In this week’s Freak Scene, Jamie Johns says farewell (for now), demystifies the Summer of Suck and discusses new releases from Pop. 1280, Hot Guts, Cacaw and Nu Sensae. Check it after the jump.
Things have been a bit quiet around here—the last Freak Scene was published on July 12—due to a very rough and unfortunate battle with mononucleosis, and now things are over for me here for the next ten months. In two days I am off to Shanghai, China on a Fulbright to do research on breast-binding in Republican-era China—yes, it existed—and will have no access to the record stores I know, love and frequent. If you know of anything interesting happening in Shanghai or China as a whole, my Freak Scene e-mail will still be going (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will be popping up on TheFADER.com from time to time. Please e-mail!
So now things are (almost) over and I am left to think about the past year and a half of writing Freak Scene. Much like anything else there are regrets and things I would have done differently, bands I wish I had written about and ideas I wish I had pursued. But in the end Freak Scene was fun to write, and hopefully fun to read, because I could do just about anything with it. I kept it mostly to reviews and positive shit since there are plenty of haters out there already. Thank you to the labels and bands that I have written about and interviewed and everyone who has read the column over the past year and a half! So that's that. Now, records.
Some outlets have dubbed this the Summer of Suck and that title appropriately describes the record and tape situation this season. Y’all, my zone is NOT being altered right now. The two-month break from writing allowed me to find a few hidden gems, experience some shit, and catch up with some Freak Scene favorites amongst this mess though. I caught the Arab on Radar reunion at Whartscape; it was okay, I guess. The band sounded tight and from far away looked good with guitarists Steve Mattos and Jeff Schneider losing their shit. Vocalist Eric Paul was rehashing his 1999 stage antics, much to the delight of the crowd, but I was not fully convinced. Paul is now older and heavier and the arm flapping looks odd, to put it nicely, although there might be hidden genius there; his antics and body add another grotesque note to a band that relishes such things. At this point, I am “so over” band reunions and thankful that I will not be in New York for the reunion of my beloved Swans. I’m not quite sure I want to see an older, ostensibly wiser (although I never understood his love of Akron/Family) Michael Gira perform songs with titles like “Raping a Slave” and “Power for Power,” especially without Jarboe. What up girl, you're missed.
Pop. 1280/Hot Guts Split
I wrote about Pop. 1280 last year when they self-released their Bedbugs 7-inch, which had a clear Birthday Party influence—but when done as convincingly as on their debut 7-inch, I will not complain. A few months ago Badmaster Records put out a split between Pop. 1280 and other FS fave Hot Guts. Pop. 1280’s track “Neon Lights” is solid, upbeat, and almost bubbly in spots because of its perky synth beat. If there weren't lyrics about broken needles and handjobs, you might want to play it at a party for your friends. (I will still do that, but some people might not.) As a friend succinctly and correctly put it, Pop. 1280 just have really good SONGS. Live, they rule, and I look forward to their upcoming 12-inch on Sacred Bones records. It just can't be bad, it just can't. I still have no clue where Hot Guts are going style-wise, but it is enjoyable hearing them find themselves. While the songs on their debut 7-inch were fuzzed out, guitar-laden, and loud, their tracks on the split, "Ponies" and "Da'Rat Hessla," offer up angular and cold (and slightly affected) post-punk. Buy the split 7-inch from Badmaster HERE. Badmaster also put out a solid 12-inch by Shit and Shine who, for the record, were one of the bands I pitched at my first editorial meeting at FADER as an intern a few years back. Memories!
As always, I want to focus on the ladies. In early August, I caught Chicago's Cacaw, which is technically two women and two men (and two basses) at Shea Stadium and they completely blew me away. Storming through song after song of relentless sludge with two different female vocalists screaming on top, they were everything I had been looking for in a band—heavy, but without the burden of noise-dude pretense. The grit and lurch of early Babes in Toyland rippers like "Dust Cake Boy" and "Ripe" came to mind as I watched them. But it was like the Babes had been handed a cornucopia of uppers and downers to both ramp up their speed and make their riffs heavier. Their new self-titled LP on Permanent Records features the songs I saw them play live like "White Kitty Gone." At first I was unsure about the LP because it initially didn't live up to Cacaw's live act, but after a few more listens, I have come to really enjoy it. Buy it HERE.
Nu Sensae, TV, Death and the Devil
Nu Sensae, a bass and drums grunge duo from Vancouver, Canada, is another band that has been alleviating the summer blues with its recent release TV, Death, and the Devil out now on Nominal Records. Their music and the way they behave as a band seem like the product of two young people who were passed mixes of Flipper and Huggy Bear in their teens. I was one of those people, so duh Nu Sensae appeal to me. Their thundering basslines and West Coast hardcore-tinged drum beats, along with singer/bassist Andrea's piercing and caustic screams and their months of consecutive touring—I missed their NYC gig while I was at Chaos in Tejas—hearken back to a time when snotty young bands didn't just want to reminisce about Nickelodeon and draw triangles while eating pizza in their parents' basements. There are elements of gloom and doom here—song titles include "Skull Mecca," one of the album's best tracks, and "I'm a Body"—but I am really hesitant to throw any bummer-related terms at them. Don't know why but Nu Sensae make me feel pretty content. Get it from Nominal Records HERE.
All of these sludgy and thrashy ladies have me thinking of Star Pimp and how they are one of the most underrated bands from the 1990s. I wrote about them early on in my column but their Seraphim 280z LP will never sound bad to my ears.