8 min read

New Sickest Jams: Notes on Shrapknel, Ojo Por Ojo, teen suicide, Al-Quasar, and So Much More

New Sickest Jams: Notes on Shrapknel, Ojo Por Ojo, teen suicide, Al-Quasar, and So Much More

So, the first issue of Creem Magazine is out, and I’m proud as a peacock, baby, while–of course–I’m simultaneously looking at the almost overflowing glass like it’s my natural born enemy.  The problem is, of course, that neither of my parents lived long enough to see me accomplish anything beyond being a handsome charmer with an extremely hot fiancé. But the inheritance my mom left me is largely going to, besides Bandcamp and cat food, paying a grief therapist to tell me that my parents would be stoked, and that–on some energetic/psychic level–they’re proud and, given how many of their friend are dead as well, undoubtedly forwarding subscription links to every boho-beat-lib in Heaven/Purgatory/Hell, from Mort Sahl on down. So I take some solace in the thought of all those late leavers of the communist party and unbaptized babies reading my eight page essay about the deleterious influence of Mac DeMarco and enjoying their afterlife that much more.

In the meantime, even amidst all the *extreme Danzig voice* pain in the world, the demands of The Newsletter remain. And bands, as though there are movies where I am not the main character, keep putting out albums. Albums that need my opinions before they can fully live. So, you know, let no earthly sorrow keep us from our appointed roundups.

Heavy on hyperbole and light on lucidity (because I’m an enthusiast and hardly anyone is paying for these), it’s…NEW MUSIC (that I love) FOR AUGUST/SEPTEMBER

Shrapknel Metal Lung (Backwoodz Studioz)


In the Backwoodz cosmology, if Elucid is the Beatles and billy woods is the Stones; Shrapnel is the Pharcyde. OK, not my best analogy ever…but the point is; the Philly/NYC duo makes music that’s so pleasurable to listen to that you almost don’t trust that it might be great. But don’t let the fact that you’re having a good time fool you, you’re still getting the experiential terrors and big brain slap-fight you pay good money for woods’ coterie to provide. (and yes, I know, all those other fellas are very pleasurable to listen to. But, like, they’re bracing and meditative pleasures are more Eno solo, while Shrapknel’s jaunty bops are more Roxy Music.) (OK. Still not there. I’m not an analogy doctor, OK? I’m just trying to get a newsletter out.)

Geniuses in their own right, Curly Castro and PremRock are rappity-rap, pop culture hoarders. Even by hip hop’s Dewey Decillmatic standards, the references–from Lewis Carroll to grunge casualties to Cab Calloway to the Smiths to a requisite Scarface quote to a bunch of sports stuff I assume is both clever and astute–come fast and furious and furiouser. Hopefully the always dee-liteful producer Steel Tipped Dove keeps his vinyls in a separate compound, because when Shrapknel dies, their bodies will have to be dug out of the pages from D&D Fiend Folios, Amari Baraka’s collected Downbeat columns, Jim Jarmusch DVDs, and the ceiling-high pile of back issues of Leg Show that crushed them.

None of this is to say that either Castro or PremRock (or any of Metal Lung’s guests: Ethel Cee, Fakts One, Rob Sonic) rely solely on references. They are not, as they never have been in their respective solo projects, Family Guy hacks; they fill their songs with complete, if staggered, thoughts. They obsessively muse on the nature and minutiae of being city cats, on the serial indignities of getting through the day. And they make it fun, like the parts of school you actually remember.

And, as always, Willie Green mixed and mastered the whole shabang. At this point, dude’s discog is on par with Mozart’s.

Ojo Por Ojo Leprosario (Cintas Pepe)


This review ran online in Creem, but I don’t think they’ll mind if I reprint it here as I’m not gonna ask the Cintas Pepe PR team to subscribe just yet…BUT YOU SHOULD.

The Mexico City-based punk rock label, Cintas Pepe, started strong in 2010 by releasing a trebly bumout masterpiece called Brutales Matanzas. The compilation of end-time punk bands from Mexico and Peru was scabrous and wild enough to give the Nuke York scene of the time a run for its money, and cacophenous enough to inspire the remnants of the “mysterious guy” hardcore scene to give up their day jobs (of being mysterious) and go shoegaze. Since then, Cintas Pepe has put out almost exactly one album of equally dismaying scuzz a year, and each album is invariably one of the best punk albums of that year. Last year it was Peru’s Morbo. This year it’s the return—the first peep since their 2019 (Steve Albini recorded/mixed) Peroxismo EP—of Ojo Por Ojo; the band of existential bullies and gloom munitionists led by Cintas Pepe’s co-founder himself, Yecatl Peña. As violent and burly as Ojo Por Ojo’s music was before, Leprosario shows the band sweating out so much ugliness that what’s left is almost good looking; like your crust punk friend who does some modeling on the side, but only to buy ketamine for him and his dog. And if you’re ever tempted to try to tell your friend that he’s too pretty to die so young, you figure, fuck it, you’ll just save the nice words for his eulogy. Some people just aren’t made for the world. Sure, you’ll miss him, but the sooner he checks out, the sooner you can get the puppy to a vet. Leprosario sounds like day three of your friend’s wake.

If the reader will forgive some (100 percent accurate) hyperbole; between new records by Morrow, Rigorous Institution, and now Ojo Por Ojo, we are fully in the midst of a new crust punk golden age. No gods or masters, so you can do what you want but, for myself, I’m never bathing again. I’m going to grow a single dreadlock. I’m getting earspools the size of tea cup saucers. I’m going out right now and adopting a ferret. I’m going to name him “Robert Squattinson.”

teen suicide honeybee table at the butterfly feast (Run For Cover)


I don’t know if I’m “friends” with Sam Ray per se. We’re friendly. I’m very fond of him, as much as I can be of someone I’ve met irl less than a handful of times. He sends me novella length texts, like we’re dating in our twenties and I’m out past 4AM, but the texts are usually about Cop Shoot Cop, some new horrific punch he’s rolling with, or a new song he wrote that’s the best thing he’s ever done. I’m pretty confident that, if I needed it, he’d probably lend me upwards to $100. So, we’re friends, I think. But not in the way that Twitter Experts On Masculinity would rate.

And Sam doesn’t make the kind of music I generally enjoy. I can’t say I much listen to any of his peers/artists he’s grouped in with (Alex G, Mitski, Sorority Noise, a bunch of others whose names I can never remember, Porches? Maybe? etc.). I do consider him one of the best lyricists going–with a plainspoken poetry to his lyrics that is half Mark Eitzel and half Grant Hart/Bob Mould–but he does tend to mask his vocals in ways that aren’t usually my taste and his songwriting utilizes a lot of the delicate psych murmuring that, while respecting the textural care put in by its more talented purveyors, I find just fine from Ty Segal and insufferable from Ariel Pink.

But the fact remains that, whether it’s because I like him personally or just see a spark/charisma/”it factor” that I don’t see in others, I’m a teen sucide fan. And when teen suicide gets a middling review from Pitchfork, I find myself feeling a visceral anger that I don’t often feel when better friends get worse reviews. And I think that that’s because on some level I feel like P4K should love everything Sam Ray does, and the only reason they, as an institution, doesn’t is because Ray has been such an unremitting jerkwad to their writers, and music criticism at large, for so long. As a serial bridge burner, this feels very unjust to me. I mean, it’s not like Sam sends his legions of stans to the online doorstep of critics, he just accuses us of being hacks and monsters. Well, not me. That would be crazy. But critics who are similar to me. And, despite my profound capacity for empathy, you don’t see me blackballing the dude.

Anyway, honeybee table at the butterfly feast is, once again, my favorite teen suicide album, and, once again, the only album of its type that I fully dig. The songwriting is as sharp as anything the band/man has done. Ray’s vocals are the cleanest they’ve ever been, making clear the fall foliage desolation/beauty of the words. When he does obscure, it’s in the “hide the pain under shambolic hardcore” vein of Grifters’ One Sock Missing or Lync. And while there’s no shortage of psych digressions on the album, they all seem well considered, with every note on the record in the service of communicating a life that’s like a high mileage junker, with a radio stuck between stations, that will get its lover home and/or die trying.

Al-Quasar Who Are We? (Glitterbeat)


I promised myself that I’d stop writing at 5AM (I have to be at Creem offices by noon, like a coal miner), so I’ll be brief. Al-Quasar is an international hard psych supergroup–with guests ranging from Lee Renaldo to Abundant Living favorite Alsarah to teenage Zack favorite Jello Biafra–which plays a hypno-groove rock derived from a fuck ton of Middle Eastern slash European slash American indie and folk traditions. Applying the tuff agit-jazz tones of the Cairo underground (and other, largely North African, hep scenes) to the funky drummer propulsion exemplified by bands like lablemates Noura Mint Seymali, Al-Quasar have made a thoroughly boombastic, politically potent and soaring-ly chooglerific rawk album. If you don’t purchase it, yr gonna be one of those people Jello Biafra writes spoken word albums about.

Ok I need to go to bed. You should buy Absent Riddim, the new album by The Bug as well. It’s got Moor Mother, Fatboi Sharif, Mark Stewart, Nosh from New Kingdom, and Dälek on it. I could write a book about its charms, but with that lineup I shouldn’t have to.
Thanks for reading! Please share and subscribe. Subscribe to Creem too. Subscribe to one of them for God’s sake. Otherwise I’m going to end up tending bar well into my sixties and I don’t know that my feet will be able to take it and, frankly, I don’t want to have that conversation with the ghosts of my parents.