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RATING: 7.8/10

Psychic Blood are a band from western Massachusetts who specialize in a ripping, jagged brand of post-punk. From the first second of the tape, the guitars kick you in the face, and they sound really good – they’re vicious, but not without their sweet side. They’re used for equal parts frantic, sharp-edged riffing and chiming, shimmering chord strikes. The violence and bluster of the music is balanced by the band’s reliance on vintage 90’s hooks – SONIC YOUTH and DINOSAUR JR. are both big reference points – “Annihilator” wouldn’t be out of place next to a track like “Mary Christ” on a mixtape. The band plays really well, and the production is great, save for the vocals – which are buried in the mix, and soaked in reverb and a harsh buzzing effect. It does enough to make the vocals completely unintelligible, which may be what PB were going for, but given how awesome the playing is here, it kind of cuts in on what are otherwise some pretty good jams – simply listening to the music here is enjoyable.

From the churn of “Annihilator,” we’re abruptly dropped into a fairly pretty drone interlude on “Roving Mind.” I do like the fact that things chill out a bit here and on through to “Tuff Luck” – there’s a trajectory to follow, making the tape more of a complete experience rather than a collection of songs. Some of these tracks are less melodic, and have harsher leanings, but for the most part, they’re always still enjoyable to listen to, even if some run on a tiny bit too long. Psychic Blood are at their best when firing off short, tightly-wound bursts of nervous energy, like “War Paint” or “Shallow.” And given how much I liked “Roving Mind,” I do wish they’d done a bit more of that – it’s great, but as the only track of its kind, it feels like a token or a toss-off. There’s flaws with this tape, naturally, but I’ll be keeping it around – Psychic Blood are a band that can make some major moves in the future.

LISTEN: Mediafire (courtesy of the band) 

BUY: Feeble Minds Records

REVIEW: 6.8/10

I think it’s weird to see “ex-whatever” appended to a band’s name. Sure, members of this band were in some other band…so what? they’re not the same. Maybe it’s kind of similar, but it seems like that saddles the band with an image of being second banana, or something like that. Whatever. Pamela has members that were in other bands. Seems irrelevant. This is a short little EP – 3 mid-tempo songs, they’re all fairly catchy. Maybe the ‘ex-‘ tag is germane because this band has ex-WAX IDOLS members. The sound is somewhat similar, but where Wax Idols practices sharp, intense songcraft, Pamela are a little more laid-back – instead of cracking and biting, the guitars here bludgeon.

These are fairly big tunes, despite not having any of the usual marks of bands trying to make their songs sound huge. “Desert” is a slow-ish song mixing some great guitar sounds with cooed female vocals – it’s nice, kind of reminds me of a non-shitty WAVVES. “Liedown” is in much the same vein as the first – the songs here are almost like 3 takes on the same sort of song, rather than 3 individual pieces. It’s pretty well done. The last track here is my favorite, though. It’s a straight-up punk bruiser, but the vocals still have the lazy coolness to them – tons of bands do the apathetic ‘too-cool-for-vocals’ vocals, but this band pulls it off. This isn’t revolutionary, but it’s quite good, and I wish there’d been one or two more songs on it.

LISTEN: A-side “Pamela” @ Southpaw Soundcloud

BUY: Southpaw Records

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RATING: 9/10 – TOP TRASH

Wax Idols is a good band that has the potential to be great. This is something that seems to get lost in discussions of Hether Fortune, sadly, because in building narratives around bands like all good blogs do, it’s easy to simply put up huge arrows around the fact that she’s female! and! she’s! in! a! rock! band! It’s great to see that there’s strong female voices in a scene that’s definitely dominated by male frontmen, but let’s just bracket that issue for a minute and focus on the fact that this is a really fucking good single. It delivers on the promise of the “All Too Human” 7″ and the “No Future” LP, which was a really strong offering from 2011 – keeping the solid pop hooks, while intensifying the delivery and moving more towards a specifically Wax Idols sound.

The A-side “Schadenfreude” opens with the same note “All Too Human” did, but instead of the sunny-pop feel of that track, this announces itself with a gothy, minor shift. It’s dark, but no less of an earworm – the layered vocals on the chorus are worthy of the SISTERS OF MERCY at their best. It really seems like the lyrics are influenced by Fortune’s side gig as a dominatrix; it’s a great angle, and the song is too short. The B-side is much in the same vein, with some amazing guitar work – shimmering, echoing, spacey sounds recalling JOY DIVISION or “Meat is Murder” SMITHS in a way, but instead of Morrissey’s endless self-pity, Fortune’s all barely-concealed venom beneath an icy-cool surface. Male, female, whatever – gender is irrelevant when you’re turning out tunes of this caliber. Let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

LISTEN: Suicide Squeeze Soundcloud

BUY: Permanent Records still has some, but they’re going fast.

You may already be a consumer stooge!

Today, we’ve got the first of an ongoing series which will discuss the role of money in music, and the relevancy of garage/punk as a community, with an eye towards consumption and production of physical and digital media. We hope to update this series fairly regularly – record reviews will continue to be posted as they typically are. 

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I spend stacks on records – it’s almost a compulsion; scarcely can I pass a record shop without stopping in to flick through at least one bin of 80’s cut out derivative new wave crap or countless 70’s bands otherwise consigned to oblivion. Of course you listen to them, but why bother? Mp3s are identical, suffer no wear and tear from regular use, and are infinitely easier to store and collect, not to mention free potentially free, if you’re a lawbreaker. Even though I keep a decent collection myself, I’m certainly not a top-level collector. I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than 50 dollars or so for a single record, and even that one was a triple LP imported from Holland. But, there’s still records which fetch absurd sums of money; probably more than the band made on the original first pressing. I just have to wonder – picking up these records sets a person back so far, can you even play them in good conscience? And even then, is a slab of plastic ever worth more than maybe 20 bucks? Are we all sick in the head? They say there’s no accounting for taste, but still – what the fuck, guys?

I guess we could even argue over the nature of a record itself – of course we know what it is in an immediate, physical sense – it’s a big plastic thing that spins and makes noise. This is probably beyond debate, but should we actually consider it a work of art? It’s a collection of songs, it’s a complete artistic statement, it’s got a pretty picture on the front, but is it actually a work of art, more so than the live performance? Where’s the art – in the playing or the manufactured reproduction? Walter Benjamin, demigod of the Artsy Marxists, discusses the concept of authenticity, a word which is the dark cloud of a shitstorm brewing on the horizon of any discussion of music – and punk in general, in terms of a quality called ‘aura,’ which is similar to ‘authenticity’ or immediacy. A live performance is auratic or authentic because it can be tailored to a specific audience (jam sessions, audience banter), whereas a record isn’t auratic at all (it’s a series of takes edited and layered together to create the illusion of a whole performance). Lack of authenticity, Benjamin says, is characteristic of mechanically reproducible works of art – eg. records. The lack of authenticity isn’t a bad thing, though – it means that records can be disseminated further than ‘authentic’ works of art, and ought to make art far more democratic, since now everyone can have them and experience them, rather than the way it used to be, where you had to travel to a museum to see a painting, or find a living musician to hear a performance.

What the lack of aura means is that there’s nothing special about an individual record – he tackles this most directly with an example from photography: “from a photographic plate, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the ‘authentic’ print makes no sense.” Since all photographs are identical, as an inherent feature of the technology, it’s silly to want the original print and not the 500th copy…yet, this is exactly what we do as record collectors. Original copies of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” fetch sums as high as $4200 for 5 fucking minutes of music – this is lunacy. The beauty of records is that we can make an infinite number of copies with no detriment to the original – recent SST pressings sound every bit as good as the original one. What makes mechanical reproduction so fantastic is that everyone can own a copy of Nervous Breakdown, rather than having to go to some museum to see “THE” original. Since records are mechanical reproductions of works of art, there’s no real distinction between records. They’re all used in the same way, they all look more or less the same…all copies of “Nervous Breakdown” ought to be completely interchangable, since they all contain the same recorded performance – but clearly they are not.

There’s nothing special about this record versus that record – it makes no sense for us to pay more for one record over another, but the way we determine prices is even stupider. Inevitably for online auctions, “MINT” is always appended to the “ULTRA RAER MOLDOVA PUNK KBD TERMBO TY OH SEES LIPS SEGALL HOLY FUCK.” It seems natural that we would value a record in good shape better than one in bad shape. However, it seems like we consider an original pressing of a record more valuable because of it’s ‘authenticity,’ or ‘aura’ as Benjamin characterizes it. He argues that an ‘authentic’ item justifies its value by “bearing the mark of history.” 

Is record authenticity self-contradictory bunk?

The authenticity of an object is a slippery idea, but if he’s right, it seems like an object ought to demonstrate that authenticity by its condition. If we’re given an old, beat-up Model T made in the 20’s and a modern, shiny reproduction, we’d probably point to the older-looking one as the ‘authentic one’. If an object is authentic, it’s a product of a singular moment in history – all copies after are imitations of that original moment, and are different from it. Therefore, we would determine an object’s ‘authenticity’ by looking for signs of that history – bumps, fade, bruises, scratches. Given that the most valuable records are mint condition original pressings. If records derive their value first from their ‘authenticity’ (being the original document of a seminal band, say) and secondly from their condition (lacking the marks of time and wear), then the most valuable records are the ones most indistinguishable from a new one. 

Why pay more for records? Why care about pressing? It’s all black wax, man. If ‘authenticity’ is bullshit when we’re talking about infinitely reproducible objects, and we base our notion of value off of lack of historical marks, then it seems like we’re simply paying out the nose for nothing. We, the anti-corporate, anti-‘system’, DIY punkers, are totally happy to shell out big bucks to buy a record which is special because it’s the closest to a brand new one, without actually being a new one? What is achieved by this practice, save for fostering a spirit of tribalism, elitism and exclusion, to the detriment of the spirit of music as a communal experience?

What was once marked by a defiantly anti-commercial spirit is now plagued by the same pointless consumer hysteria that grips fat, privileged harpies in Best Buys on Black Friday. I welcome examples to the contrary, but it seems like attention to label, pressing, color, ‘special edition’, ‘rarity’ is all just a big empty wind carrying a lot of money away with it. A genre so stuffed to the gills with screeds ‘against the system’ or ‘the machine’ or ‘the man’ is now content to pay outrageous sums for a Turdburglers 7″ from 1972 or whatever vinyl gimmick Jack White is shilling this week. Records are marketed as being ‘for true lovers of music’ or ‘the way it was meant to be heard,’ and punk has presented itself as being ‘another way’ or ‘for the love of it’ or somehow divorced from ‘The Music Industry,’ which is seen as perverted or wrong. But are we subject to the same perverse consumerist virus that infects the system we strive to break away from? Are we just deluding ourselves and killing our wallets? It’s difficult to say what to do here; I’m not out to discourage the nascent vinyl revival, because I am in favor of it. I don’t want to tell anyone to do anything, but this tendency in the community is too weird to ignore or pass over. After noticing this, I can’t stop thinking about it when I pass a record sale, but at the same time, I’m not about to stop buying records, and will still probably buy old pressings over new ones – maybe I’m just a fucking idiot. It’s been said by people wiser than me before – “never mind what’s been selling…it’s what you’re buying.”

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RATING: 8.5/10

Is it punk? Is it post-punk? Is it no-wave? Is it hardcore? Doesn’t really matter. All we know is when you drop this on your turntable, you’ll hear a bit of static, which is your warning that you’ve got about 5 seconds before you’re punched in the face by the crunching, grinding force of NC’s Whatever Brains. Opener “Bad Dads” features howling vocals and seasick riffing, then in a flurry of drunken electronics, it’s gone, and you’re just kind of asking “what the-,” but before you get to “fuck,” the Brains have moved 20 miles down the road. As someone who has been a big fan of these guys since their 7″s, it’s really impressive to think how utterly unique this sound is, especially for a band with only a handful of releases. It takes the middle route between hardcore energy, garage snot, post-punk experimental sensibility, and No Wave’s angular, ‘fuck you’ approach – think if Jay Reatard had gotten really really really into later WIRE.

There’s scarcely anything that approaches a melody here, but somehow, the tracks manage to get implanted in your head, like the quasi-hardcore scorcher “Drink The Salt.” The singer’s in full lunatic blossom here – his maniac screech simultaneously recalls the obnoxious kid in your 5th grade class and a ranting doomsday preacher. What makes this record so fun to listen to again and again is the way it totally throws any sense of progression out the window, even in the same track. There’s a sensibility at work here similar to Jeff The Brotherhood’s classic “Castle Storm” – songs stitched together from little micro-songlets, somehow different, yet all belonging together in a really organic way. The tracklisting also zigs and zags with wild abandon – bouncing from monstrous fire-breathing numbers to delicate, tense crawls like “Marquee Warfare” we’re always expecting the entire thing to explode in a giant mushroom cloud of weirdo energy…and it usually does.

There aren’t many records out there, or bands that sound like this. Close analogues are the brittle tech-punk of the A-FRAMES or maybe a tighter, punkier version of THE FALL – it’s an instantly recognizable sound, but even as it’s one of the Brains’ greatest strengths, it’s also one of the things that disappointed me a bit about this record. They’ve cut out their own territory, but a lot of these songs are equally at home on any of their releases – though their sound is utterly their own, it hasn’t changed much at all from release to release. This of course, doesn’t take away from the fact that songs like “I Am A Tourist” rip no matter what, even if they do sound suspiciously close to other tracks on the album (aforementioned “Drink The Salt”). The tendency for the songs to smear together in a haze of shrieks and shuttling beats can sometimes work against the band, because it makes for a bit of fatigue by the end – after about 5 spins, it can be hard to pick anything out from the din, even if I consistently come back for repeat listens.

It should be said that this record’s not for everybody – it’s grating and abrasive, probably intentionally so. This means, though, that it utterly commands your attention, even if only to ask “what in the fuck are you listening to?” It’s an old, rickety wooden roller-coaster of a record – bouncing, shaking, jolting, as if the whole thing will simply come undone from the energy of rocketing around in circles, and when it comes to a close with “Syllabus Dot/Episode Rot,” there’s no closure – it simply stops, vanishing into itself with 6 seconds of silence. Whatever (Brains) you want to call it, this record doesn’t merely command your attention, it demands it – it’s not only a great record in its own right, this band is one of the few out there that’s actually breathing new life into punk, which is by itself something to marvel at.

LISTEN/DOWNLOAD: Bandcamp

PRE-ORDER: Sorry State Records

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 RATING: 8/10 

Whenever I get frustrated with how slow things seem to happen on the internet – getting an email back, or trying to download something, I try to remind myself how slow things used to happen – when hearing about the music scene in California used to mean waiting for a record to get mailed across the country, or waiting for someone to put together a zine, whatever – point is, sounds and musical ideas now move with such lightning speed that it’s almost meaningless to say “This is California punk” or “This is NYC garage” – the world’s so instantly accessible to us, what does it matter to say that a thing’s from ‘here’ and not ‘there?’

The question’s relevant, especially faced with the rise of a certain musical melting pot class, of which Austin’s Rayon Beach is a member. This 3 piece plays a brand of music that seems to me to be an amalgamation of a lot of things that are very ‘now’, and they blend it together in a good way. To put it down on paper, this is fairly laid-back garage punk, but the secret weapon is Rachel Scherr’s keyboards, which lift Rayon Beach above a sea of faceless similar bands. The keys shimmer and subtly add to the mix, notably altering the music, but not steping on anyone – deployed excellently on “Where Are The Cities” and “I Have No Body.” Tracks like the latter bring out the strongest strand in Rayon Beach’s musical heritage – the wave of Aussie punk that seems to be invading the entire world right now. “I Have No Body” cruises on a TOTAL CONTROL vibe, the track which follows feels like a souped-up version of UV RACE who can probably tie their shoes without fucking up.

The vibe of the Aussie sound is tweaked slightly – there’s a bit more energy on “This Looks Serious,” but this LP is still equally suitable for rocking out or eating breakfast. It’s probably most at home in your car’s tape deck when you’re cruising around on a hot summer day with nowhere important to go. It’s not all good vibes, though – the seasick “Airplane With Tits” showcases RB’s range; they can be snotty when the situation arises. There’s an interesting new-wavey quasi-gothy vibe to some of these tracks, the chugging, almost dancey pace, combined with the droning keyboards makes me think this could be equally well received by fans of Sisters of Mercy as it will be by BLACK LIPS fanboys. What makes this record so interesting is the moments like the guitar solo on “Staring Out Of An Apartment” – chorus, delayed, who knows, but the strange guitar texture mixes with the keys to create this cool pulsing sound – this band is lo-fi certainly, but it’s almost a shame that they are – at a time when any sonic dedication to anything but fuzz and noise is passe, it’s refreshing to encounter bands that actually want to produce interesting sounds.

“This Looks Serious” stands out as a…well, serious release – it’s not only good in and of itself, but it’s an excellent encapsulation of where things are at, circa 2012. They’re not an Austin band anymore than they’re a ‘band of anywhere else.’ It’s all just music at this point, and this is some damn good music. Rayon Beach seems to have a remarkably strong grasp of their own sound for such a new band; if this is their first offering, I can only imagine where they’ll be in a few years – watch these guys, folks.

BUY: http://hozacrecords.com/store/

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The Cheap Freaks, Ireland’s premier purveyors of premium Garage/rockabilly/punk mayhem, have a new LP out. And it’s really, really, really fucking good. “Bury Them All,” out on Big Neck Records, is one to snatch now, because everyone’s collection is the poorer for it if it’s missing. We spoke with the Freaks about their LP, the Beatles, why the Dropkick Murphys are shite, and unreleased Christmas gems:

WT: You guys recorded 90% of the LP in Dublin, and some of the songs on the LP were on the earlier EP. Do you feel there’s a difference between the old material and the new?

CF: We just did the ones that were chosen, the ones that we felt suitable. A lot of songs were done over a few sessions, so for the EP, it was just the four that we chose…we just thought they were the best to put out.

WT: Can you talk a little bit about the recording? The album does have a lo-fi quality, but all the instruments really come through. Is there any specific thing you recorded or a sound you emulated?

CF: We have our own thing, but we’re obviously influenced by albums and there’s a lot of stuff out there that we would be interested in sounding like….the likes of Reigning Sound, Compulsive Gamblers, that type of thing. But, me and Robbie always have a very clear sound in our heads, and whether that be influenced by something, or how we just want it to sound in our heads, we’ll work to get that right.

WT: How do you write songs? Is it a collaborative effort?

CF: No, it’s joint…it’s collaborative to a degree, it’s like I’ll write a song, bring it in, and someone might have an idea about an arrangement, and it’s the same thing with Robbie. We’ll write a part, and we’ll bring it in, but then we’ll work on them, so generally, we don’t sit there saying ‘right. let’s write a song.’

WT: Do you find there’s creative differences in the process, or are you guys generally on the same page?

CF: Not really…I suppose one of the good things is that we’re writing separately, so there’s a bit of variety in there. On the album, you can hear, there’s kinda different vibes on different songs…we’re coming from the same place, but we’ve different influences to a degree. When we come together, it all fits, though.

WT: Going from that, are there any Cheap Freaks side projects we should watch for?

CF: We done a christmas track a couple years ago [laughs] it was just me and Robbie. We’ve talked about doing a couple things, different vibes, but we’re concentrating on a lot of things, doing a second album, and we’ve got a lot of tracls recorded, we need to finish off…maybe in the future, I’ve got songs sitting there that maybe wouldn’t be suitable, Robbie’s got the same.

WT: Any chance we’ll see the christmas song on wax?

CF: Christ…I dunno, probably not. It’s a bit old, we wouldn’t wanna rehash it. [laughs]

WT: So, was there any particular band/records where you were like “That! I wanna do that!” and started writing your own music?

CF: Well, I started years ago…a big influence at the start woulda been the Beatles, they still are a huge influence…that’s my band. Over the years, a lot of other bands have come in, but the Beatles are like my mainstay. Same as Robbie…influenced by a lot of 60’s stuff. Ya know, the Beatles, Kinks, Stones, all that, but also a lot of 60’s garage…both me and Robbie love the Monks, and goin into the Move, Ray Woods, into the 80’s, the Mummies…that kinda garage revival, but also a lot of melodic stuff, not just full-on garage.

WT: You guys are putting out your LP….any plans for touring/stateside?

CF: We’re going to Belgium and Germany in May…just a short tour, and then Norway later in the year. We’re going to Galway, and Cork with the album. I’d love to go stateside, maybe next year. Probably not this year

WT: I know at least in America, when people think of Irish music, there’s two camps: the traditional stuff, harps and flutes, etc., but then there’s “Irish Rock” – the Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly. You’re obviously Irish and play Punk, but you don’t sound like either of those – do you think it’s a fair label?

CF: I don’t think so. there’s obviously a clear view of Irish music…people have a very set opinion of what it is. What you’ve just described are…middle of the road shite that’s in the Irish type. We’re Irish and all, but I don’t think we’re a typical Irish band, compared to what people would think…to listen to the record, we could be from anywhere….I don’t really have much interest in the ‘Irish’ music scene, on a whole apart from the bands I know and I know are good.

WT: Do you feel sidelined by that image?

CF: Not really…that’s why we’d prefer just to get out of the country, and that’s why we went to Europe, Germany, and we wanna go back to Belgium and Norway. There’s only so many venues in Ireland that you can play, and I suppose you’re right about how Irish people view music.

WT: Or even how Americans view Irish music!

CF: There’s a great crowd here tonight…fair play to everyone for coming. People are interested, but in the mainstream, Irish music…is not the type of thing we’re doing. People wouldn’t even be aware of it.

LISTEN/BUY: http://cheapfreaks.bandcamp.com/album/bury-them-all-2

CHEAP FREAKS LIVE AT THE LITTLE GREEN STREET GALLERY, DUBLIN

Photos: Ashley Reese

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