Welcome to 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.
If April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain, then there is May in books forever. What, a punk column can’t start with a little T. S. Eliot and Leigh Hunt? The poets are correct—this month was a time for rebirth and flowers and dresses that hit above the knee, where all the freaks in humid climates climbed out of their flooded chambers to present to the world their strangest musical creations. For the books!
May in punk (and hardcore, post-punk, EBM, indie rock, minimal wave, and however else you’d classify the following selections) was especially giving in surprising places. Below, you’ll hear from different parts of Germany. You’ll hear from a beloved Philly indie rock band that’s been fairly quiet for the last few years. (At the risk of spoilers, remember when he sang the harmonies on Japanese Breakfast’s “Everybody Wants to Love You”? A modern-day classic for the college-aged.) You’ll be transported to space and back again. You’ll have more questions than answers, but your Bandcamp cart will be full. It’s time to pay for art again, baby.
LAFF BOX, LAFF BOX
A little over a year ago, this column went fully goo-goo ga-ga over LAFF BOX’s debut seven-inch (the German band, featuring members of Lassie, Ex-White, Liiek and Poky—that reminder is for those of us who have drunk their memory retention abilities away.) Their debut album is even better: cheer-y, riff-tastic power pop rock for long hairs.
Radiator Hospital, Can’t Make Any Promises
Nothing will make this lowly writer jump like a new one from Radiator Hospital, the scrappy Philly power pop band masterminded by Sam Cook-Parrott. He’s got a keen ear for a hook and a perfectly idiosyncratic indie-rock squawk. Can’t Make Any Promises, the band’s first LP since 2019’s Music for Daydreaming, does not disappoint—try not to get “You’ll live to figure it out” from the lead single “Yr Head” stuck in, well, yr head. It’s a threat and a word of advice. Whatever you’re going through, this too shall pass.
Shrinkwrap Killers, Feed the Clones Pt. 1
The chorus of the opening track “Feed the Clones,” from Shrinkwrap Killers’ latest LP, hits like the Ramones if they made it to Mars and had access to an anxiety-addled synth player. This is Sci-fi punk that isn’t embarrassing, high-octane work clearly inspired by the Spits and Jay Reatard. And if this band believes in lizard people, it is probably in a cute way.
KENO, Scared to Update
Finally, a punk band that treats the technological phenomenon of planned obsolescence as a mirror for the global devaluation of humanity. Or, whatever, man. It’s far too smart for me, but I love that this LP sounds like getting stuck in the mainframe and a post-punk pit in equal measure. Just don’t let the guys from Low Life hear this.
Croatian Amor, A Part of You in Everything
A gorgeous album recorded from the heart of the black hole we call grief, from some of our favorite Danes. No wonder the official description ends with a Rilke quote: “Upon what instrument are we two spanned? And what musician holds us in his hand?”
TUPA is The Simpsons-sampling weirdo punk from Bogota, Columbia. It sounds like it was recorded on VHS, so the theme works on a few levels—but it’s spit-y, raw, angry, mad (like how the English use “mad”) and at times, a little freaky. Good! Great, even!
The Hell, The Hell
This one is for the hardcore purists. It’s a return to form, far more melodic than most of the d-beat barn burners championed in this space. But just because these guys can rip for those who like to dance doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed any intensity. It’s sick.
Die Letzten Ecken, Talisman
What comes to mind when someone mentions “Berlin”? Is it Berghain? Techno? Doner kebabs at 5 am, after techno at Berghain? All that is cool, but my money is on the killer EBM and minimal wave goth that has become the fabric of the oddball tapestry that is the German capital. And within that framework, Die Letzten Ecken (“The Last Corners” auf Englisch) is the moment. But is their latest, Talisman, punk? Maybe in its experimentalism, its use of the Berlin School, but probably not. It’s just too wonderful not to include here.
Country Jeans, Put Your J. On
The first song on Country Jeans’ Put Your J. On, “Straßenköter” (“Street Mutt” auf Englisch) begins with a couple of cowboys howling like dogs. That’s when the harmonicas kick in. No one loves country more than the beer-drinking prairie punks of Leipzig, Germany—this release sort of sounds like if you asked a bunch of garage rockers to write a western song, having never heard one before, and you know what? It fucking works.
The Dolorous Stroke, The Dolorous Stroke
Who saw this one coming? Matt Korvette, the spirited front person of Pissed Jeans (also the brain behind Yellow Green Red, and apparently now he manages pro-wrestlers? I don’t know, it’s been a while) has teamed up with Jo Livingstone, one of the greatest living critics of our time, for an ambient guitar project called The Dolorous Stroke. From what I understand, it was all done remotely—he’s in Philly, they’re in New York—and the results are haunting, in a noise-y rock way. These are two tracks that feel like a foggy evening, walking slowly through the syrupy humidity.