Foam Hands readers are going to think I’ve struck some kind of sponsorship deal with Sub Pop come December; recent releases from Pissed Jeans, Baptist Generals and Daughn Gibson are already assured high-ranking positions in my year-end list and this week the iconic Seattle label add another pair of aces to their killer 2013 catalogue. First up is album number four from L.A.’s No Age, who are starting to feel a little bit like the new elder statesmen of the contemporary punk scene, especially given their renewed commitment to the movement’s original DIY ethos: obsessed with the idea of not just making a record but literally making a record, guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/ vocalist Dean Spunt took it upon themselves to print, cut, stamp, assemble the packaging and ship the 10,000 LPs and CDs that comprise An Object‘s limited edition run. This restless creativity also led to a revision of existing working processes, an “if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway” shake-up that has yielded stunning results. If previous releases split the pair’s output into two fairly distinct categories – bratty, barbed grunge nuggets and quasi-ambient experimental palette-cleansers more akin to the Enos and Tim Heckers of the world – An Object finds Spunt and Randall bringing those elements together, adding a dash of weird to more straightforward rockers (hollering over the multi-layered one-note guitar chug of “No Ground”, adding strangled air-raid siren riffage to “C’mon Stimmung” or feedback, synths and chirping electronics to the rather lovely “Running From A Go-Go”) and vice versa, building plaintive pop songs around concrete drones (“My Hands, Birch & Steel”, “Commerce, Comment, Commence”) and even combining contact mics and a string section on the dreamy “An Impression”, below. A few lyrics hint at an old-school, system-smashing rebellious streak (“I don’t care what you say/ I don’t work for you“, “I won’t be your generator/ You’ll get no power from me“), but this is no angry protest punk. Rather, like some fantasy brainiac bro-down between Fugazi and the Minutemen, An Object is a physical and mental workout; the sound of a band pushing itself for fun, challenging themselves and their audience and emerging fitter, happier, more productive. Stream it in full via NPR.
No Age might be keeping the flame burning, but 6,000 miles away in Lombardia, Italy another bunch of punk rock pyros are busy lighting fires of their own. The curiously named His Electro Blue Voice are the latest addition to the increasingly far-reaching Sub Pop family, but a word of warning to the relatives: don’t accept any dinner invitations, lest you find yourselves the main course. In the nicest way possible, these guys (and gal) sound like the kind of bloodthirsty creatures one suspects would eat their own young, and not because they had to. Debut LP Ruthless Sperm (ahem) oozes malevolence like a slasher flick oozes blood, Francesco Mariani, Claudia Manili and Andrea Napoli throwing pummelling industrial rock, spittle-flecked gothic psychobilly, throat-shredding hardcore punk and driving Krautrock rhythms into a blender and vomiting up the resulting concoction in spectacular fashion. Sounds delightful, yes? Well, yes actually, especially if you like your music with balls as well as teeth; because whilst opener “Death Climb” lurches like Rollins with a killer hangover and “Sea Bug” rattles by like the Buzzcocks with a robot drummer, tracks like “Spit Dirt”, “Born Tired” (below) and “The Path” bravely veer away from gnarled noise and gory violence into extended jam territory. Whilst the idea of post-punk bands locking into tightly wound, hypnotic grooves might have lost some of its appeal of late, HEBV steer clear of simply hammering a single riff into the ground, instead using bright, Neu!-like major-key chord progressions and throbbing, gear-shifting bass runs to justify their songs’ six, seven and eight minute durations. Moreover, synths are used for more than just the standard Suicide drones, adding uplifting flourishes – psychedelic starbursts, electro-pop arpeggios, acid house squiggles – and even chilly trip-hop atmospherics (gloomy Joy Division-meets-Massive Attack closer “Red Earth”). As unpredictable as it is unhinged, Ruthless Sperm will keep listeners cumming (sorry) back for more; listen to the whole thing via MTVHive.