that can be found nowhere else. The hair on the back of my neck stands up from start to finish of this album. Did my eyes water up a couple of times during the first listen? Maybe… I guess what I am getting at is this is an easy contender for album of the year. If you don’t have it, please get it. If I had the money, I would buy a copy for everyone I know. –Ty Stranglehold (Dirtnap)

Back in 2003, Swami reissued a discography collection from The Testors, the great ‘70s power pop rock’n’roll band fronted by Sonny Vincent. To promote this release, Sonny and Rocket From The Crypt went on tour together, and three of the members of Rocket From The Crypt served as Sonny’s backup band during the tour. This record was recorded later that same year as a result of that tour. The material consisted of all new songs, largely made up in the studio, and it’s all fucking great, smokin’ rock’n’roll. At times this almost sounds like a high-octane version of Hot Snakes or Night Marchers (which is to be expected, based on the involvement of John Reis), except with a different vocalist. After the recording session, these master tapes sat unfinished and unmixed until Swami Records decided to get back in the ring and get this released. I’m very glad they did. There had previously been a version of this released in Europe with a different mix and two less songs (one of which Reis sings lead), technically making this a reissue. One would never know this was recorded over ten years ago, as the songs don’t come across as dated at all and, in fact, sound as fresh as ever. Recommended. –Mark Twistworthy (Swami, swamirecords.com, [email protected])

TEENGENERATE: Live at the Shelter: LP
I’m not big on live albums, but if there’s a list of essential live albums, this album is solidly near the top. Teengenerate blow through a set of their classics along with a couple of rock’n’roll covers with the reckless abandon expected of them. Besides the rage factor, the recording quality is first-rate. It’s a particularly interesting recording with regard to the guitars. Some of the patented chainsaw fury Teengenerate is famous for is removed, but it only accentuates the guitar playing in a way that brings new light to the band via lowered distortion levels. It goes from chainsaw to lead pipe. It’s a full-on rage. Historically, academically, and thrashingly relevant. Essential? Yes! Do not sleep on this one. –Billups Allen (Ugly Pop)

TOXIC REASONS: Independence: LP
I know I’m not the first to say this, but Jesus wept, “How the fuck does one ‘review’ a bona fide classic?” To say this is one of those releases that should be in the collection of punks of every stripe is understating things—it should be imbedded in your DNA by this point, right along with all the other classics that pollute those “best of” lists folks like to make and then argue about. This is prime pickin’s here, with a sound that melds the “street” of the British oi that was making the rounds when this was released back in 1983, the primal thud of early Canadian punk, and the abrasiveness of Midwestern hardcore into something entirely their own—guttural, primitive, raw, yet catchy as all get-out. Mind-boggling thing is they cranked out a few more albums after this that were monsters in their own right. This, though, is the starting point, and to those of you out there who haven’t yet picked it up, lemme beg you to do so. You’ll thank me later. –Jimmy Alvarado (Beer City)

A fairytale of good versus evil.This album is centered on a shipwrecked boy named Todd. He is eleven years old when he arrives on the island and turns twelve in the episode called “The Birthday Party.” Wait, hold up… I’m thinking of the plot to H.R. Pufnstuf not Underground Railroad To Candyland. Well, either way, close enough. In the best way possible, this band makes children’s music for adults. It is bouncy and playful, full of whimsy and imagination, while still relatable and rooted in punk; a cracked kaleidoscope of relevancy depicting characters and experiences flowing in and out of each other; birth, tension, resolve, and everything in between. Maybe this isn’t children’s music for adults; maybe it’s just music that people of all ages can enjoy. Either way you want to look at it, this is another fantastic record from an already treasured band. –Daryl (Recess)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Frequency of the Truewave: CS
Oakland darlings Street Eaters have put this comp together to showcase some of their favorite current bands, and it’s a winner. The track list is studded with well-known DIY stalwarts like Dogjaw, Arctic Flowers, and Martha, with plenty of new-to-me bands to round things out (damn, Babe Quest is good). These nineteen songs span across a few styles of punk and its sister genres, with a tendency toward dark, melodic, post-punky stuff. Lots of American bands, especially from the curators’ native Bay Area, but a good helping of German and other European bands make an appearance as well. Most or all of these bands are fronted by women, and it is awesome to be able to check out so much of what’s going on in DIY punk right now on one cassette. This is one of those rare compilations that can boast both variety and cohesion. It never gets repetitive, but if you dig one track, you’re likely to dig most of them. The cool silvery color scheme makes this feel like a retro-futuristic artifact, maybe some sort of capsule that includes coded instructions for a secret punk mission. –Indiana Laub (Nervous Intent, nervousintent.com)