Los Angeles

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.