Rattle

Nottingham duo Rattle throw out the pop formulas in favor of a percussive ping pong between members. The pair, Katharine Brown and Theresa Wrigley, weave a tapestry of hypnotic dance and percussive patter, both picking up the sticks to spar rhythmically with each other with only occasional forays into vocal volley. Sequence drops the listener into a trance, playing off of subtle shifts in ever evolving patterns, with each of the four songs on the record stretching towards the ten-minute mark. The songs have the effect of stripping away the surroundings of the listener, like a sonic suspension in sensory isolation, or in this case suspension in the rarefied air of rhythmic thrum. The record is best listened to in dim surroundings or with eyes closed altogether. Let the rhythms play over the mind, pushing accompanying brainwave patterns to the beat that the two women pluck out of thin air. In that environment Sequence begins to toggle the tumblers of the mind into new positions.

When vocals do arise in the mix, they’re often wordless – cooing, humming and moaning entwined with the insistent, ecstatic beats. They finally break into discernible phrasing on “Signal” but even then, the pair are all about repetition, turning their words into mantras that eventually push meanings to the background in favor higher states of consciousness. While the record is propulsive and even at times frantic, the overall effect is absolutely soothing. There’s a sense of natural evolution to each song, each player anticipating the other completely, and that ingrained trust is passed through the speakers to the listener. Brown and Wrigley are spirit guides, sonic Sherpas, clatter-packed chiropractors come to align your vibrations to their natural thump.

It’s a shift from the usual dose of post-punk and that drops from the bucket at Upset The Rhythm, but the DIY spirit is just as punk as anything else on the roster. Brown and Wrigley are working the crease between jazz, post-punk and drone and it works as a feast for the ears. Highly recommended as a background beat to get your own weird Birdman-esque mania working for you, or just to drop out in the negative zone for forty-odd minutes of float. Either way Sequence is a damn delight.


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Grave Flowers Bongo Band – “Birds”

Hoover III member Gabe Flores strips back the psych to a warm sunny burble on his own Grave Flowers Bongo Band. The L.A. band whips up a psych-folk froth that brings to mind Fresh Maggots a young Bolan’s T. Rex before he found moniker brevity and cocaine. There’s definitely a beard of stars at work here, and true to their promise, bongos. On “Birds” the band adopts the “faded demo from the hip” approach that’s worked well for their contemporaries in Paint this year. On the track, the band feels far from the pounded pavement of their L.A. locale. Perhaps they’ve pushed out to the Canyon and beyond for an off-kilter psych soup that’s built from the static transmissions of Gary Higgins, Sam Gopal, Trees, and John Peel favorites Tractor. Like the best psych-folk this one’s wobbled off its axis and sticks around to delight all the way through. The LP lands in full on Friday via the good folks at Permanent.



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Axis: Sova

On round three from Brett Sova’s Axis: Sova, the band is as whistle clean as they’ve ever been – all shined and shaved and in their Sunday best bolo ties for a dive bar date that’s greased with a half-gallon of snake oil charm. Like Purling Hiss before them, they embrace a classic rock deck shuffle and dip their freak card cadavers in swagger with a renewed gusto. The band has crawled steadily out of the Cretaceous with each new installment, blossoming from Brett and a cracked Casio spitting popcorn under his fuzztone freakouts to a two-piece batter-dipped in half-stack blowback, like an acid bath for the ol’ grey matter. This time, though, they’ve bumped to a trio, with Tim Kaiser returning and Jeremy Freise of Cave filling out the full band backup and its definitely given the band a renewed license to play havoc with the style guide.

There’s less focus on the fuzz n’ freak this time around, instead digging into a kind of new wave lacquered psych boogie that’s hard to place a finger on. On tracks like “Crystal Predictor” Sova’s balancing radio ready hooks with the sleaze-squeezed warble that fought its way through DEVO and The Units. Quick-cut to “Stale Green” and they’re cranking fog machines with the Deep Purple road crew. By the closer, Brett’s crooning to the girl in the front row and looking to transcend his bad boy image with a tender touch of ennui and a dash of road wear. It’s a nice look on them and an interesting juxtaposition of genres that fits well together. The AV antics of New Wave’s tin hat art freaks share a lot in common with the psych burnouts carving pot leaves into the back row of the class and this might just be the definitive dissertation on the hypothesis. The fuzzbomb jitters of Shampoo You ferret out a meet-cute of ostracized longhairs from all sides of the spectrum.

I’ll always stand on the side of dirtbag psych, and the album ticks a lot of boxes around here, though I’d wager that the band could push this aesthetic even further. Maybe they do in the live setting. It’s got room to get greasier, twitchier and more over the top. When invoking the spirit of spandex hip flex and/or jumpsuit mind flay its best to forget all sense of decorum. Be that as it may, Shampoo You has a lot to offer and its great to see a band not rutting into the sound they found a few years back. The record feels like a step forward, as if to say “this is not my final form,” but the mutation’s interesting all the same.



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Martin Frawley – “End of the Bar”

This Martin Frawley album is shaping up to be the “sorting your shit out” record that we all need this year. Recorded in the wake of a break-up and band dissolution, the record was admittedly written while Frawley took some stock and reassessed his life. More often than not, Frawley admitted, it seemed those moments wound up in a bar or two. I understand the impulse, numbness kills the ache and even if you’re surrounded by strangers, its better than sticking it out alone. Few of the songs encapsulate the self-destructive, self-loathing quality that often creeps up during the times that it seems all the load-bearing emotional wall come crumbling down than “End of the Bar.” He sums up the feeling of trading friends for regulars and unloading your problems on fellow drunks nicely when he sings, “You look familiar, you look tired, you look like you’ve dealt with me.”

The song realizes the kind of asshole we let ourselves become when we think its all come undone. As someone who’s spent time on both sides of the bar wood, the drunk that unloads all their issues is a familiar face. Frawley coming to terms with himself and his own insufferable self is as numerous as it is satisfying. Here’s hoping there’s more hubris and hope on the upcoming Undone at 31.



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State Champion

State Champion have been carving their initials in the bar wood for a few records now and this time around the gouge is getting hard to ignore. I’ll admit I’m guilty of not giving the Louisville band enough credit, credence, or most importantly enough time on the speakers. There are a lot of bands battling for the haggard and hangdog void left behind by The Mats, Uncle Tupelo and Camper Van Beethoven, but few are actually able to capture the effortless ease of any of those record shelf regulars. Ryan Davis belts like the best bar band basement chuggers inhabiting your average college town’s VFW circuit, but elevates himself out of the depression dens with his indefatigable wit and an ear for raw melancholy that’s enviable.

The magic of State Champion is they’re wading through an alt-country ramble that’s been picked clean before but making it work like few of their peers. Davis is without a doubt a big part of that. Much like fellow perennial underdogs James Jackson Toth, Ned Collette or Joseph Childress, he’s one of this generation’s great songwriters, sketching out a vision of the American Midwest that’s self-aware, unpretentious and biting. Full of crumpled last cigarette vignettes and bar rag blues, Send Flowers is without a doubt the best vision of their quarter-draft night aesthetic. While the band’s last couple of records wore down the threads on their flannel resolve, this one breaks through the disguise to reveal State Champion as more than just top-billed Louisville royalty.

Its not simply a vehicle for Davis though. While the touchstones of alt-country and bar rock aren’t revolutionary, the band backing him up are nailing the sound with a subtle grace. There are soft touch slide guitar runs that practically weep, fiddle that dances slowly in the corners, and an uncluttered strum that knows just when to step out of the way. There’s something beautiful in a record that lets the listener crumple in its wake. Send Flowers is that friend that will buy a few rounds when that relationship that stretched past the point of breaking finally does you in. It lifts you up with a few great stories and leaves you to think in the cold, numb embrace of the parking lot’s void staring up at the stars – afterward you’re better, even if you’re not better off.



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Writhing Squares – “A Whole New Jupiter”

I’d say that Philly’s Writhing Squares quietly released one of the best space rock records of 2016, but Writhing Squares don’t do anything quietly. The band is built on a wave of squall, pinning an insistent beat to fizzing torrents of bass and slashing sax. Their debut was a molten chunk of twisted nerve noise and zonked-out groove, so to properly follow it up the band drops another sixteen tons of motorik patter on your plate right out of the gate. The first premiere from January’s Out Of The Ether is the frothing side-long crusher “A Whole New Jupiter.” The nineteen-and-a-half-minute track boils over with bass n’ synth freak energies that flash through the atmosphere in heatsick waves. Kevin Nickles’ sax weaves a bop that’s funky and fraught.

The band themselves sum up the track nicely giving it credit for the album’s title, “We were jamming in the garage trying to work on a totally different song with a similar drum beat, says bassist Daniel Provenzano, “but after about 5 minutes of that we gave up and started fucking around on a synth pattern Kevin made up. And we just kept playing for about 20 minutes straight, and it was full of all these ideas we really loved. So, we did it a few more times and arranged it into a somewhat cohesive song- it was totally organic and fun and natural and it’s like it was there in the garage waiting for us to play it… so that’s kind of where the album title originates. That song came out of the ether.” Nickles concurs, noting “Yea that pretty much sums it up. We just jammed and all the parts kinda magically came to us, then we Holdger Czukay-ed the thing together, hahaha!”

Out of The Ether is out January 25th via Trouble in Mind. Better be ready.


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Possum Moods – “Captian”

Featuring members from revered bands Cannanes and Boy Racer, Possum Moods comes with some expectations in tow. Thankfully, they easily make good on them. “Captain” is a wistful, gorgeous track that floats on a bed of bubbling bass, frothy keys and golden harmonies. The song’s indie pop primrose is ripe leaving the listener floating in a haze that’s as honeyed as the sunsets in the background of their toy-augmented video. The clip lends a homegrown charm to the song’s already humble hum-able tone. Check it out above and get into the band’s third album out now on Emotional Response.



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Baby Grandmothers’ Kenny Håkansson on The Shadows – “Apache”

Before there was the current wave of Swedish psychedelia, there was Baby Grandmothers. The trio helped shape the sound that would trickle down to Dungen, Skogen Brinner, The Works and Life on Earth. Much of that was due to the guiding hand of guitarist Kenny Håkansson, who would shift the band’s sound from a more basic rock approach into shades of psychedelia that pushed farther than their peers. A few years back the band’s early recordings were resurrected by Dungen’s Reine Fisk, a collection which surely seemed like the definitive archive of their works. However, the band, not content to be consigned to merely Swedish history, is back with a new album for Subliminal Sounds this year. Before diving into the new sounds, Håkansson takes us back to where he began, with one of the key surf singles of all time from The Shadows.

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New Rose

Its been a solid year for country hued indie. From Aussie exports to homegrown US acts, there’s been plenty of mournful slides and a ton of twang among the best of 2018. You can now add to that clutch of releases the latest LP from New Rose. The Brooklyn band embraced country’s cradle on their previous album, Morning Haze, and they’ve settled nicely into the valley of the bittersweet bend for Crying Eyes. Recorded between Nashville and two visions of New York – the city and various upstate locales – the album is an autumnal comedown that’s seasonally adept with its heartache hues and mournful sighs. Where their last album found them in a state of transition, they’re now on a clear path to the depths of the human condition as rendered in the sunset’s golden glow.

On the new album the band taps into a ’70s vision of California as their core of inspiration, more-so than any Texan tropes or Nashville niche. While they pick up a bit of the latter from their studio time in country’s capitol city, essentially they’re drawing their grey skies from the Western whiles of the West Coast class this time around. There’s a languid approach to their drawl, unhurried, unfussed, but not unaffected. There’s a sense of loss and a resigned sigh to the band’s approach. The world has ground them down but not out and they’re here to give solace to others in the same sling of damnation.

While it might be hard to give the Laurel Canyon cred to a bunch of East Coasters who skewed closer to Gun Club than Gram Parson just a few short years ago, it has to be said that the band has put in the work. With their second foray into the cradle of croon they’ve smoothed out the kinks and found a buttery soul that’s hard to ignore. The record comes across more than just ten gallon dress up and nickle bourbon charms. They’ve spent some time wallowing in the sorrows of their ’60s country-psych predecessors and, even if its just osmosis working its magic, New Rose seem to have found sweet relief on Crying Eyes.



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Jon Spencer

It seems almost crazy, but this is Jon Spencer’s first solo LP. The man’s been holding down the scuzziest deep end of garage rock for so long its easy to take it for granted that he’ll be there, slinging freaky fuzz riffs for the ages no matter who’s backing him up, though. From Blues Explosion to Pussy Galore to Boss Hog, Jon’s there with the right sleaze for all your needs time and time again and I’ll be damned if he’s not there again. First time I saw the Blues Explosion it was a dropped jaw experience. The band was tight, the riffs were filthy and the whole room was filled with a freaky ectoplasm that spread from listener to listener like an infection of groove. That groove is still on hand and it shows no signs of ebbing even with Spencer all by his lonesome.

To be fair there is no real genre that holds Jon Spencer in check. He’s a funk Dennison and a rock Svengali greased by the gods to make your ass shake and your soul drop three floors below into the sub-basement of hell to roast while the narcotic groove rattles around your insides. He’s a wizard, a shaman, a prophet, a mage conscripted to the highest church of burnt ozone brain fry. There’s no cage that can hold his chemical burn barrage and that’s just the way it should be. Spencer Sings the Hits! proves this over and over, with each blast of taut tension that unfolds over these thirty-three minutes of divine damnation. There’s no better freak conductor than Jon Spencer and don’t you forget it.

True, solo Spencer is pretty close to what the Blues Explosion would be doing on the average Wednesday night in 2018, which is to say shimmy-shakin’ through the soul-glo delirium tremens and hoppin’ the bus to the graveyard shift at the fuzz factory. You know what, though, I’m not looking for huge departures from Spencer. I know what I came for and he’s delivering on the demand. Its a perfect dose of melted medulla machinations and in a year when everything is too much to handle, a little bit of freak shimmy is just what the new world ordered.



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