There’s a heaving lurch in “Sick,” a symptom of Palberta’s tight austerity, and deconstruction of pop songwriting. Rather than rely on any sort of hook, by most standards, at least, the band utilizes a mantra, repeating a word, phrase, or even inflection, until a few things happen:
1. The mantra is manifested as a sonic force
2. The mantra has lost its semantic quality
3. The mantra’s repetition becomes comfortable, familiar, and reassuring
It may seem strange that a composition as quick and hyper-composed as “Sick”—it boasts a runtime of less than a minute and a half—can prove emblematic of the power of incantation, and yet, that uneasy, hypnotic repetition is the well from which the song draws power. I can almost hear myself joining in the chant, before the vocals break off, and I'm left nodding off to a spindly groove, and a final lithely-picked guitar lick.
On their self-titled debut EP, New York three-piece Soaker channel the jagged abrasion of the amphetamine reptile catalogue. But using an entire label as a springboard to describe a band is like using a person’s place of birth to explain how they came to be who they are. Like, for instance, I was born in Los Angeles. I only lived there for two years, and though I learned some skills that I still use today, like, you know, how to walk and how to speak, I’m not exactly emblematic of a person from LA. Thank God. “Sendhi,” the first track on the four-song EP, is a deceptively catchy noise rock anthem that sounds like the three band members each shotgunned cans full of adrenal glands. Trying to feel tough? You could do a lot worse than spinning this hot slab.
Carlos Gonzales is prolific. Like, really prolific. Over more than a decade, Carlos has channeled images and storylines devoted to the the uncanny, the monstrous, and the humorous, both as his solo project Russian Tsarlag and as a comic artist. Sprinkled through the unwritten laws of his multi-faceted oeuvre is a sort of dream logic—puns and loose associations become the axes of surreal narrative. On Unexplained American Goat, his newest full-length as Russian Tsarlag, Gonzales nods to his world-building prowess, showcasing an original soundtrack to a gray planet spinning almost entirely in the wake of one-note basslines and earnest, melancholy rumination. Unexplained American Goat boasts minimal orchestration and adornment, but Gonzales’s music has never sounded more somnambulant, as he drifts in and out of reality, the divine, and the deeply subconscious.
New York City electronic four-piece Macula Dog are, frankly, pretty absurd. On their debut LP, the amazingly titled Why Do You Look Like Your Dog?, Macula Dog ask the age old questions do we begin to look like our dog or do we select a dog that looks like us? I know what you’re wondering: will WDYLLYD reveal the answers? Stay tuned, sportsfans, but the prognosis is… well… pretty good.
On “Lawnmower,” the first single from the record, Macula Dog offers some freaky lyrics detailing life as a cow being led to and through slaughter: “Starting from the back of the book/The anonymous donor/Ran me over with the mower/And now I’m hung with no hook/Rest your head on the pillow/Glass roof above you/No floor below/Grass fed & drive-thru window/Choked by invisible hands.” The quartet’s zany electronic backdrop provides a whimsical canvas, but upon lyrical inspection, it only provides a more accurate, terrifying rendering of the American eating experience. Look at how fun this is—you can fingerpaint with the blood on your hands!
A mysterious first-person presence dons a police badge, hat, and handgun amid a mess of glowsticks before New York rhythm and noise band The Sediment Club’s nauseating, cacophonous gyre stirs to life and Lazar Bozic’s tortured yowl takes over. In the video for "Apprehension Complex," the newborn gunperson/police officer/narrator searches for clues-- a bloody wall, a baby, an arrogant shadow. As the camera’s gaze tracks across the scene, so does the weapon in hand. At one level, this storyline is absurd and surreal, but then again, so is nationwide police violence. As the narrator aims its pistol toward the unknown, it’s hard not to ask when the hammer will eventually fall. The scene changes and the viewer is spared the outcome by the doubled vision of a masked figure in a plume of smoke. For now, the possibility of further violence has passed.
Wharf Cat is a Greenpoint-based label with a catalog spanning a wide array of independent music from, so far, two geographically far-flung locals: Brooklyn, NY and Tampa, Florida. Founded by Doug Warner, his brother Trip and visual artist Sam Falls in 2011, Wharf Cat is still navigating the uncertainties that come with both the practical upkeep of a label and the necessity of establishing a clear aesthetic vision. We spoke with Doug Warner about the company's origins, as well as some exciting upcoming releases and reissues they're planning. They were also kind enough to make a playlist for us featuring Boulders, Blanche Blanche Blanche, R-Hundro, and many other bands in the family.
Ad Hoc: How did Wharf Cat start?
Doug Warner: My brother Trip and I always wanted to start a label. We were obsessed with SST in the '80s, and used to walk through Strawberries looking for the Chromium Dioxide tapes with the SST logo. A few years ago, Trip and his friend Sam Falls were pretty obsessed with the Dads' Invisible Blouse 7-inch. Sam is a visual artist, and we decided to get in touch with the band in Tampa and see if they wanted to collaborate on a record where Sam would do the artwork. This project expanded into a series of 7-inches including Big French and Oldd News, both bands we were also listening to a bunch at the time. We were so happy with the resulting artifacts and the process of creating them that we decided to keep doing it. We also just made such good friends and continued to work with everyone.
Ad Hoc: How do you decide which artists are best for the label?
DW: This is a hard question! We don't stick to a particular genre of music and don't want to be pigeonholed at all. Our goal ultimately is to help get the artist the results on the recording that they want, and get the physical artifact to their specifications. In a few situations this has led some people to think of Wharf Cat as a place where bands can release music they might not be able to otherwise, and we consider that to be a huge compliment. This might mean it's a new band, and this is the first album where they record in a studio to 2-inch tape, or it might mean that it's a group that already has a following and wants to try something different.
Starting as an art project with a visual artist means we are always focused on the details of the artifact. For instance, we put spines on our first three 7-inch and did a gatefold with wrap-around artwork on the Ancient Sky, "Castle"/"Allegory" 7-inch. Dads wanted to do a book for their LP, Brown on Brown, which was really fun. Cameron Worden from Dads is a genius and designed the coolest book. We printed it at a place that does pamphlets for golf courses and instruction manuals for expensive vacuum cleaners. Our partnership with Mike Kutchman and [Brooklyn's] Kutch 1 Studio gives us the ability to record a band in an environment that might be new to them and draw them out of their usual recording techniques. It also allows a band to focus on the music and let us take care of everything else. It might sound lazy to say we put out records by bands we love, but that is probably the most accurate description of why we work with different bands. We only work with our friends, but we are making new friends here and there.