I’ve said something like this, in one form or another, for over a decade now… to young interns and music journalists just getting their feet wet, tentative about their limited knowledge… to friends and peers who didn’t have the same experiences growing up… to folks older than me overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music available within a click. I don’t completely shuck authority out the window — the opposite is actually true, especially when it comes to historical context — but that’s not what drives me when I stumble across a beloved record or artist, often decades after the fact.
Metallica, Kate Bush, Prince and Linda Rondstadt all came into my life much later, and in them, I brought my own musical paths — slightly out of order, but just right for the time they appeared. That’s why I get excited when someone tells me they haven’t heard an artist canonized by books, zines or word of mouth. They’re going to bring fresh ears to Weezer or Wilco or whatever, call them on their BS, but also fall in love.
This past weekend, I fell in love with Moss Icon, much to the delight of friends and musicians who follow me on Insta. Damian Master from A Pregnant Light responded, “Every time I listen to Moss Icon, which is quite frequent, I feel like making music is futile.”
Listen to the Complete Discography from beginning to end and you hear a punk band blossom and spurt strange limbs. Like, how do you get from the Cro-Magnon crunch of “Mirror” to the lurching and labyrinthine 11-minute “Lyburnum - Wit’s End (Liberation Fly)” in the span of an album? The reckless riff that loads “Locket” smashes the chaos of the Stooges with a Rolling Stones strut. The front half of “Moth” kinda choogles (if you squint and take a swig of something hard)… at the very least the whole thing swings like a spinning top.
So where was Moss Icon all of my life? I’ve been a fan of Tonie Joy’s other bands (Universal Order of Armageddon, The Convocation Of…, Born Against). I now hear the seeds of Moss Icon in so many post-hardcore and emo bands that I’ve loved since high school. I remember when Temporary Residence released this box set in 2012, but maybe it just wasn’t clicking then. Whatever the case, there’s a book to be written about D.C.-adjacent punk bands that never fit the Dischord mold (see also: No Trend) because an hour outside D.C., Annapolis’ Moss Icon seems to have been written out of that history.
But I like coming to Moss Icon now. As much as folks like to paint punk as a youthful pursuit, there’s something deeper at work, a yearning to move forward. There’s a shaggy quality to these songs — a punk band that doesn’t want to be a punk band anymore, tossing itself into the void and hoping that something or someone catches them.
A new sixer (almost) every week. Follow my collection on Bandcamp.
Zao, The Crimson Corridor (Observed/Observer): Nearly three decades later, Zao finally embraces the gloom that’s always lurked behind its ravaged extremes. I think back to “Man in Cage Jack Wilson” often, which always felt like a missed opportunity to me — Liberate Te Ex Inferis‘ closing track was the final descent into hell, a doomy dirge of a riff that endlessly repeats as drums and electronic noise slowly build… but it goes nowhere. In tempos that sway and surge like the blood spilling out of The Shining‘s elevator scene, The Crimson Corridor isn’t so much a course correction but a newfound confidence; Zao still evolves. This is especially true in the final three tracks, which feature long swaths of space-rock spaghetti western textures and hauntingly beautiful doom-prog; it never feels indulgent, but of an unwinding piece. Zao’s feral nature takes on unknown terrors in songs that stretch and swim across a sublime expanse.
Wendy Eisenberg, Cellini’s Halo (Garden Portal): There are some guitarists I know sight unseen (ears unheard?) like Jack Rose, Sonny Sharrock and Munehiro Narita — their modes may change, but their tones and gestures remain. Just when I think I’ve caught onto Wendy Eisenberg’s techniques and figures, they neatly subvert my expectations with a steady style all their own. In just a four-year span, we’ve gotten song-based, avant-tinged indie-pop, punk and rock records, but also solo guitar explorations like this one. Shape clusters expand and contract like wizards dancing on the head of a pin, each track develops on the last idea until a Brill Building-style melody forms and fractures.
V/A, Doom Mix, Vol. V (Doom Trip): Admittedly, I keep an arm’s length to vaporwave — the post-internet approach to art appeals to me, but the music is a harder sell (that’s a tangent for another time). The labels Orange Milk and Hausu Mountain are exceptions to this rule, as is Doom Trip — vaporwave ain’t the only thing they do, but they all share a common drive towards electronic music without precedent, at the highest quality. The Doom Mix series has been especially crucial to documenting the level-up and this new installment’s got some weirdo bangers from personal faves Diamondstein, Giant Claw and Fire-Toolz.
Noemienours, Tardigrade Bouncing (self-released): The last time I featured the self-described “all-ages bear-saving non-ideological vegan drug-free home-recorded lullabies’‘ of Stockholm’s Noemienours, I was charmed by its falsetto’d freak-folk. The squeaky mouse mode hasn’t changed much, but there are some surprising rock and roll moves: small-speaker feedback, screechy guitar sustain and fumbling piano melodies that turn the title track into a Loose Fur-ian twee epic of sorts.
String Noise, Giga Concerto (New Focus): After a decade straddling and shredding avant-classical and punk worlds, the New York violin duo went all in with three albums of new music. They’re all distinct: Alien Stories bends right angles, A Lunch Between Order and Chaos has some fancy composers attached (Caleb Burhans, David Lang, Philip Glass). I am most drawn to Giga Concerto for two reasons: one, on a superficial level, cotton-candy pink clouds on the cover are gonna get my ears. But mostly, I love when composers blur classics (in this case, Eric Lyons with Brahms’ Op. 105) into fuzzy forms — familiar, but sideways. Baroque gestures swirl in tufts of torrid waltzes, drummer Greg Saunier (Deerhoof) punctuates and punches through stately marches and the International Contemporary Ensemble bursts through these arrangements like a mosh squad in its finest concert hall clothes.
Patrick Shiroishi, i shouldn’t have to worry when my parents go outside (self-released): What happened in Atlanta to those six Asian women shouldn’t leave us, but move and compel us to speak louder against racism — even and especially seemingly small jokes or comments, which, in my experience, only ripple outward. The L.A.-based saxophonist/composer recorded and released this album in just days after the murders, but I figure it’s worth sharing for those who missed it, or need a reminder of how it felt and feels to be Asian American right now. The field recordings and drones that surround i shouldn’t have to worry slowly unfold from grief, like a sheet that never creases. There’s a moment in “an outsider knows an outsider” when, after several minutes of a sorrowful piano melody, the melody just… cracks; it’s so brief, but breaks you. Shiroishi doesn’t pick up his saxophone until nearly the end, but his long exhale is a weighted presence throughout.
24 tracks. I think I’ve given up on giving the music of Fire-Toolz a name, but can we get more Painkiller-meets-NIN industrial like “More Spirit Spit Please”? “Creator/Destroyer” is so unlike Zao, yet is exactly what Zao needs to be doing right now. Daptone getting in on the Gnawan music via Innov Gnawa is absolutely the move. Jayda G back with another cocktail-sipping house hit. Spaghetti doom via GY!BE. Mexico City-based cellist Mabe Fratti gets an assist from Claire Rousay on some droning ear candy. Quicksand’s cinematic hardcore. Daniel Bachman soaks his guitar in noise muck. An entire unreleased album from chaotic hardcore band There Were Wires is on the way, and the first track takes me back the turn of the milennium. I’m absolutely thrilled by the reassessment and rediscovery of minimalist composer Julius Eastman in the past few years; really looking forward to Wind Up’s take on Femenine. Mind Maintenance is Joshua Abrams and Chad Taylor minding the world through rhythm. James Brandon Lewis makes jazz pointillism: highly detailed colors that pop from the long view. Throwbacks to Minako Yoshida, DMX, Moss Icon, Luka Productions.
What: Southern Punk Archive
Why: Librarians are some of the coolest folks on the planet. I make no secret that, in another life, I am a librarian. So here’s something I can’t wait to watch unfold: “An attempt to explore the American South for regional identity, traditions, and historical significance/influence in the story of punk and hardcore.” The project’s connected to the University of Mississippi, and they’re currently gathering fliers, YouTube videos and whatnot via Google Forms and Facebook, but the instant gratification comes by way of a Bandcamp profile with obscure punk gems.