San Francisco

Juicebumps ‘Hello Pinky!’

Before the millennials came of age, nostalgia looked like film. The brief moments of colour in Scorsese’s black and white opus Raging Bull depict La Motta’s facade of cosy domesticity in intimate 16mm, the very grain of each frame in the celluloid reel prodding the wistful sentimentality of prior generations. For kids of the 90s, warm reminiscence is a rather noisy media buzz of worn VHS’s, queasy DV digital grit and crowded Geocities World Wide Web clamour. Could the video horrorshow of The Memory Hole have ever gained traction outside the distorted humour and inexplicable acerbity of the 2010s?

Irreverent and idiosyncratic penchants for the crude aesthetics of tawdry infomercials and ‘edutainment’ dross ooze all over San Francisco spank rockers Juicebumps. Audio clips of slasher turkey Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, dated internet demonstrations and the like saturate debut album Hello Pinky!, a record that feels perpetually tuning itself between differing stations. Recruiting Spencer Owings for synth duties, Juicebumps advance from the jerky garage rock of prior EP Jelly and delve deeper into their eccentric art-punk playfulness.

The sticky yolk of eggpunk secretes all over their self-described ‘spookwave’ yet avoids the genres characteristic lo-fi style in favour of a bright and confident production, each riff and beat striding with satisfying clarity. This skewed radiance is deftly exemplified on the catchy as hell ‘Hairy World’, a feverish indie number with echoes of Devo, frontman Parker Richard exploring the pungent world for a ‘hairy friend’ while jumping between frantic gusto and angular, nasal whine. Second track but first proper song ‘Wet Leather’ infuses their brash virtuosity with a steady dose of motorik beat that paces alongside offbeat keys and explosive guitar attacks and smattered with garbled audiotape effects, parading their dexterous handling of keen musicianship and avant-garde proclivities.

The expanded palette of sounds yielded by producer Spencer Hartling’s studio expertise shine on the warped synthpop of ‘c0mput3r_p30pl3’, a disorienting stew of fizzy drum machines and atonal guitar scoring the themes of societies hopeless tie to technology expertly, the line “people work, computers think” bristling with particular pertinence. Subtle rockabilly twangs on the contorted ‘Wet Boi’, while the arrangement and tempo of ‘Trash Crimes’ point to ELO at their pomp. Album closer ‘Asphalt Kiss’ is all groove, a nimble swagger of strutting bass wading through a marsh of muggy synths and preset sounding percussion, the gurgling electronics finally enveloping as you sink completely in its analogue murk.

Imbued with the best of their San Fran art-punk predecessors, Juicebumps delivers an urgent debut that takes intriguing mixtures of disparate styles and unexpected detours in composition, demanding constant attention throughout its 36 minutes. Hello Pinky! firmly places the band as one of the most exciting acts in California right now.

Horrid Red ‘Radiant Life’

Listening to anyone of Horrid Red’s releases across their decade long existence strikes you with a rarity in music: a clash of disparate styles that don’t mesh yet is to the band’s strength. This confliction of tangles and knots, of psychedelic washes, synth-pop, Neue Deutsche Welle clangour, and indie jangle scraping together with some friction is a unique and consistent trait of the Horrid Red mood.

An offshoot of the more raucous Teenage Panzerkorps, Edmund Xavier and German frontman Bunker Wolf (Glenn Donaldson and Karsten Scholl respectively) enlisted the help of Burial Hex‘s Clay Ruby and together have been creating a post-punk sound that’s rich, decadent, and deeply exotic. Their latest LP Radiant Life is another cerebral beast, 12 tracks that are both hardy yet introspective.

An electric balancing act of dreamy textures and weighty industrial heft permeates throughout the record. The urgent ‘Omitted Prophets’ is an infectious and rousing mix of acoustic strumming with twisting keys and strings that lift with its buoyant ear for pop hooks. This sense of drama arises frequently, especially on the first track ‘Brazen Altars’ with its deep piano melody and driving bass, and the delicate psych splashes on ‘Fountains of Clouds’ have a touch of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me romance.

The moments of brooding bite are just as exciting. The smouldering ‘Still Suffering’ has echoes of Nick Cave’s Tender Prey, cavernous chants and a beguiling mesh of Eastern Asian scales with bluesy twang all evoke a dusky, ethereal stir. Hazy wanders of reverb and muffled drum machines envelop and fog like Martin Dupont on the title track, exemplifying Xavier’s creative guitar technique, while the tight ‘Divine Names’ sees Wolf adopt a growling, demonic snarl in its chorus atop an otherwise sunny and upbeat pop number. It shouldn’t work, yet feels wholly necessary when listening for the first or 100th time.

The creative fire that fuels Horrid Red still burns white hot even after a decade. Radiant Life is another glorious addition to a heady body of work which manages to excavate meditative soothe within violent discord.

Kamikaze Palm Tree ‘good boy’

The psych cauldron currently bubbling away in the West Coast with acts like Goon and Spellling has belched forth another offering. Enter good boy, the second album of noise outfit Kamikaze Palm Tree, a sophomore effort which plays out like a jumbled ‘n’ jangled old jack-in-a-box, skewed pop and upside-down melodies turn the crank before the occasional jolt of frenzied drone rock and Avant-weird experiments.

Duo Dylan Hadley and Cole Berliner know how to fuse disparate, seemingly mutually exclusive arrangements and styles into a disjointed yet fascinating mess. The mangled ‘Sharpie Smile’ is a crooked house of cartoonish glockenspiels fighting with laser synths, punk thrash and eerie serenity congealed into a disquieting frenzy. No Wave incongruity scrapes and thuds on ‘Wants More’, intercut with brittle guitar textures that lift Hadley’s commanding, Nico like vocals.

Like The Velvet Underground, a sweet song is never far from the dissonance. The title track ‘Good Boy’ shows the bands penchant for sunny psych-meanders, a seemingly innocent and child-like meander of gentle acoustic strums and toybox percussion, before the twee deteriorates into an unsettling slew of atonal guitar, like flies caught in it’s cloying. Their psych inclinations and affection for unorthodox arrangements creep on the hazy dream of ‘You Talk’, surf guitar and Radiophonic Workshop effects mix to a languid fog surrounding Hadley’s sluggish delivery, and reach even headier heights on the various ‘Bongo’ interludes peppered throughout (replacing the ‘Clown’ from previous record The Ocean is the Solution).

Irregular, inside-out, and thoroughly unpredictable, good boy is an intriguing contortionist of a record, bending into impossible shapes and twisting itself into strange and brilliant forms.

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.