First Four EPs

As punks age, it seems the urgency to make something vital and/or preach past victories is ratcheted to an extreme with every passing year. Keith Morris is one of those guys that, fueled by desperation to keep their legacy alive, never go away. As voice of the Circle Jerks, his sneers and jeers on politics, boredom, and catharsis were a firm bedrock for all hardcore to follow. That’s especially true of the strain born in Southern California. And as screaming head of OFF!—a supergroup that includes Steve McDonald of Redd Kross, Dimitri Coats of the Burning Brides, and Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket from the Crypt—in 17 minutes of music, comprised of four Raymond Pettibon designed EPs, Morris sounds as urgent as ever. It would be a shame to call him cranky, so perhaps rightfully pissed, maybe? While every step by OFF! reeks of reliving old glories (right down to cliched titles like “Darkness” and “I Don’t Belong”), it also sounds completely warranted, fresh and invigorating. So what better front man than Morris?

Supergroups are unfortunately, but obviously, measured against their past pieces. OFF! is no different. Though one could easily confuse these recordings as demos from Wild in the Streets, they do reveal contributions from all involved. Guitars rev in a metallic post-grunge grind thanks to Coat’s heavy, oft glam-powered flare. Many of the songs, like the near-melodic “Upside-Down,” bumble around in a goofy, stylized gloss that recalls Redd Kross, but that’s Hollywood punk for you—perfectly executed, even when this kind of punk wasn’t supposed to be precise. When these influences tend to collide and make a mess, as on the full-blast minute-long punch of “I Had a Blast,” you tend to forgive OFF! for their want of nostalgia. OFF! are most enjoyable in the intended four-song chunks on which they were originally released; even at 17 minutes, the trick gets a bit repetitive. But the good news is OFF’s releases aren’t just museum pieces, especially in an day when this dedication to craft seems absent. Kids need this type of education to survive.
Kevin J. Elliott

The Blue Angel Lounge

While the electro pop aspects of ’80s music have been stripmined and drained dry, it’s surprisingly refreshing to hear a band whose Regan-era influences don’t include serial synth fondling. German quartet the Blue Angel Lounge is that band and they’ve returned with their second album, Narcotica.

It seems slightly backward to proclaim a group with such a strong influence from three decades ago to be forward-looking. However, since Blue Angel Lounge is hanging in a seldom-visited neighborhood, it’s a breath of fresh air in comparison. Narcotica is baptized by the 4AD side of things with a side order of shoegaze. There are even a few plays taken from the Joy Division playbook. In comparison to their contemporaries, this record sticks out like a goth at a Justin Bieber concert.

Narcotica is saturated with the type of atmosphere that suggests the bleak airspace that worked so well on Joy Division and early Bauhaus records. But the record’s not so concerned with the vibe that it doesn’t provide the songs. Lengthy instrumental passages are offset by concise tunes. It’s fairly well balanced between the two impulses, so that when the other side of the coin comes up, it’s not a jarring transition.

For some corners of the music world, the fact that Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe sat in the production chair is cause for interest. However, if you’re not a Newcombe fan boy, his overt sonic stamp is hard to pick up on. But Narcotica does have the meticulous, but relaxed vibe of the early BJM records. The places where Newcombe’s influence may have lead the band astray is the unnecessary detour in “Sun of the Ocean” and the extended running times of some songs. But the Blue Angel Lounge held the reins tight enough. If your concerns are less day-glo and more of the dark trench coat stance, then Narcotica will help ease the transition into the colder bleaker months.
Dorian S. Ham

The Heart of the Nightlife
This Is Music

I swear one of the keyboard riffs in The Heart of the Nightlife’s title track is an abbreviated version of the hook from the X-Files theme song. Whether or not Kisses intended this as homage or it was an honest mistake is moot. The riff only pops up for a second, but it fits in the song perfectly and the vibe of the wigged-out ’90s mystery show casts a delightfully nerdy pall over the rest of the almost too cool for school LA band’s image. Play this record quietly in the background and you’ll think it could be the soundtrack to the trip-out scene in a slightly too serious Harmony Korine teen angst movie. Play it at this reviewer’s recommended volume (just short of blowing your speakers) and you’ll realize it’s the best album of 2010.

Kisses have perfected the wispy emotional French dance pop that Air churned out in the ’90s—not the way MGMT tried to hi-jack it—but manage to step beyond the unfortunate lyrical shortcomings and directly into the painfully small “words worth paying attention to” section of recent music. Further, all of these lyrics are moaned by Princeton front man Jesse Kivel with a lazy wonderment akin to the early-80s Dunedin sound of the Bats, the Chills, et al.

Sure, most of the record revolves around rudimentary dancefloor beats—yes, like the ones MGMT used to great effect on Oracular Spectacular—and while they aren’t exactly groundbreaking or stuffed full of polyrhythmic Krautrock freakiness, sometimes simple bass thumps paired with 808 claps and peppered tick-tick hi-hats are enough to keep people moving. The synth leads evoke an overexposed lens flared photograph of a hip couple in pre–Labor Day whites daytime cocktailing by the pool in a southern Californian backyard, which is pretty much what popped up when I found the band’s website. Everything about this record seems deliberate, yet not contrived, which is agonizingly refreshing. Finally dance music that sounds new, on purpose.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

MP3: “Bermuda”

The White Wires

On their second full-length album, WWII, Ottawa’s White Wires imbibe in the kind of arrested development that has long made for a perfect match to two-minute, three-chord songs. Like the aural equivalent to the teenage-male orgasm, it’s all wham bam thank you mam, plenary adrenaline explosion, without much room for foreplay. Indeed, this record rushes by in a blur of 100-second odes to going to the beach and various objects of affection.

What’s distinct about this record, and subsequently the White Wires, is the absolute giddiness with which each songs bursts forth. With levels edging ever so slightly into the red, the band plies their wares with equal amounts of recklessness and efficiency. On “Hands,” singer Ian Manhire pleas like a more sentimental Pete Shelley as fuzzy guitar and bass riffs hurl past. “Did You Forget My Name” doesn’t move at the same brisk pace, but knocks around with an equally frantic mindset. And “Summer Girl” turns out to not be about just another romance, but a piece of coming-of-age wisdom, however simple that advice may seem. WWII may be festooned with teenage kicks, but the White Wires also show that they’ve long since graduated from Rock ’n’ Roll High School.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Be True to Your School (’Till You Get Kicked Out)”

Pascal Pinon
Pascal Pinon

Pascal Pinon is a female quartet from the beautifully frigid Iceland. The brainchild of twin sisters, Jófrídur and Ásthildur, their music recalls the quiet, gentle mystique of the landscape, yet infused with the all the warmth and charm of a woolen sweater. The members are all around 16 years old, but they’re not a typical gaggle of teenage girls. Or at least they try really hard to dodge that cutesy label. In fact, their band borrows its name from Pasqual Pinon, the circus freak known as the Two-Headed Mexican (as he happened to share his headspace with a large tumor), though frankly, it’s impossible to glean this from a debut album littered with catchy folk tracks.

The group’s self-titled album certainly isn’t what one would call dark or moody, and perhaps it’s not really cutesy either, but the inviting flutes, chirps and warm, acoustic guitars on the opener, “Undir Heiõum Himni,” beg to differ. So does the kindergarten-esque glockenspiel dispersed throughout many of the songs. The songs are brisk and primitive, recorded in a room without fancy equipment, and the rustic themes of the lyrics, which, when translated, pay homage to nature and the romanticism of yonder. Yet, there is a certain ageless wisdom to those lyrical whispers, as evidenced by the way the girls casually, albeit flawlessly, slip between their native tongue and English. After hearing such whimsical harmonies on tracks like “Djöflasnaran,” it seems strange that anyone speaking (or singing) in such a poetically romantic language as Icelandic would willingly choose to slip into the comparably abrasive English. But they do, and the resulting English songs, including the cheeky “I Wrote a Song,” are a touch plainer. Regardless of chronological age, or lack thereof, this album proves that the ladies of Pascal Pinon possess a nymph-like timelessness and bucolic maturity that is not lost between languages.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “New Beginning”