Browsing Category New Albums

J.R. Bohannon

Emerging from the synth heavy confines of Ancient Ocean, a name he’s worked under for the better part of the last decade, J.R. Bohannon emerges from the blistered chrysalis of ambient noise for a record that’s imbued with a crystal-clear brand of fingerpicked folk. Dusk sees the artist opening into a verdant sound that pulls together threads from the Takoma school, bluegrass’ earthiness and cadence and some more experimental touches that throw him into the mix with Evan Caminiti and Scott Tuma. Bohannan has a way with space, making these solo pieces ring with a free-formed sunshine that feels like the walls of the studio don’t exist. If it weren’t for the complete quiet these could almost conceivably be captured in the field, smells of lightly rotted barn wood and day lilies on the air.

For the most part Bohannon makes the journey on Dusk alone, but he pulls in acclaimed drummer Greg Fox for the final, twisting number, “The Sorcerer’s Hand.” Here, Bohannon strays from some of the blissful themes of the album, diving from the melted sunlight streaks of the album’s title track into a world of secrets and paranoia. The track acts as a chapter unto itself at the end of the record, feeling like the sweeping, gorgeous tones of the previous six tracks were a pre-amble of another life before the darkened doom and hidden desires that threaten to shatter the peace as we leave the record. Altogether and outstanding debut from Bohannon and a new voice in instrumental guitar.




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Charles Rumback & Ryley Walker

Following up on their 2016 collaboration for Dead Oceans, Chicago drummer Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker head over to Thrill Jockey for a second set of skitter and strum. Again, tacking away from Ryley’s singer-songwriter impulses and into instrument folk that pushes beyond the boundaries that the genre might entail, the pair prove perfect foils for one another. Walker has ensconced himself in two forms over the last few years and his collaborations with Bill MacKay, Running, Rumback and most recently Steve Gunn have proven the artist’s prowess in mapping the more experimental mores of the improv terrain. Here, the set starts out warm and sunny, beset by fingerpicked runs and jazz sweeps through the kit. Opener “Half Joking” yawns with an early morning saunter, a song fit for the porch before the day takes shape.

As their work wears on the duo introduce a darker tone, replacing the burble of strings with more sawed and sore drones on “Idiot Parade” and letting the cloud cover choke out their earlier ease. The following, “And You, These Sang,” brings and air of consternation, a pang of hurt that’s moth eaten in places by fuzz and smeared with the handprints of white-knuckle tension trying not to seep its way to the surface. They toggle back and forth between air and void before tumbling completely into the latter on “If You’re Around and Down” a meditative respite that rolls with Rumback’s slow-motion heat-lightning patterns before the stormbreak relief of “Worn and Held” washes over the listener in liquid bliss. In some ways Walker’s dedication to the Chicago post-rock set that underpinned his last record rears its head here, feeling like the ghosts of Tortoise have inhabited the American Primitive. Walker’s been having a hell of a year live and Little Common Twist seeks to translate that energy into the studio setting as well.



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Matt Valentine

It’s been a bang-up year for Matt Valentine, with his searing second album from Wet Tuna landing last month and now the arrival of his 8-years baking solo LP, Preserves headed down the dock from Beyond Beyond is Beyond. The latest takes every incarnation that Valentine has inhabited over his years and throws ‘em in the blender, but don’t go thinking this is a hodge-podge, unfocused affair. MV grinds those sounds down smooth and viscous – melding psychedelic folk, with electronic swamp gas and lighting it on fire with the frantic freak foam of brain-bending guitar. This is Matt as his most potent, burning from the core and set to singe. The album blends midnight séance shivers with alien radio ripples, sounding like the FM waves have been hijacked and are picking up some sorely needed psychotropic solace from across the cosmos. Songs blend into one another without seams. It’s all one big batch of Preserves, steeped and sweetened for your pre-dawn consumption, gelled together into 40-odd minutes of melt.

The record calls up every acquaintance Valentine’s brushed against over the better part of the decade with longtime compatriots like Erika Elder, Pat Gubler, Willie Lane, J. Mascis, and Samar Lubelski making their way into the psychic seep of this one. The guests siphon and out Valentine’s sonic stew, giving the record a communal careen, but at the core is simply MV communing with the quasars one more time for good measure. It’s quite possible this might be the perfect companion piece to this years’ Water Weird — a moonburned coda on that album’s smoke-soaked blues. The two fit together into an extended fever dream hunkered down in sauna surroundings, sweating out the evil ether for all the transcendental sinners out there. Don’t just take my word though, the whole album’s streaming below and you’re welcome to get a taste of it yourself.


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SUSS

There’s a sense of cosmic wonder built into the sinews of Suss’ latest LP, High Line. The veteran NYC band blends a mix of ambient textures with a high plains country crawl that slices Bruce Langhorne with Barn Owl for a trip down an otherworldly rabbit hole. The album has a hermetic magic to it, lonesome, melancholy, but all consuming and engrossing in a way that seems to transcend more than just just feelings. Like a great work in sound design, Suss’ album seems to be narrating a journey, a wander through mystic corridors that’s beyond this plane. The songs ache with the hollowed marrow of driftwood — a life leeched by the sea and left to burn up in the sun – yet the discarded pieces of pulp have tales to tell, a world left behind in their sunbleached bends. High Line is an album marked by erosion and exfoliation, something that seeks to sink deeper into the strata beyond the dip of the horizon.

The band slinks from mirage to mirage, never explaining but always beckoning with a silent wave of the hand for the listener to follow deeper. It’s as if some truth might be uncovered over the next ridge, but there’s always a next ridge. Somehow when the glare recoils we’re left only with ourselves alone in a parking lot wondering if it was all shimmer and shine, or if those epiphanies were tangible and touchable. It doesn’t matter in the end. We’re changed and the sun sets a few degrees to the North from here on out. New maps are forged while the rest of the world sleeps. The album is the band at their peak, feeling out the lay lines of a new and dire era. For those who can see the cartography, this one’s gonna be a stunner. The rest will just hear the wind rustling and wander lost.




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Mikal Cronin

Of all the songwriters to come out of the Segall orbit, Mikal Cronin’s always been the most prone to pop. Where others found solace in the crushing fuzz and rancor of rock, Cronin has been the voice of melody, and the guiding light of embellishment. Fittingly Cronin’s also been one of the most masterful producers in this orbit, fitting Ty’s psych-flecked garage with buzzing sax, mellowed keys and all manner of interesting ephemera. He’s followed the flow of this sentiment with his own songwriting career as well and the traits that prevailed over the years are the urges to explode rock in all directions, awash in pop’s arms and swirling through a sound that’s not lean, but never unbalanced. Cronin’s songs are packed with hooks and snagged on melancholy. It seems fitting that he’s the one from this enclave that’s found his way to Merge, ever a home to the bittersweet pop loner.

This album jus that, a lonely album. There are surely others in the room, but Mikal gives it the feel of a solo project built on his own pain and pulse. Seeker is probably one of Cronin’s most meticulous releases, and this serves as both a benefit and poison to its direction. While the songs swoon, awash in strings, velvet harmonies, and piano key tears, it’s missing a bit of the rawness and whimsy of his earlier catalog. In the past his songs felt ready to explode at any moment from emotions pent up and propelled by a power pop catapult that splashed them across the soundfield in ecstatic colors. Those colors seem muted on Seeker, perhaps dampened by time among the studio’s walls. The songs seem like they might find that spark more in the live setting. The core kernels of pop are there, but they’re sealed in packaging and ready for Cronin to get them out to play.

That feeling does return as the album wears on, “Lost A Year’s” second half goes for the win, but even there it could feel looser. “Caravan” lets that sax creep in but why not let it crack at the corners, get wile and free? That’s not to knock the songs themselves, there are some hooks in the bucket, but I just keep wanting Cronin to spill them all over the place and have fun. He’s never seemed worried about mussing his hair before, so maybe that’s why the quick-comb feels like a pretense for school pictures, a buttoned-up version of what could be. I’ve confidence that the stage will sort it out. This is a solid shot from Cronin, but it could have been a shout.




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Vetiver

While Vetiver has always had a preternaturally calm demeanor, there’s something inherently broken-in, yet endearingly comfortable about Andy Cabic’s latest LP under the name. Vetiver captures the worn and weathered valley between ennui and ease and the album is marked by a familiarity that’s hard to shake, but mostly because Cabic’s able to synthesize his influences into a faded denim delivery that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than Vetiver. His past catalog obviously speaks to the same feelings, but there seems to be a particular abundance of warm amber waves and cool blue ripples that slip off of the ends of Up On High. He’s dug into a secret stash of country touches and folk flecks that coalesce into an album built on hurt, but also built to heal.

Themes of wanderlust, lost love and new beginnings have (rightly) earned the album comparisons to Tom Petty’s mid-life high water mark Wildflowers. Shades of R.E.M. jangle up and there’s a rootsy honesty that knocks at Crazy Horse’s door, but it’s Petty’s ode to the dissolution of routine that hangs its head over the album the heaviest. Cabic similarly seems to embody a sense of loss and loneliness and packs the record with an ideal of finding oneself beyond the horizon no matter how many times you have to cross it. The record is one of his best since 2009’s Tight Knit, reinvigorating Vetiver even while technically mellowing. The record is a comfort for the soul in troubled times, and honestly that’s something we could all use time and again.



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Owen Tromans

Been a while since Owen Tromans has popped up in these pages, but that’s on me, not him. Tromans last caught my ear trading covers with Wooden Wand on a 7” back in 2011, but he’s had a solid clip of singles and tapes since then. 2019 sees the UK singer-songwriter surging back with his most complete statement to date. Between Stones is a winding exploration of driving folk tipped with a heavier heart that dives into progressive impulses and dresses in the tatters of American indie. Tromans retains a sense of grandeur that pays homage to the UK folk form — fanciful characters and lyrical runs open into an appetite for progression that see him open up latter half stunner “Grimcross” into gnarled, prophetic darkness. In many ways though he’s simply channeling the restlessness of these lost bards through a modern lens.

Tromans echoes Johnathan Melberg’s expanse under the wings of Shearwater, who in turn borrowed a lot of it from Talk Talk. “Vague Summer” toughens his take, driving a thread of ‘90s colors through a sound that tumbles close to the crumbs that Bob Mould or Jay Farrar left behind. He’s not one to ruminate too long though, and those flashes all melt together as the record winds on. Tromans has stitched this together into a beautiful, yet tough record. He lilts with the wounded soul of a man hurt but not hung, churning his tales into windswept epics fit to be carried on the wind. Its been a long time coming, but hearing Tromans thrive on Between Stones feels like a triumph for the songwriter. 2019’s packed, but you’d be foolish to let this one slip away into the fray.




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Simon Joyner

Omaha’s Simon Joyner has a painter’s tongue and his way with words lays out a landscape caked with the dust of an American promise gone to seed. He’s carving out simple truths that lie ignored on the shelves of corner shops and gas stations next to quarter juices barrels and car parts – dreams deferred, expired, or squandered. There’s something small in Joyner’s songs, and that’s not a slight, he’s a man who not only notices the minutia, but finds the poetry that radiates through it. Between the grease of diner eggs, borrowed prescriptions, and beers beset by nagging end of season bees, Joyner finds a humanity that seems to have been obscured by the constant clip that life acquired when it got wired up. Joyner snips the sizzle and slows it down to just the tangibles. He drains out the seep of over-saturation and lets things snap back into their naturally rusted hues once more.

There’s been a tendency to compare Joyner to Townes Van Zandt over the years, and that’s apt. I won’t fight it. Both artists share an innate ability to paint a picture that focuses on the cracked hinges and weathered wood rather than the crowd pushing through the door. He trades in vignettes of normalcy giving the slightest details the weight and worth they deserve. The details are small, but the scars they leave run deep. Like Townes, Joyner’s got a wry wit that’s in a constant tug ‘o war with his realist’s melancholy. He’s able to devastate the heart but slip in a grin at the end to stem the tears, or at least sop them up a bit.

Underneath Pocket Moon drips a subtle country cavalcade that wraps his words in heavy sighs and deep set hues. Joyner’s been working with a consistent crew of locals who’ve been seasoned in his soul for years. Yet for Pocket Moon he steps away and throws himself into the unknown, relocating to Phoenix and set adrift into the hands of a crew of players assembled by his longtime collaborator Michael Krassner. The trust is warranted, to say the least, as the players shape this into one of Joyner’s finest offerings. The album is tender, polished by his standards, but not overly so. The players step back and let Joyner shine, but like true seasoned session troupes they shade in the edges with a sound that elevates the songs. It’s been said that Joyner is your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter, and that’s largely true, but if he hasn’t found his way into your own repertoire until now, this is a fantastic starting point. Wade deep, and then swim backwards into his vast revue. In the meantime, Pocket Moon is working its way the essentials list for 2019 and getting hard to beat.



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Program

These days the most potent indie emanating from Australia is coming from the ranks of Anti-Fade, no question about it. The label continues their winning streak in 2019 with the debut from Melbourne four-piece Program. The band’s sound is rooted in the tangled punk ends of Pavement, the twang-tipped offerings of Toy Love and even a touch of Go-Betweens’ pop romanticism, but the band stews it all together without letting one flavor favor the top end. There’s even a beefed up whiff of what The Verlaines were aching about, though to be fair Program pair their strums and lyrical pining with a more gnarled and snarled sensibility that gives these songs a rib-sticking quality. They seem so versed in the cross-hairs of Aussie / Kiwi lore that the result is an instantly classic album that feels like its been kicking around the racks for years, just waiting to be plucked from cracked-case obscurity in dollar bin hell and put into regular rotation on the speakers.

The album’s got a breezy effortlessness that doesn’t come off cocky, just surefooted. The players have been knocking around a few other hook-knackered bands in their tenure (mems belong to The Stroppies, The Blinds, Meter Men, DARTS, The Faculty) and their collective consciousness channels the best qualities of their tangential projects into a potent sonic slap. They shuttle between wounded janglers and cock-eyed Aussie self-deprecation with ease and slip on into something harder, licking at the boots of power-pop without ever quite completing the jump. There’s a ‘90s nuance to what they’re doing, but it doesn’t come off as overtly backward tumbling or nostalgic, just reverent about sorting through their influences and making ‘em stick. There aren’t too many stateside that are finding this same uncanny valley and making it their own, though Omni, Uranium Club, and The Hecks come to mind, and Program can hang right next to any one of those bands. I’ve said it before, can’t lose with an Anti-Fade record, so don’t fight it. Get it on the table as soon as you can.



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Bill MacKay & Katinka Kleijn

After already gracing 2019 with a hushed and humble folk opus, Bill MacKay changes tack and delivers a stunner of an instrumental collaboration with Chicago cellist Katinka Kleijn. Equally inviting and engrossing as Fountain Fire, STIR winds down another woolen path, though one fraught with slightly more experimental inclinations. The pair play off each other’s strengths – MacKay’s guitar bristles and flows here, threading a more technical side of his playing that’s come forward in his work with Ryley Walker in the past. Kleijn, for her part, gives the songs a less soft-focus approach than his previous album, adding layers of unease and prickled anguish through her discordant passages and plucked delivery. The record is reportedly inspired by the Hesse novel Steppenwolf, though that seems to be more of a guide than a milemarker as this one winds by. The story isn’t the focus, but the emotions weigh just the same.

The album is heavy with hope and sadness, emotionally bare and ready to get hurt again. MacKay’s playing is inquisitive one moment and heartbroken the next. Kleijn balances his runs as a well-worn foil. They fade into one another as the dominant voice of the pieces so easily that the focus blurs and bends, giving neither a true supporting role. They are a duo in the truest sense, weaving their sounds like sonic textiles, knotted but never tangled. Perhaps this isn’t for the fans who are looking for MacKay to lull them down the river, but for fans of guitar prowess and instrumental acumen, this is a gem to be sure.




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