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Tomutonttu

Following on last year’s Trarat, Finnish experimental luminary Jan Anderzén returns with a more ambitious take for the Alter imprint. The record blends his past and future to great effect, nabbing some of the roughed-up plucks from his days with Kemialliset Ystävät and working them into the fabric of his slinking, mechanized dreamscapes. Kevätjuhla is certainly one of the most realized works that Anderzén has put together and while it may sound slightly rickety on the surface, walking a few steps back to appreciate the album as a whole pulls it together like a gorgeous patchwork quilt of sounds.

The dreamlike quality to the album can’t be overstated. It’s disorienting in the best way – Willy Wonka fever dreams letterpressed in full color. Sounds materialize, fade and flutter before being supplanted by new aural delights. Beats jerk along with Rube Goldberg rhythms, knocking one sound into another with strangely whimsical precision. There’s a pop aspect to the album, despite its experimental bent, but it’s less playlist fodder and more hummable commercial snippets fed through a fax machine on the blink. Anderzén knows how to entertain and bemuse in equal measure and here he’s letting his visual art background lead the way in Kevätjuhla’s creation.

In fact the album was meant to accompany the artist’s installation work. The meaning behind the piece was “inspired by the multitudes of mold and the microbial life, and served as a listening station that sought a bond between sound, the earth and organic matter. Sound was sent to speakers through cables sprouting like stems from a pile of dirt with a single coleus growing on top.” While the first thoughts that come to mind might not be microbial life, it’s easy to imagine how a backdrop so alien and yet so common could have led to the record’s pulsating core. If you’ve nodded off from the Finnish scene since psychedelic folk faded to the horizon, this should be the release to bring you back to the fold.





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Manikins – From Broadway To Blazes

While Australia’s premiere punk darlings The Scientists have enjoyed some much deserved reissue treatment from Numero in the last couple of years, another of the country’s punk forefathers has remained criminally undersung. Manufactured Recordings attempts to right this with an anthology of all known tracks from Manikins. The band, like The Scientists, was built from a former member of Aussie punk germinators The Cheap Nasties. Neil Fernandes built up his own orbit of tough-edged power pop, though the band would spawn considerably less material than their more well-known compatriots.

The anthology includes their first three 7″s, which have become power pop collector’s items in their own right, stretching into high dollar brackets on the secondary market. For those with shallower pockets, it’s nice to have these tracks included here and all dusted off for digital. Fernandes’ songs hit just right in the crux of punk and garage, though they certainly get a bit more polished on later cuts. He’s ably found a foil in vocalist Robert Porritt, who gives Manikins a boyish sneer that’s prerequisite for the best power pop. All in all, this is for the diggers, the nerd set. It’s the kind of deep cut release that appeals to genre completists, but that’s not to say that the average ’70s mixtape couldn’t stand a bump from any of these gems. Any fan of Aussie punk history or power pop in general would do well to tuck into this one.




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Bardo Pond

It’s almost hard to believe that Bardo Pond are approaching 30 years as a band, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine the psychedelic landscape without them. I personally got hooked into the Pond, as I imagine quite a few folks did with Dilate, coming slightly late to the party but grateful to find them as hosts. They’ve spent the intervening years carving out their own place between the creased consciousness of space rock, dreampop, psych and noise. They come to their latest, Under The Pines, after an epic collaboration with Acid Mothers Temple and Guru Guru last year. The album cuts back on the sheer heft and volume that the preceding project fostered, placing vocalist Isobel Sollenberger floating high above a pounding cascade of feedback and atmospheric billow. This cloaks Under The Pines ably in the band’s dreampop guise.

They wear the style well, but as could be expected of a band that’s spent three decades chasing the tail of the psychedelic snake, they aren’t exactly hewing to a one note sound here. Even when the tracks are similarly built on caged squall, they’re constantly adding nuance to the sonic struggle between the overwhelming wall of noise and Sollenberger’s gorgeous purr. Sollenberger also adds a mystic touch of flute to the proceedings, giving the record a mournful air and another fleck of beauty battling the churning froth. Then, as if to prove their mettle tenfold, they ease out into a dustbowl of psych country for the album standout “Moment To Moment.” It’s this kind of song that stamps them as masterful elder statesmen in a crowded field of newcomers jockeying for time on the psychedelic speakers. In a career full of high caliber records, they’ve never sounded so at ease with their prowess than right now.




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The Cairo Gang

Emmet Kelly puts on a half-cocked smile for his latest, Untouchable. The album’s a sunnier side of The Cairo Gang, but not without a heart melted by melancholy. While the melancholy isn’t unusual in his work, the shiny veneer certainly is. The closest he’s come to some of the breezy moments heard here was back in the days of Tiny Rebel‘s ’60s pop inflections. Though on that one he found the dark heart of the 12-string jangle, balancing any sweet moments with the deep darkness inherit in a cover of Boys Next Door’s “Shivers.” On the contrary here, he’s embracing a ’90s borne indie sound that pays it’s debt to James, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and The Lemonheads. In fact the Matthew Sweet sip runs twofold, because while Kelly certainly finds himself indebted to Sweet’s songwriting, he’s taking a bite out of the great Robert Quine’s guitar flash. The latter is almost certainly one of the key ingredients in Sweet’s most enduring catalog.

What’s also glaringly apparent about Untouchable is that it’s embraced album oriented rock full tilt, and partially that’s why I’ve been hard pressed to combat this record on a singles basis. Untouchable is not just a collection of tracks, it’s a balance of emotions with the kind of ebb and flow that’s meant to be digested as a whole, not in mere bites. If 2017 has proven anything, it’s that while the majority of listeners have embraced compartmental music and the infinite playlist, a large portion of smaller label releases have striven to create albums that can’t be broken down.

Kelly is an indispensable part of the indie rock pantheon, adding his guitar to more albums than you probably know in your collection (Ty Segall, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Joan of Arc, Magic Trick, The Double) but he shines as a frontman. The Cairo Gang have long been that band bubbling in the background, crafting solidly built albums that trade in ennui like spiritual currency. It’s hardly surprising to get another winner from Kelly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less deserving of praise. Though the covers change, the fractured heart that beats beneath Kelly’s songs remains ever the same.


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Feral Ohms

Not one second of Feral Ohms’ debut lets up. The trio doesn’t give the listener a minute to catch a breath, and thank the Norse gods of thunderous destruction for that. It’s an acid bath for the soul of the universe, stripping away layer after layer of tar long since calcified and crusted into the shape of society. It appears that Ethan Miller has returned to the his position as frenetic lightning rod for amp fired chaos and it’s damn good to have him back slinging scorch. The world needs this eponymous long player more than we could ever know. As mentioned here previously, Miller found solace away from the white ball of fury that burned bright in Comets On Fire, but began a creep back with Heron Oblivion last year. Feral Ohms asserts his permanence in the pantheon of psych.

The band’s been building a clutch of singles since around 2013, but it wasn’t until Castle Face prefaced the album with a live shot that they sprang into wider consciousness. All of the live cuts find their way onto the album as well as the majority of their singles, albeit re-recorded with a technical lineup that speaks to a top tier of heavy psych sound work (Eric Bauer, Phil Manley, Chris Woodhouse and JJ Golden). It’s very possible that repeated spins of the album could melt speakers into a twitching puddle of gelatinous matter. That’s not even hyperbole, I’m worried about your system. Baton shit down and buckle up. 2017 has proven that despite long lingering reports to the contrary, the guitar still has a place of vitality in music. Few other albums assert this as definitively as Feral Ohms.





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Milk Music

Rolling into their third album, Olympia’s Milk Music continues mining the wealth of ’90s indie ethos and smelting it into gritty gold. Mystic 100s isn’t a seismic shift from their palette, but they’re not the kind of band that need worry about evolution, as they more in the game of curating fuzz encrusted skronk and letting their amps pay their tab. Maybe the biggest shift here is that on Cruise Your Illusion they sounded as if they were a band that always just existed, comfortably rolling out the kind of fare other bands needed to sharpen their teeth to even be capable of pulling off. On Mystic they’re out to prove that they still have twice the chops of every upstart with a deep bench of Dino Jr. on the record shelf, but they’re pushing themselves past comfortable and into smoke rolled royalty.

I’ll be honest, when it came out Cruise Your Illusion didn’t shake my foundations. I liked it, it was solid, and you’d have been a damn liar to contend that the Washington band wasn’t capable. It’s the loss of that comfortability that’s striking here. They’re not just content to have people laud them with plaudits of being torchbearers of guitar rock in 2017; they’re looking to burn things down, break some skin on their fingers and bleed into the mix a bit. You can feel the band sweating out the songs on Mystic 100s and that sweat stains their music with a greater gravity than aloof capability ever could. Though the band are wading deeper into their catalog at this point, this seems like the exact moment where they truly begin.




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Rank / Xerox

Circling the complete opposite side of the spectrum from David West’s latest Rat Columns LP, which appeared here earlier in the month, Rank/Xerox dives into the claustrophobic chest pains of post-punk. This EP is a scant four songs but each of them are packed with a sense of paranoia and pain that paints a bleak picture of an artist running from some form of truth, be it internal or external. Rank/Xerox have, in the past, facilitated some of the darkest moments in West’s catalog, barring maybe his work with Total Control. After a rather long hiatus since the band’s 2011 LP, it’s good to see them storming back without any thoughts on softening their approach.

From the title-track opener to the lingering grind of “Deletion” the trio bends bone bitten anxiety into a nervy dance with plenty of threats hidden behind it’s teeth. Jangles to popped veins, West is one of the masters of what makes the underground of the ’80s still vital and worthwhile today. M.Y.T.H. is proof that small packages with no room for error can level just as hard as any full length out there.




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The Wild Poppies – Heroine

Wellington New Zealand’s The Wild Poppies grew up out of the country’s verdant jangle-pop leagues, though they broke for greener pastures in England not long after their formation. The band’s legacy is ensconced in their sole album, Heroine, the preceding single and a follow-up EP that was aptly titled Out of Time. Their move to the UK toughened their sound and added in a bit of shoegaze to their sunnier Kiwi stylings, aided in no small measure by their housemates at the time from Swervedriver. The reissue of their album contains their entire output with a few unreleased tracks thrown in for good measure, following them through each phase of the band’s life.

As is all too often the case timing turned out to be the band’s enemy and as they wound their way out of their swan song EP, they sensed tastes changing in the UK, swinging away from their ’80s jangles and into the arms of dance culture. It’s too bad as their tougher edge showed great promise. They disbanded shortly after and the band members went on to leave music behind. Still this remained a long respected item in jangle-pop collector’s circles and it’s good to have the whole collection back on vinyl.




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Jawbones

Berlin’s Jawbones carry on a tradition of high stacked space rock that skates through the pounding corridors of Krautrock and fuels itself on psychedelic fumes. Though they admittedly take inspiration from their ’60s forbears, they are much more aligned with the school of psychedelics that came up in the late ’90s and early ’00s. High and Low and Low and High brings to mind shades of The Warlocks, Spiritualized, Darker My Love, Brian Jonestown Massacre or The Black Angels. Drenched in a thick shade of smoke and anchored by feedback, the album thrives on textures as much as it does on hooks, vacillating between thunderous hammer headed Goliaths and vapor-cooled slow burners.

The Brian Jonestown connection goes deeper than sound here though. The record is being released as as joint venture between 8mm and Anton Newcome’s own A Records and driving force Leonard Kaage has played with BJM in the past. Kaage doesn’t quite have Newcome’s voracious capacity for hooks, but it’s clear that the two have been operating somewhere along the same wavelength, tapping into high levels of stratospheric froth. Overall a pretty solid entry into the canon of spaced travelers, though I’d have perhaps rethought the oddly out of place “Music For A Car Chase.” The rest will feel pretty familiar to those who’ve enjoyed the aughts’ psych waves, looking to add a little elevation to their day.




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Meat Candy – Pursuit of Sounds

London’s Meat Candy don’t exactly exude Englishness. In fact their debut 12″ feels every bit like it should be coming out of L.A. at this particular moment in time. They’ve adopted the fuzzed delivery; psych nuances and classic touchstones that Wand, Mind Meld, Ty Segall, Meatbodies and the like have been digging their nails into over the past few years and they’ve done their homework well. They trend towards the spacier end of the spectrum, embracing a good keyboard breakdown amidst the rumble and froth, setting them floating into the sunstreaked ether. The two shot of a 12″ that they volley out on Dirty Melody is as polished a gem of psych smeared vision as you’re likely to hear this week, though part of me feels a good producer on their side could push their sound into an even higher plateau. However, this is entirely promising and poised to make me think a full album could elevate their game. I could easily see them embracing concept and drive like a young Secret Machines. They earn themselves a spot on the radar if nothing else.



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