Mantarochen – In The Badgers Cave

I’ve been listening to “In The Badger’s Cave”, the new EP from Leipzig’s Mantarochen for a few days now, and honestly, I can’t get enough. I don’t know if it’s my particular frame of mind at the moment or my tastes shifting, but this is really hitting a sweet spot.

The sound is Post Punk / Cold Wave, blending genres handily. It’s as easy to draw Siouxsie comparisons, as it is Bauhaus and Berlin. There’s a decidedly 80s vibe to the entire thing and as much as I’m a sucker for nostalgia, this EP stands on its own in a new era. 

Industrial noise and low-fi synth oscillations and arpeggios punctuate underwater guitar and pulsing bass. Lilting dreamy vocals flit in and out between the ever-so-slightly dissonant melody. 

The new EP is out on May 31, 2024 on It’s Eleven Records. Please check it out.

While you wait for the EP, checkout this video for Grey:


Jerry Actually

1. Reflection
2. I’m Sand
3. Jaguar
4. Grey
5. Blue Heads
6. Still Black

Diana – Synth, Vocals
Sebi – Guitar
Tom – Bass

Gentlemen Rogues – Surface Noise

I received a copy of the new Gentlemen Rogues album, Surface Noise, in the mail the other day. I’ve got it on for a second spin right now. Well, ok, I’ve got it dialed up on their Bandcamp page. Nevertheless, damn! This album has some serious pop hooks. 

The new release from the Austin, TX quartet brings ten new tracks of uptempo rock and roll, filled with, as I mentioned, a whole lot of hooks. Vocal hooks, drum hooks, guitar hooks, bass hooks, yup. All hooks, all the time. 

I hear hints of Replacements, and Screaming Trees. Some of the guitar work has a Weezer vibe. Perhaps it’s just me, but the vocals sound a bit like Billy Jo Armstrong mixed with Rhett Miller. I don’t mean to be all “name drop”, but I think that gives you a sense of the sounds going on here. It’s basically a veritable amalgam of poppy punk-adjacent sounds across multiple decades. 

According to the one-sheet, “Surface Noise is a record full of well-turned guitar pop, complete with roaring chords and propulsive rhythms behind Dunlap’s clever and cultured lyrics” I can’t disagree with that statement..

Surface Noise is a co-release on both Double Helix Records and Shifting Sounds

If you like your rock kind of punk and a whole lot poppy, by all means check out Surface Noise by Gentlemen Rogues.

-Jerry Actually

States of Nature – Brighter Than Before

Let me tell you something about States of Nature. They are a really good band. This is some professional shit, and it’s precisely stuff like this that makes volunteering here at the Upstarter Foundation worthwhile. 

“Brighter Than Before” is the upcoming debut full length from the band, coming out on Sell The Heart Records (who are really building an impressive roster) later this month. If you send them money, they will mail one to your house. This information will be important later, because after you read this review and listen to it, you’re going to want a copy. 

Hailing from Oakland, California, their Bandcamp page describes them as “A danceable hybrid of Post-Hardcore and Rock N’Roll.,” which is accurate. It’s danceable, but not in an annoying kitchy way, and the riffs have some serious Reis/Froberg muscle to them. States of Nature are danceable in a DC sort of way, not in a band with exclamation marks in their name sort of way. I think it’s actually a very difficult thing to properly execute in punk and punk adjacent music. Being danceable without the appropriate amount of anger, or the absence of actually being able to write great songs, does not equate to enjoyable music. Good news is that State of Nature write great songs. Great songs you can dance to. You’ll want to mosh creatively to these ten tracks, or in my case, bob your head up and down on the Peloton while saying, “Oh hell yeah!” (the highest possible compliment, really). 

The opening track “Brighter Than Before” comes out blazing like something off the first Hot Snakes record, and immediately got my attention. Huge chorus, and also kind of has the vibe and energy of something off “In/Casino/Out” by ATDI. This power and bounce continue with track 2, “Wicked World”, this time perhaps leaning a bit into (International) Noise Conspiracy as well. This is followed by “Papered News” and “Tides”, where we get a chance to catch our breath for second, but still full of hooks. There’s a video for the former, so check it out below. “Undone” is the most Fugazi sounding jam on here, which always seems like a lazy comparison for anything considered post-punk, but States of Nature are worthy company for such a tag. “New Foundations”, “God With A Gun”, and “American Drone” follow, comprising my favorite 3 song run on the album. These songs have everything. The dark rage of Mission of Burma, the attitude and delivery of Ian Svenonius, a bit of spacey Mind Spiders weirdness, and the aforementioned massive riffs of Hot Snakes. The record tapers off with the rather upbeat “The Return” and the perfect slow closer “Oh The Light”, which is also one of my personal favorites. 

So there it is, a bunch of “sounds-like” comparisons that hopefully convince you to invest in joy and purchase this record. I’m a music fan, not a journalist. At least I didn’t say “angular”. This is my favorite new album I’ve heard so far this year,  and it will definitely see repeated listens from me for the foreseeable future. Rumor has it they will be swinging up the West Coast this Spring, and I’m going to make a serious middle-aged effort to go see them. 

–Zack Akenson

Urgent Care – Fast Medicine

Are you in need of a new primary rock and roll provider? Look no further than Cleveland’s own Urgent Care. They are the nation’s preeminent Healthcore band, and are out to get you the help you need. 

Coming in at the tail end of 2023, “Fast Medicine” is a 14 track back alley lobotomy of snarling, snotty, punk rock and roll. The songs are firmly rooted in rock, with a lot of fuzz and growl. Lyrically things are tongue depressor in cheek, with songs about various medical issues and minor ailments. Songs of Frostbite and Allergens abound. 

All in all, it’s a fun release and reminiscent of bands such as Boris the Sprinkler and  Quincy Punx. There’s some DK influence and some more obvious Ramones-core lineage as well. 

So trip and fall your way over to Urgent Care’s Bandcamp page, and get patched up with some Punk Rock. If you’re lucky, your insurance will pick up the tab. 

Jerry Actually

Barefoot Engineering – Left to Wander

I liked “Left to Wander“, the first full length by Barefoot Engineering, almost immediately after putting it on. Sometimes you can tell right away whether something is your kind of music. After reading their bio, which describes the band as a trio of childhood friends-turned-40-year-old-dads from a large Midwestern city, who are influenced by Seaweed, Knapsack, and Jawbox, I knew I was in for a real treat. If I had to honestly describe what type of band would most likely appeal to me, it would probably be something very close to that. 

The core of this band has been playing music together in various iterations around Indianapolis for almost 25 years. A couple of those bands include The Brokenhearted, and Project Bottlecap, the latter of which also included the original guitar player for The Ataris. With some breaks in there while people started families, this current lineup put out their first EP under the Barefoot Engineering moniker in 2017, and recorded this full length in 2021, the physical release of which was put out on Radio Cake Records earlier this year. 

Although they definitely have their own thing cooking, there is an instant nostalgic familiarity to this band that’s super appealing to me (also a Midwestern born dad in his 40s who likes Seaweed, Knapsack, and Jawbox). “Left to Wander” sounds like something I’d mail cash in an envelope to Doghouse Records in 1998 for. I don’t really know enough about actual “music” or “words” to properly describe this style of music without resorting to comparing them to other bands with whom they share similarities, so let’s just do that for a minute. We already mentioned Knapsack, Jawbox, and Seaweed, all of which are reasonable comparisons. Sort of a cross between the last Jawbox record and Knapsack, but with the bounce of Seaweed. 90s guitar heavy Midwestern emo like Braid and “Purity and Control” era Giants Chair weigh in as well. 

The vocals are clean, and have a nice range, being able to emote aggression without screaming (an underrated strength, imo). It’s vocally reminiscent of Rob from Bum/The Suitesixteen in tone, but laid over something like Silent Majority. I listen to this music and picture myself at their show, surrounded by bobbing heads in rolled up beanies with poorly dyed black hair curling out of the bottom. It smells like cigarettes and I’m 20 years old, it’s glorious. 

No stinkers on this one, but my favorites so far are “Out of the Darkness”, “Book of Faces”, “Meaning”, and the excellent closer “Dancing in the Stairwell”. I love that there are still old friends out there making music like this. It’s very well done, and highly recommended. 

–Zack Akenson

Mega Infinity – Chaos Magick

Chaos Magick, the new EP from Mega Infinity is a pop-hook fueled, indie alternative rocker with four tracks of eclectic electric rock and roll. The lyrics are intimate and smart, revealing a scene that is all too often male-centric and misogynistic. While the title track offers up the positive aspects of artistic endeavors and the support of a strong community, Track two, “Dude Poisoning” launches a salvo against the pervasive negative aspects of the scene.

The EP provides four tracks in all, each with their own particular style and charm. The music is very vocally driven, with a range of instrumental support acting to reinforce a strong voice. Crunchy guitars and various electronica are laced throughout. A bonus is the bands take on the Alanis Morrisette track, “You Oughta Know”

Go ahead and diversify your collection and check it out. You can check out the video for Chaos Magick premiering today over on Punk News.

Jerry Actually

Chaos Magick
Dude Poisoning
Look Alive
You Oughta Know

For fans of: Sonic Boom Six, Rage Against the Machine, Just Friends, Don Broco, 100 Gecs, Flying Raccoon Suit, Nova Twins

    Mega Infinity are Michi (Turk) and Mike DiGiulio from Long Island NY. The two met while working in a grocery store, far from Michi’s home. They had a feeling that it would be the right move for them as a musician when they were transferred.

    In 2014, Michi formed this band with Mike’s friend Andrew. In 2018, Mike stepped in as guitarist and a main songwriter. The band’s sound took a turn towards heavier riffs and the inclusion of more electronic elements fused in with rock. 

    Mike and Michi, living together, started writing more songs together and hosting a weekly livestream including other musicians. In 2021 Mike proposed to Michi on stream 

    The stream opened them to meeting bands from all over they wouldn’t have had the chance to meet including Flying Raccoon Suit, Eichlers, Tape Girl, and more who influenced them to take chances musically.

    They were inspired to blend genres and styles that are unexpected, with elements of indie, emo, pop, hip-hop, ska, and progressive rock. They try to stay true to taking risks musically while having lyrics which tie together themes of perseverance, standing up for what you believe in and love for each other and their fans who they call the Megababes. 

    Their debut album Rainbow Heartache came out in December 2021. In 2023, they played for the first time in Texas for SPI Fest and went back into the studio soon after. Chaos Magick is produced by Nicholas Starrantino and Mike DiGiulio. They joined the Ska Punk International Family. Chaos Magick is releasing on Ska Punk International on October 10, 2023.

    The Pretty Flowers – A Company Sleeve

    I’m going to preface this review by outing myself as a massive fan of this band prior to even hearing this release. Ever since the reliable Tim PopKid turned me onto their debut record “Why Trains Crash” in 2018, I’ve had them on pretty regular rotation. It seems surprising to me that it’s been five years since their last full length because I still listen to it so often. Over time it’s become one of my favorite records of the last decade. In fact, when my copy of “A Company Sleeve” arrived in the mail the other day, it was none other than “Why Trains Crash” that I removed from my turntable to make room for it.

    I had the pleasure of meeting these guys in person this Spring when they came through Portland. I’d interacted with Noah on Twitter a little bit, discussing J Church, and him turning me onto some great music (Church Girls and Creeper Lagoon, namely). It was such an excellent show, and they couldn’t have been nicer. Perhaps because we were both riding the euphoria of having just unexpectedly met Toody from Dead Moon moments earlier, but conversation flowed smoothly, and it was fun to talk music with someone who you enjoy their own output so much. 

    You might think all this enthusiasm would shatter any objectivity I have on a new record, but the flipside of that is the crushingly high expectations you have from a band whose most recent album you hold in such high esteem. The situation was ripe for a letdown. 25 seconds into it, when the lead off track “Young Gray Enemies” opens up and explodes into everything that makes The Pretty Flowers great, all concerns for a sophomore slump were alleviated. 

    For those of you who have been paying attention, The Pretty Flowers have been hinting at their progression as songwriters with new songs and unreleased tracks being added to their Bandcamp page. This band is also extraordinarily good at doing covers. Their version of “Doom Town” by The Wipers rips so hard, especially live. Also, although you might not think you need it, their take on Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” is one of the best covers of any song I’ve ever heard. Anyway, all the potential hinted at with the material released since “Why Trains Crash” has been realized on “A Company Sleeve”. I think I even like it better. 

    I hope this analogy doesn’t turn anyone off because I might be in the minority on this opinion, but the progression of The Pretty Flowers between these two albums reminds me of The Promise Ring between “Nothing Feels Good” and “Very Emergency”, the latter of which I consider to be their masterpiece. I remember how excited I was by “Very Emergency” when it came out in 1999. I loved it immediately, and remember calling my friends before I even got to the end of the first listen. That I’m able to access that same kind of evangelical excitement from a new album when I’m 44 years old with “A Company Sleeve” is pretty cool.

    This record is really frontloaded with hits. Any song on side A I could see being the single. The aforementioned first track comes in at just under two minutes, but is the perfect opener. It goes from a distant muddled recording to a full blast banger, like when your headphone jack was partially unplugged and then you’d push it in all the way. It’s such a catchy tune, and that effect really puts it over the top. It’s followed up by “Another Way To Lose”, which is another absolute ripper, and just a perfect punk/power pop jam of the highest order. It briefly feels like we’re getting a break in the action with “Hit Nothing”, but the huge chorus and overall instrumentation make this another great example of what this band can do. “Baby Food” is next, which picks the tempo back up and provides the listener with not only another barn burner, but also some poignant commentary on the rental market in Los Angeles. “Bucket Beach” and “Agendaless” close out the first side, the former having rightfully been released as a single in 2021, and the latter being slower but also a definite album highlight. 

    Side B, much like their last record, has just as many hooks, but they tend to lay just below the surface and be a bit more subdued.  “The Long Con” in particular, is maybe my current favorite song on the record. Sitting second to last, it has a nice dreamy/surfy vibe and is just unbelievably catchy. Including a few songs I haven’t mentioned by name yet, there are absolutely no skips to be found anywhere on this LP, and new things to appreciate with each passing listen.

    All the other bands I’ve mentioned in this review (Promise Ring, Church Girls, Creeper Lagoon, and J Church) I can all see as worthwhile comparisons to The Pretty Flowers’ sound. I also really hear post-reunion Superchunk in the incredible layered quality of music and song structure. The songs are good, but so are all the people who are playing them. Everyone is doing something interesting, the lyrics are smart, and there’s so much special detail to every swirling hook and chorus. Their melody and sound reminds me a lot of Mrs. Magician as well, in that there’s an essence of Beach Boys, and again the songs are just so strong.

    If anything you’ve read has sparked your interest, you really need to check out The Pretty Flowers. All of it, and especially this record. I give no recommendation higher than this one. Tell your friends, they’ll thank you. It makes absolutely no sense at all that these guys aren’t bigger.

    –Zack Akenson 

    Billy Batts & the Made Men – My Empire Is Crumbling

    I’m checking out a breakneck new release from Atlanta Georgia’s Billy Batts and The Made Men. Produced by Joe Queer of the legendary punk band The Queers, My Empire Is Crumbling dispenses snotty punk rock ala Queers, Screeching Weasel, or perhaps a Jon Cougar Concentration Camp. The straight ahead punk is interwoven with more hardcore elements on several tracks, all fused with the balls out speed of Bomb The Music Industry. 

    15 mostly brief tunes and one long-ass epic ballad. (Rent A Friend is only 4ish minutes long, but that’s like forever, right?) None of the songs disappoint. Vocals, as mentioned, are snotty. There is a nice call and response on “The Day I Became A Man.” Chugging guitars are complemented by a handful of not entirely untasteful solos. The bass glues everything together with the ratta-tat-tat drums in an able fashion. 

    There’s a song entitled Paul Belinni. I truly hope this song is about Paul Belinni from Kids in the Hall. Maybe it’s not, but I’m going to pretend it is. Furthermore, I’m going to pretend the band won the “Touch Paul Belinni” contest, all those years ago and got to touch Paul Belinni. It’s a kickass song either way.

    The track “Change” gives me Leftover Crack vibes for some reason. I’m down with that. 

    Look, this is a damn fine album and if’n you like Punk Rock, which you do, check it out. Like it. Love it. Show some support and buy it. 

    Jerry Actually

    1. Gotta Leave 02:37
    2. Dan Is Awesome 01:43
    3. People Are Shit 00:46
    4. Maniac 01:12
    5. Andy Doesn’t Read Much Book 01:17
    6. 9am 01:00
    7. Over Again 01:43
    8. Behind My Screen 01:43
    9. Drowning 01:48
    10. Weird Al Wrote Propaganda Songs 00:26
    11. Paul Bellini 01:53
    12. The Day I Became A Man 01:14
    13. Change 02:07
    14. Never Comes Easy 02:09
    15. I Bleed 01:27
    16. Rent A Friend 04:13

    Brody – Guitars, Lead Vocals
    Stag – Bass, Backup Vocals
    Nub Nub – Drums, Backup Vocals
    Additional backup vocals by Joe Queer 

    Lizard Brain Trust – The David Christ Memorial Indoctrination Fund for the Cure

    Twitter can be a pretty dark place. The name itself lends most people an immediate visceral reaction of disgust, conjuring up an image of Elon Musk’s stupid head, and blue check mark American fascists hating on, and blatantly lying about, all that is good and decent in this world. Yuck. However, it’s not all bad, and there’s a reason a lot of us are still on there. Meeting interesting people from around the world to share music with is still pretty fun, it turns out. That’s how I wound up writing reviews here on Upstarter (thanks, Jerry). It’s where I met my main lasagna man, SST. Without Twitter I wouldn’t know a bunch of cool guys named Steve, a mysterious international man of leisure named Scotch Chalice, fellow China Drum and Leatherface enthusiast Dave, a guy with a hybrid Miami Dolphins/Strung Out tattoo, friggin’ Seaweed Pat, chef Dan in France, the real kings of New York Pedro and SJ, Mike, Green Corn, PhD, Alex, Kenosha Andrew, a bunch of cool people in Japan, Branch, 62 lb, Broken Locker Mike, the list goes on and on. A couple weeks ago, one of these Twitter acquaintances named Seth, whose band Lizard Brain Trust just released a new album, was nice enough to mail me a physical copy of their new CD. Not to be reviewed, but just because he’s a nice guy who wants to share his music. I’ve been listening to it so much in the past few weeks, I thought I should tell you about it. 

    Lizard Brain Trust are a punk band based out of Lawrence, Kansas, and this is their first full length. As its bizarre title might suggest, “The David Christ Memorial Indoctrination Fund for the Cure” is pretty weird, and falls into the Pere Ubu/Butthole Surfers side of punk. The CD has a mission statement of sorts underneath the clear plastic of the digipak that I think pretty accurately captures its vibe. It reads, “You can stockpile every option until it’s meaningless, trade it in for your own void. Does the world just spin out of orbit, throwing all of us, the shitty monkeys, back into space to freeze or fry, choking on our stupid plans? American exceptionalism, jingoistic propaganda pumped down our throats. Some is subtle and some is Lee Greenwood’s corn nightmares. We’ve tried to do something that speaks to our anxieties as humans living through this shit show, hoping for better things and pretty bummed out about how they are.” 

    Although abstract and corn-nightmare-referencing at times, “The David Christ Memorial Indoctrination for the Cure” is quite topical and lyrically poignant. The album touches a lot on far right political toxicity in American culture, but more specifically on the human response of anxiety from living through this incredibly stupid timeline of history. I think it can sometimes be difficult to write songs about omnipresent current events without being vaguely cringey, but Lizard Brain Trust manage to do so in a manner that’s relatable and effective. On the song “Honest Liar” in a Travis Shettel from Piebald-style vocal, “If you really think you’re right, why are screaming?”. I also enjoyed the line from the third track on here, “Evangelical tiki torch burning in the lawn, traded your god for a gun.” There are other allusions to the politics of gun control on here as well. “Now close your eyes, just like your mind. Your thoughts and prayers have made you blind,” from This Place is Cursed says a lot about what’s going on here. 

    Not all of “David Christ” is so serious. There’s a short acoustic number where the only chorus is repeating the name of the principal from Saved by the Bell, and a mysterious Pixies meets Pere Ubu number called “Southern Bulgarian Milk”. “My Brain is Sick” is straight up 80s hardcore, but opts to only have electric guitar and vocals. It all works though, and despite the darkness of some of the content, there is a real levity to the songs. The pacing, variety, and style of the album reminds me a lot of a Tenement record, or even Zen Arcade. Some songs come across as just demoed fragments, but they’re all pieced together nicely along with the more polished gems and some cool horror/8 bit video game interludes. I hear a lot of Love Battery here too, which is definitely a good thing. “Beach Day” is probably my favorite track on the album, a super catchy upbeat number with a sweet bassline. 

    Even with all the oddities, there is really no significant dip in this album from front to back. Most of the time I put it on, I find myself listening to it all the way through. With repeated listens, this has come to also include singing along and dancing. There’s something about this album that’s just so enjoyable. What I can find of them on the internet seems to suggest that they live up to their self-described moniker of “weirdo rock band” when playing out too, adorned in religious robes and upside down crosses. They have some summer shows lined up in Kansas and Colorado that I would suggest you check out if you’re anywhere nearby. Otherwise, pick up a copy of the CD from Dumb Ghost Recording Enterprises (who also released the excellent Curious Things album this year) on Bandcamp, or give it a listen on any of the major streaming platforms. Highly recommended. 

    –Zack Akenson

    The Neanderverbs – S/T

    The front cover of this new EP from Virginia’s Neanderverbs has a hot rodding caveman on it. Without even listening to it, you might already have some assumptions as to what it sounds like. Anytime an angry cartoon is driving a vehicle on an album cover, it’s going to sound a little bit like Electric Frankenstein. Although that does reflect the general tone of this record, there are also several other components about this band that make them unique and worth your time. 

    First of all, there’s a cover of an L7 song from their 1997 album The Beauty Process. I wouldn’t have necessarily drawn the comparison had they not covered this song, but Neanderverbs definitely have an L7 attitude and style to them. Which is to say, they play angry rock and roll and have very sick riffs. The kind of riffs that get stuck in your head all by themselves. I’ve found myself humming a couple of them around the house today. 

    Musically overall they remind me of the surprisingly excellent Sonics reunion album that came out several years ago, along with some Deadbolt thrown in there too. Reverb-y huge riffs all day here. Actually, just for 16 and a half minutes. There are only six songs, including the L7 cover, and an instrumental song that has more than enough to it to hold your attention.

    The vocal delivery and style are what I think make Neanderverbs a bit of a unique mutant. The singer sounds straight out of early 80s SoCal hardcore, which isn’t typical for the genre. He’s probably most similar to Henry Rollins, but I also hear some early Milo in there, or maybe the dude from Reagan Youth. Lyrical content reflects this as well. Here’s an example from the opening track:

    “marketers are a bunch of liars
    while the suckers are all us buyers
    we’re the victims of subterfuge
    in the end you know we’re gonna lose”.

    Also, from the song “T. Wrecks”:

    “I’m user friendly and vain
    a slave to the mundane 
    feel like I’m living my life on a leash
    there’s no way to appease”.  

    If you consider how effectively Neanderverbs transcend geography and time to bring together these disparate genres of punk, while distilling them down into 16.5 minutes for your listening pleasure, you’re actually saving time by checking them out. Recommended.

    –Zack Akenson