Author: Thomas Phelan

Writer and film-maker, and music lover.

BODY HAMMER #2

Hard, primed and pumped. Sex and leather. Hammer synths and industrial noise.

Pleasure Venom ‘Pleasure Venom’

Singer and film-maker Audrey Campbell strikes an imposing presence in the video for ‘These Days’, off the bands second EP Seize. Advancing to a rusted out car, tiki-torch in hand, amid a collage of Soul Train footage, burning infernos, BLM marches, KKK rallies, and alt-right hatred, this is a band confronting the political chaos and ‘white’ hot anger that is Trump’s America head on. Pleasure Venom are here out of sheer fucking necessity.

After two EP’s and a string of high energy live shows, Pleasure Venom are setting the Austin music scene on fire, and their new self-titled release shows no sign of slowing down. Opener ‘Hive’ is a no prisoners punk rock assault, shining a spotlight on fascistic homogeneity, be it brown shirts or red caps. ‘Deth’ hits that sweet spot between punk and garage rock, Campbells powerhouse vocals bursting through the growing cacophony. Ominous piano teases on ‘I Can’t Find my Black Lipstick’, before breaking into jerky, Wilko Johnson style guitar chops, displaying a dexterity and eclecticism keeping the band from being one-note. Their post-punk inclinations are at the forefront on ‘Gunt’, jagged guitar jabs scrape against dub-lite bass, and EP closer ‘Eddy’ has a Nirvana ‘Dive’ riff with theremin like keys percolating amid the thrash, punctuated with the ivory waltz heard on ‘I Can’t Find my Black Lipstick’ returning like a haunted, recurring motif.

Pleasure Venom is an unapologetic assault on musical and political conservatism, and a grenade thrown in the face of the institutes and forces of oppression and white-supremacy.

Mamuthones ‘Fear on the Corner’

A slimy, eyeless alien bares its teeth in a ghoulish grimace, all sickly pink clashing against an electric blue background, colourful yet disturbing. Fear on the Corner is an acid trip that could go ‘bad’ at any moment. What’s not to like?

Mamuthones, named after the mysterious creatures featured in an obscure Sardinian festival, is a freaky Italian psychedelic project fronted by Alessio Gastaldello, former drummer for Sub Pop’s Jennifer Gentle. With line-up changes, an appearance at Liverpool’s Psych-Fest, and a split 12″ with masked Prestonians Evil Blizzard, the unholy spawn that is their debut LP has had a slow gestation.

Opener ‘Cars’ is a feverish ball of nervous energy, skittering drums and glockenspiels, reaching a manic collage of Remain in Light Eno synth boings and jitters. ‘Cars, people in the cars’ Gestaldello squeals, like an alien observer watching our bizarre routines in the silly little worlds we’ve made. ‘Show Me’ is a krautrock burner, steady motorik beats attacked by dissonant guitar jabs and static blasts before unnerving electronic Paul Lanksy keys ooze in, a cold unease fighting against the Nuggets freak-out. ‘The Wrong Side’ is a funky frenzy, boggy bass and scratchy guitar which takes over you, forcing you to dance in a sweaty possessed mania. The swaggering menace of  ‘Simone Choule’ changes pace toward the end, a strutting stomp behind Damo Suzuki whispers and murmurs interrupted by atonal synth noodles and soft piano drops. Things take a turn for the truly weird in finale ‘Here We Are’, a nightmarish soundscape of buzzing electronics wash over each other, building to a hellish brontide of impending peril. Primal and tribal percussion loop against the screaming vocals, bearing witness to some ritualistic conjuring of evil. It’s like Apocalypse Now in space, and you’re the caribou.

Mysterious and curious, yet utterly direct and accessible, Fear on the Corner is a fascinating and original marriage of the peripheries of imagination that psych music can take you to, with a determined urgency to make you move like you’ve never moved before. 

Bob Vylan ‘Vylan’

Elvis didn’t mean shit to Chuck D, and Bob Vylan don’t give a fuck about your middle class, liberal homogeneity.

Bob Vylan are a punk/grime/rap hydra from London fronted by Bobby Vylan and backed by drummer Bobb13 Vylan, with a growing reputation for tearing apart all who come to their wild and raucous live shows. Last years EP Vylan, issued by Ghost Theatre, sees the band taking punk DIY to its logical conclusion, confidently handling all recording, producing and mixing. There is to be no compromise in their pursuit of volatility.

Opener ‘Church of Vylan’ is a mission statement, a call to arms against the state and its forces that seek to divide, possessed voices beckon us like The Evil Dead, before sanctuary arrives with thrashing guitar and merciless drum pounding. Your heads still spinning when eerie interlude ‘Dirt Nap’ creeps in, then the acid rain drizzle of ‘Dying Hell’ forces you to wake up to the illusions of your perceived free will and happiness, a grime rap number with corrosive synths and 808 drums that bleed all over you. ‘Wake Up’ is straight up D.C hardcore and up there with the best of ’em, before closing with a reprise of ‘Dirt Nap’, a 49 second pummeler ending the EP on a note of pure chaos.

Vylan is a kerosene soaked Molotov cocktail, seizing you out of your complacency and forces you to witness their scathing document of divided and gentrified Britain.

Mitski ‘Be the Cowboy’

One look at the cover and you’re struck with a subtle scowl, a look of quiet contempt at your intrusion. Mitski made no secret of how punishing and isolating her heavy touring schedule was, and this weariness is channeled in the glare of an artist undergoing another tired make-up routine, for another performance she hasn’t the energy to muster. Her piercing stare warns us to approach this album with caution.

Mitski Miyawaki has gained a cult following since before even graduating from New York’s Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, her first two records piano-driven student projects, before introducing fuzzed-out arresting guitar on 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek and to even greater effect on her critically acclaimed Puberty 2, having supported Lorde and Pixies along the way.

Be the Cowboy, off indie label Dead Oceans, continues her emotionally wrought obsessions via the guise of a quasi alter-ego, that of a lone singer under a spotlight in a dark room, with which to explore her new conceptual explorations in narrative and fiction, and giving her tales of love, lust and longing a thematic cohesion.

Each track is on average two and a half minutes, 14 vignettes that never outstay their welcome, hopping from one style to the next with ease, much like Frank Black’s Teenager of the Year. First track and lead single, ‘Geyser’, is a stirring up-swell of organs and strings, deceptively appearing like a love song before reaching a thrilling affirmation of pursuing one’s true calling at all costs. Things take a more playful turn on ‘Why Didn’t you Stop Me?’, electronic bass throbs against brass synths, detailing the dangers of confusing nostalgia with reality. There’s a touch of slacker-grunge to ‘A Pearl’, a thoroughly unsettling anthem with effortless guitar melodies disguising the disquiet at its core, the desire to chase what you know will damage you. The Beatlesesque ‘Me and My Husband’ is a two minute sketch of a married couple, where passion and electricity has been replaced with resignation of each other’s company, the line ‘me and my husband, we are doing better’ delivered with a pained wince behind the loving artifice. Your heart skips a beat on the breath-taking sensuality of ‘Pink in the night’, an intimate universe of infatuation, and the existential relish in the privilege of experiencing such passion, amid rousing reverb-laden delicate guitar work and keys. ‘Washing Machine Heart’ is as catchy as it gets, a feverish pop-stomper with Wurlitzer twee, and album closer ‘Two Slow Dancers’ ends on two ex- high school sweethearts relieving a less complicated youth in one last dance,  a dazzling yet sparse finale.

Be the Cowboy is another insightful examination of human relationships in all its messy complexity, and a confident statement by one of the fast becoming great song writers of the era.

wych elm ‘School Shooter/Bag of Worms’

‘From the muddy banks of Bristol’, wych elm’s tales of .88 revolvers in wardrobes and sludged brains creep on you like the swamp thing under the Gaol Ferry Bridge…

A lo-fi slacker quartet fronted by Caitlin Elliman, wych elm are an authentic portal to everything great about the early 90s, their self-styled dream-punk sounding like the theme to some midnight MTV Oddities cartoon.  Last years debut EP, issued by Bristol’s Quit Yr Job records, feature two tracks of darkly sublime melodic indie, with hooks so infectious yet unassuming, little parasites which force you to hit repeat again and again. It’s a welcome invasion.

‘School Shooter’ is a lethargic grungy daydream, fuzzy guitars rips in and out of the laconic menace, and a succinct exploration into society’s stubborn perpetuation of alienation, all delivered with Elliman’s dripping cynicism. Things segue nicely into ‘Bag of Worms’, Pumpkinsesque jangly riffs float, but never meander, atop distorted drawls, perfectly complimenting the cool vocals describing abuse and it’s resulting demons.

Announcing a hiatus of sorts at their Simple Things 2018 appearance, here’s hoping the swamp thing doesn’t lie dormant for too long.

DIESEIN ‘Songs about Sally’

Rarely are solo and side projects as indispensable as an artist’s main acts output, but Laslo Antal’s DIESEIN debut LP is a glorious entry in an impeccable run of dazzling, synthwave mood-pop.

Belgrade born Antal formed Sixth June with Lidija Andonov way back in 2007, and were the progenitors of the so called ‘minimal synth’ movement, alongside Xeno & Oaklander, Daybed, and Veronica Vasicka’s Minimal Wave label/reissue project. Kindred spirits they all may be, the lush and rich production behind Sixth June was contrary to their ‘coldwave’ tag, their first album Everytime being a dramatic and nostalgic journey with unashamed pop sensibilities, married with Antal’s unique cinematic video style, all painting a romantic picture of a Berlin you had always imagined. Two EP’s followed, and in 2016 Antal teamed up with Sally Dige Jørgensen for their one and only Cult Club record, introducing mean bass work and Antal’s backing baritone vocals.

Songs about Sally expands upon the pallet of sounds first hinted at on Sixth June’s ‘Night Before’ from last year’s Virgo Rising. Gorgeous sax work shimmers over the first two tracks ‘You’ and ‘Make me Feel’, irresistibly complimenting the funky basslines reminiscent of Play with Lies. ‘Tell me’ recalls that special Sixth June urgency, effortless pop which builds into a satisfying crescendo, awash with synthetic strings that are so exciting you jump out of your skin. ‘7777’ takes a step away from the organic, all analogue arpeggios and an infectious sequenced drum beat, before album closer ‘Make me Weak’ ends with gothic guitar licks and cavernous ghostly vocals coalescing to a moody finale which would make Martin Gore proud.

Melancholic but never cold, nostalgic but never ‘retro’, Songs about Sally is an authentic and earnest demonstration of how pop can inhabit our most sentimental inner spaces, and form the soundtracks of our lives.

HMLTD ‘Hate Music Last Time Delete’

Happy Meal Ltd. HuMiLiaTeD. Her Majesty’s Latent Torpedo Disasters. Eschewing easy categorisation in their very name, HMLTD apparently stands for all and none of the above.

Turning heads for the last three years with their glam/punk/EDM/honest to god pop explosion, and tales of raucous shows complete with angels handing out lipstick amid the pungency of burning hair in their efforts for a truly multi-sensory live experience, their kaleidoscopic plume breathed much needed life to the notion of the ‘rock band’, an archetype in crisis struggling with creative stagnation and political irrelevancy.

Like Kraftwerk or Devo, this is a band underpinned with an ethos, fully realised right from their debut single, ‘Stained’. Dismantling gender boundaries as gleefully as they do with genre, their initial output presented a vision of masculinity free from its rigid demands for conformity. Accusations of ‘queer appropriation’ have arisen, with the band insisting on their act being an expression of their unadulterated identities, and an encouragement for society to do likewise.

Hate Music Last Time Delete signals an appetite to enter the mainstream and turn it inside out. Signing to big label Sony Music, and attracting the attention of Justin Tranter (collaborator of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber no less), their brand of sonic hedonism is given a deliciously sleek commercial appeal, adding further subversion to a band that sang of Mother Teresa ‘being stained’.

HMLTD EP wastes no time in its radio friendly affirmation with its first track, ‘Pictures of You’. A sultry smooth electro-pop banger, exploring narcissism and sexuality in the internet age, is confidently allowed to strut uninterrupted with their standard genre U-turns, all delivered with a Dave Gahan croon. Things heat up with the giddy euphoria of ‘Proxy Love’, club land bounce donks its way to baroque synth-pop, a paean to self-love peppered with cheesy string stabs. ‘Mannequin’ seamlessly follows, continuing their pre-occupations with identity and the body, and feeling like a spiritual successor to Roxy Music’s ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’, before screeching to a halt with the dizzying stomp of ‘Apple of My Eye’.

The disparate cataclysm that was their first three singles have been refined and distilled into a satisfying cohesion, without compromising on their provocative blitz, and with their confident embrace of a new commercial direction, songs of masturbation and camera rolls are deceptively at home amid the Radio 1 pop climate. Jello Biafra instructed to not fight the media, but become it, and HMLTD EP looks set to mould pop in its own image, and it will look like their Jenkin van Zyl videos. Pretty good for a band yet to release an album.

EXCAVATIONS #1 Cccandy ‘Lonesome Berlin’

If you ever wanted to know what rotting, dead, pop songs sounded like, Cccandy’s Lonesome Berlin would be a good start.

A bedroom DIY synth project conceived by Stefan Sehm (drummer for Berlin punk band Bikes) in 2008, little else is known about the cryptic Cccandy. His self-described ‘morbid pop’ was well evident on his preceding Necrosis 7” and self-titled debut, but its 2010’s Lonesome Berlin, issued on the brilliant Avant! Records, which best realises his acerbic murk.

Lo-fi fog permeates through the album, with choppy drum machines and muffled synths adding to the miasma. Its skeletal minimalism avoids Martin Rev style brittleness, with every bassline and melody feeling thick and turgid. The title track, and arguably Cccandy’s signature song, encapsulates the subterranean dank beautifully. Spooky pitch bends haunt the monotonous arpeggios, all held together by the punch of fuzzy snares.

Despite the pervading dread, he doesn’t let electro-sludge get in the way of a good tune. Each track belies its smoggy shroud with a keen ear for catchy pop sensibilities, albeit a skewed and warped one. The fizzy synthpop of ‘Woman’, or the muffled disco of ‘Teacher of Lust’, adds a smart dimension to the LP which stops the doom becoming dirge. He even gets anthemic on the re-recording of ‘I’m a Punk’, first heard on his 2009 debut.

‘Acid squid, bottomless pit…’ Beefheart surrealism doesn’t dilute the visceral potency, acrid snapshots of violence, paranoia, blood and alienation, this is a worm’s eye view of Berlin. A cool view of humanity made all the more disconcerting by his monotone, sexless, distorted vocals, at times unintelligible within the mire. A gallows sense of humour runs throughout. ‘Bourgeoisie, no thank you’ he pleads in ‘Bourgeoisie Nie’ feeling like an attack on the slow death creep of gentrification, and the final mantra of ‘I need blood and guts’ on ‘Blood and Guts’ perhaps pokes fun at his more earnest post-punk contemporaries, much like Aphex Twin’s mockery of death metal on ‘Come To Daddy’.

Cccandy remains active on Soundcloud, sporadically releasing tracks and various other projects, but never followed up with another significant LP. Lonesome Berlin still stands as a caustic synth-punk masterpiece, and festers in the seamy underbelly of Berlin, waiting to be excavated.