Ben Seratan – “Power Zone”

There’s a soft lilt to “Power Zone,” the fist peek into Ben Seratan’s upcoming LP, Youth Pastoral. The song is baked by the sun – a yielding Autumn sun, not an unforgiving mid-summer swelter – and the aura around the track grows tight with a bittersweet comfort. There is breeze in the song too, and it washes away the ache of the sun with a chill that soothes. There’s almost a feeling of rolling waves crashing through the courses, not surf, but the lament of proximal water that’s too cold to enter. That ache and yearning is wrapped in a a touch of tender country swoon – slide guitar and ombré harmonies that slip into one another. Dusky sax leads the way out of the song like the aforementioned afternoon sun trailing into the horizon, holding onto every inch of sky before letting go. Rambled plucks saunter through the song with an unhurried grace and it all frames Seratan’s voice with a humble charm. It’s a wonderfully shaded song that begs to hear the rest of the record, which arrives February 28th on Ben’s own Whatever’s Clever Records. As an added bonus, the record was recorded at Black Dirt with Jason Meagher so you know it sounds crisp.




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Endless Boogie – “Jerome”

There’s a lot of music hitting the ears today, but its always time to stop and clear the schedule when a cut from Endless Boogie comes rolling down the wires. The band’s been sifting through some archival cuts over the past year, with the excellent and essential Volume I, II getting a reissue last year. This time the band embark on a split between fellow RSTB faves Weak Signal and they unearth an outtake from their 2010 sessions for Full House Head. Featuring a packed lineup with Eklow, Sweeney, and Malkmus all hitting their full guitar glory here, the song bites hard on the frayed wires of glam, garage, and nascent punk without a shred of concern for self-safety. Admittedly shooting for a hybrid clambake of Hawkwind’s tail pipe huffer “Urban Guerilla” and the dirtbag glory days of Flaming Groovies., the grove kicks in like Slade gone gonzo and the whole track is short through with Paul Major’s inimitable growl. Don’t miss, don’t delay. This slab’s so thick and sinister they probably had a hard time getting the petroleum to petrify into a solid state. It bubbles and oozes with a glorious mung.




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Black Lips

Like many I suppose my relationship with Black Lips has been fraught. The band’s always hand a sneer that’s both admirable (their ability to not give a damn about the winds of trend) and irritating (knocking out songs that feel like they coulda baked a minute longer). There’s an irreverence to their humor that skirts juvenile jabs, but it’s a good-natured poke to the ribs. Even when trying to put on a scrappy, dangerous garage guise, the Lips don’t really wish you ill. They’ll pick you up after shoving you to the ground. Aesthetically, their last record seemed to sap the last ounce of steam out of the sandpaper-piped garage that they’d been hounding for the past decade, so good news descends as the band has been born anew beyond the veil of country-rock. The gamble works and the twang sits well in their wheelhouse.

They add a roadhouse grit to the genre, melding their snide asides with the forlorn tales of hard luck, hard living, and hard liquor. It’s not a baptism in the genre but they’re definitely having as much of a dalliance as The Stones ever had. The Lips have always had a hardscrabble heart, now they’re just letting it bleed a bit more Tennessee Whiskey. Some of the renewed sheen might have something to do with Laurel Canyon vet Nic Jodoin at the board. With the exception of their Mark Ronson steered 2011 breakout, the band has often let the layers of sound fall by the wayside, preferring impact over subtlety, but Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart doesn’t just twang the guitar, it adopts the studio slick of their influences as well.

Lonesome harmonica pulls at the heartstrings, even when the song’s about a rogue GI Joe. Pedal steel soaks up the beer from the bar, sax squawks bump the jukebox, and Cole Alexander’s never sounded so buttoned up (but ready to rumple should the opportunity arise). While its nice to keep scratching the same itch, eventually that leads to lesions, so its nice to see the Lips swivel and shine. Country-rock’s a tried and true midlife dabble for a band, but nailing it takes more than a whim as they prove here.



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The Native Cats – “Run With The Roses”

One of my absolute favorites back in action again. The Tasmanian duo strips post-punk down to its barest elements – rumbling bass that jostles the bones with a dogged glee, menacing drums, and sloshing synths pregnant with noise. Still, their most viable weapon remains Singer Chloe Alison Escott, who aims her vocal dress-downs with the pointed conviction and unnerving intensity of Mark E. Smith at his most chilling. “Run With The Roses” thrums with energy to the point of parching the body. It’s full of frustration and disappointment, and a demand for the world around it to do better. There’s a self-consciousness to the track and the overwhelming feeling leeches through the speakers and into the listener’s nerves. “I felt my body happening to people on the street. I had a hero for a couple of weeks,” she sings with the scowl of a fed up parent. The song is as barbed and baited as anything on their LP from last year, only begging for more from them as soon as possible. The single is out February 10th from Rough Skies.




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OCH – “NU:64”

Out of the ashes of Flowers Must Die springs OCH. Some (though not confirmed who or how many) members of the band have sprung forth under the new moniker and are working through the detritus of the German Progressive collapse. Locked to a groove that’s as insistent as a heartbeat, the band washes the rinds of their sound in synth tones that hearken to Harald Grosskopf playing homage to Cluster and Popul Vuh. While there’s a Kosmiche nature to “NU:64” its just smoke above the propulsive motor. The band’s album is hard to parse into pieces – winding up more of a soundbath that’s best experienced in the whole, but this nugget is a damn good entry point. Check out the video by Fredric Ilmarson above and begin to sink into the band’s primal ooze. The record lands 2/28 on Rocket Recordings.



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UT – In Gut’s House

The gaps in the No Wave nuggets have been closing in for the last couple of years with vital reissues from the likes of Maximum Joy and Kleenex among others. Though there’s been a definite deficit when it comes to contributions from NY trio UT. The band hung their sound on considerably less groove than many of their peers, perhaps finding a split ground between Au Pairs’ stark realities and the burgeoning noise-dirge deluge from Sonic Youth. The band leaned into atonal, scraping passages, but they landed them with an edge that drew blood and their influence could be felt reverberating through the tail of the ‘80s and into the more fraut threads of pre-grunge. Oddly the band didn’t find much of an audience in the States at the time of and would achieve a slightly wider audience and acceptance in the UK. They released a few recordings on their own Out Records before signing with Blast First for their debut.

The band picked up some heavy fans, though, including John Peel who recorded the band for a session and Steve Albini who would record the follow-up to In Gut’s House, Griller. This record acts as a vital transition period for the band, moving away from their earlier live recordings that had appeared on their Out tapes and on their Blast First debut. The album is a driven, unforgiving record that doesn’t lean into melody as a crutch. It opens with the rather infectious “Evangelist,” but the track works as a red herring as they’d almost never return to the sprightly bounce of that track and instead scrape the soul with a darker, leaner, tension-torqued set of metallic bile that’s as bracing as any record that hit the stands in ’88. It nabbed attention and praise from NME that year and picked up steam in The Village Voice, but in general the hometown crowd wasn’t biting on UT’s sound. They’d record the follow-up with Albini before disbanding shortly after. It’s high time that this one grabbed the praise its due as a vital link in the noise, post-punk and No Wave chains, drawing them all together for a record that still draws blood like it did the day it was released. Now, Out is looking to revitalize the band’s catalog for a new age and these recordings sound as fresh and ferocious as ever.



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Bill Fay

Its not always a given that artists can resurrect a career and keep the same quiet dignity that marked their revered works. British songwriter Bill Fay released two albums on Deram in the early ‘70s that, while not commercial killers, eventually became sought after works that would become in demand on the secondary market. The demand would eventually also bring him back for a second leg of his career over this past decade. His newer works have matched the depth of his early recordings, but added a shading of age and experience that let them trace the scars of a life lived. It’s astonishing, then, that his third album into this renewed fertile period is one of his best yet. Pulling back to sparser surroundings, Fay lets his words and melodies shoulder the burden. There’s still some orchestration at play, but this is as much a solo folk record as ever, with his scars laid plain for all to bear.

Fay doesn’t shy away from hurt, but he doesn’t dwell. There’s much beauty in the cracks and crevices of Countless Branches. He ruminates on the wonders of nature without making sound like schtick. He finds the humility of family life and lifts it up to something more than routine. Bill’s early records, while worth their reputations were pocked with the self-involvement of youth. His debut was serious to the point of bleak and the follow-up, a true folk breakthrough that would take years to find its crowd, was doused in his preoccupation with faith. Here, those edges soften, as must everything in time, yet there’s a different kind of faith — a faith in love and humility as the harbingers of true meaning. There’s something alluring about reaching Fay’s age and still finding those bright spots against all odds that the current world throws at us. For that, the album is a wellspring of hope and a reminder that no matter how dark the dawn, there’s brightness if you look in the right spots.



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Cool Ghouls – Live ’19

Its been a little while since I’ve heard a peep from one of San Francisco’s finest, Cool Ghouls and while news of a new album would be amazing, a live document recorded at the city’s great psychedelic epicenter, The Chapel isn’t a bad gift either. The band runs through a good portion of their best, fleshing them out in ways that thicken up their jangle with a good dose of guitar flash. There have been some pretty essential live albums coming down in the past year with Howlin’ Rain, Wooden Ships, and Mythic Sunship all turning in live wire workouts and this one stands poised to stand alongside of them .Check out a burning version of “Animal Races” from the upcoming set below.




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Elkhorn’s Jesse Sheppard on Bruce Palmer’s – The Cycle Is Complete

One of my top picks from last year was, without hesitation, the double LP darkness and light journey of Elkhorn. The double dose of lysergically locked guitars on Elk Jam and Sun Cycle pushed the band beyond anything in their catalog and sets up some pretty high expectations for their upcoming shut-in brainstorm The Storm Sessions. I’ve gotten to run a few shows over the past year with the band’s Jesse Sheppard on the bill and know that he’s not only a consummate musican but also a devoted collector. Naturally I figured he’d be a great fit for the Hidden Gems series and, as such, he has shed some much-needed light on a Buffalo Springfield-adjacent obscurity that sent a bit of a middle finger to the record industry on its release. Check out Jesse discussing Bruce Palmer’s The Cycle is Complete below.

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Oog Bogo – Oog Bogo 12″

Melting like action figures in the microwave, the songs that make up the first solo EP from The Meatbodies’ Kevin Boog are garage nuggets that have skunked and soured. Atop a stutter of drum machine Boog works his way through the cellophane muck of sticky synths and fried nerve-ending guitars that sound like he’s been spending a lot of time with the early end of the last decade. Bringing to mind scum sifters like Nice Face, Gary War, and Flight, the EP is mostly working its way through the primordial ooze, though he hits pretty hard on “Tower’s Ladder,” which might slot in the paint-fumes fun times of your rotation alongside a Damaged Bug tune or two. Similarly the b-side swinger “Coyote Loves the City at Night” drops the fog-machine haze for just a bit to tip-toe into psych-folk’s ripple. This one lands via friend and fellow tone-skimmer Ty Segall’s Drag City imprint God?



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