The cover of Crossfire's 1985 album Second Attack, skull number 559 at Big Dumb Skulls
The cover of Crossfire's 1985 album Second Attack, skull number 559 at Big Dumb Skulls

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Big Dumb Skulls This affectionately snarky blog, run by two servants of the fictional Council of the Elders of the Skull who call themselves Friar Wagner and Friar Johnsen, began with a question: “How many metal bands have taken great care to write and record their music, only to slap a big dumb skull on the album cover?” Beginning on January 1, 2013, the friars reviewed 666 releases (and skulls) before the Council granted them a “period of rest” last week. Special thanks to the post on Deranged’s Premonotory Nightmare [sic] for introducing me to the takedown “not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier.”

Kirk Brown and Yosef Ben Israel Last month at the Promontory, when I went to see Pharoah Sanders with the Chicago Underground Duo, I arrived early for saxophonist Ari Brown and his quintet. No disrespect to the mighty Pharoah, but Brown’s band had my favorite players of the night—pianist Kirk Brown (Ari’s brother) and bassist Yosef Ben Israel. They moved together with a loose, easy grace and a funky but dignified swing, and when it came time to land on a note with all four feet, they hit it with the precision and authority of an honor guard. Plus: They had the same kind of hat!

Polysics, “Let’s Daba Daba” and “Lucky Star” When I have housework I’d rather put off till never, I find this exhaustingly frisky Japanese band’s infectious electro-­punk nonsense to be highly motivational. These album singles postdate the 2010 “graduation” of keyboardist Kayo, and though I hated to see her go, Polysics remain obnoxiously fun and keenly affecting as a trio.

Philip is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Panopticon, <i>Kentucky</i>
Panopticon, Kentucky

Joy Merten, assistant music director and host of Into the Void at CHIRP Radio

Panopticon, Kentucky I love playing Kentucky for people and watching their expressions when the bluegrass banjo of the first track transitions to the transcendent black metal of the second, with no warning other than a seconds-long drum fill. Panopticon mastermind A. Lunn uses this exhilarating, unexpected combination of genres to conjure images of the beauty of the Kentucky landscape while condemning the destruction wrought upon it and its people by coal-mining companies. Samples of speech from labor activists and coal miners as well as reworked protest songs heighten the emotional intensity of this masterpiece.

Matchess, Seraphastra Chicago’s Whitney Johnson (who also plays in local groups Verma and E+) originally put out this tape of spacey psych in January 2013, and its recent reissue has been my soundtrack to fall’s shortening days and darkening nights. The minimal, echoing synths, burning guitar, and processed vocals sound like dispatches from an alien world completely contained inside someone else’s brain.

Nord, NG Tapes I picked up this album at Permanent Records during the CHIRP Record Crawl based solely on the description: A limited reissue of an obscure Japanese noise tape from 1984, RIYL Throbbing Gristle. I was not disappointed. Side one consists of repetitive, hypnotic synth noise with a beat in the background as slow as a resting heart rate. Side two adds dark, churning drones and harsh mechanical sounds for a touch of variety. NG Tapes is an intriguing addition to a genre already in love with mysterious tape releases.

Joy is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

CL of K-pop group 2NE1
CL of K-pop group 2NE1Credit: Courtesy YG Entertainment

Ed B., cofounder and coeditor, Black Metal of the Americas

2NE1, “I Am the Best” My friend Allison C. and I are putting together an international pop/dance night (international pop overthrow!), and as a result, she’s giving me a crash course in the current landscape of K-pop. My favorite act so far is 2NE1. Between the band’s charisma and the massive, menacing synths that underline the hook, “I Am the Best” is a new constant on my “Let’s Make Today Rule” playlist. Also, Sandara “Dara” Park rocks Bull Nakano-style hair in the video, and it’s phenomenal.

Syrius, Az Ördög Álarcosbálja (“Devil’s Masquerade”) My partner and I just returned from a trip to Europe, and I got to spend some time in Laci Bacsi Lemezboltja, a famous record store in Budapest. It had stacks and stacks of European prog records, and I walked out with a bunch of incredible stuff, including this 1971 LP. Recorded in Australia (despite Syrius’s Hungarian origins), Devil’s Masquerade is on sort of a jazzier, more out-there, early-Jethro Tull wavelength, at least compared to most prog. Now I’m hunting down all the band’s other records on Discogs.

Radiator Hospital, Torch Song I’ve been walking around with this in my Walkman recently. Its tracks include upbeat meditations on falling in love and contemplative ballads about calling an old flame even when you know you shouldn’t. These universal-­seeming experiences are funneled through surreal storytelling filled with fantastic images. Bandleader Sam Cook-Parrott has earned his pop-punk bona fides, but appearances from the Crutchfield sisters don’t hurt. Perfect fall music.

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.