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Supercrush

While it seems hard to start outrunning the year end lists already, there’s still plenty of year left to consider, so I’m gonna keep running through the ones that have gotten away from me up until now. I’m ever the sucker for a good power pop album and Supercrush deliver an LP steeped in the lessons of the ’90s sweater set as they tumbled into the early aughts. The record is soaked in the kind of heartsick pop that could rattle around your brain for the better part of a summer, yet still find the volume knob creeping up when it came on. The band’s gotta have some well-worn copies of Velvet Crush, Matthew Sweet, Sloan, and Teenage Fanclub, but there’s a second-tier thrum from the era that comes through in a very good way. I mean that lovingly, as someone who would sift through old promos at jobs and radio stations of my past, finding mixtape fodder among the punch-holed copies of The Long Winters, By Divine Right, post-debut SuperDrag, and Ben Kweller. Sometimes it only takes that one song to hook yer heart, I guess.

Thankfully Supercrush has far more than just one that sinks the barbs into the flesh.The band avoids a lot of pitfalls of inconsistency that might have plagued their forerunners, and they pack the hooks tight against the fuzz on SODOpop. Songs trickle in on velvet pleas of understanding but just as often let the wall of amps fry away the melancholy buzz on a magenta plume of electric oblivion. They get out before their welcome could ever even be considered overstayed. At 36 minutes, this one leaves the listener wanting to the point of checking the player to see if it is indeed done. Sometimes that’s the best way, though — a whirlwind crush that’s a blur of color and heat that’s over before it ever began. Though this record feels like I’ve been there before, I’m not mad at the nostalgia rush one bit.



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Sad Eyed Beatniks

The run of low-key pop charmers out of San Francisco lately has been admirable to say the least and the crew at Paisley Shirt has been unparalleled in documenting the current slide from garage grit towards jangle-pop bliss. Though let’s not completely dismiss Rocks In Your Head, who are probably just about neck in neck with them at times. Nonetheless, this latest release from label head Kevin Linn’s Sad Eyed Beatniks nails the cross section of sounds that filters through his label. With an air of ‘80s jangle — The Clean, Verlaines, Cleaners From Venus, Deep Freeze Mice — and a hangover of ‘60s Nuggets that informed ‘em in its veins, Linn’s latest tape gives the Beatniks some shape and shine. Blurry-eyed swayers butt heads with wobbly harmonies and hooks that were too good to stay buried in the hiss that marked some of his early works.

The record’s definitely got a lineage cut out of the Barrett warmed plastic pop school, but its tempered by years of knowing that you can’t stare straight into that particular sun for too long without developing a permanent warp. With a quirky hook of song titles that represent geographic locations, the works on Places of Interest hammer out a series of vignettes that paint with a wide brush of strummed sunshine and it’s hard not to just let the whole thing wash over you in a delirious haze. The tape is out now and recommended for pick up before its disappears.




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Chronophage

Austin’s Chronophage hooked more than a few savvy listeners last year with and out-of-nowhere gem of an album. Their LP, Prolog For Tomorrow funneled a heavy dose of ‘80s and ‘90s scuffed rock brilliance though a wet flannel, doubled-dubbed tape filter. With shades of Sebadoh compiling a mixtape of Swell Maps, Television Personalities and Pere Ubu covers, this one resonated with a good cross-section of alternate-current castoffs already scraping the underbellies of Columbus and Detroit for just such a rumble. With the follow-up hitting the shelfs this week they seek to cement their sweaty clutch on the punctured and pummeled pulpit, delivering another round of jagged-tin punk just in time for the end of the year. Just as strains of the sound tumbled out of windows of unfinished basements and into the pit at large a few decades back, they’re standing at a crossroads of cacophony, injecting clarity into the mangled missives, finding balance between the clamor and the catchy.

As they skid into Th’PIg’Kiss’d the band kicks the muffled cocoon from their sound and lets their mangled mass of post-punk rattle around the brain in brilliant mid-def glory. With the bump out of the wet breath of tape hiss, the band begins to parse out the layers of their chewed-wire wonderland. They wrangle in a bit of the heat-stroke twang of Meat Puppets, let their guitars twist their metal girder grind even further and even find a moment of tenderness on “Animated Rose.” The wider spectrum speaks to the growth between albums, though they’re still at their best when the manic edge of danger is present — their mild-mannered moments only a catch of breath before they let loose with broken knife guitar attacks and frayed wire organ lines. As an added bonus the band has sent over a new video for standout track “Any Junkyard Dreams,” pairing the track’s rusted guitar garrote and cool water choruses with an amusing attack by puppet crows with a lust for blood and robbery. The clip was made by Perry Hohlstein and is a lot of fun. If you missed out on the band’s last burner, Th’Pig’Kiss’d is a good point to jump into Chronophage’s particular punk burn.



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Causa Sui

There’s probably no better cornerstone of the El Paraiso catalog than Causa Sui. The band, which holds both label heads, Jakob Skøtt and Jonas Munk in its ranks has lived parallel to the label even as they’ve carved out their own stable of European psychedelic sorcerers. The band has dabbled between the poles of crushing heaviness and heady interwoven jam territory, but they’ve rarely not kept both elements in play within a release. So, its with some intrigue that Szabodelico leans away from the crushing blows and explores solely their cosmic side for a change. And who can blame them? To exist in thunder endlessly has to be tiring, and there’s no time like the present to let the tributary influences begin to come together into a record that’s patient, yet loose, weaving experimentation into a seamless vision of psychedelic intrigue.

While the band might not sear the skin like Sun City Girls, there’s a feeling that Richard Bishop’s latter day exploits may seep into the shadows here. With touches of flute trilling through the knotted guitar interplay and rhythmic slink, the record isn’t soaked in creosote, but it is weaving through packed alleys with a curious ear. The record was born out of improv sessions from the last year and cut together to feel like a cohesive tumble through twilight psychedelics and the shift works under any banner, whether its an heir to what Causa Sui have laid down prior or not. This year has seen its share of cosmic weavers and this adds nicely to a landscape of guitar float that should appeal to heads already locked onto Chris Forsyth, Garcias, and Dire Wolves, in addition to El Paraiso die hards who’ll no doubt find it absorbing the label’s more recent dives into jazz flow and less heavy sounds. Long live the Sui, and let this one linger on the turntable while this year burns down to the wick.



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Badge Époque Ensemble

It’s easy to try to lump Badge Époque Ensemble into a category of revivalists — bands intent on running an idea of psych-funk glory through analog tape with a superimposed veneer of ringwear on the cover. Yet, while the band might have a few hallmarks that fit that lazy categorization, they’re a much more mercurial band than any genre misconception can hold. The band’s debut played off of the library funk hangover that’s fed sample crates and rabid collectors for years. The album leaned into instrumental funk, lost in a cloud of smoke that seeped deep into the wire work of the musicians and their instruments. Their follow-up may still remain one of their best pieces — an EP that leaned further into their psychedelic impulses, with vocalist Dorothea Paas lending a ‘60s humidity that sticks to the soul. The bulk of the EP went deep into the band’s ability to get lost in heady Parliament breakdowns and cosmic groove and its as close as they’ve come to letting complete improvisation take over.

They bring all of their strengths to the table on their second full length for Telephone Explosion, leaning away a bit from the instrumental emphasis, anchoring the record around a collection of soul-burnt tracks that melt their edges just a bit, while still pushing towards a sound that’s classic but never safe. Paas returns for a duet with U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy on the album opener and it captures a bit of the rain-fogged charms of her feature from the EP. Canadian crooner James Baley pulls the band as close as they’ve ever come to modern R&B, and it’s actually folk songwriter and RSTB fave Jennifer Castle who anchors one of the album’s best tracks, “Just Space For Light.” She steps away from her folk fragility to deliver a track that’s misty and wistful but steely as anything in BEE’s catalog. With the band pulsating behind her it’s a clear highlight, doused in the icy flute of Alia O’Brien whose work often gives the record its gilded bridge between funk, soul and psychedelia.

Now, I’m always going to hope that the band goes further out, and I’m willing to bet when these tracks are on stage each and every one goes hard into its own particular ether. The instrumentals that remain fit the bill here nicely, recapturing a bit of the Library feel that lets the band straddle the past and present like breaks being formed in real time. Self Help is not as raw as the eponymous or interim EP, but it’s great to see the band experimenting with their different sides, even when those experiments take them towards more traditional waters. There’s a feeling that the band is still in the exciting, figuring things out phase and there’s still plenty of time for the epic double LP mind-bender to come. For now, there’s lots of well-crafted pockets to explore over and over on Self Help.



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Trevor Beld Jimenez

Country-psych veteran Trevor Beld Jimenez has been a name kicking around rosters for years — popping up on Fruit Bats, Kacey Johansing, and DIOS recordings. He was found hunkering down with Neal Casal and Brent Rademaker in GospelbeacH, and with his songwriting partner Tim Ramsey in Parting Lines and Tall Tales & The Silver Lining. For his solo debut on Rademaker’s Curation Records, the songwriter digs deeper into the tie that seems to bind them all – the salt-flecked sundown shimmer of California calm. Rooted in ‘70s songwriter hallmarks, the songs here are swinging from wounded Petty and Nilsson to the AM gold of Bread and America. The album shares a lot of ground with the musical foxholes of his past, feeling like many of the songs wouldn’t be out of place in any of the bands that bear his name, though it might hew closest to the feeling of Parting Lines. Like the songs on the Lines’ debut, there’s a porch-at-dusk feeling to I Like It Here and its hard not to give in to the familiarity.

More AOR than cosmic country, though, Jimenez is steeped in the well-shined pop that’s hovering a bit above the usual twang-flecked purveyors that populate Raven of late. That he’s been around the Fruit Bats crew isn’t surprising, Jimenez shares a lot of pop impulses with Eric, D. Johnson, and its not unexpected that the Bats songwriter lends a hand to the record. Also finding their way into the mix are contemporaries and cohorts, Clay Finch (Mapache) and Pearl Charles along with studio heavy players like Nelson Bragg and Bob Glaub. While Jimenez can sometimes kick up a bit of dust, the record’s speed is often found sinking into the horizon, heavy with a sigh of the past and a drink at half mast. It’s not always a bad place to be. It’s certainly comfortable while it lasts and when the alcohol wears off, the head swim of melancholy lingers for the night.



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Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987

As a fan of jangle pop and exploratory compilations in general this deep dive into the less celebrated janglers from the American ‘80s underground is decidedly up my alley. The comp starts off a new series, Excavations, that explores some of the American impulses behind the sounds that built the basis foundation for the Captured Tracks roster. The label and Mike Sniper cite Pebbles, Soul Jazz, and Numero comps as an inspiration, and given that Mike’s history includes the compact, but excellent catalog of Radio Heartbeat, I’ve got a feeling he might someday expand this series to pick up where that short-lived, but still appreciated Numero spotlight on power pop might have gone. Though I’m just as happy to have them both run concurrent findings if the soul coffers run dry. That hope aside, this first compilation is packed with some great overlooked material that falls under the college rock tag that eventually gave way to Alternative with a bit more bravado over time.

A whole host of the bands on the tracklist here fit the bill for something like a Nuggets spotlight, though perhaps there’s a bit higher ratio skewed towards albums that pan out past the singles that Cap Tracks has pulled out to spotlight. Nicer price points too — a lot of the originals can be picked up in that magical and rapidly shrinking Discogs niche that’ll run you $8-15 for a gem. When I first found comps like Yellow Pills and Nuggets they acted as Rosetta stones for a world of niche sounds that expanded way past the stale radio fodder I found lumbering around the Midwest, and this comp has the potential to open up a whole new era to the kind of listeners like myself who were always looking for more. The comp threads its interest through vaunted labels (Homestead, Enigma) and more fringe players alike, but the sounds all tie together an ‘80s that, like Sarah and Postcard abroad, were acting in direct opposition to the more jocular zeitgeist that rose up all around them.

Packaged with a huge book of background on the artists, archival pictures and liner notes that dig into what makes each track such a worthy addition, the set is certainly worthy of the Excavations aspirations that they’re going for. If you’ve got a soft spot for the less punk strains that swam through the ‘80s underbelly then it’s hard not to be charmed by the round up here.



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Spencer Cullum

It’s always nice to see the sidemen get their due and 2020 has been a year of session players stepping up, especially within the realm of pedal steel — from Barry Walker to Luke Schneider, and now we can add Spencer Cullum to the list as well. Though unlike the others, Cullum isn’t bringing pedal steel to the forefront, rather he’s gathered his circle of Nashville players for an album that’s shot through with ‘70s Canyon AOR, UK prog, psych folk, and even a surprising touch of German Progressive coursing through its veins. Cullum slips from behind the bandstand to wind up an amiable, if subdued leader. Where others have tucked into Cosmic Americana and UK prog-folk with a flash, he’s ever the master of balance and shading, letting tracks simmer in their ambitions.

The impulses here swing from simple folk strains into lush works buoyed by strings, clarinet, sax and mellotron and pencer taps quite a few friends to add those touches. Sean Thompson, Luke Reynolds, Andrew Combs, Erin Rae, Annie Williams and James “Skyway Man” Wallace all pop up among the credits and their contributions help give the record definition. While he’s aiming for Matching Mole, Roy Harper, Caravan, and early Soft Machine, with so many local friends on board, the native Englishman can’t help inject just a touch of Nashville’s honeyed charms to the record as well. As the LP progresses he wanders further afield from the wooded confines of folk, letting a motorik murmur enter into view on “Dieterich Buxtehude,” and a soft jazz gauze fall over “Tombre En Morceaux.” The record does its best to embrace an out-of-time feeling, evoking an era of experimental folk that’s still reverberating today while bearing a few teethmarks of the kind of players who are pulled in for their perfectionism. It’s high concept prog from the best hired guns and while that means none of the ends are particularly frayed, I certainly enjoy its grand design.




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Tambourinen

Earlier in the year The Myrrors Grant Beyschau issued a tape on Avant-Unity Music and it finds its way back into the world via a vinyl issue through Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube this month. While the set shares a sense of exploration and cosmic consciousness with The Myrrors, the Tambourinen nods into a much more German Progressive zone than the ragged folk harmonics of his mainstay. The title track pushes the release into the heavy waters that are tread throughout, letting a nodding rhythm take control and with fuzz leads peeling the paint from the walls while a dousing of flutes cool the temperature somewhat. By the time the track lands in the clearing its left the turbulent sway for a life in the ethers, kicking cosmic dust back and forth between the speakers. The feeling stays on for the following track, “Wollensak,” an iced sluice through the quasars for that cleans up the rhythmic fray nicely.

Beyschau isn’t done with the tumult, though, the album’s other extended cut “Power To” returns right back to the fuzz-ravaged dirge of “Wooden Flower” and carves out a bit more space to let the album burrow into hypnotic headspace. The flutes are supplanted with sax hers and their burn permeates the consciousness deeper into a copper stained vision of drop-out meditation. The album caps off on a folk note that’s slightly incongruous with the deep-core jams that precede it but its a nice, slight nod back to The Myrrors and their frayed ends. This was a nice pickup by the labels and deserving of a vinyl press — a tape seems a bit under serving of the scope of flay that Beyschau can lay down.




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David Nance

November just keeps giving musically and the new release from David Nance is hard proof. The Omaha artist switched his setup towards full band and knocked the gears to heavy on his last LP, but he’s back to basics for Staunch Honey and while I miss the UV burn of Peaced and Slightly Pulverized I appreciate the unfettered and unfiltered version of Nance all the more this time around. A ragged county blues that’s ripped out of some alt-American version of a national songbook, the record is the sound of dust storms whipping through vacant cul-de-sacs abandoned after the housing crisis hollowed them out. It’s the sound of scarred lots in Detroit built with blight but hosting an outdoor noise show. Its the sound of catharsis, sweet and simple — the rumble of mufflers over the horizon harmonizing with the amplifiers to create a grit-ground vision of Americana if there were no longer pretensions attached to the term.

Nance has tapped down deep into something singular, secular, and universal. The dust in his veins is pure, and it’s beat down into every note of Staunch Honey. The shift between Peaced and this record is palpable. Everything has slowed to an amber glow that gives the titular substance weight on the record. The riffs are run through finest local batch, then countrified and clarified until they’re something ragged, raw, and unmistakable. If we were in need of a cleanse in 2020, Nance has stepped up to the challenge and brought the blacklight backbeat that douses the masses in a deluge of blues — enough to buff out the buildup from a half decade of bad vibes. Nance brings the lights low, lets the bar crowd die down and then lays out the 2AM shakes like an old aficionado. Make no mistake, Staunch Honey is rarefied air and you’d do well to breath it in deep.




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