This is the debut of our record reviews column. It has that name because each review here will generally be a brief set of impressions on each album. Because that might be more useful to most readers than an extended analysis. It may include releases that came out earlier in the year and each column will be updated as we add reviews. The featured album will usually get more attention and for April 2018 it is the new Black Moth Super Rainbow record Panic Blooms, out May 4 through the band’s own Rad Cult imprint.
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms – Rad Cult
Why is the new BMSR album the featured album? Because Tobacco and company are making some of the most idiosyncratic pop music today and the world needs more art that isn’t so easily nicked and dumbed down for people who can’t meet the art on its own terms, enjoy it thusly and perhaps be changed by it in some way.
It’s tempting to call Black Moth Super Rainbow the American Boards of Canada for its masterful recycling and repurposing old electronic music sounds into interesting new shapes that are as retrofuturistically alien as they are comforting. Panic Blooms makes more obvious BMSR’s use of hip-hop production styles in the mixing and beatmaking. But rather than some as-yet-to-exist abstract trap IDM record, this album comes off like the band is trying to reconnect with the musical spirit that first inspired it to make music. Like a search for a reason to keep doing this stuff. There’s always been an element of self-effacing humor in the band’s song titles and lyrics so “Bad Fuckin Times” makes sense. But “Rip On Through,” “One More Ear,” “We Might Be Back,” “New Breeze” and “Bottomless Face” hint at an artistic existential crisis. And yet, this set of songs has a coherence that wasn’t quite there on the 2016 Seefu Lilac EP. Panic Blooms, the title, suggests coming to the realization that maybe one is out of ideas and that very fear that shakes you to the core of your being, cutting you to the psychic quick, can either sink you or blast out yet another vital wave of creativity. The latter seems to be the case here and track to track, it’s a Black Moth Super Rainbow classic on par with 2007’s masterpiece, Dandelion Gum.
Breakdancing Ronald Reagan – Harsh Noise – Self Sabotage Records
Johnathan Cash, aka Breakdancing Ronald Reagan, is too much of an irreverent performance artist to take his sound mashups and collages at face value. Processed and pitch shifted vocals and cut-up short stories amid blasts of echoing white noise make “Playing Windchimes With My Feet” a bit humorous as it is disturbing. Rather than take himself too seriously, Cash has a song called “You Can Tell A Noise Act Sucks If All Their Tracks Have Really Long and Stupid Titles,” which he performs live, in which he describes what makes so many noise acts boring while embodying the same. Meta. The whole Breakdancing Ronald Reagan thing is meta. Equally ironically, Cash’s pieces on this album embrace the shittiness he mocks and pushes the concepts to their ridiculous logical conclusions while having made something worth listening to. Unironically, or so deeply ironic it isn’t, is that there actually is a lot of harsh noise on this tape including negative real or faked audience reactions.
Drinks – Hippo Lite – Drag City
Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley cut out most of the civilized world’s multifold distractions to write the follow up to 2015’s excellent DRINKS album Hermits on Holiday. Not getting poisoned by the incessant inundation of mediocre ideas resulted in one of the most fascinatingly eccentric pop albums in recent years. “Real Outside” has the kind of borderline atonal, unconventional percussion driven, non-standard rhythm that made Young Marble Giants, Liliput and, well, certain songs by Crass so listenable. Many musicians would sequester themselves and come up with the same old stuff they always do, Le Bon and Presley came up with a freak folk pop world or labyrinthine textures and warping tones and melodies to get lost in.
MIEN – MIEN – Rocket Shop
Opening track “Earth Moon” hints that you’re in for a record that was obviously informed by Screamadelica-period Primal Scream, the more gently psychedelic Brian Jonestown Massacre songs and pre-A Northern Soul era Verve. But the kosmische vibe of “Black Habit” breaks that impression. The driving/droning bass and tom heavy drumming and synth swells take the songs right out of what you’d immediately expect of musicians who are also in The Black Angels, The Horrors, Earlies and Elephant Stone. And from there album dives right into different realms of sound in terms of music and production. If “psych” is to continue to have any real meaning it’s going to be more like this in which the musicians clearly want to place themselves into alternate states of consciousness through the music they make rather than imitating someone else’s style completely. Sure there are familiar, comfortable elements if you’re familiar with the band members’ other work but they can’t help but be who they are and that also includes being seekers of experiences that expand the mind and stretch one’s creative capabilities. The album isn’t aimed for a mainstream audience, it’s aimed at the heads that crave something as different as maybe the first time they heard The Black Angels at a time when psychedelic rock just wasn’t in the general zeitgeist. But here there are more overt electronics in the mix and an electronic aesthetic to give a new dimension to what we already expect from the people in this band.
Mondo Obscura – Focus On Black – Symbolic Insight
Mondo Obscura doesn’t sound dated but its mixture of dub, IDM, ambient, dub and techno might have fit in more with the world of music that existed in the early-to-mid-90s when bands like Meat Beat Manifesto, Underworld, The Orb, Faithless, Rabbit in the Moon and Future Sound of London were blurring the lines between experimental electronic music and the more dance-oriented faire you might have heard at rave or a club catering to that kind of music. Particularly so with Focus On Black. Samples flow in a stream of tones buoyed by progressive beats driven by dubby bass lines. It has the structure of cinema with short chapters, fluid, fast cuts, some long takes like a Danny Boyle film or early Matthew Vaughn. Think progressive trance without the wack, safening elements blended in. Perfect after hours music for the chillout zone.
Night Grinder – Animus – Fourfold Records
An angry, prog-inflected industrial concept album is probably the last thing anyone would expect to be worth listening to in 2018. And yet, this sophomore Night Grinder album is such fascinating take on bringing all those ideas and more to bear on the miasma of social ills plaguing us all at once lately. By channeling that overwhelming feeling and refusing to be blasé about events we would have collectively reacted to with horror and utter outrage rather than resignation, Brad Schumacher (aka Night Grinder) has delivered a non-didactic statement across fourteen tracks regarding, yes, the dual meaning of the title, Animus, which means both “hostility” and “motivation to do something.” Schumacher makes no overt suggestions, but honors the fact that the paralysis of Americans in particular and the world generally in the face of the need to do something practical and productive about the seemingly endless internecine conflict across political and cultural divides is only ensuring more of the same evolves into worse. An updated on the Edmund Burke quote about how “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Evil, as it were, may not be triumphing per se, but the shittiest people sure seem to be prevailing, Schumacher just sees an end, not so difficult if complicated, to that trend and articulates that idea throughout Animus without hitting you over the head with an annoying level of messaging.
Solypsis – Solypsis-Devisor – Component Recordings
Out of James Miller’s prolific and diverse body of work, this one seems closest to synthesizing a bit of his Foetus-esque industrial noise beats with his knack for generating unpredictable melodies. Or maybe it’s just that he ties the melodic structure to borderline chaotic beats. There’s plenty of noisy breakcore composition across the album, as in “Death Threat,” and melancholy industrial dub the likes of which is represented well in “Life In A Hole,” but this Solypsis album shines best when Miller seems to go off his own deep end. “Straight From My Heart” is the sound of a songwriter who has hit bottom and still managed to laugh at the absurdity of heartfelt despair. “We Make Our Own Monsters” is uncommonly insightful as a title but is it a bit of a pun when the track is itself a fuzzy, lumbering, monstrous beat that Miller wrote himself in a life of musical output that isn’t exactly short on menacing work? In ending the album with “Wrong Tube,” Miller lets us know that even in his worst personal moments his humor is never completely gone nor is his ability to use the manipulation of minimalist elements to get under the skin of anyone that takes the time to delve into this album.