The Bug Club, "Quality Pints" (Sub Pop)

Sub Pop continues to be a safe space for unsafe non-American rock bands. For a label of its considerable size, that's admirable. The Seattle company's new signing, Wales' the Bug Club, joins other notable foreigners to its roster such as SLIFT, Deaf Wish, Vanishing Twin, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and, going back a bit, Jennifer Gentle, and feedtime

The Bug Club consist of bassist/vocalist Tilly Harris and guitarist/vocalist Sam Willmett. They've been around since 2016, winning over BBC DJ and former Fall and Creepers guitarist Marc Riley with their 2021 debut single, "We Don't Need Room for Lovin'." The EP whence that single comes, Launching Moondream One, announces the Bug Club's appealing m.o.: brief, lo-fi rock songs that hook you from their first seconds and never let go. Catchy melodies seem to ooze out of this duo like sweat. A wry, Welsh Guided by Voices, but with more estrogenic energy? The Pooh Sticks (also Welsh! Also hyper-self-aware-rock!), but with a less gross name? Only a crass bugger would make those comparisons, so let's go with them.

"Quality Pints" vigorously extols the anticipatory pleasures of searching for good alcohol, but even a teetotaler like your blogger can get inebriated on its speed-demon rock. This is faster, punkier, and more immediately catchy than anything else in the Bug Club's discography, with manic guitar solos that'll make you spit out your lager in admiration. One senses that, if he were alive, another BBC DJ, John Peel, would love the Bug Club as much as he did the Fall. Let's hope an album's in the works. 

Kevin Richard Martin, "One Hundred Deaths" (Intercranial Recordings) 

Black has to be one of the most unlikely tribute albums imaginable. I've been following Kevin Richard Martin's musical exploits since 1990, through many projects that favor stylistic mutations, radically extreme textures, and earth-shaking bass and beats. So, if you listen to KRM's music as the Bug, and in groups such as Techno Animal, Ice, God, etc., you'd never suspect he was an Amy Winehouse fan. But a random viewing of Asif Kapadia's 2015 documentary Amy opened his mind to her artistic depth and the tragedy of her premature death. Here Martin—who's collaborated with Earth and remixed them, too—has laid down 11 tracks that respectfully distill the title song to Winehouse's 2006 album Back to Black to coal-hued ambience that's more somber than a dozen state funerals. 

In his moving liner notes, Martin calls Black "a musical eulogy..., a heartfelt memorial to a sorrowful demise... possessed by the ghost of 'Back to black'. Fragmented moods and hypnotic drones melt together, as its circular beauty is set adrift, floating away into an endless void.. where the original only remains in spirit alone..." That last phrase totally rings true. It's safe to say that Winehouse aficionados won't at all recognize the originals' R&B/soul stylings. But they ought to feel the melancholy that drifts through these pieces like rueful sighs over lost potential. 

Black is not all funereal ambience, though. "Camden Crawling" boasts snappy trip-hop beats over an ominous bass line, oceanic oscillations, and static. "Love You Much, Love Too Much" might be the ultimate slow-motion hip-hop track, as lugubrious as Bohren & Der Club of Gore messing with the "Funky Drummer" break. "To Disappear" is a vortex of mesmerizing needle-on-vinyl surface noise and a slothful bass riff of gentle doom. The album's peak, "One Hundred Deaths," sounds like a terminal procession, a gradual slide into self-destruction rendered in minimalist sound. It's the piece that most agonizingly captures the gist of Winehouse's tormented life. 

Black was initially issued digitally in late 2023, but it's receiving a vinyl release on May 17. Good timing, as the Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black opens in theaters on that date.