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Frank Ene

A compact, but powerful release from Frank Ene (Fresh & Onlys, Pure Bliss) gives rise to his darkened vision of pop. The songwriter paints songs in deep-blue tones, approaching the total darkness of the abyss, but becoming more radiant within his dour trappings. Ene has a delivery that feels perpetually stung with the numbness of drink. It’s weary, as if he’s been beaten emotionally or physically and is merely looking for that even keel to get him away from the pain. Longtime friend Wymond Miles assists with the production and his own penchant for creating works that are reverent to niche tones within ‘80s pop and post-punk can be felt reverberating through the record’s wires.

Its disingenuous, to nail Ene to the velvet crush of the ‘80s, though. There’s little that ties this record to any time or place. Instead No Longer exists in womb of feelings — scarred, caustic, lost, and appropriately for 2020, secluded. There’s a streak of Lynch in there, but maybe something even more discomfiting. There’s a sense that Frank’s trying to shed his own skin, to swim in the tides of despair looking for the self. If he’s come through the murky waters and out of the other bank, it’s hard to tell by the time the EP finishes. Perhaps his upcoming full-length will tune in a fuller picture. Still for those looking to the ache of Scott Walker or the slow-clot crawl of The Angels of Light, look no further than what Ene has prepared here.



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Kawaguchi Masami’s New Rock Syndicate & Kryssi Battalene

RSTB has had no lack of love for New Haven guitar-wrangler Kryssi Battalene (Headroom, Mountain Movers, Medication) over the years, and with her latest she’s only letting that love grow. The guitarist spent some time in Japan in 2018 and surprised legend-in-his-own-right Kawaguchi Masami (LSD Pond, LSD March, Aihiyo) at a solo show. The two made a connection and eventual plans to collaborate. Thus, a new version of the New Rock Syndicate was born with Battalene and Kawaguchi trading off on guitar and vocals. The record pushes both through new terrain, showing off their ability to flash fry a riff, but also a more mercurial side to both. While first couple of tracks light the wick on amp-toasted explosions, “Drown” finds them wading into the haunted mists of Ghost or Cosmic Invention.

The band only tumbles further into the cosmos after that. The guitars become more entangled and synths begin to swamp the speakers. On “Shadow of the Earth,” Kawaguchi takes the reins for the first half, letting the band wander through a nebulous darkness that stares out at the upper edges of the ionosphere from a position rooted in the mossy shade of gravestones and gravel. Battalene brings things down softly to the ground with her own haunted croon on the second half. “Pieces of You” closes out the record with a shuddering tumble that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down around the listener. The record is a layered, seething mass of psychedelic throb and both artists prove that their individual, indelible forms only multiply when they’re together. This ones a limited platter, out on New Haven’s own C/Site. Fans of either artist should grab one while its there. Definitely too good to let this one go.



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PAINT

The solo works of Pedrum Siadatian don’t fall too awful far from his day gig playing with Allah-Las —swiping at a kind of lived-in ‘70s aesthetic and feeling like his albums might soundtrack a lost weekend stumbling through the sands of a no account beach town out of season. Yet there’s a warbled color to his approach. The Allah-Las feel like they have a handle on modern motions. There’s a reverence for the past, sure, but still a crisp cut to their sound. Siadatian’s work with PAINT by turns comes across like a box full of waterlogged Polaroids. The colors are smudged, but the memories are still visible through the haze. That he started the band as an outlet for 4-track experiments certainly adds to the loner, private press quality that hangs over his songs like a macrame owl. Though in deference to his first outing, Pedrum has let his sequel progress past the bedroom ambiance that hangs over his debut.

The record sways on its feet, but it never falters. Siadatian saves his wooziest songs for PAINT, mixing slouched stringwork with chunky keys and crisp bass. While the private press tag felt right on target for the debut, here there’s more of a patchwork mixtape feeling. Faded cotton pop songs populate the bulk, touching on the edges of surf, but just as often he’s swaying into Middle Eastern pop, tax shelter one-off wonkiness, and a touch of packaged library music within the loose ends of the album. While the debut hit me squarely in a soft-spot for rough-edges, the quick spit-polish here actually endears this one all the more. The debut was excellent but felt like it needed just one last push. That push is wholly in force on Spiritual Vegas and it’s keeping this locked on the speakers more and more often. Las fans should flock to this, naturally, but any takers from Ariel, to Drugdealer, to The Bees should feel right at home.


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GNOD & João Pais Filipe

I’ve long been a proponent of the works of GNOD. The UK psych unit skims the line between pulsing, rhythmic psychedelia and noise so easily that they’ve let the colors run into one another over the years. On their latest they skirt into avant impulses fraught with a clangorous din and hypnotic polyrhythms. The band members are nothing if not consummate collaborators, having worked cross genre with everyone from Anthony Child (Surgeon), White Hills, and John Doran. Now they hook up with experimental percussionist Joăo Pais Filipe (Paisel), whom they met at Milhoes De Festa event in Barcelos, Portugal. The set was hammered out a short while after over four days at Joăo’s metal shop.

Like any other GNOD album it swerves away from its predecessors. The connection with Pais Filipe proves to center the album in hypnotic rhythms, a side that’s found its way into the band’s work plenty of times prior, but what the Portuguese artist brings to the set is a sense of foreboding atmosphere — haunting ripples, the ominous air of gongs. Guitars still scrape at the senses, but they too tend to ride the fluctuation of rhythm. As the air crackles with dissonant tension, scraping with feedback and woodwind howl, GNOD do their own part to match Pais Filipe’s calamitous atmospheres. The pieces remain instrumental until the second side tucks into the title track, and then GNOD enter the vocal fray with pained, fraught vocals that don’t direct anger so much as they have on the past couple of GNOD LPs, rather a lost frustration that’s fighting its way out of the rhythm haze. The band’s never stagnant and Faca De Fogo readily pushes them more towards the margins they were already occupying most of the time. Still haunted, still chewing on the bent cables of chaos, but also providing a satisfying body buzz at high volume in the right mood. No matter who’s in the co-pilot’s seat, GNOD make for a heavy hit.



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Andrew Tuttle

Sorely missing from the pages of RSTB has been any mention of Andrew Tuttle. That’s on me. Several albums deep at this point, he’s racked up stage time with Ryley Walker, Steve Gunn, Matmos, Julia Holter, and Daniel Bachman. His latest for Room 40 is a pastoral source of rejuvenation in parched times. Centering around his banjo and guitar work, the record enters a lot of the same eddies as Nathan Salsburg, a fellow picker who’s music tends not to overwhelm with flash, but who instead builds a world out of gently burbling patience and calm. Make no mistake, both have skill to spare, but knowing that there’s more to gain in shading and shifting tones is a particularly lovely persuasion within the world of fingerpicked guitar. Tuttle lets notes hang in the air and dissipate. Banjos waver on the winds, reverberated guitar soaks into the skin and underneath he sketches field recordings with a fine brush.

Cut through with an outdoor ambiance, and a communal backporch air, the record is incredibly unfussed at first blush. The stitches on the songs are barely visible, owing much to Tuttle’s ability to make his compositions feel like they might have been improvisations, but there’s more of a unified thread here than he first lets on. Tuttle plays like a quilter, weaving picture patterns that come into focus the further one backs away from the record. There’s a natural awe to the album, that’s expressed between the patient notes that Andrew and his collaborators concoct. Those collaborators play no small part in shaping Alexandra as well. The indelible color of Chuck Johnson’s pedal steel has been a part of many great 2020 LPs and he lends it to a couple of tracks here, as well as acting as producer for the record. Tony Dupe (Saddleback), Sarah Spencer (Blank Realm), Gwenifer Raymond (Tompkins Square), Joel Saunders (Spirit Bunny) and Joe Saxby (These Guy) also find their way into the ranks, fleshing out the tessellated universe that Tuttle constructs across these nine songs. 2020 has become a year for exploring quietude in deeper dimensions, and to that end, Alexandra is a welcome portal to a stiller set of sounds.




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The Cool Greenhouse

Been kinda waiting on this one to reach U.S. shores and it just so happens that yesterday a crop of shops have this UK treat in stock. So have at it, and here’s a few reason’s why. The band’s chewing on the burnt ends of post-punk in a most satisfying way. The Cool Greenhouse locks onto repetition like a life preserver and paddles further out to sea and away from the stench of the masses of civilization they clearly can’t stand. The band shucks the concepts of hooks, chorus, and musical structure in general – snatching the sneers of The Fall and hot gluing them to the acid attack of Pere Ubu ‘round about their Dub Housing heyday. Even then, the band isn’t really tied onto influences so much as they’re just focusing the force of disgust and aiming it at a microphone with an intent to let the listener itch for three to five minutes.

The bass hammers at the temples, guitars floss the ripples of grey matter with a haphazard hand. Synth strains jump and twitch like they were stuck in a socket and it all weaves together into the kind of record that rumples in the perfect way. Atop the din and damage the band lays into the everyday drip of banality and atrocity that surrounds them at every turn. The delivery of singer (term used loosely) Tom Greenhouse is slouched but levied squarely on his victims. The disdain and exhaustion drips off their debut with the dead-eyed delivery of a spoken word take down with the victim sweating under the spotlight for everyone in the room to see. There’s been a good ol’ fashioned return to the ravages of post-punk of late, from the rubber snap of Lithics, to the acerbic insistence of Native Cats, and fried-wire infections of The Uranium Club. The Cool Greenhouse slots right in with the discomfort set. There’s no keeping the band’s eponymous LP in the background, it fights its way to the front and melts the smile from your face in a wonderful way.



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Luke Schneider

This week’s been on a mercurial kick and I say why bump the tiller now. This record from Luke Schneider reinvents the Pedal Steel as force for ambient float and it’s an absolutely stunning take on the instrument. While the steel has long been the secret weapon among the cosmic country fare cropping up here, and even found its way into the minimal stretch of the Ezra Feinberg release from yesterday, Schneider elevates the form. He gives the instrument its due as a focal point while all but rendering the sounds unrecognizable as they’re refracted through the psychedelic and new age prisms at either end of his spectrum. Solo pedal steel can often be showy, and can flirt with melancholia and comedy, but Scheider pushes the past aside.

While the instrument has a grace and some might say its the heavy heart that adds a mournful edge to country, its also a virtuoso’s tool. Luke’s had a history of unconventional use, but a breakthrough into sobriety and a steady diet of ambient in the headphones lead to an unconventional, yet stunning record that’s more indebted to Laraaji than Herb Remington. There’s a fragile ebullience to Schneider’s work and he’s made a record that’s as complex in temperament as it is stark in aproach. The sounds here resonate with the humors of the soul, stirring euphoria in the same way his instrument typically divines sorrow. Peace and calm radiate from Luke’s compositions as if the balance of the universe rested on his slide.

When he’s not crafting crystalline tones, Schneider has been a constant in alt-country circles playing with Natural Child and Black Lips before a change in life direction and higher profile stints backing Margo Price, Orville Peck and William Tyler. He continues to work as one of country’s leading sidemen — never the most technical player, but a unique force that allows him to continually put his stamp on his recordings. Here he proves that he’s more than a key element in an ensemble and that pedal steel can float as far as the synths into the edge of the cosmos. This one’s a 2020 essential.




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Ezra Feinberg

I’ve shared a bit of this new LP from Ezra Feinberg, but the album’s really not something that can be parsed out into bits and pieces. Feinberg made his mark in the sorely undersung band Citay, fusing guitar flash and virtoistic playing with a sun-baked good nature that was way ahead of the Cosmic Americana curve that’s reared its head the last few years. He’s since taken to more Kosmiche waters, with a stunning LP in 2018, Pentimento and others, which he’s ably expanded upon with the rippling Recumbent Speech. Now navigating territory smoothed by Terry Riley and canonized by the German synth set — think Harmonia, Cluster, or Rother’s solo works – the new territory suits him. Naturally there’s the stamp of Eno as well, but with Tim Green, Chuck Johnson, Robbie Lee, and Jonas Reinhardt in tow, Feinberg is building soundworlds of his own that recall the light spirit of Citay, but embrace the new age with wide-open eyes.

While the mood is serene, Feinberg has plenty of rhythm at play on the album. As with his previous outings his string work often creates a loping underbelly to tracks, but he’s meshing the repeated phrases with the soft skitter of drums that range from whispered shapes of a pulse to prog and jazz touches that feel at home with their ‘70s precursors. Most welcome here is the pedal steel of Johnson, who uses it to shade in the songs with a darkness that cools off the abundant ease of the album. Feinberg’s compositions use their players as subtle, yet essential layers. Even the vocals of Mandy Green and April Haley are woven between the cataclysmic crumble of “Ovation,” one of the album’s true highlights. With his previous outing, Feinberg set the stage for this new chapter in his output, but with Recumbent Speech he’s crafted a cosmic high water mark that should be touchstone for anyone looking to elevate minimal records for years to come.




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Jeffrey Silverstein

Played a bit of this on the last RSTB radio show, but as the excellent mass of great albums this year has outweighed my free time, I’m just now getting this one up on the site. Silverstein has created a meditative oasis of gently loping guitars and cool waters of pedal-steel. Inspired by the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, long distance running, and the sunbaked brevity of lost icon Ted Lucas, the record has an innate laid-back quality to it that tends to pass by with a touch of highway hypnosis. Among the marbled greenery of Silverstein’s playing the listener is invited to look inward. Time passes inside tis bubble while the rest of the world slinks by in time-lapse. I’m not going to use the reviled term of 2020 here, this isn’t a balm of sorts, but instead a reset, a meshing with the earth and sky to achieve balance.

There’s a feeling of photosynthesis to the album, as if the vibrations between the light refracted off of You Become The Mountain can energize the listener. The slow pacing never lags, but lingers in just the right manner. Silverstein, along with Barry Walker Jr. (Mouth Painter, Roselit Bone) and Alex Chapman (Parson Redheads, Evan Thomas Way) help to slow down the frantic pace of the year, an asset to an album if there ever was one. While moored in folk, the record takes many of its cues from the amniotic float of Kosmiche while keeping a bit of Neu in the rearview. The latter crops up in the subliminal click of programmed drums that are ever obscured by the heat lines rolling off of the pavement. The elements come together nicely to form an album that suffused with the natural world – the fresh green smell of cut plants, the warmth of wooden surfaces in the sun, the gentle sound of cotton curtains in the breeze. While it seems simple, Silverstein makes the ordinary feel essential for just a few moments.



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Hypnolovewheel – “Parallel Universe”

Growing up through the ‘90s it seemed that those of us in more remote areas had to scrap a bit harder to find music outside of limited shelf space in the few stores that existed in the area and the FM dial. I’m still coming upon pockets of bands that seem like they should have had prominence that were just completely lost on the wider net of listeners. Long Island band Hypnolovewheel definitely falls in this category. The band suffers from the ‘90s phenomenon of “horrible cover art overshadows the music inside.”. There was plenty of this trend at the time, but maybe see their collection of covers for yourself. It’s too bad, though, because the band embraced a wide swath of sounds prevalent at the time and made them all work.

From their alt-jangled beginnings on Turn! Turn! Burn! that recall The Embarrassment, to the smudged shoegaze blare of Angel Food and their final stop at power pop swagger on Altered States, the band had an enviable aural trajectory but never seemed to grip too long. Even with a bit of push through ‘90s Marvel (Hypnolovewheel would feature in at least one Spiderman comic at the time) and with opening slots for plenty of large-scale NY headliners, they seemed pretty contained to the East Coast. There wasn’t a huge push behind them. Their first two albums appeared on Fabian Aural Products and they moved to Alias for the rest of their output, but would dissolve after Altered States in ’93. The band’s Dave Ramirez would play with King Missle for a bit while they were still active and following their demise he’d work with James McNew in Dump.

Aptly this collection from Cara Records really ties together their catalog, with selections across their spectrum of sound plus some exclusive demo cuts that haven’t appeared elsewhere. Its a good primer and tends to wrap up some of the band’s most interesting singles and cuts, but their whole catalog is worth perusing at length as they do have plenty of deep cuts that don’t appear here. This is a nice spotlight on a band that seemed to get lost in the cracks like so many swallowed by the ‘90s.



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