The best thing about punk rock music is that the artists you love get older with you. And the artists who maybe grew up before you are going to be there when you finally catch up. Ogikubo Station is a mix of two different periods in my life coming together. Mike Park represents the stuff that got me into the music to begin with. All those Asian Man Records bands that were so vital to me getting into underground music as a teenager. Maura Weaver is that punk rock I listened to in my mid/late-20s when I was still fucking up a lot, but finally getting around to being an adult. Ogikubo Station, as a whole, feels like I finally caught up.
All things being what they are, We Can Pretend Like is an amazingly solid indie rock record that still has punk rock in it’s blood. I know it’s a weirdly specific phrase, but the singer/songwriter side of the band really shines through. The songs, though simple, have a lot of heart behind them. They are enjoyable, even if the subject matter is a bit heavy. If I had to spotlight some specific songs, I would definitely have to talk about “Drowning At The Watering Hole” and “Strong As You.” The former because it’s just a really great song. Honestly, there is a really sad song hiding behind the new wave synth line and the poppy guitars. You’ve got a tale of loneliness, dependency, and co-dependency. The latter stands out to me for more personal reasons. Hearing a song about a parent dying snuck the hell up on me at the laundromat. That is such a specific feeling. It’s one that you forget is still raw, even after time has passed. Other standouts are “I’ve Been Thinking Of St. Louis” and “The Prettiest One.” Both have a kind of twang to them. It really adds a dimension to the whole record.
I kind of question the need to write up this record. All the big sites already covered it back in August. I’m two months behind as usual. I just really like it. But, of course I do. My love of Asian Man Records has been well documented here. Bias aside, I think this is a record that has something for everyone. If you like indie rock, you’ll like it. If you like punk rock, you’ll like it. If you like Mike Park and Maura Weaver in their previous projects, you’ll like it. Just give it a listen if you haven’t already.
Asian Man Records
Hailing from Gothenburg, Ond Cirkel play a great mix of traditional post-punk and shoegaze. Their latest 7″ is a perfect example of the moody, reverb drenched sound those genres are known for. The emotion of the songs are evident immediately. The lyrics may be in Swedish, but you can catch the vibe almost immediately. You can hear loss and want. The two songs definitely live in different spaces though. “Svavelvinter” has a lighter sound to it. It is more led by the bass than the guitar. “Vilda Syrener” has a heavier sound. The guitars are more forceful. The vocals fall back in the mix a bit more too. The 7″ is great at mixing heavy and loud with delicate and atmospheric.
Ond Cirkel is a four piece band, but the sound is much bigger than that. Riikka Yrttiaho’s voice, even when it was further back in the mix, really sells these songs. She really takes command and is able to work the vocals as a complimetary sound to Marcus Lilja’s guitar. Those two elements work so well together. The rhythm section of Zacharias Tienhaara on drums and Isabell Kirstinä on bass also absolutely shine. I know that reviews of punk music tend to focus on vocals and guitar, but I want to make a special mention of the bassline on “Svavelvinter.” It absolutely makes that song. Having the bass drive a song isn’t uncommon in the genre, but it always stands out to me.
All in all, Ond Cirkel have really made a great record here. I know there may be a language barrier for some people, but don’t let that stop you. Make sure you check it out. And, if two songs aren’t enough for you, give their tape a listen too.
The mid-90s were a turning point in punk rock. The genre, having finally hit the mainstream again, had a couple paths to go down. One path was super slick and radio friendly. Another was to get your hair and jacket spiked up. The last path was to try and get the music back to the garage roots. I think that last path was the most compelling. You can slap as much pop sheen on it as you want, but the most interesting rock ‘n roll is based on deconstruction. It’s heart and soul. Black Adidas plays a bit outside the yard in some places, but still feels like one of those bands.
Black Adidas is the current project of Courtney Ranshaw, formerly of The Lower Echelon. He’s got a specific aesthetic on his full length. He gets to the fucking point without a bunch of needless preening and posing. The record starts with a song called “Free Shit,” and it just fucking goes from there. “Old Fashioned Rock ‘N Roll” is what Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music” would sound like if it had a healthy layer of garage fuzz laid on top of it. “Cocaine Eyes” has some A+ crooning that feels like a throwback to the Velvet Underground. I think “Play What We Know” is the most interesting song on the record though. Remember how I said Black Adidas plays outside the yard? This is the song I’m talking about. The verses are New Orleans jazz that fucking runs headfirst into a punk rock chorus. It’s a great combination.
End of the day, punk rock has been marketed and codified to death. People think of a specific thing when you say it. I feel like this record plays like a love letter to the genre, but the pre-code version. When the vocals were haphazard, when the distortion was strong, and when lo-fi and garage influence wasn’t just a lazy marketing gimmick to make major label bands seem dangerous. Whatever that means.
I’ve talked a lot of shit about hardcore over the years. The version of hardcore that was around when I was younger had a lot of metal and Christianity in it. Not really my thing. That old school (or whatever) kind of stuff was still right up my alley though. That said, let’s talk about Krimewatch.
Krimewatch hasn’t been releasing stuff for very long. An EP, a demo, and a full length. Their sound is reminiscent of what hardcore sounded like before the metal dudes in jerseys took over the scene. It’s the kind of hardcore that is still punk. The songs are brief and aggressive. It’s that classic piss and vinegar type stuff.
The run time for these 9 songs is about 12 minutes. The band fucking goes. Emma Hendry, Sean Joyce, and Shayne Benz play tight, aggressive punk rock in a style that has not been the style in a minute. They don’t lean to heavily on standard genre tropes. There’s no mosh part, there’s no unnecessary solos and fills. There is just bass, guitar, and drums working together as a unit. They sound so tightly wound that you feel like it could explode at any time. The speed and simplicity are a strength. Put Rhylli Ogiura’s vocals on top of everything and you’ve got a winner. In English or Japanese, she’s taking control of the sound and your attention.
There’s a lot to like about this record at the end of the day. The only complaint I can see anyone having is that, like a lot of other stuff in this genre, there can be some running together of songs. But, y’know, I’m not sure that is going to be a dealbreaker to the people who get down to this kind of thing.
Lockin’ Out Records
Two Knights, the duo of Parker Lawson and Miles DeBruin, are the epitome of a duo that knows how to fucking go. Find me a stronger two piece that plays this kind of music. Effing is the kind of record that will get pigeonholed as an emo record, but that only accounts for a small portion of what it is. It is an energetic, mathy, punk rock record that knows how to get the point.
The songs on Effing are all pretty short. Save the closer, “Lex Loser,” all these song barely break the two minute mark. Even that song is just shy of 03:21. It’s remarkable because these aren’t simple, punk rock riffs. “Stoned Legends Of The Hidden Temple” and “Lex Loser” are pretty aggressive in the guitar department. A bunch of nerds would be yelling about “twinkling” if they were slower. “I Ate an Entire Pizza During One Episode of The West Wing” is on the other end. It’s way more straight forward, A to B type song.
Two Knights have basically nailed the gimmick. They are a great blend of indie, emo, math rock, and punk. Two Knights are the kind of band that knows exactly what they want to do, and they know exactly how to do it.
Perennial released their first EP back in 2015. Early Sounds For Night Owls was a quick four song record that I still don’t think got the attention it deserved. It had all the heart and intensity that you would want from a record, especially in a genre as driven as post-hardcore. It’s essential listening. Especially if you want to understand the artistic side of underground music. But that’s 2015, and it’s now two years later. Where do we stand?
The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves is the new record, and it’s probably my favorite record of 2017 so far. I mean that with no hyperbole. Perennial have raised the bar. The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves fucking goes. It’s one of those records where you can tell what songs are going to absolutely wreck the place live. “La Fugue Pour Béton brut” is definitely one of them. I feel like “Evergreen, un deux trois,” “Resolver,” and “Hippolyta” are definitely contenders too. Those songs are quick bursts of aggressive energy. Shit, the whole record is.
The evolution of Perennial’s sound is key to what makes everything work. First, the increased vocal presence of Chelsey Hahn adds a lot of depth. The way her vocals work with Chad Jewett’s is one of the many standouts on the records. Those two were the heart of Lion Cub, so it’s no surprise that they work so well together. To that point, the increased presence of the keyboards and sampling also change the dynamic a lot. That texture existed on Early Sounds For Night Owls, but that record still felt more guitar driven. The song that best shows that shift is “La Fugue Pour Béton brut.” That song appeared on the EP in 2015, and a reworked version shows up here. It’s the best.
The Symmetry Of Autumn Leaves is an amazing record from start to finish. It’s a perfect mix of art school punk and post-hardcore. The energy, the passion, everything.
Howling Frequency Records
Moral Straightjacket are a two piece band from Irvine, California. They’ve been steadily releasing records for a few years now, and their new EP is a great addition to that discography. I’ll Be Your Rainbow is a stellar three song primer of what this band can do.
Moral Straightjacket are primarily a “post-” band. The mix of post-hardcore and post-punk gives the band a bigger sound than duos usually have. The songs are primarily built around guitar and drum, but they don’t sound limited in scope or nature. I’ll Be Your Rainbow is a great example of a band doing a lot with a little.
The vocal duties on this record are split. One track for each member, and one featuring guest vocals from M. Blue Wizards (vocals by John) and Blood Orange (vocals by Lucas) provide bookends. The vocals are what really make this band stand out to me. John has a very standard voice in genre terms, and Lucas sings in a baritone voice that still isn’t very common in genre music (or rock music in general).
The three songs cover a lot of ground musically. “Blue Wizards” opens the EP, and it fucking goes. It has a very Repeater-era Fugazi vibe to it. “Evergreen” has a much more mellow vibe. M’s vocals hold court on this one, and goddamn does she sound good. The acoustic driven “Blood Orange” calms things down even more as a closer.
Moral Straightjacket has been around for a minute now, and they’ve got a really strong discography. There is no reason not to check this out. I’ll Be Your Rainbow is probably one of my favorite post- records so far this year. And, seriously, “Blue Wizards” fucking goes.
Ruined Smile Records