Bandcamp has long been a home for DIY punk and hardcore from around the world, touching all of the myriad subgenre styles and helping to translate the simple effectiveness of cut-and-paste to the digital age. For April’s edition of the best punk releases on Bandcamp, Kerry Cardoza features the vinyl debut of Judy and the Jerks, the experimental punk of Mecca Normal, the perfectly disjointed post-punk of M.A.Z.E., and much more.
Judy and the Jerks
Music for Donuts
Music for Donuts opens with eerie cacophony—coughing, drumsticks rattling, faint saxophone—before “Butter” crashes in, all loud guitar and gang-style vocals. With this vinyl debut, the Hattiesburg, MS band have taken their playful attitudes and fast-and-loud musicality and condensed it into a tight, manic-sounding EP. The Jerks bring high energy to each song, from the hardcore “Gum” to the dirgelike “Cyclops Baby.” The vocalist has a style similar to Emilie from Richmond’s Gumming, or Bratmobile’s Allison Wolfe: a simple playground rhyme, made sharp and disgusting. The quartet’s personal brand of weirdo hardcore comes through clearest and perhaps most impressively on “Goosey Girls,” a quick track with a classic breakdown that includes the lyrics, “Don’t talk to me ‘cause I’ll bite you.” Another solid release from Thrilling Living.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
“Everything looks like a commercial / It’s a brand to be controversial,” shouts Ali Carter on the title track of Control Top’s debut full-length. Over 11 tracks, the Philly-based band gives voice to the many anxieties of today: betrayal by our political system, disgust with men, frustration with meaningless office jobs, and the feeling of being besieged by a society bent on limiting you by categorizing you. Decidedly danceable, yet full of aggression, Covert Contracts rips from beginning to end. The trio play impossibly tight on this recording, bolstered by a clear mix that showcases each member’s strengths—and yet, it’s the lyrics that truly make this record stand out. On my favorite track, “Straight Jackets,” Carter poetically conflates the restrictions of our society with the ill health of our environment. “I can’t see the sky / But I know that it’s there / And I can’t breathe tonight / We’re all living in fear,” she sings. The track is slightly subdued compared to some of the faster songs (such as “Type A”), with angular guitar riffs and strong vocal melodies, yet Carter still packs enough raw emotion into her delivery to make her discontent clear.
Brave New Waves
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Experimental duo Mecca Normal have never followed trends. Their output over the course of their 30+ year career has centered around David Lester’s expressive guitar and Jean Smith’s fearlessness, both in thematic content and in vocal delivery. Which is what makes Brave New Waves an important part of their discography—not only is it the band’s first live album, it also features Peter Jefferies, who played with Mecca Normal briefly in the 1990s, on drums. Recorded in 1996 for broadcast on a now-defunct CBC radio program, the songs hit just as hard today as they likely did back then.
The seven-minute long mashup of “Man Thinks Woman,” “Strong White Male,” and “I Walk Alone,” three powerful feminist anthems, is particularly noteworthy. Over Lester’s defiant, and at times repetitive, guitar, Smith riffs on the white male patriarchy and the power of a woman walking alone through city streets. During live shows, Smith often leaves the stage during “I Walk Alone,” walking through the crowd and ad-libbing without a mic; on this record, we hear her do just that, her voice trailing off, while Lester plays a walking blues-ish guitar line. But it’s all a feint—a few seconds later, she comes back with a bang, growling: “Because it’s my right to walk anywhere, at any time of day, in any city, wearing whatever the fuck I want to / I walk alone.” It’s no wonder the Vancouver band served as an inspiration to the women who would go on to form Bikini Kill.
Most contemporary punk bands don’t easily fit into one style, whether it’s the bluesy rock of Hank Wood and the Hammerheads or the gothic dark punk of Ötzi. But São Paulo’s Rakta are particularly difficult to describe. Drum-heavy, with haunting sound effects and psychedelic, moody guitar riffs, Rakta play shadowy, experimental post-punk that is truly their own. On the six-minute long “笑笑,” echoing laughter, screams, electronic beeps, and industrial-sounding percussion take turns, creating a creepy, non-linear, atmospheric track. “Ruína” is a bit more straightforward, with soaring, reverberating vocals, a simple, thundering drum beat, and erratic guitar. The repetition, though all the sounds are slow and spooky, produces an almost calming effect.
Made in China
The latest full-length from this Melbourne-based six-piece opens with “Tread on Me,” an unhurried power pop song with psych-influenced guitar and jazzy horn embellishments. Like many of their Aussie contemporaries, such as The Shifters or Primo!, UV Race blend the brashness of proto-punk with the jangly melodies of garage rock, with lyrics that often veer into deadpan-humor territory: “Wipe your tears off your Starter jacket,” lead vocalist Marcus Rechsteiner sings on “Act Like Them.” The upbeat “Murder” is one of the strongest, most straightforward tracks on the album; it has a simple verse-chorus-verse structure, and is about killing others for seemingly any reason—the randomness and banality of daily violence. (“Don’t like the way you walk: murder.”) The album ends with “Fairly Free,” a lazy, meandering affair, with several bandmates contributing vocal parts. It’s a paean to living free in a corrupt society: a fitting kicker for this wry outfit.
Japan’s M.A.Z.E. play catchy punk full of disjointed guitar riffs and drumming so fast, the back-end practically blurs. The recording quality of their latest album, released ahead of an upcoming U.S. tour, has an imprecision which only adds to its desperate energy; the vocals sound low, distorted, and entrapped, as if they’re coming from underwater or through a wall. The singer’s high-pitched, bratty vocal style, coupled with her sing-song cadence—she doesn’t so much shout her lyrics as forcefully speak them—recalls the ‘90s group Emily’s Sassy Lime. While most of the songs here have appeared on previous releases, there are three new tracks too—the most notable of which is the “The Phone.” It’s comparatively slower than the rest, though still less than two minutes long, simple yet appealing—like something off Spider and the Webs’ demo.
R.M.F.C., or Rock Music Fan Club, is the solo project of Australian teen Buz Clatworthy. It speaks to the band’s strength that German label Erste Theke Tontraeger has combined its first two offerings to release as an LP. Clatworthy plays distorted guitar and bass and upbeat drums while singing in a straightforward and, at times, robotic voice. The lo-fi recording makes perfect sense—it lends the album a real garage rock vibe. The overall sound is proto-punk, mixed with Devo’s oddball pop. The title track is a particular standout, a tongue-in-cheek summation of living in a homogenous society. “Form your own opinions and be banished from the hive,” Clatworthy sings. He returns to that concept of the hive again and again on this album; conformity is clearly a topic weighing heavily on his mind, as it has for punks since at least the Middle Class’s classic “Out of Vogue.” If R.M.F.C. is any indication of punk’s next generation, there’s no need for worry; the kids are all right.