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.
Do rich luddites exist? Or do the very wealthy view the advent of technology — all of the industries Silicon Valley hopes to disrupt — as additional opportunities to make money, to mechanize working class jobs, to eradicate the middle class? I thought they all moved to Wyoming and Texas for the conservative politics, big private land, and lack of taxes (who needs to better the neighborhood when you’re the only one in town?) but maybe there’s a deeply felt desire to “return to roots” from the safety of a ranch-mansion.
Many of the picks in this month’s column are retrofuturistic — modern technology abounds, but there’s a thread of familiarity in each, in a deep desire to better understand our world and rip up the bits that don’t serve a communal whole. Others are vintage obsessed. That’s life — a series of dangerous and delightful contradictions. That, or there’s been too much Grimes in the news lately, and I fear her pseudo-intellectual AI-cheerleading could genuinely mess with the heads of young communists. Or maybe I’m a luddite? Maybe these are just the unhinged musings of a lowly columnist, sitting in front of her laptop, asking it to murder her like all good sentient robots in every science fiction movie ever made.
Anyway, March had some good tunes. (Did you hear Drunken Sailor Records reissued Altar of Eden’s Chimeras on vinyl? And right after I copped the cassette. What a pity.) Read on, young warriors.
Various Artists, Under the Bridge compilation
When the internet started investigating whispers of a twee revival, this is what I was hoping for: tooth- (and heart)-aching, sugary-sweet indiepop. This Under the Bridge compilation features new ones from Sarah Records alums The Orchids, The Wake, and Boyracer, which should be justification enough for its place on this list (what is this music except gentle punk?). After one listen to Tufthunter’s “Monsieur Jadis,” project of Talulah Gosh and Heavenly’s Peter Momtchiloff, I really thought I understood French. Just for a second. Turns out, I’m only fluent in jangle pop.
Ex-Vöid, Bigger Than Before
Hail Satan, it’s Ex-Vöid. The London-based band (fronted by Joanna Gruesome singers Lan McArdle and Owen Williams) is ferociously melodic, hook-heavy indie pop-punk with dual guitar solos and exhilarating choruses so delicious, I can’t help but wonder if they’re bad for you. In an era where the indie rock band has left and the soloist shines, Ex-Vöid reminds us that bands can still rock, and they’re actually quite good. This is an outstanding debut album from a group of musicians that hopefully have many more to come. Just, wow.
Tha Retail Simps, Reverberant Scratch: 9 Shots in that Dark
Skronky, funky, punky, derelict rock ‘n’ roll — I don’t have any proof that Montreal’s The Retail Simps are America’s happiest garage punk band, but they certainly sound like they’re having the best time, and that makes their “what if the Velvet Underground had written ‘Wooly Bully’” deviations a joy to listen to. Plus, bongos!!!!!
Ghost Bitch, Blood and Honey
Ghost Bitch, the musical moniker of Stasia Kowaleski, started like so many projects: after feeling rejected from traditional music-making avenues (in this case, as a child, she was told her hands were too small to really play guitar). Then she found no wave, noise, industrial, punk — rejecting rules that had been passed down to her and to all of use from men. Thankfully, her debut tape is a holistic rejection of that: it fuzzes, it shrieks, it haunts. It’s great. Of course it is — you may remember Kowaleski as formerly of the duo Women of the Divine Orgasm, featuring keyboardist/drum machine aficionado Sarah Moore.
Neutrals, Bus Stop Nights EP
I’ve enjoyed Neutrals from afar for a couple of years now — they had two seven-inches on indipop Slumberland Records, after all, and my love for founder/operator Mike Schulman (of Black Tambourine fame) knows no bounds. So imagine my surprise when I learned punk stalwarts Static Shock issued their latest EP! Whatever label they’re on, they work: this is Television Personalities worship, and it’s perfect pop.
NO FUTURE, Death
I’ve always been fascinated by Australia — its major cities share only a fraction of its coastline, almost half of its land is uninhabitable, producing wildlife so wild you could convince most people they’re animals from a horror film and not every day reality. That makes Perth so interesting: on the west coast of the country, it, too, is fairly isolated — fertile ground for hardcore. Enter No Future, and their Death EP — straight to the jugular, raw as fuck, d-beat punk. It doesn’t get more real than this.
It has been a minute since this column included hard as hell crust, and I apologize. I haven’t forgotten about you spikey jackets: Japanese hardcore band KLONNS and their Crow seven-inch in intense — like taking a chainsaw to sheet metal — explosive, tough guy noise.
Various Artists, SHE DON’T NEED YOU compilation
This Girlsville Records comp is already one of my most played releases of the year: from
the riot grrrl garage punk-pop of London’s Sexaphone and the hilariously biting “Stupid Punk Boy” by Middlesbrough’s Golden Starlet to the arthouse, Stereolab-influenced trance of THREX and the ramshackle punk of the legendary COACHWHIPS — it’s impossible to highlight just one track. The entire thing is brilliant. If you only open your pocketbook for one release this month, make it this one. (Well, that and Ex-Vöid. Obviously. Maybe everything. I’m not your boss.)
Scene Queen, “Pink Rover”
Look, Scene Queen is definitely not punk in any traditional sense, but I’d be lying to you if I said I haven’t spent the majority of early March listening to “Pink Rover” on repeat. The metalcore breakdowns, the trap synth production, the sacrilegious pseudo-Christianity, the appropriation of childhood limericks as feminist outrage? What is not to like?