13 min read

Cool For Cats: New Record Recommendations For Now Enough People (like you)

Cool For Cats: New Record Recommendations For Now Enough People (like you)

Welcome to a new Abundant Living, the newsletter that is trying its damndest to get back on a semi-regular schedule. In that vein, I’m going to try to get New Content out to you lovely people at least once a week/week and a half. Even when I’m not inspired to write 4,000 words about some band from the ‘90s or irritated enough with my friends and peers to throw (not particularly) veiled insults in the direction of their legacy music websites. Luckily, there’s always new music coming out and, weirdly, I still like a lot of it. Maybe not as well as I liked the first Pegboy album, but well enough.

Before we get started on some sick as hell album recommendations, this wouldn’t be Abundant Living if I didn’t at least touch on some niche bullshit that only the terminally online might give the remotest of hoots about.

  1. Kidneygate- The essay about some low-stakes-disguised-as-high hoo-haw that gave permission to us all to double/triple the length of our newsletters about pretty jerks with a bit of talent. My Happy Mondays essay retroactively appreciates it. My only take on the essay’s substance is that it’s a hell of a thing to be inspired to write by Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and still think that the writer’s main (or even top 10) prerogative is “community.” On the other hand... if black metal has taught us anything, it’s that there’s few types less sympathetic than an artist who makes a big deal of “it’s the artist’s prerogative to be an asshole” who is then upset when everyone agrees that they’re an asshole. And if the Boston Book Festival won’t have you, there’s always Psycho Las Vegas.
  2. Jane Doegate- I always side-eyed this album cover. At least UNSANE’s snuff film ideation was genderly diverse. Jane Doe is a watershed metalcore album (for good or ill) and the playing on it is truly astounding, but it’s lyrics and aesthetic were always silly. Maybe metalcore just ain’t a great medium for breakup albums. Regardless, the album in question is “whore” this, “whore” that. Maybe dude should have “whorked” out some photo credits. (winking emoji)

Fun’s over/just beginning! Let’s talk about some new/newish albums!

Moon Juice Fuck Synchronization (self released) Regular readers of this newsletter are aware that, when it comes to music more complex than, say, blackened crust, I'm not exactly a genius. Too many notes and chords makes my glasses fog up. When it comes to jazz, I carry a smoke bomb made entirely of Alice Coltrane factoids to throw at my enemies when cornered. When it comes to avant-garde (or "New") music, I skim just enough of Marc Masters' bandcamp collection to get beyond the Hudson, NY city limits with my ego intact. And when it comes to ambient, I've found the best defense is a good offense (which is why it's such a stroke of luck that ambient music is an even dumber genre than hardcore). It's not like I'm proud of being a slack-jawed goomba but, seeing as I was left on my parents' doorsteps swaddled in nothing but a Crimpshrine hoodie, I can hardly be blamed for not understanding the finer points of every John Fahey b-side (and, yeah, I know he's supposed to be "primitive" or whatever, so maybe he's a bad punchline choice for "complexity."  But he's sure as shit not playing "Easy Livin" either).

I say all that, not to brag, but only to point out that I shouldn't necessarily love an album that "travels from kraut grooves through minimalistic textures to free jazz harpsichord with guest appearances of Nadah El Shazly, Alan Bishop, Aya Hemeda and Omnia Hemeda" as much as I do.

Or maybe I should! I do love to zig against the zag. And Moon Juice is a new project by free jazz felines, Johan Graden and Konrad Agnas, and... Cherif El Masri, whose Tarkamt project I unreservedly adore mainly becasue it sounds like Justin Broadrick with a fever in the high hundreds. Cherif El Masri is part of an experimental Cairo/international scene (Fuck Synchronization was recorded in Cairo in 2019) that, despite my lack of understanding of the language or any of the classical and/or avant and/or pop/dance traditions the music may draw from, has given me a fuckload of joy over the last few years. (I even managed to write about Maurice Louca in Penthouse back when I was briefly writing for that esteemed publication... it's weirdly not online so you'll have to track down the print issue to read it amongst all the airbrushed buttholes.)

This new project of El Masri is, if you'll forgive the muso-speak, a fucking doozy. The guitar/synth/drum compositions soar and roar, cut and chime, taper into exploratory digressions before coalescing sideways, like angels living in the next door apartment. And though the metallic skronk rises often into heavenly meditations, I won't call the music "transcendent" as that implies that Moon Juice is fixated on escaping earthly confines or human fraility. If anything, the music of Moon Juice fully embraces the world as it is, fecund and filthy and weird and wild. It practically revels in a scaberous contempt for the human frailities (or inanities) that insist on encroaching on any earthbound motherfucker who might even dare to consider getting free. The idiocy of their fellow man-types (and oppressive systems) is strongly implied, but Moon Juice isn't trying to get out. Rather they are building a bulwark, sonically and communally, against all that evil and mediocrity. Maybe the music is complex and maybe it's not. I honestly couldn't tell you. I just know it makes me feel just like I feel when I'm praying real hard during particularly bad turbulence. And isn't it just so cool that we get to fly, not leaving the earth but spending a few hours on its more bad-ass layer, in the first place.

Little Beards The Legend of Spectacular Living (self released) Another throbbing slab of hysterical fear and thoughtful loathing from this anti fascist Dallas darkwave outfit. Achingly political and frigidly romantic, as prone to samples and squelching bass drops as they are disaffected vocals over rising synths, Little Beards use synth pop as a viable alternative (rather than merely a time-stamped stand-in) for rock and roll’s creaking vocabulary.  

Moonscape Monolith (mouse records) Ok… this band may warrant more space than I can spare them here. Tokyo’s Moonscape plays Amebix-esque, creeping crust, metallic punk. Without sounding like all the other bands who play Amebix-esque, creeping crust, metallic punk (who all sound like Amebix). If anything, Moonscape sounds like Born Against… if Born Against played the Japanese Burning Spirit circuit (lotsa hella sick guitar leads), listened to black metal (naughty ghost screeching), and looked like streetwear models (they pretty). If you don’t feel like looking up all those references, this is wildly great, lurching, noisily inventive, metal-punk (or punk-metal… pick your poison). I’m told that the members of Moonscape are not the youngsters I assumed they were (apparently they’re in their thirties/forties… the guitarist’s kid is hella cute) but, with their split 7”s and genre-diverse features on the album, I get the sense that Moonscape is part of a particularly healthy contemporary Tokyo scene. Just the fact that a psychedelic stadium crust band has “features” hints at something good and weird.  And, just like NYC and SF, Tokyo crust punx love to hang out with goths.

I heard about Moonscape from the Believe in Punk newsletter/catalog and, while this record is currently sold out, I strongly suggest you order other extremely fine punk records from them.

Amyl and The Sniffers Comfort To Me (ATO) Amyl and the Sniffers could have a perfectly successful career as a party rock band. They’re good at party rock, and there’s still at least ten or twenty AC/DC riffs left to use. But instead they decided to make a decidedly uncomfortable (if still riff laden) punk album about the human soul exploding. The guitars tread darkly, even the solos, and the rhythms are more interested in driving than any easy destination. Singer Amy Taylor, already one of the finest lyricists of Rock ‘n’ Roll poetry, goes deeper into her love of hip hop (and, arguably, a new Sleaford Mods influence) to blur the line between open-hearted romanticism, say-it-first self-loathing, existential defiance, and affirmational soul-seeking. When she toys with melody, she uses ‘77 as a weapon, and when she keeps it to ranting she justifies a thousand future “Amyl and The Sniffers Taught Me It Was OK To Be Weird” essays. A shockingly successful second album from a band that had a perfectly cool wave they could have coasted on.

Elucid & Von Pea Dirtee Deacon (In T.S.O.Pea) (Blond Medicine) I’m perpetually at war with my instinct to project my own bullshit upon Elucid’s oeuvre. Every time I write about one of the world’s best rappers, it’s the height of solipsistic arrogance to just focus on the one tiny thing we have in common (we both like a lot of the same noise bands!) as opposed to his dizzying worldview/songcraft. So you can imagine the combination of guilt and giddiness I felt when I saw that this ten year old project (just released), by Elucid and Tanya Morgan’s Von Pea, had a song called “Mars Bar.” I worked at Mars Bar for almost a decade, before quitting when I couldn’t get rid of the 211 skinhead crew that was bumming me out every other shift. I worked at the infamous sub-dive bar (there were no locks on the bathrooms so staff could more easily access toilet seat ODs before they died) for too long to be nostalgic about the place, but my heart still jumped when I discovered that one of my favorite artists hung out there. Guess I’m a bigger softie than I thought.

The album itself merits its own affection. Von Pea’s production is warmer and traditionally crate-dig-minded than the noisescapes Elucid favors now and even at the time. Instead of esoteric noise or Portishead samples, we get Dorothy Ashby’s Soul Vibrations and moody stray piano runs. Elucid still sounds like himself but his cadence is (for lack of a better word) peppier, which matches both Von Pea’s more threatening beats and the occasional Ain’t Nothing Like A House Party vibe. While the album’s themes are pretty consistently... nothing like a house party. Though (roughly) ten years old, the references to tweets, feeling old and out of time, and perpetually relevant grievances all still scan. Elucid and Von Pea are consummate underground; the world’s a mess, it’s in their (soul) kiss.

Subway Sect Moments Like These (Gnu Records Inc.) It’s a new Vic Godard & The Subway Sect album, produced by Mick Jones (The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, Big Audio Dynamite ll)! Considering the track record of first generation UK punks (that ranges from solid Buzzcocks record to pretty OK former Clash stuff to entirely insufferable John Lydon work), it could go either way. Our former punk-poet/big band leader/postman hero has already done the truly miraculous feat of rerecording his classic works and, somehow, making it way better, so I wasn’t super concerned. But, you know, lightning doesn’t grow on trees. Luckily, Moments Like These is entirely winning, often veering into entirely delightful. Godard and his band keep things relatively loungey/groovy without sounding complacent. Dancehall melodies easily compliment olde timey rock and roll and Middle Eastern/Spanish motifs, with enough no wave guitar lines and unexpected digressions in tone to keep the proceedings from getting too cozy. If anything, Vic Godard has set a utilitarian template for punks aging gracefully, but not so gracefully that us still disgruntled, middle aged babies can’t still look to him for bracing inspiration.

Rider/Horse Select Trials (ever/never) I’m on record, to the point of tedium I imagine, as saying that, as much as I love the genre, there are few things that I disdain more than a pretty good noise rock band. Maybe it’s because I did so much time in one, and shared stages with literally seven trillion of them, I dread a serviceable start/stop grunt-grunge outfit more than I do the worst vaporwave atrocity. (I still don’t actually really know what “vaporwave” is, but it seems like something I wouldn’t enjoy.) This is sad, because many of the nicest guys I know can think of no higher service, to God and art, than being in simply the very best Jesus Lizard tribute band in all of Greenpoint.

I don’t know if Spray Paint’s Cory Plump and Chron Turbine’s Chris Turco would call Rider/Horse, the band they formed upstate in Kingston, “noise rock.” I bet they’d go with “post-punk” or something equally vague and reasonable. But the sounds on Select Trials are too warm for post-punk, the songs themselves at times suggesting almost a distorted motorik Americana. And, as my loose noise rock rule is “can I picture your band on a Dope, Guns, and Fucking In The Street comp, but not see you signed to Sub Pop,” I’m going to go ahead and say Rider/Horse fits the (loose) bill. Noise rock, at its best, is rock and roll that’s aware, but not complacent to, the deadness of its chosen language. It’s knowing and willfully dumb, refusing to acknowledge a meaningful aesthetic difference between Alice Cooper and Sonny Sharrock. A Nick Cave fetishist who refuses to put on a clean shirt, etc. Rider/Horse checks all those boxes, without getting tediously trapped in any. Because, thankfully, the duo sounds nothing like Jesus Lizard, drawing more from Providence seethers like Six Finger Satellite and Eric Paul’s discography than any Austin (or Chicago) heave-hoe-ers. And thankfully Rider/Horse is also not merely good but, rather, quite a bit better than that.

Spiritual Cramp Here Comes More Bad News (self released/Industry Standards) The band that other people in bands wonder why they aren’t huge like it’s our job. Every song they’ve recorded is catchy to a fault, their live shows are tremendous like a goth Murder City Devils, and everybody on stage dresses like sexy beast. But nice guys finish last and smart, vaguely thuggish jerks finish somewhere in the middle, leaving the winning circle to graduates of Blink-182’s finishing school for dead-eyed crybaby morons. That’s the biz called show, baby!

Anyhoo, Spiritual Cramp’s new EP continues the band’s run of Oi!-adjacent mod-pop-rock-punk bangerz. If you’re curious about a sweetly swinging street punk sound that throws a few elbows, but haven’t tried Spiritual Cramp yet, give it a whirl and see what it’s like to be right for once.

American Friend Sound Under Rock (Dove Cove)  American Friend is a Texas band made up of Jana Horn, Adam Jones (who played in Deep Time and drummed on recent records by Bill Callahan), and Chronophage's Sarah Beames.

I've gone (absurdly) long on my love for Chronophage before. I love that band's hard-to-be-human, space train hoppin', rattlebag steeze like I love a puppy in a bandana. Like I love a well made vegan pizza. Like I love crust punks who bring their own kick pedal to the five band bill. I don't know if Chronophage my favorite contemporary Austin band (as long as Riverboat Gamblers and A Giant Dog still exist and Dru Molina/Eddie Leal have a new band every month, I'll never be able to pick just one!), but they're definitely one of my favorite bands, like, period. So, based on Sarah Beames alone, bought this one before even listening. GLAD I DID.

Know how Katie of Crutchfield of Waxahatchee has long sited the punk band Minutemen as an inspiration, but Crutchfield's projects have rarely sounded much like they were directly influenced by San Pedro's hometown weirdo/funk/hardcore heroes? Not that Ms. Crutchfield's songs needed to. Pretty neat stuff just on its own merits. But... WHAT IF THEY DID SOUND LIKE THE MINUTEMEN. If that hypothetical has consumed your every waking thought, American Friend are here to heal your endless hell.

To be clear, American Friend doesn't sound like Minutemen. Or like Waxahatchee. Rather they sound like if Waxahatchee sounded like the Minutemen. Or vice versa if you prefer. American Friend plays thoughtful, earnest and inventive indie folk punk/rock, with a vocalist who sounds like they're sharing a secret, even as the words themselves veer between conversational and poetically oblique. And American Friend plays all this as though they're an econoline van engine, trying to turn over on some traintracks. The music clatters and rests, stops and starts with the interplay between voice and snare. What feels at first to be a liquidity of songwriting that matches the meandering melodicism of the bass is revealed, after multiple listens, to be rejection of song convention (albeit a rejection that never abandons hooks entirely). It's a free, restless folk music. One that takes its time, enjoying the scenery outside the van windows, the clicking of the tapedeck, and its own private world.

Game Legerdemain (Quality Control HQ) I could be wrong, but I feel like, when people swoon over the United Kingdom’s hardcore renaissance of the last half decade or so, Game’s 2019 debut is often overshadowed by some of the more easily digestible neo-‘80s Boston/NYHC bruisers on the scene. I can understand (if I’m even remotely correct in my suspicion) as No One Wins, while entirely wonderful, was also a far less sing-song, far more frantic affair than much of the youth crew, tuff-bubble-gum street punk/junk being slung around it (which, to be clear, I’m not denigrating… I do love hardcore made as much for crowds to sing as the ostensible lead vocalist). In some ways this lack of adulation is comforting. Why should critics be the only dummies when it comes to punk? Let the punks get something wrong for a change.

Assuming I am correct in thinking of Game as underdogs in the high stakes, cut throat world of the New Wave of British Hardcore, this mini LP should change that. Because Legerdemain is one mean and sexy barrel of monkeys. The songwriting is tighter, the guitars are thrashingly murderous- with even an occasional dash of (anti) heroics- and the rhythm section sounds like it’s having, like, a shit-ton of fun. Ola H.'s vocals (with lyrics in English, Polish, and French) are as boisterously feral as they were on the debut but if anything she sounds even more uncontrollably in righteous control of the proceedings. Drummer Jonah Falco (of Fucked Up and the Happy Mondays influenced Jade Hairpins) has recorded Legerdemain to accentuate both the band’s sharp edges and its burliness, while allowing some new air (and even prettiness) in. While I adored the unrelenting Japananese hardcore worship of No One Wins, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t love the increased (or at least more easily discerned) dynamism of Legerdemain even more.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a snare/kick combo that really pops.

Whatever the case, Game is easily amongst the best of the NWOBHC bands. Amongst the best of any current hardcore bands. And after this wily fucker of an album, any Fred or Francine Perry who tries to deny it deserves to have to travel back in time and actually live in Boston in the ‘80/’90s. See how they like that bullshit.

art by h.

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