The Aquarium | The Aquarium | Dischord
The Dischord scene was already moving out of the long shadow of Fugazi, but the debut from this coed D.C. duo is still a surprise. On an overdriven electric piano and an antique-sounding synth, front man Jason Hutto plays a sweet, propulsive psychedelic grind that often sounds as much like guitar as keys. Sometimes he doesn't seem to know exactly what he's doing, but he keeps it loose and fun, tripping his way into a precious party prance that keeps the songs aloft. Drummer Laura Harris may be the second coming of Unwound's Sara Lund--tight, authoritative, and judiciously pumped up with just-so syncopations, her playing can't not be called funky. (Sorry!) And though Hutto's voice makes him sound like a caricature of a plaintive indie-rock singer, his lyrics do justice to the Dischord badge--he's got a hippie heart pumping with punk determination.
Swan Island | The Centre Will Hold | Holocene
Listening to the debut from this Portland five-piece, I imagined them as a misfit girl gang: there'd be the goth one, the punk, the new waver, the metal chick, the tuff singer in a sparkly outfit. The music is ultimate rad, a mishmash of Benatar-dramatic vocals, makeshift proggery, and naif disco--plus it's obvious they grew up seeing Sleater-Kinney shows on the regular. Vocalist Brisa Gonzalez has a clear, confident contralto and an occasionally theatrical delivery, but though her lyrics are of the personal-political sort, she's subtle with the queer/feminist agenda. The title track, a genius exercise in what-the-fuckery, sounds like Excuse 17 covering Iron Maiden--riot-girl angst grafted to sea-chantey metal.
Shit and Shine | Jealous of Shit and Shine | Riot Season
Four drummers, two bassists, and one broke-azz Casio let loose an unstinting stream of damage. Shit and Shine's shuddering power noise sounds like it was recorded live to Dictaphone, then dubbed from cassette to cassette a few times--it's often difficult to tell which instrument is which. Melody is rare--the music is mostly unholy garbled thrashing overlaid with buzzing space clang and samples of people saying disgusting things, and at its most coherent it sounds like a chopped 'n' screwed Chrome record. The album's centerpiece is a 30-minute song that combines a solitary repeating measure of chugging unison drums with an awful hissing sound. The best feel-bad record of the year.
Daniel Higgs | Ancestral Songs | Holy Mountain
Most people thank their fans and their families in their liner notes. Daniel Higgs thanks "the All-Pervading Nameless Lord of Perfect Mystery" and "the Fructifying Womb of Myriad Realities." Not much of a surprise, really--Higgs has been pressing hard into the mystic since ten Lungfish albums ago. His previous solo disc was 17 original compositions played on mouth harp, and this one is six extended tracks: two intergalactic hymns done with guitar and vocals, plus four droning, hypnotizing raga-like pieces performed on banjo, guitar, or a combo of mouth harp and toy piano, two of which run more than ten minutes. But despite its deep strangeness, it's some of Higgs's most accessible solo work.
Beat Beat Beat | Living in the Future | Dirtnap
Everyone knows that Dirtnap puts out the hottest shiz since shiz was invented, so I'm stating the obvious by propping their latest--but hey, it's gotta be somebody's living. Beat Beat Beat is a crew of pasty dudes who look like they never took off their Stiv Bators costumes after Halloween, but they play spit-tough street punk that's fast and hateful enough to burn off the cliches.
Lake of Dracula | Skeletal Remains | Savage Land
"We apologize to all you rockabilly listeners out there--sorry, our music is better," says front man Jim "Marlon" Magas breathlessly on this live recording, taped for a California college radio station in 1997. That sentiment is probably as polite as Lake of Dracula ever got about their destroy-all-music party line. These menacing, atonal party songs--augmented by a few hard-to-find compilation and single tracks--fall somewhere between a Germs bootleg and death threat carved into side B of a DNA record. A sort of all-star band drawn from the midwestern now-wave scene, Lake of Dracula also included Weasel Walter of the Flying Luttenbachers and Heather Melowic of the Scissor Girls; they burned bright and fast, leaving behind one classic LP as testimony to their two-year run.
Ut | In Gut's House | Blast First/Mute
Largely out of print since its original release in 1988, In Gut's House is the missing link between the post-no wave New York scene and klangorous art-damaged rock bands like Big Black and Pussy Galore. The members of this all-female trio switched off on guitar, bass, and drums, each taking a turn as front woman, with surprisingly even results. Ut's slippery, semi-improvised antirock was shrill and swampy, an unpredictable amalgam of loose strumming and phantom sputtering. Both Jacqui Ham and Sally Young have some Patti Smith in their voices--they sound unhinged but know exactly what they're doing. Though Ut has been almost entirely forgotten, the band's legacy is tangible: there's a lot of Ut influence on the first two Babes in Toyland records, and Kim Gordon has said that Sonic Youth was always just trying to catch up with Ut. It's debatable if they have yet.
Arthur Russell | Springfield | Audika
The latest addition to the posthumous discography of composer Arthur Russell is a collection of tracks he left unfinished or unreleased when he died at age 40 in 1992. Springfield glows with neon melancholy; broken house beats shuffle and patter while layers of cello and synths warp around Russell's strange soft voice. "Hiding Your Present From You" is a heartbreaker, languid and bittersweet--it's among his best songs, up there with "A Little Lost" and "Keeping Up." The album's title track appears in two versions, both assembled from hours of sketches and improvised recordings by the acclaimed production team at DFA--a natural fit, since their entire career has been an homage to Russell's inventive downtown disco.
Veer Right Young Pastor | Self-released CD-R
These unholy kid geniuses from Long Beach drench their slowly building drones with every effect they can get their hands on, which makes their songs vertiginous and easy to get lost in; singer-keyboardist Lydia Berndt, a witchy chanteuse with a voice like a Slip 'n Slide, could pass for Robert Plant after a couple fistfuls of Seconal. It's unclear what they're going for: Tribal surf psych? Transcendental postpunk? Rehab-bound goth-folk? Whatever it is, it's two things most bands aren't--exciting and promising.
Ponytail | Kamehameha | Creative Capitalism
Baltimore is the new weirdo mecca, and Ponytail is one of the latest fruits of that scene. Hooky, athletic choogling is their game, and they play to win--lightning solos beget even faster lightning solos beget some shit that'd make Yes blush. And singer Molly Siegel makes the sort of noises often understood to mean, "Hi, I could really use some Meow Mix in my little bowl." Fans of Deerhoof and Melt-Banana, take note.