Traffik Island

On his solo debut, Zak Olsen (ORB, Hierophants, The Frowning Clouds) casts a subtler shadow than he does with ORB. The record strips away any semblance of the doom-shaking freak fuzz and Sabbath hangovers that have permeated the trio’s work. However, the shaky, whimsical footprint of Syd Barrett remains. In fact, the affectation not only remains, but becomes the guiding light for Nature Strip. The record reclines in pools of purple light, slips through the kaleidoscope’s eye and revels in an impish glee that’s only been hinted at in Olsen’s other projects. Its not just the Madcap magician that makes his stamp (though it is indeed the boldest imprint), this appears to be an album built from the bricks of fragile souls. Its pop as purveyed by Kevin Ayers, Skip Spence, Roky and Twink, and Olsen has lovingly recreated a lush world of bemused wonder that would befit any of them.

As the volume and fuzz have ducked out of view Olsen eagerly replaces them with a palette of mercurial keys and chiming guitars, not to mention a bevy of swooning strings and flutes. The record is pastoral and peaceful, but with a mischievous smile. Olsen feels like he’s having fun playing the part of the damaged artist – indulging every inch of the studio while creating beauty and weirdness in equal measures. This bubbles over a bit with the almost too spot-on Syd dribble “Lazy Cat,” but in most other cases he’s drawn the caricature lysergic psych-folk with a steady hand and pleasingly good-natured wit. There was often a lingering darkness that made the works of the ‘60 acid-damaged set as tragic as they were enjoyable, but Olsen finds a way to imbue the genre with a playfulness that doesn’t end in pain.



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Drugdealer – “Fools”

To accept Drugdealer is to buy into the notion that reverence for influences can become so fervent that it scratches up against the edges of schtick. There’s a fine line between what Fred Armisen is doing with Blue Jean Committee and what Michael Collins and crew are doing with Drugdealer. It shouldn’t matter so much – 60’s adherents are a rampant among garage and alt-pop types. Riffling through the racks of Nilsson, Fleetwood Mac, Todd Rundgren and Carol King records should be met with the same acceptance for indulgence. This is specially true since here, with the aid of fellow smooth sailor Mac DeMarco producing, Collins nails the kind of studio rat sloughed confidence and slick earworm styles that dominated the AOR airwaves. Naturally these tropes only came to be seen as passe by a generation of ’90s kids railing against the music that dominated their parent’s car radio – hence the rub. “Fools” is almost uncanny in its appropriation and deadly in its accuracy in mining groove-baiting cocaine-cooled visions of Laurel Canyon folk heroes gone glossy. Love it or lump it (I fall in the former camp), you got to admit they’re pulling it off.



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The Oilies – “Psychic Dog”

A while back I posted a homespun digital single from Carly Putnam, aka The Oilies, and now the artist is stepping out with her physical debut for the always charming Fruits & Flowers. Having spent time in The Art Museums, The Mantles, Horrid Red, and The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Carly’s well versed in the pastel-hued jangles that tend to drizzle down the window panes of the sould and “Psychic Dog” doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The first cut from the EP lopes through a set of competing strums set against the click-stop backdrop of drum machine snap. The track is wistful and wanting, combining the simple charms of Marine Girls with the pulse n’ pine of Jazzateers. For those who readily wander down the lesser traveled paths of the ‘80s this is just what the grey-skied winters ordered.



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Sparrow Steeple – “Roll Baby”

Philadelphia’s Sparrow Steeple tap into an imagined lineage in which the grimoire obsessions of 70’s occult psychedelia never shook its hold on the world. Like Wolf People and Black Mountain before them they’ve sliced through the acid blotter and come out the other side dodging wizards and wolfmen with only the aid of blistering psych and folk rock to protect them. The band, which is comprised of ex-members of Strapping Fieldhands, continues the traditions of their former front, picking up a penchant for drinking songs and sea shanties wrangled into psychedelic alchemy. Album opener “Roll Baby” sees the band at their most raucous – cohering the electric shakedown with a dose of barroom harmonica (courtesy of Philly’s own “Harmonica” Dan Balcer) and some biting background vocals that give the song a dizzying off-the-rails quality. While it threatens to burn down the stage at any moment, the song holds on until the smoke dies down to smolder and ash. The band’s sophomore album is out on Trouble in Mind April 5th.



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Sleeper & Snake

While Sleeper & Snake pairs up the great Al Montfort and Amy Hill, who’ve both found themselves in league as band mates in Terry, the album isn’t quite the pop pairing that it seems on the surface. The hint lies in the name – Sleeper & Snake. Last year Montfort released a record titled Snake & Friends which shied away from his strums, jangles, and geniality for a record that was steeped in offbeat electronics and free jazz fizz. This is, by many measures, an offshoot of that record and not quite a brand new beginning. Though the two hint at a duo dynamic throughout, crafting some bittersweet janglers like the first single “Sugar and Gold,” which recounts the sordid backstory of Queensland with a breezy beat and the pair’s time-tested askew harmonies.

Montfort peppers the album with plenty of his Snake-style freeform dropout fare, buzzing against the cloudy charms of the opener and fellow janglers “Wisdom Vermin” and “The Lucknow Sound.” At times they threaten to overwhelm the album, but there’s more here than just sound collage sandwiched between a couple of singles. The pair push the pop envelope on the triptych on side one, “Junction and High” (pts 1, 2, & 3). They ease in strumming, but less palatable than they’d offered on the opener – a moth-eaten pop song that’s only letting the chaos consume it as it works its way through the second and third movements. In this portion of the album they show the heavy influence of Elephant Sixers like Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System – holding a similar glee in letting their gold peek through the din for those willing to walk the maze.

For a debut it holds a lot of promise, though I know that both artists have so much on their plate this may be a one off, which would be too bad. Its got a lot of promise as a premise, though I’d think they should embrace that E6 mafia mentality full bore. If you whittle down the noisemakers under the 1:30 mark and stretch it out with a few more high concept pop like “Jangle and High” this could work its way towards jangle-psych bliss. Still, its by no means a miss for two Aussie pop smiths at the top of their game. Though for many their hand will be seeking the skip button or nabbing the needle, this is an ambitious swing with a lot to love.



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Modern Nature – “Supernature”

As I may have mentioned before, I was saddened when Ultimate Painting not only folded last year, but also pulled their final album from release. It was a masterful pop album that deserved light, even if its creators were sent splitting in two different, irreconcilable directions. All is not lost, however. While UP has been consigned to the land of wind and ghosts, the two creative forces behind the band are, in fact, inexhaustible hubs of musical fare. It would seem that Jack Cooper is already onto his newest venture, releasing three new tracks as Modern Nature.

With a mutable lineup, that here includes keyboardist Will Young, drummer Aaron Neveu (Woods), cellist Ruper Gillett, and saxophonist Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers), Cooper sets out to conquer a considerably more expansive end of the musical spectrum than he has dabbed in in the past. With a heavy investment in modal psych, the new EP embraces Cooper’s previous touches on psychedelic pop but drops through about six layers of mind fuzz further into the frosted ether for a sound that’s build on circular drones, sweat lodge sax hallucinations and a quasar-nudging foray into psychedelic chakra expansion. Its a surprising heel turn, but a welcome one nonetheless . Check the first track, which tops out around twelve minutes of cosmic float. The EP is out on Bella Union, March 22nd.

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Garcia Peoples – “High Noon Violence”

If you’re just now finding your way to Garcia Peoples, well, then I feel sorry for you. Their last album was a true gem of Cosmic Americana and you’ve been missing out. However, I also feel excited for you, go dive through the debut and get ready for the follow-up, which is shaping up to be another heady journey through high-minded, body-buzz jam workouts. The band lets loose today with the torrent “High Noon Violence,” a knotted gem besieged with overcast harmonies and flooded with their usual unspoken imprint of The Dead – though flashes of New Riders and Mountain Bus wash over the rinds of their guitar salad as well as this track kicks into high gear. Its a definite highlight from the upcoming Natural Facts which lands at the end of March on their old stomping grounds, Beyond Beyond is Beyond.



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Boyracer – “Strong Arms / Teardrops”

Emotional Response continues to be a lifeline to Sarah Records in the here and now. After a string of reissues, including Even As We Speak, Action Painting, and Boyracer’s own earl EPs, the label is now working with the band on a new album due out later in the year But, bonus on bonus, these two non-album cuts have found their way out into the world early via a 75-run lathe cut single. “Strong Arms” is picks up nicely where vintage Boyracer left off, pinning a splash of fuzz to the jangle that long pervaded the Sarah roster. The song tumbles over itself in pure exhumeerance, veering wildly in its lane and spilling confetti out of the windows as it speeds away. The flip isn’t quite as breathless, but its a jolt of joy nontheless, if you can wrap old habits around Boyracer sneering about streaming albums. For fans of the band’s career (which stretched long after the seminal label folded through Slumberland, A Turntable Friend and Fluff Records) this is another great entry to their pristine run.



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Holiday Ghosts

UK four-piece Holiday Ghosts began molding their sound on their eponymous debut, but they’ve cemented it on the follow-up, West Bay Playroom. Named after their recording and rehearsal space, an actual playroom in guitarist’s Sam Stacpoole’s childhood home, the album has an appropriate feeling of playfulness and a loose-slung ease that feels less like a band nailing takes and more like a band simply enjoying themselves with luck keeping the tape rolling. Antithetical to many of their UK counterparts, the record is shaggy, loose and jangled in a way that’s more akin to Aussie exports, Athens indie-pop purveyors, and downstream Boston jangle-punks hung on Jonathan Richman now and forever.

The songwriting bounces nicely between Stacpoole and the equal charms of drummer Katja Rackin, but the band’s got a knack for sunny-sky harmonies that make every song feel like a family affair. They cycle through their jangles with an egalitarian ear – bouncing from the paisley popped blues of the ‘60s through Go-Betweens sleekness of the ‘80s. Yet they push beyond the sometimes high-buttoned affectations of the style, instead injecting a jocularity, humor and twang that feels like they have a few copies of Violent Femmes, Camper Van Beethoven, and Meat Puppets knocking around their personal collections as well. Ultimately, the record coheres into a fun rumble through racks that never feels cobbled together, but rather cherry picked with an eclectic love for bittersweet pop and four conduits built to pull it off without a hitch.



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Bench Press – “Respite”

Melbourne’s Bench Press release a blunt force blast of a single – the wiry, nervy post-punk nug “Respite” for Poison City and knock it up a notch with an excellently crisp infographic inferring video created by Defero Productions. The song is tough and sinewy, as their work has been in the past, but this time it’s got a breathless immediacy to it as well. The song huffs steam and belches bass, but it’s the solar-plexus-jolt of Jack Stavrakis’ vocals that draw the attention the most. His voice is an instrument of constrained chaos locked onto a song that singes like science – a perfect mesh of hi/low tensions that brings to mind a host of Dischord alumni and their own homeland’s heroes Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Check the design nerd eye candy above.

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