The Best Moments of Razorcake #80 Reviews: The boundaries are fuzzy, the frontier is unbounded.

Jun 10, 2014

Punk rock is a big umbrella. It’s been appropriated by a lot folks for a lot of different reasons; adjudicating between its uses is—for all intents and purposes—a pointless endeavor. Punk is like pornography: it’s difficult to define, but you know it when you see (hear) it. For me, that’s the beauty of it. To steal Wittgenstein’s definition of concepts, punk is“like a thread made out of spinning fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.” There’s no single definition that you can point to and say, “That’s punk. And only that’s punk.” Punk’s diversity is what gives it its strength and its longevity. We may have affinities for specific niches, but those affinities are only meaningful in relation to others. There are commonalities in how we approach music, how we structure our communities, and a shared language of reference points. But it’s in the interpretations of those commonalities that great records and bands continuously come out of. The boundaries are fuzzy, the frontier is unbounded.

The reviews below are some examples of this diversity, strength, and failure. Never forget the failures.

–Matthew Hart

ALL DOGS: Self-titled: 7”
Punks from Columbus keep putting out the good stuff. All Dogs, a three-piece group hailing from thereabouts, will be counting this 7” as their second release following a split cassette with Slouch last summer. Here, four roaming and low-distortion tracks talk friendship and punk love calamity in the Midwest. The band is tight, restrained, and thoughtful, but its singer Maryin Jones’ melodic voice that steals the ears, floats above the rollicking steadiness of her bandmates, and makes with the considerate and nuanced and heartfelt shit that’s needed after a winter of bloodthirsty potholes and piles of angry, grey snow. For me, All Dogs are going to be the band to see the week after I lose my gloves for good and slice my jeans into shorts. Check out “Buddy” from this 7” and “Annoying” from their split, which rocks only slightly harder than the new stuff. Available on creamy mint vinyl, delicious! –Jim Joyce (Salinas,

ARROYO DEATHMATCH: All of Them Witches: CD
I was going to call this “anarcho-flamenco punk,” but I don’t think what Arroyo Deathmatch plays is technically flamenco. There’s a definite Spanish feel to it and there’s a lot of flute work and there are moments that made me think of The Spirit of the Beehive. But, really, this is just a standard, excruciating folk-punk record—ostensibly radical/populist/authentic, though in truth it’s contrived and ridiculous and completely at odds with what people actually listen to. You get one singer who sounds like Chuck Ragan and another who sounds like John Darnielle, basically a lumberjack and an accountant screaming at you about straight edge and voting over acoustic fast-core with prog time shifts. I groaned and rolled my eyes, even when the band did something sort of cool like make an album without the use of electricity (you wonder how they manufactured the CDs and the answer is naturally occurring forest disc-burners running on syrup and good vibes). Another bohemian punkhouse vanity project, light years away from Wallace Berman or any of the real cool outliers. –Matt Werts (Self-released,

BAG: THEORY: Tap Dancing in a Mine Field: CD-R
Remember that band that your aging “I used to be a punk rocker, then I grew up” co-worker plays in? You know, the one he keeps bugging you to “come check out” even when you politely decline his offer of free tickets. Bag: Theory is that band and they’re the prog-jazz-freeform-avant-garde clusterfuck that you cringingly envisioned. These sorts of bands are the reason noise cancelling headphones were invented. –Juan Espinosa (Homeless Publishing,

BLOODLET: Embrace: 7”
Daaang! An unreleased Bloodlet track from the Shell 7” sessions. If you’re familiar with early Bloodlet, you know exactly what to expect. Heavy, strained, incredibly unique hardcore that hearkens transition-period Neurosis but with a very Victory Records heyday aggressiveness and production. Not unlike their other early 7” tracks, Embrace only hints at the brilliance that was to come on the band’s first LP and their masterpiece, Entheogen, but this is still first rate, essential heavy music.Killer. –Dave Williams (A389)

FATHER GREGORY: Dental Knowledge and Meditation: Cassette
Is this psychedelic rock? I think this might be psychedelic rock! Seven songs couched somewhere in that dark and iffy land between “aural soundscapes” and woefully, terminally damaged pop songs. Stretches pass in which verses and choruses and instruments are entirely decipherable, and then things devolve (Evolve? Maybe just volve?) into a growing, shifting tide of fuzz and buried instrumentation. Not for the faint-hearted. –Keith Rosson (Resurrection)

Anger gets me out of the bed in the morning. I’m angry that I have so much unfinished work. I’m angry that my students are neglected by their daytime teachers and their parents, that my dad got laid off after thirty years of loyalty, and that my best friend still has to explain to men and women alike why she is a feminist. If you’re angry, too, then Haematic will be your partner in crime. Put it down on the turntable. Let it bludgeon your cerebellum: you won’t ever be the same. Musical minimalism is tricky, but Feral Future has all of their requisites fulfilled: unharnessed ferocity, self-assured vocals, hard-hitting drums, agitated guitars, and acid-spewing indictments of oppressive bullshit. The record comes with a fold-out poster with a “trigger warning” for those who have suffered “sexual violence, and or, abuse.” Feral Future approaches these topics with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer, but what’s being said is important so it’d be wise to pay attention. “I wanna ruin you, because you’ve ruined me.” This isn’t revenge; it’s justice. “These girls are tougher than your feeble attacks.” This is support, community, and mutual respect. It’s refreshing to hear yelled what often goes unsaid. My highest recommendation. –Sean Arenas (Western Medical,

“The easiest years have come and gone / are you fading away, or are you holding on?” Those lyrics are from a Future Virgins song that came out five years ago. Since then they’ve release two full-lengths and a split 7” with Toys That Kill. Future Virgins aren’t just holding on, they’re digging in, pouring a foundation, and building a cathedral of a catalog that myself—and many others—are gladly finding some solace in. Their records play like heartfelt conversations had with close friends. When it finally comes to an end, you feel like you know and understand each other better. A rare interaction that doesn’t happen nearly enough. It’s a kind of exchange that usually requires either a great tragedy or a joyous celebration to occur. And like Let It Be (Replacements) or Mush (Leatherface), there’s this intense emotional connection while still being flawlessly playable. A flexibility that works in multiple settings, whether it’s being played as background music to laughter and beers cracking, or alone time, thinking time. The Future Virgins are more than any specification could ever grant them. College rock, power pop, even region rock, would all sell them short. It’s just extraordinary music, that’s being played through a DIY punk filter. In the turbulent seas of negativity, depression, and nihilism: this is hope for the punks. –Daryl (Recess)

GUN CLUB, THE: Lucky Jim: LP
Recorded twelve years after Fire of Love, Lucky Jim (1993) showed that Jeffrey Lee Pierce was not one to rest on his laurels. Although in ill health, Pierce was at the height of his musical powers, backed by arguably the Gun Club’s finest lineup: Romi Mori (bass) and Nick Sanderson (drums). Some of Jeffrey’s best songs appear on Lucky Jim, notably the title track and “A House Is Not a Home.” Jeffrey Lee was so far removed from his Fire of Love-era, psychotic-preacher persona by this point that no trace of it remained. Pierce was completely at ease with himself, no longer working within his limitations (with the exception of vocals—Jeffrey did a lot with a little) as he had long since honed his craft. The influence of Jimi Hendrix and electric blues are present on Lucky Jim. The Gun Club had completely moved away from a band centered on a clever, conceptual punk interpretation of the blues into a rock group that could do just about whatever it wanted. With Lucky Jim, Jeffrey Lee Pierce transitioned well into the ‘90s, with no signs of artistic weakness. Unfortunately, after years of substance abuse, it was his body that couldn’t hold up. Lucky Jim, from all accounts, was a dismal record to make and the Gun Club’s last. It’s a shame this lineup of the Gun Club didn’t continue, and an even greater shame that Jeffrey Lee Pierce passed away a short time later at only thirty-seven years of age. Lucky Jim was criminally ignored when originally released and, if I’m not mistaken, was only available on CD. That’s disappointing, as the record ranks as one Jeffrey Lee’s best. This vinyl reissue was long overdue and serves as a reminder of what an exceptional songwriter and musician Jeffrey Lee Pierce was. –Ryan Leach (Bang!,

LIBYANS: Expired Language: LP
I avoid nostalgia. I’m too young to genuinely miss anything. Yet, every so often a band is labelled as the resurgence of “classic punk” or “real punk,” as if these commentators remain paralyzed in the past and have only a hyper-shallow well of music terminology. These descriptors mean worse than nothing, they’re a waste of breath. Let the dinosaur music journalists at Rolling Stone attempt to maintain their extinct relationship to “punk rock.” Their “hot, young punk bands” aren’t moving me. Libyans are sure to become a magnet for these types of labels. It would also be too easy to say that they’re a return to form: angry, youthful, conscientious, angular. These tags are overly simplistic as well as a major disservice to these Bostonians. Libyans are a well-oiled engine. They fire on all cylinders and crash into the eardrums, leaving an irreparable crater in the brain’s right hemisphere. They are both a product of a continually unraveling history of discontent and an entirely unique entity. And, sure, they are angry, youthful, conscientious, and angular, but by no means are these songs nostalgic. Nostalgia is morphine, numbing the mind, slacking the jaw. Libyans are alert and aware, lurking in the foxhole of your subconscious and ensuring you remain rooted in present tense. Black Flag be damned. –Sean Arenas (SorryState,

OCCULTONOMY: Self-titled: Cassette
You’re out skating alone late at night. You’re lost in the tunes blaring out of your walkman. Suddenly you notice that the moon is closer than it should be. The wheels of your board are rolling through the night sky. You’re in space. It’s peaceful, but peace isn’t really what you’re looking for. You want to shred. You pop this tape in and turn it up. The weirdo thrashcore melts your ears as you carve through the stars. You sing along: “I just wanna thrash someplace in outer space!” It’s a good night. –MP Johnson (Reality Is A Cult)

SANDS, THE: Hotel & Casino: LP
The goofy band name/album title pun (the band’s name is “The Sands” and their album is called Hotel & Casino, get it? Yeah, me too) and could-be-anything packaging (on closer inspection, the album cover is actually a black and white photo of an old pachinko machine) had me fearing that this was going to be eight songs of dire stoner rock at worst, or, given the band’s Bloomington, IN, origins, a shoddy Gizmos retread at best. It was not. It is fan-fucking-tastic power pop. The Neighborhoods! The Beat! The Strangeways!Maybe the Raspberries! I can’t remember now! This is one of those records that just clears the tedium out of your brain like isopropyl alcohol clears the gunk out of your pot pipe, leaving you wondering what the hell all these other bands were thinking when they made all these other records which are clogging up your home. It’s one of those rare occasions when it strikes you that your life must have been a remarkable series of correct choices, just because it has led you to listening to this record at this moment, so how could you have possibly gone wrong along the way? Fucking outstanding I say, and, with a mere two hundred copies pressed, the reader would be well advised to move quickly on this one, lest existing supplies drain away like… heh… sands through the hourglass. Yup, I just said that. BEST SONG: “Catch and Release.” BEST SONG TITLE: “Damn Heavy Heart.” FANTASTIC AMAZING TRIVIA FACT: This is the first new album I’ve gotten in the last twenty-five or thirty years where the inside of the jacket was unbleached tan, not white. ­–Rev. Nørb (Houseplant/Let’s Pretend,

SPOKENEST: Destroy, Gone, Listen, Lose: Cassette
Spokenest demands you to get off your ass. Don’t become a blob, a gelatinous mass that consumes day in, day out. Take a walk. Get your hands dirty. Notice your neighbours. Make or support something of value, a value that isn’t monetary. Dollar signs won’t give you perspective. Spokenest demands accountability: “Is your voice, your voice?” Sincerity isn’t a tempo or a slippery heartsick crooner with pomade-greased hair and an acoustic guitar, but the ability to bypass bullshit. With the smokescreen cleared, music is no longer expected to be pretty, pristine, but simply honest. Honesty is more valuable and rarer than any precious metal. Spokenest demands transparency. There’s nothing perfect about this four-song cassette, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t trust anything too slick or too choreographed. The chords are serrated, the drums wallop, and one voice barks while the other belts pure melody—it’s a noise that’s damn near impossible to co-opt. This two-piece is both a literal marriage and a Tesla coil. They spark those around them and lovingly supercharge punk culture with numerous contributions: music, art, and zines. “What are you gonna do?” they shout. There’s no right answer, but a million wrong ones; I plan to keep listening and, in due time, pass the tape along. –Sean Arenas (Self-released,

Wow. Do you hate fun? ‘Cause, apparently, Too Many Daves has recorded a Mean Jeans tribute 10”! If you can put your beer down long enough and you’re not too drunk to use a computer, you should probably order this right now. Spruce wrote a song about “B.U.D.L.I.G.H.T. Lime” for cripes sake! (Warning: the grainy photo covers are the only poor piece of this release. Don’t you guys know any cartoonists/artists?) Seriously though…brilliant name, brilliant record. Unless you hate fun. –Matt Seward (Do What?,

STRANGE ATTRACTOR: Back to the Cruel World: LP
Am I fucking nuts or does this band have something to do with the criminally underrated band the Statues? I have no idea, but how many punk rock aliens live in SudburyOntario? I’ve always said the best music comes from places that are hostile and inaccessible; no peers to impress, no chicks to pick up on, allowing musical freaks to be free to go wild uninhibited. Case in point this band… or person, or group of extra terrestrials, this is mind-blowing freak punk. Taking the best aspects of hyper obscure Killed By Death punk from Canada like the Red Squares, Proles, Hot Nasties, and other no-marks who have had record tweakers freaking out for decades. This slab isn’t just some throwback; those names were just starting point. If you are new to the game, think Ty Segall or some hip shit mixed with the Angry Samoans or some other loose ne’rdo well punk band full of fuck ups. I’d love to be wide eyed and sixteen again thinking every cookie cutter piece of shit was the second coming, unfortunately a lot of new shit bores me to tears. This record blew my ears clean off my bald head. You need a blueprint or a fucking roadmap how to make dense, strange, interesting, elusive punk? Look no further. Top ten shit. Bet it’s sold out. –Tim Brooks (FDH,

Right off the bat, I must say that I have never been especially fond of this band, even at the height of buying multiple records from bands like Candy Snatchers, Electric Frankenstein, and The Humpers. My standard line in the ‘90s was that I had never heard of a more aptly named band and though I have stepped back from that stance, I have still never really been able to get into the Supersuckers. Sure, the country record was alright and that song “On the Couch” was awesome, but it was awesome because it didn’t sound like the other stuff by this band. However, after a decade-plus living in Seattle, I came to really respect this band for sticking to their guns and being very cool in regard to helping out with benefit gigs and other stuff around town. Just like Death Cab For Cutie and Pearl Jam, I never warmed to the music but have come to respect the bands and the way they conduct themselves. In the case of the Supersuckers in particular, I also had to admit that former guitarist Ron “Rontrose” Heathman is a kickass guitar player once he joined the Hangmen and really took that already great band up a notch. Having said all that, listening to this record makes me realize that the Supersuckers have turned into a good band, if still not really my thing. Laying off the gas a little for a more mid tempo sound really makes a difference, just like it did for the Hellacopters when they finally put out their classic album Rock N Roll Is Dead right before breaking up. I am hearing cops from Mudhoney and even what seems to be a Descendents influence on “Something about You.” Nearly thirty years on, this band has been doing their thing nonstop. They are better now than they have ever been; there’s a lot to be said for that. –Mike Frame (Acetate)

TAXPAYERS, THE: To Risk So Much for One Damn Meal: LP
On the surface, The Taxpayers are derivative of folk punk which is synonymous with shrill, belting vocals, confessional lyrics, and open chords instead of those power ones, but they’re actually more akin to authentic folk: class discontent, lyrical, acerbic, humble musicianship, jaunty, and weary. Although the LP is a maelstrom of disappointment and deep contemplation—this isn’t the sound of apathy. Case in point: “Everybody Just Stood There” functions poignantly as a companion to Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “Guilt: The Song.” Both are tales of numb observers to public tragedies. Both narrators are remorseful. Yet, this isn’t the sound of complacency, either. If we lent a hand, if we didn’t just stand there and casually watch suffering, then we might be just an inch closer to feeling guilt free. This is the sound of direct action, direct human contact. Modern life has afforded us the opportunity to play music on a spinning petroleum-based plastic disc, but simultaneously left us floating listlessly, frothing for purpose. The Taxpayers provide a temporary remedy: distilled storytelling. Each song resonates like a chapter in a larger narrative. You can choose to follow the threads, or nod your head to the snappy folk orchestra (banjo, piano, accordion, saxophone). Regardless of your choice, there is no incorrect means of ingestion as all leave an indelible impression. Note: “Some Kind of Disaster Relief” is a dead ringer for the Big Time version of Tom Waits’ “Telephone Call from Istanbul.” That’s a damn good thing. –Sean Arenas (Plan-it X,

TOP SHELF LICKERS: Heart Beats Brain: 12” EP
Top Shelf Lickers deliver overproduced, wish-they-were-popular, cookie cutter, third wave Alkaline Trio music (I will not call this punk). Six songs that felt like twenty from their generic tediousness. With Chicago’s punk pedigree, the city probably wishes TSL would move out. In a review box containing possibly the worst/most ridiculous/most misleading album art, this took the cake. Took looking at the spine to figure out the name of the band. If you’re going to get picked up by Warner Bros, hire an ad exec or graphic designer to make your cover art choices for you. Your eleven-year-old sibling likes Top Shelf Lickers because you haven’t taught them better. ‘Nuff said. –Matt Seward (PickMeUp!,

TRANSIENT: Self-titled: LP
I pretty much loathe grindcore as a genre, and even I can see why people are freaking out over this band right now. A flawlessly executed, woefully punishing, seizure-inducing batch of sixteen songs on a 12” 45, with the requisite doom-laden lyrics that are actually quite well-written, dense with creepy imagery and non-dorky Greek references. The record label’s pretty indicative: if you’re into Six Weeks stuff, you’re in for a treat. This album will give you severe heart palpitations right before it peels your skull like a little bezitted tangerine. I can hardly even form thoughts when listening to this thing. –Keith Rosson (Six Weeks,

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Guided By Voices Tribute: 7”
Okay, confession time: when I eat spicy foods, I lose hearing in my right ear. No, no, that’s not right. Oh, here it is: to my knowledge, I have never listened to Guided By Voices. Not once. I’ve probably surreptitiously heard them at one point or another, but not so I remember them. So I have no idea how faithful or jaw-droppingly creative these covers are. Four bands: Screaming Females, Waxahatchee, Upset, and Swearin’. The record’s over quite quickly, the vinyl’s the color of cherry-flavored Chapstick, and if nothing else, I’m even further convinced that the woman from Waxahatchee could sing a recipe for beet borscht and I’d still be into it. –Keith Rosson (Salinas)

With cheesy cover art and cheesier guitar solos, I initially classified this one as simple yet harmless dadcore. Then I got to a track called “Space Girl”: “Now it’s time to take a taste / Of the slags from outer space.” Seconds later, a middle-aged man crooned off-key: “I don’t care if you’re a dyke, girl.” What the hell?! Then, he goes on to sing about how this girl should “get off of her knees” because he doesn’t want to “taste her disease.” Every other song is just about an old man longing for love. Where did this patriarchal, heteronormative crap come from? I knew it was shit the moment I looked at it, but I didn’t know it was sexist shit too.This makes me mad and sad at the same time. Ugh. –Alanna Why (Self-released)

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