RSTB Best of 2017

So this year is drawing to a close, or almost, we’re still a few weeks away from pushing the broken pieces of 2017 into the trash. There’s no real solace from a lot of the events that took place this year, but, independent of any current events, music has been kind to us all this year. These are the records that spent the most time on the turntable over here. Yeah, I know its kind of a lot, but there were far too many good ones that haven’t been getting the shouts they need elsewhere. Lets say this serves as both a best of and a most overlooked in one go. If you enjoy ’em, buy ’em if you can. Don’t do them the disservice of just bumping up the streaming numbers.

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Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys

Though I’ve always balked at the name, Aussies Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys have consistently thrown down a good dose of sore-throated rock n’ roll. They pull from the wave that saw alt-rock rippers rise, riding into major label stardom and branching into either infamy or obscurity at the whims of a nation of radio listeners. For their part, the band leans harder towards infamy on Rot, dredging up more than a few leathered licks from the traditions of The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Volcano Suns. The Boys know a good riff when they find one, but they’re ready to dive past hooks and into a muddier tangle of rock than most of their peers. And while they may share Joe Sukit with labelmates Royal Headache, they’ve buried his trademarked howl under a tar thick swipe of grunge.

The album’s scraped and scarred, rolled in beer and not a small amount of mischief for a night out. Though that makes them sound like teenagers on a bender, it’s more along the lines of college lads bored and wandering town, looking for the matchlight of fun that winds up the fodder for eternal stories. They succeed in capturing the kind of loose boredom that inhabits youth, the restless heart and shaggy demeanor that’s not quite come of age, but tryin.’ Rot is decidedly classic in its approach, swerving some of the current slacker trends and jangled impressions flittering through the Aussie underground. For their part they’ve gone in looking to create something that sounds like it already belongs to a gilded age of passed down classics and succeeded quite handily.




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First Base

For all the heavy records that roll through here, I am and will always be a sucker for a good ole fashioned power pop record. There’s something about hitting that sweet spot between bubblegum’s sundown and the heartflutter of punk before its more serious sneers took down its most fun peers. That’s the valley Toronto’s First Base occupy. The band’s second record shimmy shines their sound to a high gloss polish that’s as evident in its love for the Yellow Pills highlights of yesteryear as it is for modern contempos like Barreracudas, Gentleman Jesse, Mother’s Children or Wyatt Blair. There are shades of ennui in some of these gems, but they’re all quickly blown away by a core of chewy, hi-gloss, platform stompin’, skinny tie totin’ power pop.

It’s tempting for modern makers to tumble into the pitfalls of pop-punk, toughening the classic formula just a touch too much, tipping the fulcrum from wide-eyed earnestness and into cheeky childishness. On Not That Bad the Canadians steer wide of coming off pubescent and recapture the hip-swung brashness and heartfelt delivery of everyone who fell under the sway of Cheap Trick and Tommy Roe in equal measure. The album is a familiar splash of cool water on a hot day, refreshing as hell in a year that’s not exactly brimming with positive vibes and good time reasons to just dance it out. Maybe that’s why this one feels perfect just now. Sometimes I want something to salt the wounds so I don’t forget the pain, but just as often its nice to just scrub it all away and take a helium hit to the skull that’s frivolous fun for five or ten minutes (or you know maybe 30).





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Lars Finberg

Remember how a certain T. Segall has been dropping some coarse post-punk nuggets, with a heaping helping of Mikal Cronin squalling on the sax? Seems like perhaps those choice moments might have found some incubation in Segall’s collaboration and production of Lars Finberg’s new LP. The first solo outing from Finberg comes late into a career as a noise-pop and garage go-to – holding down time in The Intelligence, A-Frames, Wounded Lion and Thee Oh Sees. However, he seems perfectly at home with his name above the marquee and hunkered down with his cadre of collaborators. The LP isn’t wholly absent from the space that The Intelligence has occupied, but Moon Over Bakersfield certainly hits its own marks, spreading roots into alien punk and acerbic post-punk with equal zeal.

Finberg feels like he’s sinking into a comfortable relationship with discomfort here, doing his best to unseat pop’s stranglehold on indie as often as possible. The record revels in acid-washed sax, dissociated vocal effects and claustrophobic atmospheres, but it also locks down a serious addiction to groove. Finberg rides the bass like a guiding light, peddling rhythm grunged by a heaping helping of distortion as a daily fix. He’s peeling back the skin on his past and letting the sulfur burn away at the tissues of 2017 in a way that’s as addicting as it is unsettling. If you’ve only met Finberg tangentially prior, it’s time to hit him head on.




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Jon Porras

Been a while since Jon Porras has been in all our lives, but fear not, he’s making up the lost time with a new solo outing for Geographic North. Over the years, whether solo or with Barn Owl, Porras has found a way to shape atmosphere into hardened glass and to sublimate tones straight to a gaseous torrent of sound that swirls like a storm with teeth. This album, a treatise on algorithmic vs improvised music sees him steadily eroding the staunch mechanics of preset rhythms into a fine powder set loose on the the winds.

He opens the album with a breath of positivity, burbling with synths and a minimal crispness. By the time the next two tracks hit there’s no sign of any sunny demeanor, only the kind of long-faced dread that’s fed by drought and drunk on death. He lifts the veil somewhat as he progresses (especially on “22/7”) but that nagging seed of dread is present and peeling the paint on your resolve through the end of the album. Porras remains, as ever, the master of stark seances that seem to breathe life into mechanical objects. It’s clear that he’s working within the realm of electronic music here but as the tracks breathe and howl, it’s easy to forget the circuits and let the drones weave with your sinews.




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Mixtape: Children of the Sun

Now I know that I’ve explored softer psych on the very first mixtape, but it’s such incredible territory that it begs for at least one more. This time there’s less of an outright gloomy demeanor, touching more on the bittersweet melancholy that so many bands of the ’67-70 period were able to capture. Call it sunshine psych if you will and sit back into lush harmonies that usher in that twinge of cold in the air. The artwork is inspired by ’60s master cover artist Marcus Keef who had an uncanny way of capturing the spirit of psychedelia through film innovation. Tracklist and stream are after the jump.

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Alexander

It’s been a fertile year for New Haven, CT. Between releases from Mountain Movers, Headroom, and now David Shapiro’s Alexander, they’re pushing a few of their best and brightest out into the larger world. Alexander differs from the other two in sheer volume alone. Despite having a role in Headroom, Shapiro trades in none of their Earth crumbling riffs or walls of chaos. Instead, Alexander embraces the Takoma catalog for its homespun take on fingerpicked blues. Though, while Shapiro’s clearly a student of the Fahey, Basho, Kotke school, he’s leaning away from any of the jovial, rambling sunshine that might pervade the fingerpicked set. Instead, there’s a somber meditation to his debut LP that gives it weight even where his fingers dance.

He’s scraping away at the new school pickers that have sprung up before him, honing in on the drones and darkness inherit in Ben Chasny, Daniel Bachman, Richard Bishop and James Blackshaw’s contemporary takes on the spirit of strings. The eponymous LP winds slowly through grey-skied hills, still giving a shade of country side blues, but the countryside is more Scottish hills hued in silver than any sunny American delta. There’s a crispness to the record that begs the listener to pull a coat tight around their shoulders and tuck down into a bottle. Admittedly, that darkness is inviting. As proper debuts go (though he’s got plenty of small formats floating around before this), it’s a fair shot and a welcome voice from a verdant New England scene.




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Joel Gion

For a guy most famous for his tambourine work, Joel Gion’s got quite a range on his eponymous LP for Beyond Beyond is Beyond. The artist, best known for his work as auxiliary percussionist/ hype man for the great psychedelic circus that is The Brian Jonestown Massacre has explored his own psych leanings before, most notably on 2014’s Apple Bonkers, but here he lifts off into his own lush vision of lounge psychedelics. Drenched in flute, wafting with synth atmospheres and practically breathing a smoke of its own, the album is oscillating between the spires of Spiritualized, The Telescopes and the more languid arm of Tropicalia (think Tom Ze’s ’68-’70 work or London exile-era Caetano Veloso).

That combination of candlelit confessionals and pillowy effects makes for a unique vision of modern psych that’s a touch lighter, not afraid to wander into territory that could be construed as indulgently soft. There are certainly lite jazz elements here, but Gion’s ability to drop back into a lush, cinematic swirl of salsa makes the album feel every bit like it could serve as the backdrop to a casino scene in any given Connory-led Bond film. Gion’s albums don’t come out at a rushed pace, and while his name still garners more recognition with Jonestown than it ever will on its own, this is a choice nugget for collectors of a decidedly luxurious psych format, one that leaves behind any notions of Beatles vs. Stones and makes its home in the clouds far above such touchstones.



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Ty Segall – “The Main Pretender”

Gettin’ hard to resist these Segall gems, dropping almost bi-weekly now like a necessary dosage. The latest pushes aside the laconic cool of “My Baby’s On Fire” for a fever-sweat vision of glam that’s panting with weird lust and shaking with crossfired nerves. It’s an infected descendant of Roxy-era sleaze-rock taken to the logical extreme. Mikal Cronin returns to blow sax on this one, but this time he isn’t providing mere sunset accompaniment to Segall’s house-light comedown, not in the slightest. This time he’s out for blood and bile, cutting through the riffs with a serrated groove that’s sharpened its spines on the back of James Chance’s singular vision from years before. There have been some choice cuts in this multi-hued basket of treats, but none have lacerated like this.




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John Dwyer on Eddie Harris – I Need Some Money

There have been a few artists that remain the cornerstones of RSTB coverage, and without a doubt those are ones I’ve had on the wishlist for the Hidden Gems feature since it started up a couple of years back. Teetering near the top of that list has always been the madman John Dwyer. Thee Oh Sees have spanned 20 releases now and show no sign of slowing. Dwyer’s seared psych has always shown nods to some deeper cuts in the ’60s canon, and his latest LP stripped things back to a decidedly glycerine, serene version of the sound. I’d expected maybe a run towards that route, but that’s what keeps these pieces so interesting. Catching up with Dwyer, he gave an account of how Eddie Harris’ 1975 album I Need Some Money came into his life and the long-lasting impact it’s had on him.

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