Eskiz — AKIYORUZ (live performance)

There aren’t any garages to play in where they’re from in Istanbul. No matter, this trio bashes away with the same conviction that fueled their garage-rock predecessors, from the Yardbirds and early Kinks up to Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees.

This group claims to be psychedelic, aspires to psychedelia, but suffers for the attempt within their recorded catalog within other tracks like Yaratık. Rather, this group shines in its live performance, where they stop trying to swirl and whir and instead just put their heads down and rock. The nimble guitar-bass-drums interplay, the get-out-and-push instrumental attack, and a keen falsetto hook during the chorus of this song appealingly reaches a hand out of the wax and smacks the listener upside the head.

In their best moments, Eskiz grooves like a young Black Sabbath filtered through the millennial lense of rock stalwarts Black Lips or Jay Reatard.

Eskiz, which translates to “rough sketch” in English is a fitting name for this three-piece, you can tell they don’t want to be pinned down into a clearly-defined genre (despite the fact that it’s clear thousands of hours of work and thought have been put into their visual design and overall aesthetic). Akıyoruz, on the other hand, has several definitions, alternately: “we are flowing/ we are leaking/ we are bleeding”, which all fit the mood of their fiery instrumental chutzpah.

Many musicians from non-EN-speaking countries opt to write their lyrics in English, likely in an attempt to widen their potential audience. Eskiz has chosen not to, instead keeping faith that it’s hammering hooks and blazing interplay will be enough to win over a global audience.

This reads as a brave artistic choice. Eskiz is not concerned with pandering to the attention of those who don’t take the time to meet them halfway. (On the other hand, their lyrical attack would still likely be inscrutable, even if google could translate their words accurately)

Eskiz

In the 21st century, no one has time for Keroac, but no one can deny that Beat Poetry sounds a lot better when plugged into a Sunn Model T. This is their intention –they have written their lyrics in a poetic mode of Turkish as opposed to the common usage of the language. This may strike some discerning local listeners as pretentious, but with hooks as solid as theirs, played with such spiky bombast, no one ought to care.

Unbeknownst to most outside of its self-contained geography, Turkey boasts a long history of vibrant rock and roll music, much of it leaning heavily on the psychedelic. Eskiz actively seeks to contribute to this continuum. In their latest album, their meandering overdubs and stretched-to-the-peak grooves, might be an attempt at finding common ground with the biggest underground Istanbul act, the ethereal and swirl-heavy Jakuzi, who have started to win accolades globally with their hazy, spacy keyboard aesthetic. Eskiz, however, shines just as brightly as their globetrotting rivals when they focus on bringing the heat on stage, where their fastball can’t be touched.

RIYL: Early Sabbath, Jon Spencer Blues Explosions, Thee Oh Sees, falsetto harmonies, smokers-who-scoff-at-other-smokers-who-don’t-roll-their-own-cigarettes

 

Messed Up — BIRTHDAY PARTY

Which wave of riot grrl are we up to now? 4th? 5th? No matter, these gen-z punkers bulldoze their way into the punk rock catalog with chugging riffage, sturdy songcraft, and a drummer with a keen ear for dynamics. Frequently venturing out from their native Belarus to neighboring Poland and Lithuania, Messed Up display the kind of punk chutzpah that will likely endear them to the worldwide DIY community.

A charming dichotomy can be observed between the juxtaposition of their roaring instrumental attack/sneering vocals and the earnest, fun-loving characteristics they choose to display off-stage. This is a group that knows that r&r is most effective when it’s fun. As the maxim goes, if you can’t dance to it, no one wants to be part of the revolution.

Like any punk band worth its salt, they want to write Songs That Matter. This is a dangerous artistic goal, in the sense that any attempt at writing seriously about any sort of sociopolitical content can very easily devolve into warmed-over platitudes and windmill-tilting naysaying (e.g Anti-Flag, Rise Against and the rest of their lukewarm ilk). To this end, Messed Up refuse to tread carefully, instead opting to bulldoze their way through heady topics regarding their local culture and social norms at large. Fortunately, they never lose sight of the values that make punk rock stimulating: effective, efficient songcraft, hooky riffage, catchy sung/shouted vocals and drum/bass dynamics that alternate between the fluid and the rigid.

On their bandcamp, they very helpfully provide EN translations but they opt to write in their native language. A brave choice, to narrow the parameters of their audience and insist upon writing about the environment that inspires them (An efficiently-written report on the Belarus DIY community can be found here)

When writing about MU, it’s tempting to reference any number of all-girl rock bands, from Sleater-Kinney to Babes In Toyland, this roughshod Belarus quartet most resembles, with their earnest grit and barely post-adolescent enthusiasm, are these one-time DIY’ers who would go on to become major-label, world-conquering megastars. Will the same happen to Messed Up? Unlikely, as their little community is too far removed from mainstream channels towards mass acceptance and their material too willfully regional. The potential’s still there though. Who knows? Even if it doesn’t, this kind of rock is necessary.

RIYLElastica, Sløtface, Emma Goldman, fuzz pedal feedback

Secondhand Underpants — AUTOPLEASURES

My autopleasures cannot be extracted 
My autopleasures cannot be denied” 

Istanbul, Turkey.

Last summer, a teetotaling mob burst through the doors of local record shop, Velvet Indieground, to bloody the faces of some innocent beer-sipping listeners. Later that summer, during International Women’s Day, a horde of similarly-minded thugs hopped the fences of a local university to brawl with people marching in support of gender rights. Just a few months ago, Orouba Barakat, a human-rights activist, and her daughter, Halla, a budding journalist, were stabbed to death in the home they shared.

This is the environment that Istanbul punk trio, Secondhand Underpants, draws inspiration from and the audience that it delivers its material to. Istanbul is a large city with a population well over a million and a half, where the tension among traditionalists and modernists, the government and the governed, the socially-mobile elite and the locked-in-place masses have polarized along a multitude of difficult-to-parse lines  (not to mention, an impossibly large and annoying group of tourists and backpackers) The dimensions of social polarization within the city are built around any number of culture-war issues: secularism, democracy, getting-rejected-by-the-EU, etc, etc ad infinitum.

Despite the heaviness of their environment, S.U is committed to having a good time. They do not acquiesce to the self-serious pomposity of an endless number of socially-minded musicians. To this end, they more closely fall into step with the party-ready Sløtface or Martha than they seem akin to grad students outlining the syllabus for a course in 4th wave feminism.

The track itself? Give it a spin and fans of early-90s riot grrl will not be disappointed. The vocalist outlines the thesis of the track over shuffling half-time drum rolls, quickly segueing into a double-time groove and ultimately culminating with a highly chant-able verse/chorus. The trio builds a solid groove upon a foundation of classic bar chords, root fifths and kick-snare rolls which all serve to disguise the half-sung, half-yelped melodic hooks.

Significantly, S.U doesn’t run from its roots like so many other non-American musical entities who endeavor to play American music are wont to do. In the same vein as their ideological cousins, Pussy Riot, they have absorbed the language of their influences and utilize it to speak to their own audience, addressing their own issues and airing their own grievances. Many musical acts, especially within the world of punk rock, lack the confidence to limit their subject matter and audience as this group has elected to do. Punk rock is a visual medium as much as it a sonic one and, with Ege Okal, the band has crafted a video and a track which very neatly encapsulates the audience that it speaks to and comes from.

To be sure, this is neo-riot grrl, a contribution to the revivalism of a sub-genre within a sub-genre and the group clearly views itself carrying on the legacy of classic riot grrl punk rock. However, they must contend with more than few obstacles, both ones that afflicted the classic American RG’s of yesteryear as well ones that are unique to the band’s own spatial/temporal geography. S.U does not have the luxury of having had Bratmobile and Heavens To Betsy criss-crossing around the country, playing in the back of pizza kitchens and rented VFW Halls, as an example to take direct inspiration from. Rather, it must blaze the trail on their own.

Let’s hope that they do.

RIYL: Ida Maria, Bikini Kill cover bands, 90s revivalism

Martha — PRECARIOUS (SUPERMARKET SONG)

You stood beside my till
I said, “Retail is the pits.”
And then, I scanned your anxiety pills

“We trace our punk lineage back to Crass (as opposed to The Clash), but even Crass was selling thousands of records in their day.” This a telling distinction on how Martha views itself when the spectrum of rock & roll. To punk true-believers, the distinction between Crass and The Clash couldn’t be more clear, the latter traded in ears-to-the-street awareness and balls-in-your-face aggression for lame, boomer rock-star glitz, an opinion that carries on to this day. (R&R icons like Iggy Pop made similiar criticisms of the group but for entirely opposite reasons than Martha)

This is, of course, nonsense. The songwriting panache of Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Topper was bound for superstardom subject matter regardless. Ultimately, punk rock was, has been, and continues to be aesthetic above all -no matter if it’s six months into the future or ten (or twenty or thirty) years into the past- despite the constant, consistent debate over its validity as a perspective, movement, lifestyle or otherwise. However, these DIY lifers intend on jamming econo, documenting the process along the way and doing with a style and panache all their own.

Like their American counterparts, Sheer Mag, these DIY lifers sublimate their concerns about life during late-stage capitalism with buoyant melodies and uptempo rhythms. And, boy, they sure are concerned with a lot. Martha talks a big game about their values and is intent on showing that they’re keen on walking the walk. Their mission statement? Defying a “top-down model of culture”, an achievable goal, if one that will likely land them in mountains of debt. They ought to be applauded for the effort though.

Another important distinction to make: Martha is a punk band that writes pop songs. Not a pop-punk group. This is most clear in the charming, raw, uncompressed production which favors natural acoustic dynamics over digital hyper-compression favored by today’s pop-punkers. Their music, and the collaborative method of how they produce it, most resembles mid-90s indie sweethearts Superchunk.

Precarious (Supermarket Song) is a prime nugget and entry-point into their already impressive back catalog. Drums and bass lock into a solid groove, allowing the guitars to adopt a bouncing, jaunty riff in between change-off mixed vocals. The melody is sturdy enough to ground the occasional rhythmic shift. However, the lyric booklet is where Martha shows its elite skill, the one that separates them from the legions of punk bands with strong pop sensibilities. From one perspective, it’s a clear send-up of the everyday doldrums of working an all-consuming retail job. From another, it’s about finally asking out that cutie at the shop. Martha positions clear, direct storytelling with a strong eye for narrative detail alongside its heady sociopolitical commentary. Somehow, they get through this weighty material without calling attention to itself, this song could very well be enjoyed for the melody alone. Their gift is turning the intimate into the anthemic, of making the personal cinematic, all without sagging into generic platitudes or, worse, judgemental value scolding.

When will the tide turn against Martha? They’re on an upswing now and hopefully, they gain enough momentum to break through to the next level. Naysayers shouldn’t hold it against(!) them when they do

Sidenote: Did they name their band after the community/secondhand clothes shop they dance in front of in this video?

RIYL: Prime-era Superchunk, Archers Of Loaf, killing-time-at-your-dead-end-job

Sheer Mag — PURE DESIRE (live performance)

On my bed
You took my hand and then you said,
“Don’t you crave the rush?”

Chris Lee of Supagroup once made a claim that though there was a lot of rock music in the late 90s, there wasn’t much rock & roll. What he meant by this distinction was that there was a heavy emphasis within the rock music community of his time on making artistic statements regarding heavy sociopolitical issues (Pearl Jam, Bad Religion, Public Enemy et al) but not much rock music that was made for the explicit purpose of fun. This lineage has continued on to the 00’s, the 10’s and will likely carry on into the 20’s. The majority of the partisan rock community will seek out state-of-the-union type Artistic Statements and a small minority will treasure

Sheer Mag skirts the line between these two paradigms: one half of them is dedicated to fist-in-the-air rabble-rousing and the other half equally committed to getting those hips shaking. (‘skirt the line’ is perhaps the wrong phrase, Sheer Mag trample, they groove and they hammer but they do not tread lightly, musically, ideologically or otherwise). At their heart, their sense of conflict does not merely center around the typical mainstream/underground debate, but in the rockist/poptimist duality.

Much has been made of their 70s hard rock influence, but it’s easy to overlook that this form of music was pop during its time and was only co-opted later by generations down the line as Serious Music made by Serious Artists. That being said, it’s an important move for Sheer Mag to include several dance tracks on this record. Pure Desire is positively disco, a form that’s immortally pop, and even more disconcerting when you remember that there once was a time in the late 70s where rock enthusiasts declared the format a plague and burned records in a football field. Those times have long since past though, disco basslines co-exist with hard rock guitar noodle-age and have done so for quite some time. Sheer Mag‘s mastery of both forms pays tribute to this shifting dynamic.

Like their UK counterparts, Martha, they concern themselves with important issues, framing most of their potent lyrics within a working class vs the oppressive elite dynamic. However, like their British kins, they too understand the power of the groove, a utilitarian weapon against the all-enslaving work grind. Based upon a sturdy danceable drumbeat, up-and-down bassline, simultaneously chorused and chicken-scratched guitars, the vocalist does not pontificate on the politics of the physical and gets right down to the business of extemporizing the carnal.

They want us to meet them on the street and, with this song, they tell us why.

RIYL: Motown Greatest Hits, Nuggets Comps, Ripping-the-plastic-off-your-newly-purchased-records

Radkey — LOVE SPILLS

“Got a feeling, it makes me dizzy”

The Misfits comparisons don’t really wash. Radkey’s rough-and-tumble melodicism channels Iggy Pop’s desperate, flyover-state garage punk much more than it does Danzig’s cartoonish urban dread. On Love Spills, the Radke brothers opt to utilize their tight instrumentation in an effort to pound their hooks deep into the listener’s brain, lumbering at a militaristic tempo in order to maximize the bombast. Unlike the frantic double-time of the previously-released Out Here In My Head, Radkey opts to focus the listener’s attention on the verse by stripping back the instrumentation to bass/drums/harmonies, which also ups the ante on the break section after the final chorus. Also, rather than adopt the ironic pose of their later-released Dark Black Make-Up (a pose which seems to come very naturally to them), Radkey’s vocalist reads as particularly earnest, though spectacularly vague, about what he’s singing about. Whatever it is, he sure seems like he means it.

Is this song an ode to premature ejaculation? Possible. In any case, that guitar break sure does rock.

What comes next for Radkey remains up in the air. They appear to be punk rock true-believers, having opted for a home-schooled education in order to tour the world. They play competently and with confidence and they have clearly taken notes on some of the greatest moments in the rock catalog. Their overall perspective, any idea of where they’d like to position themselves within that legacy, however, remains a mystery. They have all the makings of a solid, idiosyncratic backstory—three post-millennial brothers growing up in middle-America and opting to play a worshipful tribute to classic melodic punk from decades past, but you rarely get a sense of who they are (or even a detailed outline of who they’d like to be) in their lyric-writing. Sonically, the listener can understand where this group wants to position itself; somewhere in between The VibratorsPure Mania and a greatest-hits Misfits mixtape. Outside of that though, what makes this group tick? Why bother traversing the country converting the already-converted? Hopefully, we’ll find out soon.

In their best songs, you can hear how they fully understand how to construct a killer rock tune, slapping together melodic hooks and memorable choruses, underscored with a confidently forward-thrusting rhythm section. Pay attention to this trio of brothers from St Joseph, Missouri and it might just pay off for you in a big way, once they figure out what they want to say to you.

RIYL: The Voidoids – Love Comes In Spurts, The Vibrators – Sweet, Sweet Heart, jean-jackets-with-the-sleeves-torn-off, unironic mutton-chops

People — SAD AND HORNY

“. . .I got the blues in my heart,
I got the blues in my balls. . .”

Sadly, this band seems to have split up. However, Sad And Horny is a hidden gem, which offers a valuable entry-point into this criminally-overlooked 5-song EP, Sorry, Mom And Dad. The track doesn’t make it to the two-minute mark but they don’t need that much time to lock into a classic punk groove and let the singer spout off clever turns-of-phrase with out-of-breath energy in a catchy staccato rhythm. Sonically, it resembles early-eighties proto-hardcore, a time before Black Flag and Minor Threat canonized the format. They play it with a vivaciousness that makes that sound their own.

Thousands of dudes wearing backward baseball caps and low-slung guitars have tried to channel Paul Westerberg’s charming artlessness but an extremely limited number of them have succeeded. Jasper, Georgia’s punk rock sons, People, however, pull it off. The EP itself, recorded in 2015, resembles a collection of short stories as much as it does a tribute to classic, second-wave punk rock. Taking a look through their lyrics (which they’ve very helpfully posted to their bandcamp as the singer isn’t a huge fan of enunciation) is a worthy trip as the band takes the listener through a variety of post-adolescent, small-town concerns with their lead singer shrugging out nuanced observations on his parochial upbringing within a decidedly unnuanced vocal performance. Here, he documents what it feels like to grow up with an uncertain economic future, laments the shrinking upward mobility of the lower-middle class and pokes fun at his inability to enjoy sex. The dude sounds like what it would be like if Richard Russo picked up a used Squier Stratocaster instead of a typewriter.

RIYL: The Replacements – Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, Richard Russo – Empire Falls, doing the opposite of slow jerk