Browsing Category New Albums

Cool Ghouls

Perennial RSTB faves Cool Ghouls return, releasing their sound from the ‘60s psych-pop tethers that have bound them in the past and pushing on into the arms of ‘80s power pop, rough-tousled AOR boogie, and ‘70s lost weekend studio sessions with infinite budgets. Not that the band themselves are living off the label’s extended credit, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sound like it. At George’s Zoo was actually recorded in much more humble surroundings, finding the band holed up in Robby Joseph’s makeshift garage studio, Outer Sunset, that’s documented on the album’s cover. What the band do bring from the kinds of ‘70s sessions that seemed to stretch on for months and ring the label’s bar tab for all it was worth is a sense of ease and room to experiment. With space to stretch the band’s sound isn’t working a tight-wound pop spring, instead letting the hooks slow burn over the course of the album and indulging themselves in touches like strings, horn sections, and tumble-down outros.

They cover a wide swath of inspirational ground — moving from late Nazz / early Rundgren solo years to post-Brian R&B Beach Boys and even the luxurious confines of The Moody Blues’ orchestral pop. The band ties it together with a touch that belies their time playing together, making the stylistic shifts feel as natural as the DJ’s hand on the radio waves, moving through a top 40 foam that’s familiar, yet feels like it hasn’t been hammered into your drive-time 5 days a week. The Ghouls have been remarkably consistent in their catalog, creating a trove of songs that bear an indelible mark of cut-out bin diggers and deep cut curators. The DNA of timeless pop is woven into every Cool Ghouls recording, but the more time that I spend with At George’s Zoo it becomes apparent that this is the band looking to create something bigger and more solid than they ever have before. It’s a record that’s hard to pry off the table once it lands there and I’d recommend letting it linger until it seeps into the skin.



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Elkhorn

This one comes in a bit bittersweet for me. Before the cavalcade of Covid hit us last year, Elkhorn’s Winter tour would have passed through Tubby’s in Kingston for an RSTB Presents show alongside Glenn Jones and Alexander Turnquist. This was pretty much the week after the now fabled 75 Dollar Bill set that’s been immortalized on LP, but alas it was not to happen. We erred on the side of caution and with good cause, but it meant that the show remains frozen in hope until such a time that live music resumes in good faith. But as I’ve been missing Elkhorn in the live sphere this tape from War Hen arrives just in time to run down some excellent performances from their earlier dates on that tour — stopping through the Montauk Salt Cave, Rhizome in DC, Record Exchange in Philly, and Black Swann and Oddfellows in Virginia.

Along the way they picked up some locals to help them out and each show fleshes out the Elkhorn sound with pop-ins from Mike Gangloff, Nate Scheible, Harmonica Dan & Ken Brenninger, Jordan Perry, and Eight Point Star. Each set jam is unique to the sets that wrought them and each feel the inimitable touch of Elkhorn’s magic on the stage. Jesse and Drew, while excellent in the studio, are improvisors at heart and the stage opens up the sound of Elkhorn to new tributaries of sound that branch from their psych-scorched catalog. One of the true lifesavers during this time period has been the abundant proliferation of live material that’s been officially up for sale and this is right up there with the best from the last twelve months.



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The Modern Folk

Eiderdown have a whole fresh batch of stuff that you need to dig into as soon as possible and among releases by Elkhorn’s Drew Gardner and fellow picker Josh Medina lies this excellent and expansive album from The Modern Folk. Picking up some queues from labelmate Gardner’s acoustic / electric dynamic in Elkhorn, the tape is split into two halves that carve out a different fascit of J. Moss’ soul. The first half, dubbed Primitive Future takes a swipe at the American Primitive legacy, picking a ramble through woodlands that seem to be a bit more grey-skied and parched than flourishing, scarred songs that get tangled in the brambles and stuck in the mire of a desolate rust pocked landscape. Capturing a stranded view of the wilderness, like an unassigned soundtrack to restless teens prowling unchaperoned among the American rural woodlands — lumped among car carcasses with nature crawling at the corners, they seek to take back an industrial outcrop that’s failed generations far back from their own. It’s a new songbook for a generation unburdened by hope.

The flip side puts some voltage on the angst of Moss’ pieces. The primitive ripple that presided over the first side is burned out with the fire forged electric poker of Lyran Group. If anything, this side is more desolate than the last, having clear cut any overgrowth that provided shade and shelter on the first side. The growl is guarded, feral and set to bite if provoked. Moss still picks with a wounded precision, but there’s danger in the strings where before there was despair. Its a nice one-two tag from the guitarist and should find fans among the Eiderdown aware and for those already snagged into greats from Rob Noyes and Eli Winter this year.



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Painted Shrines

It’s no secret that this one has been locked on the speakers over here since it reached my hands. With a handful of killer singles already out in the ether, it feels nice to let the full album stretch out this week. It’s, admittedly hard to pass up the meeting of two great psych-pop minds finding solace in their shared obsessions and both halves of the Painted Shrines duo have been longtime RSTB mainstays. Jeremy Earl and Glenn Donaldson have crossed paths many times over the years, with Donaldson releasing records under more than one moniker on Jeremy’s Woodsist label and the two sharing space in the credits of each other’s albums, but this marks the first full-on collaboration between the two. Birthed out of a restless spirit that found Earl heading cross-country from his home here in the Hudson Valley to Glenn’s West Coast studio, the two embarked on a week-long wander through the faded forms of jangle pop — from the high flying air of The Byrds 12-string heartache to the South Hemi hum of The Clean and The Bats.

Glenn’s been skewing away from the psych folk these past few years, ensconcing himself in the better end of the Sarah / Subway section of the 7” pile, and he brings some of that energy here, but certainly lets more of a fuzzed-caked froth filter onto his pop than I’ve heard in quite some time. The record alternates between heartworn pop cuts and instrumentals that lace ‘em up in a way that reminds me of Felt’s The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories, albeit without such a classical showiness. Where Deebank was looking for critical acclaim for his virtuosity, Glenn and Jeremy simply seek to balance the bittersweet and the brightness with a slight curl of psychedelic fry. Both artists have been masters of making melancholy feel like a comforting friend, filling the air with an incense that triggers feelings of home.

Those muted jangles, rain-soaked organs and oil-dipped effects give the album a woolen feel, bracing for the morning’s chill, but finding the sun peeking over the horizon and latching on. With both artists adding their singular singing styles to Heaven and Holy there are moments when Woods peek out of the corner of the eye, or The Reds, Pinks and Purples flicked on the consciousness, but its a brief flicker. In the end, they melt their styles together into an album that stands high among both their catalogs, an ache all its own.




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Bobby Lee

xThis week marks the release of Bobby Lee’s follow-up to his excellent 2020 debut Shakedown in Slabtown. Double the joy because the first LP is getting a vinyl UK vinyl edition while he’ll land at Tompkins Square here in the US for the physical release of Origin Myths. Lee (GospelbeacH, Canyon Family) added to the excellent run of cosmic country that permeated the air last year and his latest sinks deeper into the streaked skies and rolling vistas that Slabtown began to explore. With a warm layer of tape hiss running underneath, Lee lays out eight (twelve on the LP) more landscapes of vision quest country, letting the listener wander in a heatstroke haze with occasional dips into oases that may or may not truly exist. It’s an LP that vibrates in rare air, finding its home weaving through the heat-ripple haze off of the long dusted pavement.

While the last record had more of a boogie element to it, melting down JJ Cale and and Golden Gunn choogle into a languorous stretch of slow shifting psychedelic headspace, this time he leans heavier into the Bruce Langhorne touches that curled at the edges of his debut. The long, lingering feel of Western expanses creeps into the out-of-body buzz, lifting the listener into the strata above the plains to float between the heart and the horizon. Joining SUSS, Bobby Walker Jr, and North Americans, Lee helps to round out a new wave of top line ambient country. Like his peers, Lee excels a channeling the twin prongs of the American Southwest — the beauty and the loneliness — into an aural ache strong enough to pull sorrow and serenity from the marrow by the milligram. Shakdown in Slabtown set the listener free to enter Bobby’s strain of cosmic vibration, Origin Myths finds the thrum of the canyon and sets it to tape.

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Rusell Hoke

There’s an air of borrowed time about Russel Hoke’s The Melancholy Traveller. Not that Hoke has passed or is about to, but that he’d seemingly hung his instruments for good by 2016. Not merely hung them up, but sold them outright. That seems like shutting a door on the idea, but thankfully Hoke wasn’t quite finished with us just yet. He borrowed a guitar and banjo, and in an Alan Lomax meets modern times approach, recorded some material he’d hidden away to an outdated cell phone at home. As such, there’s a welcome roughness to the songs here, a private press film that can’t quite help but settle onto the unvarnished recordings. Considering he filled a double cassette anthology before hanging it up last time, this absolute trove of new material is so much more than leftovers from his cut out pile.

The songs are filled with pain, simple pleasures, emptiness, and hope. Hoke has an inimitable hold on the qualities that sent oral traditions from family to family, filling songbooks with the kind of universal truths that somehow became more ingrained with the barrel bare pluck of banjo or the oaken caress of guitar strings. Each song on The Melancholy Traveler seems both set for sunset rounds with family and friends and equally set for the solace of a back porch, filling the silence and loneliness before they grows too large and consume the heart once and for all. Hoke’s name might not yet be etched into the canon of American songwriters just yet, but this collection wedded to his previous compendium might just give the name the nudge it deserves.


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Mt. Mountain

With the arrival of Mt. Mountain’s fourth album we dive into another densely built world of vertiginous soundscapes. With a bedrock of propulsive rhythm, locked and launching them towards a blissful plateau, the band continues to stretch out further into psychedelic oblivion. Mt. Mountain’s sound has long lifted from jazz extensions and jam tributaries, and both come to a head on the ambitious Centre, with tracks winding towards the seven minute mark, connecting into a dissection of faith and spiritual drought. With a tendency towards more lysergic liquidity than they have in the past, the record gets lost in the incense swirl of its instrumental interplay. Albums like Dust were appropriately desolate, but with Centre the band works towards a more verdant territory, wrapping a newly doused guitar sound around the tangle of rhythm and yawning oceans of synth.

Even the vocals this time get a bit of steam in them, seeming to float in the cirrus above the record, swimming back towards the terra while fighting the heady haze. Feels like the band has been absorbing a good dose of Kikagaku Moyo’s House In The Tall Grass and Moon Duo’s softer side of Occult Architecture. They’re siphoning the same damp vibes of both records while exploring the bounds of their own eclectic float. The band hasn’t sounded this free for quite some time, and the looser sound does them well. If, perhaps, you’ve stopped by the band’s corner of the progressive prairie before and have been left wanting, come back for another wander. This one gets its hooks into you.



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Plankton Wat

On his latest as Plankton Wat, Dewey Mahood (Eternal Tapestry, ) pushes towards a haunted, hungered vision of his pastoral psych. Scorched with a lacing of fuzz and a corroded array of synths, Future Times lays down the backdrop to a timeline in which nature has begun to reclaim the monolithic architecture of our times. Mahood’s always had a way of infusing his psychedelia with the soul of the German Progressive crowd, but this time around he’s letting the two impulses stand in harmony more than they ever have in the past. Setting sail for the fields behind Popul Vuh’s compound, the record taps into a fault line hum, yet still catches a bit of wind in the mics. The progressive elements begin to siphon the serenity from the Plankton Wat’s core over the course of the record.

In the past Dewey has used the moniker for works that vibrate in a kind of rarefied air — meditative, mindful, and infused with the green filter of the natural world, but in the times depicted here there’s a new sense of dread in the margins. He does his best to fight it, but on “Dark Cities,” and “Teenage Daydream” the walls seem much closer than they were a moment ago. Its hard not to feel a certain dread for the future, but by the end Dewey doesn’t abandon his positive spirit wholesale. The album battles invisible adversaries of anxiety and finally resets once more to the commune with the earth and air. Amid a swirl of flutes and a bittersweet strum, Plankton Wat breathes easy before the album rests. Each new chapter of Plankton Wat feels like required reading and I can’t say otherwise with Future Times. Dewey’s laid out another stunner for 2021.

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Nightshift

The sophomore LP from Glasgow’s Nightshift is a study in starkness — a post-punk workout that solders past misfits like Young Marble Giants, Oh-Ok, and Liliput to new outliers like J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest and Sleeper & Snake. The album does a great job of decentralizing the guitar, with rec room echoed vocals and the quiet cry of clarinet playing their way out over loping bass on more than one occasion. There’s a brooding, bedroom dance to the band’s works. Alone and unseen, the walls melt down with a waxen aloofness, but it just masks the vulnerability beneath the surface of the Nightshift’s songs. There are quite a few moments when the smoke curl of distance feels palpable, which is quite apt, considering the album was recorded in individual parts as the band members were segregated from one another over the past year. The isolation doesn’t necessarily get a direct reference, but the feeling of space underscores every minute of Zöe.

The entire album anchors around the seven-minute centerpiece “Power Cut,” a buzzing, undulating piece that untethers from the terra firma to dance in the clouds, high on synth singe and woodwind scuttle. Only the tumbling beat brings the listener back down near land before sucking the humidity out of the room once again for the second side. Here Nightshift let just a little light into their solitude, but we’re once again left scratching cries for comfort in the furniture until the collapse of the closer, “Receipts,” which softens into a sigh as the album pops the light and walks away for good. Perhaps folks aren’t looking for a reminder of how alone we’ve become in the span of 365 days, but for those that always carry a slight air of distance in their hearts, Zöe will feel just right.

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Jantar

I’ve had Jantar on my radar for a while but never gotten a chance to give one of their releases a proper review. The latest takes a bit of a shift away from some of their dreamy, cinematic psych landscapes and tumbles headlong into Canterbury-gilded psych-folk. Naturally, I was drawn right in. With visions of Gong and Soft Machine floating through their heads, the band nail down just the right balance of instrumental aptitude vs. whimsy, a tricky proposition that can often get muddled trying to translate that particular parcel of the past to the current psych landscape. Frankly, aside from De Lorians, most have missed the mark pretty heavily in their attempt. Like that outfit, Jantar find themselves lost in the angular tangle of lavender-scented prog and revealing in rusted greenhouse glow of moss-bloomed riffs.

They soar into view on the eleven-minute burble of “immram,” setting their ambitions high for the sonic contortions they set out to conquer on Sempronia. Baroque keys make way for the oaken brambles of guitar, with the band’s vocals percolating atop the delightful aural foam with an unabashed academic indulgence seems to lock onto their affinity for the more buttoned up prog set quite perfectly. As they settle into the prog rabbit den even further, they find themselves exploring the bent refractions of “The Appian Way,” another longform stunner that dispenses with the knotted riffs and lets groove slide past their collections of woodwinds for an ornate funhouse wander. The album slots into the ever-evolving Drowned Lands / Feeding Tube roster quite nicely, giving shape to the burgeoning label’s commitment to extensions of the Black Dirt legacy. Jantar previously crossed paths and releases with Black Dirt Oak (the studio’s in-house supergroup) and its great to see them popping up as extended family on the label’s third release. While the band has deep roots and an excellent catalog, this is definitely one of their most rewarding releases yet. Fans of any of the aforementioned psych tributaries would do well to snap this one up quick.

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