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The Living Eyes

One of the most consistent exports from the Aussie underground comes via Anti-Fade Records’ agit-punks The Living Eyes. On their third LP for the imprint they continue to sneer ‘n shred their way through a dozen compact punk nuggets that feel like they’re handed down from the conglomerate schools of The Saints, Richard Hell, Pere Ubu and Toy Love. While keeping things distinctly Aussie (and sharing a searing similarity to labelmates Ausmuteants) they’re kindred spirits to the kind of itchy, agitated, raw-nerve of punk that festered in the American Mid-West some 40-odd years prior.

The difference is that while they seem to carry the outsider jitters in their very DNA, they’ve also found a way to inject an incredible amount of catchiness into the core of their songs, much like South-Hemi heroes Eddy Current Suppression Ring before them. That band’s Mikey Young pops up in the supply chain here on mixing and mastering duties, so you know things are kept brittle and pushing well into the red. The band has always been a fave around here but I have to admit they’ve outdone themselves on this one. They’ve never sounded more vital, electric or combustible as they do on Modern Living.

At the risk of beating the drum too hard in their praise, this is one of the rawest, most delightfully jagged pieces of punk to roll down the belt this year. Its been a good year for unrest and a bad year for everything else, but this one jolts like a car battery to the tongue. It’s chomping tinfoil like breath mints and dusting any contenders that are hoping to paddle through their wake. I know we’re all looking for a salve these days, and it’s nice to sink back into a malted hazed of indie stupor sometimes, but Modern Living is a good reminder to stay agitated and jolt a few others on your way out of the room.




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Odd Hope

It’s hard to capture the feeling of an era lost. There are plenty of jangle-pop imitators and even a new crop of Kiwis that are attempting to resurrect what Flying Nun once found so effortless. In California, however, there remains a solitary lifeline to the sound in the form of Tim Tinderholt’s Odd Hope. Following on a solid single for Fruits & Flowers, Tinderholt has come ratcheting back with a perfect distillation of all those lost gems from the underside of the equator. Though, its not without noting that he’s also mining a great deal from The Jacobites and The Pastels as well. He’s found purchase not only in their sunny, jangled ebullience but also in the quieter, introverted weirdness that made so many of these ’80s and ’90s oddities such coveted releases.

Produced by Fruits & Flowers co-founder Glenn Donaldson, (Skygreen Leopards, The Birdtree) the record retains an unmistakable touch of his own homespun and hissed-flecked folk pop, but at the heart is Tim’s distinct gravitational pull. Tinderholt’s songwriting is given a treatment that flickers like an emergency candle in a power outage, an inviting harbor in the face of unblinking darkness. The album is both a beacon and a comfort. When he’s reflecting the brilliant sun’s glow there’s no other light that can hope to outshine his positivity, but when the vibes turn, as they often do, to smirking, unsure, melancholy and jittery, Tinderholt is the friend who understands just how overwhelming the outside world is.

So maybe just huddle down into these ten tracks like a blanket in a storm that may or may not pass. Tinderholt’s eponymous debut is the kind of record that’s destined to be missed by the oblivious as anathema to modern trends and revisited years later as a cherished totem to those who were paying attention. With so many of those types of records now getting the reissue treatment, it would seem only intuitive to nip into this while it’s fresh and fidgeting. Odd Hope is a truly endearing open wound that sucks the listener in with its weird and blissful ache.




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Causa Sui

El Paraiso Records is already on a tear this year with the epic, crushing release from Mythic Sunship, a slinking Kosmiche LP from Astral TV and now they cement it with an incendiary new record from flagship band Causa Sui. Splitting time between a tsunami of thick, frothy stoner rock vibes and a more space-rock approach that lifts them up out of the Sabbath ‘n Sleep ghetto of doom chasers, this record solidifies the Danish band’s worthiness on the stage of heavy psych flayers. It pushes their profile past the circuit of European psych bands to render them players on the world stage.

Though touted as a ‘mini LP,’ the record is anchored by two huge jams clocking in at 9+ minutes and they know how to use that length to their advantage. Hell, there’s really only one track here that dips below 7-min. Centerpiece “El Fuego” is a hammer-stung bit of metal-tipped prog that seethes with the appropriate amount of fire espoused by its title. “Seven Hills” follows shortly after with an almost cleaner burn, just plowing every living thing in its path with a spritz of lava and pumice before cooling off into a shimmering black glass sheen. The band has always proven their prowess in the live setting (see their recent Live in Copenhagen set for proof) but they’re proving that the studio is every bit their muse with this record. If the band had a foothold in the hearts of psych collectors before, they’ve just latched on permanently with a batch of tunes that never relent.



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Euphoria – Euphoria

Seems only serendipitous that this reissue is appearing alongside the recent effort from OCS, as Euphoria also explore a psych-tinged brand of bittersweet pop, drenched in a creamy lushness, warm as sunshine on the shoulders. Though that’s a key difference between them and their present day followers, they tend to embrace more of the sunshine pop that put them in leagues with The Mamas and Papas, The Free Design or even Sapphire Thinkers. Like those groups, the band embraced male/female harmonies and a beautifully swooning version of pop that, unfortunately for them, fell out of favor just about the time that their eponymous debut surfaced on Heritage Records.

The band evolved out of the Greenwich Village folk boom, merging the circuit riding duo Roger and Wendy with the slightly sturdier songwriting of Tom Pacheco. As the band emerged from their recording sessions with a finished product, the winds shifted and the record label pulled the bulk of its promotion. As is too typical the record languished, the group splintered, and the record remains a much bigger gem in hindsight than it was ever acknowledged as at the time. The members went on to a few other projects (Bermuda Triangle and Pacheco & Alexander) after the dissolution of the band, but this remains the members’ most lasting work. Anyone with a love for Sunshine-psych or ’60s chamber pop will do well to get into this one, it’s more than just a curio of the era, not a chart-topper, but a record that explores a vibrant strain of folk that’s dripping with sighed melancholy.




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OCS

As Castle Face rightly points out in any mention of this album, it seems that in all the amplifier fallout that John Dwyer has amassed in the past decade, people forget that the seed of Thee Oh Sees was a much more acoustic vision. I remember seeing “the guy from Coachwhips” at a show many years back in NY club Rothko (RIP) and trying to get people to hush the constant whinging about when Ted Leo was coming on. Dwyer was still banging the project into shape, but his presence was as indelible then as it is now. Revisiting the hushed ambiance, but with a hefty bit of vision and refinement under his belt, this version of OCS is again acting as a respite from John’s more flammable works.

This time the ramshackle folk is replaced by a loving ode to ’60s chamber folk records. Strings yawn underneath the hushed bedtime pop of Dwyer and longtime Oh Sees companion Brigid Dawson and the compositions skew heavily to the lush, yet mournful. The love of this era of psych has peeked into the band’s catalog but never taken center square until now. There are shades of Subway, Nick Garrie, The End, Susan Christie, and Sunforest flickering into view as we ease into this new incarnation of the band. As the record progresses impressions of The Free Design and The United States of America surface as well, but it’s clear that the synthesis of influence on this can’t be pointed at any one band. It’s a true divination of the murkier side of the ’60s. This is the sound of someone getting frustrated with searching out a certain sound from the crates and just doing it better themselves.

Dawson acts as the perfect melancholy specter on the album, with her veiled delivery sitting Shiva for the hearts of a hundred crackled ’45s. The bench on this record gets even deeper though, with Mikal Cronin chipping in a full horn workup on some tracks and those note-perfect strings, courtesy of Heather Lockie’ (Spiritualized, Sparkelhorse, Cory Hanson) making all the difference here – pushing the listener into a deep, lush vista of sound. There’s even a few breakdowns from original member Patrick Mullins, driving this into Soft Machine territory. The record’s probably not a pickup for the casual Oh Sees fan, maybe not even the devout, if JD’s scuzz is what you crave. But for those of us who are always looking for more candlelit visions of bittersweet warble, this is a nice gift. If you were charmed by Cory Hanson’s excursion into similar territory then you’ll feel right at home here. Honestly, even if you do usually come for the fuzz, maybe just sink back into this one and cool off.



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Spinning Coin

For all their plaudits abroad Glasgow’s Spinning Coin aren’t wrestling for review space Stateside. The crux of that probably has to do with my theory of America’s threshold for UK bands at any given time. I suppose the press feels we’ve already filled the tank on 2017, but that’s no reason to let this one languish. The album comes via a powerful pair of post-punk signifiers – released on The Pastels’ Geographic Music imprint and produced by Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins. For what it’s worth, this sounds altogether like an album cherry-picked by The Pastels. It shares their penchant for jangled charms and an alternating emphasis on barbed hooks and lush surroundings.

That alternation is the key to Permo‘s strengths and, at times its unevenness. The band shares a pair of songwriters who each have a strength they choose to flex on any given track. Sean Armstrong tends to take his songs to those lush vistas, fully reclining in the bleary-eyed nostalgia of Sarah Records and the softer side of Creation. His counterpart, Jack Mellin tends to bring the ragged edge to Spinning Coin’s work, often making tracks that are fun but barely standing on their feet (which is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion). The whiplash between gives the record plenty of variety, but can make it feel like two different bands. I’d think moving forward, they’d be wise to find a smoother way to bounce off of one another, but that kind of symbiosis takes time.

What comes about is a record that’s got a real grip on the past and more than half a handle on how to recontextualize the nostalgia. They hit the nail hard sometimes, namely the ragged glory of “Magdalene” or the frothing elation of “Raining on Hope Street”, but its clear there’s more in the coffers to come. This hits me in a lot of my personal obsessions, and I’m definitely going to keep an eye on where Spinning Coin winds up. For now, some playlists just got stocked up around here.


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Day of Phoenix – Wide Open N-Way

Despite calling a heavy host of West Coast Cali-psych their pocket of influence, the Danes behind Day of Phoenix manage to adapt the sound to a less sunny climate with a good dose of melancholy. The band admittedly emulates Clear Light, Love and The Doors, so there’s certainly a focus on the darker side of that sound to begin with, but they manage to focus in on the starkest ends of the “Summer of Love” to create their own sighed signature. There’s an excellently subdued quality to the record, full of great riffs, but fuller still of a dark, clouded atmosphere that’s putting out a closed off and sullen vibe – an antidote to all the peace and love coming out of their American counterparts.

Day of Phoenix wound up opening for Colosseum when they were playing Denmark and impressed the band’s bassist Tony Reeves, who wound up producing this as well as a follow-up album. That seemed to cap productivity for the band though, save for a preceding single of covers with a different lineup. This album alone marks them as one of the strongest of their particular time and place, though. The band’s original member Cy Nicklin would leave before this album and transition to the more well known Culpeper’s Orchard, though the rest of the band seemed to dissipate after the slow reaction to their sophomore LP. Vinilisssimo does the original pressing good, reproducing the album’s harem shot that’s bringing to mind some Town and Country vibes.




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Anna St. Louis

There’s something inviting, cozy even, about Anna St. Louis’ songwriting. She’s exploring a spare form of folk that’s not at all out of place on a sub-label of the Woodsist Family, but she’s lighting a fire that’s a touch warmer than even their catalog usually embraces. Her songs explore a fingerpicked style that’s immediately bringing to mind Jack Rose, James Elkington and James Jackson Toth. She’s got her ramble and knows how to let it ripple through a song, but St. Louis’ strength comes from expanding the atmosphere with that aforementioned heat – a dusty, homey feeling that makes each song feel as lived in and storied as an old family cabin.

The vocals on First Songs hang in the air with no pretension. They’re unadorned but buzzed around by ringing chords like hummingbirds at dawn. St. Louis has found a way to incorporate a timeless country vision into her folk. When those humid, drenched vibes start to drift off into the horizon she tethers the album down with a fireside simplicity that lets the listener into the room, curled on the floor next to her and sleeping out the sickness with the sound of her pepper and woodsmoke delivery. It’s hard not to fall in love with this one on first listen, and repeated plays really only cement the feeling. This album feels like a scratch demo given a larger audience, so one only wonders what she’ll dig into with a bigger budget and more time.




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Swiftumz – Game Six

You’d be forgiven for having missed Swiftumz’ two LPs over the years. Despite crafting consecutive albums of homespun pop that shimmers brightly, Chris McVicker’s output has slipped all too quietly out into the world via the Holy Mountain and Melters labels. Its a shame though, because both records captured an artist who is at ease with his corner of the world – tumbling through a muted brand of power pop, glimmering jangle-pop and slicing through the bleary-eyed glories of American Indie with a rather precise knife. So, it’s with the release of McVicker’s latest single that SF’s Fruits & Flowers posts their second essential release of the year.

“Game Six” is pure jangled glory, spillin’ sunshine out of its pockets like quarters on laundry day. Like most of MicVicker’s songs it sounds so effortlessly intuitive you’d almost swear you’ve heard it before. He’s a student of the late ’80s and early ’90s and given a good time shift would most certainly have been pulling down some zine ink. This track alone is worth the price of admission, but he backs it up with a b-side that’s also tipping the gold standard. Shifting into melted-amber Indie-pop mode here and threading his way through Galaxie 500 and Yo La Tango vibes as felt through the soul of the late great Brightblack Morning Light, he’s letting things fade into a sherbet sunset – glowing an orange aura around the track to the very end. Both songs are on endless repeat around here and you’d do well to snag one too.

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The Cowboys

Bloomington’s Cowboys spit-shined their work for Volume 4, the first of their records that found them studio bound. That record snuck out on tape last year and caught a few ears, but hardly enough, given the promise the band showed and the kind of sweat ‘n soul whirlwind they were showcasing between those two spools. Happily, a couple of folks agreed enough to press it down to LP this year and the band follows on with their a brand new LP for Hozac.

They’ve strayed from the studio back to their home setup, but despite cranking these tunes to 8-track, they’ve still managed to keep the crust at bay. Despite a little tape hiss, the transition isn’t too noticeable. Forging on with plenty more sweat-wrenchers, the band’s prowess is cemented within the grooves of the new record, and on 3rd LP, they should rightfully garnish comparisons to Aussie exports Royal Headache. For all their shakin’ bouts of guitar twang their true asset is apparent in vocalist Keith Harman, who’s got a a leather-scratched soul wail that’s as classic as any. His delivery bumps them up out of the cattle call of garage bands that swarm the country. Though, to say Harman’s the only reason to listen isn’t giving The Cowboys enough credit.

The band’s also got a real affinity for shying away from the cliches of garage’s past and present. They’ve got a lighter touch and aren’t afraid to swagger into territory that’s more Todd Rundgren than tortured fuzz (“Mike’s Dust”, “Like A Man”) and it suits them well. Even when they’re still hitting the gas, Harman pulls them closer to Jagger blue-eyed soul territory rather than tumbling through the Sonics/Stooges axis that’s often split by so many these days. The record’s got a ton of appeal and feels like it’s constantly just a hard push away from making something that’s indelible in the halls of rock. This feels like its going to be a watershed moment to look back on from their undoubtedly future classics.




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