Taking its name from the annals of British film censorship, this Portland trio has crafted a debut album with the spirit of a splatter-happy B-movie auteur. Video Nasties is a gleeful blast of vintage punk and new wave that sounds like a hastily dubbed cassette sold on a shadowy street corner. Guitars emerge from hazes of static. Synths swell up and decay. Lyrics are either spoken or sung, always with a sneer. It’s the kind of high-energy, low-budget production aesthetic that makes me want to bust out all the punk clichés, to talk about this band’s open disdain for the mainstream. But the thing is, Video Nasties can write one hell of a catchy hook. The angular guitar bounce of “Squirm” wriggles its way into your subconscious. “Horror Holocaust” is a beautiful slice of Faith-era Cure malaise. “Huff Some” can thrash maniacally because it’s got a great bass line holding it all together. So for all the screeching blasts of noise, and the obsession with movies that would make Queen Elizabeth clutch her pearls, Video Nasties is a group with more than a little pop in it. They clearly put songwriting first. The scariest thing about them is their potential.
I can’t imagine how hard it is to sound relaxed on record, to have the tape rolling and the mic in your face and to come off like you’re two beers in, just strumming on the porch. Portland lo-fi folk trio Snaex does just that on its new EP, sounding loose and present in the moment, caring not whether the music they’re making is being recorded or evaporating into nothingness. Dual singer/songwriters Chriss Sutherland and Chris Teret both have rich, lived-in voices that are perfect for songs with narrators who have come to terms with their limitations. They lend reassuring warmth to songs about loneliness (“Back In the Shadows”), wasted days (“A Song About Time”), and more loneliness (“There Is No Blues”). And producer Caleb Mulkerin (Sutherland’s former bandmate in Cerberus Shoal) underlines this sonic oxymoron with arrangements that let the chord changes work their magic in irresistibly organic ways. Even with the late disruption of “Reason To Live,” which emotes with the harshness of an early Pearl Jam demo, Holy Times is a serious accomplishment — a nearly perfect way to ride out a bummer.
Snaex plays a record-release show at Mayo Street Arts on March 3.
It takes guts to be an artist with an intense commitment to a specific aesthetic, to willfully limit your audience to genre die-hards. Like ska groups, or rockabilly singers, or technical death-metal bands. The Ghosts of Johnson City is one of these passionate yet narrowly focused outfits — a percussion-less septet that’s devoted to adding brand new ballads and hymns to the battered songbook of 19th century America. Its second record, The Devil’s Gold, is full of haunting explorations of obscure historical events: an influenza pandemic, a mining disaster, a suicidal leap off the Empire State Building. The singing is clear and straightforward; the playing is polished; the chord progressions are appropriately dark. It’s effective at first, but the group is ultimately more concerned with authenticity than entertainment. The Devil’s Gold doesn’t contain any major shifts — in tempo, mood or instrumentation — over the course of its bloated 73-minute running time. If you’re obsessed with the roots of folk music, you’ll probably admire this level of consistency. I’m not, so I don’t.
The Ghosts of Johnson City plays a CD release show at Portland House of Music on Feb. 11.
Here’s the second EP in as many years from Cushing, a burgeoning post-punk trio that clearly has the talent, and the amperage levels, to do great things. So it’s altogether appropriate that the best track on Curse of Cushing is called “Genesis.” Built on bandleader Serge Vladimiroff’s wonky, dissonant guitar riff, “Genesis” plays like a laundry list of things that these guys don’t like — e.g., Fast Times at Ridgemont High, hardcore, the status quo — interrupted by one fantastically acidic burn of a chorus: “There’s someplace else we’d like to go / Like watching the paint dry in hell.” It’s a strange non-sequitur of a song, but it’s also somehow very accessible. And that’s a potent combination. The rest of Curse of Cushing is hit and miss, with the epic, Billy Corgan-esque guitar build of “Glacier Girl” in the former column, and the extended shoegaze ballad “Sun Poison” in the latter. But even when the songwriting ebbs, the band’s potent energy is felt. I’d bet my last five bucks that they’re a torrential force on stage.
— Joe Sweeney