Browsing Category Reviews

Fabulous Diamonds

Aussie duo Fabulous Diamonds had an impeccable string of albums from 2008-2012 and then promptly disappeared off the map for the next seven years. This year they return on UK indie ALTER with a new LP and a bigger vision of their dub-glossed damage. Back when they were slinging discs on Siltbreeze and Nervous Jerk, the band was itching at the same wound that like-minded howlers Blues Control and Peaking Lights found themselves infected with. There was a faded, pre-dawn quality to the music, tumbling down a wormhole of disorientation and delirium and then bounced through the spring reverb within an inch of its life. They’re still not wholly dislodged from that mindset, but Plain Songs feels like someone bottled their sound and terraformed it into a seething organism — bigger, smarter, and more alive than ever.

There’s still the evil slink of tape hiss, but it doesn’t feel like a vehicle of necessity this time. There’s no Tascam noose pulled tight on their sound, rather singer Nisa Venerosa feels like she’s piping her humid vocals through six feet of imported wet topsoil, recording them with an expensive array of contact mics and condensers threaded throughout the room for total coverage. The underbelly of their sound is still haunted by noise, but, again it’s come to some of the logical conclusions of what they were setting up prior. There’s a dingy, collapsed-society, ‘end-stage capitalism devouring the tail’ kind of feeling on this one.

The corrosion here is more of a viral creep than a means to an end. They’ve embodied the spirit of a lounge act poisoned by years of exposure to heavy metals and carcinogens — giving their disease flight through sound, spreading it through the narrow alleyways of an unrepentant reality. They are the cure and the carrier. They’ve finally gone through the lens and into a Lynchian sound that’s as full as they deserve to be and it’s so good to have this pair back, finding the bile that flows through the night wanderers’s souls and giving it a home on two-inch tape.



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Velveteen Rabbit

As the genre has been consumed and reconstituted over the years, it’s hard to find a take on glam-streaked power pop that doesn’t feel a bit worn through, a pale imitation of the original. However, when a band is able to rise through the veil and embody the spirit of swagger in just the right way it becomes a bit transcendental. Velveteen Rabbit are just such a band. Comprised of ex-members of The Jeanies, the band nails the fey n’ fragile, heartbroken yet hipswung vision of pop that Milk n’ Cookies, Hubble Bubble, Brett Smiley, Advertising, The Shivvers, The Records, and The Quick were all able to make into a beloved underground beacon for piners and frustrated teens throughout generations. The thing is, those songs weren’t just about pent up hormones. I mean, they were, but there was so much more seeping into the ether around the genre. If that were the only engine driving the wheels here, they’d have fallen off years ago. There’s a special spark that flickers into motion when the line between pop and punk is perfectly sliced.

Velveteen Rabbit are constantly walking that line like a tightrope and it’s impressive how many perfect nuggets they’ve packed into their debut for HoZac. They hit the ecstatic highs of the aforementioned collector’s bin burners then throw in some early shades of The Time, bringing Dez Dickerson’s “After Hi-School” to mind and infecting their sound with a silver-slung funk at times. But the band knows how to bring it down too, and that gives this record a fuller dimension. “Guitar” strokes at the wounded Chris Bell territory that gave power pop it’s heart, solitary and solemn, but just as aching as any of the rest. Similarly, “Better Than Ever” sidesteps power pop just a bit to sprinkle in some swooning R&B and white boy soul, but it pulls the strings tight between the Minneapolis slink and the Midwest jangle n’ crunch.

There’s always going to be the cloud of derivation hanging over something like this, and yeah it points to a dozen dots on the map and snags those vibes with a gleeful grab, but the way the band hangs it all together makes the their eponymous LP a true gem. For all the references they conjure, they never sound outright like they’re biting a song. They slip into the satin soul of the ’78-’82 sound and make it their own. Overabundance of riches in 2019 makes me worry this one’s gonna slip through the cracks, but I say sleep on this and you’ll be losing out.



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The Babe Rainbow

There’s something about Aussie band The Babe Rainbow that exudes a particular ease. From their countenance on down the band look and sound like they’ve never really had a bad day, or at least a day that they couldn’t turn around with a little surfing and barbecue. Those vibes permeate every inch of Today the band’s third, and most solid album. In the past they’ve embodied much of the same spirit, but the results have been hit or miss. They’ve wandered over the psych-pop map looking to pick at ‘60s sparkle, forest folk and lounge but the mixture was always just a touch wobbly. They came pretty close on last year’s Supermoon, an album that captured their wave of gauzy love but also took a few detours into spacey instrumentals that could meander the course of the record off track. The Babes hit on the head trip they were looking to spark but we sometimes got lost in the clouds along the way.

This time they tighten up the seams, still locked into the pocket of faded folk and grooved lounge psych, but playing up the pop half of their dynamic and fleshing it out with a West Coast downtempo spirit that belies their Aussie roots. The album seems like it might have taken a page out of the music direction for recent sleeper series Lodge 49 capturing it’s “melancholy on the bright side” ideals of aimless surf culture that the show distilled into something a bit more meaningful. Today embodies some of the same feelings — unscarred skies that stretch for miles, wonder and weirdness — given life through a constant roil of ‘60s strums and thickly plumed flutes. The band has been working to nail their niche and it seems that with this one they’ve finally begun to harden their grip on the board and ride right into the heart of the curl. The summer might be winding down for those of us up here, but this one still has a bit of solar bake to lay on the listener.






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KAK – KAK

Almost too perfect that alongside the new cosmic collectives releasing sunshine and shade this week there’s a classic back on the table thanks to Mad about Guerssen. I first picked up a copy of KAK at the WFMU record fair years back. That cover just draws you in, a Kodachromed vision of California utopian psychedelia. The record makes good on the visual with room to spare. The record owes a great deal to Moby Grape, but they work to make their own way. The band, formed by Gary Lee Yoder and Dehner Patten, grew out of the pair’s former roots in the short-lived Oxford Circle. They recorded their sole album, released in 1969, but as usual with very little push from their record label, which sent it into obscurity for years. The record is built on a split between bluesy West Coast rockers and some more faded folk touches that dip into the waves with the sun.

While the record is often derided as being derivative of larger names, since the band came up alongside many of them its likely they were just swimming in the same stew. The hinge the record on the huge triple medley “Trieulogy” but the rest of the record easily stands up to the might of that one. After the record’s dismal reception, the band would part ways with Yoder going on to join Blue Cheer and recording a few solo singles. Guersson does this one good with a remaster, heavy sleeve, OBI and new liner notes by writer Alec Palao and members of the band.



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One Eleven Heavy

No time was lost between One Eleven Heavy’s debut, which landed about a year ago and their latest platter this month. That debut found the band winding their way through deep seated loves and musical roots that were etched in their formative years only to be embraced in the face of critical naysayers as the new dawn rose over 2018. They came together to exhume something cosmic buried in the delta soil and let it fly once again, finding themselves lost in the segue symbols on setlists until they emerged infused with Little Feat, late ‘70s Neil Young, New Riders, The Dead, The Burritos and other choogle-chapped visions of Southern and Western rock that refused not to ramble. Jam might be a barbed word in some mouths, but not these. They pick those handles right back up and expand on the depth of the dive into that push-pull between the cosmic and the concrete.

The dark furrows are more ingrained on Desire Path. “Hot Potato Soup,” seethes, never turning sour, but boiling to the point that the riffs scald the soul. “Chickenshit” has some bite, and a defensiveness thats rubs against the chill, but that’s just their Trux ties showing through. Not all the skies are blue, but that doesn’t dim the party here. Not all trips are serene either, and that’s reflected in the new album as much as their continued sense of the sublime. The Heavies find a home in harmony this time around as well, citing some Allman’s inspiration, and that’s on the mark. Maiato/Toth/Chew form a backbone that melds three distinct voices into a wave of twang that rolls off the guitar gnarls with a touch of ash and bourbon burn. The twined croons add a new dimension to their ‘70s streak, pulling them out of the Stars and Bars they’d been haunting and into a more verdant valley.

Hans Chew makes his first writing contributions (“House of Cards,” “Fickle Wind”) and as a whole the record embraces his keys with fuller-bodied enthusiasm than before. He’s layering down Nicky Hopkins sparkle that glints off of the songs, adding a few stepping stones into the clouds they perch on once the stringed solos get going. The peak of that cosmic float winds up the closer. On “Three Poisions” the band lifts off into the kind of glow that they perennially seek to embody. The ‘in the room and on the tape’ sound that’s always been at their core finds it’s lift into the atmosphere as the album comes to a close and Maiato’s guitar is playing somewhere between the notes here. They’re still playing against the grain of what’s cool, but they’re making it sound like a fight already won. This isn’t an album for revivalists (but I’m sure they’ll find a foothold if need be.) This is an album for those seeking to extend the groove forever into the horizon and melt right back into the wet soil, wood and concrete that vibrates under us all.






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Cool Sounds

Melbourne’s Cool Sounds have endured more than most groups have between albums. Following the tragic loss of their friend and bandmate Zac Denton, a fixture in the close knit Aussie indie scene who was also in notable bands Ciggie Witch, Pregnancy, and The Ocean Party, the band like many of those others had to find a way to move on from the loss. They’ve always had a way of intertwining bittersweet swoons inside imperturbable hooks that seem to saunter through the sun breathing a rarer air, but that veneer of melancholy is a bit more palpable on More To Enjoy. Amid the slow simmering pop boilers like “Around and Around” and the standout title track, there’s the cool smoke curl of “Hume and Gloom” which seems to tackle loss head on. The balance of catharsis, comfort, and a sense of finding joy in small spaces seems to glue the album together with a detached cool that’s instantly alluring.

Denton and his brother Lachlan both had a knack for songwriting that found the pang of life and melted it into pop that felt both transformative enough to hit home and ephemeral enough to just soundtrack the whistle of breeze past the car windows. They bring together an edge of pristine pop slink with country slides and sparkling jangles for songs that fuse into something with a bit more impact than the sum of those parts might suggest. Its hard to say that loss could ever be anything other than tragic, but the band turns the moment that life pulls the rug out from under you into an album that’s honest, infectious, and despite its scars, deeper than anything in their catalog. It’s quite honestly the band at their best and it should grace your shelf of necessities for 2019.



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Vision 3D

New ripper out of the great French enclave Six Tonnes de Chair this week. Franco-Belgian band Vision 3D pound through the heart of the punk meets post-punk axis, at times sounding like a French version of the sorely underrated XYX and picking up pieces of X-Ray Spex, and The Adverts along the way. The band careens towards the brutal end of the spectrum, starting off with the sole-English language pleaser “Party” before shaving off the perfunctory pop impulses for the rest of the album. They bang their chords into the concrete looking for maximum crumble on the cranium as they crush joyous punk strums into balls of brittle tin. The effect works best when the two impulses are in direct odds with one another, like the infectious strains of “Fan.” The track finds the band harmonizing in post-Ye-Ye pogo but the guitars saw the strums into shards, sending debris all around the romper room dance party set-up.

The band contains members of short-lived, but fondly remembered garage grippers Thee Marvin Gayes and there’s a similar sense of urgency shared with their predecessors. The record embodies some of the best impulses of punk – namely energy over polish. Far from the cushy rubber snap of punk’s marquee set, the band fuses the caffeinated crash of early Wire with the gutter-gyrations of Delta 5, gleefully smashing through the fixtures in any house show hookup. Lotta charms here if you’re into the kind of albums that feel like they might just be a pale specter of the live show, trying to mop up the sweat and sickness of the body heat explosion that they set off from the stage. While it definitely feels like Visions 3D are meant to be experienced amid the chaos of the crowd, their eponymous LP, given enough volume is a window rattler to be reckoned with. Wrapped up in some choice art by NY maze-master Sean C. Jackson, this one’s worth the import ticket.



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Ulaan Khol

Stephen R. Smith checks in with his third LP of 2019 under a third alias. This time up he’s landing blows under the Ulaan Khol name, following March’s release under his own Steven R. Smith banner and February’s Ulaan Passerine release. Much like the latter, the Khol arm of his Ulaan empire is fraught with tension, anxiety, and charcoal scraped doom. His collected works have taken on an extraordinarily cinematic quality lately, soundtracking the imagined panoramic sounds of squalid earth and desperate civilizations sifting through the remains of our indulgences gone sour. Perhaps more than any other artist, Smith seems like the one to truly soundtrack the dire crumble of our natural environments. His soundscapes scar the skies and dampen hope, but as fraught as they are with the grit-toothed moments of overwhelming darkness, there’s a strident beauty to Smith’s world.

The driving crescendo that breaks through the smoke on “Above the Arbor” is triumphant, even in the face of such tension. The bilious clouds of smoke that rise from his sonic ruins form ashen monoliths against the reddened skies. The songs are harrowing, but the imprint they leave finds beauty in atrocity. As each arm of the Ulaan (Markhor, Passerine, Khol) universe seems interconnected, its hard not to see this as a continuation of the ravages laid down since at least 2012 within the scope of Smith’s works. Seven years later, the stakes seem just as high as they always were and the consequences are documented on Collapsing Hymns with little room for relent. Naturally, this one comes highly recommended. Smith’s done up the packaging nice as well, the limited cassettes come housed in a stamped wooden box, making this a nice curio of the collapse for you collecting needs.



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Sunburned Hand of the Man

Trying to keep up with the output if Massachusetts psych collective Sunburned Hand of the Man is almost a futile gesture. I’m willing to bet there might be releases they don’t own. However, especially now that the band’s Bandcamp is a thriving archive of all things Burned in and their orbit its worth paying attention as older releases filter in and newer one’s quietly slip alongside them. Case in point, the band just lobbed up a real gem in their latter output this week, Intentions a micro-release that was recorded in 2017 at Black Dirt with Jason Meagher and intended for a larger release. It wound up instead as an edition of 20 cassettes in Meagher’s microdose series from the studio. Odds are, then, that this one has eluded your grasp.

The vibes here are decidedly less noisy than some of the practice space / small run issues that have been bleeding out of the Burn lately. Possibly closest in scope to their Burnieleaks 3 CD-r from a while back, the band is screwed down into some tighter woven webs of psych-folk and German Progressive psych. They’re picking up plenty of Duul nods and picking at the more capital P – Prog leanings of the great Swedish Silence label. What’s nice is the restraint here. The band doesn’t go as far out as they can and it gives this one a layer of polish that can sometimes get lost in the onslaught of releases. That’s not to say that this is a buttoned-down skimmer – It is still a Sunburned Hand of the Man release, after all.

They open the beast up with a smooth shot of sunset psych-folk, acoustic strums pulling at the ennui centers of the heart. On standout, “The Great Hope,” the band trades a grooverider rhythm with space-slicked synth spears and burnt-ends guitar scorch. They follow it with a “Coffee & Cheese” which sounds like an instrumental breakdown in a ’70-71 Groundhogs live set, on the edge of breaking into “Rich Man, Poor Man” at any moment. They blow further into spaced synths territory elsewhere, hanging some cosmic clouds on the set that pair nicely with the downed-sun guitar runs. “Agitation Cycle” might be as far out as the band swing here, but there’s still a kite-string pulling the band away from the paper shredder noise brigade they can get mixed up with on a typical moment’s notice. The set slides away on the loping grooves of the disorienting “Framework” and it clocks in as one of their best in a quite a while. Highly recommended!



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Rain Parade – Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

A long running Paisley Underground classic gets a second life via Real Gone this week. The Rain Parade fully embraced the jangled and jeweled psych sounds that predated them by a good two decades, falling out of fashion for the times, but winding up timeless as a result. The band’s debut on Enigma Records is the long discussed and often influential Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, a complete oddity in 1983, but also a conduit from the soft-psych and Byrdsian janglers through to the next wave of Elephant 6-ers and beyond. The band’s true genus lay in wrapping those jangles around a more modern hum – a soft pink fuzz wave that came crashing through in earnest reverberations that would setup the next generation to push the sounds even further past the gauzy glow already forming around a bygone era. In their early years, the band never pretended to be anything other than a psych-pop act and that influence-on-their-sleeve aesthetic probably makes them one of the most enduring Paisley bands.

The band would follow this up with the arguably great sophomore LP Explosions in the Glass Palace, which leaned a bit further into the College Rock impulses springing up in 1984, but it still stands apart as an essentially Paisley platter. They’d issue the live record Beyond The Sunset and sign to a major (Island) for 1986’s Crashing Dream but neither would live up to any sort of reputation that those first two releases have garnered. Guitarist David Roback went on to play in Mazzy Star, keeping the hazed psychedelic vein flowing and the band would reassemble (as all bands seem to do) in 2012 and 2013 for a tour. There’s even a new record on Yep Roc this year. Third Rail (despite Ryley Walker’s assertion that Glass Palace is the true masterpiece) remains probably the most essential Paisley release of the short-lived movement. Though, labels notwithstanding, it’s just a great pop record to have on the shelf, and now, after 30-years, you can nab one again.

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