Shannon and The Clams

The evolution of Shannon Shaw’s namesake hipshakers has been storied and slow. Unlike some of their peers, the band doesn’t knock out an album a year, not even close. With four albums spread over the last nine years and this, their fifth, arriving three years after the last, a Clams album is often one to wait for – mind you, though, well worth it each and every time. In their tenure, they’ve traced the line from lo-fi crackle to a clarity worthy of Shaw’s impressive voice. Onion finds the band embraced by Dan Auerbach’s label Easy Eye Sound and at the disposal of his studio equipment, as such, it’s the most crystal-clear vision of their doo-wop surf dream sequence yet. Each note drips down the window panes in reflected neon glory. The Clams are the quintessential carhop heartbreakers, but they manage to make the classic sound feel like a universal plea to for love, understanding and self-examination here.

Back on those early Hunx records, Shaw always seemed a secret weapon, a true vintage find among a sea of rollicking camp. Whenever she was on the mic, the track immediately thickened, given life with her perfectly imperfect balance of power and grit. The best rock n’ roll voices can belt to the barstools, but retain a little bit of grounding gravel that shows a life lived rather than a life longed. Shaw’s voice is probably one of the most prime modern examples of the style (see also The Detroit Cobras’ Rachel Nagy) and she’s often let her pipes languish behind a veneer of transistor static. On Onion the band rockets their back to the future bop in swooning, sumptuous stereo that pulls no production punches.

It’s satisfying to watch a longtime love reach the kind of potential they’ve always had in both construction and execution. Had The Clams ever been on your list to check out, then the time is now, as this might now stand as the best place to eke into their soul soaked universe – a high watermark if there ever was one.

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Damon McMahon (Amen Dunes) on The La’s – S/T

Years ago Damon McMahon contributed a track to one of RSTB’s first free download compilations. At the time his debut, Dia was just released and it was a flickering window of static rimmed folk that played well with the lo-fi crowd that dotted an indie landscape. Years later he’s embarking on his most ambitious and stridently pop album yet and he’s back to contribute to Hidden Gems, an exploration of albums that haven’t necessarily gotten their due in the pantheon of pop. Damon’s chosen an album that’s often lauded for its single but forgotten as a whole piece. The La’s 1990 debut will always be known for “There She Goes,” but as an album it lies squarely on the fault lines between jangle and Britpop.

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Celer + Forest Managment

Constellation Tatsu brings together two names in ambient music divided by massive swaths of land (Celer in Japan, Forest Management in Chicago) but united over the impact of the film and novel versions of The Mosquito Coast. Landmarks was recorded separately and assembled in traded session between the two artists and it captures the humid tension of Peter Weir’s film particularly well. The collaboration is stark and gorgeous, cut with field recordings and a knife’s edge balance of the overwhelming madness that lies as the heart of the story they’ve chosen to interpret. The two artists blend their styles with John Daniel (Forest Management) thickening the sound with an omnipresent hiss that feels tactile, as if its threading its way through the listener’s ears. Will Long (Celer), meanwhile, adds an element of tension and emotion that stretches a bit further than his collaborator is often willing to go.

That they lean on each other’s strengths makes this a crossover album in high esteem. Each artist brings their brush to the table and adds without overshadowing the other’s strokes. The result is an ambient album with a heavy emotional heart that grips the listener hard and leaves a mark. The idea of a retroactive soundtrack to a film that’s more than thirty years old seems itself like a thankless task, but whatever lit the inspiration in their shared experiences with the impact of the film appears to have wrought an album of claustrophobic dread that can stand on its own for listeners who’ve never once encountered the tale of man at odds with madness and its impact on his family. The two have crafted and album that’s haunting, heavy and oddly spectral. It shines while succeeding in its attempts to suck all of the air from the room.



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Madfilth – Madfilth

The films of Dario Argento and his house band Goblin don’t exactly evoke visions of sweat-soaked disco and experimental dancefloor jams, but this brilliant reissue of an Italo-funk obscurity originally released through soundtrack house Cinevox in a bid for a wider audience proves to stitch the two worlds together. Composers Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera build a world of snap-back funk and freak-infected dance club euphoria into eight tracks that seem out of sorts with any sort of peers at the time. They top the tracks off with the tin hat rantings of vocalist Alberto Macaro, who brings the whole project into a world of its own, pinning the glitter shimmy of The Commodores and KC and the Sunshine band with freakish, mawkish sounds of slurping and cowboy whoops that that feel like they’re poking fun at the whole idea of disco ball culture, while at the same time making an bid for pop permanence.

That they use the members of Goblin for their backing band only cements this as a true cult classic. The band shared a label and found themselves in the studio with Madfilth for this rubber-faced journey towards cosmic disco obscurity and, ultimately, redemption. This finds its way out via Cache Cache, a sub-cupboard of the Finders / B-Music family and it sits well alongside their stable of world travelers and under-appreciated psych. For the deep diggers, this is a windfall back on vinyl once again. For the uninitiated, this is a worthwhile dip into the crack in the cosmic egg.




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Pete Astor

Without a doubt, I was enamored with Pete Ator’s last solo record. Naturally there were high hopes for an artist whose roots lie deep in the Creation Records back catalog, marking time with both The Loft and The Weather Prophets, but his solo work finds grace in letting jangle pop age without feeling like it slips into stuffy adulthood. Astor’s an ace songwriter, but some of the secret to the youthful glint in the eye of his productions on Spilt Milk lie with the involvement of perennial RSTB favorite James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls). Hoare’s production and arrangement fingerprints are all over both the previous album and One For The Ghost. Again Astor finds a winsome ease with an album that leans into ennui (though a bit less so than his last) and blends bittersweet odes with driving jangles and memorable hooks.

If the last record had Hoare as secret weapon, this one pulls a few more into Astor’s corner, adding Franic Rozycki and Jonny Helm from UK gems The Wave Pictures and Pam Berry of indie legends Black Tambourine. The resulting album works its way through wry wit and genuine moments of transcendence. Astor’s quietly building a latter day catalog of pop treasures that start with the germ of jangle-pop but explode the genre into threads of psych, blues and folk that all seem like natural extensions of Astor’s soft-padded approach.

Despite a pretty solid critical reception to the last record, I always feel like there should have been more fanfare about such a venerable artist returning to bridge the divide with some great upstarts. Two records in such short succession proves it’s no fluke or creative flash. Anyone who had Spilt Milk in their headphones throughout 2016 would do well to return for another dose.




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Vintage Crop – “Gerald Part 2”

Feel like I’m leaning hard on Anti-Fade lately, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t kicking out some choice gems from their stable of upcoming cuts for 2018. Vintage Crop, like labelmates Civic, are full of brutal punk slap, but they knot it up with the kind of muscular precision that made Eddy Current Suppression Ring perennial favorites here, and well, everywhere. “Gerald Part 2” sweats it out with the best South-hemi stranglers but veers to the frantically weird, which is always something I’ve found heartening about bands hanging in Ausmuteants’ orbit (the band’s Billy Gardner produces). Gonna want to keep the ears peeled for this one when it hits in April. Maybe stash away some lunch money until then to put this one on the table proper.




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Montero

The first time I’d heard Ben Montero was on the epic 2012 compilation of Australian psych bands covering Nuggets-era classics. That comp held plenty of now solidified-status rockers (King Gizz, The Living Eyes, Pond) doing their best to tear up some of the most ragged bits of the famous ’60s compilation. Montero erred in the other direction however, taking on Sagittarius’ lush psych-pop number “My World Fell Down,” embracing that track’s baroque beauty but giving it some edge as well. That dedication to the softer side of psych persists on his debut for Chapter Music, a study in swoons and swells that’s dripping with glycerine dreams of psych-pop in the grand tradition of latter day Lips, Tame Impala and Mercury Rev.

The album is produced by Jay Watson (Tame Impala, Pond) and as such it reaches for the heights of those larger acts while retaining a bit of the austerity that befits his indie label status. For the most part Montero’s indulgence in the pillowed psych of ELO and Todd Rundgren works in his favor, but sometimes he aims too heavy for the pop crossover that’s favored acts like Tame Impala. While Impala’s been able to swing wide from indulging too heavily in the repetitive or cloying aspects of radio-ready pop while still courting a wide audience, there are moments on Performer that cross the line. There’s a relaxed plush quality to singles like “Caught Up In My Own World” and “Running Race,” but the refrain on the album’s title track gets to be a bit grating the more I hear it and sticks out like a sore thumb on an album that’s going for grace over hits.

That misstep aside, this positions Montero for a bigger future given his trajectory. Aussie’s have a pretty decent lock on a brand of big britches psych pop these days, with the exception of perhaps Temples and Hookworms, and Montero makes a good bid to put his name aside some of those larger acts as a contemporary.




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Altin Gün – “Tatli Dile Guler Yuze”

With unlimited access to a decent swath of the world’s recorded music and YouTube rabbit holes runnin’ rampant, it’s constantly possible to set your sights on a sound and make the most obscure vision your muse. With Khruangbin picking up the yoke of Thai funk and giving it a home in Texas, it seems just as likely that the ’70s Turkish psych of Baris Manço, Selda Bağcan and Erkin Koray, long held up by labels like Pharaway Sounds and Finders Keepers, should take root with a young group in Amsterdam. The first single from On is a dead ringer for the work of Selda, maybe with a touch of Hungarian psych goddess Sarolta Zalatnay thrown in as well and it scratches an itch for those driving ’70s Turkish psych and folk records that have been making the reissues rounds over the years. Following pretty quick on the heels of their great Spanish post-punk comp from earlier in the year, Les Disques Bongo Joe are proving that they’re a label making a name for themselves and worth keeping an eye on.




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Hockey Dad

The second volley from Windang, Aus’ Hockey Dad sends a vat of growth hormone raining down on the band’s sound. Not that Boronia could be accused of sounding scrappy, but everything that made that record tick is blown up to towering, shiny proportions on Blend Inn. The band is often lumped into a “Surf Rock” sound, which might have to do with their coastal town fostering a surf scene and some early videos featured the band members indulging in the waves. However, they are much more accurately embracing the axis of punk and grunge that pushed through the ‘90s, putting some meat on the bones of punk’s pogo riffs and embracing the allure of a bigger pulpit from which to hawk the resulting crunch pop. In the end, they’re about as surf as Weezer, I suppose, in that they’ve embraced some of the iconography, but not so much the ska-skiffle bounce when it comes to the fretwork.

At heart, the band is echoing traces of the mid ‘90s Fort Apache sound filtered through two or three generations of slacker pop buffer. They take some time to wind down the pace for some heartfelt swoons under the Aussie moon, finding themselves balancing the album’s sunburn grind with the requisite beer cooldown every so often, but they tend to shine brightest when the volume swells. The bigger sound feels good on them, bolstered by production from John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab), and it fits with their rise from garage-punk upstarts into a more in-demand act over the last eighteen months. Ever impressive is the band’s ability to squeeze a quartet’s worth of punch out of just two players. Their sound is never wanting, but lean, with a touch of bite.

I’d had hope with the band’s first album and they’ve lived up to any expectations placed on them for their sophomore album. Still scrappy at heart, but with a thicker sonic stew brewing here, they’re definitely working out to be contenders.





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Gary War

The past few years have been illuminating in terms of seeing how some of the lo-fi set have grown up and out of the nest that sprung them. With Ariel Pink embracing the warmth of ‘60s sunshine and The Soft Moon going full Nine Inch Nails lately, there’s a lot to be said for taking the seed of sound and blowing it up bigger than before. So, with that in mind its interesting to see former Pink collaborator Gary War back after five years with his first new LP in the post-hypnogogic comedown. War (nee Greg Dalton) doesn’t entirely emerge from the shadows he’s lurked in, but he does give the sound a good fleshing out with a crack backing band that features members of Sunburned, Pigeons and Bobb Trimble’s melted psych circus.

War has also played with Trimble over the years and he seems to have taken a page from Bobb’s tendency to dig his heels into psychedelia’s weird end while still giving it a bit of instrumental sparkle. Same goes for underground legend R. Stevie Moore, and there’s quite a bit of this record that brings to mind his classic Glad Music. Like that bit of warped wax, Gaz Forth is full of shaded psych-pop that’s whizzing by in dazzling double doppler-effect, dropping snippets of the ‘60s that seem just out of reach – was that some Tull-era flute or maybe it’s Moody Blues, some ELP organ ramp-up – we’re never quite sure.

What is for certain is that this is Dalton at his best and it’s probably the most realized version of what Gary War sounded like in his head all those years. Coming out just a bit from the cloud of hiss that’s permeated the project brings out a glittering array of colors in his work – right before the band takes a hot iron and smudges them at the edges, that is. On Gaz Forth Gary War is spreading the smudge to the widescreen though and it’s never sounded more alive.




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