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Featured Record Reviews from Issue #89: Worriers, Aye Nako, Caves, Night Birds, Radioactivity

 

WORRIERS: Imaginary Life: LP
Conviction without posturing, art without pretension—it doesn’t seem like it should be so hard to find bands that embody these sentiments, but this is a complicated, messy world full of flaws, tropes, and lies—leaving us little other choice than to soldier on. Embrace the bands that give us hope. Pay attention to the people who continue to inspire us. Focus on the truly exciting music that offers something to actually believe in. Worriers are easily one of those bands. They’ve recorded an album of tuneful, melodic punk that’s backed by pure righteousness. And above it all: I believe them. Now if only I can figure out a way to shut up all the goddamn bros and hate mongers so we can listen to more Worriers. –Daryl (Don Giovanni)

ABSINTHE ROSE: Black Earth:CD
Circle A, circle E. Gasmasks and upright bass. You got this one figured out, right? Maaaabye. Black Earth is a weird amalgam of anarcho-folk and, I shit you not, lounge music—or, if that sends you running for the hills, how about this: the album is tempered with a strangely timeless quality due mainly to vocalist Kimbo’s confident and often smoldering delivery. It harkens back to the jazz era—seriously—and makes what might be a solid-if-kinda-typical effort something else entirely. While the songs are admittedly strongest when they stick to the folk punk stuff —”Roots of Anarcho” is a chugging, solid number—they take some pretty fascinating risks here. All in all, Absinthe Rose is an odd beast, and while not all those risks pay off, Black Earth is way more varied and nuanced than releases by many of their contemporaries. Fans of Mischief Brew, Ramshackle Glory—or for those of you with ears pressed hard to the tracks—Ari And Her Banjo should all take note. Also some of the best and most fitting album art I’ve seen in some time, courtesy of somebody with the moniker of JXRXKX. –Keith Rosson (Screech Owl, facebook.com/ScreechOwlRecords)

AGGRESSIVE RESPONSE: Self Destroyer: LP
Life is short. Records like this remind me of that. This is hardcore punk played adequately, with barked vocals that sort of sound like a mix of Roger Miret and Damian Abraham, though a bit harder to decipher. Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with this record and the dudes in the band look like nice enough, well-intentioned contributors to their scene. It’s not so bad that it makes me mad. It’s not so good that it gets me excited. All it really does is make me wish I had those twenty minutes back. I know that sounds harsh, but hear me out. A thousand bands have played hardcore punk just like this. Half have done it worse, half have done it better. I don’t know what the scene is like in Albany, New York. All I know is that it’s the capital of New York. I can’t recall ever hearing a band from Albany, so I’m guessing the scene is pretty small. Aggressive Response might be an important part of it right now, I don’t know. Keeping a local scene alive and healthy will always include a lot of very average bands, and that’s okay, actually crucially important. In order for a leader to emerge from a pack, there has to be a pack to begin with. The problem here is that recording and releasing a record has become a lot easier and cheaper than it used be, which means a lot of very average bands are committing very average music to vinyl. Bands used to face the barrier of not having a label willing to shell out the bucks to make it happen unless that band was something special, or at the very least, above average. Anyway, life is short, and it’s hard enough finding the time to listen to all the music I know that I love already. So call me jaded, but spending twenty minutes with very average music makes me wish I’d just listened to Start Today again instead. –Chad Williams (Wax Deli, waxdeli.com, [email protected])

AYE NAKO: The Blackest Eye:12” EP
Aye Nako’s Facebook page states that they’re “non-college rock.” I like that genre tag. (Although in the time it’s taken me to earn a BA, my nephew went from zygote to third-grader, so I’m neck-deep in college experience.) I like it because it separates Aye Nako from a tradition of privileged, white “indie” bands that ascend coffee shops and art galleries to a Coachella stage. Ultimately, this New York-based group is too candid and personal to be easily commodified. They’re more angular than feel-good pop punk, as the guitars are sharp and jangly like Speedy Ortiz. The musical density is matched only by the achingly earnest harmonizing vocals: “I’ve heard about your type / The interracial hype / I’m preoccupied / Casually hating my life.” The words are acerbic, but when infused with the pulsing rhythm section, Aye Nako is at once challenging and inviting. These six songs are sonically richer than most LPs, which lessens the sting of it being a 12” EP and makes The Blackest Eye a must-have. Also, definitely check out singer/guitarist Mars Dixon’s interview in Razorcake as it sheds light on the trans punk community. –Sean Arenas (Don Giovanni, dongiovannirecords.com)

BILLIE IDLES, THE: Everything Was Cliche’, and Nothing Was Original: CS
According to the note on the cassette, this is sort of a side project of Tom Grrrl that people may or may not actually refer to as Tom Grrrl. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, but that’s what’s going on. I’m not super familiar with the Tom Grrrl catalogue, but it seems like this stuff is pretty much on the same page as that, or at least an adjacent one. The songs are split between lo-fi pop and melodic, blown-out garage punk, with plenty of exploration of the territory between. The songs are buzzing with this neurotic energy that makes it feel like the whole thing is just barely staying afloat, like it might collapse into its own heavily referential anxiety at any moment. I don’t mean that as a slight to the songwriting or performance, which are both on point. The way Daniel incorporates and builds off of samples (including contributions from The Misfits, The Cure, and Buddy Holly) is actually pretty ingenious. I may have to revisit my almost absolute, anti-sample stance because of this thing. –Indiana Laub (Self-released, tomgrrrl.storenvy.com)

BLINDNESS: Wrapped in Plastic: CD
I hear the ‘90s are in vogue again. It was an interestingly fertile period for so-called “alternative” music. Like every other musical subculture before or since, it was gelded, commodified, narrowed, and strip-mined until all that was left was fleeting touchstone references that could be marketed and resold to punters and fuckwits who didn’t know better or didn’t care a two-penny fart that what they were ingesting was crap. Bush, Creed, and a ton of others owe their mansions to these dipshits. Ignore the recording date of this release and you’d swear it was some lost gem released just before things went south—echoes of shoegaze dissonance washing over a funky backbone-bender rhythm section, padded with later-period psychedelic references. Despite some easily pulled influences, it shines with a creative streak largely absent in this modern era of music-as-bland-conveyor-belted-product pop, musicians making a racket that comes from within, not from a focus group… or maybe they just caught me in a maudlin mood or something. Who the fuck cares? Right now all’s I want is someone to plop a Mad Hatter chapeau on my noggin’, dose me, point in the direction of the nearest clandestine warehouse gig, and play this fucker loud. –Jimmy Alvarado (Saint Marie, saintmarierecords.com)

BUCK BILOXI AND THE FUCKS: Streets of Rage: LP
One of the most celebrated garage punk bands since the early days of The Spits is back with an insane LP full of their Ramones-meets-outlaw-grit trademark sound. The back cover features a hilarious map of Mississippi, which has it bordering Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Pakistan. The Mississippi map also designates sections of the state with various labels such as “Gays Burned at the Stake” and “Dirt for Dinner.” This sort of seedy garage punk is best enjoyed by fans of rough groups like Spider Babies, but it’s catchy enough that a wide range of listeners will dig it. It’s definitely the garage highlight of the year so far, so run and pick it up now. –Art Ettinger (Hozac, hozacrecords.com)

CAVES: Leaving:LP
Much has been made of Bristol punks Caves over the last few years, but I’ve mostly ignored the hype—”For Fans Of” sections can really fuck up your internal compass. For the uninitiated, the pop sensibility of Leaving makes it a strange entry point into the career of a band known for riotous melodic punk rock. But as a wayward queer, it reinforces my belief that if you are meant to have a song in your life, it will find you. The album opens with “Sad,” a staunch disavowal of the gender binary that is decidedly not hostile, but tinged with melancholy and hope. The remaining fifteen minutes of music on the LP sways gently between bitter and sweet, with both flavors passing through the teeth one expects to find on a punk record. The hype makes sense. Caves are not the kind of band that makes it easy to just like them casually. They are the kind of band that pens lyrics you want tattooed on your body until you realize that, once they are divorced from their song of origin, the words lose all of their power. Leaving exists in that magical realm in which the music is the message; capturing all of the feelings that manifest in between life’s pivotal moments. “Breathe in, breathe out.” Thanks, Caves. I will. –Kelley O’Death (Dead Broke, [email protected], deadbrokerecords.com)

DOLLAR SIGNS: Yikes:CD
I was enjoying this album pretty thoroughly on the first listen. And then the track “I Hope I Don’t Fuck This Up” came on and I quickly began telling close friends about this cool new album I found. Dollar Signs has some shakiness to them. There’s some off-key vocal crooning, seemingly random genre switching, and a good dose of slacker rock influence (if that kind of thing bothers you). The end result is somewhere between folk, indie rock, ska, and pop punk. Basically, anything goes, and for me that’s definitely a plus. Check this out if you’re a fan of Bomb The Music Industry, Against Me!, or other punk bands that tread the line of not really being a punk band. (I wrote that sentence before I even got to the Jeff Rosenstock cameo on “Reinventing Dollar Signs,” so I feel even more justified in that comparison.) Grade: A-. –Bryan Static (Death To False Hope, deathtofalsehoperecords.com)

DOUBTFIRE: Self-titled: CD
Inasmuch as I think torch-carrying for ‘90s pop punk is an indulgence that would be best served by packing its own mouth full of snow and leaving itself on the back porch of the igloo to die, and inasmuch as I spent the ‘90s largely immune to the charms of the McRackins (yes, I know, they were egg-cellent, sue me), and even inasmuch as I am as apt to think of the Proteens or Klopecs when I’m trying to remember the Prozacs, I must admit there’s some pretty neat stuff going on here and there on this disc, a slick collaboration between Bil McRackin and J Prozac. Whilst the glossy a capella harmonies that kick off this thirty-three minute excursion into technique made me fretful that I was going to be sitting thru half an hour of Bon Jovi-core, “Don’t Be That Guy” sounded enough like a song the Methadones would have covered on Power Pop Riotthat I was able to unharden my heart and listen to the rest without having to bite a bullet or some other manner of chewable ammunition. While numbers like “Love This Rock N’ Roll” and “Punk Rock Heart” are a bit on the nose, lyrically I got to admit they way they repeatedly work in a sample of Dee Dee yelling “one-two-three-four” in time with the rest of the song is pretty damn cool. If only Tim from Mutant Pop Records could be alive to hear this ultimate consummation of his label’s aesthetic! Oh wait, he is. Well fuck it, then. BEST SONG: It’s probably “Just Maybe,” but that damn Dee Dee sample really puts “Punk Rock Heart,” which would otherwise be kind of cornball and lame, over the top. So maybe that one. BEST SONG TITLE: “Kung Fu Magoo” FANTASTIC AMAZING TRIVIA FACT: Ends with a cover of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” just so’s you know into what you’re getting. –Rev. Nørb (Jerkoff, jerkoffrecords.com)

GEOFFREY Oi!COTT: Sticky Wickets: CD
For once I’m a little disappointed that a band actually managed to include lyrics with the album. I was totally into the first song when I thought it was about tacos —turns out it’s “tackle,” not “tacos.” Geoffrey Oi!Cott is just your average street punk band, from Yorkshire, England. I’ve been over street punk since I was finally able to admit to myself that, for me, a mohawk is nothing more than a labor-intensive hairstyle. The whole genre ended up being more work than I was willing to invest in music I wasn’t truly passionate about. If you are fucking bonkers for street punk, these guys are legit, and the accents are real. –Jackie Rusted (Boss Tuneage, bosstuneage.com)

JONNY MANAK & THE DEPRESSIVES: Cold Pizza & Warm Beer: CD
Punk rock’n’roll, pure and simple. Carrying on where the Humpers left off. Nothing groundbreaking, but obviously that’s not the damn point. What Jonny Manak does, he does well. Perfect Friday-night-record-party music. Record party? You have those, right? No? Jesus, you’re missing out. Call up (don’t fucking text, call) at least three rock’n’roll blood brothers or sisters, stock up on beer, and crank records like this one from when you get home from work until late at night, when your neighbors threaten to call the cops. Pass out wherever you are when your legs tell you to fuck off, wake up late Saturday morning, finish off that nearly full tall boy you cracked at 4:00 AM, and after maybe an hour of the Supersuckers’ country record and some Stones, get right back into Jonny Manak & The Depressives type shit, and turn it into the best weekend of your life. –Chad Williams (Reach Around, reacharoundrecords.net, [email protected] / Self Destructo, selfdestructorecords.bandcamp.com, [email protected])

JOYRIDE!: Bodies of Water: LP
This record is awesome. Joyride! has found that perfect medium that allows them to showcase powerful lyrics, great musicianship, and a heartfelt intention that is the backbone of any lasting band. On “Small Talk,” the ending reprise of “We might not say much, but we still like to talk” is belted out with such beautiful cadence and sincerity that I wouldn’t mind if the record started skipping and played that on an endless loop. There’s a small southern twinge in front-woman Jenna’s voice, which comes off as approachable and endearing, like a childhood friend. If I had to pin the band down musically, I’d say they’re somewhere between The Measure [SA] and Discount. There’s something about the delivery of the lyrics that really grabs me. This band takes the time to slow down and release each word at just the right time to make them resonate strongly while the drums are building up quietly in the background. It’s like taking a partially inflated balloon, leaking out little bits and pieces, and breathing new air into it until it either bursts or floats away in a haze. The closing song has this sleepy trumpet that takes you out in a dreamy nostalgia. –Kayla Greet (Salinas, salinasrecords.storeenvy.com)

NERVE BEATS: Art History 1+2: 7”
It was a Saturday night this past fall and I was jobless, new to Austin, Texas. I had a job and a paycheck on the horizon, but nothing was guaranteed. The “fun money” I saved was limited and I was trying not to be too reckless with it. Friends convinced me to go out, because why not? The show was mostly local bands but Nerve Beats, a mysterious power trio from Honolulu (I had no idea there were punk bands there) were on a larger tour of the greater forty-eight states. The Nerve Beats were added to the bill last minute. I am glad I decided to go out that night, as Nerve Beats made my night. They moved me in a way I haven’t been moved by a strange band in a long time. I wasn’t the only one at the show who thought so. I was so hyped about the set that I had to buy their record. The Art History 1+2 7” appears to be self-released and is housed only in a white record sleeve. Nerve Beats had the same feel and power of The Minutemen—and even talked about having to be “econo” on their tour—since booking a tour from Honolulu is apparently as difficult and expensive as booking an international tour. Hopefully on their next swing through these parts, I’ll know more about them and word of mouth will spread so more people will check out the show. Although I’m old and cranky, this is the kind of show that takes me way back to a time when it seemed like on any given night I could be blown away by some strange no-name band. But that doesn’t have to be in the past, when I was younger, or more naïve, or whatever. It can still happen, and does, when I least expect it. –Sal Lucci (Self-released, nervebeats.bandcamp.com)

NEW SWEARS: Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever: LP
Harmless, neon hat-wearing, party boy punk shit. Honestly, I’d like to just have that sentence as New Swears Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever full review. But that would be lazy. Honest, but lazy. They have some downright terrific melodies and the musical chops to really crank out some sweet, catchy punk, but it lacks lyrically. Some lazy dumbass lyrics about “lines on the road/ lines up my nose/ prostitute’s the only pussy I know.” Still, Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever is a sassy, xylophone-chiming, “whoo-ooo” laden mix of Strokes, White Fang, Memories, and Vampire Weekend jam out. It’s upbeat and utterly harmless; no fists were thrown and no minds to be blown. LP cover art is a bunch of half-naked, sleep-deprived, k-hole-lovin’ party boys rife with what looks like the contents of my college pad’s garbage can strewed upon their bodies. *Shrugs shoulders.* –Camylle Reynolds (Dirt Cult)

NIGHT BIRDS: Mutiny at Muscle Beach: LP
There is a certain satisfaction of getting into a great band near the beginning. It doesn’t seem like it was almost five years ago that I picked up Night Birds’ second 7” on a whim because I was going to be seeing them at Chaos in Tejas. Looking back, it was a life-changing moment that was solidified by seeing them play at said fest, meeting them, and finding them to be great people. More 7”s followed, as did two LPs, each of which managing the near-impossible task of being better than the previous record. A lot of touring and non-stop buzz has brought them to one of the biggest punk labels for this, their third LP. Just like the last album welcomed new guitarist PJ into the fold, this album is the debut for new drummer Darick, who fits in perfectly. My expectations for this album were incredibly high. I have become a Night Birds fanatic. Somehow, if this wasn’t better than Born to Die in Suburbia, I was going to be let down. Is that ridiculous? Because Night Birds have stepped the game up again! This record is pure insanity! Everything I have come to expect from these guys is sprinkled with a manic delirium (that can most likely be attributed to singer Brian becoming a new dad) that sends these songs over the top. To sum it up, Night Birds play hardcore punk rock that is tailor-made for me—intense and catchy songs with no sign of metal in the mix. The lyrics tell strange stories that are perfectly encapsulated in a minute-and-a-half to two-minute servings. Oh yes, of course the surf guitar is there, too. My fourteen-year-old self would have never believed that I would discover one of my all-time favorite bands when I was in my late thirties. I will be waiting patiently for their even better next album. In the meantime I will see them play every damn chance I get. –Ty Stranglehold (Fat Wreck, [email protected], fatwreck.com)

OBN IIIS: Worth a Lot of Money: LP
Record of the issue for me, personally. So damn good! I haven’t kept up on these guys like I should, and it is my loss. However, I am catching up. There have been some drastic changes (lineup and sound) since their The One and Only LP. Almost gone are the Stooges and MC5 influences, and in are Thin Lizzy and AC/DC influences (“4KD” cribs a riff from AC/DC). I find this switch suits them better. I really like the early stuff, but this new album is fucking great! Hard rock done properly. No irony, no half-ass pose. The Thin Lizzy influence is strong, especially on songs like “Let the Music” and “What Happened to You.” The galloping percussion and hard-driving riff of “The Stalker” is hard rock bliss, the kind of song you crank way the hell up. The guitar solo sends it over the edge then they switch gears and bring you back down to earth for more. “Dismissive” mixes in Iggy Pop’s New Values to great effect: the vocals are perfect, the musicianship top shelf, and every single song on here is a keeper. In a perfect world these guys would be packing stadiums. –Matt Average (12XU, 12XU.net)

RADIOACTIVITY: Silent Kill: LP
Is it possible that one song can make the purchasing of an entire album worth the trouble and the green? If the song is this album’s closer “Pretty Girl,” fuckin’ A-plus it can. The tune is a fine melding of punk and up-tempo power pop with an insistent guitar lead that is the perfect je ne sais quoi that pulls the proceedings out of the “damned good” pile and firmly entrenches it into the “sweet holy Mahfü, that song is easily the best song I’ll hear for years to come,” one so good that you’re almost pissed off when it abruptly ends three minutes after it began. The rest of the album? Fuggin’ aces, friends. The tunes have a darker sheen to the hooks—slyer and grittier in tone than their debut—while at the same time enjoying a cleaner-sounding production, but the hooks are nonetheless still there, and in abundance. One can’t help but ponder the fairness of a cluster of musicians being responsible for so many jaw-dropping good bands, but one also can’t help but hope their winning streak goes on for some time to come. Recommended? Ooooh yeah, this most definitely is. –Jimmy Alvarado (Dirtnap)

SLOANE PETERSON: Why Go Out?: LP
New pressing of Sloane Peterson’s 2011 release. It could be argued that just as many kids picked up instruments and formed bands after Nirvana broke in ‘92, many did the same after the first releases from Weezer and D4 in ‘94. Sloane Peterson bobs along like heavy “Buddy Holly” asking “Noble Stabbings!!” to the sock hop. Check the right, left, right hooks of “Recover,” “Tallahassee,” and “Bridges” and see if you’re not knocked unconscious by sugary/bitter punk goodness. I suppose many Razorcake readers have already experienced Why Go Out?, maybe even hanging with best friends while sipping forties next to the train tracks. But any that haven’t, a repress in a boss hand-screened cover is a great excuse to make that memory. –Matt Seward (Dead Broke, deadbrokerecords.com)

TAPEHEAD: “(My Life) Shot on Vid” b/w “Turn Green”: 7”
I cannot explain Tapehead. I am too dumb to understand them, and too smart to pretend I do. They are just excellent, and I need you to take my word for it. The band—comprised of members from a litany of noteworthy New York punk bands—are the musical equivalent of the popular kids’ table in the cafeteria. A lot of what they do makes no sense, but it’s all annoyingly perfect and thoroughly jealousy-inducing. They are eclectic, yet aggressive; fun, yet driving; messy, yet in total control of their craft. With a decidedly ‘70s aesthetic—both aurally and artistically—Tapehead hit all the walls of effortless cool. I hear they do commercials… in Japan. –Kelley O’Death (Cherish, cherishrecords.bigcartel.com)

VACATION: Non-Person: LP
Lead singer and lyricist Jerri Queen is no longer belting from behind the drum kit; he’s now up front and strumming the guitar on their latest LP. Vacation bridges Southern California beach-town punk (Audacity, Toys That Kill) and Midwest melodies (The Replacements). Alongside Tenement, Vacation is currently one of the finest propagators of fuzzed-out power chords and dense vocal harmonies all tucked inside a collage-covered record jacket. “Decaying” is short, sweet, and gleefully fatalistic: “Don’t worry, baby / I’m just decaying / And soon I’ll be something new.” And “All I Think About (Myself)” noisily grooves over bleak confessions. They skillfully wrap bad feelings (“Do you still cart around / That piece of shit you call a body / All of the time?”) in good vibrations. Through some wicked magic, Vacation uplifts the spirit while the soul dies—it’s entropy set to a downbeat, and I can’t help but beg for more. –Sean Arenas (Don Giovanni, dongiovannirecords.com)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: We’re Loud –  90s Cassette Punk Unknowns: LP
If you collect the one memorable song from all of your friends’ bands over the years, could you compile a really good album? I’ve often wondered where the good bands that made demos and never got noticed existed. It seems obvious there would be some even, if you consider the deluge of people who got into punk for the wrong reasons in the ‘90s during the great punk avalanche. One of the stars in the sky has to have a planet like Earth circling it. The same must be true of the boxes of blank tapes littering Goodwills and parent’s basements around the world. Punk demos, as you know, often go unnoticed due to a.) wrong place, wrong time b.) geographical restraints or c.) the band members get interested in other things and lose track of them. (And a lot of them suck, but let’s focus on the academic aspect of this just as a lark.) Boombox or four-track recordings were easy to produce back then, so why not record? It must have been easier before everyone decided to be so “professional.” But what to do with them? There was no real internet in the ‘90s, so bands had to tour or do mail trades. And then people lose interest in doing bands when no one pays much attention to them. Some will say it was a better time, but it’s my belief that the underground must continue to evolve and adapt. At least I hope so. But either way, here starts the Killed by Death/Bloodstains-style compilations of regional cassette bands. This is your time to become a historian, people. To resurrect the dead. It’s a call to dig out cassettes from every pocket and find the next overlooked punk phenomenon. It’s a call to record your band on an old 4-track and pretend it’s old. Or whatever you feel like. Cassettes are easier to fake than singles but harder to navigate. I’m sure there are other cassette comps I’m not aware of, but if this is a flagship record it’s an inspiration. The styles of bands range from dirty three-chord punk to fuzzy songs with power pop sensibilities. The first song on side B “Look into My Eyes Sweet, Sweet Satan” by Les Fleurs Du Mal caused me to backtrack. It could be a lost power pop classic. The Van Buren Wheels’ “C’mon & Be Mine” is another three-chord stand out. There are plenty of wild, loud punk singles here, too. It’s very dense. I hope it spawns a long series of people being turned on and pulling demos from the fire. –Billups Allen (Slovenly)