Puking up Scabs: I

Crushing, monotonous, never-ending gray from floor to ceiling. The ground is the same color as the horizon, which is the same color as the sky. This goes on for as far as you can crane your neck flesh to see. It shows in people’s faces: an ashen weariness resolved to fuck it, man. The calendar says it’s spring, but goddammit motherfucker, it’s still cold as shit in Michigan. With this in mind, welcome to the inaugural installment of “Puking up Scabs,” which will dispatch monthly missives from the outer banks of unpleasant auditory metallicus.

DTI: “Drink ‘Til Insemination”
These dudes’ self-titled debut is seriously focused on the letters d, t and i. Just check out these titles: “Descent Thru Intestines,” “Dirty Toilet Infection,” “Dead Teen Intercourse” and so on. The exception is “Frozen Cunt”–naturally. You probably already know whether or not you need this in your life (you do). Filth encrusted, blackened and grinding; covered in resin scrapings from a bowl that already got scraped yesterday; and recorded in an attic with flags tacked to the ceiling and upside down milk crates for chairs. Just hitting play on this track will make your ear buds smell like piss and cigarette butts.
DTI digital LP (self-released, March, 2017): Facebook.

Crurifragium: “Stigmata Excruciation”
Crurifragium stands atop a pile of dead skulls, with warm meat hanging out its foul beak. Rusted cleaver in one gnarled claw, the other arm raised towards the storm clouds above. It’s belching allegiance to circling winged satans. Theirs is bestial death covered in goat hair and sprouting three, six-inched goat horns from the center of the face, with eyes bulging and bursting and bloodshot. The volume knob just does not go far enough to the right for this. Shit.
Beasts of the Temple of Satan LP (Invictus Productions, January, 2017): Bandcamp.

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Mordecai: Abstract Recipe

Damn. Everybody was burying the vocals there for awhile. Was it because nobody wanted to stand behind the lyrics? Or, maybe nobody wanted to seem uncool, as though they cared about life enough to actually sing about something real? The whole trash-can vocal thing can be a thrill–in the moment. But it mostly doesn’t hold up, even just a few years later. There are notable exceptions, like Eat Skull’s “Oregon Dreaming,” a timeless gem from Siltbreeze‘s rebirth in the late ’00s. Perhaps Mordecai‘s earlier work (they’ve been around since 2011 roughly) suffers from this disease, but thankfully no longer. Abstract Recipe has an improved mix and now bangs along next to the best miserable Ohio rock, like Ego Summit’s amazing The Room Isn’t Big Enough album from 1997, except this is from Montana. (Improbable in pre-net times, yet here we are, with high quality, relevant, DIY music coming out of the Treasure State.) I know nothing further about this band except that they’re feral and dissonant enough but also retain a folk/pop vibe. The bitterness and sass in the vocals come through without excessive grit or affectation. Wonderful stoner scribble art sleeve tops this off. Can’t wait until the next album. Could be a classic. I’m digging this Richie Records label. They seem to be bring together the best of the post-’90s noisy youth.

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Abstract Recipe LP (January, 2017): Richie Records, SoundCloud.

Erik Nervous: Teen Distortion Art Junk Music

The first time I saw Erik Nervous perform was about two weeks ago, in the back of a West Michigan sports bar covered in carpet and ninja coke vibes, and I got what music-writer nerds call Greil Marcus boner. Marcus, for those haven’t inhaled Lipstick Traces or In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977–1992 (you should), gets super stoked whenever he sees an artist draw expression (novel, personal, imaginative, unexpected) from musical ideas that are well-worn, commonplace and cheap. (Rock ‘n’ roll certainly is all that.) As the music critic said in an interview with Write on Music in 2010, he seeks out moments in music “where the performer breaks through the boundaries of ordinary communication.” We’re talking about deliciously brief bursts of rebirth, and it’s something Erik Nervous achieved when he and his band tore through their lightning-quick set of art punk: the kind of primitive, oddly angled panic music that young and kooky oddballs have been unleashing since–oh, I don’t know–the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP? Or, was it Desperate Bicycles’ Smokescreen seven-inch? Or, Television Personalities’ Where’s Bill Grundy Now? EP?

For those few moments the trio–singer and guitarist Erik Hart (a.k.a. Erik Nervous), bassist Joe Varchola and drummer Jeff Mahannah–didn’t just shake off clichés; they shook off art punk itself. All the ticks, customs and habits comprising the genre were forgotten. What was left was aktion + pure sound and nothing more: a sweaty, anxious dude on stage yapping like the neighbors’ annoying shih tzu, a dude whacking his skeletal kit as though he were a bored adolescent beating herbie curbies with tree branches and a bass player jabbing the strings with all the shrill anxiety of David O’Brien and a sixer of Jolt.1

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Lost System: No Meaning No Culture

“Everyone needs a ‘local band’,” writes zine czar Jay Hinman in his Dynamite Hemorrhage review of Dark Times’ Give LP. It’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly support. I’ve resided in both sprawling urban zones and cozy college towns, the coasts as well as the country’s middle; I always seek out the freaks making strange noises, even when they’re nothing more than a handful of lonely shagsters lurking in a dank basement or a sports bar that allows bands to make a ruckus in a seedy back room. Some of my cosmopolitan pals think culture beyond their bubbles is a dead zone. That’s garbage thinking. I’ve encountered so many great artists who were perfectly content living far outside the big shitties. To this day, I rank The Sinatras, whom I fell in love with while attending Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo (pop. 75,000), as one of the most talented DIY rock bands of the early ’90s. Another example is reverb-spewing psych-rocker Jamie Hepler, whose outfits Soft Opening and Nest Egg, always blew my mind when living in Asheville, North Carolina (pop. 84,000). Dude would be a badass anywhere he threw down his mattress.

Like Hinman, I’m an older dude who came of age when local culture and DIY culture were inextricably linked. Zines, mail order and, if you were lucky, a local record store with a decent indie/punk section all helped me learn about artists from around the globe. But that stuff didn’t dwarf the local scene, which was important to support and help foster whether you were a musician or a fan. Making your own scene–an extension of the “our band could be your life” ethos–was the primary focus. That was as true of little Kalamazoo in the mid ’90s as it was bustling Boston, where I moved post-graduation.

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Lack: Undoing Gaze

My time in the Triangle, North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill zone, wasn’t long. Just three years: 2013 through ’15. But my timing couldn’t have been better. I was fortunate to have witnessed the development of the underground scene centered around the performance space and bar Nightlight, as well as All Day Records, a very cool shop with an impressively obscure inventory, including a ton of 12-inch singles and cassettes. When I lived there–and this probably hasn’t changed (though the faces surely have)–the scene exuded the shaggy, anarchic spirit of DIY punk, yet the music emanating from it veered towards rhythm-based electronics, noise, industrial and performance art. As older heads know, the Triangle has long been home to an independent rock scene, one that has always boasted a unique balance of artists with professional ambitions (however strange their music may be) and the kind of outsider musicians who gravitate towards college towns because they’re too weird for any place else in this fucked up country. This cool mix definitely extended to the Nightlight-All Day Records posse.

In terms of talent, I’ll put the scene (as it was constructed at the time) up against any one of America’s big urban centers. Moreover, it lived and breathed inclusiveness. In all my years of underground dwelling, I’ve never been around a group of musicians and artists so thoroughly mixed in terms of gender and sexual identity and committed to creating art spaces that foster safety, comfort and equality. There was Ryan Martin, who runs the wonderfully unpredictable Hot Releases imprint and whose Secret Boyfriend project has records out on the experimental heavyweight Blackest Ever Black; Emily Withers, poet and singer for brainy synth-punks VVAQRT; veteran underground traveler Jeremy Harris (Lazy Magnet, Meager Sunlight, Jerome); imposing performance artist and sonic poet Viszk; noisy industrialist Noah Anthony (Profligate, Night Burger, Social Junk, Form a Log); Daryl Seaver, who has recorded for L.I.E.S. and Jeff Witscher’s Salon label under her Samantha Vacation moniker; chaos-spewing noise freaks Yohimbe; producer Andrew Peterson (a.k.a. Doom Asylum, whose 2014 12-inch on Hot Releases unloads shuddering basement acid); multi-media artist Chrissy Jones; DJ and producer Nathan “Sponge Bath” Taylor; Alene Marie, whose Liquid Asset project has been on fire in the last year (her latest cassette, Night Gardening, descends into ghostly squelch and late-night throb); and Luciann Waldrup (the woman behind Housefire, for my money the most underappreciated noise-beat project in the United States).

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