Jess Williamson – “Wind On Tin”

Very glad to see that the country croons of Jess Williamson have returned this year. In her absence there’s been a wealth of great voices added to the sunset striains of alt-country, but her’s has always been a welcomed voice in the genre. With a subtle swish of the cosmic fabric, Williamson wields melancholy through the stardust whispers of the wind. “Wind On Tin” is a spiritual sojourn born out of grief in a dessert town. Williamson claims she’s heard god on the wind, “God” or something else — nature, the vibrational thrum of the earth, the strings of the cosmos. Whatever was on the wind is strung with the fiber of the universe and her song ruffles the same hairs on the neck that may have sprung to life in her hearing. The video, directed by friend and collaborator Eli Welbourne plays into the myth of the mournful cowboy, but its saturated with just the right amount of divine light. Williamson’s new album is out May 15th on Mexican Summer.

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The Men

While a longtime fan of The Men, I have to say I slipped on the last record and didn’t get it into my life when it came out in 2018. That proved a mistake, as they trio picks up the journey began there among the glowing embers of Mercy. The band, led by Nick Chiericozzi, has never been tied to a genre wholesale – mining the bittersweet, and often dark underbelly of rock that moved from their noise-laden beginnings to the last whiskey, jukebox bombast of Tomorrow’s Hits and New Moon. Drift brought down the lights quite a bit from where they were positioned prior to 2018. There’s a lonesomeness to the record, but also a coiled danger that’s considerably palpable. They brought the sax that had opened up the wooden dancefloors of their ’13-’14 run to a new oil-slicked prominence. Notably, the record also let in a few other new impulses – country sway and a tendency to push the guitars deep into the crimson.

The impulses that were forming like rain over Drift pour down on Mercy with a cool simplicity. The band careens a country calm on opener “Cool Water,” while ushering their acoustic moments into turns of bottomless desperation and ache in “Fallin’ Thru” and the shuttered twilight of the title track. In these songs there’s a stillness that’s escaped the band’s past catalog. These songs are scars but wear it well. The other side of the album brings as much heat as The Men ever have, though. While their noise-coated early days certainly had teeth, there’s something much more savage lurking in the guitars on “Wading in Dirty Water” and “Children All Over The World.”

While portions of this might fit in well with the current crop of the Cosmic Americana seated set, the band’s almost an inverse of the sound. They find the same grooves and hit the same body high burn, but there’s a darkness here, not unbridled joy, rather the exhumation of demons through the wires of a thrice fixed amp. The vapors of carcinogenic choogle burning through tubes at a ferocious frequency. There are many points of entry for a band with the longevity of The Men, but this chapter, begun with Drift and flung open wide with Mercy seems to be one of the band’s most potent.



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Weak Signal – “Rolex”

A little while back I posted up the other side of this great split from Wharf Cat Records – a seismic cut from NY’s Endless Boogie. Splitting the flip with the Boogie is NY trio Weak Signal. The band, led by Mike Bones (Soldiers of Fortune, Endless Boogie), proves adept at carving memorable matter from minimal hooks. Their sound glows with a dark neon pull, strobing in blacklight brilliance and rendering everything around it in an inverted glow. There’s an aloofness to their sound, but it’s hardly affected with ill intentions, rather it just seems to crop up around them effortlessly like a miasma hung with the intangible vapor of cities at night.

“Rolex,” in this spirit, centers on the story of a con man who steals instinctively, his disgust at a rich mark translating to an impulse to strip the person of property punitively. He is the night and the street and the interloper barely registers save his offense of wealth and banal obliviousness. Karmic collection is brought down and the balance returns. The single follows the band’s sorely overlooked, but quite necessary album from last year, LP1, and a follow-up EP that solidified their status in quick succession. Check the new cut and if you’re unfamiliar, walk back through their works. You won’t be disappointed.

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Dragoons

Coming in pretty quickly after the band’s 2019 record Dragoons Are a Band!, the Aussie quartet’s latest scraps their past formula in favor of a wider sonic vista. While the last record still had plenty of ambitions for an indie-pop record – launching songs into extended breakdowns and gilding them with a light dose of extraneous instrumentation – on Horrorscope, those impulses have been elevated to the fuel that drives the album. While there are still songs rooted in grit-teethed indie grind and blunt force post-punk (“Horrorscope II”) the album plays with form, fusing psych-jazz itches and instrumental interludes into an album that plays like a suite of songs rather than merely an assortment of likeminded tracks.

Slashed with sax and soaked in organ, the record tips the scales between the fury of The Fall (something they share with members’ other band Clamm) and a proggier direction that’s lit on the coals of groove. Giving post-punk soul, the band plays like Parquet Courts pairing up with Al Doum & The Faryds. The angles smooth, but they still seem to cut just as deep. If this is the direction the band aims to wander then I’m game to follow them down into the dirt. While their peers are content to jangle and scuff their hooks with the scent of the ‘70s downtown debris, Dragoons seem to be searching for a singular spice, and for the most part they’ve found it. It’s a short shock of a record, but it’s proving to be one that I’m eager to return to again and again.

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Bardo Pond – Adrop / Circuit VIII

Oof, almost too late with this one, despite the LP having been released just last Friday, but there’s still time as long as good outlets hold out. Pretty sure if you’re landing on the shores of Raven Sings the Blues that familiarity with Bardo Pond is a given, but I’m not one for assumptions. Philadelphia’s reigning noise wranglers have fallen under many banners from psych to space to noise and experimental – each assessment is 100% correct and can’t be divorced from the other. The band is a force of nature and that force is on full display over this two-record reissue of their ‘06/’08 releases for Three Lobed — Adrop and Circuit VIII. Both records were part of CD series that the label put together in these respective years. Adrop was only available as part of the “Modern Containment” collection that included Hush Arbors, Kinski, Mirror/Dash, Mouthus, Sun City Girls, Sunburned Hand of the Man, MV & EE with the Bummer Road, and Wooden Wand and the Omen Bones Band. I believe it was that last one that brought me into the TRL awareness in the first place, but the set also opened up a world of post-Matador Bardo Pond to me that was more sinister and more visceral than they’d ever been on the mini-major.

Adrop works in movements and they push a cloud of static through the heart of a dying sun. The record saws at the consciousness and proves that the Pond is not an average psych band by any means, defying any usual metrics at the time. The following set, Circuit VIII is equally scorched and unsettled, having found its way into the label’s next series “Oscillations III.” This series found them alongside fellow travelers Bark Haze, Tom Carter, GHQ, Howlin’ Rain, Magik Markers, The Michael Flower Band, Lee Ranaldo, Vanishing Voice, and Jack Rose. Eschewing movements, but operating in much the same way as Adrop, Circuit VIII is one longform piece that travels from deep, volcanic growls to tender acoustic tears. It’s a record that, much like its predecessor, defies convention or categorization, but as any Bardo collector might surmise, also elevates the form of mining cosmic vibrations beyond what many of their peers were doing at the time. Side note: that “Oscillations III” box contains one of the very earliest Robert Beatty covers and is worth nabbing a CD copy for this as well. Nice to see the label pack these two back together and set them aloft on vinyl as well. Both of these CD series were pretty formative in terms of how RSTB came about, so its got a special place in my heart.




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Lavender Flu

With the new Lavender Flu LP now locked on the table, the band moves from their hunker-down home recorders to a proper studio, and while the fidelity cops less crackle, their gutpunch rock still remains. They exorcised the bulk of the noise in their heads with last year’s imrov jammer Admiration for A Dancer. Now, they’re following the scuzz laylines that were unearthed on Mow The Glass and this next chapter’s just as sunk in glorious muck. No surprise that Gunn had some noise shivers to shake out, with a past spent in The Hospitals, the sounds in Lavender Flu are practically radio pop by comparison. Yet, like Philly’s feedback chewers Purling Hiss, he’s taken the project from low-fi amp burning habitats to cleaner confines without losing that spark that set it alight in the first place.

The record even contains what might amount to The Flu’s most tender moment on “No One Remembers Your Name.” The standout acts as an oasis of ache within the confines of Barbarian Dust, dredging up some nice Johnny Thunders moments of quiet desperation. The rest of the record isn’t quite the calm respite that this presents, with the band riding thick fuzz riffs and the curdled comfort of hooks that owe more to New Zealand pop by way of the volume punish pulse of Afflicted Man and Volcano Sun than they do to any modern sunny day strums. Gunn and co. slide through the motor oil VapoRub vibes of the record before finally descednding into darkness. Then, after the comedown dirge of “In League With Satan,” the band caps the whole record with a bit of the crusted Cakekitchen-like jangles that cropped up on Mow The Grass. This is definitely the clearest vision of the band.

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Sub Pop Singles: Kikagaku Moyo & Terry

The ranks of the Sub Pop Singles Club are always a good place to keep an eye, and usually a good bet to go in blind when they announce. The label embraces the edges of what they’d normally consider for full releases (through sometimes I wish this embrace would extend beyond just a one-shot 7”) and they shine a light on some of the more deserving artists in their sphere. Last year’s series is now getting out in to the physical world, but that also means those who didn’t go all in can still grab the digital delights as they come piecemeal. Yesterday saw the release of two RSTB regulars and both are in fine form.

First up is a new single from longtime faves Kikagaku Moyo. The band lights into a searing cover of “Gypsy Davey,” and English folk traditional that’s been most often associated with Sandy Denny’s version. The band, rounded out with vocals from Kandice Holms (Bells), gives the cover a good nod, mixing the earthen smolder of the original with a bit of their own psychedelic smoke. On the flip they enter the folk-tinged whisper of “Mushi No Uta,” which laps at the listener with a gorgeous simplicity and tender soul.

The label sweetens the release day with a new single from Aussie’s Terry as well. The band has been pretty low key since their 2018 full length I’m Terry only releasing a short and sweet EP last year. “Take The Cellphone” hits all the right sweet spots for Terry – as post-punk throbber that’s tinged with a squeamish pop sense and winking all the way. The b-side’s an instrumental with a laconic feel, despite its rather political title, “Debt and Deficit Disaster.” The song’s a slow creeper, but as with anything from the band, its no throwaway. Both singles are great shots for the series, though I’d think that along with the earlier inclusion of Minneapolis’ Uranium Club, all of these could welcome full lengths from these bands into the Sub Pop roster.




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The Great Divides

Aussie export The Great Divides let loose a sweet and unfussed vision of jangle pop on their new cassette for Spoilsport. Like fellow Aussies The Goon Sax, who share a few aesthetic impulses with the band, The Great Divides are barely out of high school as their first album is released. Recorded by Dusty from fellow RSTB fave Dag, there’s a humble hummability to the record. Short and sweet, but packed songs that extol heartbreak and the kind of uncertainty that could only hope to accompany someone just entering adult life in these complex times, this ticks a lot of the right boxes around here. The band namechecks The Sea Urchins and The Clean, so if nothing else, the kids are all right after all.

There’s practically no flash to what The Great Divides are doing. There are hooks, but they amble rather than agitate. The sounds is spare, like the listener has dropped in on the band in their kitchen or bedroom, but don’t let that make it sound lo-fi. The record is intimate and confessional, a half-smile shared between friends that they’re just now letting us all in on. It’s a great jump start for the band. Can’t wait to see where they head from here.




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The Tubs – “I Don’t Know How It Works”

The first couple of offerings from Perfect Records, the collaboration between Joanna Gruesome members and Mark Dobson from The Field Mice, have highlighted members of the band post-dissolution. Where Ex-Vöid blend JG’s knack for melody with some spark-changed guitars, The Tubs invests in Sarah Records-styled jangle that feels as timeless as ever. “I Don’t Know How It Works” is a bittersweet tumble down the tubes with organ swells and aquamarine-hued harmonies that can’t help but hurt as much as they heal. The song picks at jangle with a ruffled charm, feeling at once like the most put together track from members of the Gruesome family, yet still one that doesn’t subscribe to the notion of perfection.

The flip is a slightly more driven pop nugget that’s got strains of The Chills and The Bats in its DNA, and could easily crop up on latter-day offerings from either. Both sides are absolutely stunners and here’s hoping that as this label progresses they continue to highlight the crossover chemistry of members from the ranks of Joanna Gruesome while also roping in some likeminded folks along the way.



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King Tuff – “I’m Free”

Well, I’m nothing if not a sucker for more music from King Tuff. This one’s a nice curio that recasts a cut Kyle wrote for Ty Segall’s Freedom’s Goblin. The song’s always been a highlight of that pop Frankenstein, and there’s definitely an air of Tuff’s charm smeared between the bars. For this one-off single version KT gives the song a more pastoral rendition, still capitalizing on the sunny strums but subbing in some plaintive piano and airy whispers of wind threaded throughout. The Segall version acts as a respite from some of the sunburn blasts of Freedom’s Goblin, but here, on its own, the song is a cool drink of water in parched times. It’s got a fuller firmament in Tuff’s version, taking back the track and giving it a wash of his latter-day pop instincts. Good to have even a little bit of Tuff on hand, though I’d take news of a new album anytime this year if that’s what this is hinting at.



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