2019

SUCK ‘Frog’

Germany has witnessed a renaissance in garage rock over the last few years, the proto-punk sounds of Nervous Eaters and The Dictators well and truly alive amid the roster of bands under the wings of labels like Alien Snatch! and La Pochette Surprise.

Shoving Hamburg and Berlin out the way for the title of most thriving punk scene is Kassel, home to lo-fi psych-rockers Sick Teeth. With members of scuzzy contemporaries Catch as Catch Can and Counts on Crack teaming up with comic zine artist Isabell Rutz, ‘Casselfornia’ has a new and fuzzy mutant lurking in it’s Fulda waters…

SUCK’s debut EP Frog is 6 jabs of superb, synth-laden garage-punk, and hits ‘ya instantaneously like an intracardiac injection with opener ‘Gimme Your Number, an insanely catchy blast of beat-up keyboards and call and response shrieks which rubs shoulders with the best of the class of ’77. Filthy psych works its way into ‘Bulletproof’, frantic guitar chops corroded with nasty analogue keys clogging the thrash with Moogy murk. Double denim hard-rock changes pace on the Sabbath inspired ‘Mama’s Got a Backpatch’, riffs veering between nice and doomy and urgent punk crackle, all held together with Rutz’s commanding vocals, before final track ‘SUK’ ends the EP on a note of pure hot-rod acceleration.

SUCK may well be the most exciting thing in Germany right now, and with Frog, have delivered 16 minutes of exemplary punk rock, full of hooks, spit, and swagger.

SANS ‘Misophonic Songs’

Misophonia literally means ‘hatred of sound’, the phenomena whereby specific sounds can trigger negative physical and emotional reactions. The cover of last years single Limbo features what looks like a tormented call centre worker driven to the edge, just one more crushing and useless phone call away from a profound spiritual chaos. Misophonic Songs, like Fear of Music, is an apt signal of the unease contained within…

SANS are a post-punk trio steadily making a name for themselves with their energised and cacophonous live shows in Bristol. Stirring a noxious brew of ‘Naomi Punk’ like time signatures, gargantuan metal wrath and throat shredding screams, the intensity of their sets has been exorcised all too well for their debut album.

Shellac riffing opens the record on ‘Meaningless’, a noise-rock pendulum veering with awesome force between seething punk venom and nimble indie introspection. The cosmic savagery of Swans dominates the eerie ‘Wipe Dread’, crashing, rolling drums pummel your soul amid a cold, static wind, before deteriorating into a febrile ruin of whispers.

(What sound like) double drum pedals are most welcome on the furious ‘OK’, a touch of Sepultura’s ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ explode into a twisted and disorientating whirl of volatility. The thickest, nastiest, bass you’ve ever heard churn and scrape on the sinister chug of ‘It’s Your Party Priscilla…I’m Just Dancing on the Tables’, their more psychedelic inclinations fighting against the ravaged guitar scratching wail that closes the track.

At just 28 mins, SANS impressively take the weighty cohesion of a Swans record and distill it into a taut and punchy mini-album, both epic yet burning with white hot urgency.

Lynks Afrikka ‘Str8 Acting’

So why should anyone be ‘straight acting’? Scroll through Grindr and every third profile will be seeking ‘Masc4Masc’, as if repressed anger and cargo shorts are appealing to anybody.

The simultaneous message of embracing ones queerness yet fetishising heteronormativity is a contradiction mused by Bristol’s Elliot Brett, producer and ‘father’ of electro-punk/drag/grenade Lynks Afrikka. Armed with a healthy dose of disregard for genre or even format (their first release being a ‘fragrance for the mind’), The Church of Lynks Afrikka has been converting with their outrageous and provocative live shows, a subversive force even within the queer community.

Moving away from the downbeat industrial pop of last years ‘Don’t Take It Personal’ second single ‘Str8 Acting’ is an off-kilter, Patrick Cowley NRG, club donk banger, nightmarish yet fun all at once. Big fat synths bounce and boing like an MDMA come-up, the potent stench of sweat and Joop! hangs in the air while the chatter of drunk students outside the Lizard Lounge thrusts you into the dankest and perhaps most boring corners of perfunctory Bristol night-life.

Drawing from the influences of the LGBTQ+ scene while being mischievous and daring enough to poke fun at it’s foibles, Str8 Acting is another gleeful tearing down of the stagnant homogeneity that dominates club culture. All hail Lynks Afrikka!!!

POW! ‘Shift’

Neu! Snap! Wah! Monosyllabic onomatopoeia with exclamation punches are telling statements of intent. POW!, named after an L.A. festival called Party Out West where band members Byron Blum and Melissa Blue met, is confidently adorned across the cover of their fourth album Shift, making quite clear that this is a record about impact and hittin’ ya. Hard.

Fleeing the death rattle of gentrified San-Fran, but taking its art punk heritage of The Screamers, The Units, and Chrome with them, POW! decamped to the fringes of L.A. to soak up the grit and broken glass that was arguably missing from 2017’s Crack an Egg. With their fangs sharper and beat-up synths ever more fizzier, POW! bring a heady brew of punk rock, avant-garde spit and the occasional LSD soaked freak out.

When POW! wanna swagger, they swagger with the best of ’em. Second track ‘Disobey’ is a static ridden garage rock banger, Blue’s oscillations tangle with Blum’s corrosive guitar, yet still tightly held together with a god given hook. The snarl of Helios Creed bears a grin on the discordant ‘Machine Animal’, Blum’s growling vocals penetrated with alien vocoders and Cameron Allen’s motorik percussion. Thick slabs of atonal analogues and electronic trash exhale and gurgle on mood pieces ‘Peter’ and ‘No World’, downbeat wanders through the wrong end of POW! town.

Shift isn’t a mere dystopic exercise however. Chant along glam-disco rises from the septic murk on ‘Free the Floor’, an irresistibly catchy number with a big, fat groove and perfectly placed hand-claps. Echoes of ‘London Calling’ haunt the fervid ‘Metal & Glue’, a straight up rock and roll tune and thrilling demonstration of Blum’s solo skills.

Fizzing, throbbing, buoyant, and electric. Shift is a glam-infused garage rock gem, left to corrode and mutate in nuclear radiation, a glorious punk assault slicked with electronic toxicity.

The Pinheads ‘Is This Real’

Rock & Roll’s in crisis apparently, not that you’d know it when surviving any one of The Pinheads’s legendary sets. Wollongong garage-rock wildfire is sprayed onto the audience like a flamethrower with front man Jez Player bouncing off every wall in a sweaty mania, all that’s missing is the peanut butter à la Iggy, but there’s still time.

Having stormed Europe and set SXSW alight since their 2017 eponymous debut, The Pinnies have teamed up with Bristol’s Stolen Body Records for their second effort Is This Real, a further dose of acid fried surf punk with Rat Fink hot-rod acceleration intercut with sunny splashes of desert psychedelia.

The expanded palletes of sound is evident on opener ‘Pure Hate’, an 8 minute living, breathing monster which builds from Roky Erickson riffing to anthemic power rock, a confident and bold distinction from previous LP’s opening thrasher ‘Second Coming’. The druggy and dreamy ‘Innocent Crime’ belies it’s bitter core, a plea of solidarity among the fringe and socially excluded, whereas the title track is an unabashedly wistful sing-a-long, deftly demonstrating Player’s vocal strength. The daze of album closer ‘Outro’ (curiously called ‘Spread Your Love’ on their Spotify) is a twisted and strung-out trip, under the influence of Dinosaur Jr.’s ‘Poledo’, with muffled whining guitars that drift off like the waning effects of a hallucinogenic.

Don’t think for a moment that the band have lost their nitro Raw Power however. Face melting punk rock explodes in your face on ‘Satisfied’, a wild mania leaps out of your speakers like an animal, chews your face off for 3 minutes before you hit repeat for another savage. ‘No Time’ is a Nuggets stomper with tight grooving bass and screeching solos, with simmering anxiety regarding the ever polarising world tapped into on the biting ‘Not Like You’.

The Pinheads wildfire burns with the same intensity as their debut, but has the aplomb to dare punctuate the rock and roll flame with moments of introspective respite. Is This Real is a bold and electrifying confirmation of their reputation as one of down under’s greatest new acts.

Harrga ‘Héroïques Animaux de la Misère’

Europe’s most fortified border lies in North Africa. Separating the contested autonomous city Melilla from Morocco, the Spanish imposed border fence, with it’s motion sensors and watchtowers, has, along with the Calais Jungle, come to symbolise the human catastrophe and moral failure that is the migration crisis. When the fair comes to town every September, unaccompanied minors try to stow away in the disassembled attractions, hoping to escape in the cover of night. They call it ‘making risky’.

Harrga (meaning ‘a burn’ in the Darija tongue) comprises of Bristol sound artists Miguel Prado and Dali De Saint Paul from Nzʉmbe and EP/64 respectively. Initially conceived as a project free of any particular political agenda, the drama unfolding across the Mediterranean grew too great to ignore, and the need to pay tribute to ‘those who burn the borders’ and face hostility from the west which build walls and turn backs.

Héroïques Animaux de la Misère, the third release from cryptic sonic provocateurs Avon Terror Corps, takes a meditative yet visceral approach to the refugee plight with uncompromising soundscapes and collages, hearkening to the experimental roots of British industrial like Nurse With Wound or Throbbing Gristle. The cacophonous wail of human desperation that opens the album on ‘Melilla’ seizes your jugular, declaring it’s moral and political position with the forced witness of the claustrophobic horror of border repression. The volatility bleeds into second track ‘Artaud’, drums of war and metallic shards of dissonance scrape and grate against De Saint Paul’s vocal bile, reaching Anneliese Michel levels of inhuman seethe.

Sonic violence is interrupted with moments of eerie harmony. ‘Phone Recording’ is an impressive showcase of De Saint Paul’s commanding and powerful vocals, with Prado’s hypnotic keys giving an air of incantation, whereas ‘War’ briefly detours into the more cavernous and murky end of Autechre, merciless beats drill with pounding ferocity.

In a world growing coarser and pitiless, Harrga tell us with furious compassion that human life, liberty, and opportunity does indeed have value, and must be fought for. Héroïques Animaux de la Misère is a searing and defiant statement of solidarity and utmost humanity.

ShitKid ‘[DETENTION]’

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the sleeve for [DETENTION] was some poster for a new St. Trinian’s movie, but perhaps that’s the point? Chewing gum, all in school uniform, with guitarist Arvid Sjöö sporting a Rick Nielsen cap, this is a cover which wears it’s love for pop-punk, emo, and flipping off your teacher on it’s sleeve.

ShitKid, being the alias of Swedish musician Åsa Söderqvist, has shifted from her lo-fi eccentrism as heard on 2017 debut Fish, and with the help of partner in crime Lina Ericsson, has delivered a scuzzy sophomore rock record of teen angst, endless summers, school crushes and alienation. Revisiting the bands of her youth like Sum 41 and Green Day, Söderqvist has set out to make an album strictly for ‘the kids’, and what do parents know anyway?!

Opener and title track oozes bratty, snotty irreverence, lighting trash cans and slipping laxatives into your teachers drink without a trace of ‘fucks given’, thick bass thuds with the classroom clock drudgery, before a ‘no regrets’ garage rock blast that seizes your inner delinquent. The grunge punch of ‘SuMmEr BrEaK’ vibrates with effortless cool, a paean to teen infatuation which burns for two and a half glorious minutes, with a chorus so insanely hooky your arm reaches for the repeat button like a sudden bout of alien hand syndrome.

Söderqvist’s affection for Weezer style power pop shines on ‘summer ’18’, 90s alt-rock riffs hit hard joyously, while an expert interplay between slacker indie and hardcore grapple together on ‘Grown-ups are KIDS’. Album finale ‘Lost in a Dreamworld’ is the cumulative and definitive statement on wasted youth, a rousing anthem for every future artist, thinker and musician who was too busy dreaming to care for the football they just missed, or the test paper vying for your attention with all its utter insignificance. Stirring production allows the song to grow and build, before drifting off with an electrifying solo and Siamese Dream majesty.

ShitKid’s immersion in their own nostalgia has yielded songs which celebrate and commiserate the universal experience of adolescence. [DETENTION] is an enthused and fiery kick of a record, which reignites the youthful rebel which society tries to extinguish.

Grace Ives ‘2nd’

Grace Ives sat cross-legged, hunched over her Roland MC-505 with mic in hand, as featured in many of her promotional pics, is exactly the recording process one imagines when listening to 2nd. Bedroom beats, diary confessionals, everyday musings, Ives’s second release is a breezy, lo-fi hang-out where songs could just as easily stem from the toys and trinkets which adorn her apartment, as detailed on the cover.

A 12 track album clocking in at 22 minutes, 2nd is an exercise in pared down pop, each vignette effortlessly entertained before darting off feverishly, a collection of sketches much like The Residents’s Commercial Album. Despite it’s fleeting length, there’s a rich spectrum of flavours and guises which showcase Ives’s many dimensions, but never at the compromise of her laconic punch.

Crisp, sparkling pop fizzes on ‘Wow’, a buoyant contrary to the themes of neglecting oneself for the love of another, while Ive’s mission to make you dance is realised on ‘Icing on the Cake’, the satisfying snap of the hi-hat grooves along with programmed bass, culminating in a glorious arrangement of R&B vocals. Wistful energy propels ‘Anything’, cavernous voices wail around skitterish beats, before seguing in to the disconcerting ‘Something in the Water’, cartoon drums and brittle keys soundtrack the frantic splashing of ‘something red and yellow getting in your mouth’. Things take a slightly dreamier turn on ‘Butterfly’, a song of transcendence coloured with lazer synths and exquisite demonstrations of Ives’s singing ability, electronic flickers and flutters taking the lyric ”I’m just a sucker for love” off into the ether.

Everything about me is very laid back, my music is just supposed to be fun, danceable.” Avoiding the apathy which can sometimes plague her contemporaries, Grace Ives has contributed a bright and effervescent take on the lo-fi scene, grappling universal themes of love, regret, and anxiety with an infectious, vivacious, enthusiasm.

E B U ‘Hinge’

To see E B U live is to step into a universe of synthetic simulacrum, where the sensory tactility of the human experience is broken down and reinterpreted with lights and liquid electronics, fronted by the mechanic theatrics of the clockwork lover from Fellini’s Casanova. All the computer wants is to know what goosebumps feel like….

E B U, the moniker of Bristol’s Ella Paine, has fast become a key artist in the city’s vibrant music roster, offering an utterly distinct and striking voice in the crowded electronic scene. Describing her sound as ‘swamp pop’, E B U’s debut album Hinge is an invitation to spend a moment in an ersatz womb, Paul Lansky sonics float like follicles past garbled chatter, a thrilling exploration of the machinations of imagination.

Lead single ‘Falling’ is a tale of infatuation turned inside out. Paine’s vocals warp and squeal like Karin Dreijer mixed with the signal intrusion of the Max Headroom incident, dripping synths rippling in the analogue soup while a skewed pop sensibility wriggles to the surface. Echoes of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ imbue ‘Light Show’, a delicate sparsity enveloping the playful voices warning of lights and their puckish mischievousness, before ending with Kid A aural ascendancy.

The buoyant, digital beauty of ‘By & By’ foams and fizzes with Fairlight CMI sounding waltz amid reverberating string plucks and rumbles, while subtle menace rears its head on interludes ‘Arcade’ and ‘Plague’, brief moments of discord for your corrupted data/memory. Album closer ‘Holy Guardian’ reaches ecclesiastical heights, organs swirl against glitchy palpitations and vocoder flutters against the awe of E B U’s uncanny alter.

Hinge is a fascinating and utterly original contribution to electronic music, made with keyboards and software yet as natural as electricity, a masterful work of soothing disquiet.

Witch Root ‘Windswept and Cursed’

Andromeda awaits the savagery of the sea creature Cetus. Chained to a rock, the waves splash at her feet and the demons maw has widened with blood thirst, if you were to see the full uncropped painting of Gustave Doré’s 1869 piece Andromeda Chained to a Rock, which adorns the cover of Windswept and Cursed.

Witch Root is a dungeon synth side-project from Manchester electronic-occultist Primitive Knot, retaining his arcane rituals and old world mysticism, but absorbing the narrative arcs of acts like Netherlands mage Old Tower. Avoiding the genres pitfalls (no PC loops to be heard here), Witch Root has presented a debut LP that feels unearthed, an organic soundtrack to the days of plague, runes, and the Danse Macarbe.

The primal, natural awe of a thunderstorm haunts the title track on album opener, cryptic drums and whispery mellotrons take refuge from the open heavens, building to a gripping melodic mood piece. Analogue synths pulse and swell against the cawing of crows on ‘Gallows Kiss’, doomy keys droning unforgivably. The weathered mellotron returns amid the crackle of campfire on ‘Cruel Whip and Tender Heart’d’, expert lo-fi production brings an ‘aged’ quality to the track, like a conceptual interlude off a black metal album. ‘Hillfort Ghosts’ is all muffle and murk, tapering off at the end with the pure haunt of febrile wind and electronic throbs. The door is pulled of its hinges, the gale merciless in its ferocity on ‘Bedded and Beheaded’, the steady pound of the executioner beats alone amid the storm, before beating with urgency on the jubilant ‘May Day’, an elation that lifts you from the preceding dread and ending with the simple delight of a running stream.

Was the condemned granted a last reprieve, or did he lose his head and reach nirvana? Such is the evocative power and narrative skill of this album, you find yourself asking questions to whatever concocted legend conceived in your head. Windswept and Cursed is an honest and sincere conjuring of the sodden ghosts and relics which haunt old Europe.