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The Total Bettys

San Francisco’s Total Betty’s are a country-tinged rock band masquerading in the skin of a garage-pop combo. Though they’ve picked up ranks at the always lovely Lauren Records, they’re skewing more grown up than many of their roster-mates and even their own name checked influences (Bully or Charly Bliss). In actuality the band lands closer to the catalog of Rilo Kiley, finding solace in Jenny Lewis’ wink laden pop docket, before she truly embraced her wandering country soul. The Total Bettys dig into the faded comfort and driving heart of Rilo’s indie past. More so, singer Maggie Grabmeier has a knack for hooking her thumbs into self-deprecation delivered with a touch of honey that can’t help but dredge up comparisons to Lewis.

Repeated listens open this up, not into the jangled garage nugget that it’s perhaps intended to be, but as a bittersweet summer road trip companion that pines for loves imagined and lost. Grabmeier acts as wing-woman and shoulder to lean on, delivering lyrics with a wry humor that’s handily packed into hooks that aren’t outsized, but rather sneakily subtle and seeping into your consciousness through the slight crackle of production that comes on like AM static. As a debut this feels like its just a peek at what Grabmeier and the band have at their disposal. With a larger scale production they could completely shake that garage tag (not that there’s anything wrong with it) and reach for lush hills that give her songwriting a bit more gravitas and still keep feet moving. Certainly a band to keep an eye on as the years click by, but this is lovely on its own merits.




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Clowns

Melbourne’s slightly ill-named Clowns shore up their third album with a delightful mix of grit and pop bounce. They’re laying down in the grunge gutter, dredging up dreams of Seattle’s ’90s hangover, but like fellow Aussie’s Dune Rats, they have a rat tail of pop punk hidden in the necks of their tattered sweaters. They ricochet the grunge impulses through a run at SoCal’s skate set, pushing tempos perilously fast, with frontman Stevie Williams screaming like blood through caffeinated veins. They make the combo work almost enviably well, straining the calamitous pop chunks into muscular riffs, roughed up with snotty angst that should shake the walls and drown out even the most persistent parent.

Clowns sprinkle a fair amount polish on this record, despite it’s chaotic crunch, showing an ear for production with acoustic touches, a lite-psych sprinkling, and a penchant to push punk past the four-minute mark. There’s been a rash of sub-Millenial bands cherishing the ’90s through an internet-film filter, and despite their tendency to gloss over the rough patches and the inexplicable ubiquity of Carson Daly, it’s been fun to take the trip to the mall once again. Sure, a good chunk of us have been here before, god knows I have, but its freeing to feel the circle pit roar up again for 40-minutes or so.




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KG – Come Closer, We’re Cool

Manufactured Recordings takes on a run of shoegaze rarities that missed their due, including Tempe’s Alison Halo and Santa Cruz’ Bethany Curve. Come Closer, We’re Cool binds up some essential output from French artist Rémy Bux, who’d later use the moniker to work deeper into electronic territory, but here he’s driving squarely in the lane occupied by Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Drop Nineteens and The Lilys. Acting as a compilation of early singles, rather than straight reissue, this release marks the first time much of this has been gathered in one place. The compilation nature of the release allows for some stylistic changes, though Bux mostly keeps his head within the crimson haze of shoegaze’s clutches.

The early work wound up as singles for Lo-Fi Recordings and Orgasm Records. The rest of the release rounds up tracks that were originally slated for release on Slumberland, a move that makes sense when you hear some of the similarities between their mid-nineties roster and the work that KG cycles through. Whatever happened with the album remains unclear, but this release makes a good case for KG as a lost gem of shoegaze for sure. KG remains active and reportedly still returns to shoegaze now and again between heavier electronic work. For the shoegaze stalwarts out there, though, this is a nice treasure trove of bleary-eyed fuzz.




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Otoboke Beaver – Love Is Short EP

Kyoto foursom Otoboke Beaver taps into the kind of heavy, frantic Japanese punk that bore out bands like Ni-Hao and Afrirampo a few years back. Their whirlwind triple shot of a single “Love Is Short” blasts through the walls fists up and swinging. The band might adopt all the visual aesthetics of a ’60s girl group, but when it comes to an aural assault, the niceties drop away and they’re more than ready to topple any challengers off the mountain. The title track, stripped of its barbed vocals actually tips harder into speed metal territory, but the slight pop bent gives it all the best touches of Japanese punk.

There’s a certain humor to the all out attack of a song called “Introduce Me To Your Family.” Just as tightly wound as the title track, its a spun gold gauntlet of punk that’s got a bounce in the guitar line and some borderline funk in its bones. This track skews more experimental than the first and leads nicely into the hateful spit of capper, “Mean,” a 19 second aperitif that’s perfect for breaking off a breathless single.




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Jane Weaver

Jane Weaver found herself folded into the cosmic plane on previous album Silver Globe. Channeling a refined mash of Stereolab, Jodorowsky, Can and Broadcast, the album pushed Weaver further into a slick-skinned spaciness that’s the very image of ultra-modern trappings. She continues the journey through Krautrock/Kosmiche/Lounge/Experimental headspace to refine the sound into something of a chic psychedelic alternate universe where Wegner’s the standard bearer of public style and the hi-fi has won out handily over the television as the centerpiece of the American homestead.

Though, that’s not to make Weaver sound like she’s merely soundtracking the snooty coffee bar that pushed its way into the neighborhood, there’s plenty of humanity bubbling underneath that well coifed exterior. The beats tap along to a motorik heart, but over the top Weaver is swooning with a natural demeanor that puts her ultra-modern framework on a sweeping vista of verdant forest views. The balance between futurist and naturalist feels at the crux of Modern Kosmology. Weaver is the tear rolling down artificially intelligent cheeks, blushing at the feelings welled up by the modern art in your foyer.

Modern Kosmology is an album that’s comfortable with its niche, well-researched and soldering the markers of genre together into a clockwork hum of perfect unity. This is new age psych for those who have already transcended the physical form and are finally finding their muse. It’s a ripple that reminds one not to trust the eyes too much, instead it communicates on a wavelength that’s pulsing with a strange humanity, earthen and antiseptic all at once. If an album were to have tasting notes then Modern Kosmology seems wrought with the ghosts of moss, leather, Formica and Ozone. Dip in accordingly.




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Mikah Wilson – “Cassingle”

L.A. songwriter Mikah Wilson indulges in a brand of earnest ’70s pop that’s not removed from some prevailing winds (see Tennis, Weyes Blood, The Lemon Twigs, Tobias Jesso Jr.) but while he’s captured the crystal shimmer in the production, he’s also found a breezy simplicity that pushes him further from the Harry Nilson / Randy Newman / Joni Mitchell crossroads of ’70s FM. Perhaps that’s why the label is selling this as power pop and while there’s certainly a plainspoken appeal that hearkens to Big Star or Shake Some Action-era Flaming Groovies, it’s not saddled with the same lusty ambitions or tough/tender tension that either of those embody.

Instead Wilson is working from a sunshine soul that creeps into ’70s mainstream pop rock. Taking early Rick Springfield (talkin’ Mission Magic years here) on a lovelorn wander through the transistor wires, Wilson has created a vision of honest pop that’s echoing The Raspberries and Badfinger in the best ways. In every sense of the phrase, “they don’t make ’em like this anymore.” Wilson has wrestled mining the ’70s from the hands of hipsterdom, he’s gone feral in his wide-eyed sincerity. Both sides of this cassette are a genuine love-letter not only to those artists that laid their saccharine souls down all those years before, but to pop as a statement of purpose. On every level, I just want to hear more of this and soon.




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Ball

Forget the secret society pseudonyms and cryptic backstory on Swedish psych-burners Ball, leave that veil of secrets to Goat and dive into this one on pure sonic salaciousness alone. Ball’s eponymous LP is an ozone-coated burn through biker psych, cocaine face melters, German Progressive freakouts and low-slung pelvic blues that would make yer Grammy blush. The elusive S. Yrék Ball cycles through styles with a deft touch, leaving the album feeling like a concept record built on psychsploitation and powered by pure lust ground to powder.

Ball channels Detroit’s own devil in the flesh Timmy Vulgar on “Speeding,” chewing the psychedelic scenery with guttural howls, but he pins it down to a firmly polished and explosive set of ’70s power trio slash n’ burn workouts that make Vulgar’s psych-punk flinch in the corners. The hits don’t stop there, either. Immediately launching into the horror-synth laden “Satanas” he holds seance into a level of ’70s lock-stop excess that feels like it could only be orchestrated by Andy Votel waiting in the wings. Then, smiling like Baphomet on a psilocybin rant, Ball twists the record deeper into the bowels of gutter-psych.

Ball resurrects the ink-black resin that’s caked into the heart of rock with a double shot in the form of “Fyre Balls” and “Fyre”. The former’s short on words but heavy on grunted passion, feeling like it’s played straight out of the puddle of of grease left behind from the burnt ashes of a Hendrix-ian bonfire circa Monterey Pop. Then like a Phoenix from those ashes, the album version of “Fyre” channels the Experience’s smoke-ringed chaos and propels it full speed through Hawkwind’s space-rock vortex. The gods of guitar-burnt psychedelia have smiled on 2017, but Ball proves that perhaps the demons have a say in this as well. If there’s a record that needs to sully your turntable this month, it’s Ball’s occult-vision of hedonistic flame. Maybe just check the needle for cinders after it’s taken a spin.




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Air-Sea Dolphin / Honey Radar – “Split”

Chunklet has been a favored well for singles the past couple of years and their dedication to pairing with Third Uncle for blink-and-you-miss-em lathe cuts makes it both exciting and elusive to get your hands on them. However, this double shot from solid steamers Honey Radar and new(ish)-comers Air-Sea Dolphin is worth capturing physically, or at the very least, digitally. Honey Radar do what Honey Radar do best, gnarled pop nuggets laced in a post-Pollard hangover of fuzzed glory. The track is on par with the best bits that Jason Henn has kicked out of the cracked speakers lately and if you’re a fan of his habitually dusty screeds then this will appeal no doubt.

The flip, which acts as the debut proper from Air-Sea Dolphin, is headed up by none other than Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo. Now the thing about idiosyncratic voices is that no matter where they roam, all bands tend to sound a bit like a singer’s highest marquee moment. Which, since it’s no Death Metal indulgence, means the glossy power pop that Air-Sea Dolphin explode from the wires has a distinctly Apples slant to it, but who cares when Schneider’s pop acumen is footing the bill? This track is dosed in Velocity Of Sound level buzz-pop energy and it’s completely addictive. This is a joyous summer jam that should be packing playlists for months. Given Chunklet’s connection to the E6 archival efforts, its no huge jump of reason that Schneider would put something out here, but its received with open arms for sure and I hope this winds up with more material to come.




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Jowe Head – Cabinet of Curios

Hardly a household handle here in the US, Jowe Head held down tenures in two UK cult favorites – Swell Maps and Television Personalities. On top of his work with those two outlets Head (better known to his mum as Stephen Bird) released several solo albums that sewed up his bent and fractured pop. Cabinet of Curios collects cuts from his his extensive solo career, culling from 1981’s Pincer Movement, 1986’s Strawberry Deutschmark and 1989’s Personal Organizer. Tracks from that first record stand in stark contrast to the brittle post-punk of Swell Maps, though it seems all solo efforts from that band wound up in verdant and unique pastures, Bird just did it with a certain sense of humor that’s missing from some of his contemporaries.

That humor separates the solo work from his longtime run with Television Personalities as well. Though he’d add a touch of experimentation to their catalog, his solo recordings push the needle much further into DIY eccentricities. While sparse bedroom hijinks feel almost pat at this point Jowe Head held down his own territory in the ’80s spanning ground between the shaved and shorn pop of Chris Knox and the clattertrap psychedelics of Deep Freeze Mice. The collection doesn’t limit itself just to early works, however. It cherry picks from bits of his bands The Househunters and Palookas as well, both bands capturing the nervy essence of Jowe Head’s songwriting.

In 2008 Bird started up Jowe Head and the Demi-Monde and continues the project to this day. In fact a good deal of the collection cherry picks the band’s CD-rs and limited releases then throws in a cache of unreleased tracks as gravy. Its unlikely that you’ll find a more complete picture of Jowe Head’s ecstatic world view outside of the 1994 comp Unhinged. For the casual fan of Television Personalities or Swell Maps this might only come as the title might infer, a curio and nothing more. For the true diggers of post-punk oddments and DIY roots, this is a gem with plenty to offer. Every RSD there’s one that slips through the cracks and this year, Jowe Head takes the prize.


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Dream Machine

Matthew Melton has proven nothing if not mercurial over the years. He’s always been a fixture of the kind of garage that’s beaten and bruised, though doggedly interested in the details. Emerging from the twin spires of smoke-choked garage – Snake Flower 2 and Bare Wires – he dove headlong into the pristine clean of Warm Soda’s power pop with occasional digressions back into garage in his solo work and with short-run stompers Pleasers. So here we stand again on the precipice of another change and this time Melton sheds a great deal of those garage pasts to embrace the blacklit arms of prog and proto-metal.

Along with his wife Doris, who steers the band’s distinctive organ sound, Melton and Dream Machine enter a black drape of dry ice and incense that’s dug deep into the prog mindset, snaking through the corridors of the ’70s on trills of organ that can’t help but bring to mind Iron Butterfly, Deep Purple or Rhinoceros. Doris’ vocals give Dream Machine a nice touch of soulfulness, and a dose of femininity that sometimes eludes Melton’s past projects. He’s often felt like a bastion for young men with record shelving conundrums and while this won’t necessarily scare that set off, it’s got a great deal to offer those that fall outside the devoted choir of believers.

The record even comes with a dive into heady human harmonics in the band’s insistence on re-tuning to accommodate brain-reactive frequencies. Check out their explanation on A=432 that swerves from Joseph Goebbles to The Four Yugas. All these trappings feel essential to their true progression to, well Progressive Rock. The album is, as with most Melton projects, a perfect encapsulation of genre. While there have been plenty of dogmatic psych albums made in the past couple of decades, this one feels like its filling a niche that’s been left behind. With the exception of Black Mountain, the bands that have embraced anything approaching organ-prog in later years get hung up in Rick Wakeman wankerisms that leave out the pelvic thrust at the heart of the original players. Dream Machine manages to ride the line between the dirty crawl of garage and the stadium-sized ambitions of the supergroup generation. You’re gonna want to grab the headphones and sink back in that beanbag for this one.




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