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Kikagaku Moyo

Last year was a banner year for live recordings (check out the list of favorites here) and it’s good to see that the folks over at Reverberation Appreciation Society are starting things off right this year as well. While the label has been releasing some great live sets in their Levitation Sessions series of lockdown live performances — roping in everyone from Osees to Ringo Deathstar and Frankie & The Witchfingers — now they’re beginning a new LP series of bands captured live at their Levitation festivals over the years. While there are a few meccas for live psych each year, it’s pretty safe to say that Levitation boasts one of the most stacked lineages of lineups over its tenure. The first entry in the series pairs up two monumental performances from Kikagaku Moyo, with the A-side capturing the band’s debut at the festival back in 2014 and the flip representing their return in 2019.

In 2014 the band was hardly on the US map, just beginning to release some US versions of their LPs through Beyond Beyond is Beyond before Guruguru Brain would become more of household name. They don’t waste any time introducing themselves with a blistering jam before tearing into inspired versions of songs from Forest of Lost Children and their eponymous LP. The b-side / 2019 performance culls entirely from Masana Temples so, sadly there’s no live burndowns from House In The Tall Grass here, but the live takes on Masana favorites “Dripping Sun,” “Gatherings” and a final cooldown into a luxurious “Nazo Nazo” are certainly worth the wax they’re pressed in. Sadly, the colored vinyl versions are now spent, and I’m not entirely certain if a standard black edition is on the way. Hoping a few of you picked this up when I first discussed it in November. Digital edition will give you a way to experience the sets as well, so however you get into it, this is peak Kikagaku Moyo that needs to be heard. Keep your heads up for the second entry from Black Angels as well in March.




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Beautify Junkyards

The fourth album from Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards is a dazzling, dense work that recalls Broadcast, Os Mutantes, and labelmates Soundcarriers at their best. Cosmorama immediately vaults the listener through the looking glass, and straight into a liquid light show of colors and permeable realities. With a hook into folk and another in pscyhedelic jazz, the record is pastoral at its heart. The vocals of guests Nina Miranda and Alison Bryce move from whispered wisdoms to mournful sighs and ultimately pose as ghostly invitations. As the layers build around them, though, the progressive spirit of the band swings away from the simple folk setup and lets the lysergic lens coat the record in colors that are hard to pin down.

The works of Beautify Junkyards have always had a bit of a ‘through the hedge’ quality to them — a feeling of entering a lush, verdant world just hidden behind our own. The synths lay down opalescent mists. The guitars are mossy and wet like cut leaves, seeping through the songs with mystery that’s burdened with sadness. As with the last album, Espers’ Helena Espvall remains a key to the band’s psychedelic sway. Touches of Flute, cello, and zither give the album and otherworldly quality that plunges the listener further down the hidden paths. It’s hard to come up for air after the last notes of Cosmorama fade from speakers, but like being roused from a waking dream, the album lingers in the synapses even after it exits the ether. Fans of Ghost Box should know that the label’s a particular seal of quality these days, and Beautify Junkyards live up to the stable’s reputation nicely. Wrapped as all things at the Box are, in gorgeous Julian House artwork that tips this into collection fodder as well.



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Pearl Charles

If you’ve been hanging around the halls of Raven for the past few months, then Pearl Charles’ name should feel familiar. Following a long run of excellent singles, Charles’ new album Magic Mirror is finally here and fueling dreams of dodging out 2021 in the arms of an alternate universe 1971 instead. The record springboards off of the zipwaxed pop of her previous album, with a country-rock rework of “Night Tides” eking out midway through last year that gave some inclinations of how her significantly her sound had shifted. The record begins in a post-disco comedown, still in thrall to the a neon halo of slicked pop that gives way to the country comedowns that permeate the bulk of the rest of the album. Packing its possessions in the car and leaving the ABBA LPs on the counter with a note for the next tenant to take care of them, Charles heads for the Canyon calm of Linda Ronstadt channeling Young and Anderson, The Burritos lamenting “Four Days of Rain” and a touch of Fleetwood Mac’s studio sheen.

The record’s hooks are hung in macrame, but there’s still a timelessness about the album. It’s one of those rare records in which the influences lay so bare on its sleeves — exposed and uncontested – and yet it allows itself to acquire the evergreen qualities of Charles’ heroes rather than wind up a blurred copy of the past. Some of the credit has to go to the assembled players around Charles — Michael Rault, Ryan Miller, Dustin Bookatz, and Nigel Wilson — who bring her vision and songwriting to life like a modern day Wrecking Crew. The sounds here are rendered in Kodachrome perfection that hangs in the room like a photograph that brings a wistful smile every time it gets passed.

Pearl and the band are able to weave across genre lines with a studied hand that belies the songwriter’s youth. Like Jenny Lewis before her, she’s a modern troubadour with soft spots for introspection matched by hooks that hang in the back of the mind when they’re not trapped in a bittersweet sigh in the chest. Along the way on Magic Mirror Pearl explores themes of slipping away from a partner, slipping away from oneself, and aging into the best version of oneself. It’s a coming of age record that’s going to feel as welcome during the turbulence of youth as it does in the hindsight of age. It’s hard to had down a declaration that one of the best records of 2021 has landed in the first couple of weeks, but all I’m saying is you all better remember this one come next December.

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Bill Fox – Transit Byzantium

Some great news of a couple of essential reissues out of the Cleveland underground this month. Bill Fox’s name might have swum into your conciseness if power pop fringes ever cross your turntable, having mad some slight amount of acclaim leading The Mice along with his brother Tommy in the mid-80s. Much to his brother’s dismay, Bill left the band behind just as they began to garner acclaim. The band’s sound had the feeling predicting a pop-punk explosion that was to follow in the early ‘90s, but it seems that wasn’t the route Fox had in mind. Bill would keep out of the public eye for quite a few years, but around 1996 he assembled a backing band he called The Radio Flyers and began to focus on a string of solo records that took on a quieter calling, but found their own ardent following in the process. While The Mice’s garage pop was based on huge hooks and a focused snottiness that made them instantly likable, Bill’s solo recordings were more introspective, finding themselves drenched in a home-recorded hue of folk pop and Everlys ease.

There’s still hangover of the charms that Bill brought to The Mice evident in his first solo LP Shelter From The Smoke, but it trades volume for quietude, reclining nicely into an album that straddles its clear Dylan/ Van Ronk roots with the indie-pop and folk waves that were swimming to the fore around the time. As he gets comfortable and leans into his second LP, Transit Byzantium he’s found himself penning a ruffled, but resplendent gem of an album that lays into hooks with the unfussed air of Guided By Voices if they were recording Elliott Smith style lamentations. Under the tape-hiss humbleness Fox lays out his masterpiece on Transit, weaving an album of nasal folk sighs that chaffed against plenty of trends at the time. However, given time to breathe and re-root itself into consciousness, the album proves to be an evergreen record of homespun tales that rattle around the brain with a weathered charm. The reissue, along with an LP issue of its predecessor mark the first time the albums have been on vinyl, boasting a brand new remastering that lets the sound sink into the grooves and grow into the essential release its always been.



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Anti-Westerns

Had this one in the dock a little while, but the end of year onslaught always gets in the reviews backed up. No time like the new year to shed a bit of light here. Anti-Westerns are a side project, or more succinctly, an alter-ego of Plates of Cake. The foundations of the band are built on the same solid footing of rivet-tight indie, but his time they trade Brooklyn bars for Nashville skies, adding a large dose of twang to their sound and letting the tempos lope a bit more than they used to. While the dust-plastered settings are pulled into frame behind a rusted pickup truck, the bulk of the album finds the songwriters waxing nostalgic about aging, drinking, and settling into love for the long haul. Quite a few of the songs hit like a hangover after years of moderation, the lacquered taste of whiskey in the gums and regret hanging hard in the stomach.

The band wears country fairly well, though, feeling just a bit like their western collars might be a bit too under-rumpled for the rest of the regulars of the bars they’re frequenting, but the homage rings sincere. They eschew the cosmic vein, swinging slightly more First National Band than New Riders, opting for more of a bumpy road pacing and coordinated guitar dips to the crowd. But just like Mike Nesmith setting himself off from his own past, Anti-Westerns have done their homework, seeming to revel in imagining themselves waking up outside of Townes’ trailer with a head full of half-truths and one liners from the night before. They hang a tale of creaking knees and doctor’s chiding with a crooked smile and a tip of the hat then turn around and rave up a shout-along love letter to rough edged gals with the kind of hook that hits like a bottle against chicken wire. No clue if this one is a one off or the start of the next chapter, but its a winter warmer that starts the year off right.




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Spiral Wave Nomads

One of the great pre-pandemic joys I had was the beginnings of putting on some Upstate NY shows in 2019. It was a tip towards momentum that was sadly cut short along with the rest of society over the past year, but I still hold the show that Spiral Wave Noamads opened in high regard as a memory of what I’d like to get back to someday. Alongside Jesse Sheppard and Turner Williams and Wet Tuna, the duo tore down Half Moon here in Hudson with a singed psychedelic experience that expanded on the music from their excellent Feeding Tube debut. The magic there was Eric and Michael feeding off of one another, something that was surprisingly not the case in their debut, which had been recorded between them remotely, trading files between one another in home studios.

For the second go ‘round at the Tube, the pair enter the studio together and find that symbiotic glow they had on stage one October night. The simmering tension, the push past the boundaries of the brittle veil, the urge to cave noise out of beauty and beauty out of pain are all here on First Encounters. They lead off with a monster, 13+ minute sweat box before squeezing their sound through a black hole of psychic damage on “Fitful Embers.” Though the contact burns off of “Radiant Drifter” might mark themselves as the highlight of the LP, before they tumble down another 13-minute meditation to close out the the LP. The final track cements their psychic link — a slow-motion tidal wave of sonic crumble that threatens to cave in the speakers from the inside out. Glad to see that the first LP wasn’t just a one-off crusher. Spiral Wave continue to establish themselves as ones to keep tabs on.

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Upupayāma

This is an excellent Bandcamp find that popped in a few feeds and got a nice breakdown over at the always spot-on Petal Motel, which is worth a read. The album is the sole work of Italian songwriter Alessio Ferrari, though it owes more than a small debt to the works of the Guruguru Brain roster. Splitting themes between the verdant Japanese psychedelia of Kikagaku Moyo and the psych-folk forebears further north of him — tapping into the Swedish and Finnish strains in particular — Upupayāma’s debut is impressive to say the least. The four tracks that make up his eponymous album are laden with flutes, cave damp guitar runs, and feline bass that creeps through each track with a distinct slink.

The world of Upupayāma is fantastical. He inhabits elfin wonderlands that are dark and mysterious, dark laboratories hidden underground, and firelight rituals. Darkness rounds every bend but the stakes feel personal and puzzling. Think more Over The Garden Wall than Tolkein here. Adding only further to the air of intangible intrigue is Ferrari’s use of an invented language through the majority of the songs, sliding this slightly through Magma or Gong territory with ease. While the touch of Canterbury prog takes root, the Japanese psych connection goes even deeper as well. Ferrari reached out to Kikagaku Moyo / Sundays & Cybele engineer Yui Kimijimai to mix and master the album, bringing the feeling ever closer to the humid hybrid of psych and folk that that particular set achieves. The album is a dense wander through knotted, intricate works that open into mirror worlds of color soaked sound. There’s a psychedelic innocence at work that oddly reminds me of the illustrations of Esmé Shapiro. Its an outstanding debut, and I hope that this one moves into a physical format at sometime, but for now, this is well worth digging into in any form.

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Bingo Trappers

Just two years out from their excellent Elizabethan LP, Dutch duo Bingo Trappers are back and swinging through the verdant valley of ‘60s jangle. With the Byrds floating high in their rearview and an opener that references Parsons himself, the band knows how to weave breeze with a tight dash of twang in ways that stick with the listener long after the last notes lift off the air. The idea here is a postcard from the past, but while the hallmarks of the Trappers’ sound are certainly dipping into the crux of ‘60s and ‘70s, with stops along the ‘80s college rock ripple, there’s something evergreen about their sound. As much as ever these days, the specter of jangle-pop looms large among bands from San Francisco to Melbourne and their ease with country saunter pins them to the current crop of US pickers seeking to find the cosmic lay lines once again.

It’s another bittersweet batch from songwriter Waldemar Noë, full of dashed hopes, lost loves and, well, the ghost of Graham Parsons. Along with Wim Elzinga he makes the past potent once again while making the mundane shine with a glow that’s entrancing. Elzinga fleshes out the songs with subtle touches and glycerine arrangements that belie the fact that its just the two of them. The band’s been a consistent underground surge since the mid-90s, and this is honestly another gem in a long discography of likeminded works, but even if you’ve never encountered the Trappers before, jangle fans ought to feel this sink into the soul.





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Supreme Joy – “Julie b/w Sofa”

No matter how hard I try, there’s always a few gems that slip through the cracks and this lovely EP from Supreme Joy almost slid away in the tail end of last year. Boasting songwriting from Could Ghouls’ Ryan Wong and a bass assist from Empty Cellar head Arvel Hernandez, the two tracks are a nice waft of the Ghouls in the absence of new material from that camp. Though, to be fair Wong carves out a bit of his own cosmic country foxhole here and I quite like the shift. There’s a scent of the Ghouls’ jangle, coming across at their most Byrdsian, and the trio flesh this double-shot out with some nice lap steel from Wong and drums from his CG bandmate Alex Fleshman. The A-side is a laconic drift down calm waters. It’s hammock-swung and easy on the ears, with a nice tempo shift that keeps ya on yer toes. The flip spreads out a bit more and showcases what the band has to offer — letting that lap steel shine amid a leathered jangle and bittersweet vocals. Hoping this one isn’t just a lark and there’s more in the pipe, but even if this is all the joy they bring, its a pretty solid offering.



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Heron – S/T

This is one of those reissues that’s always high atop my list of necessities. The originals are scant and likewise expensive and I, sadly, missed out on a 500 press reissue about seven or eight years ago. Yet, now it seems that Trading Places is stepping up to fill the need for lovers of English folk out there in the crowd. The band formed among friends in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in 1967 with a sizable creative debt to The Incredible String Band, though they’d begin to carve out a more unique identity by the time of this eponymous debut. They were signed by Donovan’s A&R rep/producer Peter Eden to Essex Records as songwriters, following a stint opening for larger bands in their college circle. This then led to the band issuing their debut album on PYE subsidiary Dawn.

Most renown for its recording quality, this LP has long found favor with collectors for its natural feeling that’s only bolstered by the gentle songwriting of Roy Apps and Robert Collins, and the auburn vocals of Tony Pook. The band was notably studio-averse, having found the trappings too stiff. So, like any band with folk leanings in Britain in the ‘70s, they split for the countryside to write an album in a someone’s remote family farmhouse — in this case Pook’s. The writing lead to recording, as they had a mobile studio with them on the trip and the recordings captured the kind of communal spirit that had been threaded through the the prior years of folk and psychedelic boom.

Alongside their resplendent folk rock, the songs are flecked with birds and insects from the meadows behind the farm. It’s probably as close as any have come to capturing the sound of porchlight sessions and true woolen commune warmth. The record itself didn’t catch on, though the band did tour with Comus and Demon Fuzz as part of Dawn’s promotions. They also caught the ear of John Peel and set up a less homespun follow-up single that received a fair amount of airplay, but was sabotaged by a vinyl supply issue. Later tours with David Bowie kept them on through a second album that was billed as a double LP for the price of a single LP, though even Pook has noted it probably would have made a solid single album, but wound up a very poor and haphazard double LP. It does boast Mike Cooper on slide in places, so its not a total loss. The band reformed in the late ‘90s, but this debut remains their true masterwork. Great to have it back in print once more. I wouldn’t let this one slide away.




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