PLUS BRILLANTS EXPLOITS

One of the biggest advantages of WNY living is our proximity to the True North, making quick strikes across the border for shows in Toronto (or Hamilton, London or even the rare hardcore matinee in St. Catharines) fast and convenient. There were times when the Buffalo scene was so dead that I’d be in Toronto 3 or 4 times a month to see touring bands that skipped us. I’ll always be grateful for having such fine neighbors and will always have a soft spot for Canadian rock bands, as spending a good part of my youth in places like Crystal Beach, Thunder Bay, Port Colborne and along the Welland Canal began a lifelong love affair with the country and its people. This blog update was heavily soundtracked by the Kremlin LP (which is one of the best of the year) and the reissues of Ugly Pop Records (the Canadian singles discussed below and more non-Canadian ones we’ll review shortly, and thanks for reminding me “All Out Attack” is one of the best punk EPs ever…), which I endorse heavily. And much as there is more to New York state than just New York City, there’s much more to Canada than just Toronto – great bands, zines and labels from Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary, Sackville and more that I’ve touched on in past issues/updates, and aside from just what I’ve crammed into this short selection (and I’ve taken the liberty of including reviews of non-Canadian bands on Vancouver’s wonderful Sweet Rot label). As always, I’ve managed to shoehorn a reference to a certain Moncton artist into another Canadian record review, so watch out for that. Up next we have Australia, 1980s Rock’n’Roll and other big things.

Babysitter “Eye” LPbabysitterlp
Babysitter hit the full length vinyl stage after releasing a shit tonne of cassettes (I think at least six numbered volumes) and a seven-inch or two, so they’ve had plenty of time to tinker with their tunes and this LP is made up of re-recorded versions of the “hits” culled from their previous efforts. At a glance they seem to be an indie-rock band influenced by Nineties hitters like Pavement and Archers of Loaf and adding some modern garage-punk moves. ‘Eye’ starts off strong with a couple of punky anthems loaded with sarcasm (“Talkin’ ‘bout the New Generation” and “Real Wild Child’s Gone Totally Mild”) and then a couple trebly indie-rockers (“1969ties”and “Angel of Death”) that recall ‘Green Mind’-era Dino Jr. or Sonic Youth at their most conventional. The rest of the side is filled with some grungier rock’n’roll efforts that go down smoothly enough. The B-Side goes deeper into the tunnel for some loud pop-rock that wouldn’t have been out of place in mid-Nineties Seattle, with some Neil Young references and noise guitar passages as touchstones. None of this is all that bad, but after a full side this guy’s sneering “punk” vocal approach starts to grate and its incompatibility with some of the tunes becomes more apparent and less interesting. I can appreciate the rock’n’roller vibes they put into some of the music, but after a few trips to the well it starts to seem a bit schticky in a Mean Jeans-like way. The more sincere indie-rock tunes are the best parts of this, but I feel like they could’ve cut this thing in half and I would have liked it a lot more. Scum stats: 500 copies. (RK)
(Psychic Handshake // psychichandshake.bigcartel.com)

Bad Skin “We’re Dogs” 7” EPbadskin7
Archival release from the now defunct (or maybe not?) Bad Skin, young punkers who ran amok in Southern Ontario back in the olden days of 2009-13 or so, and somehow recorded these songs before dissolving. Originally from Gananoque (I had to look that one up! It’s about midway between TO and MTL), they relocated to the Big Smoke and inhabited a shitty punk house that the author of the (very enjoyable) liner notes recounts some stories of. It’s pretty raw and simple punk rock, perhaps Poison Idea with some Oi influences (anthemic choruses, beefy vocals). Demo-quality recordings that are cleaned up nicely enough, maintaining a stripped-down and aggressive feel. Both A-Side cuts burn by pretty fast (“We’re Dogs” was probably a real crowd pleaser) but I think the B-Side is what’s of interest here. “Commute” is a real hardcore ball-buster, but “Scab” is the fucking HIT – big punk guitar hook, vocals are ripe for a singlalong, and the tempo changes burst with energy. A really strong track (and again, very much PI-sounding in the rock’n’roll punkitude dept.) that demands repeat spins and would sound even better with a louder recording. Actually, this song is so good it makes the others seem pretty ordinary. Scum stats: no idea, but the liner notes are a riot (he makes fun of Hard Skin, Lost Sounds and Hunx & His Punx all in the same paragraph somehow) and I dig the sketched artwork. I wish these guys and Kremlin would come play Buffalo. (RK)
(Bad Vibrations // badvibrationsrecords.blogspot.com)

Bent Wind “Sacred Cows” 7” bentwind
Another uber-rare reissue of Sixties Canadian garage rocking, this time from Toronto’s Bent Wind (whose ‘Sussex’ LP is thought to be one the rarest Canadian records ever, supposedly fetching $3000 for a copy). Recorded in 1969 and released before the LP (and I should mention Ugly Pop is working on a reissue of that as well), “Sacred Cows” is the lead-off track from the full length, and this version is a bit shorter and less heavy yet still pretty crude, a Grade A choogler with a great guitar duel no matter which way you slice it. I always though “Castles Made of Man” was a hilarious song title, and also always thought it actually appeared on the LP, but just realized it was only a bonus track on some of the reissues of ‘Sussex’ and was originally exclusive to this single. It’s your standard drugged-out slow jam with the wah-pedal working so hard you can practically feel it crying. Psychedelic nonsense lyrics are a big plus. This 7” is a good teaser for the full length, but once you’ve heard the LP you’ll realize that tease is the word, but that’s no reason not to grab this. Scum stats: going into third press already, if you haven’t heard any Bent Wind yet you should start warming up with this now. (RK)
(Ugly Pop // uglypop.bigcartel.com)

Blue Cross “Mass Hysteria” LP bluecrosslp
This one’s been out for a while but the Shogun Records gent was nice enough to send us a promo pack, so I’ll travel back in time. I’ve actually had this one since it came out, purchased after digging their demo quite a bit. Hailing from Ottawa, they’re a new-goth two-piece, utilizing programmed drums, synths, guitar and plenty of reverb (of course), making the most out of the minimal line-up. The female vocals certainly put a Siouxsie slant on things, and having a background in the Canadian metal/crust scene pushes the vibes into very dark territories instead of going for simply shadowy Cure-like wave/postpunk, where a lot bands of this ilk end up. Only eight songs make this more of an EP, and they’ve since recorded another LP which I would like to hear, as even these early tunes show them well along their way to something good. “End Up Alone” is one of the creepiest modern efforts in this arena you’ll hear, the title cut is a great tribal thumper, both of which could have been A-Sides to singles. There’s some Christian Death swiping (“Headstone”) and “Bring Out Your Dead” and “Disconnect” could easily have been the B-Sides to those non-existent seven inchers. At their very best they remind me of what Pleasure Leftists or Australia’s Rule of Thirds do (and do well), but in a more traditonally gothic/Anarcho-punk (and Canadian) style. It seems like there’s not much chatter about this band, but if you’re into this genre they’re well worth investigating further, as they do it convincingly straight and without any irony or fashion-punk wanking. (RK)
(Shogun Records // www.burnoutzine.net/shogun/recordings)

The Bureaucrats “Feel the Pain” 7” bcrats
Recorded in 1979 and released in 1980, The Bureaucrats single is a deadly two-sider of Toronto mod-pop-punk that’s one of those rare punk singles that’s as good as it scarce. I know and love both of these songs from their inclusion on Smash the State Volume 3, a personal favorite of mine as far as Canadian-KBD-punkola goes (what a great line-up on that comp, with the ‘crats, Gentlemen of Horror, Da Slyme, Siggy Magic, Red Squares, etc…). “Feel the Pain” is the super-catchy modd-ish track which is like a punker Jam or simpler Buzzcocks, a great 80’s non-wimpy but still very poppy cut. Understated guitar work and authentic British vox enhance the UK-vibes. B-Side is “Grown Up Age” that reminds me of a poppier cut off of a Professionals record, tough but hooky with an anthemic chorus, and “Sid Wells” has a thick Steve Jones-y cockney sneer on this one which makes it sound extra snotty. An under-rated K(anadian)BD punk 7” – these guys supposedly recorded an LP later on that I’ve never heard, and probably never will, as not to taint my love of this perfect punk single. Scum stats: 100 copies on yellow with a color sleeve variant, plus a regular edition which is of the usual high standards Ugly Pop has maintained on all releases – pocket sleeve, insert, repro labels, etc. (RK)
(Ugly Pop // uglypop.bigcartel.com)

Crosss “Obsidian Spectre” LP crossslp
Somewhat intriguing stuff here from Crosss, a trio from Halifax that are blending/blurring microgenres and creating some mystic Canadian rock with varying results. In their best moments they take the nature-infused psychedelica of a Rick White band, the evil folk rock of Witchcraft, the heavy riffage and the desolate drone of doom bands and shape it into their version of stoned rock’n’roll. “Lucky Loki” is the sort of playful lysergic rock you might have heard on an Elevator demo cassette, a seemingly pleasant tune with darkness ‘round the edges and mythological lyrics. Heavy woodland fantasy rock. “Smoke” sounds like forest grunge with predominant hippie vibes. “Bones Brigade” is glacial doom with the riff and drums falling into step with each other, sounding on the brink of an avalanche that never explodes down the mountain. “Witching Hour” and “Sacred Cow” veer too far into modern Bay Area garagedelica, and the Segall vibes are a bummer after they had built up a good head of steam. “Mountain King” meets us half way – it has a bit of a heavy riff at least, but the vox are still too West Coast if you follow my drift. They do finish the side well with “Old Sound”, which sounds like a slower SST-era Soundgarden tune without Cornell’s vox and with more psyched-out guitar. After running through this side a few times, I realize the guy’s voice makes or breaks them. He doesn’t sound tough enough to really get over the Scandanavian-seeming weed, furs and campfires heavy doom/rock thing they achieve musically on some of the tunes, but it’s peculiar enough to give it a weird Canadian backwoods-vibed version of that style when it works (see the first three tracks) – when the tunes become a bit too conventional, it just leaves him sounding like a Segall/Cronin/Melton clone (the three middle tracks). All of that action happens on the A-Side. The B-Side is one long piece (“Will-o-the-Wisp”) played live in 2009 at a place called Drones Club, with a different line-up than the studio tracks, aside from one Andy March, who is revealed as the brains behind Crosss. Seems like a loose improvisational jam-out with lots of guitar drone and atmosphere – sounds like Sonic Youth stretching out a Neil Young-inspired experiment. Certainly nothing wrong with it, but it’s not exactly on fire either. I enjoyed some of this LP, where they sounded heavy and not like the dozens of bands on the West Coast (or anywhere else now that the trend is ripe for hopping) playing in this style – that’s the pitfall of trying to play “psych” these days, a lot of bands have ruined it for everyone else, so the minute you start sounding similar to them you’re fucked. This one’s half good enough that I’ll try and hear what they do next. And the mysterious “art” at least makes it look like a Factums record and not the latest LP on Castleface. (RK)
(Telephone Explosion // www.telephoneexplosion.com)

Greenback High “Bombs Away” 7” greenbackh
Greenback High (no relation to Jeff) have members of Von Zippers (who had a couple of good moments), DOA (the drummer from a recent “reunion”) and Vicious Cycle(s?) in their line-up and use that experience to play some really generic powerpop. Recorded slick, hooks you’ve heard dozens of times re-heated and played real tight – it’s just assembly line produced “punk”. “Bombs Away” is boring powerpop with corny bomb-drop sound effects, but “All of us Or None” is certainly the more offensive tune with its cloying “We’re all in this together!” sentiment. I liked the look of this record with its stamped and stickered DIY-looking sleeve, and was hoping for some inept teenage garage punk or apsehit frat rock or just anything interesting to match it. I was certainly disappointed. Scum stats: 330 copies. (RK)
(Greenback High // greenbackhigh.bigcartel.com)

Hassler “Amorality” 7” EP hassler7
Heavy duty hardcore from Hassler, who feature members of Career Suicide, Bad Skin, Brutal Knights, Toxic Holocaust(!) and more vets of the Toronto scene. I think this is where the singer from Bad Skin ended up. Fairly well polished HC with gruff vox, simple yet effective riffs, and plenty of moshable breakdowns. Reminds me a bit of Urban Blight and one of those bands with Violent in their name (there are so many I lose track). Honestly, it sounds generic to me, but for fans whose main focus is HC there are probably some intricacies I’m missing. I far prefer what the kids in Kremlin/School Jerks are doing, I’ll say that. Scum stats: 100 on green vinyl for mailorder out of the first pressing of 500 – which are now all gone. Second pressing with red/yellow labels still available. (RK)
(Beach Impediment // beachimpedimentrecords.bigcartel.com)

Kremlin “Drunk in the Gulag” 12”kremlinlp
Kremlin is the finest Canadian punk band going right now and really one of my favorite punk from anywhere over the past year. Their debut EP was one of the better short players of 2012 (just reissued domestically by Grave Mistake for all you sleepers), setting expectations high for this 12”, a split release between Beach Impediment and the band’s own Bad Vibrations imprint. Their music is simple punk at its essence – sharp and trebly guitars, head-down rhythm section, vocals heavily echoed – with a hard-charging drive given added personality from their low budget recordings. I thought the sound on their demos was wonderfully bad, and even though this LP was recorded as a record proper, it still sounds raw as can be. That lo-fi dimension adds extra frenzy to the aggression, making it seem more desperate, as if they’re wringing every little bit of life out of the instruments to the point where the equipment is straining to stay alive. An even ten tracks of exceptional guitar shred and manic pacing, and I was thrilled to hear reworked versions of “Duped” and “Kremlin” in particular, two standout tracks from their self-titled cassette. I was stuck on the killer riff from “Duped” for a bit until I realized it was borrowed (unintentionally I’m guessing) from a Homostupids song, and there’s no finer band to nip some tricks from, although Kremlin turn it into something far different anyway. Once when trying to describe this band to someone I said they play some sort of degenerated version of d-beat, and much of it is built on that bulldoze drum approach, but there’s more influences from all over the map – touches of UK82 style sloganeering in the vocals/choruses (vaguely politcal at times and certainly arnarchic/anti-society), some savage Scandanavian-style buzzsawing and song construction, and added USHC muscle for good measure. “Steel Case” is a Motorheaded bomber (and a good model band they reference often as a punk trio), “Buried” and “Doomed Youth” open up the songwriting to tunes over two minutes long with time for shredding solos and breakdown twists-n-turns. There are wonderful little bits of lo-fi nuance all over this, like when this guy’s amp starts to cut out, giving off that screaming bottle rocket sound that makes you want to duck, not knowing where that thing’s going to take off to (at the kick-in part on “Kremlin” for example), or when the crackle makes it seems like part of the riff was missed, or the super echoed “Ugggh”s from the singer, all lovely little warts left in the mix that keep me going back. Every track here is a great punk tune, but it’s the primitive recording and unabashed use of distortion and reverb that really adds to the excitement and ferocity. It’s not really sloppily played (these three are locked in quite well), and not necessarily shit-fi either, but crude and vital sounding – the squealing solos become extra piercing, the slip-n-slide fret noise sounds like it’s melting strings and speakers, the cymbal crashes sound like the mic was placed too close making for a great effect, the bass sounds almost trebly and undistorted, giving the propulsion an edge that some of the burlier hardcore bands lose when wading too far into the low end. I’m all for covering everything in layers of reverb, and the coating here is thick yet doesn’t seem excessive. The vocals echo but don’t turn into mush and the continual sparks of static keep you engaged and on edge. Hardcore punk with heavy Euro influence, deceptively simple but creative songwriting and the sound quality of ‘The Intern’ – I can’t recommend this record enough. Now I just need to see them live. Scum stats: 520 pressed = 410 on black, 110 on red and there’s also a European press on Hardware Records. (RK)
(Beach Impediment // beachimpedimentrecords.bigcartel.com)

Magic Shadows “Sunburned Mind” 7″ magicshadows
Modern garage-psych from Hamilton, Ontario that I’m guessing are named after the TV show. “Sunburned Mind” has an evil drone and dark vibes accented greatly by a good-n-muddy recording job – the guitar sounds cracklingly great and this guy does some nice amp-smoking work. Well done. “Under the Stairs” continues the heavy repetition, the tempo is weighed down with reverb, and there’s a certain ominous quality to the riff which they really hit you over the head with just to make sure you get it. Pretty good material here, I think “Under the Stairs” is the better tune. I feel like this is what Demon’s Claws might have sounded like with all the folk/country hippie shit replaced with dark psycho-garage. A Canadian version of A Feast of Snakes perhaps. (RK)
(self-released // magicshadows.bandcamp.com)

The Northwest Company “Hard to Cry” 7”northwestco
Ugly Pop Records expands their reissue scope back into the Sixties for one of the rarest Canadian garage singles, The Northwest Company’s 1967 debut. “Hard to Cry” is a killer Kinks-influenced punker with a ripper solo, big time hook and a really monstrous rhythm section for the time. Great wild vocals and rave-up outro are included, and help make this a standout cut. “Get Away From It All” on the flip is slower and heavier, more Seeds or even Animals a bit, with a deeper vocal and darker guitar vibes with some vocal testifying closing the door. I was familiar with this one by name only before hearing it and it lived up to its rep. I know it was compiled on some regional Canadian/Vancouver-centric titles, but either side would certainly fit in just fine on any of the more popular non-regional reissue series. Scum stats: already going into its third press. (RK)
(Ugly Pop // uglypop.bigcartel.com)

A Passing Fancy “I’m Losing Tonight” 7” passingfancy
Freakbeat out of 1967 Toronto that supposedly charted at the time of release. I’d say that’s due to the completely wicked screaming guitar sound on this one. High energy stuff with a pretty sticky hook. B-Side is an eponymously titled jangler with some organ and nice-guy harmonizing. Classic sounding stuff, but not as wild as Northwest Company or crude as Bent Wind – so if you’re on a budget I’d go there first. (RK)
(Ugly Pop // uglypop.bigcartel.com)

Pointed Sticks “What Do You Want Me To Do?” 7” pointedwhat
I’m not a big Pointed Sticks fan, but I still can’t deny that their debut 7” should be in the conversation when discussing great early Canadian punk/wave singles, even if I might steer that conversation to other bands eventually. “What Do You Want Me To Do?” is classic powerpop and just the type of hook-filled and sugary treat that makes the Japanese go crazy for them. I far prefer “Somebody’s Mom”, the kind of hyperactive and quirky punk song that made sense of them signing to Stiff Records. Powerpoppers rejoice. Scum stats: 550 copies with a new insert that has a really great band pic. (RK)
(Ugly Pop // uglypop.bigcartel.com)

Purity Control “Adjusting” 7” EP
Purity Control “Coping” 7” EPpccoping
Purity Control is Toronto powerviolence/grind who also seem to be the city’s representative mysterious guy/Youth Attack outfit. The “Adjusting” EP is self-released and jams six tracks of heavy styles onto two sides. You have straight PV stuff, a few grinders and some metallic hardcore. Tightly played, loudly recorded, it’s textbook stuff done all the right ways – heavy, brutal and dark to a meatheaded degree. The music becomes a machine over which lyrics about alienation, isolation, paranoia and basically feeling like life sucks are belted out. And this guy belts shit out alright, with a bellow somewhere in-between Sam Kinison and Phil Anselmo. The “Coping” EP is a split release between No Idea and Chris Colohan’s (Left for Dead) High Anxiety label, which certainly ups their profile. Musically, it tells the same story, but with perhaps a bit more songwriting savvy. Even when I was a misguided teen I didn’t feel this bad about life, but I know there are some out there that might find catharsis in this sort of bottled rage. I can’t take the singer seriously and this is all pretty plain black-and-white stuff musically, but that might be the point in this genre nowadays. And when I made the Youth Attack mention earlier, these guys have the B&W visual design and edgy aesthetic down pretty well (and you could make a case that this is just business as usual for powerviolence aesthetics, which YA/MGHC borrows from, but let’s argue about that some other time), including some vaguely sexual and sinister photos and songs, and lyrically they sink to the lowest common denominator, with songs like “Bedroom Eyes”, “Bite Marks”, “Swallowing”, etc… There’s something to be said for being edgy and even creepy/mysterious in a creative way, but it’s cookie cutter stuff like this that really brings the price of rent in the neighborhood down. (RK)
(High Anxiety/No Idea // puritycontrol.bigcartel.com)

Sida s/t 7”sidasweet
The French Glue Wave scene and La Grande Triple Alliance faction of bands is such a deep well of music that even though it seems that dozens and dozens of bands and records have been documented already, there’s a steady stream of untapped material still flowing. This EP by Sida was recorded back in 2011 by Seb Normal (who else), and although I’ve been of the thinking that we’re getting down to the bottom reaches of the Glue Wave barrel, “Apollo 13” is a song that makes me think otherwise. Female vocals that sound like they’re intoning some sort of ritual, an anaconda of a live drums-n-synth snake that creeps with muscle over which the guitar player adds squealing and oscillating noise. It goes on for a long time, achieving maximum drone-out hypnotics. The B-Side offers three shorter efforts – “Budokai” is a condensed summary of the A-Side style, “Mighty Max” is the best of the trio and sounds extra damp and cavernous and “4” is weird-garage with a martial beat. Not sure what other bands these players have been involved with, but I think they’re Strasbourg-based, and I can appreciate this more than some of their drum-machine riding contemporaries from that scene (Anals, Teledente 666, etc…). Recommended for Francophiles and weird-punks. Scum stats: 300 copies. (RK)
(Sweet Rot // www.sweetrotrecords.com)

Solid Attitude “Dash-Ex” 7” solidsweet
Iowa punkers whose LP and 7” on Rotted Tooth I was on the fence about – I liked about half of what they did, but the other half just wasn’t clicking with me. The 7” in particular was pretty good trash, but just not good enough to keep in steady rotation. I don’t remember there being saxophone on that single (or the LP for that matter), but there’s plenty of it here and it helps the band out a good bit. “Dash-Ex” is rabid post-punk, with extra raw vocals and the band finding a jagged groove and spreading the rhythm sax over it. Sounds like a rogue Tyvek tune or maybe even a really dirty Protomartyr – and I hate to make such a reference, but there’s something Stoogey about the ending. I always thought SA had a bit of the weird-Detroit sound in them and they fulfill that idea on both cuts. “Creeping Quilt” sounds like a more restrained Druid Perfume (meaning no bizzaro carnival moves), a slow build of strum-n-bleat that erupts into a howling and feral noise. These are the two best songs I’ve heard from this band, without a doubt, and I’m left pleasantly surprised and hopeful for future releases. More sax, please! Scum stats: 300 copies, in the mandatory and beautiful Sweet Rot textured pocket sleeve as usual. (RK)
(Sweet Rot // www.sweetrotrecords.com)

V/A Red Mass/Cindy Lee split 7” redmassmongrel
Debut vinyl release from the Mongrel Zine Records label out of Vancouver who have been cranking out a pretty great fanzine for the past five years. A very Canadian-centric zine with an emphasis on garage always done with great enthusiasm. Each issue I’ve read contains some great interviews and features with not just musicians but visual artists, writers, film-makers and more. It feels like I haven’t reviewed a Red Mass record in a long time, which is a bit shocking considering their voluminous output. Perhaps Roy is slowing down (which I doubt). Their side only has one tune, but it’s quite good, especially so when you take into consideration their massive back catalog. The Red Mass line-up for “Candy” will surely get fans excited – Roy is joined by Mark Sultan and King Khan, with help from Saba Lou, Hannah and a French lass on violin. It’s a good and long acoustic freak-out, with bongos, shakers, theremin, keyboards, strings, children’s toys and more instrumentation making for a real jam session feel. Something about its flowers-n-dope Sixties vibe reminds me of Love. Gang vocals, with a lot of harmonizing from the gals, which enhances the party feel (and I have to mention the exceptional harmonica playing) and there’s even a bit of a Doors-esque instrumental break towards the end. So good I wish they were on both sides of this record. Cindy Lee is a band, not a person, a two piece with ex-members of Women and Yung Mums. It’s a very quiet and wispy piece of acoustic melancholia, guitars plucked so gently and vocals laden with such soft echo that it barely exists. Sounds olde-tymey and twee, I suppose they’re going for a haunting feel, but there’s nothing here that grabbed me. The Red Mass side is killer though, and makes this record another in the long line of split singles with one good side. That would make a great theme for a comp LP – all the great songs no one has heard or remembers because they were buried on splits. Ah well. Kudos to Mongrel for getting this released though, as this is a half of a great record, and I wish them luck with their next release. Grab this if you’re jonesing for a new Red Mass cut and pad your order with some Mongrel zines. Scum stats: 650 copies with fantastic art by Bob Scott. (RK)
(Mongrel Zine Records // www.mongrelzine.ca)