REVIEWS

Published  February 2018

DIN
REAL DIRT
(DKA)

A departure from the pitch-perfect electro-punk throwback of High-Functioning Flesh, Greg Vand takes a softer, sleeker approach while backing partner Josie Vand in Din. The Vands seem to channel contemporaries Gel Set and Boy Harsher on Real Dirt, with remote vocals, darkness, spaciousness, and industrial danceability, all attenuated to recreate the dancefloor within almost every song. As with all such music though, there are almost always roots in the ‘80s, and Din look to SPK, Eurythmics, Chris and Cosey, and Hard Corps as their muses. This more club/soundtrack-oriented take on electronic body music seems to be catching on virulently this year, especially on DKA Records. On Real Dirt, Din offers so much of the perfectionism that has legitimized HFF in a genre that has shown so many cracks already. This dark, romantic outsider sound can often stray toward Narcissus-grade self-reflexivity in addition to musical deconstructions that trail off, but Din keeps every song tight, artful, and ready for club speakers. —Ben Miotke

FIRST AID KIT
RUINS
(COLUMBIA)

Since 2010, Klara and Johanna Söderberg—the Swedish indie folk duo known as First Aid Kit—have consistently delivered vibrant and emotional ballads geared toward self-reflection and empowerment. Their newest release, Ruins, is no different in this respect, and gifts listeners a full-bodied ode to the “ruins” formed throughout a life. Though this record echoes the saccharine harmonies the group is best known for, they remain innovative and build an explorative variance throughout. Captivating tracks like “Rebel Heart” and “My Wild Sweet Love” alternate between soulful vocals and solemn instrumental dips in progression, fostering an exhilarating contrast otherwise unheard in their work. While previous releases like The Lion’s Roar and The Big Black and Blue have stunned listeners with their beauty, their tracks ached for divergence, especially as whole compositions. In terms of instrumentals, the duo has stepped up their game, as evidenced on tracks like “Distant Star,” where delicate strings sparkle before being enveloped by the pounding tempo. Recommended if you like Bright Eyes, Cursive, and Girlpool. —Maeve Holler

HAND OUT
BLOOD & WATER
(SELF-RELEASED)

There are not many bands like Hand Out in New Orleans. Emo music doesn’t get much praise in these parts, as it’s been largely excommunicated to the suburbs of Metairie and the North Shore. Which is a shame, because that sentiment causes bands like Hand Out to be underrated in other scenes. Blood & Water is the creation of Dan Morreale and Matt Harris, who recorded the EP before Michael Rivera and Edward Pina joined to play live. The album is ethereal yet heavy, with distortion that blankets precise drumwork as it jukes between syncopated rhythms. Harris’s vocals yelp and bark amidst boasting guitar melodies and pretty delicate drops. “Part” harnesses a greater knowledge of punk-pop vignettes with varying drum beats and power chord nuances. “Toothless” acts as the underdog-favorite, playing with dynamics and prolonged instrumental sections. Blood & Water pushes past the sloppiness and lack of refinement that most bands struggle with on first releases, and it’s cathartic to hear a group take the time to get it right on the first swing. —Robert Landry

PORCHES
THE HOUSE
(DOMINO)

Experimental New York synth-pop group Porches has finally dropped their much-anticipated third studio album, The House. This record is a strong attempt at combining elements from their first release, the beloved emotional folk of Slow Dance in the Cosmos, with 2016’s electronica-driven Pool. While this effort will surely be appreciated by tried and true fans, The House has trouble creating a cohesive sound free of discord. Despite this, the album puts forth a horde of enjoyable singles that stand alone. Exciting tracks like “Find Me” and “Anymore” feature inventive and driving house beats layered with the well-known autotuned croon of frontman Aaron Maine, while sentimental pieces like “Country” and “Wobble” adeptly showcase the group’s softer side. There is definitely something for every listener to grasp with this release; but as a whole, The House is unusually hard to digest. —Maeve Holler

SHOPPING
THE OFFICIAL BODY
(FAT CAT)

On Shopping’s third full-length, they’ve tricked out their traditional three-piece setup with dancy rhythms and tasteful synths to optimize your buying experience. The Official Body toes the line between piping hot politics and party playlist material, yet graciously refuses to toe anyone’s made up lines. Shopping radiates effortless English cool without the white male arrogance of its forebears, and this grounded swagger positions the group to be socially conscious without sounding preachy. On their first two LPs, they danced around deep sentiment, but the new record deals with the existential terror of life in 2018 with refreshing clarity. On lead single and album opener “The Hype,” guitarist Rachel Aggs and drummer Andrew Milk synchronize to lament our generation’s miseducation, finishing each other’s jaded musings before bassist Billy Easter cuts through the malaise, shouting “Don’t believe, ask questions!” The trio trades vocal bars throughout the album, developing its ideas as a unit, and giving us an intimate view of its collective psyche that never feels overly daunting—not a trip to the mall, but an excursion to a thrift store where everything on the rack fits just right. —Raphael Helfand

SOLID SPACE
SPACE MUSEUM
(DARK ENTRIES)

Available at Domino Sound now, Dark Entries’ vinyl reissue of Solid Space’s rare, minimal post-punk cassette from 1980 presents a focused and balanced document of the time before synth pop, minimal wave, punk, cosmic music, and post-punk were such distinct entities. Space Museum is an accordingly self-fulfilling prophecy as far as album titles go. The LP offers upfront punk DIY sensibility, period-specific codes of what’s futuristic and cosmic (informed by krautrock and other cosmic psychedelia), and a synthesis of both into a dark, cold atmosphere as evocative of science fiction as it is of Solid Space’s post-punk contemporaries Joy Division and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Not long after, each of these sounds swelled and shrank and found new life as new wave, techno, minimal wave, and so on. But Solid Space is a uniquely self-possessed confluence of these ideas, showcasing some of the best in atmospheric post-punk and futurist DIY synth pop in a way that merits attention (as most Dark Entries releases do). —Ben Miotke

TETRAGRAMMACIDE
PRIMAL INCINERATORS OF MORAL MATRIX
(IRON BONEHEAD)

First bursting from their Kolkata, India “wormholes” in 2014, Tetragrammacide continues to wage sonic depravity on the West and East. Their hyper-pummeling, blackened war metal is representative of cosmic genocide incarnate. This is the first album showcasing the band as a trio, rather than a duo. Comparable to the extremity of Nyogthaeblisz and Teitanblood—as their tongue-twisting, word salad song titles suggest—this band is adroit at dealing with thought-provoking, intensive subjects in addition to being overwhelmingly surgical in their musical prowess. Their aura is altogether unorthodox, combining themes stretching from Hinduism and war deities to the political and metaphysical. To borrow a portion of a song title from another release of theirs, they resemble an “extra-terroristical” quasar out of orbit, yet they remain thoroughly entrancing. Aptly described by a friend as “Blasphemy on DMT,” this album is perhaps the most inviting introduction—if there was ever such a thing—to a band whose repertoire is so intimidatingly violent and mind-bending. —Dan McCoy

THE BODY
A HOME ON EARTH
(SELF-RELEASED)

The Body have been maligned as a metal band. They may collaborate with metal bands or make music that resembles metal (distorted guitar, heavy drums, and extreme vocals played by two big, tattooed guys) or even post-metal for some gradients within that. But, somewhere amid field stripping doom metal much earlier in their career, they lost the “metal” and have come to offer something a lot less structured and a lot more impactful. The Body—letting their existential dread live unfettered by popular aesthetics, icons, or other authoritarian constructs—are pure doom. It can be inspiring to see live, and each album offers a grand snapshot of this ongoing experience. But A Home on Earth, a surprise Bandcamp release at the end of 2017, is an uncommonly representative release for its live set length, studio sophistication, and even the unceremonious drop! —Ben Miotke

THEM OL’ GHOSTS
RENEGADE
(SELF-RELEASED)

Renegade is a fresh take on soulful blues that only a bunch of bayou boys could pull off. They stay true to the traditional blues standards that most Bourbon Street players butcher, while offering a complexity and depth that listeners could relate to Incubus or Minus The Bear. The songs aren’t as raw as what John Hooker or Otis Rush did, but Renegade comes from the same place in the heart. “The Witch” opens the EP with clean guitars and big drum grooves that fill space. Theophile Bourgeois’ warm voice belts across the crunch of distortion, which offers tasteful support. Blair Champagne (drums) and Aaron Younce (bass) deliver accents that make the songs more impactful. “Hold On” is the anthemic single, the catchiest of the release. Despite Them Ol’ Ghosts being fresh out the pot, they have complete control over their sound and what they aim to represent. Some of their lyrical content may be unconventional for more sensitive listeners, but it can be admirable to tell it like it is, living and growing on the bayou. The title track closes the EP with a conviction that contrasts with some of the more impudent content of the release and scores a strong, final note. —Robert Landry

THE SHINS
THE WORM’S HEART  
(COLUMBIA)

James Mercer’s imagination is unstoppable. In 2017, he thrilled listeners with The Shins’ groundbreaking fifth studio album, Heartworms, which carried the torch for distinguished, fan-favorite records like Oh, Inverted World and Wincing the Night Away. And now, on The Worm’s Heart, Mercer has performed the unimaginable by transforming the tracks of Heartworms by “flipping” the record. Not only are the songs stacked in reverse order, but their soundscapes have been totally reformatted. For instance, the downtrodden ode “The Fear” has been remodeled into a more upbeat, guitar-driven track with distorted vocals reminiscent of The Magnetic Zeros. Of course, The Shins are no stranger to this “flipping” process, as exemplified on the Phantom Limb EP, where the group converted the solemn, winding track “Split Needles” into an assertive, cyclical surf rock ballad. Some tracks on The Worm’s Heart, like “Mildenhall,” are less exciting in their flipped state, but overall, this rewriting experiment provides unending entertainment in exploring the mirrored thrulines. —Maeve Holler

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WE WERE GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD: INTERVIEWS WITH WOMEN FROM THE 1970s & 1980s SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK SCENE
STACY RUSSO
(SANTA MONICA PRESS)

We Were Going to Change the World is an interesting choice for the title of this book. Throughout this collection of interviews, a recurring sentiment is that the women of the early SoCal punk scene never set out to change the world—or even their corner of it. For the most part, that change was largely incidental in the lives of these women, who were caught up in the music that spoke to them and a scene that gave them a voice. Getting into punk rock wasn’t a conscious form of activism in most of their stories. Over the course of several years, Russo asked dozens of women if punk rock influenced the rest of their lives. What attracted them to punk rock and how did they get involved? What was it like being a woman in the scene? The anthology includes interviews with Alice Bag (The Bags), Jennifer Precious Finch (L7), Exene Cervenka (X, and whose interview inspires the book title), Kira (Black Flag), and more. We also hear from some of the fanzine creators, artists, photographers, promoters, and showgoers who kept the scene going. Mike Watt (The Minutemen) lends an enthusiastic foreword, supportive of “the sisters involved” in the scene. We Were Going to Change the World is a must-read for punk historians, women in music, and the modern feminist looking to the past for inspiration and strength. —Jenn Attaway

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BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99
S. CRAIG ZAHLER
XYZ

Vince Vaughn is looking for redemption. His mainstream return
to serious acting in Season 2 of True Detective (2015) was so disastrous it seemed to guarantee a future full of Fred Clauses. Luckily for the 6’5’’ 47-year-old, he’s finally found a space outside comedy that seems to fit. His vehicle is Bradley Thomas, a stoic skinhead who spends the first half of the movie destroying his adulterous wife’s car, running cocaine, and somehow winning the audience’s grudging admiration. The crime drama storyline works, fleshed out by familial pathos and colored in with an original soundtrack composed by Zahler and performed by the legendary Butch Tavares and The O’Jays. But the film’s core is the unfiltered violence of its second act, when the slow build of Vaughn’s antihero credentials pays off with the force of a curb stomp. The grindhouse gore is sold by frenetic fight choreography, bleak cinematography, and a shockingly physical performance from Vaughn, who sticks his career 180 degrees this time around. Fleeting but memorable showings from Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, and Udo Kier round out the most memorable watch of 2017. —Raphael Helfand

I, TONYA
CRAIG GILLESPIE
(NEON)

Based on the tumultuous life and times of Tonya Harding, I, Tonya is a transcendent dark comedy about more than the rise and fall of an Olympic ice skater. It’s about growing up poor white trash; it’s about toxic relationships; it’s about abuse; and ultimately, it’s about surviving the inherent violence of class struggle. Period-accurate from the ‘70s through the ‘90s, the stage is set for strong performances from a tremendous ensemble cast, most notably powerhouses Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie’s trauma queen embodiment of Tonya encompasses all the tragedy, comedy, and humanity of a fully realized character, her gravity matched by Janney’s portrayal of Tonya’s diabolic-fanatical mother, LaVona. The action deftly oscillates between various narrative styles, including faux documentary, sometimes breaking the 4th wall à la Goodfellas. Like Tonya, the filmmakers take chances and break rules. In some ways, the movie functions as a litmus test for one’s life proximity to violence. We live in a world where some remain insulated from violence, even though it is in the very fabric of our culture. I, Tonya might threaten any bubble of perceived safety with which you walk into the theater. Or, like us, you may find yourself the lone laugher during scenes that juxtapose humor with abuse. The humor does not minimize the pain and suffering, but rather is an unexpected, refreshing force of empowerment in Tonya’s voice. This is a marginalized champion, a working-class hero describing her own experiences, and a voice whose time has come. —Beau Patrick Coulon & Beck Levy

THE SHAPE OF WATER
GUILLERMO DEL TORO
(FOX SEARCHLIGHT)

“For 25 years, I have hand-crafted strange little tales made of motion,
color, light, and shadow,” said a tearful Guillermo del Toro during his acceptance speech for the 2018 Best Director Golden Globe. “In three precise instances, these strange stories have saved my life: once with Devil’s Backbone, once with Pan’s Labyrinth, and now with Shape of Water.” These films are the crown jewels in del Toro’s lengthy catalog, but when stripped down to their essentials, they’re basically the same story repackaged in distinct historical wrapping paper. In all three films, an intelligent but innocent lead meets an initially scary, but eventually sympathetic “monster” and overcomes a chauvinist villain with zero redeeming qualities to liberate or vindicate said monster (and themselves in the process). Del Toro recycles ideas, emotions, and actors (notably Doug Jones, who plays the faun and the pale man in Pan’s Labyrinth, Abe Sapien in Hellboy, and the world’s sexiest fish in TSOW), a technique somewhere between universe-building and laziness. Still, his latest is perfectly paced, gorgeously shot, and well-acted. It’s not as interesting or as dark as Pan’s Labyrinth, but it’s tighter. Del Toro may only have one strange little tale in him, but at least he’s spent the last quarter century ironing it out. —Raphael Helfand

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