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Matthew Berlyant: March 4, 2012

  1. Cheap GirlsGiant Orange (Rise)

    This is my first exposure to this East Lansing, MI band and boy are they great. One could be forgiven for thinking that they are from Minneapolis. Although I don’t hear the frequent Hüsker Dü comparisons they’ve gotten, they do remind me quite a bit of another band with Minneapolis roots (albeit founded and based in Brooklyn), The Hold Steady. That is, if Craig Finn stopped chronicling the ups and downs of the burnouts of his youth and they just focused on tight, 3 to 4 minute pop songs about relationships in the vein of Sugar circa File Under Easy Listening (i.e. at their poppiest), Sloan, The Posies and especially The Smoking Popes. Anyone who likes any of those bands needs to hear this record ASAP. “Communication Blues” is the song of the year so far and this my favorite record of the year so far. You can stream it here.

  2. Mind SpidersMeltdown (Dirtnap)

    The second Mind Spiders full-length on the venerable Dirtnap label shatters all of my expectations. I’ve always liked the Denton, TX based Mark Ryan‘s other projects (notably The Marked Men and High Tension Wires), but in my view this recording is the best thing he’s ever done. Though other musicians play on this, it sounds like Jay Reatard‘s Blood Visions in both it sound and its purpose. The songs here are filled with mind-bending hooks and the music encompass not only The Marked Men’s ’77 punk via The Didjits vibe, but also the aforementioned Jay Reatard’s solo recordings , Rikk Agnew‘s early ’80s solo classic All By Myself and tunes at the end of the album using a primitive drum machine that could be deemed “darkwave” (or perhaps something akin to Reatard’s late ’90s to mid ’00s synth-punk band Lost Sounds) as well. Stunning! The album is available for streaming here.

  3. Old HeadMaximum Rock (At War with False Noise)

    If one expects hard-nosed death metal or grindcore from Rich Hoak given that not only is he Brutal Truth‘s drummer but also the leader of his own, aptly-named Total Fucking Destruction, that wouldn’t be totally unfair. Furthermore, this band also contains guitarist Ryan Moll of Rumplestiltskin Grinder. However, this project is instead a glorious and joyous mix of ’80s speed/thrash metal and ’70s classic rock. Songs by David Crosby (“Almost Cut My Hair”), Jethro Tull (“Fat Man”) and Black Sabbath (“Rock and Roll Doctor”) are given the Old Head treatment and rendered almost unrecognizable from their original forms, while most of this consists of fun originals. Sure it may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but ironic hipster metal this is not. Instead, there’s passion and reverence for these genres and influences here.

  4. Various ArtistsTerminal Decay (Artcore)

    This is an international punk and hardcore compilation featuring newer, mostly unknown bands (Night Birds and Off with Their Heads are by far the most well-known names here), but dig deeper and you’ll find hidden gems like the Australian band Burning Sensation‘s incredible “Terminal Decay” (for which this compilation is named). There’s no download code, but it does come with issue #29 of the always excellent, long-running zine Artcore.

  5. DisappearsPre-Language (Kranky)

    The Chicago band’s third album and first with drummer Steve Shelley is also their best release to date. The opening track “Replicate” is a dead ringer for Magazine‘s “The Light Pours Out of Me” and though many of the tracks on here owe more than little to The Fall down to singer Brian Case‘s Mark E. Smith-like vocals on most of this album. Thus, why I enjoy this record should be pretty obvious, yet Disappears have an ability to take these influences and make them feel like their own and not just imitation for the sake of it.

  6. Burning SensationBurning Sensation (Vertex)

    Out only in their native Australia, these Perth badasses find a way to combine the garagey punk of Jay Reatard, The Marked Men and artists of that sort with blazing, super angry early ’80s hardcore like Poison Idea‘s earliest recordings. At times, listening to this feels almost schizophrenic as perhaps they don’t know what kind of band they’d like to be yet, but it’s thrilling nonetheless. The best track here is the aforementioned (and absolutely incredible) “Terminal Decay”. Had this track been released in the early ’80s, it would be considered a post-punk classic. Hear the whole album here.

  7. EmpireVolume II: Expansive Sound (Poorly Packaged Products)

    This is the sequel to the 2003 reissue of Empire’s sole Lp, 1981’s Expensive Sound, which was lovingly reissued with bonus tracks and liner notes. This collection covers the later “New Empire” period (1983-1984), though the first few songs (including a cover of Sly and the Family Stone‘s “Family Affair”) sound like they could’ve been outtakes from the Expensive Sound sessions. Much of the rest consists of alternate and live versions of older material which will be mostly of interest to those who already have Expensive Sound, but in any case this is a great release from a band that should’ve received wider recognition when they were around in the early to mid ’80s.

  8. Brothers in LawGray Days EP (We Were Never Being Boring Collective)

    This is an Italian band who’ll be playing shows in Europe with Dum Dum Girls, Jacuzzi Boys and Still Corners soon. On this 3 song EP (available both in digital form and as a 7”), “Holy Weekend” is the clear standout sounding like a near-perfect cross between Interpol and the aforementioned Dum Dum Girls. The other two songs are more in the shoegaze vein, but this is a very worthwhile EP. I look forward to hearing more! Get it here.

  9. Wild Nothing – “Nowhere” EP (Captured Tracks)

    The titular A-side may be the best song that Jack Tatum has ever recorded. It sounds like a lost Go-Betweens classic and I can’t stop playing it. It’s a duet with Twin Sister‘s Andrea Estella. The B-side “Wait” is good, albeit nowhere near as memorable. This is a huge improvement over the “Golden Haze” EP and I can’t wait for the full-length coming out later this year!

  10. Better than Something: Jay Reatard (Not Rated)

    Featuring extensive interviews with Reatard himself as well as family members, former bandmates, associates and fans as well as a lot of performance footage, this is an 80 plus minute full length version of an 18 minute mini-documentary called Waiting for Something that came out in 2009. Directors Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz make a convincing case, perhaps inadvertently for Reatard as a tortured musical genius and this is a super enjoyable film to watch for fans, though I do wish it would’ve probed his demons a little harder in light of his untimely death in early 2010. Still, it’s wonderful to have a film that celebrates his life and music.