Dot Dash

I’d have to say, it’s not a half bad run for DC power pop this year. With the infectious album from Flasher already working its way onto the essentials list and a promising new LP on the way from Bad Moves, the city has no lack of upbeat vibes and summer strums. Flying further under the radar than either of those pop slashers is the new record from Dot Dash. While the band’s name nods towards the legacy of Wire, the bulk of their sixth album washes up closer to the shores of Sloan, Orange Juice and later period Superdrag. With production touches from Geoff Sanoff (Television, Lloyd Cole), it sparkles with a jangle-forward appeal that should sate those craving a particularly ‘90s seated vision of power pop.

The album anchors itself to a rosy whimsy, lush and bittersweet. It revels in a sunshine soul that’s just as often swooning as it is smashing through hooks with wild abandon. When the band snags themselves a hard charger they wrestle it for all its worth. “Green on Red,” “TV/Radio,” and “Sun + Moon = Disguise” all give anything vying for cloud-clearer status this year a run for its money. Power pop itself always seems such a blanket term, roping in the Beatles-baiting ‘70s nostalgists and ‘80s soft-punch punks, but the ‘90s digested all those previous incarnations and gave it a half-stack height adjustment and a coat of gloss. I’ve long had a soft spot for this period of players and its good to see a few bands holding up the reigns of those that slipped past the grit of grunge’s playground.

The band seems to have held some sort of permanent opener status, given their tenure, and the list of touring companions they cite. Hopefully the clean-lined clash of Proto Retro pulls them up int into the light this year. It’s a solid effort that deserves a closer listen and a spot on the docket of any power pop fan.




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Cool Sounds – “Cactus Country”

Melbourne’s Cool Sounds swing back with another LP that follows up a solid stop-gap short player form last year. Still chasing the cool waters populated by Real Estate and other similarly minded US purveyors of languid dreams, the title track from their upcoming Cactus Country, is doused in a humid haze and underpinned with sparkling guitars. Loping along with no hurry in sight, the track practically squints in the sunshine, chugging some stutter-funk riffs that shake off a bit of the country twang that seeped into the Grudge EP. Making a move from Deaf Ambitions for a joint release between Melbourne labels Osborne Again and Hotel Motel (who released that aforementioned EP) the band is moving among some decent players in the Aussie underground. Looking forward to what the rest of Cactus Country has to offer.



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Jake and Carolyn of School Damage on Tommy Jay – Tall Tales of Trauma

Though I’ve been a fan of both Jake Robertson (Ausmuteants, Alien Nosejob) and Carolyn Hawkins’ (Chook Race) individual projects, they’re often at their best when they come together as School Damage. The band embraces a raw, yet catchy form of post-punk that finds a through line from Young Marble Giants to Wire and Television Personalities. The two songwriters balance each other out in their reach for grit vs hook, so with that in mind Jake and Carolyn team up for a joint pick in Hidden Gems. The pair both harbor a love for Tommy Jay’s Tall Tales of Truama, aMidwest lo-fi treasure that’s sure to have eluded most.

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The Myrrors

For the past three years Arizona’s Myrrors have dug out a dusty psychedelic hovel in their corner of the American Southwest. The band’s third in a string of albums that each seem to build dizzying worlds dappled by psychedelic folk finds resolve in its own warring impulses. It boasts a political core that resonates in an era where borders cut down lives, where happenstance of heritage is twisted into birthright and where the notion of sanctuary has been pulled up at the roots. As much as ever the album leans on Miguel Urbina‘s viola to anchor the record’s heat and heart, fraying the impassible drones and rhythmic barriers sprung up over the album’s six tracks. The strings saw at the record with a wide-eyed insistence, as if the notes were found curdled in blood on the sand and Myrrors are merely decoding the pain let loose on the terrain.

When the flutes, showered in an echo that makes them move on month’s wings, dance with the strings then the album transitions from haunted pain to a leathered strength. The album highlight “Formaciones Rojas” is tattered and spattered by mud, but it dances with a fire in its eyes that pushes past appearances. It’s a moment when the album rises past fear and anguish to embrace cultural power in the face of a scale tipping further from the favor of the masses. The track ends with protesters chanting “We’ll be back,” It’s a rallying moment fueled by discontent that seems to galvanize, but its followed by songs that are more chaotic and less sure. “Biznagas” shoulders a heavy heart that feels parched and solemn and the seemingly resilient “Call For Unity” buzzes around in a storm of horns that are more disorienting and ridden with anxiety that unifying.

This all leads to the crusher of a climax, “Note From The Underground.” At almost twenty minutes, the sidelong séance attempts to harness both the anxious energy and the hardened strength into one giant wave of humanity. The song is full of the buzzing energy, often times hard to hack through with the nimblest ears, but the swirling strands become patterns that weave ropes to pull down the walls. There’s light at the end of Borderlands, but just like the real-life tangles it works to unwind it’s a tough road out to that light.



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Oh Sees

So, here we are at the crossroads again, another Oh Sees album has hit the table and its time to weigh in. I feel like most of these reviews run down as check in to say: “yeah Dwyer’s still a singular force in garage-psych and we should all be grateful.” There’s always some sonic shift worth noting, though, so here goes. After last year’s double bill, two album exploration of slippery psych, followed by an exorcism of their acoustic roots, the band is charging ahead heavier than ever. Don’t believe me, just check that cover. There’s a demon enshrined in fire. Things don’t get much heavier than that before you break out corpse paint and an organ made of bones. Sonically, Smote Reverser is pulled apart by rhythm, thanks in no small part to the double drum setup of Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon. Naturally, as you can imagine, once you go double drum its time to get serious with the prog touches, and that’s just what the Oh Sees damn well do. They brought in Tom Dolas for some keys on last year’s mellow meltdown Memory of a Cut Off Head but this time he’s going full Keith Emerson with triple stack complexities that burn hot enough to iron that Yes patch on your threadbare denim vest.

To be sure, these touches all set the stage and dress things nice, but what were all here for is the 300-mph wormhole shred of John Dwyer and for that Smote Reverser does not disappoint. There’s plenty of acrobatic string slinging, punctuated by Dwyer’s now trademarked echoplex howl. His riffs bite at the void and dissolve into effects explosions that cascade through the speakers with a molten growl. The record’s not just heavy though, its nimble too – Dwyer plays guitar with a restless soul, seemingly amusing himself as much as us, the listeners. Still this isn’t the one note heavy hammer that the cover makes it out to be. It’s not all dry ice, devil horns and ear damage. While they turn up the screams to hardcore and bring down the heat on “Overthrown,” they just as easily knock the atmosphere down to simmer for the openings of “Last Peace” and “Moon Bog.” The band knows that without time to breathe, there’s no way to appreciate the sweat.

Without question its another quality Oh Sees LP and once more it seems the game is Dwyer trying to outdo himself with each record. So, as with every release that comes hurtling down from the psych asteroid the band occupies this is an essential addition of weight to your no doubt bursting Oh Sees section on the shelf. The heads already know and the rest better catch up or be left behind to soak in the Sulphur smoke trailing behind Smote Reverser.



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Mountain Movers – “This City”

Connecticut’s Mountain Movers are plowing back into the calamitous cloud of doom-psych that’s driven their feedbacker souls for the past few years. The first cut from the upcoming Pink Skies is a scorched-Earth flayer that proves yet again that few guitarists are touching the nebula of psych as feverishly as Kryssi Battalene. The song wades in hooded and hollowed but by the end Battalene brings a torrent of guitar evil down from on high, obliterating anything in her path with an apocalypse shred. Be warned, this is just a 3 ½ minute dose of what’s lurking on their upcoming LP. Hopefully the world’s ready to receive this psych reckoning with open arms.



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Dentist

Well its pretty hard to give leeway to anyone trying to cop the term “Night Swimming” as an album and /or song title at this stage of the game. R.E.M. enshrined the term in their take on adolescent nerves and few could help to dissociate it from their heart wrenching weeper. That said, NJ trio Dentist kickshift the term in the opposite direction of that ‘90s classic. On Night Swimming the band spit-polish garage pop then muddy their footprints on the way out of hanger with a good dose of grunge crunch. The album’s blessed with a fizzy disposition and most of the songs drive hard through caffeinated bounce tempos that are only exacerbated by Emily Bornemann’s helium and heat vocals.

The band is primarily the work of Emily and partner Justin Bornemann and perhaps it’s a couple’s mind-meld gives the band their locked-in immediacy – though shouts to the drummer holding down a good bash while likely pulling the short straw power dynamic in this scenario. While, the album courses along on cotton candy hooks, there’s a hardened heart beating underneath all that sugared froth. There are moments that wink with knowing looks, but the band has a penchant for messy interpersonal tangles that more often than not end in heartache. Lets hope that the tales of betrayal that burrow under the bubblegum are buried in the past, at least for the Bornemanns’ sake.

The band is admittedly at their best when careening around the room in a power pop ping pong that’s infectious, if not laden with a certain nostalgia for the indomitable spirit of youth. Though the band is just as adept at peeling back the curtain on the inevitable hangover that spirit often leaves in its wake. The band proves they can bring down the lights for the hushed “All Is Well (In Hell)” and ominously titled “Owl Doom Pt.2,” each reveling in the murkier side of that coin. It’s a solid effort, that while not necessarily shaking the world’s tree, goes a long way to wrap up love’s bite in a sprightly package of garage glitter that’s pulls plenty of smiles along the way.





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Anna St. Louis – “Understand”

Well there seems to be a unanimous love for this today, but hell, “Understand” is a hard song to ignore. St. Louis’ debut tape for Mare / Woodsist was homespun, sounding like a backporch 8-track session that traded in the intimate and spare. Going in with that cassette in mind, the polish on this first peek at her new album, If Only There Was a River, is considerable. The production from Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby has wrangled her beautiful songcraft into the kind of lush country that often fell by the wayside commercially but accrued critical fans and massive cult followings. The label has name checked Townes here, and that’s not far off, but this one’s got more of a Guy Clark vibe (think “She Ain’t Going Nowhere”) mixed with the pristine pop of Nico’s less bracing days.

St. Louis’ vocals ring rich and true, imbuing the song with the kind of classic charm that endears vocalists like Françoise Hardy, Bridget St. John or the aforementioned Nico to a certain swath of filmmakers. The accompanying video is a slow crawl through gorgeous terrain and works as a nice backdrop to the stunner that Anna lays on us all with this song. Gotta hope the rest of the album lives up to this, but with that crew attached and her songwriting skills, it might be safe to rest easy in that department. The LP is out in October, again on Mare / Woodist.



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School Damage – “Meeting Halfway”

School Damage swing in with their second single off of the upcoming A to X and it solidifies this as one of the top tier releases to get excited for this summer. The track’s a Jake-led ripper charging in high on a swell of keys and backup coos. It’s proof positive that the band has wrapped up post-punk and jangle into the perfect pop package for hot weather hi-jinks. Sweetening the pot is an excellent stop-motion video that’s an aesthetic match for the song’s off-kilter pounce. Much respect to the band’s Carolyn Hawkins for the time-intensive process it must have taken to get this together. If this record isn’t on your list of pre-Fall necessities then rectify that immediately. The LP’s out at the end of August on Chapter Music.

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Forma

Brooklyn’s Forma follow their cosmic comedown album Physicalist from 2016 with the propulsive, glistening sounds of Semblance. On the last go ‘round the band split their impulses between sides. The opening half of the album embracing the skitter and propulsion of Krautrock given electronic tendrils. The back half, on the other hand, took a suite of songs down a much more Kosmiche road, spreading its attention between synth float, drone and free jazz. This time they’re not keeping the halves of their personality at arm’s length and in turn they create a layered retrofuturist pop album that’s just as likely to dazzle in plastic and glass refractions as it is to siphon the anxiety out of the room via meditative haze.

Its an extension of Physicalist to be honest, but the coherence here makes the last album seem like sketches for the more elaborate arc of Semblance. They weave the weapons of their psychedelic journey in a more articulate fashion this time. Ebbing and flowing in chapters, the album moves from synth scratched with sax through mechanical Zen, into a palpable play on technological anxiety and settles into lucid dreams that are almost too real. By the time the listener is entering “New City,” its hard to know if we can trust our own eyes or ears. The moment is refreshing, but also feels like one might be able to reach out and touch the elastic and static crinkle of VR film holding in this surreal serenity.

Somewhere there’s a film missing a solid score in this, and its definite highlight in the band’s catalog. There’s no lack of synth slingers who are aiming for the raised bar on Kosmiche clatter, but with Semblance Forma have come into their own. Even if you’ve tired of the dystopian drift and cosmic checkboxes that so many in this genre hit regularly, Forma have given these touchstones a new life and a reason to float out into the ether once more.





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