Browsing Category New Albums

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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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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Mope Grooves

Northwest ramshackle poppers Mope Grooves have hot-glued together a brittle but bright indie pop album that rests on the brink of falling apart but glows all the brighter for it’s resolve to keep things loose. Coming off slightly impenetrable at first blush, the album reveals itself to be more than just a noisy nugget of homespun clatter. The record is built on the angst, noise and innocence that fueled The Raincoats, Beat Happening or more contemporary enclaves like Nodzzz or Brilliant Colors. Centering around songwriter Stevie Pohlman’s battles with depression and the push-pull nature of dealing with mental illness, the record was bound to be bruised. The band is able, however, to smooth the wealth of crushed aluminum riffs into a semblance of pop that embraces the exit wound of depression’s lacerations rather than dwell on the glowing hurt at the heart of the matter.

Featuring members of Woolen Men, Patsy’s Rats and Honey Bucket, the band is a catch-all of similarly minded travelers all coming together to saw at the human condition with rubber band riffs and a cacophony that heals like an uncontrolled howl rather than raise the collective hackles of listeners. Pohlman’s grasp on the outsider jangle that populated the ‘80s and ‘90s gives this one a lost rarity quality, like stumbling on a Talulah Gosh demo in an old Goodwill box. It’s a quaint shot of pop that can’t help but charm time and again.



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King Tuff

Everything on The Other sounds like Kyle Thomas wanted to break off from the King Tuff moniker and leave it behind – to fold up his old sun medallion and let it rest in the drawer for a spell. It has, in fact happened before, with Sub Pop signing King Tuff only to have him immediately flip the coin and work out the kinks as Happy Birthday. Still, after roaring back into the cracked leather of Tuff’s driver’s seat for another 8 years ‘round the bend following that diversion, there’s an understandable desire at this point to slip away into the shade. As much as Thomas’ 10-foot cartoon chassis is a beloved institution of power pop, it’s got to be exhausting to carry that towering persona around. In that light, this feels to my ear more like a Kyle Thomas solo record that someone in A&R begged him to keep under the Tuff moniker for categorical ease. Not that it tarnishes the Tuff brand, if it’s a Tuff record it’s actually one of my favorites, but I almost wish they would have let him rip the decal off and don the new hat.

The record still has an engine of power pop, though it’s pushed way beyond garage’s bubblegum snap and slid back the hi-fi party mask that found its way into King Tuff’s lyrics over the years. This is a world-weary record that’s pushing Thomas’s pop into lush production, still fairly larger than life, but now trying to duck that personality out of sight and ponder the preposterousness of life on this hunk of chipped granite. Thomas, largely alone, wrangles country’s grand vistas, glam crunch, glittering keys and jittery funk into the shape of one of 2018’s most delightful surprises.

The record follows a grand tradition of bands breaking stride and finding their bittersweet soul wrapped in high concept. This is KT’s Parachute, his Odyssey & Oracle, his Arthur. Like those albums it’s both over the top and a masterpiece of pomp, pathos and pop. The record has huge ambitions, sure, but I’ll be damned if Thomas doesn’t hit his marks every time. Are there lyrics that will date this to an exact moment in time, absolutely (“Circuits In The Sand”), but how is that any different from “Shangri-La’s” exploration of ‘60s idyllic suburb life? Does the record throttle his stylistic core? Yeah and that’s the point. That’s what makes it work and maybe, as much as this feels like a different animal dressed in a familiar sweater, maybe that’s what actually makes the case for keeping King Tuff on the hood ornament.

In the same way that those ambitious albums by the ’60s set pushed listeners out of rote garage territory and acted as portals to new sounds, this affords the past and future King Tuff fan a doorway through the shiny pop sneer and into a treasure of styles. There are hooks that will soar this into the infinite and a hugeness that tends to make pop albums treasures for generations of diggers to come. Even if the world doesn’t turn and take notice, this feels like a record with a long tail of influence down the road. If this is the beginning of a new chapter, or a complete new book, The Other stands to become a definitive moment for King Tuff.


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Kemialliset Ystävät

Finnish collective Kemialliset Ystävät has beaten the path through the weedy wilds of the psych-folk revival that sprung up in the early aughts and passed through to far more experimental trails than most of those who joined them on that journey. The collective, always and forever a rotating lineup centered around the direction of Jan Anderzén, is now cultivating a uniquely kaleidoscopic brand of experimental electronic pop that bubbles with color and chaos – albeit contained chaos, like a dayglo hurricane captured in a soda bottle. The record is nothing if not delightful, mostly because it seems to still see the world through eyes glazed with a wonder that’s long since been closed off in other outlets and facets of life.

This is children’s music if it weren’t processed into shiny bits of positivity and machine-fed through advertising algorithms. There are no didactic lessons here, just a willingness to free the spirit. This is just a shimmering sonic encapsulation of the quick-cut attention span, color-saturated visions of how children can’t help but see the world. There’s awe and fear and beauty and light all bumping each other in line one minute, then rising slow and steady like globules in a lava lamp the next. This effect might have something to do with Anderzén’s process of building aural skeletons and sending them out to his collaborators to dress and color in as they choose, allowing for some planned results and some very surprising ones.

The songs on Slippi Empii swirl through the headphones with sounds chirping like frogs, buzzing like sonic gnats and burbling like a CGI brook in the confines of the listener’s headspace. It’s both very real and somehow hyperreal, an uncanny valley of sound that feels as if it might come alive into rubbery reality at any moment. Anderzén’s band of aural tinkerers have cracked open the cosmic bridge between our world and the animated wonderland across the pale – think Rodger Rabbit (or Cool World if you must) – only the prevailing artists are Robert Beatty and Jamie Zuverza. Siipi Empii is the band at their best, bursting with life, pulsating with color and crackling with a positivity that’s elusive in most catalogs these days.



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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Over the last three albums UMO’s Ruban Nielsen has evolved as an alchemist of psychedelic blue-eyed soul, Stevie Wonder disco epics for the earbud mafia and cracked indie pop that fizzes fast but spreads smooth. It would be hard to top his previous album, 2015’s neon-hued groove garden Multi-Love, and to be fair Sex & Food doesn’t really. Its more of a lateral shift in the same environment, pulling from similar roots with often equally compelling results. This time around Nielsen injects a bit of psychedelic fire into the proceedings, as on first single “American Guilt,” a song built on speaker cone-crunching volume and guitar riffs that feel like they might shake the shutters off of the house. He hot-glues the guitars to infectiously rickety beats that sound like they might have been penned down under MacGuyver-like pressure using what bolts and bits were on hand.

The single is a scorcher and it finds a kindred spirit in the transistor-psych howler “Major League Chemicals,” however, If the whole record were operating on that level things might get exhausting. To his credit most moments are nowhere near as raucous as these peaks, opting often for Nielsen’s R&B butter-edged soul, soothing and smoothing things into bedroom eyes territory. Only he’s ruminating on the various consumptions that drive our lives and how they’ll hurt or heal us in equal measures. These calm eddies are where the album shines, grabbing hold tightest when the songwriter reaches just past the ripple-rainbows of shimmer in his production for a spark of soul. He latches on perfectly with “Not In Love We’re Just High,” another single cut that finds him grasping for the notes and making the audience feel the pull.

The album is a chemically induced k-hole that pulls listeners into Nielsen’s headspace, whirling pop splashes of glow paint all over the deep embrace of a couch and dimmed lights. There’s a certain satisfaction in an artist’s rendering of life as a stoned dive into your phone with the stereo on too loud. Anxieties and pleasures come quick and many, but ultimately the effects wear off and we’re left to deal with the dishes. Its good to know that UMO’s got you covered when you want to stay in and succumb to the cycle of slack, obsession and insecurity though. I’m on board for that ride.



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Gemini Sisters

Bound by the inspiration of daughters born on the same day in the house of Gemini, John Kolodij (High Aura’d) and Matt Christensen (Zelienople, Mind Over Mirrors) team up for an exploration of the intertwined ethos of the twin Zodiacs. Gemini Sisters finds both musicians diving down a sound cavern that’s cool and damp. Moss notes curl at the edges of their compositions. There’s a distinct chill in the air and a whistle at the cave opening where these songs tread. Christensen’s vocals are sparse, but effective when they rise up from the craggy noise floor, pushing down the layers of tape hiss and the rumble of amplifiers lit up with a Sulphurous growl. There’s something spiritual here, not religion but rite instead, a collection of moonsongs meant to align one’s soul in some manner that’s beyond us – like crop circles or runes without a key to guide their true meaning.

The burnt-core musings and psychic projections here make this an almost unconsciously perfect companion piece to Wet Tuna’s long player from earlier in the month, and perhaps a more humid sibling to Prana Crafter’s excellent tape for Beyond Beyond is Beyond. All three are widening the fold of drone-throttled psychedelia via a shower of vibrations that seek to shift the body from its moorings. While Prana Crafter is taking up the folk segment of this aural bombardment and the boys in Tuna are wranglin’ the choogle down to psychedelic grooves, Gemini Sisters seem to find themselves tethered to the frozen space blues blazed by Loren Connors before them. They’re splitting the middle of the trifecta of albums, while simultaneously connecting the dots. I’d highly recommend chaining these three releases up for your listening pleasure.

Associations aside, though, this collaboration is a highlight for both artists involved and no mere diversion or side project to be shuttled to the side of the tape-only bin of small runs. Repeated listens only proves the eponymous cassette to be a high order dealer of hazy harmonies and twilight float. Consider yourself warned.




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