Starting a new column is always sort of awkward, because it doesn’t have its voice yet; so the best thing I can do is try to provide some context. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an essay by Zadie Smith about her experience reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and it struck a chord with me. She describes how its author, Zora Neale Hurston, went from being a “well-kept, well-loved secret” to an “entire literary industry,” and ultimately reduced to an “avatar of black woman-ness.” The same thing happened to “indie” over the past decade or so. It has become more of an “industry” than just “music.” It has become an avatar for prevailing trends; branded, marketed and sold in album streams and music video teasers. Somewhere amidst all of the white noise, there’s still great music being made. That’s what I hope to focus on.
And I guess that’s just a really long and convoluted way of saying, “hey, here’s five albums that came out last year you may have missed that I thought were great.”
Todd Congelliere – Wrong Side
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Todd Congelliere is the kind of dude who plays a Fischer Price drum machine on a his one man band’s debut record. He’s the kind of dude who starts a record label to release it and signs on a band called Jon Cougar Concentration Camp. He was the frontman of Toys That Kill. Oh and he one time pressed a Bille Joe Armstrong 7″. He’d probably make Calvin Johnson blush. He should be more of an indie legend than he is. His label, Recess Records, is probably best known for records from the likes of Screaming Females, Propagandhi, Japanther and Tenement, but I’d argue that its best release was his own solo cut, last year’s Wrong Side, which received virtually zero coverage from anyone last year. There’s nothing complex going on here – as you’d expect from an album recorded in the pop-punk-minded virtuoso’s garage, but it’s pure power-pop candy. You’ll be singing along to every track.
UltraMantis Black – UltraMantis Black
In 2014, UltraMantis Black released the best album ever released by a pro-wrestler. Granted, the bar was set pretty low, but just because the second-best band in the genre is “mostly competent Black Label Society rip-off whose discography is half covers,” doesn’t mean you should immediately write this one off. Sonically, Fozzy and Chris Jericho represent all of the pomp and banality of modern WWE, while UltraMantis Black and his backing band, consisting of members of Pissed Jeans, represent the grit and innovation of the late ECW, who hosted their shows in the same Philadelphia arena Ultramantis’ independent CHIKARA promotion holds the bulk of theirs. The pageantry is there, of course; this is a wrestling praying mantis screaming takedowns of Big Pharma (Prescription Culture) and ranting about income inequality, after all, but somehow, it works BEAUTIFULLY. For fifteen minutes, UltraMantis Black spits pure powerviolence venom in line with the spastic post-hardcore of fellow acridadae, The Locust. While its easy to dismiss as nothing more than a lark, this was some of the best (and most fun) extreme music released in 2014.
Unholy Two – Talk About Hardcore
YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST. Punk bands that are down with wrestling had their moment in 2014. Columbus, Ohio’s noisy trio Unholy Two dropped the uncompromising Talk About Hardcore this past May, and with it came homages to Dusty Rhodes (“Hard Times Daddy”), Honky Tonk Man name-drops and song titles like “Survivor Series.” Don’t worry, this isn’t a “wrestling record;” if I didn’t place this one after the UltraMantis record for the easy transitional, the references would be a mere footnote as opposed to the lead (plus, you have to be a giant dork to get Muta scale references.) The album is punctuated by harsh, abrasive vocals in constant competition with punishing reverb and twisting, whammy bar freakouts. While the UltraMantis record thrives on speed and tightly-packed chaos, Unholy Two’s game is at its best when they’re unhurried and deliberate. Despite the title, this is a noise record first, and while there’s some high velocity tracks, the albums shines when it’s slowing down stoner metal riffs (Muta Scale) to a hypnotic crawl and allowing the dissonance to envelope the listener.
Burnt Skull – Sewer Birth
Burnt Skull share a lot of the same touchstones as Unholy Two; namely, the bands on 90’s noise punk label, Amphetamine Reptile, which should come as no surprise; they’re both signed to Austin’s 12XU records. The aggro-noise band’s Sewer Birth has something of an industrial edge to it – at times reminding me a bit of Toronto band Odonis Odonis (particularly on the title track) but if Warthog’s Chris Hansell were doing vocals in the style of L.A.D.O.C.H. for the album’s duration. At the pace of a drone record.
Couch Slut – My Life as a Woman
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Couch Slut are exactly the kind of band that pisses people off. They’re called Couch Slut. They’re from Brooklyn. They have a song called “Split Urethra Castle.” They play a “noisy brand of doom-inspired hardcore” (as I said back in October), so metal purists and smug hardcore kids alike are ready to turn their noses up at them. Look at that album art. Don’t let any of that stop you from jumping on the Couch Slut train. There’s been a lot of shade thrown at heavy bands now that we’re post-Sunbather, but it’s 2015. Bands are allowed to listen to Swans and Cathedral. This record is absolutely ferocious and cold-blooded. Oh, and they’re playing Saint Vitus next week.