Browsing Category Reviews

Bloods

Aussie garage-pop upstarts Bloods have been raining down hits around RSTB for the past few years, though they’ve been flying under the radar of far too many stateside. Their last album proved hard to grip in The States, but thanks to some help from the Sub Pop affiliated Share It, the band’s latest is hitting Western Shores. Built off of some of their most effervescent singles – the roller rink crash of “Feelings,” the wide-skied ripper “Bug Eyes” – the band’s new album bounds into the room and makes a mess with the full force of a punk packed confetti canon. The band enlisted Liam Jacobson, who recently gave a jolt to fellow Aussies Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and his hand pushes their pop impulses to the front. The skinned-knees n’ grit that pocked their early EPs fades into the background without losing any of the elements that made the band fun in the first place.

Much like US counterparts Bleached, the band wraps up their fuzz-whipped hooks in swooning harmonies. They summon up songs that are meant to be yelled in unison out of dropped windows like future road trip classics to heal the heart and howl at the sun. There’s more than a touch of mid-‘90s fuzz toasters in the DNA of Feelings, from the “Better Than Me” bounce of The Muffs to the sweetly sung simmer of That Dog. They don’t linger too long in the Gen-X garden, though, they form fit their fuzz to a cleaner-lined indie that recalls The Ravonettes and later-period Dum Dum Girls. Associations aside, its great to hear the band come into their own and balance grit and gloss with grace.

Bonus points on the album and label come from Share It’s operating principle of giving half of their records’ proceeds to a charity of the band’s choosing. In this case half the bucks go to an Australian-based Indigenous Literacy Foundation. So you can feel good while this one takes a few turns around the table.



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Dot Dash

I’d have to say, it’s not a half bad run for DC power pop this year. With the infectious album from Flasher already working its way onto the essentials list and a promising new LP on the way from Bad Moves, the city has no lack of upbeat vibes and summer strums. Flying further under the radar than either of those pop slashers is the new record from Dot Dash. While the band’s name nods towards the legacy of Wire, the bulk of their sixth album washes up closer to the shores of Sloan, Orange Juice and later period Superdrag. With production touches from Geoff Sanoff (Television, Lloyd Cole), it sparkles with a jangle-forward appeal that should sate those craving a particularly ‘90s seated vision of power pop.

The album anchors itself to a rosy whimsy, lush and bittersweet. It revels in a sunshine soul that’s just as often swooning as it is smashing through hooks with wild abandon. When the band snags themselves a hard charger they wrestle it for all its worth. “Green on Red,” “TV/Radio,” and “Sun + Moon = Disguise” all give anything vying for cloud-clearer status this year a run for its money. Power pop itself always seems such a blanket term, roping in the Beatles-baiting ‘70s nostalgists and ‘80s soft-punch punks, but the ‘90s digested all those previous incarnations and gave it a half-stack height adjustment and a coat of gloss. I’ve long had a soft spot for this period of players and its good to see a few bands holding up the reigns of those that slipped past the grit of grunge’s playground.

The band seems to have held some sort of permanent opener status, given their tenure, and the list of touring companions they cite. Hopefully the clean-lined clash of Proto Retro pulls them up int into the light this year. It’s a solid effort that deserves a closer listen and a spot on the docket of any power pop fan.




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The Myrrors

For the past three years Arizona’s Myrrors have dug out a dusty psychedelic hovel in their corner of the American Southwest. The band’s third in a string of albums that each seem to build dizzying worlds dappled by psychedelic folk finds resolve in its own warring impulses. It boasts a political core that resonates in an era where borders cut down lives, where happenstance of heritage is twisted into birthright and where the notion of sanctuary has been pulled up at the roots. As much as ever the album leans on Miguel Urbina‘s viola to anchor the record’s heat and heart, fraying the impassible drones and rhythmic barriers sprung up over the album’s six tracks. The strings saw at the record with a wide-eyed insistence, as if the notes were found curdled in blood on the sand and Myrrors are merely decoding the pain let loose on the terrain.

When the flutes, showered in an echo that makes them move on month’s wings, dance with the strings then the album transitions from haunted pain to a leathered strength. The album highlight “Formaciones Rojas” is tattered and spattered by mud, but it dances with a fire in its eyes that pushes past appearances. It’s a moment when the album rises past fear and anguish to embrace cultural power in the face of a scale tipping further from the favor of the masses. The track ends with protesters chanting “We’ll be back,” It’s a rallying moment fueled by discontent that seems to galvanize, but its followed by songs that are more chaotic and less sure. “Biznagas” shoulders a heavy heart that feels parched and solemn and the seemingly resilient “Call For Unity” buzzes around in a storm of horns that are more disorienting and ridden with anxiety that unifying.

This all leads to the crusher of a climax, “Note From The Underground.” At almost twenty minutes, the sidelong séance attempts to harness both the anxious energy and the hardened strength into one giant wave of humanity. The song is full of the buzzing energy, often times hard to hack through with the nimblest ears, but the swirling strands become patterns that weave ropes to pull down the walls. There’s light at the end of Borderlands, but just like the real-life tangles it works to unwind it’s a tough road out to that light.



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Oh Sees

So, here we are at the crossroads again, another Oh Sees album has hit the table and its time to weigh in. I feel like most of these reviews run down as check in to say: “yeah Dwyer’s still a singular force in garage-psych and we should all be grateful.” There’s always some sonic shift worth noting, though, so here goes. After last year’s double bill, two album exploration of slippery psych, followed by an exorcism of their acoustic roots, the band is charging ahead heavier than ever. Don’t believe me, just check that cover. There’s a demon enshrined in fire. Things don’t get much heavier than that before you break out corpse paint and an organ made of bones. Sonically, Smote Reverser is pulled apart by rhythm, thanks in no small part to the double drum setup of Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon. Naturally, as you can imagine, once you go double drum its time to get serious with the prog touches, and that’s just what the Oh Sees damn well do. They brought in Tom Dolas for some keys on last year’s mellow meltdown Memory of a Cut Off Head but this time he’s going full Keith Emerson with triple stack complexities that burn hot enough to iron that Yes patch on your threadbare denim vest.

To be sure, these touches all set the stage and dress things nice, but what were all here for is the 300-mph wormhole shred of John Dwyer and for that Smote Reverser does not disappoint. There’s plenty of acrobatic string slinging, punctuated by Dwyer’s now trademarked echoplex howl. His riffs bite at the void and dissolve into effects explosions that cascade through the speakers with a molten growl. The record’s not just heavy though, its nimble too – Dwyer plays guitar with a restless soul, seemingly amusing himself as much as us, the listeners. Still this isn’t the one note heavy hammer that the cover makes it out to be. It’s not all dry ice, devil horns and ear damage. While they turn up the screams to hardcore and bring down the heat on “Overthrown,” they just as easily knock the atmosphere down to simmer for the openings of “Last Peace” and “Moon Bog.” The band knows that without time to breathe, there’s no way to appreciate the sweat.

Without question its another quality Oh Sees LP and once more it seems the game is Dwyer trying to outdo himself with each record. So, as with every release that comes hurtling down from the psych asteroid the band occupies this is an essential addition of weight to your no doubt bursting Oh Sees section on the shelf. The heads already know and the rest better catch up or be left behind to soak in the Sulphur smoke trailing behind Smote Reverser.



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Dentist

Well its pretty hard to give leeway to anyone trying to cop the term “Night Swimming” as an album and /or song title at this stage of the game. R.E.M. enshrined the term in their take on adolescent nerves and few could help to dissociate it from their heart wrenching weeper. That said, NJ trio Dentist kickshift the term in the opposite direction of that ‘90s classic. On Night Swimming the band spit-polish garage pop then muddy their footprints on the way out of hanger with a good dose of grunge crunch. The album’s blessed with a fizzy disposition and most of the songs drive hard through caffeinated bounce tempos that are only exacerbated by Emily Bornemann’s helium and heat vocals.

The band is primarily the work of Emily and partner Justin Bornemann and perhaps it’s a couple’s mind-meld gives the band their locked-in immediacy – though shouts to the drummer holding down a good bash while likely pulling the short straw power dynamic in this scenario. While, the album courses along on cotton candy hooks, there’s a hardened heart beating underneath all that sugared froth. There are moments that wink with knowing looks, but the band has a penchant for messy interpersonal tangles that more often than not end in heartache. Lets hope that the tales of betrayal that burrow under the bubblegum are buried in the past, at least for the Bornemanns’ sake.

The band is admittedly at their best when careening around the room in a power pop ping pong that’s infectious, if not laden with a certain nostalgia for the indomitable spirit of youth. Though the band is just as adept at peeling back the curtain on the inevitable hangover that spirit often leaves in its wake. The band proves they can bring down the lights for the hushed “All Is Well (In Hell)” and ominously titled “Owl Doom Pt.2,” each reveling in the murkier side of that coin. It’s a solid effort, that while not necessarily shaking the world’s tree, goes a long way to wrap up love’s bite in a sprightly package of garage glitter that’s pulls plenty of smiles along the way.





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Forma

Brooklyn’s Forma follow their cosmic comedown album Physicalist from 2016 with the propulsive, glistening sounds of Semblance. On the last go ‘round the band split their impulses between sides. The opening half of the album embracing the skitter and propulsion of Krautrock given electronic tendrils. The back half, on the other hand, took a suite of songs down a much more Kosmiche road, spreading its attention between synth float, drone and free jazz. This time they’re not keeping the halves of their personality at arm’s length and in turn they create a layered retrofuturist pop album that’s just as likely to dazzle in plastic and glass refractions as it is to siphon the anxiety out of the room via meditative haze.

Its an extension of Physicalist to be honest, but the coherence here makes the last album seem like sketches for the more elaborate arc of Semblance. They weave the weapons of their psychedelic journey in a more articulate fashion this time. Ebbing and flowing in chapters, the album moves from synth scratched with sax through mechanical Zen, into a palpable play on technological anxiety and settles into lucid dreams that are almost too real. By the time the listener is entering “New City,” its hard to know if we can trust our own eyes or ears. The moment is refreshing, but also feels like one might be able to reach out and touch the elastic and static crinkle of VR film holding in this surreal serenity.

Somewhere there’s a film missing a solid score in this, and its definite highlight in the band’s catalog. There’s no lack of synth slingers who are aiming for the raised bar on Kosmiche clatter, but with Semblance Forma have come into their own. Even if you’ve tired of the dystopian drift and cosmic checkboxes that so many in this genre hit regularly, Forma have given these touchstones a new life and a reason to float out into the ether once more.





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Dumb

Vancouver’s Dumb pull out their deep stack of ‘70s art-punk LPs and mash the best bits together for an album that’s brief but barbed. They plow through the heartpound pop of Wire and the wrinkled hooks of Magazine. They chew the same glass that feeds The Fall, Pere Ubu and early Alternative TV. As many are likely quick to point out, for a band called Dumb, they’re hardly lobbing lager-soaked odes draped in pop punk here. While its hardly easy listening, its plenty catchy and like fellow 2018 angular aficionados Lithics and School Damage the band knows just which pieces of the past still draw blood in the present. They capture the spirit of ’79 ably, though they often aim to emulate more often than elevate. There are moments when they do push the needled forward, smashing an ‘80s Midwest brashness into the vocals of “Party Whip” and giving pause when the sound of chimes ripples through the racket or giving the art crowd some sunshine shake with handclaps on “Ripesnakes.”

On Seeing Green they fuel the need to contort the soul, to break it, bend it, and smash it down on the crooked angles of their guitar lines. There’s unrest inherent in their lyrics, but also the kind of wry smile that would have made their influences proud. It’s a solid record, well versed and subtly catchy. The band trade less in earworms and more in a kind of can’t get that sound taste out of your mouth type of addictiveness. They’re young, and this is all the more impressive for their age and general tenure as a band. They’re aided in their vision by the lacerating production from Jordan Koop, which gives the LP an immediacy that paces their frantic stop-start whiplash. There’s a feeling as the album runs its course that this might only be the beginning, a wild knife slice that’ll settle into some methodical strikes as time wears on for the band. Whether or not they springboard off of the sound they’ve curated on Seeing Green, they’ve left a decent mark with this one.



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Futuropaco

Somewhere in the future the spark of a great instrumental hip-hop record has been lit with the release of Futuropaco’s eponymous debut for the Danish label El Paraiso. The record, driven by Golden Void’s Justin Pinkerton, is doused in the drama of Italian Library Psych and Goblin soundtracks. It’s peppered through with the over-the-top, yet engrossing psychedelia that drove Jean Rollin’s best work and it could very easily have been disguised as a long-lost film score pushed out through Finders Keepers. It’s clear that Pinkerton has done his fair share of rifling through that particular catalog and has taken copious notes. Hell, they’re probably scribbled in the margins of a copy of David Hollander’s recently released Library retrospective, Unusual Sounds.

Worth noting, though, is Pinkerton’s background as a drummer as this adds a real streak of German Progressive punch to the record. While he’s steeped in the creepy atmospherics of the ‘70s Italians and twisted effects of French exploitation territory it’s that propulsive rhythm that keeps this record locked down and pushing harder than anything its emulating. The true classics of that era were tied to a hard edge that attracted beat fanatics, and Pinkerton’s vision of the sound skews this direction. His collector’s ear moves this well beyond just homage, though – with an alchemical attention on how to arrange psychedelic eras, Pinkerton, like his contemporaries Maston and Jon Brooks, has found a way to move the needle forward on Library psych. While, sadly, there’s no film digging into this particular well of instrumental goodness, it’s tempting to let the mind wander through Criterion-worthy scenarios drenched in technicolor and backed by Futuropaco’s psychedelic excess.



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Adorable – Against Perfection

Every once in a while, a true classic slips back out into the world without anyone kicking up to much of a fuss. Just as I was about to work in a Necessary Repress feature on the great – but often dismissed by American audiences – debut by Adorable, I doubled checked and it was due out this month from Music On Vinyl. The Dutch label has a habit of rescuing albums from both the fringe and from the zeitgeist. They’ve been especially handy at working through the period of ‘90s and ‘00s records that began to elude major runs on vinyl, and thus, like Against Perfection have run up huge tabs on Discogs and eBay.

The band had a famously fraught relationship with both its label and the music press. They garnered early praise for the single “Sunshine Smile,” though, which won them hearts at NME and an entry to Alan McGee who’d sign them to Creation. While the songs on Against Perfection were incredible – clear heirs to both the noise of a shoegaze hangover from the years previous and to the swooning pop of Echo & The Bunnymen, the band’s timing always seemed to be off. That connection to shoegaze meant they were on the tail end of trends in a country often too enamored of what’s next. Since 1993 was the year Britpop broke, it seems that Adorable were pedaling murk in a land looking for pristine pop. Abroad, the record was released in the US through SBK, who was having some tense relations with Creation at the time. Their souring on Creation acts and didn’t help to push Adorable on American audiences and the record would languish low on the charts in a crowded field of grunge in 1993.

Further adding to their troubles was the fraught relationship with UK music press, who apparently found them too cocky. It seems that anyone working in shoegaze should put up walls and be withdrawn – wan geniuses in tattered sweaters. Guess the press saved all their patience for loudmouth swagger for the rising tide of Britpop, lord knows there was enough cockiness there to fill quotas. When Sony took over Creation the band felt pressured by their shortcomings to quickly produce a follow up. The resulting Fake was nowhere near the proper successor to Against Perfection and as feared, the band was dropped a mere three years after signing with Creation. So, it’s good to have the debut back on the turntable, especially without the typical $100+ pricetag. If, like me, you came to this one late due to US press covering about one British band a month, then now’s the perfect moment to make up for lost time. Kinda feel like it might be another 25 years before they press this one again.



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Loose Tooth

Melbourne’s Loose Tooth (not to be confused with the Father/Daughter band of the same name) had a promising EP out last year and with their debut for Milk! they more than make good on those promises. The full-length processes knotty post-punk bass lines and breathless jangles, then pastes them to wide-eyed indie pop for a record that’s constantly familiar and endearingly catchy. They’re passing over the threadbare fare that’s been popping up among their countrymen and instead pushing for a more polished sound that’s got its head in the past – think The Passions mixing it up with members Look Blue Go Purple and Close Lobsters – yet still winds up sounding timeless.

The crux of Keep On is the band’s ability to weave starry-eyed delivery with impeccable atmospheres. Snap on a keen use of three-part harmonies that never get syrupy and the makings of a damn fine debut begins to take shape. Their mastery of the moody vs. wistful approach to songwriting serves this up for fans of bedroom fare, with the band pining over an abundance of twisted love throughout the album’s eleven track run. They swerve from that humble pop path, though and the album elevates their love letters into a lush pop sound. There’s something sparkling happening in the details here – a hi-fi rumble, sax squawks, pillowy mounds of reverb. The deeper listeners get into Keep On the more it rewards with rippling subtleties and soft-touch hooks. While its definitely put together well, its not flashy and the band comes out all the better for it. Sadly, I feel that this one won’t get nearly its due on this side of the ocean, but for those paying attention it’s a lovely gem of a record.




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