Dungeon synth, heavy ‘80s drum programming, and one particularly demented split
Welcome to the latest edition of Difficult Fun! Each month, SPIN will spotlight the best punk on the planet and discuss it here, with the ambition of challenging preconceived notions of what the four-letter word actually means and, ideally, entertaining readers in the process. Purists, piss off! Everyone else, enjoy.
In the months after November 2016, when election results reverberated across the country and in our heads like a chainsaw to the brain, critical opinions – specifically about music, but certainly across a broad swath of topics – got stupid. Of the idiocy, the most immediately disappointing was that punk would be “good” under a Trump presidency because nothing lights a flame under the ass of anarchic dissidents than total fucking fear of the eradication of human rights. You know, anti-fascism and all its many riffs. Punk is always good, that fear always persists, and I’ve never found an optimistic argument more intellectually lazy then or since.
Now, on the eve of war in Europe, I wonder if those opinions endure. (Not sure I see a Sex Pistols song about Germany’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels rallying a generation, but by all means, prove me wrong. Whatever helps you cope.) Music is good for that shit, anyway.
FATAMORGANA, Ahora Aquí, Todavía No
Barcelona duo FATAMORGANA are ecclectists through and through – Ahora Aquí, Todavía is generous with ‘80s drum programming – cold new wave synths sounds that play out like vintage images of the future. Except, of course, these recordings are expansive and minimalist, begging the question: maybe space travel will be democratized and totally retro 50 years from now? But then again, we may all be dead. At least we’re here, now, still (get it?). It’s good enough to dance to.
Tough-as-nails street punk from Chile/Argentina, the INYECCIÓN record (out on Discos Enfermos and Educación Cínica) is a collection of new tracks and demos – skull-rattling dual-gender vocals and what I clock as a sense of humor. At least, the title track is funny. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But I’m right about this: the LP rips.
Toe Ring, Footage
Toe Ring is a great band from Philadelphia with a disgusting name. Their latest tape, Footage, was recorded during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (you know, the one we’re still in?) and despite that fact, is a truly refreshing take on garage-y, kraut-y post-punk. I believe in lo-fi again.
X-Acto / Paranoise, X-Acto / Paranoise
If there is a theme to this month’s Difficult Fun, I hope it is, well, fun. This X-Acto / Paranoise split courtesy Teramo, Italy’s Goodbye Boozy Digital is absolutely demented – opening with my favorite lyrical stanza of the year so far: “What’s that smell? / I think it’s me / What’s that smell? / I smell like beef.” This one is for every listener of every punk offshoot just wishing the egg punks, synth punks, chain punks, crust punks et al could get along. They can, and it’s insanity.
Liquid Face, II
My original review of this Liquid Face seven-inch was “so good I want to puke,” but I figured that might undersell the deliciousness of their hard as hell, noisy punk assault. It’s all angular synth sounds, garage-y guitars, and buried guttural roars. Intense. Why aren’t all bands Liquid Face?
Powerplant, Stump Soup
Two years ago, London-via-Ukraine’s POWERPLANT set the world ablaze with their math-y, rollicking weird hardcore post-punk (try not to fall for their A Spine / Evidence seven-inch, I dare you.) Now, in 2022, they are a completely different musical outfit. Don’t you just love when bands say, “screw it,” and venture into new, uncharted territory? Stump Soup is strange – it’s literally a dungeon synth album, like something that would absolutely soundtrack a video game, and I think I’m mostly including it here because it’s bizarre. Genuinely shocking. That’s called art, honey.
LAFF BOX, LAFF BOX
Smiley powerpunk from Germany, LAFF BOX features members of Lassie, Ex-white, Liiek and Poky. It also features gratuitous guitar solos that miraculously don’t make me want to dig a screwdriver deep into my ear canal, which is to say it shows some restraint. But, like, the good kind. They never lose the hook. Never lose the hook!
Labeling it noise-pop rock feels too short-sighted. Empath’s second album, Visitor, is as pleasurable as the first – pulling from Jamiroquai presets and sampling Minecraft will cause such enjoyment. If I had a note, it’s that I wish they’d pump up the bird sounds from the first record. And maybe the haze.
As an addendum: for those too scared to see some of the other bands in this column live, you will never have a better time watching a drummer than you will watching Empath’s Garrett Koloski. Trust me on that one.