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Grouper

Days were when Liz Harris had a new album on the way it was the rippling fringe that was excited. Now by the grace of gauziness, Grouper is practically a household name (ok maybe not quite) and expectations are high going into Grid of Points. From the very first moments those expectations are met. Harris’ voice is still battling with hiss for prominence, but this time it’s winning out handily, soaring in a heartbreaking lilt over “Parking Lot’s” somber refrain and soaking the album through with a confessional nature that pushes her past the markers of dreampop and noise that used to pen her in. There’s still that natural warmth that makes Grouper Grouper, but it seems over time Liz Harris has seen fit to let us further into her world with an intimacy that’s palpable in every moment of the new record.

It’s almost too bad that warmer climes and sunny skies are on their way because every inch of Grid of Points makes me want to hollow out a couch cushion and bunker down to weather frigid gloom for another few months. The album is, as is usual with Grouper, haunting in its ability to draw sadness out like a fragile divining rod. Even without the cocoon of aural foam and tape hiss that’s ever present, there’s a feeling that just Harris and a piano would command rapt attention for an album twice this length. If anything, the problem is the album’s brevity leaves the listener wanting more – needing Harris to commiserate and tug gently at the toothache of longing just a little while longer.

I’ll take what I can get though, and this is Harris at her best, showing an artist willing to evolve, even if that evolution is just a gradual peek from behind the curtain over time. If there’s a shred of sadness looking for relief inside of you, then Grouper is here to rub salt in the wound. The pain is real, but the sparkle is worth it.



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Bend Sinister – Tape 2

One of the great, ink-black holes of interest in the pervasive Seattle music culture is A-Frames. The dirge-worthy noise punks were a black hole of chaos, tearing up S-S records and Dragnet before even they got themselves a Sub Pop deal and subsequently either delighted or deflated listeners looking for a certain Northwest sound. Long before there was The Intelligence and slightly before there was the idea of an A-Frames proper, there was Bend Sinister – the incubator of sorts for what would grow into a sprawling, narcotic entity. The band was built around Erin Sullivan, Min Yee and Josh Turgeon but later added in Steve Kaplan, who in turn left to make way for Lars Finberg. Lars, Erin and Min would go on to form A-Frames but it was in Bend Sinister that their love of noise punk produced some of the heaviest din associated with the region.

Named after a Fall song and professing love for The Electric Eels, Scratch Acid, Feedtime and Country Teasers, there’s no doubt that the band was about to gouge a few holes in the linoleum when they let loose. Homeless culls up a good chunk of the band’s ‘90s recordings on Tape 2, and it’s a must for fans of the A-Frames trajectory, but more than just a curio for Northwest collectors. Despite the relatively low-profile release status of a lot of the material here, it hammers pretty hard, not going for pristine power like some of their contemporaries but exchanging scrubbed audio for pure power in the end equation. Having missed out on Bend Sinister in its day, but loving everything that came as a result, this is a great primer and a peek at the seeds of what was to come.



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Omni – “Sunset Preacher / Confessional”

If anything’s been consistent over the last couple of years it’s been the high-quality output by Atlanta’s Omni. The band’s been chiseling their craggy ‘n cutting vision of post-punk in the shape of Television, Pere Ubu and Magazine over two solid records and they continue that tradition on a double shot for Chunklet. The two tracks sound stamped right out of the sessions for Multi-Task, top shelf bent shakers and not some castoff, b-side fodder – both tracks bend and contort themselves into brilliant foil balls small enough to fit in your speakers.

Hard to pick a favorite here, “Sunset Preacher” launches out of the gate torn and tattered before settling down on a nodder of a bass line and getting itself into a groove punctuated by rat trap explosions of guitar. The flip is knotty in the best ways Omni has proven to be, riding that rubber band bass to the wall and jerking themselves into uncomfortable shapes like the sons of James Chance. If the band is pumping out gems this quality on the singles, I can’t wait to see how the next LP is shaping up.




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Medistation

Slicing off from one’s longtime band for a solo venture can be a dicey roll, especially when traversing similar ground, but Eric Strand of Swedish psych band The Orange Revival manages to leave his past behind on his debut EP as Medistation. Where the Revival tends towards clouds of reverb, repetition and vocals buried in the murk of their impenetrable haze, Strand uses Medistation as a jump off to explore other indulgences. The guitars slice with a clean edge, still using a rumble of fuzz on a few tracks here but feeling his way further out of the My Bloody Valentine / Black Angels grip.

Further in the 12” boasts a dream-laden country croon, evoking the collective members of Galaxie 500 and Luna picking through Primal Scream’s record collection one minute and stomping on the Spiritualized effect pedal the next. The EP feels like an artist grappling with his influences and finding what works. Heads who are already into the touchstones flashing high on Strand’s radar will no doubt appreciate this EP, but like me probably leave wanting it to stretch just a bit further. What does work here is that unlike The Orange Revival, Medisation doesn’t feel indebted to a sound and the variety gives the release a good flow, working its way down slow at the end from the sunburn psych that starts his record off. For what it’s worth he’s emulating many of his influences quite ably, and with the word that Strand’s fleshing this out from the “one man in a room”-type affair to full band vision, means that more input could form this into some high-octane space rock for sure.


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Nocturnal Projections – Complete Studio Recordings

Somewhere near the roots of New Zealand post-punk lie the early singles of Nocturnal Projections, eking life into a scene that would blossom within Island’s small scene. Brothers Peter and Graeme Jefferies formed the band in 1981, years before they’d lay down acerbic tracks as This Kind of Punishment. After they parted ways, Graeme would fulfill his destiny in The Cakekitchen and Peter would skew solo, but this was where they began in earnest. After a smattering of bands like Plastic Bags that didn’t catch hold the brothers found a fanbase with Nocturnal Projections’ driving, anthemic sound. Hardly celebrated in their tenure, except by locals who were lucky enough to catch them on stage at their favored haunt, The Lion Tavern, or opening for The Fall and New Order in hometown gigs. They came to further prominence in the ‘90s when European label Raffmond issued much of their collection on CD under the title of their incendiary b-side, “Nerve Ends In The Power Lines.”

That comp, along with the legacy of both This Kind of Punishment and The Cakekitchen, served to bolster the band as a touchpoint for younger post-punk bands, and with good reason. Though the band is often compared to Joy Division, they’re cut from a slightly sunnier cloth, strapping on vocals that touch into Ian McCulloch territory. Their output revels in dark overtones, and an admittedly grimier production than their UK counterparts, while sparring widescreen hooks with propulsive bass. Now, Dais has finally put the band’s three official releases – the Another Year 7” + a S/T 7” and S/T 12” – together onto a collection of complete studio recordings. The collection marks the first time that all three are back on LP since 1983, giving collectors of the rather pricey singles a handy primer on the band’s most lasting works.

In addition, the label has also issued a collection of studio rarities and bonus tracks as a separate LP, which works well, rather than bloating out a release with diehard fodder the two LPs serve as both a toe into the band’s world and a definitive pairing for those who have long sought out the band’s discography. Fans of any of the Jefferies’ projects would do well to jump in here and those with a soft spot for UK post-punk of the same era will find a welcome kinship in the band’s complete works.



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Vintage Crop

Aussie punks Vintage Crop have managed to embrace the same sinewy, elastic brand of rock that endeared their countrymen Eddy Current Suppression Ring to fans the world over. Their first LP for the strikingly consistent Anti-Fade Recs crackles with a sweaty, twitchy, inherently muscular brand of punk that’s aesthetically bumping up against the signposts of post-punk, making this one straddle eras of influence with a vital electricity. They’re still cracking the whip as far as energy, but there’s a supple twang to the guitars here and they weld that to the trampoline bounce of bass and gnashed-teeth gang vocals that feel ripe for the pit.

The record, as with their previous tape, gets some shaping from label-head Billy Gardner (see also: The Living Eyes, Ausmuteants) and official Aussie-quality mastering house Mikey Young. The album bumps elbows and jostles heavily against the more laconic trends down in the South-Hemi way these days, replacing tales of couch life and dead-end jobs with nervy tin-hat assertions about flying saucers and altered reality. Though they do get a good shot in about being too lazy to clean up after themselves (on title track “New Age”), they just give it a jolt of twitchy joints by running the slacker-pop sensibilities through a Mark E. Smith filter.

The record pushes the impulses that pounded out their previous tape to their logical ends, feeling all the more vital and for the extra angles and Mapplethorpe lighting they’ve splashed over the top of New Age. The record feels like the start of something great for the Geelong boys. Hopefully they’ll keep pushing the boundaries further towards post-punk’s creep. Either that or they’ll leave an excellent watershed for us to all to enjoy on its own merits.




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Ganser

Up to this point, Chicago post-punks Ganser have been building up a reputation on the strength of a steady stream of short format singles and EPs. Now, with an album on the way from No Trend, they’re proving that it’s not just a scattershot bit of luck that’s pulled them through. Odd Talk is a caustic record wrapped tight in barbed and rusted guitars, driven hard by a rhythm section that knows how to turn anxious intent into breathless reality. Vocalist Nadia Garafolo whips hard between impassioned shouts, chopped spoken word and slinking coos that fill up the speakers with her lures and attacks in equal measure.

The record’s secret weapon lies in Charlie Landsman’s guitars though, scratching glass one minute, tearing through bone the next. Post-punk lives and dies by the rhythm, but it shines when there’s a guitarist that can draw a bit of blood. The record isn’t looking for pop purchases in any sense, but the brooding songs get under the skin just as easily as if they were bouncing on sing-a-long choruses. Churning anxiety into chewed tin, then polishing the shards to a bitter brilliance, the record stands to raise the band’s profile from Chicago stalwarts to national attention. For those still pulling the velvet curtains hung by Siouxsie or 13th Chime tight, this is a perfect companion to drown out the coming clarity of summer.




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Minami Deutsch

It’s hard not to get sucked in by the tag of ‘Japanese psych pounders obsessed with Krautrock’ as a hook into Minami Deutsch, and the band certainly makes good on the promise, but with their second LP they move beyond that one-note sentiment. While their debut traded in the Krautrock concept wholesale, pushing a motorik and fuzz-crusted take on German Progressive patterns, on their sophomore album for Guruguru Brain the band softens the blunt impact to embrace the fragile beauty in their sound. There’s still a furious storm of rhythm and noise floating as the basis of With Dim Light, but now there’s a whole new appreciation for soft shading and glycerin guitars. The record’s far less of a love letter to Dusselforf, ‘71 than it is a balance between the propulsion of their heroes and the cracked sky shimmer of their contemporaries in present day Japan.

The band is enmeshed with Guruguru Brain’s main hive, having been housemates with banner act Kikagaku Moyo and sharing stages with Sundays & Cybele, and it seems that the subtleties of their pals couldn’t help but rub off on them as they grew their sound. Over the course of six winding songs on the new record, the band works through restrained build, cool-bliss shudders, and caustic fuzz all the while maintaining their dedication to the altar of repetition. This time, though, rather than hit the listener like an electrified brick, the repetition isn’t so upfront. As the throb slides down in the mix it’s allowed to creep up the listener’s spine in the way some of the most accomplished German Progressives practiced their hand at groove.

That groove becomes the heartbeat of the record rather than the impossible to ignore rattle in your face. This time, when explosions of fuzz crop up, as on the highlight “I’ve Seen A U.F.O.,” they tear a hole in the fabric of the album, feeling like a downpour of relief after a humid build up of pressure in the system. Just as often though the band are tamping down the lid and letting a song simmer through as on the cooldown stunner “Bitter Moon.” If they were looking to standout among a stable of great artists at Guruguru then With Dim Light goes a long way to make their case.




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Sloan

Canada’s slighted sons Sloan have always had the rep of a band that never got its due, though that in itself is its own kind of due. Sure, they’ve never dominated the US airwaves (and stylistically that ship has likely sailed along with the turn of the century), but they’re constantly hanging on as the highest-ranking underdogs in the room. That said, I’m always thankful they’re keeping the power pop torch lit for generations to come, pining away with all of the double-stacked sincerity that befits jangle-pocked rockers holding up the train of Badfinger and The Raspberries while bumping elbows with Matthew Sweet and The Apples in Stereo. Like fellow pop-pushers Super Furry Animals, they always seemed to be doing the right thing at the wrong time, missing the zeitgeist but catching enough ardent fans for a sustained career.

After a slightly choppy experiment letting each of their four members pen a portion of their last album, the band returns to a cohesive sound, regaining a sense of brevity for an album that’s much more digestible. Not straying far from their wheelhouse, the record is doing a great job of “sounding like Sloan” while still crafting a few standout gems lacquered in the band’s hi-fi gloss and rose-colored swoon. Though they clearly seem to be running the well dry on lovesick subject matter, not to mention song titles (the set boasts their second use of a song with the title “If It Feels Good Do It”), they’re working up just what the door price promised.

If you came to hear Sloan triple-top harmonies over the crisp sunset hues of bittersweet pop then look no further, they haven’t lost a step. There’s always a double-edged sword with long running bands – change too much and they’ll hang ‘ya for betraying fans’ hopes, stay the course and be accused of stagnation. While the latter accusation might hold a bit of water, the band’s holding on so nicely to their corner of the musical landscape that it’s hard to complain. Twelve albums on most bands don’t whether so well. Sloan still won’t capture the zeitgeist, but 12 is still a pretty fun ride.




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Honey Radar – Psychic Cruise

Chunklet and Honey Radar are always a winning combination and the release of yet another single by the lo-fi Philly pop unit is cause for celebration. Five tracks of shambolic Syd Barrett burial rites that exhume the shaggy spirit of clang-clobbered pop, echoplexed to perfection and smeared with enough hooks to keep ya diggin’ for the long haul. The lights are low, the smoke is high and the room is choked with sweat and stink and life when these songs are on. Jason Henn has a penchant for pop songs that feel like they jumped out of his guitar two minutes before the listener sat down, but they stick with the permanence of Guided by Voices deep cuts. Of course, the fidelity means that most Honey Radar songs sound like a scratch take, but I suppose overworking them might just take away the magic. It makes each one of their singles and EPs feel like a secret release slipped amongs friends at a house show. Recommended as usual.




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