12 min read

New Music Discourse (To Avoid All The Other Discourse)

Abundant Living is a music newsletter. For the most part. I may use an essay to make tangential points (or to even the occasional tangential score), but for the most part Abundant Living is about all the little musical bees buzzing around within the confines of my little musical bonnet. I’m certainly not averse to the larger culture intruding. I live in the world. And in, like, society too. If I want to write oodles upon oodles of gossamer words on the topic of Daniel Fang’s athletic drumming in the hardcore band Turnstile, than I can’t cry if the prosaic world of his brother, Lee Fang, occasionally intrudes upon my reverie. In fact, being an opinionated jerk, I usually welcome the excuse to spout off. That being said… these last few weeks have been positively treacherous with philosophical landmines that have been buried underneath rhetorical third rails, and placed (presumably by some malignant malware, architecturally demonic, SimCity poltergeist), like rat traps of moral absolutism, across the nuance-negating bathroom floor linoleum surrounding the Final-hemorrhoid-solution toilet seat from the cover of Metallica’s “Metal Up Your Ass” demo tape.

There was a lot of wild discourse. Some of it is even tangential to music. But, while some of it touched on truly important moral issues of our times, and some of it is at least too important to be left solely to those for whom passionate intensity is a lifestyle, none of it paid premiums to get into it in anything other than endless hassle. I don’t get paid enough from this newsletter for it to be worth getting into the specifics of any of it.

So, in regards to everything from REDACTED to REDACTED to REDACTED to REDACTED, I will simply say: 1. Maybe next time wait till the footage from the live show comes out before tweeting with the mob. 2. I don't care how old you are. Putting aesthetic faith in the content manufactured by the Disney Corporation will only break your aesthete heart. 3. The class and race issues that even Riot Grrrl was unable to fully elide will not be solved by rapturously slathering nostalgia-addled praise upon the scions of inherited social capital, and 4. While Israel in its current form is inarguably an apartheid state, Eve Barlow has long been a complete fucking moron, and the comparing of online abuse to the pogroms is inane to the point of being authentically grotesque... it also appears to me that a number of my peers seem less interested in the liberation and recompense of the Palestinian people than they seem to be perpetually auditioning to be granted entry themselves into their own idealized Promised Land (a staff job at the new Gawker).

That is that. The world is too much with us, and we are reduced to blind items. You may think of me as a coward or world class equivocator. I prefer to think of myself as post-hardcore’s Walter Winchell.

So, unwilling (or intelectually ill equipped) to grapple with What's Been Going, but still strying to get this fucker out at least a few times a month, I'm left with only one option... to retreat into music blogging. Therefore, like the Page Sixers on Punk Planets in other, far finer, galaxies... let’s talk about new music!

Unsane Improvised Munitions & Demo

While I moved to NYC specifically because of Cop Shoot Cop (when I was knee high to a grasshopper, I saw Todd A. wearing a “Piece Man” shirt in an issue of Alternative Press and thought “that’s the town for me!”) the first archetypal NYC band I saw live was Unsane. It was at the old OLD Knitting Factory. The kid behind me was a few bucks short the admission fee so I covered him and he told me he’d send me his band’s record. (Which is how I got the first Cavity 7” when I was fifteen.) Original drummer Charlie Ondras died in 1992, to be replaced by Vinnie Signorelli. Signorelli is an amazing drummer, a singular musician in a town where there are more ex-members of Swans than there are registered Republicans. But when I saw Unsane, Ondras was the drummer and I had no context for what he was doing and it seemed like the most wild thing I’d ever seen played… this squirrly maniac riding the toms and bass drum like he was throwing himself off a mountain and playing the cymbals like he was trying (and succeeding) at inventing a new kind of static; a city boy’s answer to the sound of the ocean.

A few years later, Unsane’s Chris Spencer would see my old band play CBGBs and proceed to chase me in and out of the Mars Bar bathroom, decrying the vacuous nature of my lyrics, yelling “What about the revolution, man?!?!” I’ve had less correct encounters with worse dudes.

Anyway, Improvised Munitions & Demo is the lost first Unsane album. As I’m not 15, and I’ve heard roughly seven trillion Unsane rip-off bands, the music doesn’t sound overly crazy to me. Rather it sounds like an almost street punk take on the Touch & Go sounds of a few years previous (both Big Black’s thud ‘n’ rant and Naked Raygun’s throb-throb-under-speed-fuzz are repped here). Next to maybe Surgery, Unsane was always the most midwest sounding of the NYC noise rock scene, and If it weren’t for the occasional Jim Kimball-esque drum break, you could mistake the record for a Land Speed Record 45 played at 33. But just because I can hear structure (and snare), it doesn’t mean the music on this ain’t still feral. By 1991’s official debut full-length, Unsane’s voice, in all its walkie-talkie communique from the bathrooms of hell glory, was set. And, considering how crucial that first official record is, it’s probably better that Improvised Munitions wasn’t the band’s first release. As history, the record is still a fascinating document of a band already intent on taking LES art-noise and playing it as unboringly as possible. On its own merits, Improvised Munitions & Demo is more fun than being hectored by a misanthropic baldhead in a dive bar bathroom (which tbc was pretty fun). Both in what it was for its time and what it led up to, Improvised Munitions & Demo also makes an argument for Chris Spencer being allowed to, at least more than many, judge what is and isn’t revolutionary.

As a side note, I hope Spencer’s new label re-releases current bassist Dave Curran’s other bands’ out of print albums. JJ Paradise Players Club was hot shit.

Heimat Zwei

About half a decade ago, I saw some iteration of Olivier from Heimat’s other band, Cheveu, in a small venue in Rabat, Morocco. They were collaborating with the Saharan band, Group Doueh. While generally having a rule about not giving the French undue props for anything they do in North Africa, I thought the show was reasonably delightful. Later I checked out Cheveu’s other stuff and found it compelling enough but I was hindered in my enjoyment by the fact of my other general inclination in regards to French music; I mainly only like it when it’s made by commie skinheads or politically dubious actresses. So I’m surprised and delighted by how much I dig Heimat. Zwei is chock full of leftfield artpop and propulsive, motorik bangers. Olivier and his partner Armelle have a moody charisma that they bolster with a haunted warehouse of chiming rhythm and palpably unsettling synth lines. The duo arguably works off the template of the classic BIPP compilation (always a cool move), while using the inventiveness of Armelle’s voice/phrasing, combined with the clanging warmth of the instrumentation, to avoid pastiche. There’s enough crackle from unknown sources that I’m tempted to use the term “hauntology” but I’m not really prepared to do the reading to back that up, so I’ll just reassure the reader that this album feels ancient and modern; the perfect soundtrack for summoning, and then making out with, spectral mods.

FACS Present Tense

Any discussion of making out with undead mods inevitably leads to FACS. With the Chicago band’s proclivity for bass architecture that can move instantaneously from (Jah) wobbling fluidity to in-the-red cavern shaking, FACS’ steez of unsettlement appeals to scientists (math rockers) and spiritualists (goths, post-punkers, or anyone in black button downs who roll their sleeves up past the bicep) alike. As with previous FACS albums, the band excels at writing post-punk hooks, and then playing those hooks for a minute or two of every song, until some aspect of the expanding universe catches a band member’s eye and all three FACS decide they’ll follow that transdimensional spark for a bit and, time and kitten-esque urge to chase the laser allowing, come back to the initial hook when and if they feel like it. To be honest, the disinclination towards unconventional song structure could result in sucky disaster. Byron Coley’s Arthur Magazine column was a veritable graveyard of bands who sounded real “free” mainly on paper (or acid). But, like the only band I’d be comfortable comparing them to (Challenge of The Future... look ‘em up), FACS never let their groove get anything less than spooky and they never, ever cross the line between Doing What They Want To Do and simply indulging themselves. Even a hardcore cretin such as myself is able to follow. Doubly hella sick for me is the fact that Present Tense is arguably (arguably) FACS’ most streamlined effort yet. I’m not even sure what that might mean. Maybe just that, for an album with multiple songs that pass the four-minute mark, Present Tense cruises along mightily. Heck, “Strawberry Cough” is as close to “Waiting Room” as FACS are willing to get (avowed preferers of Steady Diet of Nothing as they are). But even that jock jam is more Parthenon rock than stadium; “Feel Like Making Love” as covered by Rakta, fueled by the bones of countless matchstick men. Regardless, as the record chugs digressively towards its finish, Brian Case sounds like a tuff ghost throughout. He even says “hauntology” at one point. I bet he’s done the reading. This is fucking smart music. Which I, just this once, mean as a compliment. And luckily, on Present Tense (as on all their other three albums) FACS are adept at being brilliant while remaining way too cool for any boring-ass school.

BRUX Guerra Mental

The best death rock Oi! Album since Crimen’s 2014 masterpiece, El Problema eres Tú. Gravel voiced thugs (with politics at least unsketchy enough to make it past MRR’s censors) skirting the line between effect-drenched rock ‘n’ rolla and rudimentary (peni) disco. Anthemic street muck gnarly enough to make Chubby and The Gang sound positively slick in comparison. In fact, I’d like to nominate BRUX’s hi hat sound for the Nobel Prize in Fizzy Science. I can’t wait to DJ again so I can mix the title track of this EP into The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers.” Or at least into “Lost In the Supermarket.”

Anyway, BRUX is as killer as they come. Along with the equally hellecaiously good Death Ridge Boys, The Chisel, and Chubby (who, make no mistake, I fucking love), BRUX are on the culturally vital vanguard of reclaiming Fred Perry shirts from that fine brand’s more recent grubby associations.

Penpals ll: The True Sequel (with Quelle Chris, billy woods, ANKHLEJOHN & more)

When I first moved to the city, I was lucky (through my friend, Tan) that some of my earliest encounters were with a peculiar clique of native New Yorkers (Damien Paris from The Giraffes, Blockhead, a very odd and sweet Adrian Grenier, and a bunch of other Def Jux adjacent freak scenesters) who all grew up running amuck in subway tunnels and art galleries, usually drunk and rarely clean shaven. Even though I was the same age as most of these guys, they all seemed like they knew things that, not only did I not know, I would never know. All their jokes were references to rappers I’d never heard of or movies I’d only. I’d laugh at all their jokes without really getting any of them. And I wasn’t faking it either. The tone and tenor of their wit made its own context so my laughter was genuine. It worked in the same way I can listen to Spanish language hardcore now. The signposts are self evident so I just need to nod along and feel lucky to hear it.

Knowing how these cats would respond to the appellation “hipster,” I would never call them that to their face. But, before it became shorthand for “people slightly different from me and my friends, but worse for some reason,” the term hipster could be applied to any number of talented, idiosyncratic, aggressively unsquare humans. In his autobiography, Nile Rodgers calls his parents hipsters without malice. Richard Price is and was a hipster. Most Jazz was made by hipsters, which begat other hipsters, some of whom wrote some pretty good poetry. I’m certainly a hipster. Whether that negates the lauditory aspects of what I’m saying is not for me to decide.

But I get that the language has evolved. “Hipster” is, to most people, an insult just short of a slur. And not knowing the gentlemen who make up the Brooklyn rap trio Penpal (Rapswell, Bobby Noble, and producer Squire), I’m not going to apply a term to them that they might reasonably take offense to. But I will say that they remind me, something fierce, of the aforementioned clique of wiseass, effortlessly talented, scumbags. Linguistically agile without sounding like Aesop Rock and in-joke-nesting-within-in-joke without sounding like Party Fun Action Committee, Penpals sound like Around The Way Boys who live and breathe the last forty years of New York Hip Hop. (Ok, maybe not the last ten years.) ll: The True Sequel is a genuinely fun album, but also with enough sly undercurrent of a darker worldliness (or hipness if you like) that it bears repeated listens beyond just, you know, vibes. If I knew these dudes in my twenties, I’d have been too insecure to leave them alone in a room with my girl or my drugs, but I’d still brag about hanging out with them when they let me.

Gumiho Gumiho

As most of you know, one of the highest compliments I can possibly pay to a band is that I can imagine their music on either the Clueless or Angus soundtracks. Both of those albums are wall-to-wall hits, almost every track an argument for “bubblegum” being as much a vital art as the dreary grunge and post-grunge that was being taken more seriously by the Sonic Youth fetishists determining canon at the time. Rock and Roll Radio friendly one-hitters seemingly handed down from the heavens solely for the purpose of mixtapes. The genre was entirely ruined by Blink-182 and then somewhat unruined by Paramore. Now cities like Philadelphia are lousy with such bands that want to sound like the latter, sound way too much like the former, and are, for the most part, all aggressively OK. Anyway, this EP is the final release from Seoul, Korea’s Gumiho. It’s a glorious explosion of fuzz and sass and chunka-chunka riffs and general angsty joie de vivre. And every single track would work between any of the roughly 6,000 Ash songs on the Angus soundtrack.

Taqbir Taqbir

The Moroccan band Taqbir play the kind of mutant-revenge hardcore that is kept from being No Wave solely by the rigorous application of Circle Jerk-ian “Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus” structure. But the structure can only contain so much. In each song on this EP, Taqbir’s inherent talent for pop repetition barely suppresses the band’s equally impressive talent for atom bomb rhythms and lurching hiss. Bonkers, ingratiating stuff. When they finally get around to digging the second Hudson tunnel, they should consider using these songs in lieu of drills (or whatever).

Cathal Coughlan Song of Co-Aklan

Do you ever wish Scott Walker had gotten exactly as weird as Climate of The Hunter but no weirder? Sucker for received wisdom as you are, probably not. Enjoy that meat slapping. But if you are a basic beachgoer like I am, you might enjoy this collection of off-kilter pop gems, sung in the aggro cabaret style of one of our premier Scott Walker admirers. Coughlan has always worn his admiration for the Great Sunglassed Weirdo on his sleeve, but, ever since his days ranting about Jesus and Ceausescu in Fatima Mansions, Cathal has more than earned his own fair share of admiration. Sharp and bizarre lyricism, a gorgeous voice, and a backing band made up of former Mansion-ers, Auteurs, and Scritti Polittians. What, I ask you, is not to like about this album? Just all around grand.

Mdou Moctar Afrique Victime

The bio writer for Afrique Victime deserves a pulitzer for comparing it to Black Flag. After all the press comparing Tal National to Battles, I suppose there was nowhere left to go in the “I know I need to compare this African band to an American indie band if I want to move some units” olympics. So, OK! Black Flag it is. Mdou Moctar’s newest album is arguably closer to Kel Assouf’s work in its combination of desert blues and heavy groove-psych, but Moctar and his band are a bit more sinewy than Assouf’s full on, almost techno, attack. Regardless, the album is as good as everyone is saying. The guitar pyrotechnics are gorgeous for sure but, conceding the apt Van Halen comparisons, the songwriting is so strong that the experimentation and exploration of pop’s boundaries throughout the album simply serves the material, rather than making a big deal about just how brilliant it all is. One hit after another; Afrique Victime is a near perfect soul album. (Just like Wasted...Again and 1984.)

Short Cuts

Here's a great benefit/protest album by Palestinian electronic artists and some of their allies. https://alllgharibbb.bandcamp.com/album/palestine

The proceeds from the new, extremely sick Mundo Primitivo tape "are being directly donated to aid those who are currently struggling against fascist violence in Colombia."

I just remembered Pollution. You should too. https://feastoftentacles.bandcamp.com/album/nasty-dna-lp



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