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RATING: 8.4/10

This record comes to us courtesy of the man himself, formerly of the BARE WIRES and the Zygoteens. It’s made of 5 tracks of catchy, jangly powerpop. It’s all really reminiscent of our previous favorites IMPO & THE TENTS – but with the punk end of things dialed down ever so slightly. Things kick off with “Groovy Intuitions,” which feature the big guitars and tinny, punchy drums I love ever so much. Mr. Widener keeps things moving right along with the title track, which is no less catchy, but certainly more efficient, at only about a minute-thirty. Overall, it reminds me of GENTLEMAN JESSE, but a little more exciting, a little more active, and certainly a little more fun.

If Side-A housed the hooky pop-nuggets, Side-B holds the more brittle, jagged numbers. “Enemy Dreams” keeps up with the same pacing, but is more aggressive, more on-edge – ditto for “Slime Walker.” These tunes aren’t quite as memorable as the other side’s, but there are great moments – the yelp and keyboard on “Slime Walker” are fucking awesome. “Groovy Intuitions” may be my favorite here, but they’d all be equally amazing in a live setting. Realistically – no track here is ‘weak’; there’s good ones and better ones. As a whole, this EP offers a lot of things that I really love in music – tunefulness, energy, and economy – Widener doesn’t waste a second of runtime, and this record won’t waste yours.

LISTEN: “Enemy Dreams” on Soundcloud

BUY: Fuzz City Records

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RATING: 7.7/10

This blog has covered BASS DRUM OF DEATH before, so we were excited to hear that there’s fresh sounds coming from the camp in the form of the Unwed Teenage Mothers, a new project from BDoD drummer Collin Sneed. Overall, the sound is similar – the vocals are coated in the same lo-fi slime as those on “GB City,” but this puts a toe on the brake pedal and ramps up the hooks. Opening track “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” is a mid-tempo tune which really, is barely garage punk at all – it’s more jangley pop-rock with a grandiose, sweeping feel, which I don’t have anything against categorically, but this track is a little lacking in the cojones department, and isn’t really catchy enough to make me forget about that.

Following this is a little bouncy ditty called “FFI,” which is less expansive than the first track, but is also a little less memorable, save for the stop-start chorus. It’s over before you even realize it, but fortunately it goes right into single “Why Does It Have To Be Tonight,” a driving number which is basically a poppier BDoD tune, but it’s not a bad thing at all – in fact, it’s probably my favorite track on here. Closer “Vein” is a mid-tempo tune which really, is barely garage punk at all – a tambo-lead beat and a fucking great bassline supporting a vocal melody(!!!). It recalls BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE in its lazy, bluesy lope, but still bears the punk edge of its creators’ other band – yeah, it’s really, really good.

Overall, despite a lackluster start, this 7″ is fairly impressive. There’s 4 tracks here, each in fairly distinct styles – a real achievement for a band I had somewhat pegged as one-trick ponies. Put plainly, this record is worth your money – just maybe start with tracks 3 and 4.

LISTEN: “Why Does It Have To Be Tonight” on Soundcloud

BUY: Speakertree Records

RATING: 7.2/10

This 12 song LP is based primarily on the notion that even if brevity’s not the soul of wit, it may be the soul of songwriting…despite the title. The band was meant to be, according to frontman Davey Hart, ‘an experiment in rapid, unfiltered songwriting…indulging my deep love for 70’s power pop, punk, and new wave.’ It’s a fairly spot on characterization – the songs here are pretty short, but they’re not simple – the shortness is very much in the vein of the UNNATURAL HELPERS, who actually sound kind of similar. Christmas Brides’ rapid songwriting translates into short little nuggets that sometimes work and sometimes don’t – though tracks like  “Ge Rm Ans” have a goofy charm, tracks like “He Thinks I’m Experimental Gay” get stuck in the mud, repeating the title, or stuttered chunks of the title ad nauseam, or just rely on lyrical clunkers like “your pussy commands me like a noose” (yeah, really).

Despite some woeful turns of phrase, the record has some pretty good moments – the best moments are when the BUZZCOCKS influence shines through – tight, polished numbers that can shift rhythm or riff on a dime…see “New Hit Mekanik” or the closer “I Know What Girls Don’t Like.” Even if it’s all a little silly, I can appreciate a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously – between the awesome cover art, and the toss-off Doors-copping intro for the sake of a pun, the LP manages to win me over. I could criticize it for scattershot songwriting, but that just seems to be the nature of the beast – there’s enough good moments here for me to keep this one in the collection.

LISTEN/BUY: Sophomore Lounge Records

RATING: 7.4/10

With cover art like that, I wasn’t sure what to expect – maybe another faceless hardcore group. With a name like Tropical Trash, I guess I was ready for 3 chord lo-fi garage dreck. Instead, I got this Louisville band who practice a relatively spartan brand of post-punk – reserved vocals, fidgety drums, and stabby guitar. The A-side of this EP, “Baltimore” starts off and finishes intriguing, a rising guitar figure accompanying low, droning vocals – their promo page cites the Fall and Killed By Death, but these guys are far too competent at their instruments to sound like either. The band shifts things up a lot rhythmically, there’s distinct sections that all fit together well, but at…probably about the 3 minute mark?, the band seems to get lost – the steady chug of the song gives way to a couple minutes of pointless guitar scratching. It’s a little disappointing, because there’s parts of the song that are pretty good.

B-side track 1 is a little closer to the hardcore I expected, a churning little ditty called False Crypt. This is pretty fucking cool – it’s hard to nail down exactly who they sound like – I’m tempted to say WHATEVER BRAINS for the weirdness of it. “Pentagram Ring Finger” follows the same plan, and it’s equally good – it’s got a weird free jazz interlude…maybe a saxophone? guitar squeaks? I dunno – where “Baltimore” went wrong, this one nails it pretty hard. I imagine seeing these guys live might be a real treat.

Despite a somewhat lackluster A-side, this 7″ has not only some good tunes, but enough surprises to warrant repeat listens. Tropical Trash are at their best in the sub-1:30 songs – aggressive when they need to be, weird when they wanna be, and somehow tuneful despite it all. 200 copies on white vinyl.

LISTEN/BUY: Sophomore Lounge Records 

RATING: 8/10

I really do love bands that are able to straddle a fine genre line well. Honeycomb Bones are a UK duo who seem equally influenced by BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB as they do the 2-step-dub-house-laptop-bass-step-wave that England has coming out the ears right now – spiraling psych guitar lines crossed with crisp, snapping drums. It’s an interesting mix – similar to THE KILLS, but more developed, less slinky. If use of a drum machine was all that HB had going for them, though, there’d be a lot less to say. Fortunately, the Bones also bring some good tunes to the party. Opener “Catherine Wheel” features a slow, dirty guitar line, with nimble drum programming that keeps the thing moving along – it gives the impression of a steam train that takes a while to start up, but is impossible to stop once it’s got going.

It’s hard to know what exactly is going on sometimes, the vocals are buried in the mix and some reverb, and the guitars are huge sounding, but this record takes a few listens to get a feel for. There’s not really a bad track on here, but it’s not easy to find a hook. Fortunately, there’s enough cool rhythmic work – especially on 3rd track “Penny Black” – to keep you coming back. I won’t be getting rid of this any time soon, though, and I look forward to whatever else is coming.

LISTEN: MEDIAFIRE (courtesy of the band)

BUY: Honeycomb Bones Tumblr

RATING: 8.5/10 – TOP TRASH

Hey guys, how ya doin? It’s been a while…things come up, I’ll do better. I guess I’ve also been listening to a lot of older stuff recently, so you don’t always get around to new stuff. Anyway, the new stuff I have been digging pretty hard is this fearsome threesome from Atlanta. Blood Bleeds is a wild, 11-track slab of rock-and-roll, shot through with a bitter vein of creeping tension. Opener “Red Eye” slithers along with a bass-driven groove, until it all suddenly explodes in buzzsaw guitars – the intensity is only ratcheted up further with successive tracks. The whole affair feels like the ROYAL BATHS LP that we liked so much earlier this year, but if it had been written and record after each member put down a bottle of rotgut whiskey.

“Hell Ride” is a more upbeat track in position 4, the bouncing bluesy vibe giving it a GUN CLUB feel which is not only entirely appropriate, but entirely ass-kicking. Or entirely awesome. Fuck. The vocals are strung-out, but also seem like they’re about one minute away from losing their shit, Alan Vega style – see exhibit 1, minute-long creep-out interlude “In My Bones”, which falls right into the churn of “Radiation Lady.” If I had to find something to take issue with on this album, it’s really only the vocal sound – I feel like these guys pen some interesting lines, but I wish I could hear them a little clearer. But don’t let that make you think I don’t really like this album – when you churn out tracks like the heroic builder “Gravity,” or the out-of-nowhere stomper “Stone Girl” you can do whatever you want. Got-damn! This is good. Buy it.

LISTEN: Vincas Bandcamp

BUY: Douchemaster Records

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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