Browsing Category Reviews

Wet Hair

If it feels like a stretch since Wet Hair turned up here, or anywhere in fact, that’s because the band hasn’t released a record since 2012’s Spill Into Atmosphere. At the time they’d shucked a great deal of their noise cloud and begun polishing their lo-fi pop into something a bit more grand. Before they’d shared groove space with Merchandise, they were everywhere in the small cadre of noise-rock safe harbors – from Shawn Reed’s own Night People to Not Not Fun, De Stijl, and Bathetic. Now they land their post-breakup LP on Wharf Cat and pull back the curtain on what could have been if the band hadn’t faded into the horizon.

The Floating World is definitely the band’s most accessible take to date, besting even their previous two nudges towards a sparkling Krautrock-laden pop. Still couched in a cloud of haze, though not so thick that the edges become indiscernible, the record is glowing with the same electricity that’s always pushed Wet Hair. The percussion tumbles like violent waters below bright, beckoning synths but while that Krautrock tag is certainly still applicable, this is a pop record first and foremost. The best contemporary comparison would be the later work of Cloudland Canyon, who found themselves traversing similar territory and pulling it off with a deft hand. Ultimately the record is a great nugget of noise-pop that’s shelved on the ‘coulda-been, shoulda-been’ pile of bands that get overlooked too often amid changing tastes. Still, there’s no reason not to dip into this gem for a spin or six.




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Stefano Marcucci – Tempo Di Demoni, Papi, Angioli, Incensi E Cilici

Now I’m not sure how your brain works, but for me, there are definitely some trigger words that pop up in descriptions that beg a further look. Staple a phrase like, “bizarre hidden synth-ridden psychedelic concept pop” to “short-run demonic religious performance” and file it under the genre Italian Library Music and I’m all but sold. Now, is this just the beady-eyed crew at Finders Keepers baiting me? Not so! Their reissue of Stefano Marcucci’s lost piece of esoteric psychdedelia warrants a pretty hefty exploration. The record was commissioned for a short-run theatrical project, but after hearing the score composed by beat group member Marcucci, the staff at Flower records saw potential beyond its religious audience.

This being the time period of quasi-religious rock opera of all shades, I honestly don’t blame them. The late ’60s and early ’70s had a predilection for bending the bible to their own Earth-child whims and, why not take a performance of that ilk and funnel it into one more piece of Godspell-gumball machine fodder? Well, the Italian is probably a stopping point for most, but Marcucci has a way around gospel-swung psych-folk. It’s those synths that take it to the next level though. The composer gives the straight pipe organ its place, but peppers in an early version of the Minimoog to the proceedings, giving it a swell of ’70s grandeur that befits his hybrid vision. The band backing up the record is tight and the choral pieces waver between stately and hippie ho-down, making this a perfect combination of time period and talent. It’s got something for the heads, something for the saints (if your Italian is on point) and something for the Library aficionados to ponder over.


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Pearl Earl

Denton is awash in garage upstarts of the denim-donned variety. Testosterone prone outfits that aim to tear a hole in the American dream with a curlicue of amp cable and a four-pack of chords in fuzztone from. Pearl Earl aim to kick a ragged rip in that paradigm, trailing sequins and snake venom behind them as they lay their own barrage of garage, punk and glitter-stomped prog down upon the city of their making. Their debut LP arrives with concrete ton of confidence and a pretty clear cut idea of who they want to be.

Clearly caught in the crackle of ’70s airwaves, the band is mashing their memories with a deft hand and a feminine snarl. With a slightly less buoyant approach, Pearl Earl are finding their way along the same inflamed tributary that carries kindred spirits Savoy Motel. They embody the ten-foot tall ideals of glam, as evidenced in the gloss that shines on the album’s surface, and they pin it well to their flip of the radio dial. At heart the band’s eponymous LP is as punk as any of their myriad homegrown stagemates, but where others go to the well for the simple quench of sweat, Pearl Earl go for the rainbow ripple off the water in the sun. Having fun with the form, they explode punk into shards of psychedelic debris, each looking to streak the sky with its own glittered flare.

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The Blondes – The Blondes

The aughts had its fair share of power pop – from Sloan to Matthew Sweet, Fountains of Wayne to late Apples in Stereo, there was no real shortage of sticky sweet pop that owed a fair amount of debt to the Yellow Pills set and Big Star. Still, the the majority of those bands used the genre as a jumping off point to splash in some ’90s grunge grit and bittersweet songwriting that put them in line with a new indie ethos. For L.A.’s Blondes, the heyday of ’70s power pop, tinged with just the right holdover of glam seemed the golden standard. To be fair, they hit the mark pretty dead on in the end.

Formed as Eagle in 1998, the band claimed members from music and art circles alike, crossing over membership with Eels, Beachwood Sparks and The Lilys. The band also contained indie icon and photographer Autumn De Wilde , who may have had more of a hand in effecting indie rock’s heyday than most of her L.A. compatriots. Of course, on release, the name Eagle drew the attention of classic rocker/general curmudgeon Don Henley and he put the kibosh on that moniker. Hence, they resurfaced as The Blondes.

Their first album was in 2002, following a spot-on cover of Mud’s “Dyna-mite”. By this time, several founding members, including De Wilde had left the group, but the band still captured the flicker-flame perfection of bubblegum-glam and the giddiness of power pop. This retrospective from Burger rounds up most of their key output. There are even some demo versions from the original Eagle lineup included, though sadly, that cover of “Dyna-mite” remains lost from the spools on this one. Burger and HoZac have gone to lengths lately to dig up the corners of all that’s necessary in punk, glam and power pop and this is an essential entry to the canon. A little sad this one’s ended up just on tape, but maybe if we all wish real hard the Burger Bros will press it down to a fitting vinyl tribute.




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The Focus Group

Julian House again picks up his mantle as The Focus Group, spreading Radiophonic frequencies out into the ionosphere with precision, ingenuity and a glint of madness in his eye. The crux of The Focus Group has always acted like a high pressure drill, tunneling through human consciousness and presenting the core sample of childhood fears and delights alongside the useless ephemera and practical static that gum up the works in the average human brain. There’s bits of pop magic stuck in the mix here, but its littered with the lint of noise and jumbled into an organization that would befit a Burroughs cut-up.

Still, despite the chaos, he manages to evoke the low wattage flicker of a bare bulb projecting animation through cellophane on the walls while you sleep. Stop-Motion Happening moves like dreams, drenched in half-remembered facts and saturated with colors almost too rich for human consumption. This is the magic and the terror that House evokes. He’s a mad scientist of memory, plowing past the surface scratches that the likes of The Books, Boards of Canada and his own collaborative muses, Broadcast, have made their bread and butter. His approach, fittingly, is more on the level of visual art than that of musician. The album feels like it might easily soundtrack a gallery and have a dozen or so accompanying pieces that fit all these sparking wires together.

That dreamlike quality also puts him in league with film Auteurs like Michel Gondry, another artist trying desperately to capture the moment between sleep and awake. House’s work evokes the disorientation of signals that get trapped inside our many heads. He’s filtering and processing the data but it’s hard to figure out what’s noise and what’s important. That conundrum, in fact, seems to be the root of modern anxiety. House has put his finger squarely on the flashpoint of modern madness – what goes, what stays, where to look next, who to believe in all this? He’s not offering a rubic, but he’s at least showing us that someone else is having as much trouble quashing the noise as we are.




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Psychic Temple

Chris Schlarb doesn’t work in half measures. Despite bubbling under the surface, rolling out releases on Asthmatic Kitty and Joyful Noise, he’s pulled down some banner contributors on his last couple of records, including Mike Watt and Terry Reid. While last year saw him go full ambient to reinterpret Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, he’s cut the rudder back into the laconic psych-pop that permeated his previous full length, Psychic Temple III. With Reid in tow on PT IV, along with a stuffed studio of contributors, Schlarb constructs an album full of California comedown psych for unseasonably cool nights.

Schlarb has spent a lifetime picking through styles and lurking in studios and the attention to detail shows through the seams of PT IV, but only after pulling at the threads a bit. On first listen the album has an effortlessly casual quality that’s easy to sink into. After peeling through the layers the breeziness subsides to reveal a meticulously crafted album helmed by a songwriter with a producer’s heart. Stitched together with a run of interludes that make the album flow with ’70s grandiosity, Schlarb has found a way to tap into the bereaved soul at the core of adulthood’s mantle with a heavy sigh and a silken delivery.

This is far from an album of hits or singles, it’s an album that can hardly be parsed at all and that stands as its greatest achievement. Schlarb rifles the pockets of jazz, psych, country and blues to fit the pieces into a bittersweet sigh that’s stretched into forty minutes of sanctuary from the greater world. It’s’ hard to deny the draw of respite and harder still to resist returning for another dose.




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The Radiation Flowers

Straddling the nebulous line between shoegaze and psych-pop, Saskatoon’s Radiation Flowers bathe in the warm amplifier glow of Spacemen 3 if they’d been playing split singles with Galaxie 500. Summer Loop, the band’s latest offering feels like it might stop vibrating about three minutes after the needle comes to a rest. The album is draped in a shimmer of lush production that sets Shelby Gaudet’s vocals in a languid landscape well suited to her dream-smeared delivery. They kick the switch nicely between gauzy float and a snakebite flash of fuzz that rears its head on heavier tracks, though, this is an album primarily about setting a narcotic mood. Far from an ardent dynamic shifter, Summer Loop is more concerned with laying the listener into froth than taking a good layer of skin off in the process.

The grooves stretch out, feeling around sonic fjords for hand holds in the rippling darkness, proving the band is more than just effects draped over drones. They make a case that they can hang with the Space-rock contingent on “Summer of Burnout,” a swirling instrumental that takes time to build out aural plateaus that run on par with some of this year’s other great psych records, including labelmates Mt. Mountain. Cardinal Fuzz has made its case as a well of psych inspiration and Radiation Flowers fit the bill nicely, up an comers with the right records on their shelves and some room to grow into themselves.


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The Stevens

Sharing members with The Twerps and Boomgates puts The Stevens in good company, but though they echo traces of the current new wave of Aussie bands, the group also taps into classic leanings in a bigger way than many of their compatriots. Trading out lo-fi grit and soft focus production for a tougher skin of meaty hooks and power pop thump alongside the requisite bag of jangles, Good is rooted in an alternate ’70s where the radio eschewed the sexual sweat of blues-baiters for a good dose of post-punk and anxiety.

As with their previous album, A History of Hygiene, brevity isn’t in The Stevens’ wheelhouse. This one clocks in with eighteen tracks, though to be fair that actually pulls back the reigns a bit on the last one’s twenty-four piece spread. They make good use of the material, though, using their songs to explore corners of their sound without feeling too much like they’re in need of an editor to put the indulgences in the bin. Plus, when the band is on, they’re on, threading the needle of angst with just the right amount of brain battering earworms. A solid sophomore effort that skirts the slump and puts The Stevens up on the chain of Aussie bands to keep your eyes on.




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Jon Brooks

Ghost Box drone slinger/synth wizard Jon Brooks has been an integral part of the label’s evolution, popping ’round in banner releases from The Advisory Circle, Pattern Forms, Hintermass and The Belbury Circle. He’s also been running a string of great releases out of his own Cafe Kaput, the latest of which takes shape as Agri Montana. The record is constrained to two instruments, the Buchla Music Easel and ARP Odyssey and as is often the case with self-imposed restrictions, the handicap becomes a decisive advantage. The resulting album, inspired by Alpine landscapes dives into the heart of ’70s synth work with an icy resolve that keeps emotions at an arm’s length, wandering around human ties with the kind of detachment reserved for Sofia Coppola films that should be packaged and released solely on filmstrip and cassette.

The record does have an isolating feel to it, that perhaps brings to mind the mountains if your idea of a trip to the mountains involves a lot of staring out the window contemplating the fragile line between life and death. The synthetic buzz and opposing emptiness give me flashbacks to the artworks of Alex Da Corte’s Free Roses, feeling just as much a soundtrack to his glowing, sterile surrealism as it could be to the Alpine hills. By the end of Agri Montana the listener is sanded down and numb, giving everything around them a darkened hue and plastic finish.

While that might sound like an undesirable outcome, it’s not such a sour deal to put a layer of plexiglass between oneself and the greater world’s sinkhole slide of late. Brooks creates a set of sonic hackles that protect and repel an onslaught of overwhelming emotions too abundant to parse and too weighty to bear alone. That distance is abundantly welcome, at least around here. If you do need a shock back to life, then Brooks’ other release from this year, the gorgeously pastoral Autres Directions should pump some color back into your cheeks. The two act as a nice dichotomy on hope and hopelessness for the modern age.


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Major Leagues

Aussie quartet Major Leagues makes good on some solid EPs leading up to their Popfrenzy debut. The band has fully embraced their woozy, sun-streaked pop on Good Love, saturating every second with a humid giddiness that stretches far longer than the runnout on the last track. They edge delightfully into dream pop, pushed by a slight jangling undercurrent that sparkles so subtly and persistently that its hard not to squint at the glimmer. Harder still is resisting the impulse to inhale deeply the narcotic vocals of Anna Davidson, who anchors the album with her willful restraint.

When she does break out into a full on pop charger (“It Was Always You”) the rush is that much sweeter, knowing that the band could tumble headlong into indie-pop bounce at any moment, but they choose to polish their opalescent hooks to a gorgeous shimmer. They trade exuberance for a permanent holiday of cool and composed, an album full of textures that teases its way into your heart handily. This one’s an instant hit that only grows roots with repeated listens.

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