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RATING: 7.5/10

I used to really love noise-rock and all that aggressive, abrasive stuff. I still do, but I think I’ve cooled off to it, just out of the sheer number of faceless, crash-and-bash ‘lo-fi garage’ bands that seem to love distortion and noise mostly because it’s a good way to hide a lack of ideas. I mention this because it’s bands like Montreal’s Hellshovel that prove that music need not pummel you into submission to engage you as a listener. Hellshovel’s brand of easy-going psychedelia is an ideal soundtrack for a sunny day, with or without the aid of certain controlled substances.

What immediately jumps out on the opener, “Ivan’s Hammer” is the vocals – obscure, but thankfully not by a fuzzbox. Instead, they opt for a phaser, giving the vox a blurry, underwater quality. The music rolls along pleasantly to compensate – it’s NUGGETS, but lost down an psychedelic rabbit hole. In a way, it also reminds me of a tamer BLACK LIPS (I said ‘lo-fi garage,’ it was only a matter of time before they got dragged in). Each one of these tracks sounds like some deeper-than-deep cut, dug out of an old acid casualty’s basement, by some hopelessly obscure band – it’s pretty fucking cool. Hellshovel manage to replicate the 60’s in a way that feels neither ironic nor hipper-than-thou, nor self-conscious hero worship. It’s organic and natural, which lifts this record above scores of slavish flower-power imitators.

“Summer’s Over” strikes me as the kind of song that actually earns its title – the chorus, phased, and otherwise fucked-with guitars actually seem to bring out the last warm days of September. Other highlights include the next track, “Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home” – the vocal manipulation here is excellent, bringing Hellshovel’s true-blue psych colors to the forefront. The record’s good – I keep waiting for it to burst into some freakbeat meltdown, and it almost does on “Snowflakes in Russia,” but mostly it’s content to relax in the sun. It’s almost too mellow at times – entire songs can slide by without a blink. That’s not a dealbreaker by any means; it’s just how Hellshovel does stuff – they’re not making music for raging parties or for face-crushing live shows; this is music for a sunny day and maybe a game of disc golf or something – the kind of thing I’m missing while I’m freezing in Ireland. I’ll be keeping this one on board, if only because I respect Hellshovel. They’ve managed to take a familiar formula and do it well – in my book, that’s more compelling than any number of distortion pedals.

LISTEN/PREORDER: Slovenly Bandcamp 

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RATING: 6.5/10

Continuing our Montreal band kick, we have a 6 song EP from alliterative No Wavers Many Mental Mistakes. I confess, I had a bit of a tough time writing the review. Usually, it’s easy to slap together a few pretentious things to say, pick a few bands at random, but MMM honestly confounded a considerable portion of my usual arsenal. It’s not that they’re the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard, by a long shot, but it’s rare that you hear music this unabashedly experimental played this proficiently. Opener “Death Proof” lays out the MMM formula: thundering drums, mechanical, lockstep guitars, and haunting, ritualistic vocals. The track rumbles in the way some sort of esoteric invocation might. It, along with next track “CCC” have hints of dancefloor potential, though I’m not sure what club this would get asses shaking at (or if it’s the sort of club I’d feel comfortable or safe in).

It’s No Wave, for sure, but it lacks the herky-jerky frantic feel of No Wave touchstones – this is refined, polished, and strangely well mannered. The next track, “Birthday Party,” yields a possible touchstone in it’s namesake, all clanking, lurching drums and discordant squeaking guitars. The songs here definitely grab you – MMM have a knack for piecing together their songs in a way that feels remarkably organic, but even songs with really interesting beginnings, like the diet-SWANS track “My Way” get lost in meanderings that don’t so much end as they simply run out of steam. The last track “Quantum” is my favorite here, probably because it feels like the only one to capture the manic, unpredictable nature of proper No Wavers like THE CONTORTIONS. Here, the vocals are heavily treated with reverb, and allowed to ring out in the way that the voice begs for. It’s good, and it closes out this strange little EP very well. I confess, this isn’t my usual bag. Though the songs are all well-done, extremely original, and expertly played and recorded, there’s not much in the way of hooks to seize onto, which makes it a tough sit for me. I can’t see myself playing this more than when a certain mood strikes me, but for those who prize originality and love the weirdness, this will certainly be a band to watch.

LISTEN: http://manymentalmistakes.bandcamp.com/

BUY:  http://manymentalmistakes.bigcartel.com

RATING: 9/10 – TOP TRASH

When the Nubians set up at Lulu’s in Brooklyn a few months ago, everyone was unprepared. Even the band themselves. Due to nonsensical customs laws, the Montreal trio were wildly short on equipment. One of the guitarists was using my amp and the other resorted to plugging in to the dreaded P.A. (which may as well stand for Pussy Amp, the way those things neuter guitar tones). But these shortcomings didn’t phase ‘em in the least; they seemed unflinchingly calm, even suspiciously unruffled about the sorry state of their inventory. I realized later that it was us in the crowd, not the band, who were the truly ill-equipped ones. No one properly braced themselves, not me or anyone else in that quaint little pizza bar for the wildest, loudest, most artfully unhinged, maniacal set this side of 1983.

Needless to say, the sound guy cut them off half way through. The only band that I’ve seen pull off this level of controlled insanity was a CRAZY SPIRIT set at Death By Audio a year ago. Both bands feature flailing powerhouse drummers, a crafty use of guitar feedback, and intelligently dumb, erratic compositions to ensure that punk isn’t a dead or hackneyed genre just yet. To call The Nubians “garage punk”, “art punk”, “noise” or “hardcore” is to belittle their bombastic, gigantic sound. The Nubians are an organism that lurches and lifts off with unpredictable vigor. I can’t even fucking review this shit properly. If you like music that blows your head off (in a REGISTRATORS/PUFFY AREOLAS/CHEATER SLICKS vein) than listen to the Nubians. They are the nicest guys ever playing mean, explosive music.

Listen to their tape here (for the love of god, someone, put this out on vinyl)
http://nubians.bandcamp.com/

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