Los Angeles

Goon ‘Heaven is Humming’

Is that a wry smirk on the goblin? Or a grimace to be met with caution? Sporting the Poway City area code and a halo, Goon frontman and sleeve artist Kenny Becker presents us with an impressionist being that perfectly captures the hazy, textured indie-rock contained within.

Three years in the making, Goons debut LP Heaven is Humming has had a tumultuous gestation, Becker embracing an engagement while battling a chronic sinus condition which dulls the senses. The sparks which fly off the antagonism between light and dark were present on prior EPs Dusk of Punk and Happy Omen, but as art imitates life (or the other way round), the tension that bristles underneath has been afforded a wider palette of moods and styles.

Who would have thought shoegaze slack and big monster riffs could get along so well? Goon know how to make an exquisite racket, dreamy vocals strut alongside Drew Eccleston’s hard rock crunch on the thrilling ‘Northern Saturn’, interjected with sunny jangle guitar. Punk energy burns on banger ‘Datura’, Source Tags & Codes style heavy with Pixies vocals explodes into a thrasher so exciting you nearly quit your job to form a band. Lethargy rears its head when it needs to, never deteriorating to a bland drone which can befall their slacker contemporaries, most notably on opener ‘F Jam’, a gloriously sludgy wade through crashing drums and wailing, pained vocals.

The album shines in it’s moments of pause. The beautiful introspection of ‘Snoqualmie’ (named after the City much of Twin Peaks was shot) appears like a mirage, expert acoustic fingerpicking with all its intimate blemishes and string scratches soar with aching strings and subtle surreal sonics. Things end with an anthemic air on closer ‘CCLL’, a stirring and nostalgic plume haunts the finale with gorgeous synths and tripped-out psychedelia, before drifting away like the waning of an LSD trip.

We needn’t fear the goblin of Poway. In just 11 tracks, Goon has delivered an exceptional debut record of electrifying melodic, shoegaze soaked with sun and the occasional menace. Heaven is Humming has the power to trigger memories you forgot you had, and illicit emotions long suppressed.

Elizium ‘ELIZIUM’

Subtly operating off the L.A. radar is lo-fi post-punk outfit Elizium, consisting of rather obliquely named duo WL and SM. With little social media presence and scant information of the band, Elizium quietly slipped their self-titled demo EP to little fanfare, although one could mistake its demo production with characteristic tape hiss. The quiet release of ELIZIUM and the semi-anonymous nature of the band belie just how fantastic the EP is.

The urgent snap of steady snares and grooving bass swirl against WL’s muffled vocals and synth lines on opener ‘Monotonie’, the motorik drive given greater acceleration with tight punk riffing. ‘Reflection’ is a wistful and slightly sombre wander through foggy keyboards and damp drum machines held together by rich synth-strings before the cavernous crunch of ‘Promises’ takes the EP into more menacing electro territory. EP closer ‘EZ’ ends on a note of dreamy shoegaze punctuated with the industrial chug of abrasive percussion, the whispers that percolate within vying for attention.

WL and SM have hinted at an intriguing and infectious future of psychedelic punk with ‘ELIZIUM’, a promise of an exciting path ahead of tripped-out grooves which bites as well as soars.

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.

VR SEX ‘HORSEPLAY’

The long march of progress hasn’t yielded the fruits we were promised. At the dawn of automated labour, the digital revolution, and the universe of information at our disposal, you’re still a wage slave working overtime with a tie round your neck like a noose, in a world mired with environmental degradation, political demagoguery, and the creeping commodification of the last remaining remnants of the human experience. As the rapacious demands of the free-market trash the planet and swallow you whole, you search desperately for an answer, then in comes a strange new theory: P.S.R.S. (Procreation Simulation Reproduction Stimulation). Be done with facing the failures of humanity and your subjection to it, plug in to a world of virtual reality hedonism, satisfy your perversions and desires, and inadvertently participate in the curbing of population growth. It might just work.

The preachers of this reverse Ludovico Technique are VR SEX, an L.A synthpunk trio comprising former members of Drab Majesty and Heroin, all clad in Westworld/Personal Jesus cowboy and shades leather. Born from a consensus of mass consumerism and slavish devotion to technology comes their debut EP HORSEPLAY, four tracks of melodic power-pop which shines from the heart underneath abrasive deathrock.

Paranoia and impending doom is declared on EP opener ‘LANDMINE’, crisp punchy drums beat down like the doomsday clock, indie jangly guitar permeate with discordant fat synth lines, singer Noel Skum crooning menacingly like Andrew Eldritch. ‘EVERYTHING’S FINE’ features a sublime and almost sunny pop hook beneath its noxious veneer, throbbing synth basses straight from New Order’s Technique, before pivoting to the artificial rock of ‘A SHOT AT LOVE’, complete with a howling synthesizer solo, Pere Ubu fighting with Pixies. Fetid turns to funky with closer ‘The Watchers’, teasing the dark with analogue synth-pop light, programmed drum fills binding Skum’s cop radio ridden vocals.

Technocratic nightmares and social media erosion of the physical has been channeled into a punchy, cyberpunk gem of an EP, honoring their industrial heritage while not falling for the genres clichés. With a full length LP out in May, VR SEX look set to be the contemporary soundtrack to our neoliberal miasma.

Girl Pusher ‘911’

Blood, sweat, and clown grease paint frequently mulch Gabby Giuliano’s grimacing face towards the end of their punishing sets. Offering violence as catharsis, Girl Pusher provides sanctuary from a world growing uglier day by day, holding the agents of misogyny and prejudice to bloody account amid split lips, static screams, and digital venom.

Hollywood cyber punk duo continue their electronic cacophony via DEFACE records with 911, six corrosive tracks of fuzzing assaults that disorientate as much as excite. Opener ‘Where the Fuck is My Ambulance’ creeps in with 911 sirens over audio from the ‘Marcy tapes’ (previously sampled by My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and The Orb) detailing a runaway hippie’s want for platonic love, before burbling guttural synths and pummeling beats leave you picking your teeth from the floor. A lyrical diatribe of ‘long snakes in tall grass’, less written and more spewed up like bile, raw and abrasive condemnations of indignity at the hands of male entitlement. ‘Reformed Hellraiser’ is a haunting trip into masochism, Jarrod Hine’s drums spasm and stutter against Giuliano’s glitched, whispered confessions of self-perpetuating pain. Pulsing bass synths throb aggressively on ‘Red Was the Color of the Candle’ an acidic paean to utilising one’s burning anger for empowerment, ‘Gentle Marcy’ returning halfway through creating a vulnerable interplay with the intimidating rage. Things speed up on ‘Runaway’, an EBM punk thrasher showcasing Hine’s drumming prowess, before the abrasive ‘Did U Think of Me Last Night’ oozes in with analogue toxicity, a visceral slop of dissonant percussion and bowel churning aural hellscapes. You can scarcely believe that only ten minutes have passed by when finale ‘Out of Breath’ hits you, a fizzing, boiling, stream of consciousness attacking the ‘fucking creatures’ that prey on insecurities, Giuliano ending with the sentiment ‘You deserve starvation, overdose, and best of all, DEATH!!!’

We’re all wounded and scarred by a hostile society, seemingly set to implode before it affords us a modicum of compassion or acceptance. In a messy, divided world, Girl Pusher have created an EP which has exorcised the trauma of Trump’s America, reaches a hand out and offers solidarity, validating your anger and confusion. 911 is a visceral, primal confrontation of a sick society, brutal yet liberating.