Kingdom Scum / Ene – “To Cause A Fracas / The Mad Stretch” (1996)

kingdomscumThis is an interesting split release.  The Kingdom Scum side places heavy emphasis on percussion of all types and BPMs, overlaying the beats with various screams, spoken samples, and some vocals that sound like they’re straight off of a Skinny Puppy album.  “Two Claws, A Caucus” is particularly intriguing, the beats seemingly changing at random intervals and the whole thing having a quasi-industrial feel to it.  Ene brings an entirely different vibe.  The beats are still the driving force, but there’s a heavy dose of dub here.  It’s often high velocity and captures the mechanical sounding aspects of industrial.  I’m not entirely sure what’s happening a lot of the time… but I like it.

Alexandra Atnif – “Seekers Of The Void” (2018)

atnifseekersRomanian rhythmic brutalist Alexandra Atnif is at it again, dropping a new 13-track album a few weeks back called Seekers Of The Void.  We’ve followed her career for about three years now and it’s been interesting to hear the evolution of her sound during that period.  Her earlier material definitely lived up to the “brutalism” in her stylistic self-description, but over time the pendulum has swung a bit more towards the rhythmic part, though always retaining it’s overall feel of blocky concrete, right angles, and cold, hard surfaces.  It’s oppressive not just as a matter of design, but also of aesthetic.

And that brings us to Seekers Of The Void, which is undoubtedly Atnif’s most approachable album to date.  From the beat-driven “Humanophobe” to the sic-fi inspired vibe of “Departurer”, her latest work, while retaining a sharp edge, is also dance floor ready.  Don’t get me wrong, though, because it’s not all fun and games.  There’s still some brutalist horror to be found here on tracks like “Mating Rituals Of The Untermensch”, which will forcibly rip your soul from your body and trample it, consigning you to an oblivion of darkness.

This is definitely my favorite of Alexandra’s albums.  While I appreciated the power of her earlier work, at times it could become almost too much.  But that’s not the case with Seekers Of The Void.  It will still challenge your perceptions, and at times your sanity, but there are some rhythmic grooves her that offer respites from the brutalism.

Currently Seekers Of The Void is only available digitally.  You can listen to the whole thing at the Crunch Pod Bandcamp page HERE as well as purchase the download if you like it.

Smersh – “The Beat From 20,000 Fathoms” (1986)

When I think of SMERSH, I think of those old James Bond movies.  SMERSH was the Soviet counter-intelligence organization that was always attempting to thwart our hero’s efforts to save the world.  Despite lots of deadly agents Bond was always a step ahead, either killing or seducing his way past their nefarious traps.

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This Smersh is a couple of guys from New Jersey who made industrial music in their basement.  Which is almost as deadly.

Mike Mangino and Chris Shepard started making music together in 1978, and man were they prolific, putting out something like 40 albums over a roughly 12 year period, mostly on cassette and in extremely limit quantities, not because they were trying to make it exclusive… but more because almost no one was interested.  Supposedly they’d record a track and then never play it again.  There’s a great piece online about them at FACT HERE, which will tell you more about the band’s history than I ever could.

The Beat From 20,000 Fathoms is some strange stuff.  Industrial is a reasonable tag for it and Smersh has vague similarities to some of the less flashy artists from the period, though there’s also a rock-like influence here that’s more reminiscent of performers like Butthole Surfers and maybe Big Black.  Smersh’s songs maintain enough cohesion to differentiate them from their more experimental forefathers like Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire, establishing a pattern and more or less riding it out.  There’s an abrasive quality to the vocals that fits perfectly with the less-than-clean beats and electronics – the whole thing sounds exactly like what you’d expect from an industrial self-produced cassette from the 1980s, despite the fact that this is one of Smersh’s rare vinyl releases.

Some Smersh material has been re-released and can be found on their Bandcamp page HERE if you want to check them out.

Individual Totem – “Electrostatic” (2018)

I got an email the other day from Toronto’s Artoffact Records touting the upcoming release  by the German electro-wizards Individual Totem, a band whose last album was described as an “industrial space opera”.  I was, needless to say, intrigued.  I’d never heard of Individual Totem before, but this sounded like something I needed to check out.

Everything’s just perfect when you’re near me…
— “Perfect” 

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Electrostatic opens with “Perfect”, a near perfect blend of percussive beats, 80s-style synths, and dejected vocals that seem to set the stage for a somewhat goth, somewhat post-punk style album.  But then the vocals kicked in on the second song, “Pure”, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Things take a turn toward the dark side, a hard lurch to the depths of someplace with an undercurrent of danger.  The positive vibe of Everything’s just perfect when you’re near me shifted to an I want you, I need you that sounds more like a threat than a compliment, approaching the feel of being locked in a damp basement lit by just a single dim bulb hanging from the ceiling by a wire and awaiting your inevitable and certain to be unpleasant fate.

By the third song, “Warriors Of The Sun”, it’s becoming clear that Individual Totem have no intention of letting the listener get into a groove with Electrostatic.  This is their train.  They’re at the controls, and we’re just along for the ride, heading into the corners at speeds that well exceed what is safe.  And in case you were still harboring any thoughts that things might start moving in a more or less linear fashion you get “Lullaby In A Snowstorm”, a slow and morose journey that derives its beauty from sadness.  Nothing danceable here, leaving you instead just swaying as the music wraps itself around you in a thick blanket.

My life is a nightmare,
I’m burning in hell.
I’m dreaming of angels,
But it doesn’t help.
— “Dreaming Of Angels”

The next track is always an adventure on Electrostatic.  What will it be?  Industrial?  IDM?  Something in between, or something entirely different?  There’s a sense of anticipation as each song starts that makes Electrostatic a joy to listen to, and it doesn’t go away even after playing it a half dozen times.  Creating something with an overall feel to it while still keeping each and every track fresh and unique is not an easy thing to do, but Individual Totems make it happen on Electrostatic.

Electrostatic is due out September 7.  You can sample some tracks on the Individual Totem Bandcamp page HERE, and make sure to head back next week if you want to pick up a copy, whether that be the digital download or the CD put out by Artoffact.

Executive Slacks – “Nausea” (1985)

It drives me a little nuts when I see posts on some of the vinyl boards on Facebook about how someone ran across some amazing batch of wax at some kind of thrift store or garage sale and got it super cheap.  If I’m being completely honest, my reaction is tinged with more than a hint of jealousy, because that never seems to happen to me.  To be sure, I’ve found some outstanding stuff at the flea market in Reykjavik over the years… but the sellers knew exactly what they had, so while I got to pick up some rare records, I certainly paid the price.  To be fair, I don’t do a lot of thrift shopping, so much of this is on me (OK, 99.9% of it).  Back in the 1980s and 90s I used to be involved in a collectibles business and I knew plenty of guys who spent their entire weekends cruising yard and estate sales and storage locker auctions, some even going so far as keeping tabs on the obituaries.  Now, I love a great score as much as the next guy, but…. you know what?  Obviously I don’t, because otherwise I’d spend more of my time on the hunt.

One place that always raises an eyebrow when it comes up on these kinds of posts is Half Price Books.  I love Half Price Books.  I’ve literally been going there for over 30 years.  And it isn’t uncommon for me to pop down with a couple of boxes of books to trade in, and whenever I do I look through their vinyl.  And it’s usually an assortment of beat up 1970s rock and easy listening, with a smattering of terrible soundtracks thrown in for good measure.  And a lot of it is pricey for the condition.  But I still look.  And a few weeks back I was rewarded!  I’d hardly call it a score, but I picked up three cool records in decent shape (dirty as all hell, but they cleaned up great) and for very good prices – Skinny Puppy’s Remission, Alien Sex Fiend’s Who’s Been Sleeping In My Brain?, and today’s turntable occupant, Nausea by Executive Slacks.

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Founded in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, the Slacks were influenced by the burgeoning electronic scene, but also by funk and hip hop, which is evident right out of the gate with the scratching open to the album’s first track, “In And Out”.  The title track “Nausea” got some mainstream exposure when it appeared in an episode of Miami Vice during the show’s second season (episode title “Phil The Shill”).  There’s definitely an IDM feel to Nausea, especially the B side with its snappy and almost sterile percussion over-layered with what are often shouted vocals. (♠)  “Cold” is the most unusual track, a quiet instrumental featuring nothing but guitar… which doesn’t even remotely fit in with the rest of the record.

If you’re interested in checking out Executive Slacks, look no further than their Bandcamp page HERE, which currently offers a 36-track double CD of the band’s early output for a mere $14.  You’re not going to find a better bargain than that anywhere.  I bought one.

(♠)  The record actually labels the sides as Side 1 and Side A, with no Side 2 or B.  To add to the confusion, the track listing on the jacket reverse isn’t in the order the songs appear on the sides.  I went with “In And Out” as the opening track based on the way the album’s listing appears on Discogs, though this may not be right as the first five tracks on the CD version are from the other side (opening with “Electric Blue”).