NOISE ROCK — I’ve compiled this list not as a “best of” for the wide blanket of Noise Rock (incl. Post-Hardcore, Art Rock, Noise Punk, etc.) in 2020 but to illustrate what Noise Rock is/was beneath the surface in 2020… and where I think it was most interesting, polished and overlooked. From my own point of vantage these albums were underrepresented and/or passed by quickly by media outlets and some for admittedly valid reasons, when I use the term “underground” keep in mind some of these records (probably) have major distribution. There are countless great bands that I don’t mention here which I’ve already reviewed, covered, interviewed, mentioned or put in my Top 50 Albums of the Year so hit the search icon to see if I’ve already covered something vital, otherwise let me know what I’ve missed. Ratings don’t matter, think for yourself!
|ARTIST||WE WILD BLOOD|
|LABEL||Hot Fools Records|
This year I’d become somewhat obsessed with Kowloon Walled City and generally absorbed a taste for the sonic excess approach of their latest records, elements of noise rock and post-hardcore taken to a sludgy (but not quite post-metal) extreme. We Wild Blood would show up in the midst of this exploration and push that idea a bit further into my mind; ‘Vicious Virtues’ represents a touch upon every color in their palette infusing graven post-punk, sorrowful post-hardcore and a bit of PiL made horrifying (see: “Prison Simulator”). Referencing members/ex-members of Luminous Bodies, Shrunken Heads, Canoe Club, and The Wharves probably doesn’t mean much to most folks unless you’re fully tapped into what is current in the arty heavy rock spectrum of inner London’s boroughs. ‘Vicious Virtues’ isn’t pure noise rock though it fully belongs in that range, closer “You Can’t Bury the Wind” is a succinct representation of how far they’ll push the mood of music into extreme noisome reaches. My favorite track here is probably “Prison Simulator”, you’ll understand why they describe their sound as “paranoiacore” after hearing it.
|TITLE||Petrichor & Rainbows|
You might be thinking early 90’s Melvins-sized sludged out fuzzin’ moderate rock with Albini-esque drum clap is all Shuck have up their sleeve but this debut full-length has a dozen legs and feet implanted within various dimensional rifts. A collaboration between key members of Gnod and Ghold probably couldn’t be considered “underground” in the sense that each are well loved and admired for their balance of experimentation and readable songwriting but on ‘Petrichor & Rainbows’ we’re given the grit and the stomping metallic power-pop of a 90’s garage band which lands somewhere between Samhain, Helmet and… Turbowolf? You’ll get what I mean when it is spinning. An excellent record that’d stuck on me for several months.
|LABEL||The Ghost Is Clear Records|
This Denver, Colorado-based noise rock/post-hardcore trio have bit of the party rollin’ Cocaine Piss roughhouse going on as well as a hint of misanthropic-ironic panic of Couch Slut in their bass heavy, tension-jerked and distantly grinding drugged apparatus. The slow and skronky dirges are where the meat of the full listen is, they resonate with a sort of unhinged post-‘In Utero’ angst that I great appreciated. I’d be interested to see what this band might do with a slightly more Victim’s Family sort of approach, pushing into the weirder, dirtier side of their punkish rhythms. As is, a surreal and unsettling jam.
|LABEL||Triple Eye Industries|
From the very first listen I was hooked on Them Teeth and no doubt it is their marriage of 90’s everything sludgers like -(16)- with the noise rock of that era, landing somewhere between ‘Strap it On’, Bummer and ‘Drop Out’. Don’t get too hung up on their more obvious influences in terms of guitar tone and vocals, they’ve got some serious songwriting skills that’re enough to carry the experience even without its keen as Hell ’92 grunge n’ sludged Touch n’ Go-esque bump. “Honky Bummout” was the big seller when I first approached the album but they’ve given good enough reason to revisit each track several times. The leads and dissonant guitar scrubbing on “Manos De Lumbre” is another highlight for my own weird-ass taste but needless to say you’re into it if 90’s sludge and noise rock are two major gigs for your own taste. I’d put this one in the essential block for 2020, nostalgic sound with a modern mutt’s grip.
|TITLE||Hell Hole by the Sea|
There’ll be some weird shit on this list but I figure Thighs will be the biggest stretch for most, a tribal stomping art punk band from the Boston area who’re experimenting with a syncopated early Swans kind of deal but from an awkwardly pissed dance punk perspective. What a profoundly coy mess it is, the politico-snapping helium on the vocals, the prominently sputtering saxophone, and the sort of “drunk but dancing well” verve of their rhythms as the full listen develops. Not a pretty or eternally repeatable experience but certainly one worth freaking your ears out with at least a few times.
|TITLE||Change is Bad|
For all I know Stuck is the one of the biggest noise rock/post-punk fusion bands around. The Chicago-based quartet wheel through non-abrasive 90’s noise rock benders, crawly early post-rock waxing and such but the songs that hit and leave a mark settle into a modern take on grunge-era power-pop and revisionist post-punk. Not that they’re friggin’ (early) Hüsker Dü just yet but the vibes aren’t too far flung from one another just. As often as I enjoy stylized ruckus and performative rhythm guitar, there is nothing like a record with a solid wrangle on songwriting as the primary feature of the event. As an introduction to Stuck‘s gig ‘Change is Bad’ shows great ambition via a wisened hand, deft enough to transcend era specific influences but not so deconstructed that it grates.
If we take a closer eye at what bands like Uniform and Chat Pile are doing in recent years and apply those harsh noise and industrial choices to the looser, rambling indie rock influenced side of Polish noise rock the result is something akin to ‘Owl’s Tree’, the debut full-length from Gdańsk, Poland-based sludged out post-punk/noise rock duo Dule Tree. Influences from extreme metal, jazz and punk help keep things surrealistic, noisome, brutish and often blasting aimlessly with several layers of pained roaring beneath. The album feels very much like a fuck you to the folks who do absolutely nothing good with all of the privilege they’ve got or, if anything ‘Owl’s Eye’ speaks to frustration with complacency. This might be more of a metal album to some, very vaguely a noise rock album at times but still very much within the realm of freakout rock, clangorous and in defiance. This is a substitution for another item and a newer grab so, not as road tested as I’d like, proceed with caution.
Is this misery or, just good fun? If you’re in the market for the prime White Drugs experience this new Hoaries has a bit of that stroke via both guitarists featuring in both bands but they’re going minimalist jerking noise rock on this one, stripped down, scraggly, half-drunk and unafraid to bonk it out. The rousing Frank Black-sized bang of opener “I’ve Got a Room At the Plaza” with its groaning, zombie party rock jog-and-twitch rhythms is the most fresh high of ‘Rocker Shocker’, they’ll get a bit darker before this is over. “Morning After Pal” is the two in this solid one-two hit that introduces Hoaries with a best pair of feet forward. Gloomy rock, gluey guitar shenanigans, lumpy blues that grinds in deeper the longer the sitting lasts. Although the presentation is minimal we’re given myriad guitar tones, dissolving effects-choked riffs, and dragging dread-rock pieces that drift into post-hardcore rants and well, I dunno it passes the blood-brain barrier for my taste.
|LABEL||Sacred Bones Records|
Of course this is perhaps the most reasonable non-metal album of the year for many. NYC noise rock/industrial rock band Uniform are a popular artist I’d arrived late to the party with, along with Metz and both bands represent two of my favorite albums in 2020. ‘Shame’ is probably their most compelling release to date if only because of how extreme its sound design is. Songs like “Life in Remission” are ten tons more brutal than half of the black/death metal I’d heard this year. Excess is ultimately punishment without reclusion, as decadent and nailing as ‘Shame’ is it feels nakedly loud and aggressive, very much hailing the bones of early industrial rock/metal greats without entering the their time period with a retro entry. Thankfully the noise rock guitar techniques still float around in the mix, seems like some serious Jesu floats in their blood at times but much of the album is too ominous and aggressive to land upon post-industrial rock territory. Probably not “underground” enough for some folks but I’d wanted to give the album a mention somewhere this year.
|LABEL||Happiest Place Records|
Malmö, Sweden-spawned noise rock trio Bathouse approach with a jamming garage punk point of view, whipping abrasive noise rock riffs across ten clever, tripped-out pieces on this their debut record. The band name is cool but a bit hard to search for since the internet would rather suggest a nearby bathhouse instead, beyond that this band is pretty easy going. Yeah, the guitars will knock the wax from your ears and the reverb-loosened vocals practically howl through simple poetic play. The literature mentions fans of Brainbombs would dig this and I think that is mostly true, ‘Bathouse’ has crusty undertones, creeping thrash-dancing riffs, and very little in the way of truly experimental noise pieces one might derive from the comparison. I kept shutting this album off and coming back to it, back and forth a few times until I’d finally just let it rip and I guess it won me over. I’d like to see how this band develops their sound and songwriting, more variation will be key going forward.
|TITLE||Alpha Hex Index|
If you spent the last year regretting not giving more of a boost to Cocaine Piss‘ most recent record then maybe we’ll restore balance via collective recognition for how great Alpha Hopper are, too? ‘Alpha Hex Index’ is energetic right off the bat, hollering and bounding through their own brand of exuberant space-stationed noise rock beration of the listener. The vocals are, like this sub-genre umbrella’s long-fingered reach, an acquired taste and this’ll certainly be a deal breaker for a number of folks. This is not a typical band as just few sittings should reveal a taste for all manner of freak rock niche but also some metal, math rock, and I suppose some fundamental elements of no wave are almost always present. Sci-fi noise punk escapism and confrontation in equal amounts or, the kind of noise rock album that urges you to remember this stuff is supposed to be a bit of a beating.
Though their sound is heavily indebted to late 80’s/early 90’s alt rock and grunge for flair and heaviness Atlanta, Georgia’s Twin Trances manage a swinging, catchy post-punk 10″ EP with ‘Chains’. If you’re a fan of those slower, miserable pieces Whores. whip out once in a while we’ve got a bit of it here but from a groovier sludge rock point of view (“The Angel”) and I’ll be damned if they don’t manage a halfway decent harmony or two on just about every song here; Chicago’s These Beasts do something similar, if not from a more sludge-centered place. “Child Actor” is the jam here, simple song but the noisy lead guitar wrangling keeps it working up to a peak without a payoff. Weird ass EP from this inspired pair of songwriters, definitely not sure where to direct a recommendation of it, though the noise rock spectrum seems to fit best.
Boston’s The Freqs aren’t necessarily a noise rock band, they’re in that vein but still heavily influenced by garage rock, stoner jams, and classic 90’s sludge/noise rock filth-flavored stuff. ‘Wasted Youth’ focuses on math rock hooks for a handful of opening tracks but you’ll start to understand why they describe themselves as a “psychedelic punk band” once we hit Side B. “Dry Lips” is a bit of a creeper cut I’d find myself gearing up for as I familiarized myself with the full listen. The tone of the whole album is a bit all over the place where moodiness, regret, and a bit of a “fuck it” attitude come across within the more intense pieces. Not entirely my thing but a worthwhile spin with a few catchy songs at the very least.
On the off chance you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the German post-punk/art-rock arena Unbite features folks you might know from Buzz Rodeo. ‘Fang’ is an angry, bass-driven noise rock album full of stark, shrieking guitars and an always killer bass guitar tone but the vocals are a bit odd — Plaintive, affected but never harsh or overblown. The full listen is decent though there are a few parts where the songs just feel a bit too “lost”, such as the inconsequential instrumental interlude “Wrested Tracks”. It feels like a formative album or, a record that acts as a vital step towards something better recognized yet there are no missteps that render ‘Fang’ unsalvageable.
Turin, Italy-based quartet Rope is essentially a “reset” button for metallic punk/sludge band Tutti I Colori Del Buio where they’ve kept the punk rock of their rhythms alive but make the shift towards a cleaner, more expressive shaping of post-hardcore and noise rock. This ends up being evocative of bands like Metz who’d piece together bits of garage punk push, Fugazi riff-mauling, and early 90’s alt rock. High energy stuff, not the most original album but also not pure imitation, and a record I’d generally recommend.
<strong>Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:</strong>
Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.