Gern Blandsten is closing up shop after 30 years. I can't speak to the label's imprint on the New Jersey indie rock and punk scenes, but GB proved crucial in introducing east coast bands like Chisel, The Van Pelt and Liars to the world — the cock-rocky Rye Coalition even got caught up in major-label shenanigans, ended up back on GB for its fourth and last album, produced by Dave Grohl.
Right now, the label's shop is selling 5-10-25 CD mystery boxes for cheap; it's physically painful for me to deny such a fun deal and potential for new-to-me discoveries. I'm still making my way through the 25-CD grab bag, but have fallen hard for 2006's All Your Things Are Gone by Boston's Victory at Sea. I'd completely missed out on this band in my formative indie-rock years, but everything about Victory at Sea would've hit all of my college-age buttons: emotional, but gutsy songwriting; bursts of proggy bombast; ship-swaying rhythms; left hand-heavy piano pounding in place of bass guitar; a guitarist/singer who maybe smokes or drinks too much whiskey and just has the most devastating quips (see: "It's not your birthday, it's your funeral / What a shame / 'Cause the gang's all here and we're toasting your name"). Just take a listen to "The Letter" and tell me Mona Elliott didn't sing Patti Smith songs at karaoke bars until the wee hours of the morning. —Lars Gotrich
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Knight & Gallow, For Honor and Bloodshed (self-released): Outrageously fun sword and sorcery from Sacramento. This is heavy metal that gallops upon a muscular steed, swinging battle axes at orcs and slamming down jugs of cheap beer. Knight & Gallow's epic/power metal influences are easy to spot (Manilla Road, Twisted Tower Dire, Eternal Champion, Visigoth), mapping out the band's anthemic melodies, chugging/thrashing rhythms and heroic guitar solos. Everything's a bit rough and unruly — especially Nick Chambers' untrained, but nonetheless charming pipes — but how I envy this bright-eyed hunger. These dudes look young in press photos, so that may contribute to the mile-wide-smile ache, but the songwriting and spirit is strong.
Incapacitants, As Loud As Possible (Total Black): There was a time just after graduating college when, unsure of my life's path, I blasted my skull with Japanese noise and psych until 3 a.m. every night. I'm not totally sure that was a healthy decision, but groups like Hijokaidan, C.C.C.C., Hanatarash, The Gerogerigegege and Fushitsusha grinded a blood-streaked understanding of texture, space and extreme volume into my being. Incapacitants' As Loud As Possible (originally released in 1995, just reissued with bonus material) more than lives up to its name: This is harsh noise masochism. But revisiting the album now, I am struck by the surprising nuance (???) of ALAP: Walls of shrieking power electronics corrode and return in layers of what can only be called a beautiful corpse; weaponized feedback is dubbed into oblivion, often bleeding into new sections of horror. Don't get it twisted: ALAP is just as relentless and overwhelming as ever, but surrendering to its destroyed world offers devious pleasures.
Ellery Eskelin, Michael Formanek, Dave Ballou & Devin Gray, Dirigo Rataplan I (Rataplan): Devin Gray lists himself last, but he's the bandleader for this teetering, yet nonetheless well-balanced jazz quartet, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of this album with a limited reissue. At times, Dirigo Rataplan feels like two or three groups simultaneously playing the same stage, as tenor sax pairs off with bass, trumpet plays off drums, etc., in a constant mix-and-match game of spinning plates. Avant-leaning jazz like this can come off academic, but Gray's compositions — and his taut-yet-expressive drumming — never forget to funk or bop around the melody, keeping everything light.
Seth Kasselman, Analogous Fools (UR Sounds): Like the watercolors that splotch the cassette jacket, Seth Kasselman's electronic music builds on translucent layers of amorphous blobs. Unlike recent joints that sprawled, these synth-based pieces are relatively short, building on ambient gurgles, glitchy Oval-style bleeps and haunting drone, sparingly accompanied by guitar, bass, ritualistic percussion and desert-swept harmonica.
Turbo Sonidero, Lowrider Kumbias (Discos Rolas): From regional styles vallenato to chicha to villera and everything in between, cumbia is a naturally psychedelic music; its deceptively simplistic rhythm invites unruly mutation. On Lowrider Kumbias, San Jose producer Turbo Sonidero kicks up a digital dust with the records of his youth: R&B, soul, doo-wop and cumbias de antaño all slurped, bounced and banged into suped-up, slowed-down Sunday ride.
football, etc., Vision (self-released): football, etc. has been around long enough that its emo-ish indie rock (or is it indie-ish emo?) isn't tethered to the '90s scene that inspired the band. Rainer Maria is often the chief comparison, but I'd argue that football, etc. doesn't so much mimic RM's sound but mirrors that slow and steady evolution, so now only football, etc., sounds like football, etc. Vision comes off a break of sorts, after two members started the (excellent) screamo side-project Overo with pals, with familiar elements renewed: Mournful chord progressions that follow slow, languorous vocal melodies; thrumming bass; dynamic, textured drums. The title track, in particular, is one of the band's best in a decade + of great songs — somehow weightless and weighty.
Stream the new Viking's Choice playlist via BNDCMPR. Tracklist below:
Knight & Gallow, "Stormbringer's Call"
Ellery Eskelin, Michael Formanek, Dave Ballou & Devin Gray, "Cancel the Cancel"
Seth Kasselman, "Say It Like Elevator Lungs"
Turbo Sonidero, "Baby, Tu Lo Tienes"
football, etc., "Vision"
Chronophage, "Black Clouds"
Jess Scott, "Modern Primitive"
Maral, "lavender's love"
Les Rallizes Dénudés, "Vertigo otherwise My Conviction"
billy woods (feat. Fatboi Sharif), "Haarlem"
Malik's Emerging Force Art Trio, "in searching of spirits passed and present"
Imelda Marcos, "sartoria blue"
Chamber Choir Kwintessens, "Salve Regina"
Joan Shelley, "The Spur"
Asha Puthli, "Space Talk"
Nina Nastasia, "Just Stay in Bed"
Victory at Sea, "The Letter"
Lifeguard, "Taking Radar"
Joyce Manor, "Gotta Let It Go"
JOYFULTALK, "Take It to the Grave"
Trouble Funk, "Let's Get Small"
Orchestre Massako (feat. Amara Touré), "Gnekelhe Mohi"
Hey, ily!, "Intrusive Thoughts Always"
Eden Burns, "Choir Song"
Camp One, "This is Not a Happy Home"
Church of Disgust, "Arrogant Death"
Ensemble Nist-Nah, "GENI / TIRTA"
Kikagaku Moyo, "Cardboard Pile"
Cruel Diagonals & Jon Carr, "Fall Back into Earth"