Live From the Poison Factory, the debut album from the noise punk band Anxious Wave, takes you on a frantic, thrashing, and often pained journey. Featuring Mikey Belcastro on guitar (formerly of Product of Waste and Violent Sons), Sam Okon on bass, Dylan Lagory on drums, and aggressively anguished vocals and lyrics from Brandon St. Pierre, this record often feels like a fever dream, or a nightmarish hallucination. They spent the majority of the 2020 lockdown writing and recording the album and the psychic stress of the pandemic (and life in general) is certainly percolating here, but with plenty of surreal fun and a sense of humor, too.
The opening track, “Complex Needs,” sets the tone of panic bordering on the grotesque with driving drums and bass, relentless guitar noise, and St. Pierre’s tortured lyrics: “Gotta lotta stuff going on…and I’d be better at it without my cognition on…Drowned to death, in my own shit, my own piss, my own kids…Complex needs. For a complex disease. / I’ve spent weeks, am I the cure or am I the weak?” The song has a fantastic video as well, created by Monster Makeup Productions, a Providence-based collective of horror filmmakers that focus on LGBTQ storytelling.
Beyond “Complex Needs,” standout tracks to me included “Mirror Bed,” a danceable, more light-hearted song about good old-fashioned relentless sex, with a great almost jangly guitar hook from Belcastro in the verses, that explodes into a more raw wall-of-sound chorus: “Put my foot on the floor,” St Pierre bellows. “To stay steady, move steady / She always wants more. I’m ready. She’s ready.” Other faves of mine include “Carnivore” and “Void Boyz,” both catchy punk anthems driven by Okon’s ever-undulating bass lines, Lagory’s steady prowess on the drums, and Belcastro’s wide range of guitar sounds. His guitar work reminded me of The Cure, Nirvana, and Helmet at different points on this album…that’s a lot of different guitar sounds…my head is spinning!
Of all the songs on Live From the Poison Factory, though, “Executive Dissector” will be the track I listen to on repeat the most. With additional vocals from Marina Phom of Panzerchocolate (who shared a split seven-inch with Anxious Wave back in 2019), I can’t help but scream along to the raucous repetition in the chorus: “Controlling, controlling, controlling, controlling me / Patrolling, patrolling, patrolling, patrolling me.” The final lyrics of “Executive Dissector” give the album its name: “From the poison factory, the boy is satisfactory.”
Live From the Poison Factory is loud, frightening fun, and far better than just satisfactory work from Anxious Wave.
Live From the Poison Factory is out now via Nefarious Industries and available from Bandcamp and on all major streaming platforms.
My introduction to the Brooklyn-based trio, Thick, happened this past spring at Warsaw when they opened for Australian booze loving punk wild men, The Chats. I was instantly struck by how high guitarist/vocalist Nicki Sisti and bassist/vocalist Kate Black can jump while singing and playing, and their energy was infectious. They got the entire ballroom bouncing off the walls with their special brand of pop-punk. (Drummer/vocalist Shari Page was also electricity made corporeal, but hasn’t yet figured out how to jump up and down while behind a kit, which I don’t fault her for. She, too, is amazing.) My partner left their merch table that night with 5 Years Behind, which was unfortunately released in March 2020, a most unfun time to release such a great album.
But! But…Thick has just come out with a new full-length release, Happy Now, which as much as I adored 5 Years Behind, I think this new work offers a really interesting tension between the frenetic and fun drive of their music and the somber and heartbroken reality of most of the songs’ lyrics. I’m still bouncing all around my kitchen listening to Happy Now, but I am acutely aware listening to the words that there is some deep hurt roiling under the rockingness of it all.
I mean, hey, we’ve all just gone through (and are continuing to navigate) the craziness of this pandemic, and the mental unrest present in the lyrics of Happy Now’s first track, “Happiness” (yeah, right…we’re happy!) honestly reveals an uneasy emotional tone that I completely identify with right now: “Happiness from the outside in…it fills my gut but it leaves me thin…Look at me, you’re just like me…you fill my guts but you leave me with doubt.” Yep, here we are…and I appreciate that the women of Thick are barreling straight into the honest intensity of the present moment (and still rocking it!).
But beyond any pandemic-related shared trauma that’s resonating with me as I listen (and re-listen) to Happy Now, I still have to say that I shake my head after cathartically enjoying all eleven tracks and say “Who hurt you?” Happy Now gives an example to all of us of how to frenetically muscle one’s way through the hardest times. What do you do when you’re “crying everyday …you’re not to blame…I’m fighting …fighting for change…take it day by day,” as the standout track “Wants & Needs” declares? The serious lyrical tone continues in “Disappear”: “You disappear when I’m right here…swallowed by voices that I can not hear.”
And while a lot of the lyrical themes are dark, there is also the glimmer of holding onto hope and the ability to triumph despite being labeled as a “loser” or “less than” which is what the song “Loser” centers around. This was the first single from the album and came with a cheeky sports themed video that also featured FTA crew Jeanette D. Moses and Kate Hoos in front of and behind the camera.
I am grateful to Thick for writing and playing raucously through such difficult times and subject matter. Get Happy Now in whatever form you consume music. Carry this painfully exuberant music around with you and feel grateful for how much Thick rocks!
Happy Now is out now via Epitaph Records and available on all major streaming platforms.
I felt beyond lucky and privileged to be at Central Park SummerStage on Sunday 8/21 for the final performance of the Wild Hearts Tour which featured Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Julien Baker with special guest Quinn Christopherson opening the shows. I got the opportunity at the last minute since our fearless Full Time Aesthetic leader, Kate Hoos, works at SummerStage and ended up being asked to sling merch at the shows. Between that and rushing back and forth to take pics of the artists, she needed someone to step in to help capture the full experience; I could not be more grateful that she reached out to me to write about the final night for this piece. As the Wild Hearts tour tote bags declare,”I went to the Wild Hearts Tour and all I got was emotional,” and that was the truth. So let me (and my fellow Kate) take you on this sentimental journey that was the final performance of this extraordinary tour featuring so many inspiring artists.
Quinn Christopherson began the night solo onstage, laughing as he explained he was going to kick things off with his longest and saddest song. “Raedeen,” a heart-wrenching ballad about losing his sister to drug addiction, immediately introduced Christopherson’s earnest intensity as a songwriter. His collaborator Gracie Gray (on guitar and backing vocals) joined him for the rest of the set, finishing off with the infectious synth-pop tune, “Celine,” written for his mother’s love of karaoke. Christopherson hails from Anchorage, Alaska, a trans man born to Native Parents; his mother is Ahtna Athabascan and his father is Iñupiat, which he proudly proclaimed to the crowd mid-set. His joy onstage, his beautiful voice, and the direct vulnerability of his lyrics make Quinn Christopherson an artist I was excited to be introduced to; I hope to see and hear more from him soon.
Julien Baker took the stage next, blazing through songs from her most recent album, Little Oblivions, as well as a few tracks from her first release, Sprained Ankle; she started off her set with the title song from that first record. The crowd was instantly mesmerized; I was surrounded with people in Julien Baker t-shirts that seemed blissfully transported. While the other Kate is a fan and has seen Baker perform before (see her recent pics of Baker in London), I’m a bit of a newcomer to her music. I was thrilled to see her belting out her heart-wrenching melodies and moving around the stage with an urgent energy. Her prowess on guitar is beyond impressive and there was absolutely no shortage of shreds. She wasn’t much for banter during the set, but she did reflect how bittersweet it was to be playing the final show of the tour. She finished with “Ziptie,” and the stage was suddenly flooded with musicians from Van Etten and Olsen’s bands and crew members dancing exuberantly. Baker flashed the crowd a gorgeous smile before slipping offstage with her “tour family.”
Angel Olsen had the penultimate set of the night; she and Sharon Van Etten have traded the headliner spot on the tour for its duration. I feel a bit late to the party with Olsen; I know her music mostly from the duet she recorded with Van Etten, “Like I Used To,” and Aisles, an EP of eighties covers she released last year (which is extraordinary—her version of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face”—damn!). But having now seen Olsen live, I will be buying her most recent album, Big Time, when the next Bandcamp Friday rolls around in September.
Olsen and her band were instantly eye-catching wearing jumpsuits in various bright colors, Olsen’s sunshine yellow. Her gorgeous voice mesmerized the crowd, starting off with “Dream Thing.” My favorite song of the set, though, was “Shut Up Kiss Me,” off of her 2016 record My Woman; Olsen’s playful delivery got everyone dancing. She has a wonderful sense of humor as well, joking between songs about how her band had abandoned her that day in pursuit of New York City bagels. She finished off her set with the bittersweet “All the Good Times,” and left everyone wanting more.
But more there was! Sharon Van Etten and band played the final set of the night, and it was revelatory. Van Etten exuded rock star charisma in a sequined top and black leather jeans, strutting back and forth across the stage, reaching to the audience with sultry cat-like charm. She began with “Headspace” from her most recent album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, urgently crooning out the refrain, “Baby don’t turn your back to me,” the crowd reacting viscerally, followed up with the triumphant hit “Comeback Kid” off of her 2019 release Remind Me Tomorrow.
Sharon Van Etten
The set was a wonderful mix of songs from her last two albums, finishing off with her poignant and beautiful power ballad, “Seventeen.” Beyond her gorgeous voice and superstar charisma, though, Van Etten exudes warmth. She emotionally declared how much she admired and loved all the other musicians and the crew of the Wild Hearts Tour, and how bittersweet it was to be saying goodbye to the experience (even though she also seemed excited to go home to her partner and five-year-old son who apparently started kindergarten this week).
For the inevitable encore, Van Etten came out solo for the quiet and melancholy “Darkish,” and then called out Olsen for their hit duet “Like I Used To,” which Julien Baker also joined in on special for this show, playing guitar. The stage was flooded once again with every musician from all four sets, and crew members, everyone dancing and singing along, smiling through tears, sad to let the night go, but so grateful for a wonderful summer of the Wild Hearts Tour. When it was all over, I stumbled out into Central Park with the rest of the crowd, drunk on the love of a truly exceptional evening of music.
Scroll down for setlists, fan shot videos and pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)
Angel Olsen setlist: Dream Thing, Big Time, Ghost On, Right Now, Shut Up Kiss Me, All Mirrors, Go Home, All The Good Times
Sharon Van Etten setlist: Headspace, Comeback Kid, Anything, Come Back, No One’s Easy To Love, Tarifa, Born, Hands, Every Time The Sun Comes Up, Mistakes, Seventeen Encore: Darkish (solo), Like I Used To (with Angel Olsen and Julien Baker)
I had the pleasure of seeing Death Valley Girls for the first time at St. Vitus in August 2019, and it was electric. Pandemic living being what it is, I haven’t had the chance to see them again until last Thursday’s show at TV Eye, with Cumgirl8 starting off the night. Both bands were in the mood to celebrate and seemed truly thrilled to be sharing a stage. The crowd was transported by the raucous love fest of it all.
I had heard some of Cumgirl8’s music before, but seeing them live is essential for the full experience of what they’re creating. The self-described “sex-positive alien amoeba entity” were a feast for the eyes, sporting outfits that offered a mix of lingerie, bikinis, leather pants, and very high heels. When they’re not rocking out, these multi-talented superwomen design their own club-inspired fashion line, recently featured in Vogue. So there you go! Veronika Vilim (on guitar) and Lida Fox (bass) are also models, and the whole band (including Chase Lombardo on drums and Avishag “Avi” Cohen Rodrigues on guitar) have special projects galore: a webseries, other bands, activism, you name it! It’s obvious Cumgirl8 is more than a band—they are punk rock meets very sexy performance art meets multimedia tycoonery, and all of it is infectious fun. The crowd at TV Eye were falling down while dancing and trying to get a good shot of the action on their phones. By the end of their last song, “I Wanna Be,” the band piled on top of each other, a Jenga-like structure of limbs and alluring chaos.
All of that might’ve been a tough act to follow, but not for Death Valley Girls. TV Eye’s signature velvety red stage curtains parted again, as guitarist Larry Schemel and drummer Rikki Styxx began to stir up a spell of driving beats and noise, while singer/guitarist/keyboardist Bonnie Bloomgarden and bassist Sammy Westervelt clung to one another, turning upstage to watch Styxx begin the magic with her drums. I remember this moment of embrace and centering from Bloomgarden and the band back in 2019 as well. Death Valley Girls shows have a vibe of ritual about them, and if you’re in the room, you will be intoxicated by the otherworldly alchemy of their music.
Fittingly, Bloomgarden wore a dress printed with what seemed like old movie posters about aliens. I only own one Death Valley Girls album (their most recent full-length release) Under the Spell of Joy, which I adore, but strangely songs from that record were missing from their set. But no matter, Bloomgarden and company shook me into a trance anyway, with a mix of songs from older albums and newer material. Bloomgarden and Westervelt fell to their knees at one point, drifting into paroxysms of rock calling to extraterrestrial visitors. Bloomgarden also leapt off the stage near the end of the set to get closer to as many people in the crowd as she could, hugging many people and singing right into the faces of her fans, who sang along in adoration, like believers at a tent revival.
Hopping back on stage, Bloomgarden saw the women of Cumgirl8 dancing in the wings, and she beckoned to them. Suddenly the stage held both bands, the Cumgirl8ers jumping around like they were possessed as DVG kept on with the relentless drive of their frenzied music. My only complaint was that it was over too soon! Death Valley Girls left me wanting more…hopefully they will be back in NYC pretty damn quick, and maybe their friends Cumgirl8 will share the stage with them again.
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)
Find Out, the debut full-length album from Brooklyn’s Spite FuXXX, is like stepping into a swirling sonic cartoon, not unlike the effect of some very fun drugs. But you will eagerly suck this Kool-Aid down, and frontwoman MG Stillwaggon will pick you up in a hotrod made of flame, so no time to get ready, just go! There is no choice but to embrace the volcanic chaos of Spite FuXXX’s self-described “trash noise punk.” And like all good trips, you’ll find deeper meanings within the color pulsations, and you might come out the other end a better person with more clarity. If you’re lucky…sucka! No…really.
This album is political and surreal, danceable and thrashing, a shitload of fun, and it might even help you navigate the absurdity and nightmares of late capitalism. Stillwaggon and company are cruising through hell and back on waves of spacey synth (from Frankie L. Frances, also screaming out backing vocals), thoroughly danceable guitar riffs (skillfully played by Anaïs Valdez), and an always driving rhythm section (from the super duo of Alex Glueck on drums and Greg Albert on bass). So turn up the volume, slam yourself into overdrive, and take the journey to the Hollywood Burger King with Spite FuXXX. This junk food is good for you.
Stillwaggon’s raw vocals rush right out in the album’s first two tracks “Too Much,” and “Last Word.” Both songs are efficient punk anthems (clocking in at under two minutes each) of women who will not be controlled and will not settle for less than they deserve. The rapid-fire distorted guitar sounds and relentless rhythms are squeezed through the time warp feel of Frances’s synth sounds for a truly unique blend of noise and punk. Stillwaggon’s lyrics make it clear that she will not be quiet, no matter how uncomfortable it makes any man that she fuxxx: “I think I wanna start some shit…cuz baby watching you squirm in those jeans is even better than getting you outta them.”
Find Out’s third track, “Gates of Hell,” is when things really get wild. Stillwaggon slams her foot on the gas and the Spite FuXXX speedster careens off the road and down a hole into the underworld, where suddenly the uncontrollable heroines of the first two tracks are “kissing death by the gates of hell.” Ooooooh, Death! It’s sexy. And a little goth. And delightfully surreal and weird. But the standout song of the album is “Eat the Rich,” Stillwaggon’s exemplary lyrical gifts really shine on this fourth track, and in the name of taking down the one percent, a sentiment most of us can enthusiastically appreciate: “They watch us die while collecting their tax break / So let em cry as they watch their glass break / Whaddya think, broiled or sauteed? / Bet their champagne makes a great marinade” Yum, yum! Eat up, proles, this is your moment! All good satirical fun, or deathly serious? Who cares? Let’s dance! Spite FuXXX is gonna make you jump up and down until your brain has collided with your skull so many times you don’t care if this is a joke or if you actually are chewing on some rich asshole’s disembodied arm.
The frenzy continues in “Fuck Yr Star Magick,” another standout track, where the collective rage at the rich has morphed into freeform anger at the prophecy of the stars “Gemini rising up my ass! / Maybe it’s Mercury, Maybe it’s bullshit!…Your aura is piss yellow / L train rising, fuck right off!” a uniquely Brooklyn burst of aggression! The hallucinatory technicolor storm of it all is well-captured by visual artist Preston Spurlock’s video to accompany the fifth track, the groovy “Break Me”:
In the end, the Spite FuXXX roadster pulls up to the “Hollywood Burger King,” Find Out’s ninth and final song. They push you out into the parking lot, but before they drive off into the toxic neon sunset, you fall into the somewhat frightening joy of their raucous music once again. You will “sell your flamebroiled soul to the Hollywood Burger King!” But you had a great time, and you might even feel better about the impending apocalypse. Many thanks for the ride, Spite FuXXX!