Fuse CD Review: Underground Music Round-Up

Here are a handful of underground/alternative music releases worth your consideration.

Cover art for The Austerity Program's "Beyond Calculation."

Cover art for The Austerity Program’s “Beyond Calculation.”


The Austerity Program – Beyond Calculation

Back in the late 80’s, Big Black’s disbandment left an absence in the genre of heavy, drum machine-backed noise rock. That space has now been filled by New York outfit The Austerity Program. The group, made up of the duo of guitarist and singer Justin Foley and bassist Thad Calabrese, has been releasing interesting music at a leisurely pace since 1997. Now they have delivered their most powerful statement to date with Beyond Calculation. The album is a seamless blend of just about everything under the rock music sun – post-hardcore, old-school indie, sludge metal, industrial. There’s even a spoken-word vibe to some of the vocals.

The band’s simultaneously fluid and jerky sound is at the service of some compelling lyrics. Like Big Black, The Austerity Program revels in breaking taboos, but there’s some existential intrigue as well. Each song is a self-contained narrative that features characters — ranging from bloodthirsty conquistadors to single moms — whose struggles take on mythic significance. Some might call this LP a “downer,” even finding it somewhat misanthropic, but I find this larger-than-life presentation of everyday cruelty to be quite compelling.

USA Out of Vietnam – Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes

I’ve been enjoying Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes, the latest project from USA Out of Vietnam since around the start of the year, but it is just now receiving an official release from New Damage Records. Like The Austerity Program’s album, this one scratches many musical itches at once. Over the course of the LP’s five protracted tracks, USA Out of Vietnam somehow manages to combine elements of drone, doom, prog rock, and psych pop. The group melds these styles so fluidly that the result is a paradox – cohesive yet bewildering. Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes is evidence that genre distinctions are disintegrating in this new (internet) age – hallelujah!

Photo courtesy Max Devereaux

Courageous Endeavors, a modern jazz quartet from Minneapolis. Photo: Max Devereaux

Courageous Endeavors – Prototype

Thankfully, there is still a desire for jazz in the internet age. Of course, there’s BADBADNOTGOOD, which earlier this year released a superb album after two incredibly inventive mixtapes. But there’s also Courageous Endeavors, a modern jazz quartet from Minneapolis whose members fancy themselves “the Twin Cities’ answer to the relevance of jazz in the 21st century.” Their debut album, Prototype, lives up to the hype. If you’re looking for powerful modern jazz that’s a bit more traditional than the approach of BBNG, this is the record for you. The playing is tight throughout, and the foursome is capable of delivering some breathtaking climaxes, such as the windup to highlight “Legends.”

食品まつりa.k.a foodman – oiss EP

I’ve been following the Soundcloud of enigmatic and prolific producer FOODMAN (Shokuhin Maturi) for a while now. His colorful, oddball brand of juke, footwork, and “ghettotech” music has I think elevated him above other contemporary Japanese electronic music artists – including Giant Claw and Paisley Parks. He continues to flesh out his ideas on his new EP oiss, his second release on Paisley Parks’ Бh○§† imprint. If you’ve really been digging what he’s been doing up to now, or if you’re looking for some zany, off-the-wall beats, oiss will prove to be a real treat.

Cover art for Cakes da Killa's "Hunger Pangs>'

Cover art for Cakes da Killa’s “Hunger Pangs”

Cakes da Killa – Hunger Pangs

In an interview with The Needle Drop back in April, New York MC Cakes da Killa claimed his next project, Hunger Pangs, would sound like an arcade fighting game and that it would be the “ugly older sister” of last year’s sensational The Eulogy. The Hunger Pangs mini-mixtape has arrived and it gives us Cakes at, well, his hungriest. His flow is still fast, fiery, and in-your-face and the beats he hops on are still bold and bangin’, although not quite as forceful as the beats on its dazzling predecessor. His lyrical treatment of gay themes have also been purposefully toned down, but only ever so slightly – there decidedly isn’t a graphic, potentially off-putting track like The Eulogy’s “Fuck Ya Boyfriend” here. Still, despite the slight softening, Cakes is still consistently clever and remains one of hip hop’s most exciting voices.

Death Grips – niggas on the moon

I didn’t expect my mid-year round-up wish to be fulfilled so soon, or so extravagantly. Not only did Death Grips have a new album up its sleeve, but it turned out to be a double-discer entitled the powers that b. A few weeks ago, the trio threw up the first disc niggas on the moon on the web, and the songs immediately caused a stir, not only due to this being yet another abrupt release, but also because these eight tracks were a collaboration with Icelandic songstress Björk.

Death Pangs

Death Grips’ latest release — a collaboration with Icelandic songstress Björk.

I don’t want to treat this material as a standalone album, but I will say these tracks are the group’s densest, most impressive yet. The instrumentals are bursting at the seams with glitchy textures, the use of Björk’s voice as the primary vocal sample is consistently inventive, and the tunes’ structures are much more complex than earlier compositions. Case in point: the breathtaking coda for the closer, “Big Dipper.” Moreover, MC Ride is offering more vocal variety, ranging from a new, unsettling mutter on “Fuck Me Out” to his traditional bellowing on just about every track. He even sounds somewhat like Aesop Rock during his intro to “Black Quarterback.” As for the lyrics, I don’t think anyone right now can top the analysis offered by Dead End Hip Hop’s Myke C-Town, but Ride’s existential examination of detachment and identity in the digital age is more potent than ever. This only kicks up my hopes for the arrival of jenny death , the second half of the powers that b, when it comes out later this year.

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