From the Valley: Orphan Donor, “Empty.”

Another in my intermittent series of music reviews spotlighting Lehigh Valley-based bands.

Listening to thrash metal — or grindcore, or metalcore, or just about anything ending in “-core” — is, for me, an experience roughly akin to listening to numbers stations.

I can sense that something of great urgency is being communicated. And while I can never seem to decode the message, I kinda enjoy the experience just for the raw sonics.

Which brings us to Empty, an eight-track EP of Mike Echo Tango Alpha Lima released earlier this week by Allentown-area band Orphan Donor.

Opener “You Can Buy Perfect” roars out of the gate in a pounding, shrieking, incoherent frenzy. (Again, it might only be incoherent to those, like me, who are not naturally tuned to its frequency.)

And from then on out it’s either fast bludgeoning crunch or slow bludgeoning crunch.

I could say “Somebody Put A Knife In This Envelope” is my pick hit off Empty, based on … well, its particular combination of fast and slow bludgeoning crunch. But really, all the songs are pretty consistently cut from the same cloth.

(The title track is noteworthy for the way it ends the EP with five minutes of grinding, semi-industrial slow burn.)

According to Bandcamp, this eight-song package took Orphan Donor more than two-and-a-half years to finish.

And for all that time, they came out with a pretty good product. It’s well-produced, and flawlessly played, and it has all the power and adrenalin and intensity the music requires. If you like this style, these guys will definitely scratch your itch.

Personally, I enjoyed listening to it, and I would listen again — even if it’s not  on my usual wavelength.

Orphan Donor’s “Empty” is available as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp here.

From The Valley: Off-White, “What Goes On Upstairs.”

Another in an ongoing series of reviews of online releases by Lehigh Valley-based bands.

I couldn’t tell for sure whether the band Off-White comes from Bethlehem, Pa., or some other Bethlehem. They’re sparing with their biographical info, and a Google search didn’t turn up much.

But I figure a song title like “Absinthe or Pierogies” could only have come from a Lehigh Valley band; and that earned Off-White’s new album, What Goes On Upstairs, a free pass onto this blog.

What Goes On Upstairs is seven tracks — four of them shorter than two minutes in length — of energetic guitar-based instrumental music borrowing equally from prog, pop and punk. (They describe themselves as “free range rock indie punk,” of which make what you will.)

Some songs, like “Absinthe or Pierogies” and “James Bonsai,” land somewhere between the Ventures and the Ramones, which is an agreeable enough place to be — especially if you’re in and out in two minutes.

(“James Bonsai” also lends the inspiration of its title to the album cover. Took me a second to figure it out. Crafty.)

“Klowns” features a deceptively jolly riff that moves into a heavier, more ominous refrain. If you use your imagination, it could stand as a pretty good aural depiction of an evil clown on the march, floppy shoes kicking up dust. And it only runs 1:21 long, so if clowns freak you out, at least they don’t hang around long.

When the songs get longer, the results vary. “Shelves” mixes boingy-surfy reverb guitar with an anthemic Alex Lifeson-ish repeating riff.  At four minutes and thirty-three seconds in length, it seems a little repetitious and overlong next to the material surrounding it.

“Bazooka” (which runs 2:55) is spirited enough, but feels a little derivative, with a main riff distinctly reminiscent of Black Album-era Metallica.

Things end on a promising note, with closer “Colfax Bunny” (3:46 long) offering enough variation and creativity to show these guys can hold a song together for more than two minutes.

So there you have it. Fuzz, reverb, melody, energy and (almost) no words to get in the way.

I prefer their short and trashy to their long and involved — or, to put it another way, their pierogies over their absinthe. But you can’t really fault them (whoever they are) for keeping a foot in both camps.

That’s about all for tonight; I’m going on upstairs.

Off-White’s “What Goes On Upstairs” is available as a name-your-own-price download here.

From The Valley: Wet Dentist, “These Are The Plutocrats.”

The latest in an occasional series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley bands.

We all know the story of Orson Welles and “War of the Worlds,” at least in outline.

On Oct. 30, 1938, multifaceted creative force Welles presented a radio dramatization of alien invasion realistic enough to freak people out across the American Northeast.

Almost exactly 75 years later, Bethlehem electro-prog-pop-art-punk band Wet Dentist has dropped its own apocalyptic vision on the world in the form of a seven-track song cycle, These Are The Plutocrats.

It won’t send people screaming into the streets of New Jersey. But, like Welles’ show, These Are The Plutocrats presents a vision of a diseased America realistic enough to nag at the edges of your sense of fear.

The band (which may be one person, for all I know) says its latest music “takes place in the future, so that makes it kinda science fiction.”

The lyrics, which unspool in a delightfully crass stream-of-consciousness style, tell the story of a dystopian society in which the poor are oppressed and live in fear, while the rich and powerful use cheap foreign muscle to put their most venal fantasies into play. Sorta like 21st-century America on steroids, bent for the worse.

A taste of the vision from song five, “Seize Them”:

Guards, seize them, for that what they’ve done.
I will pick apart their loved ones’ lives,
but bring them to me first, unbroken and conscious.
You deploy some insect drones; you know where to send them.
Notify the senator. There’s gonna be some corpses.
Get your education on.
And then I’m gonna buy another island . . .
because I love my wife.

Or, from “Have Them Fight Our War Here For Us”:

The number of neighborhoods to penetrate is irrelevent. [sic]
Overtime pay will be kept to a minimum.
We got the labor laws of Indonesia coupled with our plans for after dark.
We see an endless supply of applicants, and frankly,
there aren’t enough people on the other side that are still allowed to vote.

And on it goes, black-humored without being heavy-handed, usually declaimed in an electronically distorted speaking voice by some anonymous set of vocal cords.

(The voice of Wet Dentist actually isn’t a bad singer. “Who I Am” features him singing, rather than speaking; he carries the melody nicely, while bringing the narrator’s hubris and distance to life. He oughta do more of that on their next album, in my humble opinion.)

Just to bring the vision a little closer, final track “Next?” features a twist that suggests digital music listeners aren’t going to end up on the right side of the line in the warped future.

But I won’t spoil the details, because These Are The Plutocrats is well worth checking out on your own.

Musically, it’s catchy enough under its cranked-up, abrasive edges. (Those songs that risk becoming monotonous end before they get there.)

Lyrically, it lands enough of its punches to stick in the mind for a little while after you’re done listening. As riffs against The Man go, these are more engaging and better-executed than most.

Check it out, then. Like “War of the Worlds,” it may leave you glad you don’t live in its world, while wondering just how thick the walls are that protect you.

Wet Dentist’s “These Are The Plutocrats” is available as a name-your-own-price download here.

From the Valley: Grab bag.

It’s been a while since I did one of my From the Valley reviews of local music, mainly because I haven’t seen a lot lately that inspired me.

But, just to keep the beast fed, here are a few words on a few recent local recordings:

The Happy Feiertogs, self-titled two-song EP: This is labeled “experimental,” but it’s not really all that experimental. The production is sorta swirly, and weird voices pop up from time to time; but they’re still playing in conventional key signatures, in 4/4 time, and all that.

It’s not bad — “Maneno Kwa Afrika” is the pick hit here, with its repeating bass figure and heavily echoed vocal interjections (“Botswana-wana-wana-wana! Chad-chad-chad-chad! Congo-congo-congo-congo!”) — but I think these guys need to find a little something extra to really be memorable.

The Happy Feiertogs’ EP is available as a name-your-own-price download here.

The Ghost Within Us, “Wipe Off The Hot”: Same deal as above. Two guys in the studio making music they label “experimental,” but doesn’t really go all that far out. (The Feiertogs are in Allentown and The Ghost Within Us is in Bethlehem, for what that’s worth.)

“Wipe Off The Hot” features some pretty good guitar playing. At its best, it could pass for a U2 backing track, as it’s one of those tunes that takes three chords and then uses synth drones and chunking rhythm guitar to vary the texture.

That style hasn’t been particularly “experimental” since about 1983, though … and here it just leads to a track that feels like it maybe isn’t all the way finished yet.

The Ghost Within Us’ “Wipe Off The Hot” is available for free download here.

D.V.O.I.M., “Rookie E.P.”: Easton-area mixmaster Ibn Malone cites maverick hip-hop producer J. Dilla as an influence. I imagine the brief, jagged set-pieces on “Rookie E.P.” are probably much like the ones Dilla turned out when he was developing, which is to say that Malone’s learning well.

If I have any beef with this, it might be the download price; $5 for scarcely three minutes of music seems a bit much. But, not everybody gives it away for free, and a dude’s gotta get paid.

D.V.O.I.M.’s “Rookie E.P.” is available for download here.

Vandora, “Prototype”: Phillipsburg, N.J.’s Vandora apparently has a full-length album planned for sometime this winter, but has put a couple of scratch mixes out as an EP.

Opener “White Noise” (no, it isn’t literally white noise) reminds me a little of King Crimson in places, smart and aggressive with growling bass, which is a high compliment around these parts.

“Silicon” is a six-minute song that moves intelligently between different speeds and sections; they don’t sound like they were written separately and scotch-taped together, as some long songs do.  The closer “Grand Designs,” brief and piano-driven, makes an effective change from the other two songs.

Yeah, I’d be interested to see what these guys do on a full-length.

Vandora’s “Prototype” is available as a $3 download here.

Seagulls Fucking Seagulls, “RADIOWAVES”: Allentown noisemonger Pory Nog is nothing if not prodigious: Since I last wrote about his one-man band Seagulls Fucking Seagulls, at least four new Bandcamp releases have come out bearing the SFS imprimatur.

I haven’t listened to ’em all — or even most of them — but I’m still anointing “RADIOWAVES” as the best of the batch. It’s more than an hour-and-a-half of radio static, punctuated by glitchy broadcast bursts and the occasional sonic molestation of what appears to be a Kidz Bop CD.

I periodically get into moods in which I could listen to stuff like this all the way through. If you’re wired on the same frequency, give it a spin.

Seagulls Fucking Seagulls’ “RADIOWAVES” is available as a name-your-own-price download here.

From the Valley: Sunday Guts, “Leave It Go.”

The latest in an occasional series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley bands.

The website of Bethlehem pop band Sunday Guts features what must be the most unusual local music swag ever — guitar picks with the Lehigh Valley International Airport logo.

If you’ve never flown through LVIA (and you probably haven’t, unless you live here), it’s a charming little airport trying to climb uphill.

It’s lost a number of airlines over the past decade or so — one of which, Hooters Air, skipped town owing the airport $1.4 million. LVIA is also on the hook for a $16 million land dispute. Oh … and, having lost its occasional service to Toronto, the airport is international in name only.

What does LVIA have to do with Sunday Guts?

I have no idea, actually … because, while the airport is struggling, the band is taking off.

A week or so ago, Sunday Guts posted a new four-song EP, Leave It Go, on Bandcamp. It took a few listens to hook me, but now that I’ve gotten to know it, I highly recommend it for your next layover.

It’s bustling pop, mostly guitar-based, whose textures and sounds remind me of the ’80s. Opener “Alone In My Principles” features a classic Big Guitar Pop Hook, with a layer of chiming guitar adding contrast on the chorus.

I’ve heard both riffs somewhere before — I’m trying to figure out where as I write this. (Rick Springfield?) It all works out fine, though. While the song felt familiar, it didn’t feel derivative or boring.

Interesting keyboard lines pop up here and there, particularly the string machine on “Hit For The Cycle,” which is probably the catchiest song here and also my favorite.

The lyrics to “Hit For The Cycle” don’t have much discernibly to do with baseball. Or double-entendre, or airports, or the rising price of imported mustard, or anything else. They seem to be pretty much free-associative: “Getting rid of everything but my invisible / Homemade clothes / Fortunately, gotta get a redundant team / Some experience canvassing.

The whole album’s like that — somewhere between allusive and simply nonsensical. That doesn’t especially bother me; I’ve come to prefer the abstruse to the heavy-handed (not to mention the nakedly personal or the cliched.)

The singer’s delivery bothers me more than the lyrics do.

He’s often double-tracked, precise in his diction and sort of buttoned-down. He doesn’t sound particularly invested in the lyrics; he sounds more like he’s concerned that the studio headphones will ruffle his hair.

After a few listens I started to like him well enough. He’s in tune, and not actively offensive, and not given to histrionics. He fits in fine with the tone of the music. None of the other guys get their hair mussed either, really; it’s not that kind of band, at least not on record.

Sunday Guts might not capture you at first listen, but they’re worth a little effort. Leave It Go is a well-turned, catchy pop EP, and I hope to hear more from these guys.

Maybe they’ll even get some out-of-town gigs on the basis of this EP.

But unless they’re playing in Orlando, Clearwater, Chicago, Detroit or Atlanta, they’re gonna have to take the van.

Leave It Go is available for download on Bandcamp here. Or, you can order the pink-shell cassette with bonus items if you want. If it comes with one of those nifty guitar picks, it’s definitely worth it.

From the Valley: “The Coffee Spoons.”

Another in a series of self-centered semi-reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley-based bands.

Edit: Fixed so the Bandcamp link actually, y’know, works. (Dammit.)

Part of the reason I started writing these reviews was to expose myself to music I wouldn’t typically listen to.

And boy, did I ever push myself this time.

See, I hate cute. I strongly dislike twee. Awkward sets my teeth on edge, and I don’t tolerate adorkable, either.

Pomplamoose are posey, annoying muppets; and Zooey Deschanel exists in my world only as a distant, mostly rumored presence that is loathed and reviled, sort of like Carrie Bradshaw or the Black Shuck.

So who d’ya think should walk into my cauldron of ill-reasoned, seething hatred, wearing the cutest pair of matching reindeer sweaters, but the Coffee Spoons?

The Coffee Spoons are Ashley Dalrymple and Thom Eiser. They’re based in Bethlehem, and they dropped their first EP on Bandcamp only three days ago.

She sings and plays ukulele; he sings and plays glockenspiel. (Yup, glockenspiel, the plinky little xylophone you might remember from elementary school music class.)

Their lyrical subject matter focuses on relationships to the exclusion of all else. Over the course of five songs, they meet cute, go to sleep cute, wake up cute and pine-and-yearn cute.

Oh, and they get drunk and argue, not quite so cute. But that’s the second-to-last song, and they rebound with a closing number so thoroughly charming, it uses the word “fishies” with a straight face. It’s a caravan of cuteness, that one, painting a picture of our hero and heroine strolling cheerfully in cardigans and Oxford shoes.

The Spoons sing their tales of love in a sort of Forties-jazzy way, trading lines and coming together in pleasant harmony.

Dalrymple plays rhythm uke like a pro, while Eiser tinkles away merrily atop her. (No, not like that, you pervert. What do you think this is, Rick James?)

And, when all was said and done, they walked through my pyre of cute-rage with only the edges of their sweaters singed.

Their music still isn’t my cup of tea. Or, to use a suitably cutesy-comfy simile, it’s not my grilled-cheese sandwich and cup of tomato soup.

And it’s not quite as well-recorded as it could be — the sound quality is a little hushed, which is maybe appropriate for an act that mentions blanket forts in its PR blurb.

Still, it’s well-done enough for its genre. Those who like earnestness and plucky ukuleles and close vocal interplay and quirky romance and holding hands like it was the first time will find something to like — probably quite a bit — in these five songs.

The EP is available as a name-your-own-price Bandcamp download here. If you’re young and gawky and just falling for somebody, consider downloading a copy for your suitor or ladylove.

Yup: If you love somebody, send them twee.

From the Valley: Peter Johann Band, “The Wampus.”

Another in a series of posts about recent online music releases by Lehigh Valley bands.

When I started writing From the Valley posts, I expected to hear a fair amount of punk, metal, and lo-fi singer-songwriter weirdness. And so far, I have.

I never expected to hear a band that would make me think of Steely Dan.

But the Peter Johann Band’s album The Wampus, released on Bandcamp about two weeks ago, holds up to that comparison on at least a couple of fronts.

Bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Peter Johann Gutzmirtl says he’s been recording bands in a studio setting for 15 years.

The Wampus hugely benefits from that experience: It has a clarity and depth of sound you won’t hear in the average self-produced indie release. This is a professional-quality recording, and a departure from the let-it-rip basement business you sometimes get on homemade albums.

“Disco A Go-Go,” for instance, begins with a vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano sound you can practically sink your teeth into.

“Disco A Go-Go,” with its tumbling horn lines and cool female vocal, is a dead ringer for the glory days of the Brand New Heavies — another bunch of polished virtuoso players. In a perfect world, this infectious funk jam would be the hit single that makes the PJB some bucks and lands them on magazine covers, while the deeper stuff on the album hooks in the serious music fans.

The members of the PJB (there’s six of them on the band’s website, but only five on Bandcamp) have the chops to go with their professional sound. Horn arrangements, soaring guitar leads, funky percussion, five-string bass low end … these folks are tight and well-drilled.

Of course, professional sheen and frequent rehearsal aren’t enough; you need songs, too.

The PJB holds up its end of the bargain pretty well in that department. Its songs are catchy and well-constructed, suggesting that the group has spent as much time studying song structure as chords and rhythms.

I’d describe the general style as intelligent pop, with periodic touches of jazz, Latin and funk. And while I keep going back to “Disco A Go-Go” for another fix, that doesn’t mean the rest of the songs are weak; it just means I’m a hopeless disco-funk addict.

Are there weaknesses here? Well, you won’t hear any cries from the heart or passionate punk howls. If you like your music stripped-down and bloody raw, The Wampus probably isn’t going to be your bag.

Also, Peter Johann is an OK-to-pretty-good singer; his voice works well enough, but someone with a more distinctive presence might take some of the songs a little further over the top.

Those are pretty small bones to pick in the long run, though. The Wampus is a fresh and enjoyable piece of work.

There’s a place in the world for both lo-fi rage and professional polish. The former is fairly easy to come by; I’m glad to discover that the PJB is championing the latter.

The Wampus is available here as a Bandcamp download (minimum price $5).

From the Valley: “Sounds of Psychedelic Horror: Volume 1,” Television Blood.

If I really supported local music, I’d have braved the rain tonight and gone out to Musikfest. Instead, I’ll sit dead on my duff and pound out another in my series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley-based bands.

Here’s a music writer’s dilemma: How do you approach writing about somebody’s side project?

Do you give the artist credit for extending their creative scope? Or, do you criticize them for wandering too far off their usual path?

(After all, most performers have a familiar “home sound” for a reason. That’s what they’re good at, and probably what’s closest to their hearts.)

Do you take the diversion as seriously as you take the other stuff? Do you judge it by the same standards? Or, do you give the artist a little critical slack, to recognize the fact that they’ve spread their wings?

I ask for a friend … yeah, someone very close to me who listened to Sounds of Psychedelic Horror: Vol. 1, released this week by the Bethlehem-area band Television Blood, and now has to write about it.

The following YouTube clip suggests that Television Blood, at least on stage, is a heavy, punky, noisy power trio.

I’m stretching for comparisons here — and comparisons are a poor man’s crutch anyway — but they remind me a little of a stripped-down MC5, or Blue Cheer with better chops. (Both of which are compliments, or meant that way.)

Sounds of Psychedelic Horror, Vol. 1, on the other hand, is 10 mostly short and generally repetitious tracks of instrumental music, heavy on the keyboards and synths.

The band’s Facebook page includes the following explanation: “The title explains it all. A series of sounds I made for an imaginary psychedelic horror flick…Enjoy!!!”

So, based on the use of “I” rather than “we,” I’m assuming Sounds of Psychedelic Horror is a sort of side trip under the Television Blood umbrella by one of the band members.

(I could have it backward. Maybe the electronics are the home sound and the power trio is the digression. But I’ll stick to my hypothesis until someone slaps it out of me.)

The music on SoPHV1 is passably psychedelic in a Floydian sort of way, but it’s not tremendously horrorful (or horrible).

There’s nothing wrong with SoPHV1. It’s well-produced, and appropriately dissonant, and it has its moments, like the lumpy, off-kilter beat of album-closer “End here” and the shuddering, tremeloed Big Midnight-Movie Riff that makes up most of “Vacui.”

Fans of electronica will like this, and some horror fans might find it starts movies playing inside their skulls, too.

Ultimately, though, it seems kind of cold and inessential compared to what I hear on the YouTube clip. Some of those guitar bursts and screams sing more about “psychedelic horror” — to my imagination, anyway — than the synth tones and textures at play on SoPHV1.

I also sense a lack of contrast or drama in SoPHV1.

Think about in “Jaws,” how the shark theme gets louder and softer as the shark comes and goes, then bursts in fortissimo unexpectedly.

That kind of surprise and pacing is part of what says “horror” to me — the hand that bursts from behind the door. And it doesn’t seem to be present much of the time on SoPHV1, where many of the songs kinda ascend to a certain volume level and stay there, varying only in the layers of synth-wash and burble that come and go.

I’m not a horror aficionado, so maybe that’s skewing my consideration of this music.

Or, maybe I’m just one of those jerky reviewers who can’t allow a band to travel down a new path without criticizing it. I might be guilty of that.

At any rate, I prefer the live Television Blood to the electronic incarnation; no getting around it, I guess. But if they ever come out with Sounds of Psychedelic Horror, Vol. 2, I’m willing to give it a chance.

Sounds of Psychedelic Horror, Vol. 1 is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp here. If either of the band’s incarnations interest you, they’ll be playing at the Coven in Bethlehem Aug. 17, someplace in Stroudsburg Aug. 25, and at the Seed in Lancaster Aug. 31.

From the Valley: “Summer 2013,” the Coven.

The latest in a series of reviews of Lehigh Valley-area online music releases.

Somewhere in south Bethlehem, there’s a house that’s going to live a long time in the memories of the people lucky enough to know where it is.

Its inhabitants call it the Coven. And it’s hosting shows all summer by independent bands from the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

(At least, this is what I’ve deduced from the interwebs. It could be an elaborate fiction meant to trip up outsiders like me — like that fake list of Seattle grunge slang the New York Times fell for back in ’92. Yes, perhaps they will be swingin’ on the flippity-flop down at the Coven this summer.)

Anyway, this past week, the folks involved in the Coven posted a 12-song compilation of the bands slated to play there, like a postcard from the happening. (The weather is beautiful; the tunes are bitchin’; wish you were here.)

So what’s on the menu?

– The first three songs (by Frameworks, Voyage in Coma and Dead Gods) make it clear that there’s gonna be a fair amount of raw-throated shrieking going on at the Coven this summer.

I wrote in my last post that I personally don’t like that style of singing; and in the last two days, my opinion hasn’t changed.

Still, the songs’ instrumental touches kept me listening.

Voyage in Coma’s “Predation” melts down at one point, sailing almost beyond key and pitch into a riptide of thrashing instrumental energy. It only lasts 10 seconds, but it’s great while it’s there.

And Frameworks’ “Old Chokesadds a mournful-sounding, horn-toned keyboard line and sleigh bells into the mix, with positive results.

– It’s probably no great surprise that the poppier tunes grabbed me more than the thrash did.

Ringing pop — some hard, some soft — is well-represented on the Coven’s playlist, with Prawn’s college-rocky “Praxis,” Tiny Teeth’s pop-punk “Shapes” and the Infected Flies’ “Astro Pastro Zoom” all carrying the banner in memorable ways.

“Astro Pastro Zoom” (no, I don’t know what it means either) is my pick hit among the more melodic tracks, combining Hammond organ, a laid-back-to-the-point-of-jazzy rhythm section, and charming schoolboy lyrics. (Is “I could use a fairy-tale specialist / To help defeat the trolls of Santiago” the lyric of the year?)

– Actually, I take that back. The Tallboys’ “Manhattan & Driggs” is my favorite tune here — an eighty-second acoustic strum-along driven by a rowdy, scuffling snare-drum rhythm that’s implied as much as it is heard.

(“We go outside / We share a smoke / We ruin our throats / With everything we do” is another great line — one of those tossed-off bits that is either subtly profound, or says absolutely nothing. The best kinds of lyrics, those are.)

– A couple singer-songwriter types are scheduled to drop by the Coven as well.

Most notable among them are Alison Lutz, whose love lament “On My Back” I would have liked just fine except for my aversion to ukuleles, and Marco Polio’s “The Struggle,” a firsthand description of — mental illness? drug addiction? general failure to thrive? — distinguished by its singer’s unsettled Lou-Reed-meets-Fred-Schneider vocal quirks.

I can’t direct you to the Coven; you’ll have to do your own research. But I can tell you, based on this mix, that it sounds like a good time.

The Coven’s Summer 2013 mix album is available as a free download here.

From the Valley: “Nam Le,” Nam Le.

Part of an ongoing series of posts in which I write about online music releases by Lehigh Valley bands.

In the last installment of From the Valley, I confessed my love for high-school garage bands.

College bands are a little dicier. The kids get older, they start reading European novels, they start wearing black, they start getting all serious. And somewhere along the line, they lose the jive.

Nam Le may be deadly earnest. And, they may use the impenetrable label “post-hardcore” to describe the noise they make.

But the Muhlenberg College quartet still lands on the right side of the divide with its self-titled album, which showed up on Bandcamp only two days ago.

On their eight tracks (seven, really — one song is an instrumental that lasts about as long as a cube of bouillon in a bowl of hot water), Nam Le rocks with power, energy and well-drilled musicianship.

Slamming in at 1:44, opening track “Buried” is one of the few songs I’ve heard in a while that actually made me wish it were longer.

“Chambered,” at 3:21, is the album’s longest song; and I could have stood some more of that one too, particularly the gentle, ringing, mesmeric sections that nicely offset the hardcore (sorry, post-hardcore) roar.

Just past the album’s halfway mark, on the curiously titled “Raw Dog ABE 2012” (I’m guessing it’s a reference to Lehigh Valley International Airport), hardcore-style screaming starts making its way into more and more of the vocals.

That’s where Nam Le lost me a little bit.

I’ve never liked the open-throated punk-scream style of singing. It wears thin quickly. It’s been done so often that it doesn’t really connote all that much energy. And, in some cases, I suspect it is an easy alternative to writing actual melodies — playing tennis with the net down, as it were.

Closing track “Shattered” opts for the wounded howl pretty much all the way through. I hesitate to criticize it — it is a matter of personal taste, after all, and the young man at the mic might be opening a vein — but “Shattered” is the one song on Nam Le I have trouble listening to.

Not every song goes that way. “Acton-Boxboro” (a school district in the northwest suburbs of Boston — given the lyrics about “leaving home,” I’m guessing it’s someone’s alma mater) ends with a group vocal, or perhaps a single singer overdubbed a couple times for a singalong effect. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine it’s an entire graduating class singing along. It works.

This is not music for 40-year-old men, and on a certain level I don’t connect with it; I feel like I listened to the whole thing through an invisible wall.

But that’s not particularly Nam Le’s fault. These guys are pretty good at what they do — good enough to make me come back for repeated listens. And that doesn’t happen often in this style of music.

(Whatever you choose to call it.)

Nam Le’s self-titled album is available as a name-your-own-price download here.