Turning the screws
No, that's not just a clever title, this is a very real descriptor of what I've been doing the past couple of months. For those who don't know, I spent the end of 2022 tearing down my finished basement after some minor flooding and am now building it back up again. Truly thrilling stuff. As a result, any topics I've wanted to write about the past few weeks have fallen by the wayside, in part because I've barely had the energy to work a job and then go down to my basement and effectively work a second job. But! We are nearing the end of that and, hopefully, I can send out some newsletters that are a bit more timely and relevant.
As a bit of a stop-gap, I'm sending along some recommendations of music I've been digging so far this year. There will be some things that are fully expected and some curveballs. Until next time, I'll be downstairs covered in sawdust.
Pile, All Fiction
Okay, okay, I know, "How much does this dude really have to say about Pile?" Turns out a lot! In fact, I wanted to write something about the strange parallels I found between All Fiction and the new Paramore record (singers taking a step back and letting the band shine, left turns that have left people a bit divided, bands that have been around for 15-ish years doing a hard reset, etc.) but, again, time is a non-renewable resource.
Anyway, going into All Fiction I was half-expecting to be one of the longtime Pile fans who was disappointed in the record. I heard the first single "Loops" and it was abundantly clear this record was going to be a departure, so I skipped the rest of the singles and patiently waited for my record to show up in the mail. There's something about sitting with a record in that way for a first listen that I always find so much more enriching. It's very likely just a mental thing, and probably a twinge of vinyl fetishism, but on my very first listen, I really locked into All Fiction.
The mixing is really bold, in a way that recalls the recent Low albums, but also occasionally sounds like if John Carpenter wrote Joan of Arc's The Gap instead of Tim Kinsella. Beyond all of that, Kris Kuss is the star of the show here, as he well should be. Kris has been one of the most underrated drummers in indie for his entire tenure with Pile and I hope All Fiction makes more people take notice of how essential he is to this band's magic.
Sequestrum, Pickled Preservation
On my first listen through Sequestrum's new EP Pickled Preservation, I laughed out loud. Twice. Usually, that's a recipe for disaster. But here, it's a sign that this sorta-supergroup from Denmark has a pretty sick sense of humor (that pun is both intended and regretted). From dropping in a perfectly placed Simpsons sample at the top of a track to having a song that's two seconds long — I could picture the band writing in that in the practice space and then giggling for a solid 10 minutes after — Pickled Preservation injects some much-needed humor into this crowded, oh-so-serious strain of modern death metal.
Wound Man, Human Outline
On the much less funny side of things, the new Wound Man album is yet another stellar addition to Trevor Vaughn's ever-growing Discogs page. Human Outline is the long-gestating follow-up to 2016's Perimeter, and it proves that Wound Man has not deviated from its intended goal of making powerviolence the right way.
Brain Tourniquet, An Expression In Pain
While Brain Tourniquet and Wound Man have quite a few superficial similarities — modern powerviolence bands releasing new albums on Iron Lung Records on the exact same day, each band being fronted by a musician who is in a ton of bands — that's really where the comparisons end here. While Wound Man is workmanlike in its consistency, taking measured risks when absolutely necessary, Brain Tourniquet's debut album is taking big swings at nearly every turn. From the Melvins-inspired double-drum attack on "Little Children Working," to the mid-'80s SST stair-steppy riffing on certain tracks, to the 10-minute closer which actually makes full use of that runtime — as opposed to devolving into harsh noise like so many lesser bands do when they want to be experimental — An Expression In Pain is utterly captivating from start to finish. It's fast, powerful, and still downright hooky. An early contender for hardcore release of the year.
Free Range, Practice
Breaking up all the noise here is the debut album from Free Range, the Chicago band fronted by Sofia Jensen. My friend Josh Terry wrote about this record in a recent newsletter, and it jumped out to me immediately when I took it for a spin. Jensen's songwriting is incredibly restrained, never reaching for the melodramatic but instead twisting indie-folk tropes in ways that feel utterly fresh. While the album isn't a top-to-bottom perfect listen, there are so many captivating tracks — "Forgotten" is my personal highlight — that I'll definitely keep coming back to this one.
Sonic Poison, Eruption
After our brief sojourn into quiet melodicism, it's time to get back to the blast beats, and Sonic Poison's Eruption has a doctorate in grind-related studies. The fact the first five seconds recall Morbid Angel's "Chapel of Ghouls" sets the tone perfectly, and with production that feels very Altars of Madness-esque to my ears, there's really nothing to complain about here. These self-proclaimed purveyors of combat grind know their way around a riff, and they dash each one off at an absolutely terminal velocity while never getting lost in the process. As essential as it gets.
The Gauntlet, Dark Steel and Fire
The past couple of years I've found myself cold on most new black metal (hiyo!) but, these first couple months of 2023, I've really enjoyed pulling those harsh, lo-fi records off the shelf for the first time in a while. It was high time for The Gauntlet to drop Dark Steel and Fire, a record whose influences start with Venom and end with Bathory. There's something about that classic punky, first-wave black metal sound that will always work for me, as it captures a certain sonic aura that, when executed well, can't really be beaten. In the case of Dark Steel and Fire, it isn't going to shock you with any massively creative flourishes, but it's executed at such a high level, what's there to possibly be mad about?
Conjureth, The Parasitic Chambers
It's incredibly funny to me that Conjureth's debut album, Majestic Dissolve, was released in October of 2021 but, due to massive delays at the pressing plant, records didn't land in people's hands almost until a full year later. With The Parasitic Chambers getting released in January of 2023, the turnaround between albums felt much shorter than it actually was, and it allowed Conjureth to stay at the forefront of listeners' minds that whole time. While Conjureth isn't doing a ton to reinvent themselves on The Parasitic Chambers, there's an urgency captured in the recording that makes these songs feel more vital than their previous material. Hopefully, I can get a copy of this record before the next time everyone sings "Auld Lang Syne."
Classic pick from the shelf: Discharge, Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
In my last dispatch, I wrote about a ton of bands that pulled their entire rhythmic sensibility from Discharge. But for as clear of an influence as Discharge has been on extreme music over the past 40 years, I rarely find my way back to them. Maybe it's just because listening to Discharge feels so obvious, or it could be that I just burned myself out on them as a teenager, but I grabbed the Why EP and the band's debut album Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing off the shelf this week and, damn, they still hit so incredibly hard.
It's always easy to take art for granted when it feels like you've spent your entire life standing in the crater of its impact, but that's also why it can be so rewarding to make space for such things. It may not always hit, but when you're attuned to the right frequency, it feels like you're able to commune with the past and see clearly how this collection of noise led you to exactly where you are today.