Language : Plymouth EP

Language as a whole hail from Brooklyn. But apart the members, which include Omar Afzaal(gtr, vox), Charles Sloan(bass, vox), and Wes Black(drums, vox) all arrived in New York from different directions with ambition and a singular desire to create great art. If you’re at all familiar with Language’s work then you know their sound is jagged like post-punk but adventurous like the best art rock from the late-70s and early-80s. Listening to their 2015 debut EP Remus was like a shot of Polvo and Deerhoof through the lens of EVOL-era Sonic Youth. There was an edge, but with a sense of abandon. Junket EP followed in 2016 and had more of a sense of urgency(no part in thanks to the political climate at the time.) The Brooklyn trio had tightened up their sound to a well-oiled machine, with almost King Crimson-esque precision.

We’ve arrived at 2018 and the political climate hasn’t gotten any better kids. Two years ago saying it couldn’t get any worse really felt like a truthful statement(I think preppy White Nationalists holding Tiki torches in Charlottesville and christian conservatives giving the President a pass on an affair with a porn star says otherwise.) One thing that has gotten better since 2016 is Language. They’ve signed a record deal with goodeyerecords and are presenting the world with their brand new EP titled Plymouth. Afzaal, Sloan, and Black have put plenty of shows and sweaty practices under their belts and their new EP shows it. It’s a tour-de-force of aggression with a purpose.

“Where To?” opens the EP with a tribal feel. Language create a gritty explosion of noisy guitar and jungle rhythms that seem to say things are getting real and we know it. “Game Piece” is the heaviest Language have gotten. They move through the track with sheer punk authority, yet there’s still a playfulness in the delivery that truly grounds the song. Afzaal lays down some effective octaves with his guitar while Sloan and Black create a rock solid rhythm section. “Standing on a new rock, kinda like the old one” Charles Sloan sings on the title track as the guys absolutely scorch the earth around them. This is a big old rock and roll track that you won’t be able to get out of your head.

Elsewhere, “Into And Out Of” borders on proto-metal with an absolute blistering guitar and drum attack. The EP closes out with “Square Winds”. A jagged post-punk number that practically melts the speakers. It’s like the Descendants and At The Drive In banged this one out in some Midwest basement while neighbors worried the end was nigh.

Language have upped themselves with each successive release. Plymouth EP shows this Brooklyn three piece continuing that trend; becoming heavier, wilier, and catchier in the process. Once the last song ends you’ll want to listen to it again. And again.

Plymouth EP is available everywhere May 18th via goodeyerecords. Preorder the cassette here.

7.9 out of 10

A Place To Bury Strangers : Pinned

A Place To Bury Strangers has always been an exercise in pain to my ears. The New York post-punk/noise rock band deal in angst and sonic annihilation and have since their beginning. From their debut self-titled in 2007 to now I’ve attempted to find an in with them, but each time would end up in frustration and mild tinnitus. With their last album, 2015s Transfixiation I had found a crack in their wall of noise and found myself finally lost in their guitar/bass/drums pummeling. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

I started working my way back through Worship, Exploding Head, and their debut and came at their songs like an alien walking through the Guggenheim. I began taking their methods and structures apart in order to understand them. The sonic assaults felt more like meticulously-painted canvases that were meant to be consumed as a visceral experience, not necessarily an intellectual one. You can’t intellectualize a mountain or an earthquake any easier than you can intellectualize Throbbing Gristle or Suicide. Once you begin thinking about it too hard something gets lost in the translation. Oliver Ackermann and Dion Lunadon are sonic painters in the world of gothic post-punk. It’s dark, mysterious, and exists in sweaty nights where shimmering oceans of watery blackness pool along sidewalks. Black leather jackets, buzzing neon signs, and questionable decisions that lead to even more questionable decisions. Pain from pleasure, and pleasure from pain.

With their newest album, Pinned, APTBS have added drummer and singer Lia Simone Braswell to the mix. What Braswell brings to the mix is some light to the darkened room where all the scary sounds emanate from. Don’t think for a second this record is some sort of pop breakthrough. It’s not. It’s just as pained and chaotic as anything they’ve done before. There’s just a smattering of beauty on the chaotic canvas this time around.

As much as you’d like to think that the first thing you notice with A Place To Bury Strangers is the guitar assault, it’s rather Dion Lunadon’s bass. It’s what brings you into Ackermann’s fiery feedback squelches. “Never Coming Back” opens with a driving bass line that brings to mind Joy Division, the kings of gothic post-punk sadsacks(Peter Hook should be knighted by now.) The song swells with Ackermann and Braswell’s vocals before the apocalyptic guitar explodes. It builds into a cavernous end, then “Execution” rolls in. It’s a glitchy affair that feels like a hybrid of early Cure being run through Remain In Light-era Adrian Belew. “There’s Only One Of Us” almost sounds like Morphine in the beginning, before the chorus comes rolling in and the boy/girl vocals add an almost playful vibe(playful for APTBS.)

Elsewhere “Too Tough To Kill” sounds like Jesus and Mary Chain being pulverized in a sonic meat grinder while “Frustrated Operator” has an almost upbeat New Order sound with the driving drum beat. Of course Ackermann adds some Kevin Shields wall-0f-sound guitar for good measure. “I Know I’ve Done Bad Things” is minimal perfection. It’s like The xx being regenerated through a waterlogged Tandy 1000. “Keep Moving On” closes the record on an Wax Trax vibe, all techno drive despite itself.

Pinned isn’t veering very far from the inner ear destruction that came before it, but with the addition of Lia Simone Braswell the formula has been improved. There’s a little more groove and a much-needed feminine touch to A Place To Bury Strangers’ full-frontal noise assault.

7.8 out of 10

Preoccupations : New Material

I’ve been known to feel a bit down from time to time. I can be a bit hard on myself when I feel I’m not doing enough or trying hard enough in this crazy thing called life. But I don’t think I’ve ever been clinically depressed. I carry my share of anxiety and self-imposed guilt, but nothing that anyone should be concerned about. Hell, don’t we all deal with self-doubt and fear of failure at some point? How else do we push ourselves to do better if not for some existential fear nipping at our behinds?

But Preoccupations’ Matt Flegel, he’s on a whole other level when it comes to self-doubt, anxiety, and swimming in the deep, dark, and desperate waters known as depression(hell, the guy wrote a song called “Anxiety”.) Flegel, along with his bandmates Scott Munro, Daniel Christiansen, and Mike Wallace have been churning out jagged post-punk since 2013. They formed after the break-up of the indie band Women, of which singer/bassist Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace were members. The surprise success of their Cassette cassette EP led to the early 2015 release of their self-titled debut Viet Cong. That led to cancelled shows, broken arms, playing to crowds of 10 across the US, and then an eventual name change to Preoccupations. Their follow-up, another self-titled, showed all the drama and angst had worn on them, in-particular in Matt Flegel’s lyrics. Despite the dread conveyed through words, the music lightened up from their debut as Viet Cong. At times there was even a progressive quality that brought the songs up from the doldrums of self-loathing.

This leads us to New Material, the bands third full-length in three years. This Canadian post-punk band keep dialing up the light musically and dialing it down lyrically. The juxtaposition between the light and dark is what makes New Material so engaging and fascinating. You’ll either buy the ticket and take the ride or you won’t. I’ve purchased a year round pass.

“It’s an ode to depression,’ singer Matt Flegel says. “To depression and self-sabotage, and looking inward at yourself with extreme hatred.” There is no assuming here. There’s no theorizing where the band is going with these songs. It’s a concept record about falling apart with no needle and thread to sew yourself back together. But where lesser bands would romanticize being depressed and dealing with darkness and turn it into nothing more than some teen’s high school diary, Preoccupations makes it into a masterful and quite beautiful spiritual reckoning. “Espionage” captures beautifully the band’s love for Bauhaus, Joy Division, and even hints of Gary Numan, but adds a more muscular fist punching the air. Flegel’s vocals have historically been slathered in studio grit and layers of grey, but here those effects have been stripped away. This makes songs like “Decompose” and “Disarray” all the more engaging. There’s a real vulnerability that comes thru, especially in the latter track. The desperation of “Disarray” is disarming and pulls you in. The lilting guitar and steady heartbeat of a bass line works to drive the emotion along. “Manipulation” moves along like a some broken down machine attempting to start itself back up, while “Antidote” almost comes across as some 80s deep club remix. Flegel nearly comes across as upbeat in his delivery here as the drums beckon the dance floor ghosts.

Preoccupations have given in fully to the idea that you can’t escape the doom, so you might as well embrace it and see what happens. They entered the studio with no solid ideas, just dark vibes to go on. This record was built from the ground up with four guys hashing it out together, and Flegel added the vocals afterwards. “Finishing ‘Espionage’ was when I realized,” says Flegel. “I looked at the rest of the lyrics and realized the magnitude of what was wrong.”

Despite the doom and gloom, you can’t help but fall for the driving rhythms and pop-inflected anxiety of songs like “Solace” or the slow burn of “Doubt” with its Cure-like crawl to some doomed finale. In the slower moments there is a real Faith quality to the songwriting. “Compliance” feels almost new age-like, as if stumbling across some ancient temple dedicated to self-doubt in the middle of your subconscious. Seems like a very definitive period for this record.

New Material is the best thing Preoccupations have done. They’ve given in to the darkness, and instead of masking it they are fully embracing it. It seems there was no work around for Flegel this time. He committed to the doubt and anxiety he was working thru and let his bandmates inside. The result is the most upbeat form of self-therapy you’ll hear all year.

Social espionage has never sounded so inviting.

8.3 out of 10

 

Protomartyr : Relatives In Descent

The Motor City’s Protomartyr sound like modern harbingers of doom. Singer Joe Casey takes the podium front and center like a prophet telling us the secrets of our demise as a society in riddles, suggestions, and proclamations. Guitarist Greg Ahee blends melodic moments with outright blasts of contempt, while bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard lay the foundation to which Casey and Ahee can blast us with poetic chaos. They’ve been building their post-punk brand for nearly 10 years now and with each record they’ve honed their desolation music with precision, coming to near perfection with 2015s The Agent Intellect.

Protomartyr are back and have jumped from Hardly Art to Domino Records. Their debut with Domino is the poignantly titled Relatives In Descent, a post-punk/noise rock art piece that seems to reflect the current state of disarray our country is currently in. This record cuts delicately, but it still cuts deep.

One constant in the music of Protomartyr is the sense of urgency that pumps through each track. And yet you feel you must push forward there’s still an elegance in the poetry of Joe Casey and the music the band backs his words with. “A Private Understanding” opens with tension. A feeling that something important needs to happen. It opens with busy drums and the guitars trying to find resolve. There is a resolve in the chorus as Casey keeps repeating “She’s just trying to reach you”. “Here Is The Thing” sounds like Pere Ubu on a Gang of Four jag. Casey does his best street-level preacher; a dystopian philosopher preaching his sermon on the mound. “Windsor Hum” wonders if things might be better across the river, while “Night-Blooming Cereus” is much more of a contemplative track. This is the most Protomartyr have ever sounded like Wire. On the other side of that coin, “Up The Tower” explodes into musical shards and shrapnel with hardcore vigor. Mark E. Smith is somewhere in this track, rearing his angst-y, curmudgeonly head. “Corpses In Regalia” has an angular feel with the airtight rhythm section while Ahee lays down some almost Andy Sommers guitar vibe. “Half Sister” sounds like doom and gloom for the coffeehouse crowd.

I think where Protomartyr succeed most is when they disengage the fuzz and noise and go for more of a fierce Smiths sound. Jangly guitars, tight rhythm section, and plenty of room for Joe Casey to spit his vitriol all over the place. When things get too noisy Casey gets lost in the mix and that’s a shame as he’s got plenty to say.

Relatives In Descent is a continued steady march towards something greater. There are moments that feel they need a little tweaking, but those are few and far between. These Motor City prophets are still as urgent as ever. We just need to open our ears and take it all in.

7.6 out of 10

METZ : Strange Peace

I will admit that I have a bit of a dude crush on the Canadian rock band METZ. There’s just something about their intense brand of noise rock/post-punk gumbo that gets me in the gut. It’s a kind of rush that comes with a special sort of experience. Maybe like jumping out of a plane, taking part in the running of the bulls in high heels, or that exhilaration one feels as the last car of a rollercoaster gets pulled by sheer force over that first big hill. I liken the METZ experience to putting the pedal to the metal on some long, open country road. It’s something I used to do when I had a 1977 Chevy Nova. I’d push that 305 V8 to its limit. There was that feeling where you though your heart would jump from your chest to your throat to right out your mouth.

METZ makes noise that makes me feel weird and invincible.

Their debut self-titled record and its follow-up II were like beehives recently kicked and punched. They buzzed and hollered like years of misspent youth and broken dreams stewing in warm, stale beer looking for their car keys at a bummer of a party. The only cure for that kind of pent-up rage is to ignite a guitar amp on fire with buzzsaw riffs. Guitarist and vocalist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies seem to tap into some kind of subconscious Cro-Magnon rage when they come together as three piece METZ. It’s an ancient magic that gets me every time.

Strange Peace is their newest record and their best. Some maybe thought this time around they’d try and clean up their act a bit, maybe even try and write a pop song. Turns out they’ve made their heaviest and most accessible record to date. How about that?

From that debut to II and all the 45 singles that came before, in-between, and after there’s been this unmistakable crash and grind to the METZ sound that always reminded me of Steve Albini. They pay tribute in their own unique way to Shellac and In Utero-era Nirvana. You can hear it in Edkins’ piercing guitar tones and his guttural vocal belting; as well as the concrete slab of a rhythm section in Slorach and Menzies. This time around instead of creating the Steve Albini sound on their own, METZ actually got the real Steve Albini to do it for them. The results are as loud and wonderful as you’d hope.

Even though there’s no pulling back of the aggression and noise, there’s a fine tuning happening to where all those sonic explosions can more easily be savored. Something like the jagged opener “Mess Of Wires” might’ve been almost unbearable to the senses on a previous record. A minute in and the ears would dull and the eyes would bleed. But here the menace and anxiety is blended into a cocktail easily swallowed and enjoyed, without losing any of the woozy pleasure. The vocals are turned into a sly pop hook. You’re given a catchy melody amidst the broken glass and bent rebar. Likewise, “Drained Lake” comes out of the gate with punk dexterity and alien-esque guitar noise. Soon enough though, vocal harmonies rise from the depths to give this song a pop undercurrent. Alex Edkins comes across like Jello Biafra on a steady diet of Big Black and the Feelies. This is the perfect blend of aggression and sly pop undercurrents. “Common Trash” is a pretty much straight guitar pop track, complete with hooky vocals and good time guitar riffing. Except this pop is wrapped up with a barbed wire bow. “Dig A Hole” sounds like sheet metal covering an Angry Samoans track, while album closer is a spring snapping in slow motion for nearly 6 minutes.

Don’t think that all this “pop” talk means our Ottawa noise rock bros have mellowed. They just seem to have found a way to keep things redlining but in a way that even the deadest of dead fish might end up whistling a METZ track in the shower some morning.

Strange Peace is the perfect balance of METZ at full force and METZ opening their doors for passerbys to walk in and check them out. This may end up being one of my favorite records of the year.

8.6 out of 10

LCD Soundsystem : American Dream

There’s always been something about James Murphy that I’ve been drawn to. Ever since I bought LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver on a whim back in 2007 I’ve been enamored with the guy. Maybe because he’s close to my age. Maybe because he’s a middle-aged guy acting like a middle-aged guy. He’s not posturing the dude-isms of a 25-year old and acting like a malcontent every chance he gets. His passsions seem to lie in vintage synths, coffee, early 70s electronic music, and David Bowie. How can I not feel that on some level James Murphy is my soulmate? Or at the very least someone I’d love to have a cup of coffee with and talk NEU! and Conny Plank.

When LCD Soundsystem called it quits back in 2011 I was sad, for sure. To my ears Murphy and his band seemed to have more to give to the world. This Is Happening was both a glorious record and a melancholy one. There seemed to be a hint of “where do we go next?” going on, and apparently Murphy felt it was time to move on. Their farewell show at Madison Square Garden was a beautiful eulogy for a band still very much alive but not sure where to go. The band went their separate ways and James Murphy took a shot at producing other artists. What he realized was that he didn’t like producing other artists, just him and all his friends. So just like that LCD Soundsystem rose from the ashes of retirement and have returned better than ever. American Dream is the best album James Murphy and friends have made. It’s still steeped in the fun dance punk of their self-titled and the self-aware cynicism of Sound Of Silver. But this time it feels that there’s absolutely no question as to where LCD Soundsystem are going.

“Oh Baby” opens the album on sweetly dreamy note. This song puts me in mind of Suicide’s sweeter moments. Vega and Rev could definitely create tension and anxiety like the best of ’em, but when he wanted to Alan Vega could sound sweet and sincere. “Oh Baby” is the sweeter side of Suicide, with a hint of early Kraftwerk. “Other Voices” is primo LCD. Groovy as hell with Murphy proselytizing from the pulpit of dance rock, it’s a song you won’t be able to keep still through. Nancy Whang jumps in for a verse or two as well. “Change Yr Mind” seethes with Berlin Trilogy-era Bowie. There’s some serious Low vibes going on here. With the guitar squalls, Murphy’s vocal delivery, and the heavy lean on bass this track feels like some sort of musical exorcism. “How Do You Sleep?” is the darkest I think LCD Soundsystem has ever gotten. Tribal drums, vocals sounding as if they’re coming from some endless void, and languid-sounding buzzes and bleeps make for some seriously grim vibes. Imagine Joy Division and Bauhaus trying to outdo each other in their melancholy prime. That would be this epic slow burner.

When the initial singles “American Dream” and “Call The Police” were released I remember feeling a little underwhelmed. They were decent songs, but not “back from the dead” kind of songs. Then “Tonite” was released and all was forgiven. In the context of the rest of the album they fit in quite nicely as these more shinier, upbeat songs. But “Tonite”, that’s just classic, funky LCD Soundsystem. It’s pure giddy dance fun. I hear that song(and watch the video) and I’m reminded of Prince and the Revolution. Maybe that’s a crazy comparison, but I think there’s something to be said for Murphy’s ability to lead a group of great musicians into funky, wonky musical territory.

I once had an emotional haircut. It was a few years ago when I realized I shouldn’t grow my hair out long, what with me being a man of follicle issues. I wish it had been as fun and punky as LCDs “Emotional Haircut”, but alas it was just sorta sad.

“Black Screen” is the epic ending to an epic new beginning. It’s quiet, dense, and hums with tube-driven emotion. I’m not sure James Murphy has ever written a song so subtle and vast as this 12-minute opus. There’s a melancholy feel as the song fades with a pulsating synth and distant piano chimes. Goodbye, cruel world.

Most of these “we’re retiring, goodbye….hey, we’re back!” shenanigans usually end up with the majority consensus being they should’ve stayed retired(I’m looking at you, Pixies.) But LCD Soundsystem breaks the mold as far as comebacks go. Murphy closed the door too soon on his band of electronic misfits, and I think he knew that the day after his retirement party at MSG. I’m glad he can admit when he’s wrong, because American Dream is a beautiful reunion for them and us. And us and them.

8.7 out 10

 

Preoccupations : Preoccupations

Preoccupations is the band formerly known as Viet Cong. Viet Cong was a band that put out one of my favorite albums of 2015. Preoccupations is a band that may havejag290-preoccupations-fc-1400 put out one of my favorite albums of 2016. Not only for the fact that their self-titled album is a beautifully dark concoction of post-punk abyss and bits of light shining through the grainy muck and mire, but for the fact that these four Canadian musicians persevered through a year of calamities, broken bones, desolate gigs, and ultimately a band name controversy that ended up seeing the band disappear for a few months as Viet Cong and reemerge as Preoccupations. This record is a testament to the frustration, broken relationships, loneliness, defeat, and desolation of a year of general misfortune and finding a beauty in it all.

There’s an industrial graininess to Preoccupation’s music. It sounds as if it came off an assembly line in some long dead factory located in an overgrown lot awaiting demolition. When you first hear album opener “Anxiety” that grey and soot-filled landscape of Eraserhead comes to mind. Singer/bassist Matt Flegel’s voice sounds like a cross between Peter Murphy and Neil Diamond. This is the guy that covered the former’s “Dark Entries” a couple years ago, but could pull off “Forever In Blue Jeans” like a champ. With “Monotony” that gravelly voice only solidifies the Diamond mannerisms, but only if the Jazz Singer would be down with Wire’s 154. The 11-minute “Memory” floats along on something that resembles a good vibe, or at least a smile as you sink into the ether. There’s some great guest vocals by fellow Canadian and Handsome Furs/Divine Fits singer Dan Boeckner. The track goes from driving force to melting into the abyss. It’s a mesmerizing listen.

I think what I find so amazing about this record and band is their ability to go so dark in mood, yet still put this sheen of optimistic light throughout the gloom. There are truly harrowing moments on this album, but there are also some nearly new wave-ish sounds happening here. “Degraded” rises through the speakers in a sheet of white noise and feedback before morphing into one of the most “pop” moments we’ve heard from these guys. There’s also more emphasis on rhythm this time around, as Flegel and drummer Michael Wallace lock in for some serious groove throughout the record. Guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen use their 6-strings just as much for creating swaths of noise and mood as they do for creating melody. They seem to be painting abstract over the skeletal grooves. “Forbidden” is dark and foreboding, while “Stimulation” sounds like The Police circa 1979 colliding with Rush circa 1984. A propulsive beat is painted in jangle guitar and Matt Flegel’s urgent vocals. “Fever” is a synth-heavy closer that has a doomed calm to it. “You’re not scared, carry your fever away from here” Matt Flegel sings as hazy synths consume everything till silence.

Preoccupations sounds like a band more comfortable as a band, but not necessarily content. There’s still plenty of push and pull on this record. There’s tension and skepticism about where we’re all going as humanity seems to continue to rot from the inside out. Despite what may sound like a downer of an album, Preoccupations self-titled is as engaging as it is harrowing. There’s beauty in the shadows and darkness, as Preoccupations point out one song at a time.

8. 4 out of 10