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Big Blood

The collaborations between Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube continue and this time they bring out another incarnation from the always entrancing Big Blood. This one’s an older bit of the Big Blood story, but its finally making its way to vinyl thanks to both labels. The family that harnesses the vibrations of the infinite together stays together, or so they say and while the pair includes daughter Quinnasa, this might mark her first appearance via the charming closer. Caleb and Colleen cut their teeth in Cerberus Shoal and Fire on Fire, but its always been Big Blood that’s truly felt like their own skin to inhabit and augment. This is one of the records in their stable that feels like they truly came into their own under the name. Dark Country Magic pretty much sums up the feeling here perfectly — the peace and love of their newer albums is traded in favor of a more dire psych-folk framework.

The moods are largely poisoned, shrouded, alone in the forest in harmony with silt and soil by day and offering blood to the moon by night. Big Blood’s emphasis on the ragged chorus of vocals remains one to their most effective tools and they can turn it from jubilant to harrowing within the space of minutes. They do let the veil slip mid record to dance in a full sun ceremony, but within the context of the rest of the record, the atypical moment in the sun feels more like a facade to put the listener at ease before the coven turns on them once the sun escapes the sky. Clatters of percussion, dusty guitars, and Kinsella’s vocals that leave an imprint on your soul — the record has everything a Big Blood fan could ask for.




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Half Stack

This one’s been on the RSTB radar for a little while and it’s great to finally have it in hand. Oakland’s Half Stack wander the Western deserts well, but there’s a bit more Nashville in their tank than Laurel Canyon lilt. Wings of Love wraps up a familiar alt-country formula of twang-spiked ramble and electric rumble, but the band makes it feel like first love rather than second run territory. The record deals with a certain longing to be away from your own surroundings. For the band the lure of the American heartland seems to pull strong, despite their moorings in the sunny, salt-scrubbed air of California. They play the tumble of twang well and pair it with a wistful spirit that’s as wide and free as skies along an endless highway.

While the band’s Patrick Kegler has had an admitted on and off relationship with country, the full embrace here is pure of heart. While the old school might have taught him guitar, there’s certainly a filter of ‘70s Stones, Burritos, and ‘00s revivalists (The Stands, Beachwood Sparks, etc) at work here. The record wanders through the streets looking for home and harbor, but it mostly just melts into the night air, comfortable in its wanderlust. Kegler found his home with garage and indie before finally admitting that his country roots pulled too strong, but it seems that what the heart wants is inevitably right. The auburn glow of Wings of Love is hard to push aside, and the songs here endear listen after listen with a reverberating joy, bittersweet but ultimately comforting in its own skin.




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L.A. Lungs

Breaking away from their work with Debacle Records, West Coast duo/couple L.A. Lungs release an ominous air into the new batch of Eiderdown releases. The pair’s work is methodical and measured — their sounds blend into the background like a good score. Said score seems to either soundtrack a quiet breakdown or the dark voyeurism into one’s own soul. On Magishishan! the hiss becomes a character unto itself, watching the watcher in the band’s narrative. The band remains masterful in their use of slow, menacing bass, letting the anxiety build under nail bitten keys that squirm and shift slowly on their heels. The album’s certainly not ambient for the relaxed soul, though thankfully its not synth for horror fans and Netflix cue builders either.

Their synth strain is something else. It’s anguished, on edge, and still somehow detached as well. There’s a feeling that terrible things might happen, and soon, but the feeling remains of watching from ten feet above even if you’re at the center of the maelstrom. Now this all sets the album up to be uncomfortable, which in a very real way it is, but its also able to burrow under the skin and find a home next to your own insecurities like an auditory lichen. As the record crests into the midsection, it feels like some sort of solace may be at hand, but as they creep towards a close the walls become tight and the air acrid. There’s no escaping “The Distant Light.” The final chapter feels like a gorgeous comedown. It couldn’t be called peace after what’s ensued on the rest of the album, but its a mixed feeling of relief and trepidation that lets a cold wind blow across the final moments.



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14th Wish – I Gotta Get Rid of You

HoZac has remained one of the most consistent houses unearthing vital punk treasures these days and its in no small part due to their mining of the 1980’s catalog of David Peel’s Orange Records. Peel’s stable included some notable nuggets in among the crust, including early GG Allin, Eddie Criss with Wayne Kramer laying down guitar, and David’s own ramshackle records. This pretty much unknown single by 14th Wish. The band has pretty much zero presence in the punk history books, but this two-sider captured by Peel is a nice slice of chugging punk that’s got a bit of NYC sneer and a good hangover of Modern Lovers running through its hair of the dog delivery.

The A-side’s got a bit more grit in its gut with a fuzztone that’s practically vomiting fuzz but its tempered by not giving into the frantic tempos of the time and that sauntering bass. The vocals by Halo Peace are appropriately nihilistic/caustic and the guitar jags at the end are worth the wait. The label’s pulling some Tapeworm comparisons (I can hear that) but the cut kinda reminds me of the Twinkeyz b-side “Little Joey” with its mid-tempo stomp and finger-in-the-socket guitar shanks. The flip is a bit more staid than this one, but still a lot of fun. Haven’t seen this one knocking down any doors in 2020, but its a good piece of the puzzle in the NYC punk swarm that barreled out of control around the time.




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Matt Lajoie

This year’s already been a pretty great year for Northeast outpost Flower Room, with new releases from Ash & Herb, Starbirthed, rootless, Ash Brooks, and Matt Lajoie but they can’t keep all that goodness to themselves. While Matt and Ash tend to keep their releases close to home, Matt’s solo tapes can often wander far afield. With a companion piece to his excellent Everlasting Spring popping up on Aural Canyon just a couple of months ago, it would seem that he couldn’t possibly have more on the dock for 2020. Yet here we are with the second entry to Trouble in Mind’s new experimental tape run, “Explorers Series,” and Matt’s got more goodness on the spools. The first entry found its way out in June from Chicago duo Jamie Levinson & Donny Mahlmeister and this second installment from LaJoie captures nothing less than the shimmering beauty I’ve come to expect from him in recent years.

At two tracks, one to a side, the tape doesn’t linger long, but the 30 or so minutes that it graces the speakers brighten up any room within reach. The opener “Light Vortex” is a percolating beam bounced off of the morning waters. It rotates with a crystal kaleidoscope of patterns built in sunlight gold and deep azure blues. The flip goes a bit darker in hue, though it remains jubilant, submerging the listener in the aquamarine underworld like Sven Libaek gone glimmer. LaJoie’s catalog is a life buoy in a turbulent tempest of a year, and this one feels like a absolute capper of a trilogy that begs to be enmeshed into your daily life. Can’t wait to see what the “Explorers Series” holds next, but this one is a keeper.




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Daniel Romano

There have been few busier songwriters in 2020 than Daniel Romano. The artist was bound for tour when pandemic grounded him, and as chance had it that meant holing up with the touring band for the time being. They certainly made the most of it with a run of nine albums, mostly released to Bandcamp over the past few months. While the offerings explore many of Romano’s strengths — some curio covers, and genre-dense jaunts — his planned LP for You’ve Changed showcases a seasoned pop master hitting stride and feeling completely comfortable in the gilded pop pedigree that recalls extravagant recording budgets and studio habitations that stretch the limit of necessity. It hearkens to a time of major label spending that would make a young band blush these days. Surprising then, that the band nails this one with the implementation of a few rules that keep it completely crisp and keep them from forwarding mail for months to a studio address. Each song was recorded in order of its appearance on the record and by rule none got more than three takes.

Much of the success of How Ill Thy World Is Ordered then, comes down to the aforementioned backing band, a group of players dubbed The Outfit. The group have been shaping Romano’s stage show up through a near euphoric live record released earlier in the year that serves as a primer for those who haven’t been keeping tabs on Daniel for the last few years. While Okay Wow tallies up the past, the future blossoms in How Ill Thy World Is Ordered. Romano has long had a way with tying the ends of pop, country, and ‘70s rock into a tight package, but this record amplifies each of those impulses, pushing him into grandiosity without wallowing in opulence. Like the shifts towards bigger vistas that inhabited recent records by Kevin Morby and Kyle Thomas, the record doesn’t hold back from letting horns, huge hooks, and stadium-sized backup sections drape over every track here, a feat that makes that three-take limit only more incredible.

There’s a feeling of career shift in the belly of How Ill… and records like My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves or Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever come to mind, stretching Romano’s reach and never looking back. The horns in “Green Eye Shade” and “Never Yet In Love” rise their songs to the rafters. The guitars crash down like he’s got something to prove in each note. Ardent fans will be more than pleased and newcomers with a soft spot for large-scale pop should find plenty to hold onto here.



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The Cigarettes – “The Sky’s Not Blue It’s Happy”

There’s no shortage of reissues houses that will dig into their designated corners of the forgotten landscape, but I’ve always admired Anthology for going deep in many directions at once. From surf soundtracks to soft-psych and Swedish legends, the label might not be as cohesive on the surface as others, but their dedication to quality remains a hallmark. This latest is seemingly the beginning of some digital only releases, and its marked as one of the only ones that doesn’t net a lavish physical package, though that shouldn’t reflect on the music itself. The name The Cigarettes was used before (UK punks reissued through Optic Nerve) and surely after this iteration, but this crew from Geelong is worthy of the moniker. The band had another life following the punk and post-punk trail from New York, but they split for the tail end of the ‘70s and wouldn’t reform until the ‘80s.

With few expectations heaped upon their return, the band’s Alan Wright and Mark Gove lead the charge on these recordings and its swerves away from the punk doldrums that might have clogged up their works had they stuck the path without a break. The album works an instrumental approach, slinking through a dirty neon pulse of ‘80s funk and smooth groove. There’s a plastic veneer over their playing that both dates this album instantly and yet also puts it into an odd spectrum of influence that feels reminiscent of recent bands looking to flirt with the past in unexpected ways. That ‘80s heat is all over it, but its not the FM band that we’re talking here. Think late night television, b-movie scores, and wood-paneled clubs with dismal cover charges. This is a nice retrospective from Anthology that speaks to their ability to dig up some of the best of the binned visions of the past.




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Klyfta

A rather intriguing proposition here in the form of a fake band anchored by Psychic Temple’s Chris Schlarb. Buffeted with plenty of billowy backstory, this one can sit alongside the Jeremiah Sand release on Sacred Bones as one of the best deep fake bands of the year. Now as Chris would tell it this represents an unearthed treasure from the early ‘70s, picking up where the works of Swedish songwriter Casper Sundberg and crew left off. However a little more digging pegs this as one of the artificial artists that soundtrack the 2019 alternate history adventure game Hypnospace Outlaw. While the game tracks through a divergent 1999 and presents puzzles via content policing an Angelfire-rife vision of the internet, it’s nice to think of Klyfta as not just a perfectly realized and stylized nugget in the game, but as a band that lives and breathes its own lounge-prog reality.

That seems to be what Schlarb is getting at with this low-profile standalone release. Taken way out of context the band doesn’t flag in its ability to convey a sense of ‘70s excess and indulgent psych-jazz odyssey. Ostensibly permeated by Schlarb’s guitar and fleshed out with a tumult of drums and organ, the works assembled here are supposed to be disparate sessions cobbled together by session musicians finishing Sundberg’s abandoned work, but its clear that Schlarb’s dedication to opulent prog-jazz touches won’t let him make this feel like anything less than a cohesive document. While I’d love to live within the skewed timeline that lets “Sport Anthem” actually anchor tennis matches and support a struggling ‘70s lost cause, I’m equally happy to let Schlarb fill in the shading of his fantasy with pulsing rhythms and looping instrumentals that could easily fill out the landscapes of an airbrushed van, or at the very least, the man who left it all behind to do the airbrushing. The LP is limited to 500, so this curio probably won’t stick around too long.




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Prana Crafter

If it wasn’t readily apparent from the sidelong strechout that populated his half of a split with Tarotplane last year, Will Sol’s music is made for grander statements than a compact runtime can accommodate. His latest LP pushes that boundary even further, nudging the scope from one side to two. Though it’s split into six parts, the tracks on MorphoMystic are essentially all part of one long piece. Still strolling the verdant gardens of ‘70s kosmiche and bending the will psych to the whims of prog, the new album truly enjoys the spectral build and release of his German predecessors.

Even when the tempo is slowed to a Cluster-crawl, the new Prana is percolating with a heart-flutter rhythm that’s humid and hungry, yet hunted and wounded — siphoning the cosmic impulses into a dark heart. This is a more furrowed and fraught side of Sol than I’ve heard before. He’s usually threading the gauze, letting his folk strings pull gently at his prog side, but here synths and ambience assert their dominance over the guitar for the most part.

He can still wring wrath from the six, but for the most part he’s embodying the Göttsching persona well while dipping into the works of fellow Ra member Schulze’s works for good measure. Creeping into view with a tempered step, he arcs MorphoMystic into a dizzying psychological thriller by the time “Chalice of the Fungal Sage” hits the speakers. Though if things end with blood and bone, they also end with a somber relief by the time we lie into the weary homecoming of “Starlight, Sing us A Lullaby.” Sol’s been working at body high hits for the last few years, but he’s besting himself yet again with this cohesive platter.




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William Tyler

While there are dozens of new releases, one off tracks, and compilations to dig through for the No Fee days, sometimes a truly amazing release wafts through the buzz of emails and twitter notifications. I’m prone to checking out anything by William Tyler, especially after last year’s stunner on Merge and the haunting First Cow soundtrack, but I wasn’t expecting another tender offering from him so soon. Recorded in isolation and partly with Scott Hirsch, the EP is based on loss, death, and impermanence. The songs here aren’t precious, but rather unflinching in their somber reflection of bearing witness to death, holding a mirror to grim reality and marking out the measure of it all. Tyler was inspired by the medieval concept of vanitias — juxtaposing death with the impermanence of eartly things, a theme that resonated through a culture threaded with death as a daily reality. It lands as prescient today as it might have then.

The EP sets itself apart from his recent works, turning away from the lighthearted, yet bittersweet ramble of Goes West but falling just shy of the stark landscapes of First Cow. Drones seem to play a bigger part, and the midsection numbness of “Slow Night’s Static,” in particular marks a haunted departure from his usual sound. The works here show Tyler’s prowess, but more so his restraint and it’s a lovely work to bear witness with us all.





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