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Papercuts

Jason Quever has done the indie arc, working up from charming scrappers like Antenna Farm and Gnomonsong to bigger players like Sub Pop and Easy Sound. Now he’s settling into his seventh album for Slumberland and it feels like a perfect fit. Quever has always straddled the lines between folk-pop and dream pop but he’s never quite blurred the borders like he has here. The record opens with the narcotic, hazy strains of “Mattress on the Floor,” a half-dreamt attempt to work the sleep out of his eyes, but from there he grabs hold of hooks like a man with conviction. Quever conjures melodies to his aid with the deft hand of a seasoned musician, The album is full of strums and swoons, heartbreaks and hubris and each piece of the puzzle has the potential to hook into listeners with a wave of primrose pinpricks. Its an album about leaving behind a life that was supposed to pan out for a new venture that’s no sure thing. As Quever is crushed, so are we but he’s not always playing his hand straight.

The soft focus approach here is what gives Papercuts such purchase in the Slumberland ranks. There’s a jangled core that’s not too far from the folk shores he’s often populated, but this time each song is smudged at the edges like a photo faded by time, colored by the orange and brown hues that eat at old Kodak prints, clouded by dust and fingerprints to the point where the shapes remain, but the details are lost. In the same way he looks back on a relationship set adrift, the mistakes smudged the same as his strums and the details lost by one’s own dusty biases and emotional gaslighting. Parallel Universe Blues is a strong entry to the Papercuts catalog – dreamy and working its way into your life with subtle earworms that are as strong as any at his command. While the album is about leaving pain behind, its also a comforting companion to those who ache and a salve in times of need. Its proof that Quever was never just a tangential folk voice, but a vital one that never quite got his day.



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CAVE

Though they’ve often ebbed and flowed over the years, parceling out their revered releases to a fanbase happy to put some rhythmic ripple in their daily dose of psychedelia, Allways feels like a true high point for CAVE. Cooper Crain has been infinitely busy, splitting time between production credits and the cosmic float of Bitchin’ Bajas, but CAVE’s hold proves too strong and he’s obviously loath to let the band lose their yoke on the pounding pulse that beats beneath the psych heart eternal. With this album they perfect the bio-mechanical motion that’s worked the wheels of CAVE’s core for years, keeping just enough of the motorik menace that’s marked their everlasting Krautrock itch and synthesizing it into a much looser slink. The album fishhooks a South American psych groove alongside ‘70s jazz-funk flutes, toasting them ever so gently in the mountain sun before dropping the hot rock down onto double tape deck speakers for a lap around the park.

Crain and his cohorts prove they know how to splice quasar-crusted ambience with the cosmic slop of funk, barreling out of the bunker like a 300 lb hippie who’s surprisingly light on his feet. This is what the whole hep world would be listening to if Santana and Azimuth replaced every pimpled teen’s Zeppelin obsession. There’s something to be said for an album that could easily fuel the soundtrack of ‘70s Scorsese and at the same time tune up the geodesic domes of the best hippy commune. CAVE has found their formula with this record. Whatever deep dives into the bins Crain and co. have been doing over the last couple of years is paying off nicely. The band had exhausted their search for a new take on the German Progressive niche they’d been exploring since their formation and with the gamble to dose the psych with a heaping helping of wah and wobble they’ve created their best album to date.

Something tells me that CAVE purists might split opinions on the new direction. While the band still has a hand on the cosmic tiller – tunneling through space echo wormholes on “Dusty” and stomping the “flame on” guitar gusto for “Beaux,” the record almost feels like its made by a different band. To me, that’s admirable. That’s the essence of evolution. To some, that might be heresy, but screw the psych luddites, this album was made to burn and if there’s anything you need to have stuck in your car stereo for the next few months, its Allways.

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Charalambides

I’ve mentioned previously that Charalambides exist in a kind of ephemeral limbo between psych, folk, drone and experimental songform. Their music often conjures visions of rites and rituals more than concerts proper. There’s something elemental about what Tom and Christina Carter are invoking. Their songs are scarred by stone and smudged by the ashes of ceremonial fires. In the same way a camera can’t actually trap your soul, the ½ inch tape can’t hope to truly soak up their smolder and infect the listener the way a dusty basement gig can, but Charalambides: Tom and Christina Carter comes as close as any to achieving the impossible. The couple have been scraping at the raw nerves of folk for long enough that they’ve achieved elder statemen status and their latest proves exactly why they’ve remained vital for so many years.

The band itself has existed, even when relegated to hiatus, for well over twenty-five years. Often Charalmabides recedes to the background while Tom and Christina Carter have pursued solo ventures, external pairings and guest spots on the works of others. Amidst all this tangential activity, though, the idea of Charalambides still burns bright. So, it is fitting that the album is subtitled Tom and Christina Carter. It is momentous when those two halves unite, like an alignment of planets that can’t help but throw elements into disarray. The record doesn’t pride itself on brevity. Most songs stretch beyond the nine and ten-minute marks with ease, never in a hurry to halt the ceremony the duo sets in motion. Songs tend to fill up a space like firelight, warm and flickering, alive, aloof and perhaps a little dangerous. There are those that go to lengths to find their conduit to the thrum of nature, but they’d be wiser than most to seek out the Carter’s gospel.

The record sees Tom Carter ruminating on midnight guitar rituals – haunted and heavy as Loren Connors and intricate as contemporaries like Chasney and Bachman. Christina is no less an indelible presence on the record, her voice reaching for the upper registers like Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan before her, imbuing their folk with a spiritual wonder that’s vibrating on the same harmonic hum as the nature around them. Its easy to tumble down the darkened paths of the Carters and get lost in the overgrowth and the dense earthen humidity, but there’s a light at the end that pulls the listener out of the dank. While that light offered escape, there are no promises about the changes that Charalambides inflict along the way. In a time ruled by wires and windows and incremental spikes in dopamine, the duo unleash an album to help it all crumble away – a dirt bath for the soul, an ego molt for the cult of culture.



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Mountain Movers

Still the headiest thing rolling out of New Haven, if not the rest of the Northeast, Mountain Movers new album sees the Connecticut four-piece perfect their brand of heatwave psychedelia. Pink Skies works swimmingly as a companion to last year’s eponymous LP, extending their reach towards the heart of the sun and exemplifying the unrestrained heat of their live sets. Though the band doesn’t revel in nearly enough fanfare for their cathartic cache of six previous mind-flayers, their scorched n’ singed delivery should have this climbing to the top of psych heads’ most anticipated releases. Guitarist Kryssi Battalene is funneling an overdose of ozone-toasted radiation through the speakers, distorting reality with a sonic sweep across every section of a listener’s brain. She’s quite easily one of the most ferocious guitarists working and it’s about high time she got some accolades to that effect.

The band rides the knife edge between psychedelic euphoria and an acid bath of noise with the noise often blotting out the sun to gain the edge in the tussle. Though, the record isn’t constantly set to singe, the Mountain Movers’ ability to work between back-alley menace, haunted forest anxiety and blast furnace freakout is enviable to say the least. The record is vibrating with enough sinister swamp energy to levitate any listener a good three inches from the floor, which is some feat for a band from the concrete caverns dotting the Northeastern nape of eternal sprawl. When Battalene lays into a riff, which is more often than not, the record explodes into an aural oblivion, both terrifying and ecstatic. These are the moments when the band sparks to an electric life.

The album taps into a classic vein of ‘90s psych – tough outer shell housing a blissful core – and Mountain Movers should dredge up sense memories for fans of Bardo Pond, Major Stars or early Sonic Youth. Like those acts, the Connecticut crew build a towering sound that feels impenetrable until you stop fighting and let the record envelop the brain. At this point, seven albums in, there should be little doubt that the band knows how to wield riff and ravage, but just in case you needed a reminder, Pink Skies topples pretty much all 2018 contenders to prove the point.



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Comet Gain – “If Not Tomorrow” b/w “I Was More of a Mess Then”

If there’s one thing that can be counted on from Comet Gain, the long running UK jangle-pop hearthrobs, its that any release will be rife with earworms. Furthermore those earworms will burrow their way into your life until they become new favorites. Membership changes, labels change, even styles change – from the upbeat clatter of Réalistes to the polished punk hijinks of catalog highlight Howl of the Lonely Crowd and on down to the bittersweet bliss of Paperback Ghosts – the band always jangles, but they’re willing ping-pong between camps that employ the sound. They’re post-punks with a pop heart, indie rockers with a ’77 punk sneer in their back pockets, and this new single-sized offering is the latest bit of pop-strummin’ goodness from their ranks.

The band’s working up a potpourri of an album for Tapete and “If Not Tomorrow” marks the first peek under the hood. The A-side’s not wholly out of line with their aforementioned 2014 heartbreaker Paperback Ghosts, and its definitely showcasing the band’s autumnal sweet side. The guitar line’s bouncing gently, lapping against the swells of organ and a promise of change from David Feck’s earnest croon. While I prefer my Comet Gain with a bit of the bite, I can’t say no to a hummably good jangler that feels like a lost Go-Betweens outtake. The b-side pops the tempo up and dirties the mix with a bit of fuzz and Sarah Bleach running down the regrets. Its a fine pairing and only whets the appetite for more. If you’re already on board the Comet, this won’t knock you loose. If you’re new to the ride, then maybe take this as inspiration to parse back through one of indie pop’s greatest catalogs.


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Anna St. Louis

Last year Anna St. Louis released a tape of striking, hushed songs on Woodsist’s small Mare imprint. They hinted at an accomplished songwriting talent and showcased St. Louis’ honeyed drawl, but the tape’s warm emersion in hiss and sunny afternoon vibes didn’t mark it as the kind of release that wrestled for constant attention. So, when her debut proper showed up in the inbox a few months back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sucker punch to the gut it had in store. If Only There Was A River unfolds like a seasoned country-folk record, feeling classic and eternal like the kind of release that’s canon before it ever hits the shelves. It has an ache in its bones that’s raw and real, but St. Louis has wrapped the record in a lush warmth of an heirloom sweater pulled tight against the chill rolling across the plains. She’s teamed up with Kevin Morby and King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas to work the record into a bittersweet brilliance, gathering grey skies and painted sunset hues to color the spare, yet effective ambience around her tales of heartbreak and woe.

Most of the songs on If Only There Was A River have the kind of deep mournfulness and effortless age that seem like they might underscore a key scene in a Cohen brothers film. Her songs feel universal, timeless and torn in the way the catalogs of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Wanda Jackson often do. She’s most like Van Zandt, though, in her use of simple country cool paired with a just enough orchestration that a song feels gilded, but not so much that it feels gaudy. Van Zandt often chafed in this context. The production hung on him a bit loose, like a borrowed suit, but St. Louis is able to work the same juxtaposition to her advantage. She’s the kind that can walk into any vintage store and not only find something that fits well, but make it her own, casting out the ghosts of previous owners on her way out the door.

The album lends itself to multiple listens, touching different heartstrings each time it winds its way around the turntable. St. Louis’ vocals move from whisper to wrench over the course of the record. She’s a master of producing the pang that grips the guts and chokes back tears for undeserving lost loves. While the touchstones of the past cling to the edges of the record, it doesn’t feel like its looking back. She’s earning a place among albums that transcend eras and in that regard she’s positioning herself to stand alongside fellow L.A. troubadour Jenny Lewis as the kind of songwriter who is comfortable in her heartbreak and carving out a sound that eventually belongs only to her. This release is a large step in that direction and a highlight among 2018’s already stellar showing for music. With the arrival of If Only There Was A River it feels like St. Louis has gained a longstanding place among the artists that scar our souls over time.



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Groundhogs – Blues Obituary

I’m all in for getting the Groundhogs’ catalog back on the shelf and it seems that Fire are rushing to the rescue these days. The UK label digs into the band’s ‘69 release, Blues Obituary. The album provides an essential bridge between the hogs’ early blues covers and the, wilder, freer works of their later albums. Scratching The Surface is populated by standards and classics. Its proof the band can play and deserves to be lifted up among the upper echelons of British Blues. With Blues Obituary, however, The Groundhogs propose that they’re something else – provocateurs, alchemists – rather than journeymen. The songs are still rooted in the groove of blues, but TS McPhee and the boys bury the old notions, as the title might attest, and dive further into freakout and burnt psychedelia than they’d ever dared before.

Though they’d certainly push further in the future. The album precedes their doubled down classics Thank Christ For The Bomb and Split, which could use the reissue treatment as well. If the stars align and Fire’s got it in them, hopefully they’ll see new light as well. Apparently, the shift from the blues was spurred on by good ol’ John Peel, which just makes Blues Obituary that much sweeter in retrospect. Any rec from John is a shove in the right direction. This is McPhee just finding his freakish muse, and, while there are definitely more essential albums both in their catalog and from the same year, this is a perfect fit for heads into Canned Heat, Yardbirds and John Mayall. The label does the release proud with a die cut sleeve and limited color, making this likely the definitive issue of the LP.



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East of the Valley Blues

If, somehow, you’re missing out on Astral Spirits admirable run of records of late, then its time to get acquainted fast. The Monofonus Press offshoot has been digging up some of the most essential jazz and experimental sets and locking them down in limited cassette quantities. Most of the catalog tunnels the underside of jazz’ odyssey, allowing a space for artists to expand and experiment in a comfortable setting. With little commercial expectations the releases have often yielded larger risks and intriguing results. While the catalog boasts heavy hitters like Kid Millions, Thurston Moore, Kawabata Mokoto and Joe McPhee, its often the less marquee releases that deserve some attention as well. The series marks the fourth album by Toronto siblings East of the Valley Blues and they add a gnarled dose of fingerpicked guitar to the stable.

The two tracks explore hypnotic, circular melodies scarred with fret noise and uneasy ambience. The brothers clearly take the line from Fahey and Basho, and while not necessarily paving their own way like, say, Daniel Bachman this year, they’re still working up a worthy listen within these two halves of the acoustic sphere. Both tracks bear similar titling and though the focus lays cleanly on the thirty minute, Ressemblera title track, they do some fine work on the cassette’s flip with the less meditative and more raucous, “Reassemblera”. The release poses another side to the label and one that I hope they continue to explore with more fingerpicked releases. Then again, the freeform nature is what makes Astral Spirits such a delight. Whatever’s next will surely come from outside the bounds of expectation and elevate a deserving voice.




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Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs

Newcastle’s Pigsx7 tear another hole in the fabric of reality with their sophomore LP for Rocket Recordings. The impossibly named band takes another swipe at their potent mix of Monster Magnet sludgelord psychosis bonded to the give no fucks, take no prisoners mentality of Motorhead. While that seems like a rather tall order to live up to, the band keeps pace here for six monstrous tracks that come on with the apocalyptic heat of a Mad Max location scouting. The songs on King of Cowards, based loosely on the idea of deadly sins and moral corruption, swing wild with a looser feel than those on their predecessor Feed The Rats. The band convened in the Italian countryside to commune with the dirt before laying down these tracks and the country air and lack of neighbors seems to have let them crank the throttle quite a bit and work out a sense of improvisation that licks the knife edge with a sense of danger.

The band brings ex-Gnod drummer Chris Morley into the fold this time around and his animalistic beat works to fuel the band’s appetite for action. While they keep those doom clouds rumblin’ they’re tethered much closer to to Terra Firma this time, scratching the pavement rather than rippling through the godheads themselves. Pigsx7 are still not ones for brevity, but they’re keeping it under the ten minute mark everytime, coming nowhere near Rats’ sidelong ozone-choker bookends. That sense of movement and change works well for the band. While they’re built for epics, its nice to see them tighten the belt on the record, no doubt saving some of the cosmos-scratching jams for the stage when they engage the longer numbers from KoC.

The relatively compact run times allow them to laser focus their brutality, hefting iron-ore riffs with ungodly strength and pummeling the listener until they wear away the rough ends into a numb shell. When Pigsx7 lay into your brain, they aim to knock at least a little something loose. Honestly, in this year, a little sonic lathe to tear off the top layer feels like a good idea. We’re all sinners in the Pigs’ eyes, and penance feels good.



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Sundays & Cybele

Guruguru Brain has let loose with two essential doses of Japanese psychedelia on the same day. While the attention will more than likely splash heavy on Kikagaku Moyo (and deservedly so) to discount the leap forward taken by Sundays & Cybele would be criminal. The band has always suffered from a case of unfortunate branding, with their name conjuring up wafts of precious indie pop. Its often hard to reconcile their dreamily psychedelic catalog with a French film about a young girl befriending a war veteran. That’s seriously some Belle & Sebastian level tweeness and it has no place crowding the mind while the Tokyo band are infecting your speakers.

The band is, instead, rummaging through an intricate trunk of psychedelic trinkets and using their talismans well to unlock the higher vibrating wavelengths of the universe. On their last album they went for amplifier shred, though always with a pristine touch that pulled them back from the edge. The band doesn’t tread into the domain of fuzz and fury and it distinguishes their brand of crystal catacomb psychedelia from many of their contemporaries. They’ve pushed even further this time into grand dynamics they touch gingerly on before. They dip fully into the wells of prog, augmenting their setup with a larger reliance on organ tones and simmering atmospheres.

Their languid and lush constructions find them in a unique space, bending the expansive aches of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia through a past refraction of classic Japanese bands like Jacks and Apryl Fool. Moreso than many of their contemporaries they’re not just prying open the cosmic eye, they’re massaging the soul as well. On The Grass is probably the most fully realized vision of the band, aching through nine pleas to the gods of love as well as cracking the cosmic egg. While we’d all like to see the temples crumble with Acid Mothers and Kikagaku Moyo, it’s refreshing to watch a band build such a lush ode to lysergic beauty.




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