A. Savage

Here’s the thing, as a band Parquet Courts lost me a while back. I championed Light Up Gold because it captured a certain moment in the slide of Brooklyn from youthful intrusion to full on infestation of wealth. It was a feeling in time mimeographed and cut to groove, but as the band continued they became more wrapped up in their own lineage and legacy than seemed necessary. The deadpan dynamics and new wave plundering fell too antiseptic on my shores. That’s not to discount Andrew Savage as a songwriter, he’s proven he’s got an angle that sells and a poet’s heart that lends itself well to the Jonathan Richman patter that he’s able to slip into seamlessly.

So it winds up that he’s gone back home to his roots in Texas and a brand of lonesome country pining for his latest, and here he finds his second wind. The album boasts no shortage of talent, swapping out his usual backing band for a bevy of friends and compatriots from Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, and Psychic TV. The assembled masses take his drip dry delivery on a tour of the Southwest, grasping hands with slide guitar and an amiable amble without ever affecting any hackneyed country croon. Instead he staples his best Calvin Johnson talking blues to the tumbleweeds of alt-country and, at times, a starker strain that boils the noise out of his boots and lets an acerbic twinge show through the relaxed demeanor of Thawing Dawn.

This is actually where the album shines brightest, when the noise overwhelms the swagger (see: “What Do I Do”). The moment that the veneer is broken and the brain starts to boil compliments the easy going country ambivalence. There are some choice ballads here that showcase Savage’s handle on being the lonesome foal among a herd that might not love him back, but when he lets fly a brand of noise-country I’m fully invested in what he’s selling. There are those that will brand this a solo outing unmoored from his Parquet work, adrift and looking for purchase, but for me that’s where Savage excels. By balancing ennui painted in sunset hues and itching uncertainty, he’s found an explanation of what drifting into your thirties in the city feels like.




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Headroom

New Haven psych institution Mountain Movers are driven by the restrained fury of guitarist Kryssi Battalene, but whatever impossible dynamics she’s laid down in the past for her mainstay, she’s doubled down on for her own solo work as Headroom. The band’s debut, Head In The Clouds opens with “How To Grow Evil Flowers, a track which certifiably burns down the farm and walks away with a serial killer stare. The guitars are charred, carcinogenic, and aching for more at each and every turn – but what really cements Headroom is that slash n’ burn psych isn’t what defines them.

As the record sidles into the second track there are overt notes of shoegaze that crop up. Battalene’s voice is lost inside a squall, but it’s calm and crouching, a stark contrast to the opener’s napalm glow of guitar fire. The remainder of the album balances these two forces, struggling to see which one wins out. There’s always a notion that Battalene will catch fire like a human torch of bottled emotion and burn the whole track down but the tension that drives that question is the heart and backbone of the entire endeavor. She’s a master of dialed in dynamics, surfing the wave of feedback like a seasoned vet. Where others might easily go in for excess and opulence in the realm of psychedelic fury, Battalne is as nuanced as they come.

This year also saw a record from Mountain Movers, and I must say that it was a captivating release, one that caught my ear and revealed how much the homegrown New Haven band had to offer. She’s saved the best work for her self, though, waiting out her tenure to begin bleeding a feedback whirlwind all over two sides of flat black plastic. This is the eye and the storm, the flame and the fuel. The record winds up both the calm you need and the spark to set it all ablaze, and for that Battalene has bested a good swath of her peers who’d falter in the same challenge.




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Parsnip – “Health”

There’s been a bit of a decline in girl-group punk swagger since the heydays of lo-fi faded into the background, but Parsnip brings the sound rushing back in full color for their debut single on Anti-Fade. The track is swooning with ’60s vocal harmonies but rooted in the Paisley-punk of bands like The Pandoras, doubling down on twangin’ guitars and squirming organ. The song is caffeinated cool, careening around hooks with a sugar buzz that’s pretty damn hard to ignore. Why would you possibly want to, though? This is a top-down stoplight dance party from start to finish and I’m keeping it on repeat.




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VA – Even A Tree Can Shed Tears

Light in the Attic, like Numero, has never gone in for half measures. When a release is compiled, they’re throrough, swaddling it in impeccable design and restoring lost music to its rightful place on your speakers. So, with this in mind it was an exciting announcement that the label would be starting a new Japanese archival series looking at different scenes and subgenres throughout the region. Their first take puts the focus on the ’60s and the folk movement that grew out of student protests, “authentic folk” leanings and the beginnings of psychedelic folk. Much of this came under the banner of “New Music” which tied together the Eastern and Western regional strains.

The collection is stitched with a wonderful slide in and out of the more authentic, stripped-down artists, many of whom find a plaintive beauty in their compositions. The songs are clearly leaning away from what would have been traditional Japanese folk, but also working in the same way that their British and American counterparts had contrasted the more pop sounding beat groups. While there’s certainly an argument to be made for more Japanese traditional influence to rear its head, this collection stands as an interesting argument for the West’s pervasiveness on young people at the time.

Light in the Attic has shone a light over many voices that seem left out of the current conversation in Japanese music. It’s easy to connect the dots between Takashi Nishioka’s subtle boil of fuzz and later works by Masaki Batoh. For me, personally, so much of my contact with Japanese music is rooted in the noisier ends of psych, the discordant ends of rock and, when scrubbed up, the more beat-leaning ’60s groups like Jacks or Apryl Fool. It’s great to have a collection that brings the underground beauty of these artists to the foreground. Can’t wait to see what LIA digs into in this series next, but for now, this one’s a keeper.

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Odd Hope – “Reasons I Will Not Say”

Been a while since I’ve heard from Odd Hope, the solo project from Tim Tinderholt, but he’s back in fine jangled form on new track “Reasons I Will Not Say”. Still chasing the fading tail of the Sarah Records ghost, Tinderholt again creates a song that’s gently bumping the nostalgia centers of the brain. Full of wistful sighs and softly crying keys, it’s more fleshed out than the first single that he put out a few years back on Fruits & Flowers, a sign that the upcoming LP is shaping up to be a real jangle-pop contender. Produced by Skygreen Leopards’ Glenn Donaldson, the LP, also on the small SF imprint, is the label’s first full-length proper. If the rest of Tinderholt’s songs shape up as beautifully spare as this, then we’d all better keep an eye out for what’s sure to be a hushed classic in the making.




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Wireheads

Its starting to get frustrating shouting into the dark about Wireheads. Dom Trimoboli and his deck shuffled band of musicians have been consistently finding the spark to light up the parched outback punk that threads is way through their releases and it feels like someone should be taking notice. They pick up the thread of sandpapered alternative that waxed experimental in the ’90s, feeling every bit like they’re holed up at Fort Apache rather than a hidden island in Anacortes, Wa. But, to follow their muse, the band again returns to the American Northwest for aid from discordant divining rod Calvin Johnson, a match that seemed serendipitous two albums ago and now feels like perfect symbiosis.

With Johnson at the boards, this record expands on the magnification of hooks that took place on Big Issues, producing some of the band’s downright catchiest songs to date. Their sound began to coalesce on Arrive Alive, letting Trimboli become comfortable in surroundings that weren’t as barbed as their debut, but here he sounds more confident in his prowess than ever. There’s no shortage of dissonance, but it’s coating some real pop nuggets here. Rolling their strums and squalls in the shattered glass trappings of The Fall and the jittery explosiveness of The Pixies, Wireheads are making the kind of weird, wandering, addictive records that used to flesh out the world of college radio long before CMJ took a tumble.

I hate to try to squeeze a little life out of the expression “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” but it might just be the best way to sum up Lightning Ears. Wireheads are a band making records for themselves, clearly not giving two shits what stylistic notions are de rigueur, home or abroad, they simply channel the shaggy beauty that rumbles underneath the itchy skin of of Aussie indie, poking at the comfortability of slacker pop in the process.




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David West with Teardrops

Ah goddamnit, just when the term supergroup lost its last shred of meaning, David West had to go and assemble The Teardrops, a backing band that would fit the term if they really needed a set in stone label. Thing is, they don’t. The record plays like a collaboration of friends sketching out the best Aussie pop that’s been hurtled down the belt this year. Featuring Bob Jones of Eaters, Louis Hooper of Rat Columns, Mikey Young of Total Control/Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Raven Mahon of Grass Widow, the friends in particular flesh out a well-oiled pop machine that churns hooks and makes it all just look effortless. It would be impressive on its own if West hadn’t also cobbled together the charming new Rat Columns record earlier in the year, making this his second spotless classic of 2017.

Cherry On Willow is rife with cream-thick basslines that squirm underneath a frothing batch of new wave pop cut high with enough sparkling pleasures to fill out any dream playlist. Taken together, though, the album zigs though the many tessellations that made new wave and post-punk such indefinable genres. He’s dubbing out to blissed atmospheres one minute and cutting us down with knife-edge guitars in the next. West is a master pop chameleon, but his most enduring quality might be his ability to stitch stylistic gaps without making an album sound woefully disjointed.

Cherry On Willow sounds like an arc, a journey mapped out by someone writing a soundtrack rather than an album. He’s put together the highs and lows with precision. West nails down the euphoria and giddy sheen on the title track, then dives into melancholy on “Time To Forget” and the haunting “Swan’s Beat.” There’s plenty to love on his third solo album proper, and for those that are already in David’s corner this album comes as no real surprise, but a pleasure nonetheless.




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Lee Noble

Like Grouper, Lee Noble resides in a world of shadows and fog, whispered secrets and floating harmonics that are enveloped by the surrounding environs. His latest tape is a continuation of his synth exorcisms, dragging the spirit world for lost transmissions that ferret out the weight of the world on the soul. His pieces aren’t set up for movement, slow and steady, they build as environmental cues – with a focus on imperfections in texture, hues of grey that pock mark floors and walls and a steady rise in atmospheric humidity. It’s as if all of a sudden you’re in Noble’s world and the decay has become a home you can’t leave, or simply lose the resolve to escape.

The beginning of the album works its way through a hazy pre-dawn light, peppered with the kind of low hums that bring to mind mechanical idling. But Noble stacks on emotional swells and, as the album progresses, vocals give the album a heartbreaking quality of faded yearning that feels tied to the degraded universe of Leyland Kirby. The Hell of You Come in erects a farmhouse, empty and full of lonesome ghosts pulling at your every emotion, before letting the whole thing sink into the Earth with a final spectral wail. There are a lot of ways to run ambient and Noble has carved out his own indefinable niche in the sound – one that’s ineffably sad, but packs a hold that won’t soon let go.




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Ciggie Witch – “Shadow”

Melbourne’s Ciggie Witch have found their own shambolic place in the pantheon of Aussie indie, refining and polishing their take since 2014’s Rock and Roll Juice. Alongside similarly conglomerate bands like Scott & Charlene’s Wedding or Wireheads, they’ve followed both pop brilliance and their own oddball impulses. But as with those two bands, when they’re on, they’re fucking on and they prove that with “Shadow,” a dark and sinewy ramble through jangled pastures. The song melds chiming guitars with mournful slide to find a place of bittersweet hope that’s elevated way beyond the fray of your average indie punters domestic or South Hemi. If the song is any barometer, their new tape for Lost and Lonesome is going to be a necessary pickup. Don’t let it get lost in the clutter of this overstuffed Fall.




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Scattered Purgatory

For a band from Taiwan, Scattered Purgatory owe an awful huge debt to Germany. Their latest, Sua-Hiam-Zun, is forged from the same clouded waters that sprang Popul Vuh, Ash Ra Temple and Cluster. The album works with atmosphere as its medium, building tension through a massive cavern of sound that feels as if its sprung up slowly on all sides. The listener is trapped in glacial ice and moved with an inching dread towards fates unknown. The duo seems to merely take the German Progressives as a jump off, however, working their systems into festering, humming dystopian dreamscapes that remain anxious despite limited moving parts.

Synths growl like the bellows of huge furnaces, hot and dry with the arid stink of smelted metal. Those remain the bedrock of Sua-Hiam-Zun, but are often shrouded in a layer of fog that seems unbreakable, as if it stretches clear to the highest reaches of the album’s choked atmosphere. The real movement is contained to clattering and clanging percussive notes that seem to act as the inhabitants of Scattered Purgatory’s universe. Needless to say, that universe has no apparent love for itself – a negative space that’s full of life trapped under glass.

Scattered Purgatory takes aim at both doom and drone on this album and wind up finding the best of both. The widescreen drones, of course, do nothing to relax the mind as the band continues to punch the anxiety centers of our brains at each leaden moment, but the cinematic grandeur also comes with a feeling of strange imprisonment that’s harder and harder to resist as the album progresses. We see the end coming and are almost powerless to stop it, dragged down by dread and fear and perhaps hopelessness, but in its absolute domination of the horizon, the end seems almost breathtaking to behold through Scattered Purgatory’s eyes.




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