Rules are meant to be broken. The idea of setting creative rules for yourself – in SPLLIT’s case, recording two distinct sides of a record from two songwriters in a day’s time – can be tantilizing as an artist. It creates a process, a goal, a narrative, and an eventual ideal to be trampled on for your followup. This is the situation SPLLIT find themselves in for Infinite Hatch, their second full length release and first true cohesive album length statement. The Baton Rouge post-punk duo’s (known professionally as MARANCE and URQ) first record, Spllit Sides, featured seven new songs and several more from an older cassette-only release. Infinite Hatch finds the team starting from the ground up for a batch of twelve stretchy, bouncy jams.
The core of SPLLIT’s sound has always been a merging of Palm-style mathy post-punk with DIY egg-punk sensibilities. Egg-punk (a term I hate, but one that sadly has meaning) is a tough genre to break into these days because, like with most punk subgenres, the lack of innovation in the genre means bands just iterate on each other endlessly. There’s two approaches you can take to skirt around this: you can either spend the money to record your quirky bursts in a real studio (à la Snooper, which turned out great for them) or you can inject real ideas into your music. SPLLIT chooses the latter.
SPLLIT’s biggest strength lies in mashing together seemingly disparate pieces, like on “Cloaking” where the band smash cuts loping verses into a hardcore-flavored outro. Infinite Hatch as a whole feels like that over its runtime, but when you dig into the individual pieces (like the skittering drum machine bits in “Dorks Tried” or “Bevy Slew”’s tempo fluctuations around one central theme) you notice something: there is one singular sonic world that this whole album takes place in. SPLLIT has created their own unique sonic palette right outside the edge of easy comparison. Everything comes in twos – vocals, drums, guitars. Layers upon layers of sound add up to some truly caterwauling, freeform punk. Rarely does this kind of trek into odd time signatures and herky-jerky rhythms sound this fun, which is the other big component of the SPLLIT sound world. Tracks like “Gemini Moods (Return)” sound joyful without being cloying. It’s easy to imagine the studio mania that accompanied the splatty keyboards and meter changes and even easier to feel invited to dance along with the band.
Infinite Hatch is a tough album to crack, but the invitation into its world is a tempting one. Every time I return to it, I turn over a new stone and find a new bleep, bloop, or percussion whack to appreciate. I’m drawn to albums like this – homespun patchworks of found sounds and dreamed up soundscapes from creative minds too weird to be pinned down. SPLLIT leveled up big time on Infinite Hatch. It’s a dispatch from two songwriters bursting at the seam with ideas. There’s a large part of me that hopes that other punk bands take a page out of their book – stretch out, loosen up, and don’t be afraid to sound demented while you’re doing it.
Midway through The Elephant 6 Recording Co., the documentary focusing on the titular DIY artist collective based out of Louisiana and Georgia, one of the members of Neutral Milk Hotel (or The Gerbils, it starts to all run together at some point) discusses the potlucks the group would host. The gatherings were about more than just food – they were places where loosely employed touring musicians could smoke weed and just talk. Thirty freaks would hang out in someone’s yard, enjoying vegetarian chili and playing each other tapes full of homespun fuzz-folk. The musician in question ascribed the scene’s hypercreativity and intense cross pollination directly to the fact that they had the space for large, uninterrupted gatherings. The geography and cheap rent directly influenced the music itself. “Some records just can’t be made in New York City,” he says, beaming and full of pride.
Hartle Road is a band that couldn’t exist anywhere else on Earth. I say this as someone who has been attending Hartle Road shows (even when they weren’t called Hartle Road) for over a decade now. I actually got a chance to film a Hartle Road set earlier this year, marking the first time I had seen the band since the pandemic. I loved it, but I could sense that the audience was confused. They opened with “Feel Me,” the Feelies-inspired opener on their upcoming record MAXX II (following the precedent set by MAXX, which opens with a Neu! sendup titled “New”). Most expect openers to be tone setters. Attendees expecting a set of propulsive, jangly rock with overdriven bass were probably a little disappointed. The set had some of that, sure, but it was mixed in with songs that sounded like the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack and moody, synthesizer-heavy pieces plucked from 80s crime dramas. The set was 41 minutes long. Right around four of that actually ended up on MAXX II.
That’s what’s made Hartle Road such a compelling band over the years. The band is made up of two brothers, their cousin, and their friend that just happens to be one of the greatest guitar players on the planet. The familial trio live together in Columbus, Mississippi. I grew up in Starkville, home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. These two cities, along with West Point, make up the Golden Triangle. Each city is about 20 minutes from the others and just about nothing happens in any of them.
Hartle Road is one of anywhere between two and four “alternative” rock bands working in the Golden Triangle at any given time. It’s sad, honestly. There’s always been a smattering of high school and college kids with a genuine interest in independent art, but they’re evenly matched by frat dudes and normal bar patrons. Every show in a real “venue” is filled with a mix of people who want to be inspired and people who wish you hadn’t shown up. There’s just no real money or support for it in the area outside of a handful of bars no one likes playing. Still, there’s been a persistent chip-on-your-shoulder spirit that’s prevailed in creatives beaten down by the Mississippi sun. I was recently interviewed for a lightly embarrassing documentary about my own band’s relationship with playing music in Mississippi and what I learned from it. I could tell that the documentarian was trying to elicit some sort of “you have to work on your chops to keep up with the blues!” type of down-home folk wisdom but all I could tell her was that playing noise rock to swaths of dads and grads walking out of The Blind Pig bar on Ole Miss’ graduation day really toughened me up. That’s a common feeling down here; everyone has a phase where they get bitter about it and then they get creative.
Here’s the loose Hartle Road story up until now – Toby Hartleroad (older brother), Max Hartleroad (younger brother), and Miles Jordan (cousin) start playing music together from a young age. They start an angsty kind of band you’d expect kids to start. They link up with two other guys and start listening to a lot of Springsteen and power pop. They do that for a while, drop the other two guys, pick up Tyler Carter (not related), and start honing in on some sort of vague mix of garage and 60s pop rock. There’s an EP with a Fat Possum subsidiary no one cares about and a 7” with no sleeve and sharpie on the labels. They write songs and scrap them. They morph every time their record collection changes, with krautrock and punk records intermingling with a burgeoning interest in dance music. Calvin Johnson somehow hears them and akes a liking to them. They go on tour with Calvin. They cut a 7” together. They write songs and scrap them. They become a staple of the late 10s Memphis punk scene despite not being punk. MAXX drops and they play songs from MAXX II while promoting it. They write songs and scrap them. They record an entire album as a band called “Zuul” that never sees the light of day (I can verify it exists). They write a “college rock” album and scrap it, though that may have actually just been parts of MAXX II in retrospect. Sometime in there I end up playing two shows with another fucking side band called Sloth, which is a punk band devoted to The Goonies. They’re incredible. The pandemic happens and they hunker down even more in their home. Calvin Johnson swings by to record an entire record with them and it comes out earlier this year. They play confusing music in Memphis that was described to me as “vaguely mariachi.” Then, finally, MAXX II, recorded in spurts between 2016 and 2020, releases on K Records.
I have heard more Hartle Road songs than are recorded. A lot more. Especially when you start considering the side bands – Zuul, Sloth, that time I saw Max open for Wreckless Eric (who also has an affinity for the band) and play a set that was just him yelling over the loudest drum machine conceivable, etc. I think this puts me in the prime position to declare that MAXX II is the best selection of songs this band could’ve made for a second record. I’m biased, sure, but I also feel like the expectations were set sky high. MAXX was released in 2016 and seven years is a long time to wait for a follow up. The second Hartle Road album is the stuff of Mississippi indie rock legend. No one knew what the titles of “Rear Projection” and “ICU” even were but we could hum every bar. The fact that it’s here and it rules is tantamount to a blessing.
MAXX II is a sprawling, borderless record. Hartle Road became punk show favorites with tracks like the buoyant “Rear Projection” but calling this a punk record would betray it a bit. MAXX II doesn’t genre hop as much as it presents small slices of the same artistic mindset. The tracks feel like selections from a record collection without dipping into the dreaded waters of being “record collector rock.” There’s hooks, there’s jams, there’s grooves, and the throughline through all of it is the unwavering DIY spirit that can only come from psychic familial bonds.
Take the standout single “ICU,” with its circular, sawing guitar riff coalescing around a dance beat. This gives way to a chiming post-punk guitar solo and a mutant disco bassline. The song is over just as it lays all of its ideas out. A less intentioned band would let it linger, but Hartle Road’s entire MO is intention. Their biggest strength across MAXX II is their ability to keep the listener guessing. Why shouldn’t “ICU” cut to the organ lullabye “Catch the Cradle?” Why shouldn’t “Wall of Moog,” a pop song from another dimension, come right before the Tom Verlaine-esque guitar workout “Real Projection Pt. 2?” I love MAXX enjoyed the attention it paid to more straight forward rockers like “Blank Check” and “Lonely,” but the band’s expanded sonic palette on MAXX II has made the wait worth it. Even the lead vocal duties have shifted around, with Jordan taking on more songs than either of the titular Hartleroads.
“Hell Hole” sums up a lot of this record. Hartle Road knows how to mix humor and earnestness, and what could be a better place to do that than on a song about how your Mississippi town sucks? This is no pop punk whinefest either; take it from me, the idea of watching the whole place “burn to the ground”, literally burn, is a relatable fantasy. And remember, this is Hartle Road, so Jordan’s fantasy is accompanied by shrieking synthesizers and an absolutely ripping guitar solo. I had seen this song performed as a borderline comedy routine years ago, an almost cabaret showcase of southern angst and small town loneliness. It comes off as a defeated sigh on MAXX II, complete with the pragmatic plainness of someone who you know really means it.
MAXX II is not a straightforward record. It’s not even an inviting record. It’s confusing, twisting, and sometimes you can’t tell if you’re the butt of the joke or laughing along with the band. That’s the kind of confrontational, creative spirit you have to foster if you’re going to survive as an artist in Mississippi. It’s the same kind of spirit I saw onstage as the band ripped into song after song that didn’t even show up on this record. It’s the same kind of spirit that I’ve admired for years and am very happy to have as a physical release in my hands. This is not a band that could exist anywhere else, but I’m very glad they exist here in this time and place.
Welcome to I Love Your Label, a new column on Tabs Out, where Zach Mitchell interviews the heads of tape labels about their labels and artists. For the inaugural entry, I spoke with Raegan Labat of Tough Gum, a Baton Rouge, LA tape label specializing in left field, colorful, home recorded punk. You may also know Raegan as the bassist in the live formation of Feel It Records artists Spllit. Check the label’s tapes out over on Bandcamp, and their video series over on YouTube.
ZM: How did Tough Gum initially start?
RL: Me and Ryan [Welsh] started this music festival and we ended up collaborating with this other band Loudness War. We called it WarFair. We would try to bring in bands that we didn’t get to see here a lot. I did this twice, maybe? I was like “I really don’t have my name on any of this shit and I kind of want recognition.” I was already wanting to get press passes to do photo stuff at concerts, so I was like “I’m gonna start a blog.” I already had a name, but I didn’t know what it was going to be. I hadn’t started it yet because I didn’t have a clear vision of what it was, and that’s kind of what it became. I just started to describe it as a file folder of things I was doing. If you look back on old [Instagram] posts you’d probably see playlists, festival content, photo diaries, and I was also booking shows under the name. Then the pandemic hit. I knew I always wanted to start a label but I didn’t know how, so I just started following – just like everyone else in music scenes – DIY labels and seeing people make more tapes. Somehow, a live video series and a tape label started to form. I got a tape deck and it just happened.
ZM: Thematically, what do you think Tough Gum really is? Is there a Tough Gum sound you’re looking for or is it just whatever strikes your fancy as it comes across your plate?
RL: I feel like it’s more whatever strikes my fancy. I don’t feel like a curator, I just have my tastes. I was booking a lot of energetic punk shows. I was bringing the kind of stuff I wish we had in Baton Rouge but just wasn’t happening. That was me being self-serving, but I knew it was really fucking cool and I wanted people to get into it. People did get into it! No one formed punk bands after that, but, y’know, people had a great time. With the label, I had similar ideas and wanted to bring interesting sounds and stuff that I really loved to the audience I already had. I think the Tough Gum sound is definitely per my taste but I’m looking for new and unique sounds that really energize me and make me feel like I really want to help share this person’s stuff with people.
ZM: It seems like a lot of the Tough Gum output is pretty regional to Baton Rouge. What’s the Baton Rouge scene like these days?
RL: During Covid, it really dissipated. It became disconnected. People weren’t doing a lot in person, obviously, and I don’t really recall a lot of stuff being put out. After that, it was very slow to pick up as a committed scene. The Baton Rouge scene has always been very eclectic. There’s a mix of sounds and individual crews doing whatever they’re doing. They all come together for live shows, it’s pretty cool.
ZM: I want to talk about your history with cassettes a little bit. Have you been a cassette lifer or did you pick up collecting them at a certain point in your life?
RL: I really don’t know! I remember my first record, how I started collecting, and what I started collecting first but with tapes, I don’t know. You know me and physical media – I have an addiction and an appreciation. I’d imagine that it ramped up at the same time [as Tough Gum starting] for me. It’s always the cheapest thing on the merch table, at least compared to the records. Ever since I got an actual player I started getting more and more. Before that, my only memory [of tapes] is with my dad. He used to run a nightclub in LaPlace [Louisiana] of all places – like an alternative, new wave nightclub. He was the owner, bartender, and DJ. He made mixtapes for it and that’s kind of the sentimental aspect of cassettes. I cherish having those and seeing the designs and how he curated stuff.
STEEF – POST F
ZM: With Steef, everything on it makes sense together but it covers a lot of genre ground over 16 minutes. There’s zolo stuff, straight ahead punk stuff, and a really funny dance song on there. Which one is that?
RL: “Get Uglier.”
ZM: There’s also a silly element to it, which I hope you don’t find insulting.
RL: Sounds like Stevie [Spring]! I feel like this and the Fake Last Name record are really similar in that there are, like, 30 different genres attached [to those releases]. But yeah, I remember when Stevie sent [the album] to me. I was on Side A and I was like “sick, I’m so excited for this.” On Side B I was like, “what’s going on? This record completely changed!” It sounded like a lot of his solo stuff. He’s, just to put it out there, a pop master. He’s XTC’s biggest fan. I feel like he has this pop sensibility and just loves to sing. He’s also good at making “Ableton Punk,” which is just bizarre, freaky sounds. He creates his own world.
ZM: I was surprised at his pipes, honestly. I feel like a lot of vocals in bedroom punk stuff just end up being an afterthought and are buried in the mix. Dude wants to croon a little bit.
RL: Yeah, with the harmonies and everything! I feel like it makes it more unexpected. The melodies and sounds on that album are kind of a strange vibe.
Urq – Stop Mania/Scrapped Ideas
ZM: Urq is probably the closest to Steef in sound, but it’s a little more straightforward. You released a cassingle, which is cool. I think you told me you only did a cassingle because you bought the wrong tape, right?
RL: I misordered the Steef tapes! I’m also obsessed with singles and I love a good b-side. I had a lot of good ideas for singles but Matthew [of Urq] ended up having the energy to come up with an idea for how to use the tape. He has other records that aren’t as straightforward, like stuff that’s more into the strange, Residents-y world. Very strange, weird voice alterations and characters. For his single, he sent me two options and this is the one I picked. The other was a mega-song that would be split and you’d have to flip [the tape], but I didn’t think it would make sense for the format. I just loved the guitar lead on side A. It’s all about sugar addiction. He started performing live as a one man band and I think it’s everything me and his friends have wanted to see him do.
ZM: That’s what I liked about the single, I could tell it was kinda the poppier end of what he wanted to do with this project.
RL: I agree. His record The Castle Has a Backdoor is also very poppy. This leaned away from that garage sound and more towards the stuff that he’s good at. It’s still the Ableton sound. He’s still in there slicing and dicing. But even this single has a strange B-side that was kind of an “ok, that’s what we’re doing?” moment like Steef’s b-side. He also likes to write pop songs.
Fake Last Name – It’ll Happen Again
ZM: This one breaks the mold of the other two a bit. It’s still very homespun but it’s spooky.
RL: To have started my label with this is so important to me. [It’s] not only because Ronni has been such a dear best friend to me for 10 years, but everything about it is what’s important to me and important to running a label. It’s all home recorded. It’s got field recordings in it and it’s kind of experimental. It’s so vulnerable in the lyrical content. Just knowing the artist and the way they work – I dunno. I just respect it so much and love the sound of it, everything it’s about. No one really knew how to talk about it and when they did talk about it it was so different from everyone else. It was cool.
ZM: That’s how I felt about it too. I definitely liked it but I dunno. I felt like I shouldn’t have been spooked by it but there’s definitely a “someone whispering from around a corner” element to it.
RL: Those recordings were born out of lock down and getting fired. I don’t know if any of the themes of getting fired made it into there, but –
ZM: There’s one song on there.
ZM: Yeah. I don’t think I got fired vibes from it but I did get very “I am worried about my employment and the impact it has on me” vibes which, again, is very pandemic related.
RL: For sure, there’s a lot of sensitive and vulnerable themes on that record, which is admirable to me. I don’t write or make my own music currently. I just love it with all my heart. It was recorded on a four track!
Time Out Room – Tight Ass Goku Pictures
ZM: This one isn’t punk but still kinda falls in line with the homespun bedroom pop sound.
RL: This one is back to the four track vibes. I think he altered his voice by pressing on the tape and wiggling it. Only recently did I learn that all the drums were from a Casio keyboard. I just remember listening to it and when I started hearing these old sounds of where my record collection started I got a little jittery and excited. I fell in love with it immediately but I just kept listening to it over and over again. It was unlike anything I’d put out before but it was still very unique. He’s local, so it fits in in that sense. It wasn’t a question [of if I should put it out], it was just a question of the details.
ZM: Most of the other tapes from your label are all from the Spllit family of artists but this one is from outside of that. I was wondering how that came about.
RL: What’s crazy is that he was just in a rut and Stevie told him if he did something I might put it out. He just had that in his head. He apparently locked himself away for two months and fleshed out this album. I moved to Baton Rouge for college in 2013. At that time he had either just moved or was moving [from Baton Rouge] to New Orleans. He was in this scene way before I got here. He was in a band called Melters. They were this garage, pop-punk sort of thing. I wasn’t around for that, but I’ve learned that it was Taylor [McCrary, the artist behind Timeout Room] writing pop smash hits for them as well. There’s just something warm about this release. I loved the way it sounded.
ZM: There’s something really nostalgic to it, especially with all the little interludes that are kind of like weird radio transitions.
RL: I’m sure when I first heard it I was like, “do we need those?” but I’m not the artist. It grew on me. It’s also silly. It all fits together into this wholesome vibe I must be drawn to.
Look out for new releases by Spllit and Fake Last Name out on Tough Gum soon!
a robin sings at night – brood parasite & murmuration
5.2.23 by Zach Mitchell
21st century connections are crazy. I recently posted on Facebook (a website I try to avoid outside of seeing what the 30 year old ex-goths in my life are complaining about these days) finally advertising my Tabs Out pieces and asked my 200 something strong friends list for a heads up on any tapes they might be releasing. The girl who headed up the photography department of my high school’s newspaper (where I was the award winning editor-in-chief) responded and linked me up with Ian Craig, who she met on a dating app. Both parties are happily married to other people now but still sorta kinda keep in touch through the magic of social media.
Craig was nice enough to mail me a literal handful of tapes, a true treat in the blogging world. Amidst the stack of lofi singer songwriter and campy horror themed garage rock (we love a diverse label!) one release stood out – a clear plastic case housing two tapes with the label “two guitars, semi-improvised” fixed to the back. Turns out that this is a reissue of the first two tapes from Craig’s project a robin sings at night and it’s just what it says on the tin – two tapes, brood parasite and murmuration, full of homespun, singularly voiced guitar duets.
What sets a robin sings at night apart is its approach to form over function. Both tapes feel like a punk rock take on American primitivism, featuring over 40 (by my estimation) short bursts of contemplative sketches. brood parasite is a sequel to murmuration but they were both created the same way: Craig would take one hour to create the initial tracks in the left channel and then give himself a half hour to come up with a response in the right. Craig varies his guitar playing through both tapes, taking on traditional finger picking, furious strumming, and what I imagine is the sound of him karate chopping his guitar. The conversational nature of the music, combined with the brevity, almost makes it feel like a madcap, instrumental reading of a diary. Every song captures a discrete emotion and an immediate reaction to it, warts and all. It’s hard not to feel charmed by this approach, even with its rapidly oscillating nature.
The range of ideas on these two albums is impressive for the creative parameters. Every nook and cranny of the concept is explored. Beautiful melodies are interrupted by noisy bursts. Lilting calls are met with joyous responses. As an artistic exercise, it’s impressive. As a listening experience, it’s invigorating. Craig’s guitar playing is easy to get lost in and the albums’ structure (including the lack of tracklist on the set itself) makes it hard to pick out any one moment as a standout, but that’s honestly to the set’s benefit. As long as you keep an open mind and are willing to let the 30 minutes of lightly improvised music wash over you, you’ll find something to love.
Been hearing a lot about new benchmarks in power pop lately, mostly from bands that seemingly don’t understand that there are two end points on the power pop spectrum: sticky sweet hooks and guitar riffs that make me want to jump off my couch while windmilling. Sometimes a band just gets it. TV Repairmann has figured out that “what if all those 90s bands that claimed to be influenced by Big Star were fronted by a snotty punk guy” is the ultimate formula for power pop success. What’s On TV? is Exploding Hearts for a generation of bedroom Tascam punks and it’s also the tape I’ve ended up playing the most this year so far. Perfect for cooking chicken thighs, making salads, and sending mindless e-mails.
While Repairmann’s (real name: Ishka Edmeades, but isn’t it funnier to call him Mr. Repairmann?) other bands like Gee Tee, Research Reactor Corp., and Satanic Togas aim to wallop the listener over the head with brash punk or steamroll them flat with sheer speed, What’s On TV? actually cares to take its time and be a little sweeter. What’s On TV? provides the best ratio of hooks to dollars spent that any tape has ever provided me, starting with the pining “Out of Order” and not letting up until “No Life on This Street”’s glammy gutter punk. “Get Outta Here” feels like a blown out lost radio classic, all AM radio hooks crunchy guitars. It’s a summation of what Repairmann does best on his solo work: ultimate sunny day anthems with just a hint of melancholy, filtered through tape hiss and cranked up loud.
The vocals, guitars, and songwriting hit the bullseye in the Venn diagram of “simple” and “effective.” Fans of Gee Tee will feel absolutely at home here amidst monophonic synths and whip crack drum rolls, but where other homespun punk projects like that tend to make themselves small, TV Repairmann goes big. This is music for sensitive punks who aren’t afraid to rock. That seems like it could be a backhanded compliment, but it’s the mode I’ve found myself the most in this year.
“Backwards” is the single best song I’ve ever heard from a lo-fi punk band in a while. Every single aspect of the song, including the opening chiming guitars, is a hook leading to another hook leading to me grinning ear to ear and nodding my head along. I feel like I’m going to wear out my copy because I keep rewinding it over and over again to relive the ascending and descending lead guitar mimicking the “falling down” lyrical motif. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is. What’s On TV? is another huge win for Edmeades and Total Punk Records – a match made in punk heaven.
Vulnerability is an important part of art, but the ratio of vulnerability to anger is the balancing act a lot of modern punk bands find themselves wrestling with. A vulnerable songwriter is an open wound, all burning and aching with the hope of healing resolution at the end. Sticking the landing, ostensibly, is what separates Great Art from catatonicyouths Instagram posts. Cringe is freeform vulnerability and self -serious artists tend to shy away from anything resembling embarrassment.
This is not to say Memphis punk duo Little Baby Tendencies is “cringey” in the modern sense of the word, but one listen to the self-reflective relationship horror story title track of their debut tape Bad Things will have you contorting your face in some sort of shape as the black metal “I love you daddy” screams enter your ears. Singer/guitarist Haley Ivey and drummer Tyler Harrington have created the kind of brain melting punk tape that walks the vulnerability tightrope with ease. Ivey is one of the most dynamic punk singers I’ve heard in a long time, hitting everything from Jonathan Davis-esque guttural growls to well-placed falsetto highs with ease. The album never feels stale across its 22 minute run time, which is more than I can say about a lot of punk that crosses my purview. Exciting, dynamic music full of left turns.
I keep coming back to their proprietary description of “crybaby punk.” It’s hard to describe the band as anything else once a label like that gets lodged in your brain, but there’s more to LBT than aimless whining. There’s a primal scream therapy type of catharsis on happening in between the guitar slides and drum bashing. Ending the album with a song as bluntly funny as “Burn the Flag!” seems to be an intentional choice. Anti-American jams are as old of a punk trope as any, but after intense screaming about sexual boundaries being broken and a section of the lyrics labeled “an improvisational rant from the point of view of someone who’s lost their mind,” a shout-along song about burning the flag on the Fourth of July feels like a nervous laugh in the face of awkward tension. After songs as intense as “Give Me Ur Coat,” with all of this band’s guts on display, you need a breather. You crave catharsis. Sometimes great punk gives you what you want. Sometimes it just wallops you over the head.
Tape available at your local Little Baby Tendencies show!
What’s in with the water in Cincinnati these days? Not only is the city the newest home of incredible punk label Feel It Records, it’s also host to my favorite cadre of art freaks in America: the Future Shock crew. The label – operated by at least one member of The Serfs, Crime of Passing, and The Drin – has been bringing us homegrown, wigged out post-punk since its start as Wasted Tapes in 2016. Every release from this label feels like a transmission from a dark corner of middle America and Today My Friend You Drunk The Venom might be the most claustrophobic yet.
Venom feels built from the ground up with rhythm at the forefront. Almost every song seems to have multiple percussion parts layered on top of each other, even if it’s as simple as an extra snare playing on the offbeats (“Five and Dime Conjurers”) or as complex as whatever the hell is going on with the metal clangings of “Peaceful, Easy, Feeling.” The Drin is focused on exploring the purpose and function of rhythms from different directions. Motorik pounding gets mixed with dub, snares float around in the mix, and unexplainable things explode in the background. It’s a head trip at the construction site. “Post-punk” may be overused as a genre descriptor and overdone as a genre, but Venom feels like a return to classic post-punk. It’s almost the midpoint between Metal Box and Flowers of Romance we never got.
Songs like “Stonewallin’” and “Mozart on the Wing” feel hazy without losing the punk pulse at the heart of all The Drin leader’s Dylan McCartney’s projects. The Drin has also christened itself an honest to God band with this album, expanding the lineup to a six piece and leading to a more consistent sound throughout. Previous albums have felt more like proofs of concept or sketches of what The Drin could be rather than what it is. With Venom, the band has finally found its niche: dark, ominous, bummer but not bummed, pounding post-punk.
There are few better reasons for excitement in the tape (or music) world than when Cabin Floor Esoterica announces a new tape batch. That said, I thought it would be awfully tough for them to outdo their stellar spring batch from April of this year. While they may not have done that, what they have done with this most recent batch is nothing short of amazing. CFE#60-62 are all duo tapes of musicians who, although are not strangers to recording in duos, have, to my knowledge, never recorded together before.
CFE#60: Shane Parish & Frank Rosaly – Labrys “Labrys” is comprised of nine duets for nylon string acoustic guitar and percussion. Parish’s playing is on point, as per usual, and Rosaly gives his semi-classical guitar flourishes an appropriate percussive background that only adds to the skillful guitar playing as opposed to drowning it out or taking attention away from it. I was expecting more traditional drumming for this tape, but to my surprise the percussive clatter is a perfect offset for Parish’s smooth nylon string compositions. Overall, an excellent effort that stands up with best of today’s guitar/drum duos, even if it is the quietest.
CFE#61: Ilia Belorukov & Taneli Viitahuhta – Sax Worker’s Rights Dual saxophone workouts from Russia and Finland, respectively. Oddly enough, it is the two artists of this batch that I am least familiar with that have me most intrigued and going back for more listens. I had literally never heard of either of these names, let alone their music, before this tape. Sax Worker’s Rights is made up of four fairly longer pieces wherein squeals, shouts, and snorts are evened out with calm, breathy passages. Sax Worker’s Rights is never too busy, yet never too sparse either. Although it may seem rough on the ears upon first listen, its underlying beauty reveals itself in droves upon subsequent listens.
CFE#62:Nathan McLaughlin & Jeremy Purser – Levain
Using a mixture of acoustic and electric instruments/sounds, McLaughlin & Purser work together to create an ambient sound that plays well off of each other’s contributions. Two side long pieces wind soft, acoustic guitar playing over various quiet background noises. The inserts do not list what is played, but one can assume synthesizer/keyboards, field recordings, and analogue tapes in addition to the acoustic guitar. Quiet, stretched out, and beautiful; this is relaxation (or meditation) music at its best without ever being boring.
All three tapes offer up different but equally enthralling sounds and come packaged in Cabin Floor Esoterica’s usual artistic flair. You cangrip them individually, or as a batch along with some excellent zines that were published by their paper imprint Painted Door Press, here.
Sparkling Wide Pressure follows up his excellent tape on Cabin Floor Esoterica from earlier this year with “Answerer.” Released on Patient Sounds (intl) in late August, “Answerer” conjures up a sonic realm inhabited by acoustic and electric stringed instruments, synthesizers, organs, and looped up, talking background vocals. The A side, with its shorter, lighter tracks acts as the entrance way into this world Sparkling Wide Pressure have created for us. The opener “Deb’s Song,” with its loose, acoustic picking and muted electronics slowly guiding you in. The momentum gradually builds over the next three tracks, culminating in the A side’s closer “Current.” With its ghostly keyboards and spooky tones, this is the track that lets you know you have gone as far as you can go.
The album’s B side slowly begins the descent back. It is a slow and beautiful journey though. The side’s two longer tracks could be considered as focused as any on side A if they were split up into five or six tracks. Instead, each track simply changes direction every few minutes at random, as if taking the most zig zag route to get to where it is going. That is not to say these songs are aimless, but rather so full of ideas that an efficient route to the end is not necessarily the goal. The closing “Turning You Into Me” is the tape’s highlight, containing both its darkest and most optimistic moments within its nine minute running time. A jangled melodica solo running over a looped up robotic voice until this fades to give way to an almost sunny electric guitar before turning again into a cryptic closing piano part. The whole time using subtle electronics and synth washes give texture to an already deep sound.
Overall, “Answerer” is a fascinating journey. Sparkling Wide Pressure’s mixture of traditional acoustic and electric instruments with loops and found sounds is in top form here. Its not just Answerer’s brilliant use of acoustic and electronic instruments that is most impressive about it, but rather how perfectly blended together these instruments are. Over the course of the album’s forty minutes not one note or noise sounds out of place or overstated. It baffles me that an album can sound so spontaneous yet so planned at the same time. It has made me want to journey into the concoction of sounds this album inhabits on a daily basis.
Copies are still available via the Patient Sounds shop should you care to take the journey too.