Freak Scene #49: The Year End Edition

December 21, 2009

In this week’s Freak Scene, Jamie Johns discusses the year's best singles, full lengths, cassettes and shows. Somehow it includes no mention of the band Emeralds. Check her writeup after the jump!

I do not feel prepared, mentally or physically, to write out a decade in review. Year and decade end lists are a way to guarantee that in three months you will hear a 7-inch from the previous year that blows everything you put on your list out of the water. I started writing Freak Scene almost a year ago though, and it makes sense that to celebrate the (almost) one year anniversary, I should run through some of my favorite releases and recap some of what I have covered thus far.

The past twelve months have seen what would have once been considered “weird” floating closer and closer to the middle. This has been going on for a while. Everyone knows about the internet, I don’t have to say anything about it. A year in which Lady Gaga was able to go to weirder places than most noise artists did – the woman can reference The Night Porter and Jonbenet Ramsey while wearing fetish boots—nothing really seemed to stay weird for very long? This means there are more labels and bigger audiences for acts that deserve it while at the same time, there is an endless supply of crappy, handmade releases of “chillwave” and whatever else is trendy filling shelves. It also means that many of the releases I loved this year do not really fit within the Freak Scene anymore but for this year in review, I am overlooking that.


My favorite single of the year is Cro Magnon’s Wash 7-inch on Bruit Direct Disques. However, I just found out that after more than nine months of thinking that this single was released this year, it was technically released in 2008. Not quite sure how I missed that as it is clearly labeled on the 7-inch packaging, as seen above. It is a bit of a cop out to say that your favorite single from this year is actually from last year—it's like saying "Man, music this year totally sucked, right?"—but I am not quite sure if I am prepared to give this single up. When I interviewed the band in April, they told me about the stressful circumstances – robbery, frustration, boredom – that precipitated the creation of Cro Magnon. That stress very obviously shows up on the three songs featured on this 7-inch. Side A has two very loud and claustrophobic tracks, “Wash” and “A Hole,” each short and brimming with enough caustic surprises to make you move the needle back to listen again. Both tracks find a pair of female voices trying to out scream one another and working out their problems while creating guitar squall and a beat with whatever equipment they could find. The chaos is well managed and purposeful—nothing on these tracks feels needless or lazy. Cro Magnon might be young but it is entirely to their advantage.

As their WFMU session shows, they sound just as good when the volume is down. If the last song on the 7-inch, “Apple Orchard,” is more your speed, I recommend Cro Magnon guitarist/bassist Haley Fohr’s solo project Circuit Des Yeux. Fohr released a 7-inch on Dull Knife recently and her album on De Stijil, Sirenum, is solid as well. As I listen over the Wash 7-inch while writing this, all I can wonder is will there be another Cro Magnon 7-inch?

Other 7-inches and EPs:

Aran Ruth, "Silver Wings" 7-inch

Ash Pool, Saturn’s Slave

Cult Ritual, Second EP 7-inch

Technically came out last year but received a re-press this year that allowed it to come into my hands

Grass Widow 12-inch (Captured Tracks)

Mayyors, "Deads" 12-inch

Naked on the Vague, "Chitty Chat" 7-inch

Sex Church, "Dead End" 7-inch

Zaimph, "Death Blooming Pleasure" 12"

Full Lengths

Cro Magnon’s XXPeriments comrade Zola Jesus put out what is very easily tied for my favorite full length of the year, The Spoils. It is tied with Cold Cave’s Love Comes Close. To the edgier readers of this column, do not try to act as if you don’t love life just a little bit more when “Life Magazine” comes on.

It’s a beast of a record. From the minute you hear Nika, the woman behind Zola Jesus, busting out on the first song, you know you are going somewhere a little different, very pretty, and possibly uncomfortable. Instead of prattling on once again about the genius of Zola Jesus—I think I have done this at least three times in the last year - I thought it would be much more interesting to let Nika, a fellow noise head, speak for herself. I asked her what her favorite releases of the year were and she graciously sent me this excellent list of new releases and reissues. Much love for Pittsburgh, PA:

Coum Transmissions, The Sound of Porridge Bubbling

Le Syndicat, Timespace Losse

Macronympha, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Various Artists, Pundartugg

Factums, Flowers

Sewer Goddess, s/t

Fever Ray, s/t

Mauthausen Orchestra, They Never Learn

Bloodyminded, Phases : Three

Grey Wolves, Judgement

Naked on the Vague, "Chitty Chat" 7-inch

Tape Labels

Every month a new limited edition tape or 7-inch label starts up. God bless 'em but most of the time, the quality is negligible over the number issued and the colored vinyl. Night People, on the other hand, is one of the most consistent and thoughtful of the tape label bunch. In addition to releasing a whole boatload of great screen printed tapes by Wet Hair, Blessure Grave, and Peaking Lights, Night People has also delved into the world of vinyl, quite successfully I might add. The label released FNU Ronnies' one-sided 12-inch, another favorite of the year. I asked Night People owner Shawn Reed about his favorite releases of the year. What he said is below:

Broken Water- Boyfriend Hole 7"

Out of the dissolved Sisters comes this Olympia three-piece, killer live drums, shimmering wall of noise guitars, beautiful lady vocals, psychedelic shoegaze. Killer.

Baronic Wall - In Granite Parlor CS
Fucking weird sci fi synth punk from Wales, has a Lambkin/vintage Fazzini vibe, dry as hell Brit ranting over torched keyboard sludge, deep cassette geeks bow down.

Eat Skull, Wild and Inside LP
Whenever I feel like shit which is often I jam this record over and over, and particularly the song "Heavens Stranger" and it gives me permission to feel like shit, which I guess makes me feel a little bit better. Depressed middle aged punks don't give up!

Peaking Lights, Imaginary Falcons LP
Fuck it, I am going to rep a record I put out, just because I can't help how much I love this, crazy good lo fi homemade vintage synths, dreamy vocals, totally psyched out bliss, made by a married couple from Wisconsin.

Rene Hell- Pain U.S.P.A. CS
Will anyone ever catch on, be able to keep track of, or catch up with Jeff Witscher's mysterious output? like trying to understand alien technology, totally space drug music.

The Pheromoans, Revamper 7-inch (Convulsive)
I'm really partial to anything like this (Fall vibes) but still, I think this band stands out, and these dudes got some real potential to work with.

Julian Lynch, Orange you Glad LP (Old English Spelling Bee)
Out of all the low fi psych pop stuff that came out this year, this LP I really felt like did its own thing, cheesy rad jazzy parts, little kid vocals, too much wah, sentimental jammers. It's cool and works.

Ela Orleans, Lost LP
Don't know much about this, was put out by a new French label that seems rad. Kind of a Beach House/Nico/60's Euro Songwriter feel, but with an experimental nod. It has a popularity potential for sure and it is really nice for bad weather days.

Woods- Songs of Shame LP
I've known the dudes in this band forever, and its nice to see things come together for them. Everything they have been going for musically really came together on this one.

Daniel Higgs, Devotional Songs CS
Beautiful stuff, really long cassette, totally raw and minimal, deep and wide but really intimate. Pretty stunning really.

Yellow Tears, Halflings, and Pharmakon
This year’s No Fun Fest may have been the last one. Although I will miss the yearly Valhalla of noise nerds and macho aggression, I am thankful that this year presented me with the opportunity to be convinced of the genius of Yellow Tears. Yellow Tears and Halflings, featuring 2/3 of Tears, along with their Far Rockaway companion Pharmakon made some of the only truly great noise this year. Outside of these three acts, noise releases this year were, on the whole, pretty weak. Sure, the age old noise themes of perversion and sexuality are still there in Tears, Halflings and Pharmakon's music but it  never appears trite or over wrought. Yellow Tears are the oddest of the bunch, incorporating found conversations and duck noises (?) into their sets. Halflings play industrial noise with what almost approaches dance beats behind it. I am perhaps most intrigued by Pharmakon, a young woman by the name of Margaret Chardiet who performs a cathartic, savage (female) take on harsh noise. Take a look at this live video of Pharmakon from this past summer for all the proof you need. I am really excited to see what she has in store for us next, I hope there is at least a new release in there somewhere.

At a recent Yellow Tears performance—which was absolutely brutal and incredible— I realized that the band had a small television in front of them playing hardcore porn, ostensibly to get them psyched up for the night. I should have been grossed out and I was a little, but I mostly just thought it was funny. I don't mean jokey either. With all three, the deranged and sick still appear deranged and sick but in such a way that you  just want to throw your fist in the air? It's an effect that can not be explained. Yellow Tears released the excellent Don't Cry 12" on Hospital Productions, Halfings Self Esteem LP on RRRecords, and Pharmakon released a S/T compilation of tracks on Bloodlust. All three records are among my favorites of the year.

Other great LPs from this year:

Blues Control, Local Flavor

Comet Gain, Broken Record Players

Drunkdriver/Mattin, A List of Profound Insecurities

Homostupids, The Load

Katharsis, Fourth Reich

Malkuth, Sefirah Gevurah

Tamaryn, Led Astray Washed Ashore

The Mantles, s/t

Looking forward to seeing what 2010 holds in store!

SEND YOUR 7”s/LPs/LATHES/ETC [My tape deck is broken, my tears] TO:

Jamie Johns

4304 Lerner Hall

2920 Broadway

New York, NY



There will be a slight delay in listening because of the holidays!

From The Collection:

Freak Scene
Freak Scene #49: The Year End Edition