Exhalants Credit: Courtesy the Artist

On their self-titled debut full-length in 2018, Austin’s Exhalants sounded oddly like a Chicago band. Austin noise-rock has a very specific feel: whether we’re talking about the unhinged no wave of the Butthole Surfers, the loose-limbed pummeling of Cherubs, or the deadpan country-fried twang of Spray Paint, it always feels more slippery and acid-laced than similar music from other noise capitals. But Exhalants, with their aluminum-necked guitars and sturdy rhythms, came out of the gate with the wiry, relentless attack of Tar, the locked-in simplicity of Shellac, and moments of sad introspection a la Slint (surely an honorary Chicago band). On their new record, Atonement (Hex), the trio have swapped that classic midwestern vibe for an early-90s New York City feel. Exhalants sound bigger, meaner, more aggressive, and more muscular, and their newly streamlined structures, sludgy tones, and blown-out vocals give a huge tip of the hat to Helmet and Unsane. Noise-rock is strongest when it’s simplest and most direct, and Exhalants pull that off spectacularly. There’s no fluff, no fat, and no bullshit on Atonement—these songs are heavy, succinct, and crushing. No matter what city they were from, Exhalants would be one of the best noise-rock bands operating today.   v