Blank Realm
Go Easy

With extreme highs and extreme lows, Blank Realm’s coming-out party for the Siltbreeze label was a perfect monument in yet another tumultuous year of releases originating in Australia. There were a lot of records from the continent that could be included in this countdown, but anyone with a proclivity for the romantic nihilism and dope-sick sludge punk emanating from those lands should be satiated and then some with Go Easy. Where a bulk of their Aussie peers wear apathy, complacency, and a generally blackened perception of life like a gold star, Blank Realm use those emotions as their bait and switch. Go Easy ends where it begins, only with an increased sense of purpose.

Cheater Slicks
Reality Is a Grape
Columbus Discount

There are things Columbus residents take for granted that much of world would give up their pinkies to see. One of the inalienable rights as a dive-bar denizen in Columbus is that you get to see the Cheater Slicks gnarl-up a stage as often as you’d like. Reality Is a Grape could be interpreted as their “do not go gently” rant against their eventual end. But knowing this trio will likely gnarl-up stages until its dying day, this is simply another day at the office for the Slicks, only this time around, that day at the office turned into their most inspired and pop-tinged record since their birth. “If you don’t want to grow old, hold on to your soul,” Dave Shannon emotes. That’s real talk. Not that there’s anything particularly childish or, on the other side, curmudgeonly about the album, but somewhere in that middle the Slicks made a set of tunes that show the longer they’ve been around, the more they learn and the more they can mess with their mettle with the same youthful vigor that made them a band in the first place.

Savage Quality Recordings

After the release of Pink Reason’s Shit in the Garden, Kevin Failure decided to settle down, make a family, and plant his flag in Columbus. And by “settling down,” he’s equipped his basement with the headquarters for Savage Quality Recordings, a label that posits Failure as his own anti-mogul, releasing beautifully difficult music and running the operation with the thrift and spirit of the earliest of punk staples. So far, his records have been impressive, from the textured death-electro insanity of Teen Anal Terrorist to the slow-motion sludge plucks of the mighty Modra record, Failure is as skilled a curator as he is a guy who can write downer punk anthems in his sleep. Half the reason Savage Quality is included here is the promise that 2013’s slate of records should really get your attention.

The Pheromoans
Does This Guy Stack Up?
Upset the Rhythm

It’s only been a few weeks since we interviewed London’s Pheromoans, and slightly a few weeks more since I first heard of the band, but they’ve quickly become a permanent fixture at Primitive Futures. Does This Guy Stack Up? should be the starting point for anyone curious about the only band Jared Phillips (of Times New Viking) seems to give a fuck about. Given that guy’s discriminating tastes, you should know this sounds like the best bits of The Fall and Swell Maps left to collect dust over the last two decades then resuscitated to fit the codes and language of post-indie boredom. It’s a record that is for people who appreciate digging, who know about the Desperate Bicycles but can’t for the life of them find their records. This is fascinating music indeed, even if you’re just in it for the slight whiff of Messthetics-esque nostalgia sorely needed in the vacant world of indie rock.

Call of the Wild
“The Call” b/w “Tightrope”

Call of the Wild could easily be the punchline for any joke that begins, “Lemmy, Greg Ginn, and a legion of jaded Brooklyn musicians walk into a bar.” There is the sense that this trio is putting you on. And though many disparaging remarks regarding their authenticity and allegiance to ’stache-metal have been thrown their way, seeing them live and procuring this single (their first inspired germ) will leave little doubt to the passion that is crammed into this overdriven grunt-fest. Call of the Wild are three very, very talented people playing very, very dumb music. But again, it’s hard not to smile at something that takes equal force from the Circle Jerks and the Scorpions. Whatever hybrid of heavy they have culled, I purely enjoy every minute of it.

The Unholy Two
“Cut the Music (I’m the Nightstalker)”

To reiterate what I said earlier this year, if you’re looking for the current torchbearer of highly abrasive and equally demented scorched-earth punk, look no further than “Cut the Music,” as it simply rules and is beyond compare these days. Beyond Chris Lutzko’s dirty, prankish propaganda, there’s a formidable band taking shape before your eyes. The song’s guitars actually sound like desperate screams of terror. The rhythm commands you pay attention to the ground beneath you. It is extreme noise terrorism—think Cherubs, Man Is the Bastard, Melt Banana—of the highest order, cut expertly with the wits of a perfectly choreographed bout at Wrestlemania (circa 1988). To that wit, The Unholy Two is smuggling an actual “song” underneath the unnerving histrionics on display. No guarantee that you’ll be humming “I’m the Nightstalker” whilst mowing the lawn, but you’re certainly going to be having night tremors that use this as the soundtrack.

Superior Viaduct

Sure, Superior Viaduct is a re-issue label and is somewhat out of place on this list. But it’s more about Steve Viaduct’s precision in archiving his adopted Bay Area scene. There’s a lot to yet be discovered, and many of the artists he has revived through lavish and comprehensive presses (just check the love he’s given Factrix) were key components in the overall arc of punk’s evolution. The no-wave heroines of Noh Mercy, the blitzkrieg of Black Humor, the faithful restoration of long out-of-print Avengers singles—all worthy of infinite praise. That he’s giving the world the German Shepards in the new year is enough to put him on your team for the duration.

Sega Genocide/WV White/Cliffs

Being dispatched (again) onto the frontline of the Columbus music trenches, I’ve come to really hold open ear for bands who don’t just include my friends, enemies, and associates. Columbus has always been a cyclical place, where the regeneration of vital music happens at a much faster clip than in most cities. This year I’ve witnessed three bands in their infant stages, who we’ll be talking about much more in the coming years. Be it the hyper-Pavement-pop of Sega Genocide, the suburban shoegaze of WV White, or the anti-duo blooz-dynamics of Cliffs, each have their own distinct voice in an over-saturated scene. Find their Facebooks, write your Congressmen, and urge these kids to release records pronto.

Masonic Reducer ep

Talk about flooding the market. I’ve lost count of the number of releases Lamont “Bim” Thomas has issued since his debut as Obnox, I’m Bleeding Now. Being mostly a skinsman during his reign in Columbus and Cleveland communities (he’s bi-coastal), the beat is omniscient in Thomas’ gritty home-recorded ruckus. But stepping behind the mic and blazing on the guitar, Thomas also has a keen sense of how to balance the idiosyncrasies of ’90s pop and ’90s noise-punk. Bring it into the 21st century, inject it with a soulful, yet boisterous swing, add some pure poison, and you have Obnox. The Masonic Reducer EP was the first release to cross my desk, and since, Obnox has demanded my undivided attention. Perhaps the man should employ the Bomb Squad for their first indie-rock sludge record? Thomas is a well of good ideas that should carry him through years of releases until he snuffs the spliff.

Mad Nanna
I Make Blood Better
Negative Guest List

It is fitting that Mad Nanna finish this year’s list. They are the polar opposite of their Aussie cohorts in Blank Realm. This is year zero for this ilk of haze-induced, amateur clatter and exhaled mess. I Make Blood Better first appeared as a tape, but here has been re-recorded, still retaining the lower-than-lo-fi approach of that cassette. As with Jandek and other denizens who sit at farthest end of the abstraction spectrum (think Shaggs or Shadow Ring), you have to blindly dive into Mad Nanna’s work. These “songs” are brutally personal or the work of some clandestine cult of basement dwellers, smoking deep into the night, never paying much attention to the stop and start buttons on the four-track. I would hate to say that it’s all that spiritual, though in their meddling they appear guided by an ethereal force, albeit one half-asleep.

—Kevin J. Elliott